Monday, 27 July 2015

Paddy Buckley: support crew perspective

Glossopdale Harrier and member of Glossop Mountain Rescue Team Alasdair Cowell put out an email a while back asking for support on his Paddy Buckley round. Having helped out on the Bob Graham round he completed (along with other harriers) it was an easy yes to being part of his crew. It would be a delight and honour to help out, so Tim and I blocked out our calendar and studied the maps. Al runs at a pace way faster than I can, so helping on the hill wasn't an option for me; being an organising type of person I gladly offered to be road support at all the crossings - chief brew person and keeper of Al's kit for changes.

Not many have heard of the Paddy Buckley round so here's a quick summary: it's a long distance challenge in Snowdonia, Wales covering around 100km and summiting 47 peaks with a whopping 8500m of ascent...and descent! There isn't a specific time limit, but going sub-24 hours puts you among a small and select group of hardy fell runners. Sounds hard enough on paper, running it and staying focused to get to the finish takes a high calibre and dedicated runner.

I've seen how much hard training Al has put in over the last 6-12 months preparing for this round. Countless hours reccying the route, weekly long runs in some challenging conditions over winter (I think there was a 30-odd miler in the knee deep snow one day). He deserved to be successful on the back of his training. I'm sure we'll hear from the man himself how it went from his perspective, but I wanted to write a few words about what it's like to be road support crew.

We had a few meetings over beer and studying the maps. Al was very relaxed about the timings for the round just having a guide time for each leg set out. No planning to the enth degree for each peak, he wanted to do the round and enjoy it. Support runners put their names down and in the final few weeks there was the usual double-checks of the timings, making sure I had the route in my head and where I needed to be at each point. Al got photos to me of the exact spot he would like to meet at the end of each leg which was a great help, especially since I'd not been to all the crossings.

Before the start - Llanberis
Tim and I drove down on Saturday to meet up with Al and family for a pre-run dinner in Llanberis. Our 2 hour journey turning into 4 hours but we arrived in plenty of time anyway. Warning texts of the traffic chaos were sent to the others. We ate, chatted, and around 5.30pm made our way to the start point - an arbitrary bench in Llanberis. Final double check of the route back in to Llanberis so us supporters knew which way to be looking in around 24 hours and it was time for him to set off. Tick-tock.....tick-tock.....6pm and he's off!!

last moments before the start - Tim and Al with family in background
18:00:25....Al and his first support runner (Tim Culshaw) go out of view as he heads off down the road and towards the slate mine for his first ascent. Next point we'll see him is Ogwyn in about 4 hours. After a chat with family, the leg 4/5 runners (Zoe Barton and Robin Mitton) Tim and I jumped in the van and drove round to Ogwyn.

and they're off...Good Luck and swift running!
End of leg 1/start of leg 2 - Ogwyn
Not sure what time we arrived at Ogwyn but the midges were out in force. It was a lovely evening with superb views up to Y Garn and Tryfan - and the zig-zag path Al would be descending but we were being eaten alive so retreated into the van with our brew. The plan was for Tim to run legs 3 and 4, maybe 5 too depending on how he was so without too much encouragement he got his head down in the back of the van - a little cramped but he was soon asleep for a couple of hours. I dozed a bit in the front seat but with the car park and hostel visitors coming and going it was difficult to drift off sitting up.

Al on the final steps off Tryfan into the car park
The binoculars were invaluable in keeping me entertained. I couldn't concentrate on reading - without data signal I couldn't follow Al's progress on the tracker so I scanned and scanned the horizon. I lost count of the sheep I thought were Al and Tim C up on the ridge. Finally, I spotted a person on top of Tryfan....WOOHOO!!! Tim B in the van was now awake! I could tell it was Al, and closely behind was Tim C as they picked their way across the summit ridge and started the descent down to us.

Pretty much at the same time Al's family arrived to see him come down. We quickly got the kettle on, Al's kit and the chair ready for him, coffee brewed and an array of things he may need put close to hand.

It seemed like after 3 hours of waiting he took no time at all to reach us. That man can descend. He looked great, relaxed and smiling. Coffee poured, Al drank, restocked his bag and we filled his water bottles. I have to say, although Tim C was running with him Al was doing all his own navigation and carrying ALL his kit. He'd point blank refused for anything, even water to be carried for him back in Llanberis.

Tim C arrived soon after Al and I got him water and a brew. Sadly Tim C didn't feel up to continuing on with the next leg so Tim B was super-quickly drafted in to run with Al. It was always a safety back up having Tim B on hand but with another runner not being around as planned Tim B (herein just called Tim) stepped in.

