OK from the headings below you can pretty much see where this is going. I’m trying to put together a guide of what you should do when you’re out enjoying the moors and you come across the various animals who make it their home, for their safety and yours. Please feel free to help me build this resource in the comments section.
At the end of the race me and several other runners found that we couldn’t remove our shoes because they were frozen to our feet. As I sit here writing this nearly 3 hours after finishing the race I’m still unable to feel 2 of the toes on my left foot. They’re numb, completely numb. To my adjoining toes they feel like something in my sock that shouldn’t be there. A very odd sensation. All part of the fun.
It was a bleak night but I didn’t expect to wake up to hills covered in snow this morning. This should make it interesting. There were already many tales being told in Marsden Cricket Club (race HQ for the Ian Robert’s) of the various adventures people had already had getting there this morning. With dark skies, high winds and snow showers we might well be in for some more. Was I really going to spurn the warmth of my insulated coat and head up the hill? Of course I bloody was. I made my way up to the start with fellow Peak Bog Men Stephen (Diver-Driver) Fraser and Alistair McDonald.
I’m pretty sure comedy starts to fell races that begin in Marsden are quickly becoming the way things are done round here. We’ve already had what’s been termed ‘The Keystone Cops start’ to the Trigger earlier this year. Phil Hobbs stepped up to the ‘starting mound’ to do the housekeeping and start the race. One hundred and five fell runners primed and ready to go, eagerly staring up the track waiting for the countdown. When…”Is that a car …coming towards us?” Up pootles a rather surprised looking farmer in a pick-up truck carrying a huge bale of hay. One hundred and five fell runners now find themselves clambering off the track to find enough space to let him through. Normal service was soon resumed and we were off.
I’d decided to go for a fast start (for me anyway) up to the footbridge after the first road crossing. It was fun. Keeping up with the faster runners and jostling for position as we raced along the track. I forgot to slow down after crossing the bridge though and got dragged along at a pace much quicker than I’m comfortable with. By the time we hit the first ascent of Bobus I was knackered. I arrived at the top having only lost 3 or 4 places but now expected to lose more on the section around the catchwater leading to Black Moss. I didn’t so was quite pleased and feeling the recovery from the quick start and ascent was going quite well. I looked up to see everyone crossing the bog at the same place – usual in snow when it’s easier to see and run in a broken trail. I decided they were all sheep-like idiots and that I could pick off a least half a dozen by blazing a much more efficient trail of my own. At least 12 runners passed me as I floundered helplessly through the snow covered, energy sapping bog.
My attention was soon diverted from the resulting low morale of this error by the freezing gale force wind which side-swiped us as we traversed the dam of Black Moss reservoir and the realisation that my trousers were falling down – I had neglected to tie the waist cord before the race. Why it took me several minutes of fumbling about to learn that it was almost impossible to tie with gloves on I can only put down the hypothermia and altitude sickness. I got annoyed with myself and sped past at least 6 runners before we got to the paved section of the Pennine Way, hoicking my trousers up every couple of minutes. Funny, but I’ve just read my previous account this race in 2010 to find that I sped up in this exact same place on that race too. I think it may be down to the turn in the course which puts the wind behind you – a good thing for us tall fellas as we act like sails in high winds.
I wasn’t looking forward to the decent on the paving slabs especially as they were covered in snow and ice. I was planning to run as much as I could on the grass by the side of the path. Once on the slabs I was surprised at how runable they actually were so I stayed on them and flew down gaining a couple more places after the stream crossing at the bottom. Whilst running down this section I got chance to look up and was staggered by the scenery. It was beautiful, covered in a layer of snow with the tussocks and other vegetation sticking through the top and the rocks on Pule Hill in clear contrast. I didn’t have time to stop and take a photo so decided I should come back later.
Running into the wind almost brought me to a stop as I ascended the Standedge Trail and I was overtaken by 3 strong limbed athletes. I tucked into this group and stayed as close as I could to use them as a wind break (you know what us tall fellas are like in strong winds) until we turned off the trail to head along the catchwater to the bottom of Pule Hill.
