This is one runners story of the lead in to, race day itself & the aftermath/recovery. Obviously all the other runners will have their own version of their own memories & experiences, what follows is simply my own mix of emotions, trials, tribulation & reflections 3 days on from race day.
At last after more than a year’s wait the 50th Welsh 1,000 Metre Peaks Race approached as I went for probably my penultimate training run last Tuesday (23rd July). The training run didn’t go entirely to plan as I lazily missed an obvious turn. This led me both to bump into our Gardiner & former postman, Rhian & Roger respectively, as well as take on a seriously steep hill (part of the Volcano circuit in the CyB for those in the know). Net result a very positive 11 miler ‘I’m recovered from the Charity runs & my engine feels great due to them!’
This was further tested at a very busy Cafe over the next three days (leading me to once again miss the CyB’s Thursday’s training session, apologies Matt just so difficult to get to at the moment) as Core exercises (aka Pots) came to the fore. Add to this that the Cafe also hosted a pre-race evening Pasta meal for the race Marshalls, thanks to Judith Holt for helping us organise this, on the Friday evening my race lead-in was as un-relaxing as it all too often seems to be. Still got home at 9:00 pm for a quick read & a glass or two of sleeping tablets & I was raring to go the morning of the race.
At the Cafe before 7:00 am Dorina served my ‘super’ breakfast of 3 Poached Eggs on two pieces of toast smothered with 139 Baked Beans. The forecast had been gaining heat as the days had gone by & I think it fair to say that ‘heat & hydration’ were the topic of conversation at the start line. I had actually reached the start line with the help of a lift from Rebecca Roberts who would also support me with a military styled re-fuel plan at Ogwen & possibly a fag packet add on plan at PyP.
Concerned exchanges of conversation with the likes of Paul Jones & Russel Owen were soon displaced by last minute runs to the ablution facilities as pre-start nerves exploded to new levels but at 9:22 it was time to man up, face reality & make my way to the start line. I was now literally on my own (staggered start) & had both failed to clarify ‘which way do I go’ & to tune my watch satellite navigation facility (not for navigation purposes simply for race stats to be recorded). Thankfully my sense of direction is better than many of my other senses (the common one being notoriously awry at times) & I relaxed into the knowledge of knowing where I was going whilst wondering why? Well ‘why’ is a no-brainer with hindsight, this is an iconic race, I have raced in either the long mountaineering class or long fell race in 8 out of it’s last 9 running’s (2018 I missed it having signed up for a very enjoyable Stockholm marathon (also in sweltering heat)) & had pb’d in all 8 to boot, it also being the 50th anniversary of the race quite simply ‘why’ would I be anywhere else. For those of you knew to the race route it basically starts near the North Wales coast crosses the vast Carneddau taking in Wales’ 3rd & 4th highest mountains then drops into the Ogwen Valley before climbing the Glyderrau to knock off Wales’ 5th highest mounatin before dropping down to Pen y Pass. The finale sees the pour victims remaining climb Snowdon’s PyG track (glorious in normal circumstances, a tad trying in these) before taking a ‘wrong’ turn to bag Wales’ 2nd highest peak where you then turn around to make your way over to the finish, Snowdon’s main summit, Yr Wyddfa.
The sweat made a very early appearance & was soon added to as I traversed across the slippery stream crossing above Aber Falls. As ever this scared the s… out of me, raised my heartbeat some 20 notches or so & no doubt had the two guys behind me whom I’d had earlier passed thinking ‘oh we’ve got one of ‘those’ in the field have we!
The stream crossing soon after this also left quite a few style marks in the judges bags as did the steep climb up onto the flanks of the Bera’s in what can only now be called ‘The Hodges’ line’. Thankfully as the slope eased so did my pounding heart & thinks began to improve despite the fluid sapping heat continuing to build.
