Friday, 9 November 2012

Going from A to...?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about progression and goal setting lately and Alan's comment on my previous blog asking if his goals were too conservative made me think I should put my thoughts down here. I'm not totally sure where this is going so let's just start typing and see where we end up.


As I sit writing this I weigh around 77kg. My racing weight is 75kg but at 77 I feel pretty good. When Mich and I got married in 2003 I was 97kg (four stone heavier). Here's a photo from our big day...

Compare that to now (I'm the one in the middle)...

If you would have asked me on my wedding night what weight you thought I could eventually reach I would have wondered what you were doing in our hotel room on our wedding night. However, if you'd have asked me a day or two later I probably would have said I could loose 3-5kg. I certainly would not have thought I could ever be the shape I am now.

What's this got to do with running? Bear with me, there's a lesson about goal setting here that I'm hoping to reach.


I have always loved running, right back from when I was at school. But it always hurt. I used to suffer from agonizing knee pain which would flare up after three to four miles. My first race was the Liverpool 10k and my pre-race preparation consisted of downing two Ibuprofen, applying painkiller gel to my knees and saying a silent prayer to the running gods that the pain wouldn't be too bad. I had never run more than 4 miles before and when I completed it (in just under an hour) I felt like the King of the world. I didn't take my medal off all evening. On that same day Mich was running the Liverpool Half Marathon, a distance I was certain I would never be able to run. A marathon was just out of the question.

This is me completing the Lakeland 100.


So what am I trying to say? Well, natural ability does make a difference when it comes to finishing times; we can see that when we get to the elite level. But, I really don't believe that most people are running anywhere near their full potential. If you run a 2:05 half marathon this year it's easy to say you'll aim for sub 2 next year. But what if you are actually capable of 1:30? Are you limiting yourself in your physical and mental approach by setting goals which are just way too low? You may not be able to run that 1:30 next year but by aiming to improve only marginally you may never get there.

The record pace for our club 4 mile time trial is around 6min miles. I genuinely believe that most of the club are physically capable of achieving this pace over four miles with the right training but hardly any of those runners are looking at the record holder and thinking "yeah, I can do that". Now our work/life balance may mean we never reach our full potential but if we accept that this potential is way higher than we are currently running then it allows us to target big improvements somewhere between that top end potential and where we are now. 

I'm not a coach and I can't describe how to get from A to B. All I'm saying is that maybe you can open up your mind and consider that you could be aiming to go from A to C. Or maybe even to D.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Running through Hell

From the moment I hit submit on the entry form for the 2012 Hell Up North Hellrunner I had been dreading this race. I had a very definite game plan. One that would not be fun.

I have been entering Hellrunner off and on since it was first held in Delamere Forest around 2006. It's a fantastic mix of glorious trails with steep hill reps (the Hills of Hell) and chest deep freezing mud (the Bog of Doom). Back in that first year I was new to running, hadn't really done any trail running and was about 20kg heavier than I am now. It was a tough old day in the forest and I finished a broken man in around 500th place. The last time I entered was two years ago when I was racing my workmate, the super-competitive Barry. I managed to duck inside the top 100 on the Saturday event (and more importantly beat Baz!). This year I secretly wanted to go top 50.

So, how would I go about getting a top 50 place at Hellrunner? Simple! I would line up at the front of the field, beast myself over the hill at the start then hang on by my findernails for 10 miles. Now you can see why I wasn't looking forward to this!

The morning started really positively, with a nice walk in with Alan then a chat with a bunch of Spartans. We were taking just shy of 30 to this event (which is afterall on our turf) along with families so there was a great atmosphere.

Time to line up and I moved right to the front, just two rows back. After some taunting from the Devil Himself the airhorn sounded and off we stormed into the red smoke. The climb up Old Pale is familiar ground on our club's Tuesday sessions so it was really easy to gauge a hard-but-not-suicidal pace. As we approached the summit it seemed bizzar to be in Hellrunner and only have a hand full of people ahead of me. Even more bizzar was the thought that there were 2100 runners behind me.

I overtook a few people on the way up but was passed by maybe ten or twenty. Charlie and Kev were the only two Spartans ahead of me and as they are both superhuman I never expected to be able to challenge them. If another white shirt appeared I would tag them but apart from that I would stick to my own pace.

Over the top and we hit the descent; now it's time to pass everyone who went by me on the climb. I open my stride, add in some bounce and accelerate to fly through the field. Except everyone's going just as fast as I am. Remember you're at the front of the field this time Steve! I go tearing down the hill, shoulder to shoulder with another runner. We're both running out of control and each time we hit a corner we are trusting whoever has the inside line not to drift too far and wipe the other one out. Fun? I could sell tickets for this!

We hit the flat and loop back towards the start line for a pass through the supporters before heading into the forest. I am dying on my feet, just as I had planned. I guess that's good then! Nick pulls onto my shoulder and we run through the start area side by side. "Come on Steve...this is OUR forest". "Weeeeze.....yeah....gasp....".

We head out on fabulous single track trails, Nick generally setting the pace and me holding on. "Time to re-group" says Nick. Sounds good to me. It strikes me that it would be amazing to finish together...but that's still a long way away. We're holding our own and enjoying the running and I feel good enough to start taking turns in front. Just before we cross the road I pass a couple of people and find that Nick's no longer with me.

Through the Puddle of Peril without too much drama and as we hit the fire trails I put in some more effort and start moving past a few people. The plan was to be hanging on for dear life at this point, hating every step. But I am no longer sticking to the plan. I have a HUGE smile on my face; working hard but loving this race.

Hey, is that a Spartan Shirt ahead? Looks like Big Jase. I was certain he was behind me, I wonder where he overtook me? I pull up behind him as we hit the singletrack again and I have to laugh; I am working my ass off but J is just jogging along chatting to another runner about the High Peak 40. I jog along with them but I'm not talking...I don't have the spare breath for it. The trail opens up and I wish him the best and pull ahead. It turns out he'd got a little lost and had cut a corner. Once he realized he jogged back through the field to run in with Paul A. Getting lost in Sparta! Maybe it's time to revoke his club membership?

I continue drifting up the field with a silly grin on my face. Through the Hills of Hell with my legs intact and as we turn towards the finish I'm running in a bubble of about four runners, with the second placed lady just ahead. I know from previous years that we have some single track to go, then the Bog of Doom and then the finish. Actually, not this year! We turn a corner and are directed by a marshal into a lake.

The water is numbingly cold. I'm splashing along behind another guy when he suddenly disappears  I'm next and as the water hits my stomach it absolutely takes my breath away. We quickly realize that there is a ridge somewhere in the black, icy water and it's not a good idea to step off it. I pull ahead, aiming to get close to the lady in front. She's really handy: every time we reach a hole in the "path" she disappears under the water and reappears with a loud yelp. It's a perfect warning for me to watch my step. :-)

The water goes on forever and by the time we climb out my legs are totally numb and by feet feel like they have been replaced by house bricks. We cross the road again and I'm still in the same bubble of four runners. I try a couple of times to break away but they tag me and I get sucked back into the group. Beyond our quartet there's not another runner in sight, just empty trail. This is not Hellrunner as I know it! Where are  the crowds?