I could see a steady stream of runners walking up Pule and, anticipating that the wind was going to be a factor, was ready to do the same myself. But I didn’t. I didn’t make any ground on the group in front of me who were walking but I did manage to run all the way up even though my legs had turned to jelly. I was surprised at this point to see a race marshal cheerily urging me on and pointing the way whilst trying to hold the hood of their coat tightly to their head against the wind which was doing its best to blow the poor soul off the hill.
Now, I try not to look behind in races – it scares me and and makes me feel under pressure – but at some point I had glanced over my shoulder to see Alistair McDonald not far behind me. I wasn’t making the most of the decent of Pule Hill because of my jelly legs so was expecting to lose a couple of places on this section. By the time I had got to the top of the incline and turned east over the moor and into the wind again I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t been.
Feeling like one of those young chaps who prefer to wear their trousers with the wasteband around their knees and tiring from the distraction of having to periodically yank my trousers back up I decided to have another go at tying them. I was celebrating the success of this endeavor when came the distinct and inevitable sound of a firmly pinned race number fighting with the weather for its freedom. Not long after I was overtaken by a runner who was travelling at great speed – I decided to let him go.
“He’s probably not in the race anyway.”
“He’ll have just got out of his car at the bottom of the hill.”
“On fresh legs.”
“Yeh that’ll be it.”
“The noise of the race number? Gortex! – yeh, makes a right racket in wind.”
A few minutes later, on the steeper section of the decent, Alistair glided past with effortless speed. This did speed me up a bit but I couldn’t stay with him. By the time we reached the track where we’d started the race he was about 50 meters ahead of me and quickly gaining on a group further in front. After the uneven, soft, spongy decent of Pule this section completely confuses the legs often resulting in them refusing to work. By the time I had got to the road crossing I was glad that it was marshaled. I wouldn’t have cared if there had been a bus coming, I just wanted to get to the finish.
For some reason the second ascent of Bobus was slower than the first. And I noticed that the 2 runners who had recently overtaken me had started to walk. The marshal at the stream junction which lead us down into Butterley Clough had erected a tent to fend off the weather. This last section is horrible. Most people that do this race can be heard complaining about it. It’s evil. Possibly the worst section of any fell race in West Yorkshire – which of course makes it the best! The deep tussocky terrain and steep decent can turn the hardest of fell runners into quivering wrecks. Today though the snow made it almost a pleasure. And, though I did take a spectacular fall and was barely able to get back on my feet I really enjoyed it. The tracks in the snow also pointed out a far better route than I had ever found on this section before. Even the ascent up the other side of the clough was enjoyable. And even though I’d been overtaken on the descent I was catching Alistair and the group of runners he was now struggling to get passed.
On the muddy zig-zag decent to the footbridge several runners made bold moves which nearly ended badly. I decided to stay put. Play it safe. Not take any risks. This, of course, didn’t last very long. I like bold, daring moves. Like…well…throwing caution to the wind and blazing my own trail through bogs. So I knew it wouldn’t be long before I tried something. Just then I spied an opportunity. A small rise next to the path. “If I throw myself at that I can get past most of this group and tuck in behind the two at the front before I reach the bridge.” It only worked! I crossed the bridge with only 2 people in front of me before launching myself up the other side of the gully determined not to lose the places I had so boldly won.
By the time I got to the top of the gully I felt quite sick. I had nothing left. Legs and lungs screaming in protest I somehow managed to get myself over the style and start running again. The track – with a wall on one side and young trees on the other – is barely wide enough for one runner and had been turned into thick foot-clawing mud. The chap in front of me was the same runner who had passed me on the decent into Butterlley Clough and had himself performed several daring downhill maneuvers to get there. The chap behind was Alistair. He couldn’t have been more than an inch behind me. He was going to power past me at any moment. “If only I could get past the chap in front. That would put someone between us and it might just put him off.” Finding legs from who know’s where I made a mad dash through a small gap in the trees. I’d done it! I’d got past him. I could see the end 30 meters away! All I’ve got to do is stay on my feet and keep going. I could tell by the faces at the finish line that it was close. I could also tell the other two hadn’t given up. Desperately trying to gulp oxygen from the freezing air I dug in a bit more. Surprisingly my legs responded. I sped up. Forcing myself forward I moved closer to the finish. I went over and ended up on my arse.
