On December 1 Nant Peris-based fell running guide Iain Ridgway of Run Snowdonia successfully completed a winter Paddy Buckley round; 62 miles, 47 summits, in 25.5 hours. Here UKC-user Iain talks to Dan Bailey about the experience of taking on one of the hardest big hill routes in Britain, solo, unsupported, and at the toughest time of the year.
Nice one Iain! A Paddy Buckley in any season is no mean feat. How did you get to this level?
I've been walking in the hills for years, but my main sport was always soccer. Then after a £5 bet with a mate that I could run the 95 mile West Highland Way in two days I ended up attempting to do the WHW race, failing after 80 miles... After that I got hooked on ultra running and used to run in the hills just to keep fit and get more done in a day. It just sort of developed from that really.
'A winter round, especially solo, is a personal journey. You do it for you'
When I moved back to Wales in 2006 I set my heart on doing the Paddy, and subsequently did it first attempt in 2007. Since then I've been involved in numerous attempts with others and started to think about the winter round for myself. To date I've done none of the other classic rounds in the UK, but I have done the Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc and a few shorter classic ultra-fell routes like the Welsh 3000ers and the Beddgelert Parish Boundary loop (said to be the hilliest parish boundary in the UK).
Since 2005 I've got more and more serious with the running, eventually quitting football in 2008. I now run 70-80 miles a week, with a chunk of that off-road in Snowdonia. I compete for my club Eryri Harriers at most forms of running, on the fells, XC, road or ultra marathons. This last year I've been focusing on marathons.
Had you done a summer PB before?
I did the summer round, paced, supported, in 2007 in 21 hours 31 minutes. That day I just had one of those days where you just loved being in the hills, so my aim for the winter round was similar, just enjoy the hills. I've also paced many rounds, normally the night sections - so I already knew the pitfalls involved.
How well did you know the route in advance, and how much recceing did you need to do?
For the winter, solo, you need to know the route well. In summer with pacers/helpers less so. But to be dragged around, for me, removes something from the challenge. I had never done the Siabod through to Moelwyns section in the dark and had to navigate there, and that cost me time this time. I didn't recce the route that much, but I'm out on the route at least once a week, I've also helped on numerous rounds for others. As I'm local I tend to do night sections so being out on the route at night is pretty much the norm. I run in the fells all year. It's the great thing about living in Snowdonia, you can have a terrible day at work, go home, grab the dog and be up on the Glyders an hour later - just you, the dog and the fells, and life's good again.
'It went superbly, the first leg was dream night running, apart from verglas on Nantlle Ridge. Even a whiteout on Snowdon wasn't an issue but around 4am I started to feel ill'
What about training - did you have to do anything out of the ordinary for it, or was your day-to-day running enough?
Normally I think you should specifically train for such a round. This was my third attempt - the other two stopped for weather or illness. This year I decided I wasn't 'fell fit' so had dismissed a third attempt. Then suddenly I had a sequence of events that changed my year. First I got a late entry to run the USA's most scenic marathon, through Acadia National Park in the fall, so then I decided Snowdonia Marathon was one too many, then a neighbour knocked on my door and wanted me to run the Elite OMM (Mountain Marathon) with him that weekend. Over that weekend I just got stronger, from being in agony on the first hill to loving it by the end, so I decided I was fit enough to just go for the Paddy Buckley after all. However I certainly tired later on. Maybe that was due to the slips and strains of running so much on snow, running in crampons. Or maybe I just wasn't that fell fit after all!
But most of my mileage, when not working in the USA, is in the hills. Around Llanberis even a road run will contain 1000ft of ascent, so without trying you do a good 10,000ft of ascent a week which is the general guideline for doing these rounds. I also organise a weekly Thursday night run in Snowdonia, so run in the fells at night a lot. I think that is key, you have to be super-comfortable out on the hills at night, no anxiety. To be honest though going through the slate quarries at night still gives me the heeby jeebies... I always speed up through any winding sheds.
What were conditions like on the day?
Pretty much what I wanted, I hate wind and rain together. In 25.5 hrs I had maybe 10 minutes of rain before it turned to snow. It started off stunning, the dream night running weather – a huge moon in the sky, very few clouds and light winds. With temps hovering around freezing it was great running conditions. However the forecast did warn of sustained rain or snow for a period after dawn and near gale force winds - and I got both. But then from late morning til dusk the weather was superb. Then just as it went dark a series of blizzards set in. With a head torch this made it almost impossible to make out contours on the ground - especially after being awake for a good 30 hrs.