I run along with the group until we hit the final stretch of fire trail. I realize that I need to break away now or we'll be together right through the bog and that will mean hard work out-sprinting them at the finish. I put in a big effort and this time I sustain it. It hurts but I manage to pull a 20m gap and I feel the elastic break between us. I'm away!

I enter the bog right behind the second placed lady. I don't really notice the crowds, smoke and music; I'm just focused on getting a good line into the water and keeping my footing. I pass the lady and spend the entire Bog of Doom with people screaming "You're second girl!" at me. I manage to face plant in the water as I turn to acknowledge Neil and team. So many friendly Spartan faces shouting support. Brilliant!

Out of the bog and my legs are lead. As I start the lap of the finish field someone passes me and we have a battle up to the final corner when I put in a sprint to pull ahead. I cross the line in 1:46:17, in 38th place out of 2,113 runners.

I am absolutely delighted with everything about this race. I discovered that I can go out hard in a short race, re-group and still finish strong. Back when I ran that first Hellrunner and finished 500th I never, ever could have imagined that one day I would finish top 50. What a confidence boost! Now all I have to do is figure out how to go top 20 next year!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Montane Lakeland 100

It’s 4:30am on Sunday morning. I’m high on Yewdale Fell and I have been on the go now for 35 continuous hours. Visibility is poor as the headtorch beam struggles to fight its way through the heavy rain. I am still shivering uncontrollably but I no longer think that hypothermia is a serious threat. I have large blisters on the soles of both feet and under all my toes. My right ankle is swollen and each step brings a jolt of pain. I am 103 miles into the 105 mile Montane Lakeland 100 race. This is what I do for fun.

One Doubt and You’re Out

The Lakeland 100 is widely considered to be the toughest single stage race in the country. 105 miles through the most aggressive terrain in England, with high mountain passes, scrambly rocky trails and muddy bogs to negotiate and no route marking at all on the course. Add to that the fact that for most of the runners this will involve running through two nights and you've got yourself a beast of a race. Every year a field of experienced ultra runners line up to complete this event and every year 50-60% of them fail.

The route:

Due to an achillies injury I couldn't train as hard as I would have liked in the build up to the 100. In fact, my mileage was pretty terrible, although I didn't admit it to myself before hand. I had spent a long time preparing mentally for the race though and was going into this feeling completely confident that I would finish.

The Race

Photo @Montane

Start: Coniston, Fri 5:30 pm

Standing in the starting funnel it felt very surreal to be here. After obsessing about this race for a full year it didn’t feel like this was actually happening. The horn sounded and 263 runners headed past cheering crowds through Coniston and off up into the hills. I fell into step with a familiar face, Martin who I had bumped into several times on last year’s 50, and we got talking. On these events the conversation doesn’t usually really start until a few hours into the race so it was really nice to be chatting away so early. Before the top of the Walna Scar Road Andrew Evans and his friend Andy caught us so there was more conversation. Good company from the start – fantastic!

Once we crossed the col I took the descent at a very gentle jog, enjoying the stunning mountain vista. I had been struggling with some tendonitis of the right knee caused by tight quads so I wanted to go easy on the descents right from the start. A few people came flying past but most were going steadily. I was taking it easy but I still drifted away from the Andrews. I noticed that we seemed to be at the back of the main string of runners, the numbers really thinning out behind. I was surprised because although we weren't hoofing it we weren't slouching either. Was I going too slowly? My plan was to run at a good pace early on until knee pain forced me to slow/walk later so I was not expecting to be at the back of the field now.

CP1 Seathwaite (7 miles, Fri  7:07pm) 178th

Into CP1 and there’s John Kynaston. I know he’s going for sub-30 and he’s experienced enough to be comfortable in his pacing. If he’s here then I don’t need to worry that I’ve started too slowly. Into the village hall and I get a tap on the shoulder. It’s Peter Jamieson who I ran with on one of the reccies. It’s really crowded in the building and the dibbers are right at the back. I don’t want to get chatting and forget to dib so I give him a hand signal which is supposed to say “I’m going to right back” but of course, when I get back he’s long gone. I top up my water (it’s a hot evening and I’m drinking lots), add my electrolyte, have a bite of cake and I’m away.

I expected stage 2 to be grotty, with its infamous bogs, but it was actually very pretty. After a good climb onto the fell, where Team Andrew caught me up, we ran together  through some lovely open fell to Grassguards farm. Here we hit the bogs and conditions were pretty bad, with long stretches of deep gloopy mud to fill the shoes. Working as a team of three we passed a lot of runners on this stage and when we hit the long descent I pulled away from the Andrews again. I had a dilemma here. I had been really enjoying their company and found I wasn’t enjoying the run as much on my own but I also felt that I was running at the right pace and so I allowed myself to drift away.

As I pulled ahead I had a slight lapse of concentration going over some rocky ground and went over on my right ankle. I did the stagger, stopped and waited for the explosion of pain, but it never really came. I walked a few steps. Seems ok. Broke into a jog and a trot and it seemed to hold up. away with it! I honestly thought my race was over for a minute there! Eyes open Stevie! A lovely run by the River Esk brought us into the third checkpoint in the pretty little village of Boot.
Running into Boot

CP2 Boot (14 miles, Fri 8:43pm) 133rd

I topped up my water, grabbed a bag of nuts and got out my poles for the first time in the race. I am a complete convert to using walking poles in hilly races. They really help so much on the climbs and this stage is basically one long climb followed by a sharp descent.

As I walked up the hill I was pleased with how the race was going. I had some pain in my groin but my knees, which were my big worry, were completely fine. I didn’t have a schedule for the race but I had looked at last year’s times to get an impression of when it might get dark. I knew that some finishers go through Boot in the dark so it was great to get here in the light. If I could make it all the way to the next CP in the daylight that would be fantastic!

Burnmoor tarn was beautiful in the dusk and the water levels were much lower than when I’d reccied this stage last year (when the bridge was completely under water). I still got wet feet in the bogs but around the lake the footing was good. I took it easy on the descent and made it into Wasdale just as we lost the light.

CP3 Wasdale Head (19.4 miles, Fri 10:00pm) 120th

The checkpoint, in a brightly lit barn, was warm and full of friendly runners and marshals. Quite a change after being out on the fells basically alone for the last hour. I topped up the water and electrolytes again (still hot and still drinking lots), ate some soup with buttered bread and grabbed some snacks. On with the head torch, out with the poles and out into the black night. This is the most aggressive stage on the entire route, crossing two mountain passes which are difficult to navigate and you have to do it in the dark. If any stage is going to knock the stuffing out of you then this will be it. It is also the most beautiful and the highlight of the race for me.

The initial climb was wonderful. A group of about five of us bunched together and worked our way up the hill. One of the lads in front was singing some dodgy songs from American musicals which really lifted the spirits. I would have joined in but I didn’t know the words or have the spare breath to sing.

We could see a trail of lights working up the hill in front of us and as we got higher you could turn around and see the lights stringing all the way down the hill back to Wasdale a mile away. It was utterly beautiful. The climb went on. And on. And on. But I was enjoying it, the poles coming into their own. We crossed the col and began the descent. This is notoriously tricky to navigate but I had the route programmed into my Garmin Forerunner GPS so all I had to do was follow the breadcrumb trail. I was very glad I did as the path really was difficult to follow. Even if you had spent time recceing this you would not be able to easily find your way in the dark.