If there was such a thing as a prize given for the least amount of time spent on the floor after a fall I would have won it. Somehow, without conscious effort I was back on my feet and across the finish line before the other two. Hardly able to breath and bent double trying not to throw up I was thanked for the “great battle”. Unable to speak I responded with pats on the back.
The other two, Alistair and (I’ll post his name when I get it from the results) had seen me slip – as the result times show they were inches behind me – and without any communication between them they both decided not take advantage of my misfortune to gain the extra place. That, to me anyway, is what this is all about. And that’s why it was such a great race.
I came 44th – my best ever place in this race with a time of 65 minutes and 9 seconds by best ever time.
It’s all coming back to me now. This time last year I’d done a considerable amount of running in preparation for the New Chew 2012 before falling down a hole in the paving slabs on the Pennine Way on Black Hill. This year I did little. I’d done a fair bit over Christmas in preparation for the Trigger (Marsden to Edale Fell Race) on January 13th but since then had only run twice and one of them was along Blackpool prom – hardly a fell.
It wasn’t until I was driving to the race with my good pal and team mate Dr Ali that I began to think about the facts – we’ll be out running on t’moor for four and a half hours that’s 30 minutes less than it took us to do the Trigger… erm…oh ‘eck I hadn’t thought of that. To be honest I hadn’t thought about anything since booking us on the race – well I don’t do I? “Never mind I was OK last year” I told myself as I tried to plant a false memory of effortlessly gliding across hill and dale 12 months earlier.
We were soon parked and heading for kit check and registration at Dovestones Sailing Club. One of the things I find quite wonderful about fell races is the genuine joy, energy and helpfulness of the people on the organising teams. The Saddleworth Runners are no exception. I have never before been greeted by so many friendly smiling faces on such a cold, wintry morning – and can’t imagine Simon Pymm on kit check being happier if he’d run and won the race.
With kit checked and numbers pinned to clothing we waited in line to start. We got our maps and start time at 9:52am and we were off. Dr Ali was quickly at work studying the map and planning a route – he’s bloody good at this and quick. After some discussion we had a strategy. We decided to head up the Chew Valley and out towards Holme Moss and Crowden where the big points were – doing the Trigger a month earlier had given us a good indication of the ground we could cover and how long it would take. We could then head round to Black Hill and head back over Saddleworth Moor. It was a good plan and gave us room for manoeuvre should we need to make adjustments.
Eh? So how does it work?
This kind of race has no fixed course or route and is as much about navigation as speed. At the start of the race your are given a map of the area covered and a control card. Dotted around the area are control points each with a unique number or stamp with which you mark your control card. Each control is worth a number of points dependent on the relative difficulty of getting to it. The location of the controls are shown on the map. The idea is to get as many points as you can within the given time – in this case 4 hours 30 minutes. For each minute late you lose 3 points.
So how did it go?
It was cold. The run up Chew Road got us into a good rhythm and quickly warmed us up. Our first control (5 points) was just off the track on the top of a knoll. We bagged this and carried on up to Chew reservoir where we found the second control and a photographer. We got another 10 points for the control but nothing for the photographer. Here the weather turned almost arctic so we kept moving. We set a good pace heading east to find the Pennine Way where we descended into a glorious spring morning. Our third control was a bit trickier to find being located at the bottom of a crag (Rakes Rocks) which we couldn’t see because we were running in a trough. Rising onto higher ground we were soon able to find it for 20 more points.
From here we planned to head up the Pennine way, about a mile past Laddow for the next control. We decided to miss this one and instead head straight down into Crowden Great Brook (15 points) then back up into the arctic winter, across Bareholme Moss to the grouse butts in Wiggin Clough. This control was labeled as a sheep fold but turned out to be a grouse butt. No matter, we found it easily (30 points) and made jokes about small sheep whilst looking at a group of people scratching their heads at the sheepfold near the grouse butts about 200 metres further north.
Another change of plan at this point. We decided to cross Crowden Little Brook and head south to pick up a 35 point control on a slag heap in a disused quarry just above Crowden before heading back north to Stonefold Grough on Westend Moss for another 30 points. Somewhere along this route we had to ditch our plan for getting to the control on Holme Moss calculating that the descent to Heyden Brook and up the other side would take us too long. We headed straight up to Black Hill making good time on decent terrain.
