Only one real topic of conversation this week, it’s time for me to look back in detail of what I & others went through during the Reach Out for Nepal Charity run last weekend. I’ll do this as much for my own need as anything else so those not inclined to be interested in the thought & body processes of doing such a run are advised to leave this blog now & go back to more important matters like ‘what the hell are we going to do now after we’ve voted ourselves into such a b….y mess’ – from that mess the run was a pleasant release! Enough about politics, here we go:-
Perennial readers will know both the challenge & my lead-in to it but please forgive me for this little recap. After last years Siabod Summit runs by Phil & I the question was how do we follow that. In December I firmed up a plan, ‘Phil we can run all of the cafe walks’ (this like last year would mean we can build an atmosphere by returning to the Cafe after each one). Phil replied ‘how far is that then’, ‘well approx. 85 miles I think’ came my response, Phil said ‘why aren’t we doing 100 miles’, not being very good at thinking on my feet I said ‘well O.K. then’, easy to say but as the months drew by the penny began to drop!
Initial preparation began in January as I began to recce each of the 12 ‘walks’ for accurate mileage & height gain, two classic mistakes here. Firstly Walk 3 which I ran without starting my Garmin watch correctly, 8 miles later & a short break I was out doing the same run again with a properly started watch, idiot! Secondly & more seriously in February on Walk 10 I gave myself a frightening bout of Hypothermia (there is a whole blog about this self-harm if you can be bothered to find it). These two hiccups aside by late March all 12 had been recced & they totaled 93.3 miles, ‘Lucky 13′ would only need to be 7.7 miles to give us the 100. Lucky 13 was soon recced & the first stage of prep was complete, 100 miles, 17,150’ of climb, 24 hours, hard but doable with the right prep, still 3 months to go!
By now Phil had announced that he wanted to concentrate on his Mountain Bike Season & probably wouldn’t risk that by doing the whole thing, totally understandable & I wasn’t too perturbed until the lightning bolt hit! In early May after already having a 56 mile Birthday run successfully under my belt I found myself on the West Highland Way in serious trouble after only 40 miles on Day 1, despite a well managed recovery over the remains of Day 1 & the following 42 miles on Day 2 my return from Scotland saw me very concerned about my Reach Out for Nepal commitment, my big mouth had be opened, there was no going back but I was seriously worried.
Despite some more focused training & some good performances the final month’s lead-in was not good, Back Ache, Neuralgia, 24 hour fever, the first & last of these were still being felt on the morning before the run itself & were added to in terms of concern by the big toe nail that I blackened some 12 months earlier in the Liverpool Marathon deciding to fall off just the day before, timing! Things were not all doom & gloom, just 3 days before the run Sion Harlow had agreed to attempt the whole run with me which was great to hear & I also had a number of friends who would do some support runs with us.
At 9:46 pm on the evening of Friday 24th June, the sun set, the photo’s were taken, Sion & I with Kean & Dorina running in support set off on ‘Walk 1’, we were cheered on our way by John, Marion, My Father, Sandra, Phil, Nick & Titi.
Headtorches came on as Sion, Kean & I set off on ‘Walk 2’ some 30 minutes later but on it’s tricky descent which we would tackle on 3 consecutive runs I was soon regretting leaving my better torches back at the Cafe for the darker hours ahead. Still no falls & as we returned to the Cafe I answered Kean’s ‘Hodges are you not even sweating yet’ with an honest ‘I’ve been sweating since Walk 1’ – for those getting confused when I say ‘Walk’ I mean ‘Run’.
Back at the Cafe for a second time we are now joined by Ali who has earlier in the evening completed the Snowdon Twilight race, despite these exertions she has kindly offered to come & support me on 3 of the runs starting with ‘Walk 3’. An improved (but still not my best) headtorch makes the tricky descent a little easier but I am very conscious that I do not want to fall so early in proceedings, we have just moved into Saturday morning in reality.
‘Walk 4’ sees Alwyn take over from Ali, this will be the most technical & navigation-ally demanding of all the night runs so this time it’s my Silva headtorch with 500 lumens that finally puts in an appearance (I’d been saving it for this run due to battery power issues). With this the early technical descent becomes a doddle, I even keep Sion in my sights for once! This is a wonderful route in daylight but in the dark of night route finding & movement is difficult, we hear a gasp, I look around, Sion is there but where is Alwyn? A headtorch rises from the path some 30 metres back, it’s Alwyn, ‘are you O.K?’ ‘yes, just took a bit of a tumble’. This had occurred near the Northern end of Llyn Bodgynydd a timely reminder of the hazards ahead of us on the lakes tricky Eastern path. We tackle this path slowly but safely & are soon back on the wider forest tracks for our long return to the Cafe. All seems well, no navigation errors, no serious falls & almost a Marathon distance under mine & Sion’s belts. I turn to Sion, ‘how’s it going?’, ‘my knee is buggered’ comes the reply, didn’t expect that, it begins to sink in, I offer ‘you don’t want to do any lasting damage’ but Sion unlike me already knows the game is up, it’s a devastating blow for him. My reaction is even now hard to put into words, it sunk in fast, it was heavy news & could wreak havoc on my own chances but I think I actually just pigeon-holed it, Sion could look after himself, I need to look after me & not let this drag me down. Back at the Cafe Sion looked distraught (later correspondence has shown me that my perceptions were wrong, even at this early time he was mentally assessing the injury, it’s cause, his required reaction….), I felt sorry for him as once again I prioritised, eat (Gaby’s Goulash), drink Electrolite’s & water, study times & the schedule, at least I was on track, don’t think of the 74 miles to go!
