On Sunday 23rd August Tom Wood attempted possibly the longest SLR in club history, find out about this massive run below.
For the uninitiated, the Paddy Buckley is a circuit of 62 miles/100km and 28000ft/8000m vertical gain, across 47 of the highest mountains in the Northern section of the Snowdonia National Park. It was created following the popularity of the Bob Graham Round, a similar circuit of 42 Lake District peaks, as the complementary Welsh equivalent which fell runners would attempt to complete within 24 hours to gain membership to the notorious ‘Bob Graham 24 Hour Club’. While no such specified time limit exists for the Paddy Buckley, nor a prestigious club, runners still opt for the 24 hour completion target despite the round being regarded as a few hours tougher than its English partner. The route is split into 5 legs, taking in the Glyders, Carneddau, Moel Siabod & Y Moelwynion, Moel Hebog and finally Snowdon and the Eilio Ridge. A tough day out by anyone’s standards.
3:50AM. This had been my usual bedtime since March and the lockdown, but waking up at this time felt surprisingly easy. Looking back, this was probably the easiest part of the day. An hour later I found myself walking over to the ‘Croeso, Trenau’ (or ‘Welcome, Trains’) sign in Llanberis, for a few minutes of calm before my 5:00AM start.
As soon as my watched ticked over to 5:00:00, I was off. 4:45/km isn’t the sort of pace many cross country runners would be happy to find themselves at, but for the first kilometre out of a hundred I was content. Having failed to find myself any support for Leg 1 or 2, I was solo, but having practiced this section countless times I was confident I’d not run into too many problems. What I hadn’t practiced was the first ascent through the Dinorwic slate quarries up Elidir Fawr in the pitch dark, with my headtorch shining back into my eyes in the low mountain fog. After an hour fumbling for the right lines in the dark, in a constant mild panic, the sky was suddenly bright, but the mountains no more visible in the thick cloud. Serious caution was needed ascending the moonscape of the Glyders and crossing to the infamously technical Tryfan over wet rock with impeded visibility, but I was glad to see the two summit stones of Adam and Eve to mark the top of the eighth summit of the day, the fifth over 3000’ and the final one of Leg 1. Dropping below the cloud I picked some speed back up to arrive at Bwthyn Ogwen and my parents’ support vehicle for a change of water, change of supplies and change of headwear – swapping my headtorch for my serious business hat.
Leg 2 began as I ascended Pen yr Ole Wen and watched and waited to be enveloped by cloud. And that I was. The conditions on this leg were the worst of the day, with horizontal driving rain, a tough wind and the same low cloud that had affected my visibility on the previous section. In just a t-shirt and shorts, the only I option I had was to finish the leg as quickly as I could so I could swap my soaked shirt and put on a waterproof – that and to gain back the 10 minutes I was down on my schedule since my navigational fumblings on Leg 1. So that’s what I did, ticking off the summits of the Carneddau faster than I’ve done before I made it down to Capel Curig 12 minutes up on my planned leg time, 2 minutes up on my overall schedule.
With a fresh shirt and jacket on, the long climb to the 14th summit, Moel Siabod, began. This time I had a running mate, Ifan, to provide some support, updates on how much time I was dropping at every second peak and to feed me all of his Scottish Tablet. I combined a slow ascent up Siabod with a flying descent, before I began to lose one minute, two minutes, ten minutes on the subsequent peaks. This leg was long and boggy, and my speed was dropping all the while. I held onto my optimistically fast 17:20 schedule until just before half-way on this leg and so half way in total, but through the Moelwyns and up Cnicht the time was dropping like a rock. I was in the deepest calorie hole I’d ever been in, having missed out on an hour and a half’s worth of food on the first leg, so was really shuffling slowly on the long descent from Cnicht. This was equally matched by my one-word responses and failing temper.
Leg 4 was a welcome change from the stress of keeping pace, as I’d accepted from here on in it was about my survival. And the sub-24 would be nice too. The first climb, Bryn Banog, is notorious as the killer of the runner on this route, but settling in with a pair of poles I was up and over Moel Hebog too without any issues. My pacer for this leg had attempted his own Paddy Buckley a couple of weeks earlier, and gave it another go the week after my attempt to smash the record in 16h37 – the greatest run of all time in the Welsh Hills. I was glad to have him showing me his ways on this section. The sun set for me in a deep red over the Nantlle Ridge, and I knew by the end of Leg 4 I’d get the job done.
A dark and slow ascent up Craig Wen, Yr Aran and then Snowdon remained, with Gareth Wyn Hughes, a local who I always hope to beat in Eryri fell races, on the pace. It was a slow couple of hours until I found my way to the top, with a faint headlight in the distance meaning that it would be another failed chance of being the only people on the mountain. By the 43rd summit of the day, Crib y Ddysgl, the bad conditions I’d faced on Leg 2 had returned; the howling wind, low cloud and rain was again making things tough. By far the most runnable part of the day, the Eilio Ridge, was the equivalent sprint-finish, but was really anything but in those conditions – turning into a long slog to bring myself home in just under 21 hours.
I really was pleased to have finally done what I’d been thinking of doing for the past six months. The bi-weekly mountain long runs and dress-rehearsals of 50 and 70km had been put to their use. I was also glad to have gone out hard, even if it meant for a slower finish, and I’m happy I was able to keep to record pace for eight hours at least. Now I’m going into temporary retirement from ultra-running, and after a month of lying in bed maybe I’ll get back to running cross country too. But we’ll have to see about that.
Thanks to Ifan, Math, Gareth, Mark & Alice, the Potters and my parents, without whom this would not have been possible.