Dr Ali’s expert navigation and route finding saw us arriving at the A635 – Isle of Skye Road – in Peak Bog Men record breaking time. We crossed the road to the layby and located our next 20 points. With about 50 minutes remaining it felt like we were cutting it fine but should get back in time… so, perfect then. We crossed the road and soon found the next control at a stream junction (15 points) before following the stream to Rimmen Cottage – the old shooting lodge for our final 10 points.
Points in the bag all that was left was a long slog back to the finish at Dovestones Sailing Club. We took the direct route across moorland to Greenfield reservoir- where the steep decent of Ox Rake Brow just about saw off the rest of my legs with about 3 miles of flat trail to go. Dr Ali set the pace so I locked into a rhythm, switched of my head and followed. We made it back with 4 minutes to spare. Job well done.
We did about 16.5 miles and over 3000 feet of climb – pleased with that.
We came 7th out of 36 in our race (long score) – well chuffed, I think that’s our best yet.
We had a fantastic day – the most important thing.
The post race food of the New Chew is about as good as it gets. Veg and cheese bake or meat and potato pie – the proper, home made stuff with lashings of beetroot and red cabbage, none of your nonsense. A variety of expertly made cakes and gallons of tea finishes off a remarkable race with a warm cozy glow.
The New Chew has got to be one of the best races on the calendar. It’s got the lot: great organisation; challenging and varied terrain; weather conditions that vary minute to minute from spring running in t-shirt and shorts to arctic survival in full winter kit; breath-taking scenery; the spread and variation of controls means that you’re not following crowds around – you hardly know you’re on a race; and and the food… mmmmm the food. With numbers limited to protect the moorland restoration work I’ll be looking out for registration early next year to make sure I don’t miss out.
Traversing some of the toughest terrain in the Peak District in mid winter, the Trigger Race is a test of speed, navigation and endurance and often – in my case -survival. Starting at Marsden the route measures 20 miles as the crow flies and ascends over 4500 feet climbing Black Hill, Bleaklow and Kinder before finishing in Edale. Profits from the race are donated to the Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team.
Totally out of character for me, I’d left entry too late and failed to get on the starting list. I had made it on to the reserve list though, and a couple of Peak Bog Men had bumped into the race organiser whilst doing a reci on Bleaklow who’d told them I would get a starting place. I was going to do it anyway – jumping into the race at the start and tagging along unofficially As it turned out there was no need. A couple of weeks later I learned I was in – Entry List. Plans for anarchic fell running were wisely dropped.
Not knowing the route beyond Crowden I was planning to stick to the Pennine Way and other major footpaths as much as possible. An hour studying maps with Dr Ali who’d done the race before and surveyed much of the route changed my mind – so I think I’m already on Plan ‘C’.
Logistics were sorted out, cars were taken and left at Edale to get us home and support from ‘Jellied Eels’ Jeff Button was organised.
The weather in the week leading up to the race had been utterly miserable so I was pleasantly surprised to wake and find glorious sunshine and, importantly, no wind whatsoever.
We met at Marsden Cricket Club and after the usual formalities and photographs we were off. I’d anticipated a bit of a bottleneck going through the gates approaching Butterlley dam so made sure I got myself forward for the start. It quickly became apparent that, though the start route had been published nobody had actually studied it. This lead to what has been termed the Keystone Cops start to the race and a good deal of hilarity Calls of “which way do we go?” and “We’re all following you” were shouted – I even heard someone say “Follow Mr Tuckle”, I can only guess they sensed that I had some local knowledge. Going through the first gate I found myself in first place! Pity it was at the wrong end of the race and for only 5 seconds. A group passed me then turned to ask me which way they should go when we reached the next gate. It was good to see Mac cheering us on as we crossed the Dam but sadly he was unable to prevent the tidal wave of runners now passing as we hit the obvious trail up the Wessenden Valley.
I quickly found my pace and settled in for the long haul as many, many runners passed me by. I was surprised to see people walking where the route steepened briefly at both Little Hey Sike and Leyzing Cloughs and managed to gain a few of the places I had lost. At Wessenden Head reservoir We came off the main Wessenden trail and got our first taste of boggy, tussocky moorland following the ‘Old’ Pennine Way route up to the first road crossing A635 – known locally as the Isle of Skye Road after the pub which was here up until the 1950s when it was demolished either due to a fire or the potential health threat from drainage into the reservoirs.
