Well if my memory serves me right (at my age there is some doubt about that) I don’t think I ever did clarify how I decided to celebrate my 50th.
Having been looking forward to turning 50 ever since last September/October when in back to back trail races I would have won my class had I only been 6 months older (there’s a runners logic in there somewhere) I finally made a ‘sensible’ decision about what to do on the day about 2 weeks before the day itself. Expensive hotel with Dorina, no, that’s the old me & am not doing that again! Escape to Europe with Dorina, no! Fall for that horror of horrors the ‘Surprise’ party, no, do people really fall for that??? A running mountain challenge, just why did it take so long to come to that decision? Having made it the what, where & how fell into place very quickly.
10 days to go the answers were in place & planning began, below is a summary of the day & how it/I progressed towards a very relaxed & enjoyable evening with family & one or two friends. Not to be read by the easily bored or people who don’t get me.
Dorina’s alarm clock goes off at 4:10 (yes really).
I shower, prepare & arrive for a pre-ordered breakfast cooked by Dorina in our Kitchen at 5:00. Poached Eggs (3) with Beans on Toast.
Last minute prep (the runners among you will understand that this means more than one ablution, sorry to spell that out to laymen).
5:20 get in the car with Dorina & drive.
5:40 park at the Minfford path car park on the South side of Cadair Idris.
Then 20 minutes of looking at watch feeling nervous but less so than Dorina appeared to be.
6:00, photo, kiss & wave goodbye, here goes, I begin a steady trot towards the mountain in dawn’s early light, this is about correct pace, hydration, re-fuelling, physical & mental stubbornness. Can I pull them altogether, at some point over the next 12 hours I will find out!
Anyone who knows the Minfford path knows that it starts steeply through a wonderful broad-leaf woodland, what a way to start a big day. Reaching the gate after this initial climb a look at the watch, 10 Mins 7 Secs, not bad, pace O.K. but I also do the Maths – there are 6 of those in one hour & I’ve got 12 of those hours to do, shit – break it down Paul stop thinking of the big picture.
The climb to Cadair’s summit went well & despite my inner doubts I enjoyed being alone on the mountain immensely.
7:10 Cadair summit, serene as ever despite some swirling mist having encased both it & me whilst the climb had progressed.
7:50 After a relaxed & steady jog down I hit the Pony track carpark on the North side of Cadair some 5 minutes ahead of schedule. From here I would take the race route back to Dolgellau soon realising that the initial section would take a little longer than planned due to it being slightly technical here & there. From Dolgellau a short section on the busy A 470 before a right turn got me onto the back road that would lead me towards the Coed-y Brenin & my Neighbour’s house where Dorina would be waiting to re-fuel me. Overtaken by a Female Mountain Biker, as we say our hello’s it is still early, we were both smiling at our inner selves.
9:30 Arrive exactly on schedule (happy with that after three & a half hours), knock on Bill’s door, bag off, Dorina & Bill emerge. As Dorina gives me Gaby’s Goulash, fluids & replacement bars & gels Bill’s words ‘Paul you don’t even look out of breath’, after 25K that was good to hear even if it was slightly inaccurate. Change from Fell to Road shoes.
10 minutes later off again & before long I’ve exited the Coed-y-Brenin & am crossing glorious open moorland high above the distant A 470. I am using part of the historic Roman Sarn Helen road & am thinking I should have discovered this a long time ago. My thoughts also include ‘Cadair is a long way behind me & the Rhinog’s are fading into the distance too.’ Then an act of kindness, as I approach a middle aged couple (I still talk as if I’m not, lets just say they were older than me) who are resting by a gate the man gets up, opens the gate & offers praise for the energy I’m using. I don’t stop but do say ‘I’ve been running for more than 4 hours & that is so kind of you’ – indeed it was & it remains, like the cyclist earlier & the couple I pass later, one of those little special memories from the day.
Now the hard bit, tarmac & lots of it! This was made worse by my failure to consult the map, left or right, left, 400 metres later, shit, turn back re-trace that 400 metres, you’ve guessed all up hill, error corrected, idiot!
