Richard Bedlow, Tring Running Club & friends
After completing my Bob Graham in 2019, I replaced the Lake District calendar that had pride of place in our kitchen with one from Snowdonia. For the past four years or so, the subsequent iterations of Snowdonia calendars have served as both inspiration and a prompt to get out and run some hills in preparation for an attempt at the Paddy Buckley, often considered the hardest of the big three UK rounds.
The round is about 61 miles long, has 28,000ft of ascent and descent covering 47 peaks in Snowdonia and has no time limit although most try to go sub 24 hours. The route naturally divides into 5 legs, each with their own unique character but all tend to include towering peaks, sharp slate, deep bog and incredible views.
After completing the UTS 100 in 2021, I felt fit and strong and was sounding out likely Tring supporters for an attempt in April 2022. However, in sliding down the last descent on leg 1 of the Hodgson Brothers relay in October 2021, I came off second best with a rock which left me with torn ligaments, a severed tendon and three fractures in my ankle. 18mths, one operation and another Snowdonia calendar later, I lined up in Llanberis next to the human flying machine that is Hugh Chatfield at the end of April to have my first crack at the round. Long story short, the difficult but correct decision was made to pull out of the round midway through the penultimate leg in the face of worsening weather that I wasn’t prepared for. I will forever be grateful to the fab bunch from Tring who made the journey to Snowdonia to provide such wonderful support over that weekend. More on that later.
After a couple of beers and a few whatsapps with trusted advisors, I resolved to have a couple of weeks of R&R then reacquaint myself with Incombe hill to have another go on 8 July…
Leg 1: Bwlchgwernog to Pont Cae Gors. Eifionyd (15km, 1,550m elevation)
Supporter – Hugh Chatfield
17:50 on Saturday July 8, the weather was muggy but the forecast looked decent for the next 24hrs with the possibility of thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon which I felt I could live with if I got that far. My plan to go reasonably hard on the first leg to get the round off to a fast start, hopefully get a little ahead of schedule and then hang on grimly for the rest of the round. There are very few runners better equipped to provide a fast start than Tring’s Hugh Chatfield who very kindly agreed to come and support me again.
We set off in decent spirits, covered the road section quickly and started the first climb up Bryn Banog. Once on the hill, I found it hard going immediately which wasn’t a good sign but I got my head down and welcomed the showers that kept us company over the first couple of tops as it was quite warm. I told myself the high perceived effort was just in my head and once the body accepted I wasn’t going to stop it would relax and it would get easier.
This leg has a rough start with any decent lines completely obscured by bog, heather and bracken before gaining height where there are some runnable sections along the tops. I was climbing pretty quickly and enthused by Hugh’s excellent banter we were gaining a minute or two on each climb. The light rain had made the rocks slippery but visibility was good and the rest of this leg passed without incident. I was pleased to tick off the Nantille ridge which is one of the more exposed sections of the round and was able to follow a decent line staying as far left as you dare across the more technical bits. We then charged down through Beddgelert forest and into the first checkpoint at Pont Cae Gars where Andy Collings and his van was waiting.
I had 3hrs 29mins in the schedule for this leg including the road section into Nantmor and we arrived 20mins or so ahead of schedule. I was feeling a bit hot and bothered, but did manage to get some flapjack down along with some energy drink over the leg.
Woza and Emma were waiting at the checkpoint to take on sherpa duties for the next leg over Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon and into Llanberis. I’d never met them before, but if you ask someone to draw a gnarly ultra runner you’d end up with a pretty good likeness of Woza. He appeared to be chiselled from slate and had the PBR route tattooed on his leg which was helpful as I’d left my map in the tent. Emma had come across from Macclesfield to join the fun and Hugh was going to stay on to tap the top of Yr Wyddfa before heading back directly to the campsite.
Leg 2: Pont Cae Gors to Llanberis. Yr Wydda (21km, 1,860m elevation)
Supporters: Hugh Chatfield (to Snowdon) Woza and Emma
You can always tell how you’re going on these rounds by the reaction of your support crew at the handovers. The look of concern on Andy’s face as he handed over my PBJ sarnies at Pont CG suggested I looked how I felt which was somewhat buggered. After a quick stop, we set off just as the sun was setting behind us painting the sky red.
ugh and Woza quickly fell into step comparing adventures whilst I trudged behind them trying to distract Emma so I could hide half a sandwich that was making me feel ill. Woza knew the lines like a pro and we trodded up Craig Wen and Yr Aran without losing any time on schedule.
The early evening was clear, warm and basically perfect. As we turned towards Snowdon, headtorches came on and in the distance we could start to make out a snake of headtorches winding up to the summit. There was a race in process which required runners to do as many laps from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon as they can in 24hrs via the Llanberis path. We all agreed this was a poor use of time and effort but it really added to the atmosphere of the leg.
At the top of Snowdon we were greeted by a pool of blood that looked like the aftermath of a shark attack. After a moment’s pause to silently wish the injured party well, we carried on into the clag that had suddenly materialised out of nowhere. Hugh peeled off at this point and disappeared into the mist threatening to show the ultra-runners how to really do hill reps on his way back to the campsite while the rest of us headed onwards along the largely runnable ridge towards Llanberis.