With the first check point behind me I took a good line out of the rocks onto the more runnable traverse towards Foel Grach & beyond. It was here that a younger runner first came into my peruviol vision, he initially had followed my line from the check point before taking a lower & better one to my right whilst others took a higher & worse one to my left. Despite losing ground to him & another O.60’s guy I was able to catch them on the next climb & as we were all caught by two faster guys various conversations sprung up, ‘how many times have you done it’ the fast guys asked looking for someone to follow, I incorrectly retorted 9 (couldn’t even get that right) so they ran on trusting their own luck. By now the younger guy had introduced himself to me as Nick & I had correctly introduced myself to him as Paul although I think he’d already known that because he’d mentioned the charity runs. Nick & I would spend the rest of the Carneddau & Glyderrau sections swapping places in what can only be described as a very courteous my turn now type of thing. We had equally judged that we were on for nothing fast, circa 6 hours was our mis-placed thinking. It was early on in Nick & mine’s partnership that a chorus of singing sprang up from two or three other runners around us, we were exerting ourselves uphill in blistering heat (admittedly with fabulous views, an earlier view to our Snowdon destiny was simply staggering in it’s vastness & clarity) & yet people were singing ‘this could only happen in fell running I exclaimed’, my new friend agreed without hesitation.
The descent into Ogwen was the running into the furnace prediction I’d warned Nick it would be (old timer knowledge of one previous hot year albeit several degrees cooler than this one), cramps were already calling behind my right knee as I sucked the last of the electrolyte from my bottle ‘don’t leave any fluid in them when you swap them with Rebecca’s re-fuels’ was my mantra.
At last I reached Rebecca at Oggie base in a very poor time of 2 hours 58 minutes, I felt absolutely wasted, looked worse & as the long re-fuel continued I muttered a very loud WHY, Rebecca’s look said nothing other than WHY? At this re-fuel with Rebecca apologising that she wouldn’t be able to meet me at PyP (well I had been pushing my luck) I took on more than I planned as a result of this news. I drank 0.75 litres of water, ate a banana & half a bag of salted crisps then replaced my two half litre bottles (one with electrolyte & one with water) & stashed one extra energy bar, an extra gel, a bag of salted crisps into my bag & a half litre of full fat coke which would be my survival bottle to get me back down Snowdon to the streams at least. A final long swig on another bottle of coke before I passed it back to Rebecca was my final ‘do this re-fuel properly Paul’ act before I thanked & said my farewell to Rebecca, she had paid an important blinder but at the time I think neither of us had the confidence of knowing it.
Eric cheered me on as I hit the A.5, a slog of a run through 30 degree heat run on the road into on-coming traffic because of cars double parking on the entire straight, oh the joys of ‘fell’ running. Thankfully I avoided breaking into a walk until the relief of the kissing gate, where I could have kissed the two marshall’s (well they were of the female kind), led me to the relief of more mountainous & walking terrain.
The long climb up to & over the Gribin ridge went as well as it could, I soon passed the 0.60 who had left me & Nick for dead on the earlier traverse to Carnedd Dafydd & several others (mostly in the mountaineer’s class) & even got Nick back into my sights. We hit the ridge more or less together with me leading the early stages before Nick took over higher up. Just before the cricket pitch I caught & passed Alwyn Oliver, this sprightly 76 year old was in truth not sounding too sprightly, well who was, & would later make a very good call to bail out early on the PyG, experience, experience! Crossing the flat cricket pitch I walked (yes I admit it) as Joel Gomas who two weeks earlier had won the Siabod race trotted past me in style. High on the Gribin I took an easier & more right line than normal (avoiding a trickier more exposed line) but Nick took an even better one & got away from me reaching Glyder Fawr our third summit a good minute or so ahead of me. Here I thanked the Marshall’s & a Cafe regular (good runner) cheered me on (sorry should know your name), he & I exchanged laughs at my predicament. I hobbled over to the descent with thoughts of ‘how am I not going to cramp on this’, experience, experience, I soon cramped.
Despite this a clear trail soon branched to the left of my usual line, I took it, in for a penny, in for a pound (of cramps), Nick was sometimes in sight & amazingly coming back to me, no doubt he was having some ‘issues’ too. Nearing PyP three faster guys came pass before making an unusual B line for the road, they might be right but there was no way I was descending an inch more than I had to. I then passed a lady who with Nick would now follow me into PyP where several Marshalls, Geoff Fielding & Mike Blake among others proffered encouragement & water. With Covid restrictions I don’t think I was meant to actually handle a water jug but this felt like life or death so I broke the Covid code, grabbed one & filled & drank 3 cups before then re-filling both half litre bottles in my bag. One final cup & then an exchanged glance to ‘Nick’ (someone else who had his eyes on me, clearly the sun was affecting me) before I headed off across the road with Geoff stopping me committing suicide in the stream of cars coming up the pass. Safely across ‘Nick’ was soon on my heels but had gone quiet. He tracked me for a while before coming pass me without saying a word, were we really now just fighting for a place?