It was a boost to hit the bottom of the valley because I had reccied every step of the route from here on in. No more surprises! I can see the lights zig-zagging up the second climb of this stage and I join them as we work our way up to Scarth Gap Pass. It’s a bit showery and cool and I pause to put my waterproof top on.
This climb isn’t so bad and we are soon over the top and down the other side. The legs are tired though and where I blasted down here with Flip and Peter earlier in the year today it’s a slow, careful walk. I hit the beautiful lake shore, though it’s too dark to see the lake, and run around to Buttermere. That’s a marathon covered, in seven hours!

CP4 Buttermere (26.3 miles, Sat 12:31am) 97th

This checkpoint was a flying visit for me. I was planning my first sit down stop at the next CP, where they were serving hot food, so I just dibbed and continued into the night. From the recce days this had been one of my favourite stages of the entire race but here in the middle of the night it was pretty horrible. With no views to see it was just an ever rising path, a relentless slog up hill.

While crossing Addacombe Beck I noticed that there were lots of stars in the sky. I stopped for a moment and switched off my headtorch. The sky became a canopy of stars, framed by the shadows of the mountains. As I stood there a shooting star streaked across the sky. Breathtaking! I didn’t actually wish for “a finish” but it felt like a good omen.

The up hill graunch continued and I was fading. Right before the summit I was finally caught by team Andrew, who were looking great. I was feeling weak and was very glad to reach the summit. I enjoyed the nice gradual descent into Braithwaite and arrived ready to take on some fuel.

CP5 Braithwaite (32.8 miles, Sat 2:42am) 102nd

Braithwaite Checkpoint was more like a nice little cafe than something you’d expect to find on a run. I took off my shoes and socks and grabbed myself some pasta with spicy bean sauce. Delicious! Rice pudding for dessert, with crisps and biscuits on the side. Fantastic! I checked my feet...some trench foot but they didn’t seem too bad. Mick Wren came in and sat down next to me. After reading Mick’s blogs and chatting on Facebook it was nice to finally meet in person. After a 15 minute break I put on new socks and headed back into the night.

I had decided to walk for at least a quarter of a mile from the checkpoint in order to let the food settle. It was cold outside now though and I was starting to shiver so I stopped at a bus shelter to put on my waterproof trousers. Much better! I was passed by a few runners as I jogged along the road in the dark but I was determined to take it easy and digest this food. I was already feeling a huge boost from the combination of food, a sit down and a dry pair of socks.

After the climb up Spooney Green Lane, which was enjoyable, chatting away with a few people, we reached the Glenderaterra valley. This is a great, trail and as we jogged around the sky grew steadily lighter and by the time we got to the head of the valley we could switch off our lights. This was the first time I have ever run through an entire night and I was surprised that I hadn’t  got tired at all. I guess I’d been too busy concentrating on where I was going!

We’d had heavy showers through the night but the sky was looking clear in the morning light. After hunting around for the unmanned dibber point for a few minutes we were turning South and heading away from the northernmost part of the course.

CP6 Blencathra Centre (41.3 miles, Sat 5:25am) 110th

Another great checkpoint at Blencathra Centre, with lots of marshals fussing over us runners. I took off my waterproof trousers here but left my top on. Bottles were filled, tea was drunk and cake was eaten and I headed out ahead of the group of about five I had been running with on the last stage. I wanted to start easily and speed up when the others caught me.

Initially this stage is lovely: flat running along an old railway line next to a beautiful river as it winds its way through lush woodland. The climb up to the Old Coach Road was boggy as ever and the Old Coach Road went on for ever.  We were now in a group of about six, including Martin and North Lakes Andy, who I had been running with off and on through the night since the first checkpoint. Conversation was good if the running was starting to get hard. In the last quarter of a mile before the checkpoint I drifted off the back of the group; pain on the inside of my left knee, tiredness and sore feet slowing my pace.
Photo @Montane

CP7 Dockray (49 miles, Sat 7:3am) 101st

The small group of marshals at the little car park checkpoint in Dockray were doing a sterling job and our group all crashed out in deck chairs while we drank soup and tea. Again I was the first to leave, thinking I would get a nice warm up for half a mile before the others caught me up but Martin and a couple of others followed me out. I had to quickly decide whether to stay with them and work harder than I wanted to or to let them go and loose the company. I decided to let them go and dropped back into a comfortable jog down the pretty, winding tarmac lanes into the village of Dockray.

On my own I found the going was easier. I took it easy and enjoyed the stunning trail down through the woods by Aire Force waterfalls, the water churning away to my right. The first sight of Ullswater was stunning in the morning light, with the mountains of the northern Lake District spread out all around. I kept the poles away for this climb because it’s on a narrow path and the poles had been a real nuisance on a similar path on the climb up Sail Pass in the night, constantly getting tangled in the bracken.

I loved the trail around Gowbarrow Fell and even passed two or three tired looking runners. The forest at Swinburn’s Park was stunning, with shafts of sunlight finding their way through the tall pine trees down into the shadows below. The sun was starting to get warm and it was nice to find the shade. I stopped and applied sun cream to my head. Don’t want to be forced to retire due to sunstroke!

As I left the woods and started making my way across the (very) muddy fields I could see the group I had been running with earlier only a few hundred meters ahead. Having relaxed my pace for a while I had found my legs again and was now making up good ground on them. The two miles of road into Dacre village were horrible. I started to get a pain in the bottom of my right shin which was forcing me to walk. It was a nasty pain...the sort you wouldn’t dream of running through if you were on a training run, but I had 48 miles still to go! I found myself walking much of the gently descending road, trying to protect the shin.

It was nice to hit the stony path into Dalemain estate, but every stone made my sore feet shout out. Dalemain is the first real point where supporters are allowed to see you and I couldn’t wait to see Mich and the kids. I looked at my watch and was really shocked to see I would be arriving at 10:30am...a full 90mins earlier than I expected to be here. Mich has a history of missing me at events because I finish too quickly. There was a real chance that she would not be here and I had to mentally prepare for that.

CP8 Dalemain (59.1 miles, Sat 10:28am) 97th

And sure enough she wasn’t there! It made me chuckle and I took the positives from it: this means that I’m doing really well! Oh, but there’s Charlie Sharpe over there! What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be out at the front battling it out with the quick boys? Turns out he’s hurt his shin but despite the disappointment he’s nothing but supportive, telling me everything I need to hear and helping me swap things over from my drop bag to my pack.

I’ve only been there a couple of minutes when Mich arrives with the kids and we’re all laughing about me being too bloody fast! Honestly, if you saw me running right now there’s no way you would call me fast!  I have a really good chill out at this stop as I sit down and eat some meat stew. I’m scared to look at my feet but force myself to. The trench foot is worse and there are two large blisters several inches long on the sole of my right foot. It could be worse though.

I’m enjoying this stop and I think I’ve been there 15 mins but Charlie tells me it’s more like 30. Best get going. I get the poles out (they will be out for every step of the remaining 45 miles to the finish) and go limping across the field towards Pooley Bridge. The new, dry shoes and socks feel great but my right shin is very tight and there’s a sharp pain with every step.

