For the women, Anne Stentiford (Johnson) held the FKT at 19h20m, set in 1991. This time was beaten in 2013 by Nicky Spinks, 19h02m, as indicated on the inov-8 blog. The FKT was further lowered to 18h33m by Jasmin Paris, October 2016. Paris got the FKT on all of the Big 3 UK Rounds (Paddy Buckley, Bob Graham and Ramsay) in 2016.
On Sunday 2nd October I ran a Paddy Buckley Round in 18:33, and thus completed the classic UK trio of big mountain rounds, having run a Bob Graham Round (15:24) and a Ramsay Round (16:13) earlier in the season. Of the three rounds, the Paddy Buckley proved the biggest challenge, not only physically, but also mentally.
I started at 5am from Llanberis, running clockwise. In contrast to the Bob Graham and Ramsay, I had not been able to recce the Paddy Buckley route, and there were large sections (Capel Curig to Rhyd Ddu) which I didn't know at all. Luckily I was supported on the day by a fantastic team, and had people with local knowledge to navigate each leg. The attempt was originally planned for 1st October, but on the basis of a terrible weather forecast, I delayed the start by 24 hours. The decision paid off, and I was rewarded with one of those perfect autumn days - still and sunny, with dazzling views and beautiful colours.
With Konrad’s help, I had cobbled together a 19-hour schedule, which would put me just inside Nicky Spinks’ 2013 record of 19:02. As usual however, I planned to run to feel rather than splits, which was just as well since some of them turned out to be hugely inaccurate.
Leg 1: Llanberis to Llyn Ogwen
(pacers: Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near)
Under any other circumstances meeting two strangers in an empty car park at 4:45am would be regarded as highly suspicious… Tim and Chris had kindly offered to run the first leg with me, which was a huge bonus considering their local knowledge (them being the current and previous record holders for the PBR). After a friendly greeting, and some jokes about their matching gear (unintentional they claimed!), we counted down the seconds to 5am, and set off into the darkness, with Konrad and Moss looking on. We made rapid progress through the complex turns of the quarries and along the steep railroad sleepers beyond. As we neared the first summit, Elidir Fach, we were enveloped in a thick fog, which persisted for much of the leg. Despite discovering that our only compass contained a bubble, Tim and Chris nailed the lines, and we continued to tick off the summits as the blackness around us turned to grey. In their greasy wet state, the rocks of the Glyders were treacherous, and we were forced to slow down, aware that a fall could do significant damage. The clag cleared as we approached Tryfan, and we exclaimed at the beauty of the Llyn Ogwen valley below us, bathed in golden light. We slithered down the descent, and ran into the changeover bang on schedule. With some difficulty, I pulled my wedding ring off my already swelling finger (having forgotten to do so earlier), exchanged it for a cup of cocoa and a cake, and ran on through.
Leg 2: Llyn Ogwen to Capel Curig
(pacers: Anthony Bethell, Alex McVey, Adam Stirk)
Armed with a fresh team, we started the ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen via the east ridge. I was worried to find myself feeling tired already, particularly when we reached the summit a couple of minutes outside the estimated split. Once on top, Alex and Adam pulled ahead and I worked to keep up, aware by now that on this occasion I’d omitted the ‘easy’ first 8 hours of running I’d enjoyed on the Bob Graham and Ramsay Rounds. Approaching Carnedd Lewellyn we were surprised to meet a group of 30 or so walkers coming the other way at a pretty steady pace. They were only carrying small packs, so they can’t have been out all night, goodness knows what time they had set off! We overshot the summit slightly, but Ant called us back, limiting time lost to a couple of minutes. In the growing warmth of the morning sun (Ant already had his shirt off, which shows how lucky we were for the time of year), we descended to the col where Digby and his son Saam were waiting patiently with fresh supplies. Consuming a combination of pickled onion Fish n’ Chips, banana, and milkshake, I scrambled up to the summit of Pen Yr Helgi Ddu, and on to Pen Lithrig. Ant led us off on a direct line through deep heather, and then over the little footbridge and onto the boggy path down to Capel Curig.
Leg 3: Capel Curig to Nantmor
(pacers: Jim Mann, Liz Barker, Tim Budd, Jon Ascroft, John Ryan)
This leg is regarded by many, including myself, as the hardest of the Paddy Buckley Round. Not only is it the longest, but the many indistinct summits also make navigation challenging, and the terrain is rough and frequently wet.
The first climb, up to the summit of Moel Siabod, was where I really started to struggle, and where I realised what a challenge the rest of the round would be. Still, my pacers were all enthusiasm, and so I battled on, towards the back, head down, getting on with it as best I could. Jim did an awesome job navigating us through the rough heathery terrain (very much a feature of the Paddy Buckley Round, in particular this leg and the following one), and doing his best to avoid the deepest bogs. The heavy rain of the previous day had left the ground waterlogged, and we were frequently forced to deviate from the optimal line, crossing and re-crossing the fence in order to bypass the flooded areas. Jim and John R quickly developed a pattern whereby John avoided the summits, and instead carried Jim’s bag, allowing Jim to save energy for navigation (and supporting again on leg 4). This worked well until Allt-fawr where John suddenly disappeared (it is rumoured that he was sabotaged by suboptimal directions...), prompting cries of ‘Where’s John?!’ as we started the descent. Jon A doubled back to look for him, whilst we pushed on, with Tim now carrying all of my gear and food.
