Monday, 27 July 2015

Als Paddy Buckley

Post BG 2013. Planning ahead already.
Al has been planning this one for a while. The day after he finished the Bob Graham, we were helping him hobble around Keswick and happened across Needle sports. I caught him surreptitiously looking at the PB map, which eventually got bought, despite the still raw blisters on his feet (which meant I had to drive his car home for him).
Fast forward a couple of years, and Al has been out in Wales a goodly few times, reccying the various legs. We've been racing in North Wales a lot this year, and a few people have been out helping with the reccying as well.
The date was set for the end of July for various reasons - but unfortunately clashed with the Glossopdale Away Week, where a lot of prospective supporters had already decided to head off to. Unperturbed, Al had decided on the weekend, and it was going ahead, like it or not.
A small, (but perfectly formed) band of people gathered together, Tim C, who would run legs 1-2, Mark O, who would do 3 and 5, Me - legs 3 and 4, (and/or 5), Zoe and Pennine Robin - on legs 4-5, and, perhaps most crucially, Lynne on road support EVERYWHERE and at any time (her blog on the day can be found here), and of course, Al's family (Mum, brothers, sister-in-law and nephews) for much needed moral support at road crossings etc.

Logisitics were sorted out a few days prior to the off, with vague timings being worked out. Al wasn't particularly worried about what time he was hitting particular peaks, and the most specific timings were the road crossings. With only 6 specific times to work on, we wouldn't constantly be clock watching, and would have time to enjoy the spectacular nature of what Al was doing.

Nothing ever goes quite right, and on the day Mark was not able to get to support - I was definitely down to do leg 3, so there wasn't too much re-shuffling of plans. Al set off at 6pm with Tim C for company, at which point everyone dispersed to different places for food etc. Lynne and I drove over to Ogwen for the first checkpoint via Capel, where I dropped Tims car off. At Ogwen it was pretty horrendously midge-fested, so we hurriedly sorted out the van so that I could get a bit of kip in the back, and Lynne organised stuff for a little later on. Al had given himself a decent bit of time on this leg and the expected arrival time was 10pm. Considering he was fresh, we were expecting him to arrive at some point around 930. Lo-and-behold, at about 8:50pm, Lynne saw figures running across the top of Tryfan, a radio call came in from Al on the top to confirm they were there, before starting their descent, his bright green top standing out well against the slowly darkening hill.

We got out the brewkit, all the bits Al might need, food and coffee etc, and as we were prepping up, Als Mum and Brother arrived, not long after that, Al came barrelling into Ogwen carpark looking pretty good. He slurped down some coffee and electrolytes changed shoes, and as he did so, Tim came into the carpark, looking a bit knackered. Bad news - he was feeling decidedly under the weather and didn't think he'd make it over the next leg.
One thing to do - a quick change into running gear, check I had enough water and lighting, make sure that Tim was ok, and not actually really bad, and I was ready.
Al and I started out on the ascent to Pen-y-ole-wen as the sun was properly setting. 10 minutes into the climb, not even that, and Al was moving badly - cramp had hit. Not a good sign. We thought it would go soon enough, but after 3 mins of not really being able to walk, it was obvious this wasn't going away. Al looked worried, this might be the end of the attempt... not great at all.

I told him to sit down, which he did with difficulty, and then massaged the cramping leg. After about a minute of 2, it seemed to settle down. I was worried it might cramp up again, so told him to stand up slowly and begin to take it easy, walking. He did so, it stayed ok, and then he picked the pace up - no problems, no issues. Thank goodness for that, the climb, and the attempt continued.
Pen-yr-ole-wen goes up a long way. We had reccyed this leg together a months back, and were pretty confident of it. As we hit the top, the view across to Anglesey was spectacular, as was the view up the valley, where we could see a couple of headtorches making their way up a buttress on Tryfan. Rather them than us.
Headtorches went on as we got to the top, and things were going well as we mooched across the skyline to the Carneddau. We picked them off in good time, and continued on and around, with night closing in around us. Only a couple more peaks on this leg and we would be heading down to Capel - it really is a good leg to run as there is enough path to actually get some speed up, and you feel like you're running.
Al picked a great line off the final hill (much better than the one that we did when I was with him last time), and ridiculously quickly we were down by the road. The leg had gone fast, no problems were encountered, and we were moving well. Apart from the minor cramp scare at the beginning, things were looking good.

