Day 1: The Dragon’s back… plus 35%

Posted on September 12, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I think I managed 6 hours of broken sleep in the end. Steve Birkinshaw (the race favorite) had been kind enough to give me a lift back the night before and was set to pick me up at 6am. 1.5 pots of oats-so-simple later I was out of the door having made my first mistake… I left a litre of pre-race drink behind in the flat. Brilliant.

Steve drove me over to the start and confessed he’d hardly slept either – so he was human after all!   I’d only spent two short journeys with Steve and it was very apparent how down to earth and humble he was. A fantastically nice bloke who just loves running long in mountains, he matches the ‘type’ that are so successful in the sport and clearly found the challenge just as daunting as the rest of us. He just happens to be fast, an incredible navigator, quick decision maker and has an uncanny ability to pick fast efficient lines.

The walk up to the start line in the castle was accompanied by both a local male voice choir and the best sunrise Conwy had to offer. Group photos taken and choir in full voice we were given the maps to a fever of movement – the competitors finally having a channel for all their nervous energy.

Shane had revealed the night before that day 1 would include all of the Welsh 3000 footers so I had a quick scan to confirm it meant where I expected and looked for where it finished. As this was the most well trodden part of the route I was surprised as to how much activity was going on. Doing the 3000 footers doesn’t leave a huge amount of route choice so it made me nervous to hear the torrent of four letter words coming from Wendy Dodds as she reviewed the map with Helene.

My plan was to ratchet back from pace by about 30% and to walk the ups as if I were doing a Bob Graham round. As we set off we were single file over the ramparts of Conwy castle, the stirring sounds of the choir a distant memory already. As I reached the end of the road, Steve flew past me – we exchanged best wishes for the day and the race was on!

It wasn’t long before I realised just how big a mistake I had made. I knew there was no chance of water on the Carneddau, but I had still set off with just my two chest bottles (1 litre in total). Fair play, so had pretty much ever competitor, but I had known better so as the sweat poured off me I briefly cursed myself – the extra weight would have been worth it. I was taking down checkpoints (CPs) though and the main speedsters were in front of me so pace wise I felt right and more importantly, very comfortable.

One of the Spanish guys (Emilio Comunero) was in front of; sticks, compression socks, shorts, top, the works. He ran very well and was clearly enjoying it. I wondered how much he and the other international competitors would be faring if we had more typical weather and visibility. Chatting with him, he had a very impressive ultra CV and appeared the strongest of the Spanish contingent by a distance. He’d completed the Marathon de Sables and another 5 day desert multistage event, UTMB, Western States 100, the list went on. By the time we got to the first 3000 footer, Foel Fras, we were three with Rob Thomson joining.

Rob turned out to be an ex-Para captain now teaching in a colledge in Pembrokshire. We were both moving well and as we headed out to Yr Elen I figured we’d be together for a while. We looped back to Llewelyn and picked up Denvy Lo, a lovely girl from Hong Kong. Little did I know right then that this would be the team I wanted to finish with.

As I led the unofficial team across the remaining Carneddau the lack of water was becoming more and more acute. I pondered the ways of Pen Yr Ole Wen and knew that water was back towards the east side of the Llyn but wasn’t sure of the way down without going all the way back to Dafydd. Then again, the only time I’d gone the other way down I’d ended up miles out and in screes I didn’t want to be anywhere near, so we kinda went straight… we hit nasty screes.

This is the reason why I’m not keen on being the main navigator. One wrong line can be a diaster and this descent was turning into one. I knew it was wrong, but by that time I was already committed to the line – just had to make the best of it. Nobody was impressed but fair play to them as nobody said anything either.

On the way down we were treated to a stunning fast jet display through the Ogwen valley. Both jets skimmed the valley floor threading their way between the Glyders and the Carneddau – the way things had gone up until then, one would have been forgiven for thinking Shane had organised it!

We splintered a bit from here, I guess I was feeling guilty about the line and didn’t want to be responsible for any more cock ups affecting more than just me. Getting into the drop bag stop I slapped on some sun cream and gathered my sun hat – both of which I should have had on from the start. Heading up Trefan a way I hadn’t been had me concerned, but it looked straightforward from the Carneddau so how hard could it be?

News Flash!!!! I’ve finally found the hassle free route up Trefan! The path up the North West ridge is simplicity itself. This was a blessed relief given the pain it was causing. First to cramp was my foot – the middle two toes were going into spasm but were not too troublesome until my hip flexors and calves joined the party – a combination impossible to stretch out without triggering each other!

Trefan and the rest of the Glyders was like passing through a cramp minefield; one wrong step and boom! there is was again. Electrolytes were low and Denvy took to asking everyone we passed if they had any salt tablets – not exactly something your average North Wales hill walker carriers with thm!

The Descent from Trefan had  fractured the team for good. Emilio was no longer with us and we’d picked up Oliver – a lovely chap from the Netherlands who had recently clocked the second fastest 100km time for a Dutchman. Ascending the screes from Trefan to Glyder Fach the film crew appeared like snipers in the rocks ready to record our most intense cramp fueled scowls of effort.