I got into a rythm, running with the poles down the lovely single track trail next to the river to Pooley Bridge, where Mich and the kids had leapfrogged ahead to see me one last time. It was great for  them to see me running well and positive. As I climbed out of the village I was on such a high, being so far ahead of the 50 start. My goal now was to clear Howtown before the leading L50 runners caught me (their race started at noon from Dalemain). The views across Ullswater were stunning as ever and I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful descent. I was passed by two L100 runners but felt I was going at a good pace, especially given the blisters.

CP9 Howtown (66.2 miles, Sat 1:04pm) 95th

The L50 runners still hadn’t caught me at Howtown and there was a surprise waiting for me there: Paul and Jason from the Spartans should have been marshalling at HQ but Marc Laithwaite had shipped them over to help out here. Marc was there too and I sat down and relaxed for a few minutes, enjoying having them all fuss over me, fetching tea and filling my bottles. My memories of this checkpoint are all super positive. I remember telling the lads that I was hurting but in a great frame of mind. This photo of me leaving definitely shows I was suffering.
Getting going again after the stop at Howtown. Painful stuff!

Onto the biggest single climb of the race. Last year Fuesdale knocked the stuffing out of me in the heat but the temperature now was perfect and the climb isn’t half as serious as some of the things we’d been up in the night. I kept tap-tapping away with the poles and was enjoying it. I managed to get half way along the valley before the 50 runners arrived and was stunned to see my mate Jeff “Lightning” McQueen leading the pack, with Dave “Wallman” Douglas close behind in 6th. It was brilliant to watch the front runners powering up the hill.

I enjoyed the climb until about ¾ of the way up, when I just got bored of it. I wasn’t struggling though and it made me laugh that I was able to run across the top of Low Kop far better than I had in last year’s 50. The descent to Haweswater was tough going, with every step causing a bolt of pain through my shin. L50 runners were flooding past and I really appreciated it when they took the time to pass on encouragement.
The technical single track is great fun on the recce, hard work on the L50 and just bloody awful on the L100. It was very hard to get into any sort of rythm and every time I did I found L50 runners catching me so I would have to stop and stand aside to let them through. This would cause the legs to stiffen and make running again painful. After 30seconds of running the pain would just start to ease when the next group of L50 runners would catch me and I’d have to stand aside again. I had been looking forward to feeding off the energy of the L50 runners along this section but in practice I found I was getting frustrated at having to stop all the time. The positive comments were great though and occasionally someone would say something that would move me almost to tears.

CP10 Mardale Head (75.6 miles, Sat 4:35pm) 95th

Welcome to Sparta!

Mardale was was being manned by my running club, the Delamere Spartans, so I was going to see all my mates. As I approach the checkpoint Tim started ringing a cow bell and hollering that a Spartan was coming and lots of faces popped up to cheer me in. It was wonderful! It was also great to see them doing such an amazing job at running this isolated checkpoint. Bottles were filled and a cup of soup was thrust into my hand as I walked around to say hello to everyone. They were obviously having a great time themselves, with a real party atmosphere there.
A little piece of home

I didn't hang around too long because I was planning a longer break at Kentmere so I said my goodbyes and headed out to the climb up Gatescarth Pass. The last stage had knocked the stuffing out of me but I quite enjoyed this climb. I was generally holding my own with the L50 runners, which was a good boost. The descent on the other side was a different story. My shin was really painful and my feet were killing me. I made very slow progress down here, trying to stay positive but finding it tough.

Martin Clayton, another Spartan, pulled up to me on the descent and we had a chat. Martin was looking really strong in his first 50 and after a short while I encouraged him to go on ahead rather than loose time with me. I didn’t enjoy the run down the valley, didn’t enjoy the climb at Sadgill Farm and didn’t enjoy the hobble into Kentmere. I arrived there in a bit of a funk. My feet were trashed, my shin was very painful and I still had one major mountain pass and 23 mles to go.

CP11 Kentmere (82.1 miles, Sat 7:20pm) 100th

As soon as I entered the building I got my shoes and socks off before getting a bowl of pasta and a fruit smoothie. The room was full of excited chatter but I felt isolated from it all. I sat eating my pasta alone, staring into the middle distance. A guy sitting next to me was telling a marshal that he might have to quit because he had an ache in his foot when he raised his toes. Dude, I’m struggling to bare weight on my right leg and my blisters would give you nightmares! I left here quicker than I planned because I didn’t like feeling so negative.

I staggered on towards Garburn, not worried about the climb but dreading the rocky descent on my blistered feet. I had a brief lift when I met Paul Nesbitt. Paul was also in the 100 and we've been chatting on various forums for years without ever actually meeting in real life. It didn't last long though as Paul and his running partner soon shot off up the pass, leaving me to hobble on behind.

The descent was excruciating and my pace was getting slower and slower until I was met by Ben Leigh-Brown, another 100 runner. Ben was able to go faster than me but he said I was the first 100 runner he’d seen for hours and he wanted some company so we hooked up together. I upped my pace to try and stay with him and it really helped me get all the way through to the climb out of Troutbeck where I just couldn’t keep with him any longer. I let him go and my pace plummeted again.

As I walked around Jenkins Crag looking at the sun setting over Lake Windermere I started thinking about what was to come. I was in a lot of pain and had about 18 miles to go. I was scared, not that I would quit but because I was in so much pain and I knew I was going to keep going to the end. I didn’t think I could run another step and my fuddled mind started to work out timings and convinced myself that I would get timed out if I walked all the way from here. As I entered the shadows of Skelgyll Wood I put on my headtorch for a second night, took a deep breath and broke into a jog. To my surprise it changed the pain in my feet, making it feel better than walking. As I ran through the woods I was surprised to see three 20ft high emerald statues of Chinese gods. I looked at them for a while before they changed into a grassy bank. OK, so the hallucinations have started then. This night is going to be interesting!

CP12 Ambleside (89.4 miles, Sat 10:42pm) 98th

I ran all the way into Ambleside, past the cheering crowds in the beer gardens of the pubs, to find Mich waiting for me! It was such a nice surprise. I told her my fears about getting timed out and she tried to convince me that I was well up on the cut offs and there was no way I could be timed out.  I stepped into LakesRunner to grab a cup of soup and there was Ben just getting ready to leave. He was stunned that I’d made up so much ground and asked if I wanted to hook up again. Absolutely! If you don’t mind waiting for me to change my socks.

Out into the night and I am still a little fuddled because I ask Mich to get on the iPhone and check that I have dibbed at the last CP. Quick kiss and smiles and I follow Ben out into the night. We have a great journey through to Skelwith Bridge. A group of jolly 50 runners hooked onto us and we just jog along listening to their chatter.

I was pleased with the way I was moving now. I couldn’t keep up with Ben’s walking pace but every now and then I would put in a little jog to catch him up. Until nature called for Ben. He disappeared into the bushes and I acted as watch man, shouting when headlights were coming down the trail. After a few minutes all was right and we got going again but the stop had trashed my legs. I just could not get started again. I struggled up the valley, onto the course of the Great Langdale Trail Race where I’d run so strongly a few weeks earlier and into the checkpoint at Chapel Stile, trailing Ben by a good 50m.