The final four tops were shrouded in thick clag which made me very grateful to have Woza and Emma with me to navigate. They were superb and we didn’t put a foot wrong. We were still making decent progress and Woza kept us all amused with anecdotes of contenders getting lost in the back streets of Llanberis and missing their scheduled cut-off times. The HQ for the 24hr Snowdon race was also based in Llanberis and meant it was quite busy for the early hours of the morning and filled with broken runners disappearing off into the clag for another slog up Snowdon and a few well hydrated locals.
On reaching the checkpoint, I collapsed into the chair drenched in sweat, muttered a few oaths under my breath and looked accusingly at the tea, recovery drink and rice pudding Andy had laid on for me. I was feeling broken and managed to consume half a pot of rice pudding, a can of lemonade and a nibble of mango before hiding the evidence of my lack of eating under the chair hoping nobody noticed. I said my goodbyes to Woza and Emma at this point and my mind turned to Elidir Fach and the atmospheric ascent through the slate mines out of Llanberis.
Leg 3: Llanberis to Ogwen. Glyders (16k, 1,800m elevation)
Supporters: Roland Kelly and Lee Ireland
I think I’d met Roland briefly while supporting Andy on a BG but had never met Lee who was a mate of Woza. Both exceptionally gifted and experienced runners, they both looked on with a reasonable degree of scepticism as to whether I’d even make it out of Llanberis let alone complete the leg or the round. First impressions weren’t improved when I realised just before starting the first climb that I’d left my head torch behind having stupidly taken it off at the checkpoint. Thankfully Andy had noticed and was in hot pursuit to hand it over so not much time was lost.
I continued to feel sick and was also feeling shame as I was not giving a particularly good account of myself. I was acutely aware people had made massive efforts to come and support my round and this was not going to plan.
The mind plays tricks with you over the course of these rounds. Imposter syndrome and the horrible feeling that you’re letting people down are never far away. The only reliable weapon to keep these devils at bay is the constant reassurance that you’re ahead of schedule or doing well. I reminded myself on the slow trudge up Elidir Fach that sub 24 was Plan A, however getting round and successfully completing the PB was a very credible Plan B. My family and friends had already sacrificed enough to support me in this all-consuming mission and I owed it to them and myself to finish. So, I told myself to stop feeling so bloody sorry for myself and crack on – I was in great company and spending quality time in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Having tapped the tops of Eilidir Fach and Fawr, I resolved to get a piece of flapjack (or “sh**balls” as Lee described them who was not impressed that I hadn’t individually wrapped them) down me as I knew I was in real need of calories.
I chomped it down and then spent the next 5mins on my hands and knees being violently sick and emptying my stomach completely of what little calories and fluid I’d put in. Lee congratulated me on the volume given how little I’d taken on board, however I knew my body had hit the hard reset button and I was crossing my fingers the system would reboot properly. Onwards.
The early hours of the morning over the Glyders were magical. Not a soul about, tufts of cloud sometimes obscuring the tumble of jagged rocks that pass for peaks with a pale moon overhead. The wind started to pick up and I was feeling the cold so added another layer, coat, gloves and a hat remembering the lessons learnt from my previous effort. Lee and Roland were excellent in making sure I was warm enough at this tipping point on the round.
Head torches came off somewhere around Glyder Fawr which made the sketchy scree descent off Glyder Fach and scramble up Tryfan much easier. Thankfully the earlier rain had also dried off and it was superb to lay hands on Adam and Eve on the top of Tryfan. The last time I was here was with Simon Barnett at Easter when he nimbly mounted Adam before leaping onto Eve to gain the freedom of the mountain again. I’d neither the time nor energy for showboating and so we quickly stepped over someone who had bivvy’d on the summit and started the rocky descent to Ogwen.
We arrived at the checkpoint behind schedule having taken approx. 1hr 20mins longer to do the leg than I had 5weeks earlier.
At Ogwen, I was met by Andy who rightly admonished me for hiding my half-eaten food at the last checkpoint and he proceeded to stand over me like a schoolteacher to ensure I got some cold pizza and rice pudding down before heading on. I sat with my head in hands asking anyone who would listen why we do this to ourselves. Andy reminded me that I was going to have to walk home if I didn’t finish and showed me a video of my kids wishing me luck. I grabbed a handful of cherry tomatoes in desperation. A corner was turned, the tomatoes tasted great! At 3 calories a pop I’d need to eat around 3,000 of them to complete theround comfortably but thankfully I was too tired to do that maths. The sun was now shining brighter in the sky and it was a glorious morning to be alive!
Leg 4: Ogwen to Capel Curig. Carneddau (15km, 1,250m elevation)
Supporters: Tate Eldred and Lee Ireland
Tate met us at Ogwen and Lee was going to carry on over the Carneddau. Tate’s boundless enthusiasm for adventure and cheeriness in the face of adversity was exactly what was needed as we headed up the steep Roman nose of Pen yr Ole Wen.