Obviously you could run something like this in the winter months but with no hint of actual winter on the ground; what constitutes a 'winter PB'?
The Paddy is wonderfully unofficial. The Bob Graham, its Lakeland brother, is more officious in a traditional British way.. you need witnesses, prior warning of a round. But Paddy just created this round in the pub – in fact he never did it, but attempted it when the legendary Wendy Dodds first did the round in over 25 hrs (which is why the Paddy has no 24 hr time limit). So I used the lakes as guidelines, they have two criteria; winter and mid winter. But neither specify actual ground conditions, just timings in the year.
The Club says there are two distinct types of winter Bob Graham Round:
- The "Mid-winter" round which, taking its inspiration from the earliest attempts on a winter round by Pete Simpson and Martin Stone in the early 1980s, is attempted at any time from the weekend before the shortest day through to the first period of decent weather after the shortest day but to be completed no later than 10 January
- The "Winter" round, which is a round not falling within the definition set out above, attempted during the period starting on 1 December and finishing on 1 March
I used these as guidance for my Paddy Buckley.
A winter round, especially solo, is a personal journey. You do it for you. So if you think its winter that's fair enough. For me winter can occur outside of the dates set by the BGR committee. I wanted what I would call proper winter conditions which are minimal daylight and significant snow and ice – which I think I got.
The UK's Big Three
Paddy Buckley Round
A 62 mile circuit of 47 Snowdonian summits, the round was devised by Paddy Buckley but first run in under 24 hours by Martin Stone in 1985. The route includes the Carneddau, the Glyderau, the Snowdon range, the Moelwynion and the Moel Hebog range. For more details check out runner Bob Wightman's website.
Bob Graham Round
Done as a sub-24 hour push the Bob Graham round of 42 Lakeland peaks (including the four 3000-ers) is one of the toughest fell runner's challenges in the country. Wearing tennis shoes and fuelled on bread and butter the man himself set the bar high way back in 1932 and his time of 23 hours 39 minutes stood for 28 years. See the Bob Graham Club website for more.
An extension of an earlier effort by Philip Tranter, Charlie Ramsay's amazing effort covers 24 Lochaber Munros over around 60 miles, including Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries, the Easains and Loch Treig Munros and the whole Mamores ridge. Ramsay just scraped inside the 24 hour limit in 1978; the current record stands at 18hrs23. More info at the Ramsay's Round site.
How did it go - did you always think you were going to finish, or were there any moments of doubt...? What were the hardest points?
It went superbly, the first leg was dream night running, apart from verglas on Nantlle Ridge. Even a whiteout on Snowdon wasn't an issue but around 4 am I started to feel ill which is normal. I reckon it was 8 am when I finally wanted to eat, until then I was forcing down food and retching, which is fairly normal. Once I reached Pen Yr Ole Wen summit I was convinced I'd finish and in 24 hrs. Four hours later life was awful and I'd never finish. But that's long runs for you, there's no middle ground, just extremes of emotion. To be honest had that moon not appeared at Bwlch Cwmorthin quarries I may have quit; I was tired, sore, depressed, but then that moon shone down, the peaks all cleared and I wanted to stay out.
The hardest points were the verglas on Nantlle, I must have spent a few seconds summing up the nerve to make that step, just looking down the drop; but once I'd made the other side I had no bad moments until the descent gully on Glyder Fawr. You don't want to lose time, so you may take risks. So I stepped off just hoping and soon was on powder covered neve.
After the snow on the Carneddau it was hard to maintain a pace but the main low came on the boundary ridge. It's basically a knolly boggy ridge and that night it was just below the freezing level. In the darkness, with the snow and a fading headtorch I just couldn't keep a run going so was very slow on that section.
However to be brutally honest the worst part was the drive home from Nantmor, I should have slept in the car, yet just wanted a bed.
Reckon you'd ever want to do it again?
Last night I'd have said never never... now it's just a never... I finished after my Cwmorthin low so I'd never think about it again. Almost 24 hours on we'll see. I've more challenges at the moment but this is the Paddy and I've still more to achieve on it. I love the round so want to do as much as I can around it. But I did feel it hurt me physiologically, without support you don't get the food you want/need, just what you conceive you'll need.
Any idea how many people have done one before you?
As far as I know, just two - Martin Stone and John Fleetwood. Martin was around 23:30 and John 27 hrs. But the Paddy is so unofficial many have done summer rounds who never documented it, so it's possible it's the same for winter.
For more info on Iain's fell running guiding see the Run Snowdonia website.
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