Coming down into Capel, I ran on ahead to let Lynne know Al wanted coffee and a change of shoes. We were a good half an hour or so up on time, though with the biggest challenge of the night to come. Lynne had been there for a good few hours now, and had been a little concerned at being there on her own. However, she had made up a fantastic little checkpoint, with torches, food and drink and the whole lot laid out nicely.  Change torch batteries, reload with water, and extra water for Al, pick up the map for the section, check compass (they don't ALWAYS point north).... and double check Al has everything he needs as well, before heading off onto the hill. At this point, we were still about 30 mins up, but this next leg was going to be the crux.

Past Plas y Brenin, and off onto the trail up to Moel Siabod. To be totally honest, there are wide swathes of this leg that I haven't done before, and Siabod is one of those on the list that I still haven't climbed, so it was a new experience for me. In the dark. With gathering clag on top. Not to worry, we have maps, and compasses.

The drag up to the top of Siabod was long - runnable if it is the only hill you're doing for the day, but we had a fair way to go yet. It was the middle of the night, and darkness was everywhere. The only human we had seen since leaving Ogwen was Lynne, at Capel. At one point we nearly took the wrong line, but quickly averted disaster by heading uphill some more. Topping out, compasses set, we were finally able to put our running legs to good use, and ran down the fence line towards the next top.
From this point on, tops sometimes had names, but more often than not, had numbers and were simply a slightly larger hump than other humps around it. And the vast majority of the terrain was bog. Not just a bit of bog, but from ankle to waist deep bog. Proper bog. Not really conducive to running through at the best of times.

For a number of hours, we trudged through this stuff, eating, drinking, talking, falling over, getting up, ensuring that we didn't miss the right hummock which was a "top", though a couple of times we went up a hill that was not the right one, wasting energy and time. There were a couple of navigational moments, the first of which was a "I don't remember THIS bit... it shouldn't be a cliff like that" - we got down and around it ok, and found ourselves in the right place, and another "that looks like a top we should be on... haven't we already done it?" lack of sleep was really getting to be an issue, had we thought we'd hit that one already? Well, its best to get up it and make sure. Al headed off up to the top, while I made sure of exactly where we were on the hill. Yes, it was a top, Yes, Al bagged it, and Yes, I worked out where we were.

On and on, towards the Southern-most part of the round. Finally we were able to move at something a little more than walking pace as the ground firmed up, the heather became less, and the dawn began to light up the sky, which raised our spirits considerably. Not only that, but we were on the second of my 2 page map of this leg. 4 hours gone, and an awful lot of walking and swearing, finally we seemed to be getting somewhere.
The descent to Clogwyn Brith was long, but decent. We still hadn't been rained on, which was the constant threat of the night, though the terrain was really starting to take its toll on our legs. Into the quarry, and the climb up to Foel Ddu. In front of us, we could see the masses of the Moelwyns and across the way was Cnicht. They looked formidable.

We stopped for a short while on the climb to Foel Ddu, the distance was beginning to tell on Al, and although we had had some bad places in the night, even though it was now dawn - and a spectacular dawn it was too, he was beginning to flag. To be honest, I was flagging too, but nothing a bit of food couldn't put right.
(more food-- eugh), and the long, torturous climb to the top continued, and across to Moel yr hydd. I stopped to take a couple of photos, as the light on the hills was splendid, Al went on ahead, and it was a fair old while before I was able to catch him up again, and then came the lowest point of the whole thing, the ascent to Moelwyn Bach. Al's legs were killing. The pace had slowed to a crawl and he was beginning to
doubt his ability to complete the whole round. Time was bleeding away even as we moved forward. The line we were on is the race line from the Moelwyns race, and it's bad enough then, without having done a massive amount of ascent prior to it as well, but slowly and surely we made our way to the top.