Yes Tim B, your torch is working!
Tim C wrapping up after running leg 1
I reckon Al was only stopped for 15 minutes. He'd arrived ahead of his schedule at around 21:20 and left at 21:35. A buffer of 25 or so minutes up as him and Tim ran out of the car park for the ascent up Pen Y Ole Wyn.

Al and Tim B as they are about to leave Ogwyn for the start of leg 2 as darkness starts to fall
Al's family left and Tim C helped me to tidy the kit away, ensuring everything was restocked, flask with pre-boiled water....everything must be organised as the next stop was scheduled to be 1am and I'd need to be on the ball efficient when all around are sleeping.

With the van repacked and darkness encroaching further I drove back to Capel Curig, delivering Tim C back to his car. I was a bit concerned as he didn't look great, but assured me he was OK to drive back to Manchester. Soon enough I was alone. In a dark car park with a few other campers around me. A quick reorganisation of the kit and I had enough space in our little van to get my head down for about 1.5hrs....but not before setting about five good being asleep when Al and Tim arrived!!

End of leg 2/start of leg 3 - Capel Curig
Beep Beep.....alarm going off but I was already awake. Someone close by had been playing music at that annoying-just-audible volume for ages and I took a while to settle....must get earplugs handy for the next stop - not in the bottom box that's unreachable from the sleeping bag! I must have dozed a bit, waking again with huh-where-am-I feeling and remembering I needed to turn on the radio (it didn't work for us here in the end).

Luckily I had signal so could see the tracker here. Maybe that kept me awake a little is exciting and addicting watching a blog move across the map, getting ever closer, an ever more urgent need to get torches rigged for lighting, kettle on, food and clothing at the ready. I'd parked in the back car park at Capel, but needed to move the van on to the main road ready for meeting up with Al. What time to move? I didn't want to be sitting in the van on the main road too long, so decided the tracker signal needed to be about 3km out. The final km would be pretty quick - downhill and on the road. So I reckoned I had about 20-25mins to set up.
Tim on left and Al checking feet at Capel Curig
Kit out, lights rigged, kettle on, coffee made. Bang.....torch light coming round the corner and Tim had run ahead slightly to put in Al's order for coffee. Al looked great. The blur of bag restock, coffee drinking, sandwich eating, water bottle filling ensued and after only about 10mins Tim and Al were off again. It's hard as support crew knowing that Al is the main focus but also needing to ensure support runners have all they need too. I hope I got everything ready, sorted and offered in time. I pondered this as I repacked, got the van ready for my next sleep and change over and then checked the map for where I was going to drive. Oddly I'd not really worked out where I needed to be in my head, well I had, just the drive there was a bit unplanned. I'd never been to Aberglaslyn and on Al's recommendation I parked up in Beddgelert rather than the remote and lonely car park at Nantmor. Good call. It felt safer having houses around me!

Al and Tim about to depart Capel
I found a spot by the river and public toilets - very handy. Fixed up the kit in the van, blocked out all the street lights and got my head down. Double-triple check of alarms. I needed to be at Nantmor, only a few kilometres away, by 6am at the latest. Sleep came fairly easily with the babble of the river next to me. I was awake at first light - 5amish. Checking the tracker I could see where Al and Tim were and lay in my sleeping back thankful that the forecast of heavy rain didn't seem to be hitting us....yet. It would certainly make the change over at Nantmor more comfortable for all if it was dry.

End of leg 3/start of leg 4 - Nantmor/Aberglaslyn

Robin and Zoe triple checking the map
Bacon butty for breakfast!
I reshuffled kit so I could drive to the meet point and set up camp. Arriving there around 5.30am or so it was breakfast time for me. I could now indulge in a strong coffee and bacon sandwich! The car park was lonely on my own, just one car parked up but no sign of the owners. It's odd being alone in a strange place, something my inner self struggles with, always alert yet fascinated by the silence of man-made things and just the sounds of nature for company. Soon enough though a van pulled in and Zoe, Robin and dogs hopped out. Super, leg 4 & 5 support crew on duty. Bacon, tea and coffee followed along with lots of chat about the round, running and other stuff. Thankfully we had signal and my initial optimism of the guys arriving fairly quickly were soon dulled as I realised Cnicht isn't a quick hill to get over and the descent a lot longer and gnarlier than I could work out from just a map. Added to that....