The paparazzi appeared again as we hit the summit of Glyder Fach. The moonscape/ Mordor surroundings making for a dramatic backdrop. Some cloud had come in too, as if the dragon wanted to remind us the weather can quickly change and cause issues. The combination of photographers and cloud caused Oliver a problem that saw him disappear from out party; he failed to dib at the check point (13) and went back to get it. We were less than a minute away from the box and moved slowly for him to catch up but we never saw him again… all week!*

The original Dragon’s back route missed five of the peaks we had to cover. All five were significant. The descent from Pen Yr Ole Wen is tougher than from Dafydd (I would argue) but I’d leave that in anyway. The real big difference comes after Glyder Fawr (CP 14) where the original route to competitors down the red spot path to Pen y Pass. This time all the 3000 footers had been included which added a lot of distance. Rather than head to an easy path up Snowdon we went North West to Y Garn (CP15), Elidir Fawr (CP16) and then up to Crib Goch (CP17) the famous knife edge ridge that leads to Garnedd Ugain (CP18) and Snowdon itself (CP19).

Thankfully it’s an easy run around, plus we found an excellent track down to the road from Elidir Fawr and Denvy finally found some table salt to add to her water. Crib Goch was not so forgiving. It had been suggested to me that the best plan was to head for the saddle after Crib Goch and then do a quick out and back along the ridge. As we ascended we had no visual references from other competitors and I was struggling.

I was falling off the pace, but denvy and Rob pulled me on. I repeatedly told them to drop me, but was very glad and grateful that they didn’t. The route up that Northern slope is far from clear and we ended up well West of our intended final attack point, but, quicker than expected, found our way back on track and hit the saddle.

It had been poor advice. The checkpoint was right out on the Eastern point of the ridge and so we did the ridge twice. The combination of weary limbs, a growing wind and a knife edge ridge become apparent and made for a high risk feel to the route. It also gave a fantastic sense of adventure and achievement. The photo of the three of us at the top shows the elation felt.

Ugain fell easily and as the sun set it was time for coats.

The cloud had been swirling, which comes up really well on the video, and the sunset was just about forming. We trudged on desperate to take Snowdon down and get to camp. We arrived to find these were only twenty five people ahead of us. I sparred a thought for the remaining 60 + people behind us but was soon blinded by beauty; the sunset was unforgettable!

The sunset just put the icing on an incredible day out – there is a look of euphoria in my eyes on the video – it was a mixture of so many things: the route, the hardship, the sunset, the team and camaraderie, the dedication of the marshals, the small number of people ahead, the adventure to come, the thought of camp… yes, we still had a long way to go, but it was all downhill. We cracked on, finished with head torches on, but getting to camp all the same.

It was a level of exhaustion I have rarely felt. I think it topped the exhaustion of the BG and the Fellsman, but part of that was knowing I had 4 more days and I was camping. We found a tent, dried our feet, found our plates and went for tea. I was so exhausted I just stared at my meal and the dead-eyed people around me and struggled to finished even one tin of food.

Joe Faulkner appeared and was having a major sense of humor failure. Joe taught me navigation skills earlier in the year and with his partner Steve Dubieniec (who had traveled from New Zealand for the event) they were looking to make it two out of two completions for the Dragon’s Back.

Joe sat cowled at the table with a face full of thunder. I asked him if he was alright as he stabbed at his food the response matched the look. The key sentence that hit home for me was; “That was the dragon’s back plus thirty-five percent!” Wow. I was proud of what I’d achieved that day as it was, but to do an extra 1/3 on top of the original and in such heat may have had me swelling with pride if I wasn’t so exhausted and knew that we had to do it all again tomorrow. I was wondering what that extra effort would do to my chances of completion, but it wasn’t swells of pride I needed to worry about at that moment, I was swelling elsewhere so it was off to the river to sit in and get some cold treatment on my legs and feet before they ballooned!

I had a quick session with “Jim” Bowen (a chap called Gareth that was giving out free Bowen therapy to competitors, but as I can’t remember names he was Jim for the week for obvious reasons) and hit the sack. 5 hours to wake up… I didn’t need rocking!

Stats: Despite the below GPS summary, day 1 stats (from the same GPS data) are as follows:

Distance: 58.1km (39.1 miles)

Ascent: 4597m (15081 ft)

 

Descent: 4547m (14918 ft)

Time taken: 14 hours 26 minutes.

Reckon there is an error in the code that allows me to post this GPS track.

Official Video teaser for day 1:

My Personal Video Diary for day 1:

* I found out at the end of the week that he was taken to hospital by ambulance at the end of the first day. At the time I was so tired I think I raised an eyebrow and went to bed.

 

Packing – the reality check!