I repassed this version of ‘Nick’ somewhere around the double styles (either a pee or a water break I guess) only to be re-taken easily soon afterwards. I then used ‘Nick’ for all he was worth to take my mind off the brutal reality of the climb. I would close him down on the steeper bits & he would waltz away on the flatter bits. Slowly we chipped away at the climb but even by the zigzags, which usually give me a feeling of I’m almost there, failed to lift my spirits the summit & it’s hordes looked far too far away & of course the annoying right at the finger stone would as ever be taking me farther away from them.
‘Nick’ finally left me for dead from here on but at least I kept moving forward without a stop. On the climb to Garnedd Ugain I passed the ever cheerful Jenny Hemmings (later confirmed as the o.50 female winner) who was trying to help a guy in the Mountaineering class who was sprawled on the floor with severe cramp as well as Russel Owen descending the other way. Russel called out ‘passed you here two years ago’, I had to think about it but he was absolutely right, clearly an O.60 less fuddled than a 55 year old!
The 4th summit finally came & went, a jog back down to the finger stone & the final trudge began. After 6 Hours 38 Minutes & 18 Seconds, some 1 Hour & 10 Minutes slower than my pb of two years ago, my dibber was taken off me & dibbed by the ‘ruthless’ Marshall (did I really look like a dibber thief?) & my race was run, what a glorious relief.
I sat down, tried to lie down (not a good option), sat back up & contemplated how I was going to get back down. The race had been a disaster from start to finish, I’d been thinking that more or less throughout but at least I had not given up, the thought of Rebecca’s support, having never previously DNF (Did Not Finish) in any race & the 50th anniversary meddle together with just a bit of stubbornness had somehow given me an ending with a little pride.
It was then that things began to get gradually better but it would take nearly 48 hours to get things fully into perspective. I had spent much of the race thinking ‘is it a lack of recovery from the Marathons 3 weeks ago, is it the heat or is it a combination of both’. I should have also been considering ‘is it a lack of race fitness having not raced for 17 months’ but in truth this only came into my thinking the next day. However then came Andrea Rowlands into my world of self-devastation & my eyes began to open.
I had actually over-taken Andrea on the PyG without at the time realising it, she’d just looked like a fit woman suffering a bit (here I should add that she beat my race time by over 45 minutes, staggered starts & all that). But when Andrea sat down next to me she said she was an hour & a half down on her pb, light bulb went on ‘so it’s not just me then’. We continued to chat whilst I fumbled for the salted crisps that were my cramp savers & coke (life saver) until Emlyn Roberts came over to join us. His watch gave him a falsely good time (one of those annoying features that some have of stopping the clock if you are not moving fast enough), however when he mentioned his start time (over an hour earlier than mine) I did the maths & realised I’d beaten him by a margin that was a very pleasant surprise. Of course there had been that earlier sign of passing Russel in the same place as my 2019 pb run (Russel having started a minute or two ahead of me so year to year comparisons were counting) but at that point I was still focusing on the labours ahead. However it would not be until I studded the full results on Monday morning that I actually got everything into perspective.
Finally I got back to my feet made my way over to ‘Nick’, odd, eye contact again but no recognition, so I turned away & began my slow & steady descent. Early on the zigzags my phone at last got a signal & I phoned Dorina to ask either her or Anne to come up to PyP (I couldn’t contemplate the extra 20 minute descent to Pen-y-Gwryd) to pick me up at 5:30 pm (in 70 minutes time). Normally I enjoy this descent but this time I had to take it easy sipping the coke now & again draining the last just before reaching the car park, I had managed the fluids as best I could so at least had that to be proud off. I reached PyP at 5:29, Anne did so at 5:30, the warden could see my race number & state, smiled & allowed, against current protocol, Anne to drive in & pick me up, thank you kind sir. Dorina had given Anne two full fat cans of coke as she now knows it’s my go to when in distress, they were ice cold & just what this patient had been hoping for.
