Long one this, apologies but need to do each day a justice.
I think I woke at the Café before 5:00 am with aching Quads (as feared) not allowing me to get back to sleep so I went downstairs & read at a window table. Prior to the run I’d read an excellent short book called ‘Broken’ which basically covers many of the really long distance UK running records which were broken last year. My idea was simply ‘if they could do that then I can do little old this’, I’m learning the power of mind over body or at least trying to. This particular reading session had moved onto Selwyn Wright’s also excellent book about his fell running years called ‘Just for Fun! Me and Fellrunning. It really does sum up what makes our sport so special if not occasionally a bit mad.
I digress, Dorina served me breakfast at 6:00 (you see the 2 hour before Armageddon pattern developing, a man of habits if not sense) & my mind began to battle my legs but with very little success. Despite all the reading the conclusion it reached was how can I possibly even run a few steps on these let alone run a 22 miler to Bethesda & back. Here again I had done my prep having a couple of Saturday’s before after a very busy & hard day on the pots I’d gone out early evening & recced the entire Bethesda run. During this recce Paul from Joe Brown’s had pulled alongside me on his Mountain bike (he was cycling home after a busy day also) & we had a pleasant chat in the glorious evening sun as he cycled at my pace for half a K or so. The conversation seemed to come to an end after I responded to Paul’s question ‘are you getting a lift back from Bethesda’ with a ‘no, I’m running back’. Clearly thinking ‘the guys an idiot, I’m not talking to him any longer’, Paul cycled on & left me to it.
John & Marion arrived to record things & offer encouragement to a bear with a sore head & very sore legs. At 8:00 am I was off (on my own) on Day 2, within a few hundred metres a lesson was learned, ‘you were being silly & pathetic Paul, you can not only run but the pain is nothing like you feared, now go ahead & enjoy yourself’. This is exactly what I did, I put my plan into place, ran slow & steady, walked the steeper hills on the return from Bethesda. Other parts of the plan were also executed with an un-like Paul sense of precision: Electrolyte soon after Ogwen cottage, first Gel at a walk on a short hill just before emerging on the A.5, pee stop & Electrolyte at gate before re-joining the back road (after the quarries), second Gel at a walk on ‘Buc’s’ hill (steepest of the route) & half an energy bar on the only ‘walk’ hill between the campsites & Capel. For the run I was carrying half a litre of Electrolyte & half a litre of water & managed them to near perfection to see me through it.
I reached the Café feeling tired but in far better overall shape than when I’d left, this was manageable, this was doable, tick one box at a time & don’t bloody well fall!
After an hour’s rest which probably included more Yoghurt (failed to mention my fuel of preference in previous blog) & other such stuff I was off on my own again (well not really because John had been popping up here & there earlier for some photo shots) for my 6th Up & Down Siabod. It was a slow one but I played it safe, no falls & legs preserved for the next 5 days.
Back at the Café Gaby & I reached an understanding, 30 grams of Pasta, two serving spoons of Bolognese were consumed easily enough, Dorina would need to fend for herself from the Kitchen at home whilst I stroked a cat, read & wined myself to sleep. Of note on the way home I called in at Bodhi in Betws for the first of 3 pre-arranged & donated massage sessions by Sam. I’d been reassured that because I would be doing long runs on subsequent days that she would not go as ‘deep’ as normal. Well Sam is either a good liar or my legs were trashed, quite why nobody queuing outside the stables (Covid striking again) decided to call the police in response to my howling god only knows? All that said in reality Sam, thanks being another person putting themselves out in my support.
Tuesday dawned early, Dorina cooked breakfast at home a little before six & we arrived at the Café a little before 7:00am. Today I had a support runner for the Bethesda bit in the familiar form of Richard Roberts. Think the weather was a bit misty & inclement in a quite pleasant way but brightened in the Nant Francon to become warm & sunny (a bit too much on the way back). I stuck to my re-fuelling regime & before I knew it we were back at the Café in a time a pleasingly 11 minutes faster than the day before. I had felt the increase in pace early on the run but was able to chat with Richard at will & so had just gone with the flow, this & the heat had got to me a bit on the long run back but I’m quibbling really, it was all going quite well. John & Andy Pyatt had recorded us at various points & Maggie Oliver had come out to support us on her bike at Bethesda (Maggie had also supported me at various points on the Sunday too & would repeat this again on the Saturday).
With more than an hour to rest & recuperate I had also the benefit of a pleasant surprise which my fogged mind of Sunday maybe should have already known, Richard wasn’t just doing Bethesda, he was doing Siabod with me too, this ‘new’ knowledge felt good.
Siabod was soon behind us more than 6 minutes faster than my alone effort of the day before & a minute faster than mine & Richard’s Sunday run, ‘this feels O.K. Paul’. My mind even came up with ‘you are halfway to getting to Saturday & if you get to Saturday it’ll be in the bag’.