CP13 Chapel Stile (95 miles, Sun 12:56am) 98th

Running through the dark valley we turned a corner to find a marquee in lights with music thumping. Is this anther hallucination? As we get closer I see a chimenia and soft, comfy sofas. Definitely a hallucination. But no, it turns out to be real. We dib and grab some stew and bread, sitting down on hard chairs, avoiding the sofas. They look just too comfortable.

We keep this stop short, knowing the legs will stiffen but even so, it's hard to get going again. Ben is staying behind me, jimmying me along, and we chat away about everything and nothing as we make good progress to the head of the Langdale valley. There a group of about five L50 runners catch us. “Stick with them Steve” says Ben and I hook onto a competitor who’s number displays the name “Gary”. I find that focusing on Gary’s footsteps takes my focus away from my sore feet and I am able to keep pace. We climb out of the bottom of the valley and all the way down past Blea Tarn together. There we skirt Bleamoss and climb up hill to hit the unmanned dibber post that is new this year.

We dibbed and headed down hill on the tarmac of the Wrynose pass. Ben drifted ahead and I fell into step with Gary. I saw Ben look back a couple of times to see where I was and I was willing him onwards. I had slowed again and really felt he should crack on. I was relieved when I saw him pick up his pace and start to move away. Gary and I were chatting away making pretty good time. Once we hit the trail again I started to get into trouble. I was falling asleep as I walked. Gary would start up a conversation and I realised that I couldn't see and talk at the same time. Every time I answered a question it was like someone had switched off my eyes. As soon as I finished talking I could see again. I was negotiating rocky ground during the black outs so obviously on some level my brain was still in control but it was very unnerving. I was also periodically zoning out; going to sleep as I continued to walk over technical ground.

It was raining quite heavily and a cold wind was blowing. I was shivering and the periods of sleepwalking were getting more frequent. I worried about what lay ahead; I had now covered 100 miles and had only 5 to go, but these would involve a 928ft climb over bleak mountain fell, in the dark, in heavy rain followed by a steep rocky descent into Coniston. I had planned to zip straight through the last checkpoint but now I realized I needed to get more layers on, drink tea and generally sort myself out before I headed into the hills.

CP 14 Tilberberthwaite (101.5 miles, Sun 4:06am) 98th

Except there was no cover at the checkpoint, only a campervan with an awning covering a table containing the CP refreshments. The marshals were doing a great job warming a L100 competitor who was shaking with cold while about 20 L50 runners stood around in the rain trying to get their heads under the shelter of the awning. If I took my waterproof off in this rain in order to put on a base layer I would get even colder. I had to make a quick decision but in my current state of fatigue could I trust myself to make a safe choice?

I grabbed my poles and headed to the climb, deciding to put in a big effort in order to get warm. I was carrying a full bivi bag and was prepared to use it but I was concerned that I would not recognise the point where that became necessary. As I began to walk away I got a shout from Gary who came over to join me. I hadn’t even thought to find him but I really wasn’t thinking clearly.  It was such a relief to have him still with me. I was still shaking with cold but I had a big smile on my face as I headed up the steep steps. This was it...the final leg and I was going to do it!

I actually enjoyed the climb and passed several groups of L50 runners. I had no navigation issues on the top, despite the poor visibility due to heavy rain. The hallucinations were coming thick and fast now and tigers, cougars and other big cats were stalking me across the fell. As I hit the col that marked the start of the final descent the sky grew lighter as dawn broke. I had gone through my second consecutive night and the end was literally in sight.

The rocky descent was very painful, with every stone making my blisters scream, but I made reasonable progress onto the metalled road in the valley: one easy mile to go to the finish. And that’s when I fell asleep. I was still walking slowly but my brain finally gave up. My eyes were open but all I could see was a constant stream of dreams. I was looking around but as hard as I tried my brain just would not process what I was looking at. I was effectively blind. Is this it? Am I really going to collapse within a mile of the finish? If I collapse when I'm technically in Coniston will I still get a medal? As I am starting to think that there is no way I can get to the finish my saviour, Gary, appears on my shoulder again. He is carrying a knee injury and had told me to go ahead on the descent and I tell him he can go ahead now but am so relieved when he insists he’ll stay with me. I feel very vulnerable and really need help now.

Gary walks me into town as the sky grows light, sacrificing time in his own race to make sure I finish.  He wonders if we'll cry at the finish. I tell him I just feel so tired and empty I really don’t have any tears in me. How wrong could I be. We turn the corner and I can see Mich down the road. I feel the tears coming and it feels like when they start they are not going to stop. I warn Gary that he needs to go ahead if he doesn’t want to see me cry like a baby. “No mate, we’re seeing this through to the finish” comes the reply.

Mich comes running up the road to me and I see Dave, Steph, Jason, Claire, Paul and Sam there, all cheering me in. I manage to hold it together until Mich is close then I bury my head in her shoulder and start bawling my eyes out. She is trying to prise me off, telling me that I still haven’t finished yet but I don’t care, I’m here in Coniston and I’ve made it. I walk to the final dibber and hear that last, satisfying “beep”, 36hrs 25mins after I started.

Post Race

I was so moved that Paul and Jason, who were marshalling at HQ, requested extra shifts so they would be working when I finished. It really meant something that J announced me to the room and the cheers from the runners in the hall was a special moment. I was also deeply touched that Dave, supportive as ever, had run 50 miles then got out of bed in the early hours to see me finish. Dave has been a constant source of support and inspiration from my early days battling through knee pain to do three mile jogs around the forest and it meant a lot to me that he was here to see me finish.

For several days I could not weight bear on my right leg. My foot and knee ballooned and there was a lot of creaking and groaning down there. As I write this, a week later, my right shin is still very painful. It’s going to be a while before I run again but it was worth it.
The day after the race


I spent a weekend running around the Lake District with some amazing people but special thanks need to go to two people who I really do owe my finish to. If it wasn’t for Ben Leigh-Brown giving me a kick up the backside from Garburn onwards I think the need to sleep would have been overwhelming and I doubt I would have made it. Sheer tiredness would have defeated me.
In the end when I was struggling it was Gary Brooks who sacrificed time from his own race in order to see a complete stranger safely to the finish. My thanks at the time really didn’t indicate the depth of feeling and appreciation that I felt. I’ll never forget what you guys did for me and hope I get a chance to return the favour out on the trail in the future.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon 2012

Being so close to the Lakeland 50 I missed this event last year but this year was going to be a real Spartan-fest, with 16 club members turning out across the Marathon, half and 10k. I couldn't say no!
Gareth, Paul A and Alan studying the route
at Bank Ground farm

The previous night we had a fantastic club get together at Bank Ground farm. Large amounts of delicious lasagne was wolfed down followed by excited chatter about the following day. I had a firm plan not to run this one hard but to treat it as a final long training run. I’ve been battling with some pain in a ligament in my right knee since May so with one month to go before the Lakeland 1oo my only goal today was to end the day that at the finish or before. This was the first time I have ever gone into a race expecting not to finish.