Back at the Cafe there were smiles & exchanges with many of the Gorphwysfa’s club members (the club that has organised the race for over 40 years) as well as many runners. At the prize giving which was attended by two legends in the form of Joss Naylor (5 times race winner & probably most iconic fell runner of them all) & Colin Donnelly (12 times winner including one at the age of 53). Several friends had won their categories, including Russel winning the O.60, Maggie the O.50’s in the short race (despite being in her 70’s) & Martin Cliffe winning the Short Race in 2:02:21 (also being another O.50’s win to boot although of course he’s not allowed to win two prizes). The overall long race was won by Matthew Atkinson in a mind-blowingly quick 4:21:48 given the conditions. I also renewed my acquaintance with the real Nick Jones, a totally different animal to ‘Nick’. We exchanged route notes & times where it transpired that he had left PyP a little after me leading my battle with ‘Nick’ to get me to the finish 10 minutes ahead of Nick who if I recall correctly had tucked in behind but not been driven to pass Andrea.
The Recovery Story:-
Sunday – Large breakfast (by my standards), 4 solid hours on the pots followed by 3 more out of 4 in the afternoon before first Twiggy & Peter & then the Roberts family came to my rescue where Richard Roberts & I compared race notes & Rebecca issued the classically hurtful line of ‘I’m not trying to insult you Paul but Richard came into PyP only 5 minutes ahead of you so I knew he was having a bad one’ or words to that effect, how kind…… At 5:20 the cafe emptied, I walked into the Cafe Kitchen, looked at the vast haul of neglected & un-washed trays of pots, pans & did what I had to do. Back at home I watched the Cav. get blocked in the Tours final sprint, disappointment but is that what keeps us coming back for more?
Monday – A day of rest or so I thought, with quads still aching but feeling a bit more lively in myself. A few e-mails, then the race results pinged into my Inbox & my mental recovery (started by Andrea at the summit) became complete. I’d come 66th out of 140 finishers (or 171 starters), not great but not bad for such an iconic race & the quality of field it attracts. I was 12th out of 43 in the Male O.50’s again not great but not bad. However always being someone looking for a silver lining I dug deeper into the results & found it. At Ogwen where I had had very genuine thoughts of ‘how the hell am I going to drag myself over the Glyders & then up Snowdon in this heat & the state I’m already in’ at this point I was in 96th place at this very low (in all senses) point. The reality of the next 3 hours 40 minutes or so of pain is that one female runner overtook me (in real race times) & I had overtaken 31 runners in return moving 30 places up the field. I simply cannot put into words how good that realisation made me feel, having felt I had got almost everything wrong I had actually got quite a lot right.
I then put a call into the Cafe, Angel said ‘we are a bit busy’ I said ‘I’ll be up there by lunchtime’, moved some logs, drove to the Cafe, pushed Luca back into cooking duties & went on the ever multiplying pots for four & a half hours, as ever pride had come before a fall.
In particular I must thank Nick for his good company, our 6 hour ‘plans’ & many memorable moments including a few seconds of a cool breeze that I felt & let him know was coming his way on the GribIn before the heat returned. And of course Rebecca for her lift & that all important proper re-fuel at Ogwen.
Also thanks to Alison Pyatt for putting in an extra shift at the Cafe to help cover my absence, to Anne for the lift back & team Siabod for be happy & not angry at my absence & fatigued return.
Then there’s a big thanks to Harvey, Judith, Jean & their entire team, what a race, great organisation & a sad & fond farewell to you all from a race organising point of view although I’m sure many of you will be in the all important background in the years ahead.
Finally thank you to Dorina for putting up with my trials & tribulations, don’t think I warned you sufficiently about my fell running side over our first date back in November 2010 but there again in my defence my running was in the infancy of it’s first year, it & we have come a long way since then haven’t we!
PS. One final anecdote. Earlier in the week I’d had an e-mail exchange with Paul Jones that I was going to target Russel who’d beaten me by 5 minutes over 5 & a half hours in the 2019 race. This year he beat me by 6 minutes over 6 & a half hours, consistency of sorts, how had we ‘managed’ that?