Posted on September 2, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

After weeks of faffing I finally decided I needed a list. My list was enormous, although many of the items I hope I won’t need – especially the pharmacy I am taking with me! The limits for the event were 13KG in weight in the original spec of a 109L dry bag or no weight limit in a 59L dry bag, this is on top of a 22L drop bag and my mountain pack. Sounds pretty straight forward, but the weight of food alone is not insignificant and thus it’s going to have to get battered around in my dropbag for the week.

Much of the weight is related to the significant “what if?” factors involved in a 5 day challenge. The weather is the most obvious one; i.e., if we have the biblical style rain that we’ve been having then it doesn’t matter what I am wearing, after 8-14 hours on the mountain each day I will be soaked to the skin. This is fine for that day, but a warm top isn’t really so warm when it’s wet, thus I need plenty of warm dry tops for the week if I am to drastically reduce the risk of hypotherma. As the days go by I expect to be moving slower, thus generating less heat – there are some grim statistics out there and I don’t want to be anywhere near what I witnessed at the Fellsman earlier in the year.

I’m not going to lie, I’m also taking a few luxuries, but they are pretty calculated; e.g., I’m taking the same sleeping bag I took to Everest and I’m also taking 2 inflatable camping mattresses. In reality I only need my superb Klymit X-Frame but I figured the extra comfort may be welcomed; likewise I could get away with a lower rated sleeping bag, but do I want to have sleep interrupted by the cold or wrapped up in loads of clothing? No thanks.

I’ve got access to all my food though now and a few things may need to go in order to hit the weight limit as I don’t think the 22ltr drop bag is big enough to fit all my food in. I’m going to be powered by a number of different foods. I’ve got some “techno-food” in the form of Cliff Shot blocks – these are tried and tested for me and I find them far better than gels. I’ve got a couple of jells and a couple of bars of Kendal mint cake in case I bonk, but the plan is to keep eating. I’ve mostly home made cakes – Energy bars, Bara Brith, a Fruity cherry loaf and a date and walnut loaf. I’ve brioches, a banana and a packet of crisps for each day along with cheese sandwiches for the first two days and some salt and vinegar crisps. Food is a major weakness for me in terms of knowledge. I’d rather have more than I need than less, but I’m sure I’m well over what I actually will be able to consume. The idea of not having enough though is enough to finish you off so it’s a tricky balance.

So how am I feeling before the race? Well, I’m not sure I’ve took it all in yet really. I suspect this is a self defence mechanism; the race is just too big to contemplate and whilst I don’t feel I’ve done enough long days in the mountains to be truly prepared, it was always going to be incredibly difficult to get my legs and joints moving again the next day anyway, so in some respects the lack of prior knowledge is a bonus. Day one will be largely recognisable so I just want to get that under my belt and feel comfortable. Many of the anxieties I have should quickly drift away and then I’ll be into the mindset.

I’ll be defensive for the first three days anyway and will try to enjoy as much of the mountains as possible. I don’t think for a minute that being sore or tired will stop me completing this; I’m too stubborn for that. A serious injury will need to occur or the possibility of long term damage to get me off the mountain – neither of which I am planning so fingers crossed! Almost all of the journey will be new to me so it should be a wonderful, but painful adventure… but that’ll be the same for everybody else so if they can do it so can I. I’ll also be driven on by the incredible support I’ve been given and sponsorship that I’ve had. Making a difference is a strong driver for me.

The best news I have had all week though is from MWIS. I find they are very accurate and the best mountain weather forecasts. Considering the biblical rain that we’ve had recently I was worried my bag would be overweight due to the Ark I was planning on taking!

Planning Outlook for all mountain areas from Monday, 3rd September, 2012

Areas of high pressure, generally centred over southern Britain will dominate the weather through the coming week. As a result there will be very little rain, and winds will often be light. However, an intense Atlantic low passing north of Scotland on Monday night/Tuesday will bring severe upland gales across the Scottish Highlands. Generally banks of cloud will come and go, often shrouding higher western mountains in Scotland, but elsewhere, hills often cloud free.

Let’s hope so!

DBR Gets national attention

Posted on August 27, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Thanks to my Auntie Hillary for noticing and my mother for the message to say that The Independent had run a story on the Dragon’s Back Race this Saturday. We duly bought the paper and were delighted to see over 4 pages dedicated to the race. The link to the article is here: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/athletics/is-the-dragons-back-the-toughest-race-in-the-world-8073419.html

I did chuckle as I was one of ninety-three entrants described as the world’s toughest athletes – I can assure you I hardly feel like one, but it does give a a flavour of just how tough the race is going to be.

The article itself is written by the author of ‘Feet in the clouds’ which documents his obsession with the Bob Graham Round and his attempts to joining the Bob Graham 24 hour club. It was his description of the original Dragon’s Back Race in this very book that captured my imagination. When the race was put on again I didn’t feel I could miss the opportunity.

One week from now I will hopefully have finished day one. I’ll be updating my Facebook page if I have any signal and I’ll also be trying to speak to Laura. Once I’ve finished I will start to blog about my experiences here and hopefully have some decent video from each day.