Mich and I got up early to pack the tent away and head over to John Ruskin school for 8am. All was going to plan until we jumped into the car and found that I had run the battery down charging my phone. We faffed around for a bit before abandoning the car and hot footing it with two small children in tow over the mile walk to the school. I just made the start with seconds to spare, feeling pretty stressed. Not the best way to start a race!

The race began with a lap of the school field, and it was really nice to see supporters before we headed out into the hills. The Spartans generally stayed together for the initial lap (except Nick, who bolted off into the horizon like a man possessed) before settling into our natural paces. I hooked up with Paul Crisp and we just jogged along, chatting away at the perfect pace for this race.
Having a great time with Paul at Tarn Hows, around 10 miles in.

The first few miles out to Tarn Hows were on new ground to me and the route was superb, mainly on undulating metalled roads with stunning views but mixed in with some single track. Paul and I were just chatting away, thoroughly enjoying the day. At one point Andy Whittaker blasted bast with Jim in tow but Paul and I let them go. I’m not racing, remember!

Paul and I went through half way in 2:02, both feeling as fresh as a daisy. Coming into Grizedale we caught and passed a pretty dejected James Hack. He was having trouble with pains in his quads and was really struggling. He did battle on to make it to the finish though so respect there!

At the bottom of the lake, around 30km, Paul stopped to take off some layers. I was starting to feel the first signs of tiredness as well as some worrying niggles on the inside of my right knee so I carried on, expecting him to catch me in a mile or two but this would be the last time I would see Paul until we were almost at the finish. 

The route setters had planned a real sting in the tail for the last 10km, with climbs, lots of mud and some technical descents to finish off the quads. At 20miles I still felt great but soon afterwards I started to struggle a little. I had only eaten two blocks of Kendal mint cake all day and now my body was getting unhappy about running. I got slower and slower as we ran on the lovely single track by the lake. It should have been a wonderful location to run but I just wanted the race to be over. I had pain on the inside of both knees but that wasn’t the main thing slowing me...I just could not maintain a pace. What's going on? Aren't I supposed to be top shape and about to run a 100 mile race through the mountains?? I really should not be feeling this tired 23 miles into a run that I have paced sensibly.

Half a mile from the finish Paul finally caught me. He slowed to my pace but I encouraged him to carry on and go for a strong finish. A few more people passed me and I just jogged along. As we entered the school field for the final lap Andy W flew past with a huge smile on his face. The man had rockets on his heels! I had just enough time to shout "hey...aren’t you ahead of me already?” before he vanished into the distance.

On the lap around the field I jogged over to my family to get some pre-finish kisses, remembering to smile so the kids know that this is what daddy does for fun. Mich asked if I wanted to carry Josie over the finish line.  Erm, ok...I feel wobbly but I think I can just about manage that.

I finished in 4:20 and felt pretty shot at the end. Mich has seen me like this many times and took charge, walking me over to a quiet spot so I could sit down while she went to get me some food and a cup of tea. By the time she got back my whole body was shaking. So THAT’s why it was so tough at the end then...very poor nutrition. After food and a sugary tea I was back chasing the kids around the field again; legs feeling strong and ready to go for another run. 

It was a really good weekend with the Spartans and we had some impressive results. The club is really growing in strength, which is great to see but more importantly it is the social/supportive side that is still very much at the heart of things. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Great Langdale Trail Run (20k)

It had been planned for months. A weekend in the middle of June was picked as the date and I had been to the Langdales to recce the area. The Delamere Spartans were heading to the Lakes for our first weekend camping meet, so of course the Gods sent the heaviest rainfall to hit the British Isles in fifty years!
Great Langdale Campsite on the morning of the race

Our original plan of running in the mountains was scrapped but luckily for us there happened to be a 20km race, The Great Langdale Trail Run, taking place in the valley. Wallman had already entered this and the other five Spartans all signed up and tried to get our race heads on. Conditions meant the race had to be changed to two laps of the 10k route.
Sarah, Paul C, Paul A, Wallman (with swimming goggles), Nick
Stuart, Jason, me
I decided to push hard and really go for it today. As we lined up I got myself positioned on the second or third row, surrounded by the racing snakes. 3-2-1 and we’re off. Wallman darted off to mix it up with the front men and Jason and I settled in together in around 11th place.

The route started out on good wide trail, splashing through lots of puddles before it headed across the fields and into deep water for the first time. This was mid-shin depth and just about runnable. A group of three of us were all running together, with Jason and I swapping positions with another guy. As we ran down by the campsite I became aware that we were only two or three kilometres in and my breathing was heavy. I took a moment to listen to Jason’s breathing: calm as you like. To prove the point he started hollering out “Greetings from SPARTA!” at poor unsuspecting walkers as we passed them. I became a bit concerned that I’d gone out too hard and would fall apart somewhere down the line.

The good, fast trail continued for a while before it disappeared completely under water. The river had burst its banks and we found ourselves running through long stretches, sometimes knee deep. In some places the rocks were very uneven and you couldn't see what you were standing on so there was lots of stumbling about. It was tremendous fun and Jason and I finally made some ground on the guy we’d been battling with.
We reached the turn-around point and were suddenly hit with lots of short climbs. Climbing is not my strong point and I had to work hard to hold on to Jason. As we reached the top of the first hill, through some quarries, a quick-looking lad passed us. I thought “Oh, here we go…soon they’ll be flooding past”. Jason and I stayed together, with J pulling a little ahead until we came to the long descending stone steps that are on the Lakeland 50 route. The steps are slippery at the best of times but in today’s rain they were lethal and Jason was making slow progress down them. I jumped off to the right of the path and flew down the grass, pulling away.

At this point I honestly didn’t mind if I finished before or after my team mate. I knew I was around tenth place and all that mattered to me was getting a top ten finish. I knew I would probably lose ground on the hills in the second half of the lap so I decided to put in a big effort on the flat outward section to try and put some space behind me.

I chased the speedy guy who had overtook us on lap one all the way down the valley, slowly gaining on him. It was really hard work and my brain was trying to sabotage my race, telling me that top 15 or even 20 would be a great result…why don’t you slow down for a bit. I had to ask myself how much I wanted a top ten finish. Yes, I want it really badly. Then work for it! It really was thrilling to feel like I was out there at the front of the field, genuinely racing.

We hit the deep water again and the level had risen noticeably. It was impossible to run large sections of it now and the water was flowing in places, making it even trickier to get a solid footing. I thought I went through it pretty quickly but the guy in front managed to open up a gap on me.

All my thoughts so far on the second lap had been directed behind me. I hadn’t looked back once but I was obsessed with the idea that any minute now I would hear footfalls and then have numerous runners flying past. It wasn’t until I left the water that I decided to stop thinking about who was behind me and start thinking about those in front. I didn’t think I could catch the guy in front of me but if I held on to him maybe he could tow me forwards and we might catch others. This shift in thinking was massively positive and really changed my whole outlook on the race. Suddenly everything felt easier. It was like I had put the race in my own hands rather than just waiting to be passed.