Dawn. 4 more peaks to go.
The jog off was ok, and then the climb to Moelwyn Mawr ensued - I've only ever come off it this way, rather than climbed, so it was an interesting reversal, even if it was a slow climb. We dropped off the top and then kept to higher (and boggy) ground around the quarries - even in his sleep-deprived state, Al knew
exactly where he was going, and we came to the bottom of Cnicht, not exactly in good time, but we were there. Al knew he was going to end this leg about 30mins behind schedule, and was a bit despondant about it. I told him that the 24hour thing wasn't a problem - as long as he finished it, he'd never have to do this bloody leg again - at which he perked up a bit.
I picked a line up Cnicht, and as we began climbing, the weather came in. Sheets of rain washed over us, but thankfully, the visibility remained pretty good. Al toiled up behind me, as we wove our way across the hill, and popped out nicely within easy reach of the summit. Drenched through, we got to the top, and began the massive downhill to the carpark.

Slimy rock, wet slate and alternately hard and soft paths made the going treacherous. It's a long, long way down that hill, and for the most part, Al took the lead. I think I must have been suffering as there was no way I could keep up with him for a while - he ended up about 50 metres ahead before I told myself to get a grip, and was able to catch him up.
Still we went down, and I was beginning to think that Al was taking the Mick - that actually we were going to end up at the bottom of a hole somewhere, until eventually, dripping and knackered, we hit the road. Just a couple of km to the final stop, I found something extra in my legs to stretch out and get to the changeover point a few minutes earlier than Al, with his request for Strong coffee.
Along the road - it has a couple of nasty little kickers, I managed a decent pace, and all but collapsed into the chair provided by Lynne, under the cover of a National Trust building. The smell of Bacon butties and coffee hung in the air, Zoe and Robin stood waiting to pace on the next legs and Al came jogging up the carpark.

Again, Lynne had surpassed herself. Hot food, hot drinks, shelter, seating, and everything set out ready for the off. Smiley, cheerful and buzzing around making sure that everyone had enough of everything. Al changed his shoes, gulped down the coffee and the bacon butty, and was pretty much ready for the off. Despite the rain, despite the pain, despite the fact we were 30 mins down on schedule, you could see in his eyes, there was one over-riding motivation. Finish this thing, and I'll never have to run leg 3 ever again. Off they went down onto leg 4, and I sat there with a coffee, wishing them well.

One thing really shows about the long rounds. I am fit, I am capable in the hills, and I can go out on long days. On race days, I am faster than Al, and I can keep up with him on long days out. When it came to this, I was a pacer, and my job was done. If I needed to, I could have gone out on leg 4, it wouldn't have been pretty, but I could have done.
I was at the end of my mental capacity - Al was not - still having a deep reserve. If you're going to do a round, physical fitness is not the only thing. You have got to want to get round. This goes for the preparation, for the reccying, for the planning. You have got to want to put in that effort. On the day, that fire burns hot, and even if you end up down on schedule, it is that desire that keeps you going, keeps you motivated.

Al - end of leg 4. One to go.
After we packed up, Lynne drove to the next checkpoint where I basically collapsed into the back of the van and slept for a good few hours. She organised the next stop, helped feed and cheer on a load of Marathon runners that were going through where we were stopped (I stayed asleep), and I emerged groggy, to see the mountains still shrouded in mist, praying that Zoe and Robin would want to continue onward to leg 5 as I really didn't feel like I had it in me. The bogs of leg 3 had broken me.

The intrepid 3 came in (well, Zoe took a slight wrong turn and came in a little after Robin and Al). Food was served, and more coffee - with the non-boggy ground, Al had made up an entire hour on this leg and had come in 30 mins up on schedule - a superb effort. Its not over until its over. After re-fuelling, they
The Marathon people let us use their tent.
carried on, and over onto the final leg, Al's 24 looking good. Up into the mist they went as Lynne drove us around to Llanberis - me a little more with it - I managed some conversation and map reading.