If you wish to follow the race more closely then do check the website as there will be a 90 second film from each day posted up. I’m not sure where but will post the link once I have it. Worst case scenario it should have it or link to it from here: http://www.dragonsbackrace.com/

Right then, best get packing!

Ogwen to Snowdon and Back… via the 3000 footers!

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Following on from my last video diary of my day in the mountains I decided this was the most efficient way of recording my exploits. Despite trying to improve my commentary I find that I start every one with “Okay, so..” but these things are a work in progress

I’d hoped to get out for the first time into the Rhinogs, but alas my potential running partner has been suffering with knee and hip issues which look like they will be keeping him out of action for a while longer, and probably mean he’ll need to pull out of the dragon’s back itself. I’m totally gutted for Neil, he’s one of the strongest mountain men I’ve met so far, so it’s never nice to see someone forced away from doing what they love for so long.

For ease of logistics I decided to head to Llyn Ogwen again but this time with a different plan. I decided I’d run the bottom two thirds of the Welsh 3000s and then head back down the PYG track and over the miners track back to the car. It meant an additional valley floor and some mountains I’ve not been up before – Elidir Fawr and Crib Goch; the latter being a notorious knife edge of a peak.

It was a stunning day and as it’s the school holidays there were actually a handful of people around. I was told I was clearly insane to be running up on the Glyders. I met rounds of applause for scree descents and just for looking knackered I think! Anyway, rather than rabbiting on, I’ll let the video do that for me!

I’ve decided to just stick them all together into one long video rather than a series of separate ones. Not sure if that is better or worse – if you’re bothered, let me know!

Oggie 8 Video Blog

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Not sure why, but this post seems to have disappeared from my site, never mind, here it is again!

Taking advantage of having a Thursday off I took a trip to Llyn Ogwen and the Oggie 8. These are the eight 3000 footers surrounding Llyn Ogwen. I was introduced to this challenge by the mountain rescue team that are based at the eastern end of the lake itself. As a charity gig they had teams competing to get around all eight. A reasonable challenge in itself the weather was foul so Nick Johnson, Kirk Williams, Andrew Gazzard, Rob Parry, Laura and myself got half way around and decided we were no longer having fun. We dropped out and went back for a free massage – it was definitely the right call!

Anyway, I took a series of videos and they tell their own story of the day – my broken memory is not a problem when I have video to remind me! This was the second attempt as a day trip out not leaving early and ensuring I got back to play with the boys before their bed. The first attempt failed due to some <cough> navigational issues <cough>

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2012

Posted on July 24, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Ahh the Saunders. My yearly pilgrimage to the lakes which regularly ends in dropping out. To be fair, in general this has not been at my instigation. I’ve always struggled to find a partner for mountain marathons and thus have desperately tried to blag a friend into doing it. Last year I had a cracking time with Chris Gorbutt, but sadly the undertaking was a touch too much when training has been in Sevenoaks… kinda lacks decent hills. So when I met Martin last year and we tried the Rab I knew at last I had somebody that could not only put up with me for two days, but could also take the distance and hills in his stride… time for the toughest class then eh!

The SLMM classes are named after fells. The toughest two person team class being Scafell. Given that this year the event was taking place in Wasdale we always knew we’d be near the largest mountain in England. In search of a good night of sleep we requested a later start time so we could leave at a reasonable hour rather than head up the night before. Whilst it would have been great to camp, the weather was and had been pretty shocking and by the time we would have got there and pitched the test we’d have had less sleep than staying at home and would have missed our beds… were we too soft for this under taking?

We arrived, ate, faffed, faffed, faffed, did a bit of faffing, then finally went to get started. The weather was stunning so I bought myself an Inov8 rain peak cap – the obvious choice given that moments previous I had been slapping on the factor 30 hoping that it wouldn’t sweat off too quickly! The forecast had been for torrential rain all day, but as the week had progressed the weather front moved through quicker than expected so we just hit it perfectly.

Fatal mistake number 1: Never ask the kit check people where something is unless you have plenty of time. It’s 25 to 10, our start time is 4 minutes to 10 and there is a 20 minute walk to the start. The start is meant to be completed by 10am; i.e., everybody on the fells by then. Kit check people are sunning themselves. “Excuse me can you tell me where the water is please?”, “ahh yes, it’s just around the back… can I see your torch and spare top?” Now I’m all for the kit check usually, the guys are only doing their job by ensuring that people have got the full kit, but some kit check people seem to see it as a power play and delight in being awkward whilst giving you the impression they are doing it just to aggravate you. The lady doing the check then criticised the content of our bags and knew full well it would make us very late for the start. I’ve never been able to stand jobs-worths or power trippers so it was an unfortunate start. Kit check over we were now very late, but we made it on time and were ready to rock.