‘Walk 5’ now on my own but with Ali & Sandra, if you know what I mean, photograph, I actually felt tall stood between these two pocket rockets & then we are off towards Llyn Crafnant. More technical ground but there is light appearing on the North Eastern horizon as we circle the lake anti-clockwise I apologise to the girls ‘I hate to say this but we go up here’ as I lead them away from the more obvious & lower route, well I wrote the walk before that path was put it you see, in the undergrowth on the old path I begin to think it’s time for a re-write but I do love the short wooded section that the old path leads to. As we re-join the new path it is time to turn the headtorches off (felt good), it is now approaching 4:40 am & I have just completed my first ever ‘run through the night’. The climb back over from Crafnant is a brute, we walk it hard, then Sandra & Ali allow me to set my own pace on the technical descent & traverse back to the Cafe. Despite leading all of the runs for navigational purposes because I am the only one who knows them well enough I am beginning to appreciate the support runners increasingly with almost every stride, this support will become more & more crucial from here-on.
Back at the Cafe almost bang on schedule, Sion still nursing the knee, a new face is seen. Tim will support me up & over Moel Siabod, cometh the hour cometh the man. It was at this re-fuel that my emotions rose a considerable level, here I was a little tired, scared by the thought of Siabod ahead but surrounded by support runners who were going to do whatever they could to get me through it. I think more than one of them could see the moisture welling in my eyes but they can’t see it this time as I write this!
We set off with Dawn’s full arrival, the light display as we approach Siabod’s flanks would have had Nick drooling, Tim is in his element loving the early hours on the mountains as I begin to re-appraise my own preference for evenings. I have been fearing Siabod, it is different from the other runs, it is a mountain, hands are required, sure footing on slippery rocks essential. My legs are already tired, I move gingerly trying not to let avoidable slips & trips spark spasms of cramp. Tim moves like a Mountain Goat, rock hopping with glee, stopping to chirp the mountains praises whilst I try to catch up thinking simply get me off of here safely. We take wrong lines, more rocks & then finally the easier descent begins, just take it easy those quads are needed a lot more yet. It has been a beautiful dawn raid on Siabod but it was the first time weariness was truly felt, that said it’s completion is a marker, I am into phase 2.
By now the Cafe is open for business, Kean asks me how I’m going my response ’40 miles gone feels great, 60 miles to go doesn’t!’. A customer seeing what was going on & hearing this soon came up to me & donated a tenner, this is what it’s all about ‘thank you’, keep focused, I was. Preparing for the shortest run, ‘Walk 7’ I was thinking ahead ‘guys I’m worried about ‘Walk 8’ it’s a long one & I don’t want to run it alone. Ali offered to swap it for ‘Walk 9’ leaving me feeling better as Dorina & I set off for a quick tour of Capel Curig. This 7th run was the only run which Dorina accompanied me on where she felt it hard to keep up with my pace ‘are you going faster’, ‘no’ I replied, in truth I was, I was trying to pull back a little of the time I’d lost on Siabod. We returned to the Cafe some 19 minutes late having pulled back an impressive 6 minutes.
In our absence the Support runners had been plotting, Ali back on ‘Walk 9’, Kean & Alwyn had stepped into the breach, how good did that feel & how appreciated it was!
‘Walk 8’ is a classic circuit around both Llyn Geirionydd & Lyln Crafnant but had been the scene of my Hypothermia earlier in the year, once again at the Northern end of Geirionydd the Cafe felt a long way away, I said so to Kean, but this time I had great support, fluid & food at hand. This long run, 11 miles, eventually neared it’s end & is captured by Marion’s photo of me returning some 20 metres ahead of Kean, the camera never lies, but in truth in this case it does. Moments earlier Kean had sprinted away from me on the final descent to reach & hold open a gate for me hence my now being ahead of him, his reward? I offered to give him a framed & signed print of me ‘beating’ him, not sure he’s impressed at my generosity!