Liz was waiting for us in the quarries, ready to take over navigational duties from Jim. She set off as we approached, so Tim and I chased her up the hill, and onto the course of last year’s British Champs race. How I wished my legs felt as good climbing over the Moelwyns as they had then!
At least the weather was good - amazing in fact - and I was still able to appreciate the fantastic views stretching out in all directions. A tussocky descent took us to into the col below Cnicht, where we were greeted by the Jo(h)ns, who had (after some wandering) managed to find themselves and each other. A relieved Tim dropped back, nursing a twisted ankle, and I slogged on up to the summit, where the surprise appearance of Digby and Saam did much to raise my spirits. There followed a very runnable (for some!) descent into the valley, and then a short section along a quiet road in woodland. Running into the changeover I spotted Konrad waiting for me, and for a moment the sight of him prompted me to fall apart… He comforted me with a hug, and the promise that he’d be waiting for me at the end of next leg - and by the time I reached the others I’d pulled myself together.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the supporters at Nantmor had experienced their fair share of excitement whilst I had been running this leg, as my mum had lost her car keys by the river. Despite much searching they could not be found, forcing a quick trip to the local supermarket for mum (all I noticed was that my beans were in a tin and not a plastic tub!), and a trip to Wales with the spare keys for dad.
Leg 4: Nantmore to Rhyd Ddu
(pacers Sarah Ridgeway, Jim Mann, Julien Minshull, Anthony Bethell, Joasia Zakrzewski)
We had arrived into the changeover about 8 minutes down on my 19 hour schedule, but we made up 6 of this on the first climb, to Bryn Banog. This was somewhat surprising, given the depth of the bracken in the lower sections (if I do a Paddy again, it will be earlier in the year!). I can only assume it was the excellent company that spurred me upwards. Julien amused me with his usual assortment of jokes, whilst Jim and Sarah discussed the many qualities of Kendal Mint cake as a running food, including its natural pain-killing properties…. So enthusiastic was their discussion that I was roused from my slow upwards plod, to ask hopefully ‘Have you got any?’. There was a moment of silence, as we all realised the answer was no, then laughter, and then Sarah (who’d recently offered me a Bounty Bar) started telling me that coconut has very similar properties...
As sunset approached the hills around us turned a splendid array of autumn colours - even in my exhausted state I was stunned at the beauty of it. Ant and Jo joined us before the climb up to Nantlle Ridge, and we chatted about Ant’s Eagle Owl, and how cheap he was to feed compared with a cat, until Jim essentially told me to get a move on (at the time this seemed a bit harsh, but he was totally right, I was slowly ceasing to care). The Nantlle ridge was an exciting distraction, which lifted my spirits as well as my pace. Darkness fell as we dropped towards the forest, and we pulled on head torches to run the final section along forest tracks, arriving into the changeover almost 20 minutes down on schedule.
Leg 5: Rhydd Ddu to Llanberis
(pacers Konrad Rawlik, Gareth Hughes, Liz Barker)
Feeling oddly detached from the hurried activity around me, I pulled on the arm warmers which Sarah was pushing towards me, pulled a couple of green beans from the cup of soup my mum was offering, and hobbled off into the darkness, leaving Konrad and Gareth to catch me up. I knew there was some slack in the splits on this leg, but it wasn’t clear whether it would be enough… I gulped down a couple of gels, and tried to make maximum use of the poles which I’d picked up at the changeover, pulling my tired legs upwards. In the darkness, things took on a surreal, dream like quality, my world narrowed to the pool of light around my feet. With Konrad beside me, and Gareth doing a brilliant job of the navigation ahead, we started to pull back time. Liz ran with us to the summit of Yr Aran, then peeled off to collect her car from the valley below, whilst we continued up, arriving at the summit of Snowdon 4 minutes ahead of schedule. The summit ridge was windy and eerily empty, and we were glad to reach the sheltered descent of Crib y Ddysgi. As we started the climb of Moel Cynghorion a wave of faintness washed over me, but Konrad didn’t let me indulge it, instead thrusting a bottle of Lucozade and a gel into my hands and saying ‘You’ll be ok, keep going’. We continued to gain fragments of time over the small climbs that followed, and my morale lifted as the end drew closer. The final descent from Moel Eilio was a delight, soft bouncy grass making for a rapid descent under a sky full of stars. I finished the round feeling as good as I had at the start of leg 3, and significantly better than I had for the 12 hours in-between.
The Paddy Buckley Round was for many reasons the biggest challenge I've faced this year, and certainly one of the hardest days of my life. I'm proud of myself for sticking it out, but I know I couldn't have done it without the fantastic support team at my side, and my changeover crew; mum, dad, Andrea Minshull, and the Moss/Brae collie duo.
The three big rounds have been an amazing experience. They have given me three of my most memorable mountain days, have cemented old friendships and formed many new ones. I have been touched by the generosity of everyone who has helped me, and moved by the beauty of the mountains I have crossed.
I’m already being asked whether I intend to run them again… The answer is maybe, in part. I’d quite like to run the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay in winter, if conditions are right, and Konrad fancies joining me for a long day in the hills… I’ll probably have another crack at a fast Paddy Buckley at some point too - to enjoy it a little more, and because I think there’s still some room for improvement