For those of you that don’t know the format of a Mountain Marathon it is pretty simple. It’s essentially orienteering on a massive scale. Typically held over two days, the competitors must race in teams of two and carry all kit required for the experience. Going through the start box we get given a slip of paper to go with our custom Harveys map (I love these maps!) The slip of paper holds six figure grid references for the check points (CPs) and to help narrow down the location within the 100m square box that a 6 figure grid reference denotes, there is also a clue to the location of the CP; i.e., re-entrant or stream junction, etc.

A few moments spent plotting the CPs and a quick look at how to get to CP1 and we were off up the Black sail pass. Mountain marathons success hinges on the ability of the navigator; after all, if you can’t find the boxes it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It’s critical that the navigator(s) can make good macro route choices and then be quick and precise at micro navigation once the attack point has been reached. An attack point is an easily identified location that you can navigate to and know where you are on the map with absolute accuracy, from there the micro navigation takes over to guide in the final few hundred metres.

The SLMM is not a score class which meant we had to visit the CPs in a particular order. In the more popular classes this mean on a clear day they can turn into a procession. If you do choose to follow others you always have to be careful not to assume that the people you are following are in your class otherwise the day can end in despair. Fortunately for us we didn’t have that option as so few people attempt the Scafell class so since one of my objectives for the weekend was to have a really good test of my navigation skills we were certainly going to get that!

Other objectives for the weekend were just to have fun and finish. Martin and I have no delusions of winning an event like the Saunders – we don’t make enough sacrifices on the comfort side to pack light enough, we’re not quick enough in the fells and navigation is not a strength… apart from that we’re top of the list!

My first route choice was going well and I was confident until I noticed that we were totally on our own. Nobody had followed and nobody was in front and we could see 30 minutes ahead of us. This concerned me. Too many times I have been out in the hills wondering why people could make such an obvious mistake only to find it was me that had made the mistake! Not this time, my Nav’ took us straight to CP1, even if I did have a wobble when a fence appeared (I just hadn’t noticed it on the map).

Just getting to the first CP had been a decent effort. We were sweating cobs by this stage and my hat had come in hand already by keeping the water in and on my head as I took a refreshing cap full of water from each stream. My Nav was precise enough and I tried to ignore the other competitors that were zig-zagging across our trail to take us directly to the saddle between Great Gable and . Surprising some tourists we crossed east of the tarn and up directly to the second CP. Hey, I’m getting good at this.

Now for the long one. The corridor route looked the obvious choice and it lead to Scafell. Knowing this section from the Bob Graham, or at least thinking I did for some reason I saw foxes Tarn and thought, I know where that is, brilliant! Sadly I had not paid enough attention and it wasn’t until we were at the top of Scafell Pike that something wasn’t quite right. I lost my bearings for a minute and panicked a bit as a result it took me 15-20 minutes to re-pinpoint where we needed to be and where visually around us that was.

Now my brain doesn’t work so well I do find myself getting very confused. Like a ball of headphone wire my thoughts get tangled by themselves and if I try to quickly untangle them they just get worse. Not good when you want to be navigating fast and making quick decisions. Martin doesn’t do any navigation so I have nobody to bounce plans off and my earlier snap decision regarding the macro route choice had lead us into a situation where we had to go over Scafell. Not ideal, but at least it gave us the bragging rights J

Up and over we were back on track and hit CP3 without any issues. CP4 was straight forward too as we discussed the finer points of drug cheats and the Olympics – guaranteed to result in strong opinions! As we hit CP4 we met our first competitors. They had clearly been looking around for the CP which I took us straight too so my confidence was pretty high. They had also started off an hour or so before us so we felt pretty good about that too. Heading for CP5 we were a little North and so in the effort to trek a little less height over what looked like boggy ground we headed for clear navigational handrails of a wood and had the joy of a great run-able path to get us there.

At the top of the wood I had us pinpointed on the map, although sadly I hadn’t banked on the wood having been chopped down so we stumbled over all the debris crossed a stream and headed up into the ferns only to find it packed full of gorse! Nightmare. We’d been largely “route 1-ing it”; i.e., just going straight and in the true Onoda* spirit we decided this was the only honourable thing to do. Picking our way through the Gorse wasted time and energy, but at the time we didn’t really have much choice. Dig in, head down and crack on.

We came out a little wide of the mark but easily found CP5 before being treated to a bit of flat ground which we shuffled over pitifully. Three CPs to go and the next two were incorrectly sighted. The first of the two was easy to find due to a fantastic sheepfold, but the next Nav decision and the lack of Altimeter lost us a lot of time that we didn’t have.

CP7 seemed simple, straight over the top until we hit the stream, then follow it down until we get to the junction and it should be there. What I didn’t count on was being too high for the stream. We must have missed it by metres in the end, but when you are convinced you are one place on the map and then find you aren’t but you’re at something similar then you convince yourself you are right. This is what the course designers pray for (as well as the slower and more accurate navigators J). We easily lost 40 minutes on this and more in morale. By the time we found it (at the wrong stream junction, it should have been at the lower stream junction which mean we descended rather than ascended wasting more time… not bitter) we were running out of time to get to camp before it shut!