Comparatively I have been looking forward to ‘Walk 9’, one of my favourite training runs & at only 7 miles relatively short compared to some of the other routes deep in the second half of the schedule. Steve has now arrived & will join Ali & Sandra in my support team, it goes well, Ali shares her experiences in Nepal with me where she’d befriended a lovely Nepalese child & had returned the following year to rekindle the friendship. Steve’s troublesome knee injury fails to dampen his spirits & Sandra is reassuring of my pace. By now each return to the Cafe is met with increasing support & applause, the events in the Cafe are building & everyone seems happy. Is that Phil?
It has arrived the one I had been fearing more than any, ‘Walk 10’. This is quite simply a wonderful all day walking route taking in Llyn Elsi, Swallow Falls & the flanks of Siabod, I recommend it to any keen walker but at 15 miles & with over 2,300′ of ascent it is a serious prospect to a tired runner. So how good was it to see Phil commit to support me on it after our shared experiences on Siabod 12 months ago. As we set off into the forest ‘Phil I’ll be going slowly & will have to walk almost all the ups’, ‘don’t worry Paul, don’t think of the clock, just set a pace & you’ll do it, I know you will’. Phil has a wise head on young shoulders & continued his calm, re-assuring & logical approach throughout the run looking after me with care but without intrusion, he really could make an excellent coach when he decides to slow down. The route has a sting in the tail, a final climb onto the side of Siabod’s lower slopes, as we did this the days first rains arrived, pleasant & cooling, by now though a more serious problem was beginning to rumble. A few miles earlier the first rumbles were felt, oh no, bowel, un-wanted bowel movements had arrived. I am at least experienced enough to be well equipped, ‘Phil, I’ll just stop here a bit’. It had been inevitable that it would come to this, Gaby’s Goulash, Energy Shots, Banana’s, Clementines, Gels, Isotonic by the litres – all very good for maintaining energy but a cocktail over a long time, the only surprise was I’d got away with it for over 17 hours before the rumbles struck! Finally we reached the bridge opposite the Cafe, three friendly cyclists waved as we crossed (I was later to learn that it was Ian Braisey & his two friends who were doing their own 105 mile cycle ride in aid of Reach Out for Nepal). I had lost significant time on the schedule for the first time but none of that mattered, the biggy was in the past & I was still running. We ran into the cafe to receive a massive cheer, so many smiles, so much reward.
‘Walk 11’ would be Llyn Mymbyr my favorite recovery run usually tackled on a Sunday after a big race the day before. Maggie had now arrived at the Cafe & would join with Dorina to support me on this short 3 miler. Of course it felt longer than normal but it was soon ticked of in under regulation time as the rain eased away my thoughts were looking ahead & it was no surprise that I didn’t like what I could see, add to this I couldn’t think of anyone who could support me. What I was seeing was ‘Walk 12′ another glorious route taking in Llyn y Parc & Swallow Falls, trouble was it is a 12.6 miler with 2,000’ of ascent & like Llyn Elsi before it you seem to be forever running away from the Cafe for the first 6 miles. As Dorina, Maggie & I arrived back at the Cafe to yet more cheers of support I was quite simply daunted by the prospect ahead of me.
Then it happened with me looking concerned whilst shoveling whatever I could get inside of me two hero’s stepped forward, Maggie & Alwyn. They had read the situation, knew that whatever their own miss-givings about the miles ahead, I was in trouble & needed support, they offered it with a smile, ‘Walk 12’ would soon begin.
We set off at a slow but steady pace but 2/3 miles in I noticed I was beginning to meander across the wide forest track, I also noticed that Maggie & Alwyn had seen this too & were keeping a watchful eye out for me but without adding to my own alarm. Then the penny dropped, it was the first signs of sleep deprivation, I had by now been awake for over 32 hours, quite simply my brain was trying to shut me down. Then the bowels came to my rescue, gave me something to worry about & as we homed in on the lake I began to wake up. In truth I had lost a lot of time as both my pace had slackened & my bowel timeouts mounted but the return from Llyn y Parc felt like it was made in better form (Maggie & Alwyn may not share this appraisal). By now two other issues were occupying my mind, the time & my left knee. I was conscious of needing to be back at the Cafe by no later than 8:00 pm if I was to stand a good chance of completing ‘Lucky 13’ within the 24 hour window, the maths were becoming clear I wouldn’t be, so what then, do I continue? As to the knee I had been remarkably lucky with injuries all day, no falls, no ankle or calve issues just occasionally very sore Big toes on tricky descents which had twice seen me turn to pain killers something I never normally take when running. Now though something was beginning to hurt behind the knee it felt like a tendon tearing, it hurt to run & I winced more & more. We reached the Cafe at 8:22 pm to a massive cheer & round of applause, by now the Cafe was full, the Charity auction was underway & the atmosphere was simply electric.