Crossing the road we continued the slog up Black Hill on paving slabs. Straight forward enough but great care had to be taken descending the steep sides of Reap Hill and Dean Clough as my Mudclaws glided effortlessly across the icy surface Blades of Glory style. I didn’t want to risk a fall here so walked down gingerly. Scanning the path carefully for the holes I am prone to fall down. I was soon at the foot of the steep section on the side of Issue Edge which leads to the summit. Everybody seemed to be walking up this section, I’m pretty sure they all thought I was insane as I slowly edged past them in a low gear. It felt great to get to the top where I gave myself a mental high-5 as I tagged the first trig point of the race.
The mist began to thicken but retained the brightness that betrays better things to come. I turned off the Pennine Way and followed a trod across the edge of Sliddens Moss. Here the ground was perfect – soft with a crisp icy shell. A steep and exciting decent lead to Crowden Little Brook. Crossing the brook lead to what is probably an old quarry access road – now a rough trail mined with icy puddles every few yards – 3km of this and I would be at the first checkpoint and refreshments with Jeff. Just before the end of this section I saw my first fellow Peak Bog Man as Alistair passed me. This surprised me as I thought he was already ahead of me. Taking the connoisseurs descent route off the hill I was soon with Jeff who had doing a sterling job of organising supplies. I was busy gulping down some of these supplies when we were joined by Dr Ali. I asked Dr Ali if I could tag along with him for the rest of the race as, from here on, I was on virgin territory – I was glad when he agreed. Fresh supplies stuffed into my rucksack and we were off.
We crossed the second road crossing – A628 Woodhead Pass – and followed a footpath around the top of Torside Reservoir where we encountered the first person to offer us Jelly Babies – strange. Crossing the road, we ran alongside a wall before crossing it and beginning the steep ascent which was to lead us to Lawrence Edge. This is where sticking with Dr Ali began to pay off – he know’s these parts. Definitely not runnable this is a scramble. A scramble that has to be undertaken with the sound of gun fire from neighboring gun club echoing around the rocks. It’s worth it though. Height was gained rapidly and we soon found gradient easing off as we headed to Shining Clough Moss on a moonscape beneath a perfect blue sky.
We joined the Pennine Way just south of Far Moss before leaving it for a trod which took us straight to trig point number 2 at Higher Shelf Stones. This last section was like being on another world. The ground, being covered in ice crystals, sparkled and shone in the bright, clear sunlight. This vision and a surge of endorphins triggered a euphoric rush which lasted for a good ten minutes. It was one of the best running experiences I have ever had.
We set off from the trig point on a good trod which petered out near the top of Crooked Clough. Dr Ali’s route finding and research paid off again. We avoided the descending into the Clough and were soon traversing its eastern edge on another good trod which took us to the Pennine Way. On rapidly tiring legs it wasn’t long before we were at our last road crossing – the A57 Snake Pass – where Jeff was waiting with warm tea and Christmas pudding, a treat I’d been looking forward to the whole race. Reaching this point in my mind was ‘job done’ but I hadn’t any idea how much there was left to do.
We set off on the Pennine Way which was treacherously icy so I was happy when we left it after about 1km at a delta of streams at the bottom of Withins Clough which we were to follow on varying trods to the foot of another steep scramble. Time to dig deep and plug away again. We arrived at a group of stones at the top which I later learned from Bridget were called The Boxing Gloves. After catching our breath we headed off south for our third and final trig point – Kinder. After more jelly babies and a quick bit of banter with the chaps from Woodhead Mountain Rescue we were off on the last stretch.
Not having been on Kinder before I didn’t know what to expect. We headed to the downfall on a good trod before finding the Pennine Way again. The plan from the downfall was to follow a series of stream systems to the Western side of Grindslow Knoll. Again I felt we were on another planet. Running deep inside groughs and stream beds we were almost permanently surrounded by the darkness of eroded peat – the skyline only momentarily visible when we climbed from one to the other. I struggled to imagine a more difficult place to navigate – Dr Ali told me it involved several compass bearings, a small fir tree and a cairn. Even if I’d possessed the neccersay skill and knowledge I was too tired to use it and was happy I had someone to lead my through this maze of frozen blackness. This section was longer than I had imagined. We eventually found ourselves at the top of Grindsbrook Clough. Dr Ali was cross with himself as this meant we were now on the eastern side of Grindslow Knoll, something he’d wanted to avoid. He still managed to expertly navigate us on decent paths back to the route which would lead us down into Edale.