The turn-around point is a long dog-legged climb and you can see in front and behind for a good 200m and I was stunned to find there was nobody behind me. This definitely took some pressure off but I forced myself to keep pushing…there’s still 5km to go. It was great to see fellow Spartans Stu and Sarah around that point, who were out offering encouragement on the course.
Climbing on one of the drier sections
of the course

We did catch someone who had crocked their ankle but apart from that we ran in our own bubble right to the finish, with me unable to close the gap of about 50m he had gained on me earlier. I crossed the line in 1:33 and discovered I had finished in 8th place. The mighty Wallman finished 3rd and with Jason coming in 9th the Spartans finished first team! Dave, Nick and Paul C also finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the V40 category so it was an outstanding day for the Spartans.

This race was a huge confidence boost for me and my highest ever placing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not getting carried away with the result here; I know I only finished so high because this was a weak field but there were plenty of fast looking lads there on the start line so it’s not to be dismissed either. This is only the second time I have finished in the top ten in a race and on paper my tenth place finish in the 2011 Sandstone Trail Challenge is the better result. The thing is, with that race I had no idea what position I was in until half a mile to go. In this race I knew I was battling for a top ten finish right from the start and I really worked hard to get it. This was the first time I have had the experience of really racing at the front of the field and I loved it! It has made me want to do some more fast stuff and not just the long slow runs.

Next time I run in the Langdale valley I will be 95 miles in to the Lakeland 100. I’ll probably be going a bit slower then.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Welsh 3000s (15 Peaks)

For over a year now Andy Ashton and I have been talking about running the Welsh 3000s: a challenge that takes in all 15 peaks in Wales over 3000ft. The entire route is around 30 miles including walk in and out but times are clocked from first to last peak. Walkers attempt to do this in under 24hrs. The record is 4hrs20mins. We were hoping for somewhere in-between, with the goal being to have a great day out in the hills rather than achieve the fastest time possible.

After reading up on possible route choices we decided to set out from Pen-y-Pass and do Crib Goch as our first peak. Purists will want to start on Yr Wyddfa but starting on Crib Goch makes for a superb route as you cut out the roads completely and you get to start the day by traversing Crib Goch's airy ridge rather than slogging up the Miner's Track.

On the evening before the run we drove up the valley to look at where we would drop off the hillside. The descent from Snowdon is all off-track and there are quite a few crags that you wouldn't want to run off so we wanted to get a feel for where we'd be going. This was well worth doing. Once we thought we had the route planned we headed to the Vaynol Arms for three pints of Dragon Ale before turning in for the night.


We arrived at Pen-y-Pass car park at 7am expecting to find it empty but were surprised to find only a handful of spaces left. Not as surprised as the fees for parking though and the phrase "Did you really say TEN QUID?" became a repeated joke throughout the day.

Pen y pass - Crib Goch

The start of the adventure: leaving Pen y pass
It was chilly but not too cold as we made our way up the hill. We passed a few groups of walkers all out for an early start. It started to drizzle as we reached the turn off for Crib Goch so away went the poles and out came the waterproof tops. The scramble up was great fun but the rock was slippery and numbingly cold and the temperature dropped the higher we climbed. As we reached the ridge it actually started to June!

Scrambling up to Grib Goch

On the Crib Goch ridge. The red ridge in the background
is the descent you would take if starting on Yr Wyddfa

Crib Goch ridge. The summit is the peak with the Quartz band.

On the summit of Crib Goch: peak #1 with
Yr Wyddfa in the background 

Carnedd Ugain

We dropped down from the summit of Crib Goch and easily traversed the first pinnacle. The second pinacle was a little trickier. There is a good line down to the left but this could be difficult to spot in poor visibility and straying from it would be dangerous. I should point out that Andy and I are both climbers and each have a reasonable head for heights.

Scrambling down to pass the second pinacle.
The line of the "path" traverses around the
ledge which is under the lake in this picture.

At the and of the traverse around the Second Pinacle
At the end of the ridge we met two runners doing the 3000s in the opposite direction. We had a brief chat and wished each other good luck before we each headed off into the clag. The clouds had quickly rolled in and it went from perfect to very poor visibility in a short space of time. Andy led the way on a path to the left of the ridge but we didn't seem to be gaining much height. Unsure about whether this path would actually take us to the summit we decided to scramble up a very loose gully. This was pretty unpleasant work. We couldn't see how far away from the top we were and the climb seemed to go on for ages (though probably because we were sliding back one step for each three forward). When we reached the skyline we realised that we were still a long way from the summit. We climbed the ridge and eventually a path (presumable the one we were on) joined us from the left.

Carnedd Ugain: Peak #2

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

We couldn't see much here but the route from Carnedd Ugain to Yr Wyddfa (the main summit of Snowdon) is very straightforward and for the first time in the day we actually started running! We climbed past the heaps of litter to reach the summit tower and chatted with a couple of friendly walkers about the views that we couldn't see.
The top of Snowdon. Wish you were here, Dave!

Nant Peris

We had both been a little apprehensive about this descent as we'd basically have to pick our own way down the hill and it looked pretty steep from the valley but after the exhilarating start to the day we were now really looking forward to exploring new ground.

We followed the Llanberis path, dropping down out of the clouds, until we came to where the path goes through the tunnel under the railway line. At that point we left the path and ran next to the railway line.
Dropping out of the clouds on the Llanberis path

Pleasant running next to the railway line. Our descent point
was mid-way along the grassy ridge beyond the large crag.
The second train of the day steamed past us at close quarters, rammed full of tourists taking the easy route to the top. When the train line pealed away to the left we continued running along the ridge until we came to a stile. We crossed the stile and worked our way steeply down to a faint path. The grass was very slippery and we each ended up on our backsides several times before the angle eased.

After a few stops to consider various options we arrived at the wall that crosses the hill at exactly the point where it meats a small drop off. In dry conditions this little cliff could easily be down climbed but I tested it out and it was pretty dangerous today. A fall wasn't going to kill but could well break bones. We worked our way to the right and had to do some comedy 8ft jumps down onto sloping wet grass holding onto tufts of  grass to arrest the fall. We made it and worked our way gently down to the stile that would take us onto a footpath across a footbridge and into Nant Peris.

I am lucky enough to have access to a cottage that is on the Welsh 3000s route and so we stopped in at Pant-y-Fron to swap over kit. We were both soaked from rain and sweat but the sun was coming out so I took the opportunity to change into shorts and pack away my base layer. We stocked up on water, food and copious amounts of Coke then it was off to re-gain all the height we had just lost..
Pant-y-Fron: Base Camp


Elidir Fawr

I have climbed Elidir Fawr many times, almost always in really crappy weather so my memories of this climb were rather negative but be both loved it. The poles were doing their stuff, really taking the pressure off the legs, the temperature was about right and behind us we had stunning views of Snowdon. It was really strange to think that we'd been standing up there just an hour ago.
Looking back to Snowdon on the climb
up Elidir Fawr
The time seemed to pass very quickly and we passed a few groups of walkers as we chatted our way up the hill. Just before we reached the summit we broke into the sunshine and as we crested the top we were met with beautiful views north to Anglesey.

