The Big 3 pt. II – The Paddy Buckley Round

It was not long after the dust had settled from running the Bob Graham that I again bumped into Oli Johnson in the local Co-op. We talked about general running and the upcoming champs races, and he mentioned potentially wanting to do the Charlie Ramsay round when we were up in Scotland for the last British Champs race of the season. This immediately reminded me Lova had also mentioned this a few months ago and so we could maybe run it as a three. We got in touch with each other and sort of agreed on a rough date and plan, should the weather be good enough, but the final call can be made after the champs race. After all that was a prime opportunity for one of us to injure ourselves right before the grand plan. So no commitments just yet and no pressure. Just an idea.

Post Bob Graham Trunce (My Dark Peak vest was in the wash). Photo credit Steve Frith.

In the weeks following the Bob Graham I slipped back into normal training and racing mode, Trunce, Dark Peak race, English champs. Then I caught word of a fellow Dark Peak club member planning to run the Paddy Buckley round. That’s when the idea of completing all the rounds in a season came about. If I could get a Paddy in at some point then that would be the three. Helen Elmore was going for it on the 13th of July and this fell right in between the Bob and when we were planning the Ramsay. If I could tag along then that would be great, but I also didn’t want to ruin Helen’s round. This was something she had been planning for a while and so if I was to go and tag along I would’t want to lower her chances of success in any way. I wouldn’t want to rely on any of Helen’s support so, if she was happy for me to come a long, I would carry all my own kit and look after myself completely. So I asked.

Helen was happy with this arrangement, saying the company might be nice and that I can even have a box in the road support van for me to restock from. Again she made it clear, her support was her support and should I fall behind or even go ahead I was on my own as the road support will be at the right points for her and not wait or be early for me. That was very fair and I respected that this was her thing. I was just a guest.

The Paddy Buckley Round Route

So on the Friday I bought a map (useful), some new socks, and headed down to Wales. We were starting at 11am Saturday from Capel Curig and so I pitched up on the local campsite for the Friday night so I could get plenty of sleep and a massive breakfast from the Moel Siabod cafe in the morning. Helen was also staying on the campsite and we had a general pre-round chat: weather, schedule, food, route choice etc.

The Paddy Buckley round is the Welsh equivalent of the Bob Graham. It is about 61 miles, so a little shorter than the Bob but with slightly more accent and over much rougher terrain, and regarded as the hardest of the big 3. Unlike the other two rounds contenders can start the Paddy Buckley from anywhere on the route.

Come 10:30am Saturday and we were both ready and waiting at the chosen start point in Capel Curig. I’d slept well, had a massive breakfast, packed my box of supplies into the support van and sorted my bag for the first leg of the round. A separate attempt was also starting at the same time and so as the clock ticked over to 11, we were off.

The start of a long run… (Can’t remember what I was thinking about, but looks like it was complicated)

I hadn’t been on much of the route before and leg one was particularly daunting as it was the longest leg and scheduled at about 6 hours 30 minutes. At least it was daylight and nice weather. The pace was steady but underfoot it was quite rough. After the first summit, Moel Shiabod, there was long section of very indistinct summits on nothing but a foot wide trod through the heather. We soon approached the Moelwyns and had been gaining little bits on the schedule here and there. Everyone was in good spirits and moving well together. I was making sure to drink enough as it was getting quite warm and didn’t want to get too dehydrated early on. I’m not going to lie this leg dragged on a bit but the terrain round to Cnicht was great and the views from the summits where pretty good too. Cnicht was the last one of this leg and Nicky Spinks took us off the summit on a quite run-able line. It was a long decent and what felt like a longer road section into the road support point at Nantmor.

I made sure I was on the ball and started sorting my stuff out straight away, ditching litter, restocking on food, swapping bottles round and generally getting sorted for the next leg. It didn’t seem two minutes since we arrived and Helen was off. I knew she’d be quicker as she had a lot of great supporters helping her out with most things ready and waiting for a quick turnaround. So I knew she would be quick but not that quick!

Arriving at the Nantmor support point.

I set off a tad behind catching them on the road after a few bends. This was the only leg I’d every done in full before on a recce with a friend a few years ago, and I remember it being amazing. It didn’t disappoint! Helen and myself got some good lines up on to Moel Hebog with Glen Borell on the map, and we managed to pull away from the other group. From here on it was just great running all the way to Y Gyrn, which was about halfway long this leg. Y Gyrn is a horribly overgrown and craggy little hill and is probably only visited by people doing the Paddy. Again, Glen took us on a superb line off of here and we were soon climbing up on to the Nantlle ridge. The Nantlle ridge is probably my favourite part of the round, its just a great place to run. Unfortunately its not all like that and as we descended towards the next road support point at Point Cae’r Gors I started to feel the distance in my legs a bit. Myself and Glen broke away through the wood and arrived at the support point just ahead of Helen. This meant Glen could place Helen’s food and kit order with support and I had a little extra time to sort myself out and pick up my torch.
Helen still set off ahead of me.