Drip-drip-drip....bugger. It had started raining. Later than the forecast had indicated but still bugger! 7am and Al and Tim were still a good 6km out. We re-arranged camp to take benefit of the shelter at the top of the car park. After a while Al's family joined in. Nerves on edge as the tracker edged it's way over Cnicht. When to cook the bacon for the sandwich I'd promised Al...?! What a dilemma! I decided it was time to start coffee and bacon when tracker and us were on the same screen - maybe 3km out. Tim once again ran ahead and came into the car park just before Al. Both soggy as soggy things and Al showing the signs of having run from 6pm through to now about 8.30am the next day.
One very tired Tim relaxing after legs 2 and 3
Al preparing for the start of leg 4
Both sheltering from the rain...and Zoe all ready to go
The rhythm of change overs came and went in a blur. I'm not sure of the exact times for this one, around 8.30am for their arrival and Al leaving with Zoe, Robin and Cofa the collie dog about 10mins later. Whoosh! is how it feels....they run in.....rush to eat, drink, repack, a few photos and they're off. Good luck we shout as they leave the car park on the way to more hills, and as it turned out lots of Welsh weather of the wet kind. Thankfully it seemed from the roadside like visibility should be ok for them. Just lots of wetness.

Cofa the collie, Robin (and map arm) and Zoe all set to take Al to the finish
Zoe leads out and Al waving us thanks as he leaves Nantmor - he was always thanking us :)
Not sure if Zoe had managed to prize one of Al's water bottles off him yet...he was determined to carry ALL his own kit
End of leg 4/start of leg 5 - Pont Caergors
the view up the track
Van packed, a soggy Tim changed into dry clothes and shoes and fed with another bacon sarnie and coffee and we drive the short distance to Pont Caergors. It turns out to be at the trail marathon event's 8 mile check point, right next to the railway line. I bag a parking space behind the marshals tent/feed station to keep out of the rain as much as possible then installed Tim in the back of the van to sleep. Utilising the shelter and table inside I make camp - no sleep needed for me now so I brew up and start the task of pre-boiling water into flasks ready for Al and support in about 3-4 hours. Annoyingly the gas on our stove ran out - we'd used a whole can! Luckily just a short drive down to the shop for more gas and we're back in the prime parking spot and brewing up.

A couple of trains went past
and lots of runners, including Paul from Pennine!
Tim relaxing in the shelter
The next few hours were quite entertaining for me as I waited and chatted to the lovely water station ladies as we waited for their marathon runners to come through. I was so pleased to be able to shelter from the rain in their tent! Not sure the tarp would have kept me dry and I was really envious of anyone who had a campervan! Al's route off the hill to this point is virtually obscured from site until a few hundred metres away and with no tracker signal and texts not working either we were in the dark. 1pm was the eta according to the schedule and my brain was fuzzy on the times he'd departed the last change. Calculations were blurry so I just kept eyes peeled up the track. Tim reckoned they should make up a bit of time. It turns out Al made up about an hour, so was again about 30mins up. Wow. What a super star.

Al and Robin came in looking good with a very very soggy looking Cofa the collie. Zoe followed soon after having thought it fun to do an extra km or so!! The refuel and restocking went smoothly, Al enjoying a sit down in the tent. His family were all here again giving much needed moral support too. And before we knew it he was off, over the road and on to the very last section. Surely he's done it now? I can tell you now, I was bloody excited for him. Jealous not to be out running and thankful at the same time - he is one speedy chap and massive kudos for keeping the legs churning out the miles in the rain that was still lashing down in horrible waves of wetness.

Zoe, Robin and Al refueling
Robin changing socks and shoes
A very wet Cofa the collie dog, support on legs 4 and 5
Quick photo before they headed out on the last leg...with Robin's other dog (not running) and nephew who really really wanted to run with his uncle!
and they're off again....the final leg has begun
Wow. Just (just!!) the final leg to do. We chucked stuff in the van (less organisation needed now as just the end to contend with) and drove over to Llanberis. Tim was alert enough to navigate over some tiny roads thankfully. Note to self....ensure the driving routes are also imprinted to memory for my next support crew job.

We mooched around a damp Llanberis for a few hours, constantly glued to the tracker screen. Had a delicious hot chocolate and then dinner so we'd be fueled up ourselves for the drive home later. With every check of the tracker excitement was growing. I wanted to stop strangers to explain why I was glued to my phone, explain that my mate was doing an amazing that rain....on those hills. Wow.