A wave of emotion and relief swept over us as we spotted the steeple of Edale Parish Church which was followed by hearty congratulations and back slapping. I’ve followed Dr Ali around this race twice before in the car and never imagined that I would ever be able to complete such a challenge and here I was finishing it with the person who’d inspired me, and the sun was shining.
We were soon into the village and running down the road to the finish at Fieldhead Campsite where we were greeted by Jeff, Alistair, Rick and Bridget. We came 118th and 119th finishing in a time of 5h 6m 20s. I was elated and knackered but already looking forward to doing again next year.
Finish Line photos by Jeff Button.
I’d heard about this race but was under the impression that it was a road race so had written it off. After Matthew mentioned it at work I found the route on one of the running forums and thought it was worth further investigation. Billed as 80% trail and 20% road it’s an interesting circular route with a fair bit of climb all in the first 6 miles. As it’s on my home turf I thought I’d give it a try.
- route on google maps
- Distance: 10.25 miles
- Climb: 1250 feet
After a week of wind and rain I was happy to see the weather had settled on the day of the race – it had even warmed up a bit, not bad for June! After registering for the race at Marsden Conservative Club I hung around for a while talking to the organisers – a friendly bunch from the Colne Valley Lions. I then bumped into Dominic. He’d done the race in previous years in the excellent time of 1 hour 20 mins. I thought if I could just keep him in sight I would be doing OK. It wasn’t long before we were gathered at the start line at Wessen Court and after a short speech by the Mayor we were off.
Immediately the route turned left onto Fall Lane before passing Marsden Sports Hall and turning onto Carrs Road. The first climb (about 450 feet over 1 mile) started as we turned onto Meltham Road. I found my uphill rhythm quickly, managed to stay with Dom and passed several people before turning onto the bridleway – the first off road section. As the bridleway continued its climb towards Shooters Nab and the terrain got rougher we were able to pass some more people who I thought must be more used to the roads.
Reaching the shooting club we joined another 2 runners who we were stay with for most of the race. The pace quickened on the tarmac track that loops around Deer Hill reservoir where I struggled to keep up. As we hit rough ground again the 2 new runners noticeably slowed and we were able to take advantage.
We managed a good pace as the path weaved its way through Deer Hill Bents and Legards Slack. We skilfully avoided confrontation with the Highland Cattle and was surprised (but really shouldn’t have been) to see Andrew (Lizzy) Lister up there doing a sterling job (with many others) making sure everyone stayed safe on the moors.
I had been looking forward to the slog up Wessenden Head Road but when I got there I never really got into my stride. I suspect, having turned down a drink at the start line and the first check point that I was beginning to dehydrate. Dom began to pull away and the bloke behind seemed to hang on my shoulder for ages. I thought of speeding up to shake him off but decided to let him go knowing that I could catch him up again on the rougher terrain and downhill sections of the Wessenden Valley.
At the end of the road section I turned down more water in order to save time. At the bottom of the incline that marks the start of the Wessenden Valley I’d caught up with the fella who had passed me on the road. I was tiring and unable to keep up with him on the flat sections though I did manage to catch him by flying down the hill sections like a maniac. Anticipating the long flat section after the lodge I gave up the chase. This was the right choice. I was now able to settle down, enjoy the run and appreciate the scenery.
Rounding the corner to the finish it was lovely to see so many people cheering us home. I heard someone shout my name. Seeing David Wilkins with his camera I posed for a photo before crossing the finish line. There was a wonderful warm atmosphere at the finish with people sitting around enjoying the occasion and cheering the runners home before retiring to the Conservative Club for refreshments and post race chat. A friendly, well organised and enjoyable event which I’m looking forward to doing again next year.
