By Rick Ansell
There were a few lingering spits of rain as we drove south from Bangor but the dawn coming up seemed to hold the promise of a beautiful day. By the time we had parked on Llanbedr Airfield and were walking up to the village hall for registration the sun was up and warm on our faces and the sky was cloudless.
From registration there was another long walk to the start and by the time we had got there we had done rather more than the Government’s recommended daily quota of exercise and hadn’t even started on the four hours of mountain running…Max had fallen off his skate board and twisted an ankle so rather than going head to head with me he teamed up with Paulette to walk round as many controls as possible in the time limit. They set off before me but I soon caught them dawdling along deep in conversation and not taking things nearly seriously enough.
The location was called South Snowdonia but essentially this was the Rhinogs. Many years ago when the world was young and I was too, there was a Karrimor Mountain Marathon held here. I didn’t do it but I remember hardened mountain travellers blanching at the mere mention of the place after that. I have had a couple of weekends here walking in recent months and can vouch for the roughness. At times despite travelling light, I could barely manage 2km an hour.
The organisers had promised us that the going was fast on the paths. Well, yes, it is but what happens when you aren’t on paths?
A first glance at the map showed that many controls were linked by paths and as the day unfolded I realized that the day had been planned to enable us to stick largely to the paths and avoid most of the rough going. These events are organized for maximum pleasure and minimum suffering. I knew the southern half of the map would offer the easier terrain and there seemed to be plenty to go at there so I set off in a straightish line for two 20s and a 30 point control. By the time I got there I had covered about 6km in les than 40 minutes and was beginning to feel that 1, it was time for a walk and 2, I could end up having to go a very long way if I was to be out for four hours. The next leg helped put the brakes on with a steep grassy climb to a sheepfold cunningly hidden among rocks. On a misty day it could have been hard to find but given I could see Ireland it was obvious enough even in its disguise.
Onwards and upwards to the summit of Diffwys and 50 points. The views were amazing in the crisp autumn air. Hills stretched away endlessly north and east and to the west the sea glimmered in the sun. The breeze was sharp but nothing like the -10 wind chill that had been forecast. I needed my gloves but was enjoying the running too much to stop and root around in my bum bag for them.
My next target was Y Llethr for another 50 the next top along the ridge to the north via a small pond in the saddle between the two worth 30. I was tempted by a loop down to the east to get another 130 points but decided there was just too much re-ascent. I was still worrying about being back too early and having no more controls to go for. From Y Llethr I was on the way home and had 1.50 to get there. Moelfre, which held a 40 point control on its summit, seemed in touching distance but then so did the Llyn Peninsular across the water. I told myself I still had to double back into the cwm below me for a 30. And here, suddenly, things changed. I had reckoned on it being reasonable running even though there were no paths or trods but I was soon floundering waist deep in tussock and bog and instead of doing 5km an hour was managing only about 1.
I lost my temper as well as time here and although a nice quad bike track eased progress and soothed my anger as I climbed Moelfre, by the time I got to the top I discovered I had just 30 minutes to get back and about 4km to cover. It was all downhill but initially rough and slower going than I would have liked and then awkward navigation on rights of way that had no clear path marked on the ground.
With 2km to go I had the option of climbing a small knoll to get 20 points. I knew I was going to be late anyway but 20 points would compensate for the penalties as long as could get back less than 10 minutes over. 10 minutes over I would just lose the 20 points, 11 minutes I would lose 25, 9 minutes just 15. Sometimes I feel you need a Phd in Maths to work out the best course of action. I went for knoll. I was back 10 minutes late and lost those 20 points but none of the other ones I had earned. Good decision.
It left me on the same number of points as the V60 winner and just second to him on time…but about 300 points behind the overall winner.
Meanwhile the remainder of the family had managed to get lost, return 40 minutes late, lose all their points and be disqualified because one member of the team refused to climb a knoll to dib while the other did. But they had had a brilliant day, the one grilling the other about the recent girlfriend, and being disqualified didn’t stop them polishing off the soup and cakes that still remained when they finally got back.
1 Neil Talbot 655
23 Rick Ansell 360