End of leg 5/finish - Llanberis
Closer and closer he was nudging the tracker blob towards us. The ascents were gripping to watch, we were willing them on, counting contours left to climb and relief as he got to each descent. Finally he reached the top of Snowdon....oh to have been there to witness that, then a ridge and just a few blips (which must have felt like massive mountains with each metre to be gained), Moel Ellio....his final summit and just (just...what a word!) the descent down to Llanberis.

The view from the finish. Proper Wet Clag and Lashings of Rain coming down.
The trail marathon compere had been roped in and was gaining excitement for Al too, putting out announcements over the speaker system to the crowds. I wonder if Al heard any? Eventually, after a lot of binocular gazing up the hill and working out 'which scree' we were each referring to Al came into sight. Bloody hell he's going to do it. Only (only!) a few kilometres to go, through the houses and BOOM....

literally the last few metres
here he is!!!!!!!!!!! 17:20 or so and well under 24hours. After regaining his composure after touching (falling into) the finish bench, and his start point 23hrs and about 20mins earlier Al enjoyed a super-human-hero's welcome running down the finish straight of the marathon with his nephew running alongside and the compere cheering him in.

permission granted to cross the line!
ignore that time clock, that's for the marathon runners
He Did It. The Paddy Buckley round in well under 24 hours.

Congratulations and hats off to Al. What a run. What a day. Such a pleasure to have supported him in all aspects. I can't wait for his well deserved holiday to finish and him to return to Glossop so we can buy that man a pint.
That smile says it all
I'm sure I've rambled on a bit, missed out some stuff, probably confused some bits too. Life as a road supported may appear to be a lot of sitting around but on this round, apart from the overnight 4-5hours at Beddgelert there wasn't a lot of down time. Just lots of driving, kit prep, binocular gazing up the hills, getting excited, tracker updating and brewing up. Easy? Yes and no. The key is to be organised, know exactly what the runner wants when and where and ensure they're looked after. And don't forget the support runners. They also need feeding and watering, their bags to be in the right place at the right time, and all the car logistics to be in order. I think it all worked on this one, and thoroughly enjoyable too. Next time I'm borrowing a camper though!

Never doing leg 3 again....are you boys!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Hot Runs

Saturday: myself and Tim headed over to Hathersage to recce part of the Long Tour of Bradwell. The weather was hot and humid, and away from the shade of trees it was sticky hot. Our route took us backwards on the race route from Leadmill Bridge to Toads Mouth, exploring the link from the Burbage Valley across the road and down towards Lawrence Field. We returned the same way (or at least returning on the actual race route as we'd taken a slight detour on the way up). Back at the car we still felt good so continued on the race route towards Bradwell for a short distance....then back to Hathersage for a late lunch+ice cream and browse in the gear shop. Total run 14.6km and 350m ascent.

Tim running across Lawrence Field
Looking towards Bole Hill
Sunday: solo early morning run for me from home. My route was from Old Glossop, Cock Hill, Glossop Low, over to the Pennine Way, up to Bleaklow Head. I'd contemplated heading to Bleaklow Stones-The Ridge-Hern Clough but dismissed that in favour of less tussocky running. I stuck to the Pennine Way until some point after the turning to Hern Stones then bashed across the tussocks to the B29 plane wreck and Higher Shelf Stones trig point. I decided to run along the Shelf Moor race route across to Dog Rock and home down via Lightside, but feeling good as I crossed Dowstone Clough I made a decision to head back to Glossop Low....and luckily came across a quad track that made for easy running across the heather. I picked up the Torside-Glossop Low trod and boards, and was soon heading down passed Cock Hill. A quick detour back to the trig point, then off via the quarry spoils and down to Old Glossop. The temperature today was pretty perfect, warm but a good breeze blowing and enough cloud cover to not be worried about sunburn. I saw and heard loads of curlews flying really close by, a stoat popped it's head up and called out, grouse, a lizard thing rushed off down a peat tunnel, and there were plenty of mountain hares around and one pheasant. Apart from the wildlife I didn't see anyone until dropping off Cock Hill....a perfect solo adventure.
Total run 17.1km and 625m ascent.
Torside Clough and reservoir
On the Pennine Way
There's a stoat hiding in there, honest!
My route across to Higher Shelf Stones
Approaching the B29 plane wreck and trig point in distance
'Overexposed' B29 plane wreck
Dowstone Clough
View from Glossop Low
A little windswept at Cock Hill with Bleaklow behind
Glossop town