Gaby & I came up with plan C, 50 grams pasta & 3 spoons of Bolognese, Dorina & I stayed at the Café with me having also endured another pummelling from the take no prisoners Sam, there was no cat but the consistency of the book & wine saw me sleeping at a decent time once again.
Wednesday, breakfast as usual, no John & Marion today, I set off alone at 8:00am cheered on by Dorina & Mike Lees who had arrived at the Café the day before. Aware there was still a long way to go I set a slightly slower pace wary of the slog of yesterday’s return. Things were going steadily well before I received an un-expected tonic as I began to approach the last two cottages in the Nant Francon, a van came the other way followed by a car. This sudden traffic jam was soon to turn into something more pleasant as from the drivers seat of the car came a wave & the familiar smiling face of Gethin Armstrong, what a pleasant surprise. Apparently Gethin had earlier phoned the Cafe to check with Dorina that I’d set off on schedule. I ran on, Gethin u-turned, passed me again, parked up & began to put on his bag etc. I returned the compliment by running on again knowing that he’d soon catch me up which he duly did as I Gelled up at my ‘usual’ hill. Despite this tonic of company & sticking to my routine my unusually well behaved stomach also now decided to put in an appearance seeing me stop at Idwal on the way back to use the well sited toilet block, relief was then rewarded with some more of Gethin’s orange segments, very refreshing. No matter how I pace this run the long way back from Bethesda does take it out on you (well me at least) & proved to be the most consistently tough battle of the week, I apologise for any sullenness I portrayed to both Richard & Gethin respectively.
We recorded a decent time smack in the middle of Monday’s & Tuesday’s time & again I had more than an hour before we headed out for Siabod number 8. This was done amazingly in a time just one second variant from yesterday’s & to make things even better it was on the right side of it too, that felt great. Gethin’s positive friendliness had been great company & an un-expected surprise that not only had he joined me in the Nant Francon but had stayed with me for Siabod as well as promising to do more come Friday.
Think Gaby & plan C were re-enacted before Dorina & I headed home for a cat, some wine & of all things football (feeling a tad too tired to read).
Thursday: Breakfast at home, Café before 7:00am, today Mike Lees would be my companion on his e-bike with him getting relief at the numerous gates which allowed me to run on ahead. Early on Mike asked me a series of questions about comparisons between this & last year runs, what do I think off as you trudge onwards etc. etc. I tried to be as insightful as possible but in truth how do you put into words all the mental & physical aspects that get you through another 4 hour run (in the case of 2021) or a 24 hour run (in the case of 2020). I suppose it’s a real mix of concentration on the terrain, fuelling, breaking down the run into smaller parts, the company, thoughts of where I have been, where am I going, why am I & who am I doing it for, the support I’m receiving, the memories & anecdotes. In truth the list goes on & on & reflecting on it all gives pleasure & pride in the whole experience.
Mike & I were cheered on by Eric Roberts as we emerged onto the A.5, Mike justly decided he’d like some alternative company for a bit so chatted to Eric as I continued on before we were re-united just before Bethesda. In the quarries the ire chills of cold air that seep out of the slate heaps gave another talking point before Mike’s e-bike legs left me to walk those backward hills once again, surprisingly I felt no envy. We’d set a ‘blistering’ pb for the week so far some minute & a half faster than my Tuesday time with Richard, this is going well!
Of course Mike couldn’t accompany me up Siabod but I had Dorina to come with me on her day-off! Now Dorina despite not getting as much time on the mountains as I do was born a mountain goat in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. Raised in a remote village at over 1,000 metres (yes that would be higher than Snowdon) with surrounding peaks rising to 2,500 metres her upbringing was moving around hills to find food to live & not just for fun. This led to my inevitable call to her early on ‘slow down Dorina, you are going too fast’ (of course I should have added ‘for me’ but strangely I didn’t). We thereafter climbed at my pace giving Dorina a more relaxed outing for the first time since lock-up No. 2. Despite this I set a weekday pb for the afternoon run a still pleasingly consistent 38 seconds lower than yesterday’s. Two pb’s in a day, confidence sky high, I should have known better, pride as ever before a fall (not a literal fall thankfully). Dorina was beaming from ear to ear despite knowing she still had to drive home, do a changeover on our Air B & B apartment & then drive back to the Café for a more relaxing evening with friends whilst treating my feet to a footbath massage with Epsom Salts, all in a girls day-off.
Our friends Jackie & Barry Edwards had by now arrived at the Café & would be overnighting in their van in our car park for a few nights, we had met them on the Everest Marathon expedition where Barry had the audacity to beat me & set the record in the Over 60’s category, despite this I like him immensely & he planned to support me at some point over the next couple of days.
