Completing my set of big rounds with an impromptu Paddy Buckley Round.
Having completed a Bob Graham Round in 2012 for my stag do, and a Ramsey round last year, getting down to Wales to run a Paddy Buckley round was the obvious goal for my summer this year, completing the set of the ‘Big 3’ UK rounds.
After a hard winter working in the mountains ran into a super busy spring of running courses, I hadn’t really put together any significant training at all towards such a big day out, but I had been pretty active. A couple of big mileage weeks in the spring with our Dales Way holiday, 160km over 4 days, and then another 100k week with our Cape Wrath Ultra recce weekend in April meant that I was starting to feel like my legs were coming back and ready to start training properly again. After a hectic time with work, a gap in the diary was pencilled in for a trip to Wales, but this was very much planned as a holiday! The aim was to get some nice time in the hills, have a look a the bits of the Paddy Buckley that I hadn’t been on before, do some rock climbing and chill out!
To break up the drive down, I did an easy paced loop of Hart Fell from Ross Brannigan's new book Running Adventures Scotland. Then when I arrived in Wales I went straight down to Llanberis to have a look at the route up through the slate quarries. If you haven’t seen the Llanberis quarries it is quite a sight, the mountain was largely hollowed out between 1787 and 1969 and with nearly 60% of the removed slate going to waste, it is a maze of enormous tips, linked with steep walkways and inclines from the tramways. The route through the quarries follows a series of these inclines and was more straightforward than I had expected.
Two reasonable hill days in the legs and I was feeling good. I had comfortably kept a reasonable pace and felt pretty fresh, maybe, just maybe I could do more on this trip than just recce the route!
In terms of style, my last two big rounds couldn’t have been more different. My Bob Graham round took me well beyond my previous experience and I was able to just about make it home because of the massive support from my mates on the day. For our Ramsey Round last year, Ally and I ran unsupported except for a food bag dropped at the Loch Treig Dam. I didn’t do any specific recce runs for either round, and although I had been on the hills, the Ramsey still included a couple of bits of ground I hadn’t been on before. Also in the meantime I had completed a Rigby Round in the Cairngorms in 2020. The ethos of this round is very much about the solo, unsupported, un-recce’d effort.
None of my rounds had been quick, all are over 23 hours, so for me the interesting progression between them is about style rather than speed. If this was to continue, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it by doing a recce run on each section of the route this week, but rather, get on it, have an adventure and see what happens! If I planned it right, I could set off at a time that would give me an option of calling it a day early if I had to, in which case, it just becomes a good long training run on the route!
Once this idea was in my head it was hard to ignore. But, just to be sure, I had another easy run over the first section of the Moelwyn hills as they had a reputation for tricky route finding and slow going. I was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward they were so I took a day off, did some kit faff and food shopping and scrolled endlessly through weather forecasts looking for a weather window! My day off was far too windy to be anywhere near the hills, and wet with it. It looked like there was a 24 hour window that would work though, Wednesday into Thursday.
With nobody else involved and no support to organise, I could set off whenever I fancied. The morning was wet but slowly improving, so after a second breakfast at the Moel Siabod cafe I drove up and parked in Capel Curig. With no obvious start point like the Moot Hall in Keswick, I touched the pillar outside Joe Brown’s and started running down the road some time after 12, enjoying the total lack of ceremony!
The only people I saw for the next 18 hours were a group of walkers coming down from the first summit, Moel Siabod, Their well-intentioned encouragement of “you are nearly there” had me laughing manically for the next 20 minutes!
The first section through the Moelwyns went without incident, nice running with a few swampy bits, made easier with familiarity from my recce. Some fun running around the bigger peaks at the end of the leg and a long fast run down to Nantmor to the end of the first leg. I have learned from my last few rounds that I don’t really like to have a detailed peak by peak schedule to stick to as it can become quite stressful and distracting. Instead I had an idea of an average speed I needed to run the whole thing to get within 24 hours and that would do. I had avoided looking at my watch at all until the end of the leg and was pleased to be well up on this pace. As I was to find later, this is a flawed strategy! This was the longest leg, but the greater proportion of ascent was in the second half of my route!
Already 6 1/2 hours in it was feeling like a long run. Realistically this was the last point before Llanberis that I could easily pull out and get back to the start. It was time to commit and make the bravado of a 24 hour run into a reality! I’ll be 100% honest, if a bus had come along with “Capel Curig” on the front, I would have got on it! However it didn’t, so without a good enough excuse to stop I started trudging up through the humid woodland out onto the hills for the southern leg of the route.
As always, it is the bits you least expect that cause the difficulties. The route onto the first hill was a complete swamp, with no clear line through fields and bog. The lowest peak of the leg Y Gyrn was the roughest ground, with thick vegetation and a devious line through some steep crags. And just when I thought it was all over the lovely ridge running of the Nantle ridge became slow and awkward through greasy wet boulder fields in the dark!
Still moving ok, I crossed the road thinking I had about 90 minutes in hand. The climb up to Craig Wen then Yr Aran was just long and wet underfoot, so I was looking forward to getting back onto the more well traveled parts of Snowdonia and getting some paths to follow for a bit. Unfortunately at this point the weather changed it’s plans and closed in. It wasn’t raining much to be fair, but the cloud was so thick that I had to get my phone out to find the summit cairn of Snowdon, when I was stood next to the cafe building! Holding my head torch by my waist like a foglight was the only way I could move faster than a walk, so, one-handed I relied on my phone to make the navigation simpler. The next couple of hours of the route could be some great fun, grassy ridge running I imagine, but for me it felt fairly interminable, following a fence up and down in the mist, with no more than 10 meters visibility in the torch light. It’s fair to say I was happy to get to my next landmark, passing through Llanberis just after 4am. I had another choice; keep going, or spend a few hours sheltering in the public toilets, before the first bus back to Capel Curig. Running seemed nicer!
Again on familiar ground climbing up through the quarries felt like I was moving well. My 90 minute buffer had shrunk to around an hour, but that was comfortable enough. For the first time on one of these 24 hour runs I felt really sleepy. It was getting lighter now but with the thick fog I wasn’t getting the sunshine in my face to really wake me up, so a few times I had to fight to keep my eyes open as I pushed up the hills. I lost more time in the mist on Glyder Fach, trying to find a safe line up to the highest point, clambering over wet rocks with definite potential for mishaps! I had a debate in my head about how important it was to to touch the highest rock in a big pile of rocks, but thought I’d best just get on with it and talk ethics later!
Over Tryfan I finally dropped out of the cloud and made my way down to the road for the start of the last leg. Any buffer I thought that I had, had disappeared. I needed to run this last leg at exactly the average pace I had planned for the day to make it within the 24 hours.
There is lots of good easy running on this last section, but before you get onto that, there is the small matter of 675m of steep, rocky climbing to do, to the top of Pen yr Ole Wen. I had to go all-in. Pushing hard all the way through this section felt great and in a way it was nice to have the pressure of time to force me to work hard. It wasn’t until I started the last descent that I was confident that I could make it, but I had enough in hand when I hit the road to finish with an easy final km back to the pillar at Joe Brown’s, 23 hours and 44 minutes after I had left it!
All in all a very satisfying, if surprising, day!
You can see my full Strava here