I’d done this leg a number of times before, mainly in the dark or snow, and to see it in its full glory was spectacular. I still wasn’t eating much but I did manage to wash down a slice or two of pizza and a gel which was enough to keep the legs moving. I knew it was going to be a struggle but I’d resolved to complete the round no matter what which took the pressure off and I began to really enjoy it. We began to tick off the tops taking decent lines and, having made reasonable time up Pen LLithrig y Wrach, realised we’d actually made some time back on schedule and that a sub 24 round was still a possibility if I could get a move on. It was stick or twist time.
I was feeling like a new man compared to the last 15hrs, so gave Lee the nod and he took up point position in our trio and led us down into Capel Curig at a steady run which felt sustainable although I was aware I was burning matches.
At this stage, the sense of relief at not feeling sick and being able to enjoy the round was euphoric and with the sun out is was warming up nicely.
Leg 5 – Capel Curig to Bwlchgwernog. Moelwyns (32km, 2,410m elevation)
Supporters: Patrick Butlin for whole leg and Tate Eldred to join at the quarries for final section
Andy looked pleased to see me at the checkpoint by Plas y Brenin and noted that it was the first time I hadn’t looked completely buggered since setting off. I managed to eat half a bacon sarnie washed down with a lemonade and a can of his 0% Heineken which, together with some cherry tomatoes, went down v well.
Patrick led us off in the direction of Moel Siabod examining a custom 1:25,000 map of the PB that he’d specifically ordered for the weekend. I’m not sure he could get all of it tattooed onto his person at that scale but it seemed to do the trick and we hit the top on schedule. I was really feeling the lack of energy at this stage but managed to jog the runnable bits to keep on time.
This leg is the longest of the round and is characterised by fiddly navigation over rough terrain where it’s tricky to get a rhythm going. It’s also composed almost entirely of bog. Over one section, Patrick bravely went first, skipping over the ground and calling back cheerily that it looked worse than it was and I could wade through. It speaks of the trust between contender and support crew that I unquestioningly blundered straight ahead and disappeared up to my waist immediately. Thankfully I was able to grab some firm ground to heave myself out as Patrick was too busy laughing to drag me out.
The forecast thunder and lightning stayed away, however the previously sunny skies darkened, the wind picked up and we were caught in some heavy downpours. Full waterproofs went on and together with slowing down due to general fatigue, I knew at this point that plan A and sub-24 was not going to happen.
Tate and Andy had agreed to meet us at the quarries halfway through the leg for a resupply and Tate was then going to join us to provide some relief to Patrick from my awful chat. There is a craggy bit by Clogwyn Brith just before you reach the quarry that can be tricky if you miss the optimal line which unfortunately we did. After dithering for a bit, I thought I saw a line down and decided to take it on rather than retrace my steps to go around which Patrick wanted to do, and so we agreed to split up and meet at the quarry buildings. Tate and Andy who had seen us apparently crag bound and in need of rescue, headed over to lend some help from the ground but lost sight of both of us as I descended a horrible route mainly on my arse while Patrick went the sensible longer way round. It turned out that the quarry buildings I then headed towards were at Plas Cwmorthin rather than the agreed meeting point and so I spent 5mins or so walking downhill in the wrong direction. Andy and Tate eventually met with Patrick at the right buildings and, with no sign of me, reached the conclusion that I had come to an unfortunate end on the crag and started to draw lots over who was going to extricate my broken body. Little did they know I was now retracing my steps.
back up to the quarry and cursing both my own stupidity and the additional elevation. We eventually reconvened and agreed never to part again!
The final stretch of the round was uneventful having made peace with the demons in my head a long while back regarding the elusive 24hr barrier. I was relaxed, delighted that without a catastrophe I was going to complete the round and able to enjoy the final few tops. Well, no one really enjoys Cnicht but you know what I mean.
Reflections and thanks
These rounds are special and it’s a privilege to be able to spend time in the hills a million miles away from reality. Sometimes I need to spend this time alone, but the camaraderie that comes from sharing these times with like-minded folk, some of whom you may not have met until they turn up in the middle of the night at a bus stop in Llanberis to run with you for the next 9hrs or so is impossible to explain unless you’ve experienced it and deeply humbling.
Thanks to everyone that helped make this happen, for coming out that damp weekend in April when it didn’t happen and then again in July when I made my peace with Snowdonia.
Andy C – massive thanks for stepping in at short notice, driving up from the south coast (twice!) and rustling up some extra support for the July attempt. Huge thanks to Matt W, Ross, Claire, Fraser, Fraser’s dad, Henry, Jerome, Simon, Tom R, Hugh, Woza, Emma, Lee, Roland, Tate, and Patrick for believing in me and all your help. I am in your debt and hope I can carry your sandwiches on similar adventures soon. Your collective positivity, wisdom and humour got me round.
Special thanks to Famo Bedlow: Em, James & Lucy for the unswerving belief, encouragement and patience, it wouldn’t happen without you.
That’s it. Done.
p.s. If anyone knows of somewhere that sells decent Scottish calendars, let me know…