Down in Llanberis, we kicked around, had some hot chocolate in V12, and generally got ready for them to come in. The tracker on Al's bag was working well, and we could see their progress across and up to Snowdon and then across the intermediate peaks to Moel Elio. The finish for the marathon that Lynne went past where we were waiting for Al at the end of leg 4 actually finished about 30 metres from where Al was going to finish - and we got the compere to give him a shout out, and organised it so that he could finish by running through their finish gantry as well.

Al, Robin and Zoe heading off to leg 5.
A tense few minutes went by as we waited, binoculars out, peering through the sheets of rain, looking for figures running down the face of the hill.
Then... a dark figure, solo, came into view, and plunged down the hill, down past the screes, and moving well. Robin and Zoe must have told Al to just go for it. There was still plenty of time for him to get in, he had nearly an hour to go before we hit 6pm. Down and down, into the trees, and onto the roads and paths.

Lynne, me and Al's family went over to the bench where he would be finishing, and again, waited some more until eventually, and exhausted Al came into sight, crossed the road, and sat down on the bench where he started 23hours and 18 minutes previously.

It was a couple of minutes before we convinced him to jog down to the gantry of the marathon finish, to the acclaim of the compere on the microphone, and the cheers of those that had finished the marathon as well.
10 mins later, Zoe and Robin jogged in, wet through and smiley.

Congratulations to Al - despite everything that was thrown at him, despite some gnarly conditions, nav issues, being down on time, cramps, low points, and other issues, he came through in a fantastic time. There aren't a whole lot of people who have done the Paddy Buckley, and of those people, there aren't a whole load that have done it in sub 24 hours.
I believe he has some pretty good bragging rights now.


  1. Well done Tim supporting Al through the night, not an easy job to do alone , and the hardest leg got over with too!
    I picked up on Al's great journey at 0835 on Sunday morning, along with Robin and Cofa the Border Collie. The rain was falling, we climbed up through the woods towards Moel Hebog. Al was fatigued, and unhappy with the time Leg 3 had taken him, I tried to divert his mind by chattering away about the wildlife, the events of the previous night, encouraging him on 'keep on plodding' .
    We reached the Nantlle ridge via a pretty Alpine-looking pass, a break in the rain and Al clearly suffering. However he was eating well, which was a good plan, and drinking plenty of water, and took a couple of painkillers. Progress was not fast, but steady, and we ticked off the tops with minimal fuss. Until Y Garn, where a down-scramble across mossy, slippery rocks and boulders slowed us right down. Robin and I knew that we were coming back up towards Al's desired schedule so we took it steady and no-one slipped too drastically. Sweeping descent and through the forest to the next road crossing, which I managed to overshoot. D'oh! back in time for a brew and leg 5.
    The longest climb up to Snowdon, via, and Yr Aran. Rain constant, all but Robin the hard man in full waterproofs. Al really plodding and huffing on the climbs, and suffering a bit on the descents, but still moving, still going. Wind whipped us across the south ridge of Snowdon. Very cold, and we began to see a few humans, the first we'd met all day.
    "now there's a sight I've been waiting for" and off he sprinted past the summit cafe. Touched the top of Snowdon and I grabbed him in a hug on the steps. It was as if he'd awoken from a dream. It's on!!!
    We chased him from there on, hurriedly shedding layers and gulping gels and drinks, to catch up with him on his mission to make the 24 hours. Moel Cynghorion and the other green giants rushed by, breathlessly I ran, legs failing. I saw him stop to talk to Robin ahead of me at Moel Eilio. "I just told him to reach the top and not look back". Look back, he did not.
    Alasdair did this all himself and we were only there to witness and verify his great achievement. It even took two times of asking to get to carry his water for him. What a man.

  2. Well done to all - and a great write up as well.

  3. Great write up - well done all !