Back on the right road it leads me to the dreaded A 470 for some purgatory for about 3 miles, a mile of this without pavement saw me hopping on & off the road to avoid the collective menace of traffic & an un-predictably un-even verge. Nearing the end of this section Dorina drove past & pulls in at the next layby (she was on her way to our next rendezvous some 30 minutes ahead of where I was). ‘I’m tired, it’s a hard section, I don’t need anything, I’m O.K.’, then off again ‘I might be a bit late getting to the next stop, don’t worry.’ I look at my Garmin, just over a Marathon done!
Gellilydan at last as I turn away from the A 470, now where, sensibly I take time to check the map, right & keep right, got it! This took me through a valley that was new to me, O.K. on tarmac but not a moving car in sight & an unexpected delight. Emerging after a long descent I re-join the main road to Porthmadog before stopping outside the Oakley Arms where Dorina is waiting for me.
12:02 Despite the hard stage & that one error I am only 2 minutes behind schedule. Good work but I know I am tired & tell Dorina so. The re-fuel is as before except this time Road shoes to Fell shoes & a change of tops. After 10 minutes I am on my way once again. More tarmac & steep hills as I turn onto ever quieter roads towards Croesor, I remember early on this stage thinking ‘I haven’t even gone past Moelwyn Bach yet…..’
12:55 I arrive in Croesor now 5 minutes back up on schedule, that feels a bit better at least. Leaving Croesor I am initially on the fell race route but where it turns right I keep straight ahead on a good trail that is new to me. The weather which has been kind to me allows me to see a Bwlch ahead in the distance, I am familiar with it. On the subsequent descent I pass a young couple coming the other way, he passes a compliment that I’m travelling light compared to them, I make some garbled noises like Cadair this morning, Snowdon & might bail Siabod to come. He’s probably still thinking what is he gibbering on about I should call Mountain rescue, there’s a madman loose!
14:05 I arrive at Nant Gwynant layby, now 5 minutes behind but feeling that I am hanging in there. Once again Dorina is waiting with my re-fuel routine. This time I put on extra layer’s, warmer gloves etc. etc. Before heading off I express ‘I’m tired Dorina, think I’ll have to bail Siabod.’
I start to run towards Snowdon’s Watkin path ‘oh no my legs, they’ve gone stiff, oh no’. The gradient & timing of me tackling it force me into a fast walk, this turned out to be a blessing as I had another more serious problem on my mind.
The problem had been with me for days & often throughout the day itself. It was ‘what about the descent of the PYG track & more specifically the zig=jags & the banked in snow that holds there’. As I honed in on Bwlch Ysaethau my nervous eyes studied the final section of the Watkin climb, more snow than I thought, I can get around it but the zig-zags will be a totally different matter even though I had taken a walking pole & in-step crampons from Dorina at the last stop. I stopped &, in a streNgthening & cold wind made a surprisingly quick & wise assessment (if you’ve read some blogs from earlier in the year you’ll know I have had my moments of making a complete bulls up of things when I should have known better), ‘Paul, you are having a great day, turn away from Snowdon, turn right (again), tackle the the sub-peak Y Lliwedd, it might even allow you to contemplate Moel Siabod, wouldn’t that be the real icing on your Birthday cake?’. So I turned right, Y’Lliwedd nodded it’s head to me in approval, the delightful scramble began, even the legs (being asked to do something totally different) decided not to cramp.
Things from here continued to improve as if to emphasize just how important correct decisions are when in a Mountain environment. Once off the scrambly sections I began to jog & soon arrived at the defining moment which proved once again just how important the mental side can be. So what was this moment? Well as I reached the run-able stone stepped descent section on Lliwedd I came across 3 resting walkers, the one with life left stepped aside to let me past, the other two looked wasted, clearly they’d had a big day doing some part or all of the Horseshoe was my guess. We said hi but as I ran past I heard one of them say forlornly ‘we better get going’. My honest thought process was I’ve done a bit more than you guys, I’m running & I’m going to do so until I am out of your sight at least. This could be seen as showing off but I think it is much deeper than that, it is sheer bloody mindedness, seeing them had made me feel good about myself not bad about them. I was feeling good, I wanted to keep that feeling, damn it Paul I am going to run!