Looking at the map it was a simple descent then one of the easiest navigational challenges ever seen due to a massive walled field to act as a handrail. It was flat, only a couple of KM and this is what Martin and I are built for… what the map didn’t show us was the diabolical terrain. Huge tussock and bog stood before us. It was a cruel was to finish the day, but probably pretty fitting. Genuinely concerned we battled through as quickly as possible and managed to make it into camp with 15 minutes to spare. Phew!

One thing was for certain… we weren’t going to trouble the leaders! But it wasn’t what we were there for. We had enjoyed an epic random day out on the fells, great company and I’d got to practice my navigation. We’d completed almost all of it with a smile on out faces and… well, just enjoyed every minute of it really!

Camp is always great. Putting up a tent whilst the rain inevitably starts to spit just to panic you is always a nice relaxing experience… especially when you through in random cramping just as you’re getting a tent peg in. We just happened to have picked a spot near some Helsby runners so it was great to lift the spirits and share some stories from the day.

Tent up, hot food in (thanks jet boil! A little heavier, but sooooo quick!), changed into dry clothes and feeling like a new man I went for a walk to stretch the legs and see if I could spot anybody else. A look at the results and the planners route put a smile on my face as my macro choices had not been as bad as I thought. The two lead teams were separated by just over 1 minute which is incredible given the distances and navigation involved. All that was left was to catch up with some likeminded people then off to bed… I didn’t need any rocking!

Day 2.

Despite the queue for the toilets we got away from camp at a reasonable time and had a totally different experience from the get go. We could see other people for a start, although you never know if they are on your course. We started well and I took us a safe route to the first CP without too much trouble. A shin deep stream crossing at the start set the tone for the day, but this wasn’t going to dampen our spirits.

Crossing paths with a couple of other Scafell teams was great for me to build more confidence in my Nav and we really got to kick on. CP3 was cruel as the placing of the box didn’t match the description and it was the most faded box so far so it was camouflaged. Five minutes wasted we cracked on chatting all the way as the tussock/ bog just never ended.

Way off to the higher ground we could see another team who, frankly, looked like they were on motor bikes as they ascended. We resigned ourselves to continuing like we had done the day before and go solo. Much to my delight we hit our attack point with ease so it was then just down to finding a 2 metre high cairn. Following the compass was the order of the day, but when the cairn didn’t appear I started to doubt. Forcing myself to trust the compass I kept going and bingo! It suddenly appeared, along with the motorbike boys in sight.

I have to confess that if it wasn’t for the motor bike boys we’d have gone a far longer and harder route, but there was a clear trod and we made ground. Martin started rabbit hunting and given that neither of us wanted to admit we were knackered and struggling with the pace we eventually caught the motor bike boys. Desperately competitive, the first words were to question us as to where we’d come the day before. It’s a tough class this Scafell one!

Against my worse judgement we took a direct up and over route rather than my navigationally safe route. It was far better and following a pure Onoda* “route one” line, which we just had to put our heads down and push over, we hit the stream and descended to the CP.

At this point I was feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. We’d hit every single CP spot on and the remaining CPs looked navigationally simple in comparison. Ahh… what is it they say about pride coming before a fall?

Parallel errors are what course designers aim for and I walked right into one. Faced with an up and over route along the BG route (but a still climb to get there) or a nice straight downhill run between two large tarns I thought we had it made. Sadly I didn’t take a bearing though and there was a small lump we should have gone over first before descending. Doh!

Buoyed by our success, over confident and blissfully unaware we headed down the valley. I became increasingly alarmed to see nobody was following us and increasingly confused by the view in front of me which didn’t match with the map. Realising we had to climb over the crags I swallowed hard as I realised I’d have to break the news to Martin.

It’s difficult to take on the Nav on your own as any small mistake and extra time spent running be it over scafell, through gorse or over crags only to find that your partner suffers from vertigo places quite a burden. Once over and in the right place I then made a further error which had us lose another 10 minutes by heading too far up stream. Martin is very forgiving, but I could tell he was cheesed off. I did have great news for him though, the only honourable way back to camp was to literally go up and over Yewbarrow. Ridiculous.

Ridiculous as it was we got our heads down and crashed over the screes to the finish. We’d lost about 45 minutes to my Nav errors which were frustrating given the precision earlier in the day – there is a lesson in there somewhere! Dashing back to the car Martin made us supersonic and we were home in time to put the children to bed. A perfect end to a simply fantastic weekend. Very much looking forward to returning to have another crack!

Results: we were 10th team which may sound great but only 11 finished! 24 had signed up, 14 had started out and only 11 finished. Considering it is an elite field I was pretty damn pleased with that. A few tweaks and more Nav practice and we could go well at one of these…. that said I won’t tell you how many hours ahead the winners were!