Think with the Bolognese now running low Plan D came into play, there’s not enough for two servings, I’m feeling good, lets go for 70 grams pasta & all the Bolognese even though there’s no back up Chilli for tomorrow (unusually Gaby’s cupboard was bare).
Once again I had a session in Betws with Sam, amazingly I whimpered less than usual, another pleasant surprise.
We had a very chilled out evening with Jackie & Barry & Mike but no cat. Mike who is nowadays that unusual animal aka as a tea-totalling Marxist (not quite as bad as it sounds) later reported that the conversation turned increasingly hilarious as the night went on & the wine continued to flow.
Friday, I awoke with a hangover, had breakfast as usual at 6:00 whilst Mike & I dissected the evenings hilarity. With a full support crew to see us off I was once again joined by Gethin as we headed out into cool refreshing drizzle, I was only in a short sleeve top. In truth my over-confidence of the evening before was now replaced with the reality of another 22 mile run to Bethesda & back. Gethin though was as up-beat as ever & we soon reached the Nant Francon where we caught up with Alwyn Oliver who had given himself a bit of a head start on us. This is fair enough for a very spritely 76 year old who had already given substantial support earlier in the week. By now two sets of conditions were rapidly going down hill, the weather (wind & rain picking up) & my stomach (rumblings picking up), would I make it back to the relief of the Idwal toilet block? I had a contingency hope, if Eric is there cheering us on again I can ask to use his toilet (his house only being a 50 metre detour off route). Contingency hope became contingency reality, I could ‘relax’ once again. Upon leaving Eric’s I had the foresight to put on my windproof layer thinking I might get cold after the stop, preventive action & all that. It was a good decision that didn’t work! Returning through the Nant Francon had been difficult all week but despite the extra layer the wind & rain drove into my skin I soon became cold, tired & very forlorn. Fortunately I had Gethin beside me deploying a fine blend of saying nothing & then just a little as well as the occasional segment of Orange. Once alongside Ogwen Lake he felt confident enough to utter a line that had he done so earlier I would have thrown it back in his face, it was along the lines of ‘you should be feeling great, you are almost there’, I think I managed a half smiled acknowledgement of his sentiment. In truth the worse of the morning was behind me, the Ogwen valley was noticeably warmer than the Nant Francon had been. Despite failing to have put an energy bar in the bag for that final walked climb my adrenalin was beginning to burn properly again. By the time we caught up with Alwyn (he had missed out part of the Bethesda/Quarry loop but still clocked up 19 miles) for the final run-in I felt really strong hit the pedal hard (I realised despite it all that a pb was possible) & at last made Gethin work a bit to reel me back in, it was a great end to an at times horrible morning, the mind, the mind, it must be a matter of the mind! I had pb’d in over a minute faster than the day before, Gethin and I exchanged very knowing winks at the end, the understanding was a magical experience in itself.
Barry would join me for the afternoon Siabod thing we would set off at 1:00pm. Not long before this deadline the heavens really opened up (thundery showers were forecasted), I thought about delaying our start but in truth the thought of putting it off & sitting around thinking about it soon cancelled out any stupidity. Barry & I posed for the usual pre-start photo shoot in poring rain whilst our support entourage huddled under the side canopy tittering away at the whole ‘joke’, we left them to it, this was a mountain afternoon for ‘men of a certain age’. The weather didn’t let up but I was focused, knew what completion would mean for my overall goal & just got stuck into it. Within an hour we were at the summit, not hanging around we headed back down. The descent (which had been perfectly dry all week) was now very wet & slippery, fearing a fall I was running with the brakes firmly on leading to very painful quads by the end. Once on the forest track my feet & ankles became the issue (a worsening of the trend that had started on Wednesday’s descent & always at this change of terrain), despite this knowing I was safe I picked things up to a more lively pace but still recorded my second slowest time of the week some 5 minutes down on the previous 3 days. Who cared my weekdays were over, I had avoided a fall, just the final day to go, only my feet, my ankles or a fall can stop me now.
Dorina ‘treated’ my feet & ankles to a cold bucket whilst everyone looked on in glee as she enthusiastically added the ice ‘THAT’S enough ANGEL’ & Gaby gave me plan E which was a portion of a fresh batch of her Chilli with rice, noted & appreciated. We went home to a cat, think it was football, no it was wine & then sleep.
I’ll draw a line at that, a 5 day week of runs to be book ended & signed off the next day.
Oh very well you runners lets get to the stats:-
Monday – 3:52:36 & 1:41:21, total 5:33:57
Tuesday – 3:41:28 & 1:34:50, total 5:16:18
Wednesday – 3:46:08 & 1:34:49, total 5:20:57
Thursday – 3:39:50 & 1:34:11. total 5:14:11
Friday – 3:38:23 & 1:39:24, total 5:17:47