Once again it was Dr Ali’s enthusiasm that got this show on the road. Whilst out on a local run last week I mentioned that my plan to run up Snowdon may not materialise this year. Dr Ali had a window and suggested that we should try to get over there this weekend. Which we did.
We decided on a ‘commando’ style attack – travelling up on Friday night in Dr Ali’s camper van, pitching up at the Nant Peris camp site, starting the run early Saturday and getting back home at lunch time. We arrived at the camp site in time to take in refreshments (well, we would wouldn’t we?) at the Vaynol Arms – one of those climbers’ pubs with great location, atmosphere, beer and food.
After a hearty breakfast we set off for Llanberis where we donned our running gear and set off on the run. After a week of torrential rain we had been blessed with almost perfect conditions – dry, with broken cloud; plenty of sunshine but cold. The only warning sign of things to come higher up was the occasional ferocious gust of wind.
Without thinking about it too much, I had kind of subconsciously split the run up into sections of difficulty. The first section is the steep ascent up the road leading to Penceunant – a familiar place to anyone who’s done Snowdon in the Snow. We set off at the same time as half a dozen mountain bikers. As we approached this section I mentioned to Dr Ali that we would probably catch them up and overtake them, and wondered how many times during the endeavour we would get in each other’s way. By the time we’d got to Penceunant we’d passed them all. It wasn’t long before we were off the lane, through the gate and on to the mountain proper. Just one more section of climb before the path evened out to a long, flat stretch.
Funny thing is, the long flat stretch doesn’t exist. It seems to when you walk the route. But when you’re running it your legs constantly remind you that you are, in fact, on a constant uphill slog.
We reached the ‘half way house’ in under 40 minutes. A further 7 minutes saw us at the bottom of my next difficult section – the steep slog up to the bridge after Clogwyn Station where the path cuts 90 degrees right under the bridge. It was here that I think I began to ‘concentrate’ on regulating every single step and breath in order to complete the section and have enough left to complete the next.
With the end of the ‘Cloggy slog’ in sight, the incline became less steep. This led to a natural urge to pick up the pace a bit. I realised instantly that my legs disagreed. I didn’t argue, and carried on to the bridge at the same pace.
After a brief stop and a photograph we agreed that we were on track to get to the summit in less than 40 minutes. We set off. In my mind we had a couple of hundred metres until the path got steep again. In reality we had about 10. I locked into a rhythm and plodded up. The bright sunshine suddenly changed to thick fog. The odd fierce gusts of wind turned into a perpetual ferocious wind. The temperature plummeted. I began to freeze. Not wanting to disturb my rhythm, I spent the next 5 minutes manipulating my hat and coat out of my rucksack and getting them onto my head and body on the move.
The next thing I knew, we were at the monolith at Blwch Glas and continuing on up the summit ridge in icy conditions. We skipped up the steps to the summit cairn and took photos. I was elated. We had made it to the top in 1 hour and 19 minutes. I tried to think back and realised that I had been in a type of trance since the bottom of the steep section before Cloggy, and that everything before and since had become a dream-like blur. I didn’t seem to have had a conscious thought during that time; some would say that’s not that unusual for me!
I’m not a down-hill runner but felt like I was skipping down the summit ridge. Bouncing from rock to rock as we dodged past people on their way up. I even enjoyed running down the steep section back to Cloggy with my knees bouncing up to my chin. A quick time check showed that we had returned back to Cloggy from the summit in a surprising 11 minutes.
At the bottom of the steep section leading up to Cloggy we met the mountain bikers we’d passed on the way up to Penceunant, still slogging their way up with their push irons.
The rest continues to be a euphoric blur. I remember hopping and skipping my way back to the bottom without a care in the world, utterly enjoying every step of the way. I can only imagine that the exertion induced a kind of Zen like meditative experience. Whatever, I don’t think I have enjoyed myself or felt so carefree since I was a kid. I suggested to Dr Ali that we do the same every Saturday morning but in retrospect I’m not sure just how practical that would be.
Distance: 9.2 miles
Climb: 3139 feet
39 mins to halfway house
58 mins to clogwyn
114 mins to Bwlch Glas (monolith at end of Pyg Track)
120 mins to summit
124 mins to Bwlch Glas (monolith at end of Pyg Track)
131 mins to clogwyn
140 mins to halfway house
122 mins to finnish