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/onoda.html

Hot foot up Famau & Tough team glory

Posted on July 1, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

In the ever running quest to improve my training I have decided that I am simply not getting enough tough climb in. The climb that I do is just too short and in many cases, just not steep enough. My fix is to get one day per week out in the Clwydians or in a fell race.

Last week presented me with the opportunity to race twice with a 40 minute blast for Hot foot up Famau and just over an hour of peer pressure in the Tattenhall Tough Team challenge. I loved them both.

Hot foot up Famau just has nowhere to hide and despite the name, requires a reasonable downhill effort as well as getting up “the gully”. Whilst they half kill me, I love the shorter fell races as they are just all out and you really get to see what you are made of. Inter club rivalry also plays a part and given my absence from racing short distances and the improvement of my main rival Jimmy O’hara, I was more than concerned!

Long races tend to make you slow as you are maintaining a slower pace which is sustainable over the longer distances. At the end of the day if you never run fast, you’ll never run fast. Adair is the best runner at the club and is a reasonable distance ahead of me. I’ve come close once before, but never beaten him on a fell race – there is usually 30 seconds per mile difference. Jimmy and I have always tussled for second place. Most of the time it has been by the skin of my teeth, but I’ve not been beaten by Jimmy yet; we turned up the the race with Jimmy having beaten Adair so I figured I’d have no chance. Added to this one of the Helsby Ladies (Jayne Joy) has also been cranking out stella performances so at the start I was thinking if I could just get in before Jayne did then I’d be chuffed.

Adair and Jimmy really went out hard. Given that I had no thoughts of beating these gents I just ran my own race and tried to stick in the trailing pack. As we headed downhill I found myself caught up. My nemesis (downhill) appeared to be my strength as I blasted past a load of people and then found myself getting frustrated when caught behind a bunch in a narrow section. It was soon over though and I powered up the next hill.

To my surprise, not long after the next hill I overtook Jimmy. It flashed in my mind that he must have gone out too hard, but then I figured he was playing mind games as I reluctantly overtook knowing he’d be on my shoulder for the rest of the run and since I never look back I’d never know! The pressure drives me on though and heading into the next down hill I once again found myself making places up.

Adair was 20 yards in front, but he was running, at this stage I had switched into my fell walk and managed the odd shuffle to try to keep the pressure on Jimmy. The gully had been described to me as hell; after some of the climbs in the BG I actually found it surprisingly pleasant! I also managed to smile long enough to get one of the best running photos of me ever taken! (Thanks Mick Charman!)

 

Later on one of the Helsby runners told of their experience of  the gully. Upon entering they followed a trail of blood all the way to the top. one of the other competitors had managed to cut a finger and had smeared blood everywhere as they made their way up! If only they had written “Welcome to hell” or just “Help” it would have been genius!

I managed 14th place on the day and came second to Adair who pulled away once we got onto the flatter section – his leg speed is just in a different league… as I was reminded two days later 5 minutes into the Tattenhall Tough Team challenge. It’s a favourite race in the year as it is run in teams of three. We always ensure we stay together, but it’s essentially your last runner home that stops the clock.

The course takes off on the roads out to the sandstone trail then it’s our playground. Back onto the trails we make up some time, especially on the railway line which is an exceptionally steep quarry track which comes complete with a man dressed as the grim reaper offering to stop the pain! Naturally we were marshalled up there in the first place by Elvis… who else!

We set out fast and were 4th team going into the trail section. Coming out of the trail section we had broken one team and passed another, but we just couldn’t hold on once we hit the roads and were slowly taken down by a mixed team. Third overall, the first team to finish as a team and second in the men’s – a great result and fantastic fun to run with Jimmy and Adair. A bottle of win as spoils and a cheeky beer to finish – definitely the way forward. I look forward to both of these again next year.

Freedom!!!! *again*

Posted on June 17, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

So after the incredible run with Caz I felt it would only be right to get out again on the path. Holiday is an interesting term for me these days, conjuring up images of relaxing on the beach or reading a book, taking some well earned rest. The reality is an insight into Laura’s world, a world where it is not possible to have a conversation of more than half a sentence with anybody, there is no quiet time, rather it is a world of fantasy; searching for dinosaur bones on the beach and investigating everything. Looking after the boys is fun, rewarding, but tiring, remarkably anti-social and all consuming.

Given restrictions on time and wanting to fit in with meal schedules, etc. I decided that I wouldn’t spend any of my “up to 2 hours” in the car. Setting off from Broad Haven I headed south through Little Haven and away into the delights of mother nature.

The surf was up and all the rubber people had descended on Broadhaven to make the most of their Friday night, but one lone ranger (that’s me by the way) was out to attain that feeling of being one with the elements using leg power alone. The scenery itself wasn’t a patch on the run I had been on with Caz, but it was still spectacular; especially in the lashing rain and strong gusting wind.