Without the knee issue I could probably had made a decent fist at trying to do the final 7.7 miles (Lucky 13) in the remaining 1 Hour 24 minutes before sunset (my schedule had allowed 1 Hour 4O minutes) & would have narrowly missed it. However I did have the knee issue, I was mentally & physically near my limit, common sense prevailed, as I thought deeply to myself, I didn’t want to end the day just yet, I hatched a plan B from nowhere.
This plan was to truncate ‘lucky 13’, to round up the mileage to 95 miles by repeating ‘Walk 1’ plus a short extension to it & to do it with Dorina. Dorina had been urging me to give the full 7.7 miles a go even though she knew time was against me, she did this because she knew how close I’d gotten to my goal & she hasn’t seen me quit at such a stage before. What she didn’t know was just how much the knee was both hurting & slowing me but she would see this all too soon.
I approached John, ‘I’m going out again’ but don’t announce it or what I’m doing, the cheer came nonetheless as Dorina & I walked out the door at 8:45 pm for one final time. Stop, set Garmin, this needs to be measured, I want 95 miles!
The hobble run began & was broken up by a lot of walking but we slowly made our way around the Bryn Egen forest opposite the Cafe. As we stepped onto the footbridge at Plas y Brenin overlooking Llyn Mymbyr we stopped, kissed & shared the experience before turning around & heading back to the Cafe. We trotted down the final hill & across the bridge & road & into the Cafe for a welcome to die for, it was 9:26 pm, some 23 Hours & 40 minutes after we’d set off & it was over.
The day itself was almost surreal, whilst every step & run seemed to take an age the hours went by in the blink of an eye, the night seemed short, the early runs distant brief memories & yet they too are full of little details that this prose cannot even begin to cover, in short an almost out of body experience but of course the body knows it was there. Would I do something like it again, well despite all the worries on the lead-in let alone the demands on Body & Mind during the day itself the answer is absolutely yes, don’t ask me why, I can’t explain it clearly but there are more people than you think out there who do similar or greater things who keep saying YES too.
The supporting cast of runners (see this weeks earlier ‘Reach Out for Nepal’ blog for other key people who supported us on the day)
Sion – 4 runs – 25.75 miles, 3703′ of ascent – Calmed my nerves by stepping into the breach at very short notice.
Kean – 3 runs – 18.72 miles, 3244′ of ascent – A very calm watchful friend doing more than he’d intended.
Dorina – 4 runs – 10.11 miles, 1719′ of ascent – not a runner, doubling her longest ever daily distance, my Angel.
Ali – 3 runs – 23.04 miles, 3739′ of ascent – all this despite having run a race up Snowdon just hours before where un-surprisingly Ali won her age category.
Alwyn – 3 runs – 33.20 miles, 5,510′ of ascent – frankly un-believable from someone who is O.70, a gashed shin from his early fall was described as ‘I’m fine’, it was too dark to contradict. His opting to do ‘Walk 12′ was only surpassed by his unbelievable management of my tired self to get me round.
Sandra – 2 runs – 14.74 miles, 2578′ of ascent – like her husband Kean just shorter & slimmer also did more than she’d intended.
Tim – 1 run – 8.05 miles, 2781′ of ascent – bubbled enthusiasm despite getting only a couple of hours sleep after a party on Friday night, this rock hopper has got me contemplating mountains at dawn once again.
Steve – 1 run – 6.99 miles, 1066′ of ascent – British O.60’s Fell running champion turned out despite a well taped up knee injury, went on the next day to pass a dance exam!
Phil – 1 run – 14.95 miles, 2316’ of ascent – They call him ‘Phil fast at everything’, on Saturday he ran slowly for me & was very important at all times to my completing the longest leg of the day. You don’t go up & down Siabod 10 times in a day together without forming a bond.
Maggie – 2 runs – 15.87 miles, 2516′ of ascent – There are few women fell runners O.65, there are even fewer with Maggie’s guts & tenacity, like Alwyn she stepped up when I needed her most, the hug at the end said it all.
If those stats are not impressive enough remember the terrain is not just undulating it is at time technical & demanding – guys you all helped to make it a wonderful day for me & everyone else who watched & cheered us on!
A postscript, the recovery is going surprisingly well despite poor sleeps on both Sunday & Monday. I was able to clear a few tables here & there on Sunday but have stayed well away from the Pot Washing. The tendon behind the knee is sore but clearly making progress, between now & going to the Aps in mid-July I’ll be taking it easy, whatever that means! The Backache & general feeling of being a tad off colour which both disappeared during the late hours of last Friday have returned. The sense that the U.K is trying to rip itself apart as it heads into an unknown future has only one remedy, go out into the hills with like-minded people & have a b….y good time, at least we can control that for our greater good!