& run I did, all the way down the Miner’s (runners will know that this includes a couple of Ups too) & down to Pen y Gwryd where once again Dorina was waiting patiently but nervously, we waved, a look of relief was on her face, what’s the time, 16:50. Her nerves were understandable, she had last seen me looking tired, sounding a little defeatist, worried about the PYG but only 5 minutes down on schedule. This time I was 35 minutes down on schedule (as much to do with my schedule being wrong on this stage as the increased technicality of Y Lliwedd/My tiredness on the Watkin climb but she didn’t know any of that & could only sit & wait).
Time confirmed, I have the chance of daylight until 19:00, I have the knowledge that on the Siabod challenge I have done the Siabod leg in 2 Hours 15 minutes on tired legs, I have a headtorch, I have some energy, ‘Dorina, I’m going to do Moel Siabod’. She nodded approval & said that she’d set off from the other side to meet me on my run in. ‘Dorina don’t set off too early, this is going to take me more than two hours.’
Moel Siabod’s West ridge is a tortuous slog on tired legs, indeed just getting to it over boggy & sometimes steep terrain saps the energy but I have familiarity on my side. It annoys me, tries to get under my skin at every false dawn but you don’t surprise me anymore, you are mine & I know how to take you. On this day it tried it’s best, my wet feet were like blocks of ice, footsteps hurt, the cold wind increased & the mist descended. Navigation, I know you, be steady, summit rocks, stay right, keep the fence in view, there’s the shelter, there’s the summit, I’m on the summit!!
With the Garmin having given up the ghost shortly after Croesor (after 35 miles or so) I don’t know what time I reached the summit but it was probably just after 18:00, a solid & steady climb without stop. Now Paul, navigate safely, cross snow & summit ridge safely, find the clear path & then run.
As I descended I became increasingly thankful that Dorina was no where to be seen, not because I didn’t want to see her but because it was bitterly cold & not a place I’d want her to be in without someone being with her. I ran with pleasure, with elation & an enormous sense of satisfaction. I eventually ran into Dorina & Titi at the style below the cut down forest. We embraced, shook hands & then ‘Dorina, I’d like to run’, we 3 ran together.
At 18:50 we ran into the Cafe car park & were met by a few friends & family for what was to be a very relaxed & private celebration.
It had been a longer day than I’d expected by 50 minutes & 3 or 4 miles but the sense of satisfaction of having covered 53 or 54 miles with nearly 16,000 feet of height gain cannot be understated. I ran alone but of course I didn’t do it alone, Dorina’s un-qualified support was extremely important both practically & emotionally. Those waiting for me at the Cafe of course helped too, un-knowingly they helped me keep my head held high through the inevitable doubtful periods as the day evolved. Most importantly of all, I had done what I wanted to do, with the support of those I chose to seek it from, a very special day which will remain with me for ever.
So why choose that route, simple… On a cold Saturday in mid-February 2010 my marriage was in serious trouble, I went out to clear my head & tackled Cadair Idris in deep snow in surprisingly good form (this being before Mountains took over my life), it made me feel better & was the beginning of a change. This ultimately led me to the Cafe bringing new people into My life along the way & passing Snowdon many times on the way too, why would I want to do anything else for my 50th???????? Exactly!
Writing this has been a joy & is all part of the experience, I hope you at least found it interesting & just a bit inspiring, whatever your Rat is, go on do it!
One final shot, we could argue about the spelling of Cadair or Cader, I first knew it as Cadair hence the way I’ve spelt it here but reserve the right to spell it Cader at some point in the future. If you are the type to quibble about a spelling mistake I suggest you take a good look at yourself first & do the right thing, actions speak louder than words, I’m aloud to say that I’m 50 you know & have earnt the right!!