Running along the cliffs is just food for the soul. Through the twists and turns the coastal path reveal more of it’s beauty and to this end it’s generosity is unrivalled; the more you give, the more the path gives back. Just as my stopwatch was indicating I would need to turn around I managed to reach St. Brides which was a nice result as it always feels better to me on a run where a destination is reached.

To give an impression of the weather I got back drenched from head to toe. Mud splattered… well caked up the back of my legs. The wind on the way there had put any ideas of speed out of sight – you know you aren’t going to break any records when the wind means you’re running 2-2.5 minutes per mile slower than your normal pace on the flat! On the return leg a lack of fuel slowed me down a little and I was beaten by my hood repeatedly, but did I care? No! I got to see all the bits of the path that I hadn’t dared on the way there – Looking back on a path a foot wide is never a good plan (unless you have Jedi ankles)

The combination of the wind, the rain, the rugged beauty and the increased sea activity sending spray everywhere was just amazing. In these situations I feel very connected with nature, very free in spirit and just alive! Nothing else matters but the moment, you can try to capture it, try to relive it, but the best thing to do is just live it; be in the moment. I do this safe in the knowledge that whilst the environment won’t necessarily be the same next time, it won’t be long before the feeling is surging through me once again and I will marvel at how lucky I am to experience this freedom.

Trail Porn

Posted on June 17, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

If I was searching for the perfect trail then I found it yesterday. During my odyssey into long distance trail running and long distance mountain running I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer the long distance trails. This is because I just love running and with some of the more challenging mountain courses one simply has to walk too much (unless you are Kilian!) This was confirmed yesterday as I met up with Caz (Carwyn Phillips) for a run in Pembrokeshire. Local knowledge is always a bonus, but the path Caz took me on was nothing short of trail pornography!

Starting out at Pwll Deri we ran just over 11 miles South on the Coastal trail to Porthgain. As we arrived Caz made me close my eyes and not look at the coast line until he had parked at the right angle to make the most of the view. As I opened my eyes I was blown away despite spending half a week down here already. The Prehistoric coastline stretched around with several outcrops separated from the main coastline like little islands. Beautiful green fields full of cows and sheep run right up to the coastal edge and an undulating pencil mark of a trail snakes around hugging the cliffs. With superb weather and a variety of shades in the sky I was already beaming from ear to ear!

The trail winds around the coastline and heads down to beaches with smooth pebble banks and then back up along the cliff edges. Every last millimetre was runable and every view sensational. Add to that fantastic company and bonkers weather – ranging from stunning sun right the way through to torrential rain which soaked us to the skin. At points we could see horrendous rain out to sea whilst seeing every shade of blue from sea to sky. The water clarity is stunning and it is without reservation that I say it is up with the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth!

The trail itself is pretty well worn and has only a few technical sections. In many respects underfoot it is like the trails I have near to my house, but open your eyes and you can’t help but stop to take it in. Just over 11 miles later and I was disappointed to finish. If we’d have put in another 20 or so I would still not have been satisfied. One mile was too many and a thousand would never be enough!

Time to start on the logistics for running the Pembrokeshire coastal path end to end. It’s only just shy of 190 miles… what a few days that would be… any takers?

The alternative Olympic torch relay

Posted on June 7, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Runcorn to Warrington, that classic trail of beauty… erm, wait a minute! What’s going on here, why on earth am I set to run from Runcorn to Warrington via Widnes tomorrow morning I hear you cry! Well it’s my leg for the Endurance Life ‘Real Relay’ – an opportunity to follow in the footstep and tyre tracks of the Olympic flame.

Not to take anything away from the incredible Olympic torch relay (which will see my Uncle Preston take up the honor in the coming weeks and has already seen Helsby Running club’s very own super hero Joe Beswick with torch in hand) but the guy at Endurance life felt that it was a bit of a cheat driving so many of the miles rather than taking them on by foot, so they decided to set up their own challenge to run the entire distance. The Real Relay was born!

Using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to crowdsource runners all over the country they have managed to get runners to take on the challenge and run between the route stops. Runners must follow the routes of the actual torch but where the torch got in a bus or a train they are allowed to make their own route choice.

I figured it was a bit of fun, a fantastic opportunity to get involved in my own way with the games, show my support for Team GB and to be a part of something I think is pretty darn cool.

After a minor panic that it was all going to fall apart before it got to me (there was no runner for the Northwich to Runcorn leg until later this afternoon) it has not only all come good, but a National Sunday Newspaper have caught wind of it and are sending a photographer to document the hand over between the previous chap and me! Yes I know, of all the places they could have picked Runcorn was the obvious first choice due to the incredible architecture… erm… anyway, I’m disturbingly chuffed about this and it will add an extra dimension to a good bit of fun.

I’m guessing putting 10 miles in, holding what looks like a lightsabre with a GPS tracker strapped to the handle, is not ideal preparation for the Welsh 1000m peaks race, but hey – it’s only going to come around once! Follow my progress at http://www.facebook.com/Endurancelife/app_382668701785970

The Running Mentalist