Andy taking in the views from peak #3: Elidir Fawr

Y Garn

We loitered for a good few minutes on the summit, taking in the views, snapping a few photos, putting on base layers (it was sunny but the gentle breeze was bitterly cold) and generally just enjoying being there. We could see two runners on the edge of the bowl ahead and wondered if it was the two lads we'd met on Crib Goch. Suppose we'd better get moving too!
Good running on the descent from Elidir Fawr
with Snowdon in the background
The run around the bowl was great. Lovely undulating single track and we made the most of it while it lasted.

The Alps? Nope, we're still in Wales.
The descent gully from Tryfan can clearly be seen
as a grey diagonal line directly to the left of the summit

The summit of Y Garn
We got the poles out for the climb up Y Garn and once again they worked superbly on this good quality trail. The views were absolutely stunning. If we looked right we could see Snowdon and were we had been so far. If we looked left we could see the Carnedds and look at where we'd be heading in a few hours time.
Y Garn: peak #5, with Tryfan and Glyder Fach behind

Glyder Fawr

I really enjoyed the descent from Y Garn. It was rocky but a good angle to run quite hard without trashing the quads. We passed quite a few groups on the descent and loads of people sunning themselves by the lake then it was out with the poles again to climb Glyder Fach.

So far we had been really enjoying the climbs, getting into a great rhythm with the poles, but this climb was up rocky gullies which stopped you getting into any sort of regular pace. The poles were still beneficial but it was harder work that the previous climbs.

We reached the rocky summit and interrupted a bloke's dinner to ask him to take a photo of us. To me reaching Glyder Fawr felt like a significant point in the day, though I'm not sure why.
On Glyder Fawr: Peak #6

Glyder Fach

Initially the run across the summit plateau looked completely un-runnable but once we got going we managed to jog across the boulders. We got a shout from a walker "You guys are completely MAD" which made me laugh.
The rocky summit plateau of Glyder Fawr with Glyder Fach ahead.
Flat ground but how fast can you run on this?

Approaching Glyder Fach. The rocky peak which looks like the
summit is Castell y Gwynt, which is not on the route.
Glyder Fach is the lump to the left. 

The final scramble to the summit

Peak #7: Glyder Fach


With the Glyders in the bag we turned towards Tryfan. To get there we ran over towards the groups of people at the top of Bristly Ridge then took the gully immediately to it's right. This slopes gradually down then steepens dramatically.
The top of the descent gully

In the gully
This would be a great gully to run if you had it to yourself but we had several groups of walkers beneath us, gingerly edging their way down. With every foot fall there was risk of dislodging large rocks down onto those below so great care was needed. It was great to get through them and relax into some fun, steep running. Once at the bottom we ran across to the pleasant  scramble up the South face of Tryfan.

The South face of Tryfan

Peak #8: Tryfan. Standing room only!
As we approached the summit we were surprised to meet the two lads we'd passed on Crib Goch. They were choosing to reverse the longer route back to Bwlch Tryfan rather than the steeper West Gully because their legs were tiring. It was nice to see them again and once again we wished each other good luck and went our way.

Looking to Llyn Ogwyn from the top of the West Gully
From the top of the West Gully we could see the tiny toy cars down by Llyn Ogwyn. This was exciting for us because support was waiting in the form of fellow Delamere Spartan John Kleiser who would be waiting with supplies and joining us for the final section over the Carnedds.

We worked slowly down the gully (marvelling at how the record holder reached Llyn Ogwyn from the summit of Tryfan in 8mins!) before running the thigh-burning descent on the steps from hell. Once we were low enough we traversed the bogs under the crags to join the main path to the YHA. 


We quickly realised that finding John was going to be a problem. Cars were parked as far as the eye could see in either direction and John had no phone reception. We ran around for ten minutes before we found him then we sat down for 15 mins while we enjoyed the luxury or fresh sandwiches, crisps and refills of water and Coke. 


Pen yr Ole Wen

And so two become three! The climb from the YHA up Pen yr Ole Wen is an honest climb! Steep, relentless, but it will get you up to the top with no messing about. In hindsight we decided it would be quicker to stay away from the YHA, passing Llyn Ogwyn on the south. Still, we enjoyed the climb even when I managed to take us off the main route for several hundred meters. 
John Kleiser enjoying the climb out of the valley.

Looking back to Tryfan
When we reached the top we found our two mates summitting from the other side. It was great to hear that they were enjoying the route just as much as we were. At this point all the major climbs are behind you and the finish starts to feel close.

Our fellow runners

Me, John and Andy on Pen yr Ole Wen: peak #9

Carnedd Dafydd

From Pen yr Ole Wen we enjoyed beautiful running around the bowl, with stunning views out to Anglesey and the Menai Straights. 
Climbing to Carnedd Dafydd
As we reached the summit of Carnedd Dafydd we were met with views of the rest of the route. The end was tantalisingly close but we were still enjoying it so much that we didn't want it to end and we were still feeling pretty fresh!

Looking across to Carnedd Llewelyn (in shaddow on the right),
the traverse out to Yr Elen on the left and in-between Foel Grach
(right) and Foel-fras in the sunshine

Yr Elen

Traversing around Carnedd Llewelyn. The ridge on the skyline
is the route we have just run from Carnedd Dafydd

The and of the traverse, ready to head over to Yr Elen
(the peak on the right)

On Yr Elen (peak #11) with the final two peaks behind

Very happy Spartans!

Carnedd Llewelyn

It's a great feeling to turn back towards Carnedd Llewelyn knowing that once you get there you are on undulating ground right to the finish. We passed the other team then broke out the poles for the last time as we started the last significant climb of the day.

Carnedd Llewelyn: peak #12

Foel Grach

I managed to not take any photos on this section but it was quite unremarkable. Rocky ground slowed the pace and boggy streams made the feet wet.

Garnedd Uchaf

Almost over! The final two peaks: Garnedd Uchaf is the small pile of stones on the left, Foel-fras is the hill on the right

On Garnedd Uchaf: peak #14


The nice, gentle climb leads up to the final summit of Foel-fras is very runnable. It levels off into a rocky summit plateau and the trig point seems to take forever to come into view. And then there it is, peak number 15, around 10hrs 15mins after leaving Crib Goch.

I have heard that Foel-fras can seem like a poor place to finish the 15 peaks but today we could see over the ocean to the Isle of Man and it was breathtaking. We sat around, eating, chatting and taking in the views. For John, who is an experienced hill walker and peak bagger, this was the first time he had run in the mountains and it was was his biggest run so far this year so we could all bask in a sense of achievement. Just as we were starting to get cold and thinking about moving on our two buddies appeared on the crest of the hill. It was nice to be able to clap them in.


So the run is over, but we are still six miles from the car, which was parked in the higher car park above Abergwyngregyn. With tired quads we walked the steep descent to the lake then couds of midges forced us to get running again! We jogged around the lake shore to join the good track that took us right back to the car.

Andy and I had planned this as a training run but you can't call a day like this a training run; this is what it's all about! What a fantastic day. This is a superb day out for anyone with  experience of the mountains and a head for exposure. I already can't wait to go back and go for a good time. I think 8hrs 30mins would be very doable.

Thanks to Andy for the company. We didn't get fed up with each other after 13hrs of running but surely we must run out of things to talk about soon?? Huge thanks to John not only for the good company and route knowledge but also for providing the amazing support stop.