Onwards to Snowdon (in the clouds), right before Yr Aran on the right…

I set off into the unknown again having only run on the later end of this leg. The first couple of summits were nice and it was nice to be off the paths, however, this soon changed and as we approached Snowdon. We were in the dark now and although I didn’t know what time it was I was told we were on (or up on?) schedule and so we were happily moving along and eating well. It was getting a bit claggy now and raining, so as to not get too cold I put my waterproofs on. I remember seeing a high altitude rough sleeper in the doorway of the Snowdon summit train station, although it could have been my imagination. Halfway summit done, and onwards. I’d been on this section towards Moel Eilio and it’s nice running. Some of the summits are very indistinct, with one of them just being a small rock near a fence. Luckily we had Nicky with us again and she’s been to these hills a few times. Still raining, we dropped down through the backstreets of Llanberis to where the support van was waiting. Quite an uneventful leg really.

The support van and team in Llanberis.

Next up was the Glyders leg. A lot of people had been saying through the day that the Glyders leg was the one, “It will be amazing”, “You’ll love it”, “It’s stunning”, but as we climbed endlessly up through the wet abandoned slate mine I wasn’t really getting the amazing vibe. It was about 4 in the morning and still very dark, especially with the persistent drizzle. I was starting to get a twinge in my knee/ITB but apart from that was feeling good and eating well still. Helen also seemed to be fine and eating well. I remember this leg being very grey, rocky and dark for most of it and as we progressed the harsh terrain took its tole on my leg making my knee/ITB very painful when descending. As it lightened up we took an alternative route form Lynn y Cwn up on to Glyder Fawr, maybe not the best line but we got there.

In the grey somewhere on the Glyders…

This drab leg soon showed it true colours and on summiting Glyder Fach we were treated to an amazing sunrise and cloud inversion. This was very uplifting with only a leg and bit to go. Tryfan was sketchy as expected and the descent even more so. My knee/ITB was getting quite bad now and (bad) attempts at taping it didn’t seem to do much. We arrived at the road about on schedule and so I though I’d risk the last leg with a dodgy knee. I come this far. Also, I’d spoken to Dave Taylor going over the Glyders and he kindly agreed to support me for the final leg. This was great of him to do so as I now did worry about slowing Helen should by knee/ITB give out. We had quite a quick changeover at the road, finally taking off my now very sweaty waterproofs and badly re-tappeing my knee again. Helen left before me again.

Summiting Glyder Fach with our next hill, Tryfan, breaking through the clouds.

I set off with Dave and within about 100m the tape was off. Worth a try. I was climbing well but descending was painful. After the first long climb up Pen yr Ole Wen I was just about keeping up with Helen on the descents and decided to make as much time up as I could on the climbs. Dave and Myself slowly pulled a small gap out on Helen and the others. By the time we were half way through the leg we were pretty confident on a sub 24 hour completion but only if my leg held out. The penultimate climb up Pen yr Helgi Du was great scramble the finish was now clearly in sight. It was great to see some of the Dark Peak ladies up here waiting to support Helen. We all regrouped on the final summit and the Dark Peak ladies, who had run up from the finish showed us a great line down through the bogs and bracken. My leg felt a lot better once on some less sever ground and the run in was a relief. Me and Helen finished together with a relaxed jog down the road in a total time of 23:34.

Job done!

A tough but rewarding route, which I found particularly hard because of my knee/ITB.
Thank you so much to Helen Elmore for allowing me to tag along and congratulations on a super strong performance all the way round. I didn’t see Helen have even one bad patch!
Also, a big thank you to those supporting on the hills and at the roads, and to Dave Taylor for the last minute final leg support.
The other group that started at the same time managed to get their man round in about 25 hours. A great effort from Andy Quicke and still a successful completion as there is no time limit for the Paddy Buckley round.

I definitely needed a proper rest after this one (just right after the Trunce on Monday). Note: Trying to sleep in a pop up tent in the midday heat in July proved difficult and makes you very dehydrated! Not great recovery initially.

Some links:
– The Go Far Website – for more info on the round.
– Norman Walsh Footwear – for some proper good fell shoes.
– Strava – for my GPS trace.
– Fell Running Guide – Dave Taylor’s Website full of useful tips and advise.

And some more pictures…(Photo credit: Various supporters but not me)


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