Written by Tremayne Dill Cowdry - http://dill-runs.blogspot.co.uk

Around January time after the usual race refusals I was about to enter the Thames ring 250. I sat back and took a breath and pondered my reasons for doing it. All I could come up with was that there was nothing else that offered something new. That something new being the distance, but did it excite me. Sadly no, the thought of running that far seemed a chore. Oh I longed for the butterflies and giggly excitement a new challenge brings. That feeling you had before your first marathon or Ultra, that Christmas eve feeling, the TR250 didn't offer me that. Soon after I received an email from the Dragons back people about the race, I had butterflies just reading the race info. Within an hour of reading that I was in. My multi day experience was zero, my nav skill was minimal but I love the mountains and I love running of course. Perfect, it was on.

The build up months to this had been so exciting. I had been racing in the mountains, practicing my my nav and obtaining the necessary kit for the event. The event its self had cost a few quid so I was determined to save a bit on equipment. Below is the list of mandatory kit and what I used.




Mandatory hill kit


Waterproof jacket = Hagloffs LIM and Berghaus Vapour light smock
Waterproof trousers = Berghaus pack light and Inov-8 Race ultra pant
Survival bag = Poundland
Compass = Silva expedition 4
Headtorch = Silva trail runner 2
Whistle = On pack
Sufficient hill food = Each day spread across the running day I ate, 1 bag jelly babies, 3 Gu gels, 2 packs Tailwind, 1 small pack kids cooked rice or a pack of beef jerky and a bag of nuts and raisins.
Warm top = Cheap long sleeve top
Hat and gloves = Same hat and gloves I've had for ten years, All the climbing on day one wore holes in the fingers. Need new ones grrr.
Bottles = 2 x 500ml soft flasks
Pack = Inov8 race ultra 10
Shoes = Salomon fell raisers
I also had my phone, an etrex10 gps, waterproof marker pen and £50 incase of emergency.



There was also mandatory camp kit of all the usual stuff, sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, washing stuff, plate etc etc. All of your weeks camp kit had to go in a 59 ltr bag and you also had a 22 ltr resupply bag to keep your food in to resupply each day at the half way point. Most of my stuff was from decathlon or poundland and I saved a fortune on this.


I arrived in Conwy on Saturday to give me chance to relax for a bit prerace, the town was buzzing because of a local pirate festival taking place. The sun was out and it was gorgeous I sat by the estuary for a few hours in the heat of the day and watched the world pass by. After it cooled down a bit I went for a run on what I thought was the start route. Within a couple of streets I was heading out of town and up Conwy mountain, I passed a local who said "You won't be running in a minute, its bloody steep up there". I nodded and thought to myself, If only you knew. I ran up Conwy mountain and over to Sychnant pass where I turned and came back. Only a few miles but just a little confidence boost to make sure I started right.


On Sunday I got up and had a full English then I drove to Sycnant pass and hiked for a few miles just another little heads up on the race start. At 12.30 it was check in time at the Youth hostel, I grabbed my kit and headed there. It was fairly quiet and I soon was soon ushered to desk 1 to start the process. "Right, Photo id please". It was only by sheer miracle that I had my id, I had completely forgot I needed it!! Desk 2 was to get your number. Desk 3 was manned by my good buddy Andy Nuttall who was attaching trackers to packs. Well the tracker was more of a lunchbox and it had to go on our shoulder. We taped it to my pack and I tried it, it was digging in but what could I say? I had looked enough of a nob doing kit runs around Maidstone if I had been practicing having a lunch box on my shoulder I think I would have felt like a complete tosser! Desk 4 was manned by Stuart Smith who was part of the Nav4 team that helped train some of us. Cracking bloke who's incredibly friendly, he was attaching dibbers. I then signed my life away on the waiver and it was done. Checked in. I disappeared back to the harbour for a few hours before the race brief. The race brief was rammed and Shane the RD soon got to work explaining the rules and pointers. The race is fairly strict and rules need to be stuck too. Any discrepancies and you will be disqualified. One of the main parts that stood out was being able to differentiate between farmers land and open fell, which I was unaware of. Basically if you cut across a farmers field you would be disqualified. I had been a bit naïve about this and had assumed you could go anywhere. This added another dimension to the nav. The rest was pretty obvious stuff and we soon had to vacate the room to make way for dinner. I need a certain amount of peace and quiet prerace to take stock of the impending race so I decided to head in to town for a quiet meal and an early night.




Day 1

Nervous start

I headed up to Conwy castle and chucked my resupply bag in and we were ushered into the main castle. It started to rain, my nerves were bouncing around like no ones business. As we walked to the start area in the centre of the castle we were handed our day 1 map, shit it looked daunting! I was now crapping myself this map covered miles and miles with massive ascents and descents, it was mental, the area I had run on the Saturday was the first tiny section. The map was about two and a half foot long and the section I ran was an inch. This looked epic! The map was a Harveys 1:40000 and that gives good detail but all you get is a small red circle where each checkpoint is and a very brief description of its position. I couldn't speak, my eyes flicked across the map, what the hell have I done? I can't navigate this!! Time was flying by and my usual prerace chatting was replaced with a feeling of doom as I stared at this monster map. The choir had started belting out their tunes and it was followed by a speech from the mayor. Christ this thing is about to start and I feel like a tiny fish in a bloody huge ocean!
Next thing I know we are off and heading out through the castle and along the castle wall. We dropped down on to the road headed towards Conwy mountain, I was just running everything was going so fast, my plan to start walking and navigate from the off was out the window I was swept along in the fast pace. Cp1 was soon passed and we headed out to Sycnant pass and dibbed Cp2. We then took a different route to what I had anticipated and was running across open fell. The weather was grotty and the cloud was low just what I hadn't wanted but I stuck with the line of runners which soon thinned and we reached our first main peak, Tal y Fan. Around this point I was joined by Michelle Bowen, she was trying to nav using her Ambit and getting frustrated with the time it was taking.  The route to Drum was ok visibility was poor but I felt more confident, although still not using the map properly, Me and Michelle ran along the path that connect the summits, this is no way to navigate, just assuming that a path would take you where you want to go. We hit Foel Fras before heading into the Carnedds, visability had got worse and was down to about 20mtrs. We fumbled our maps and ran in the gloom trying to keep with other faster runners, Michelle fell and I lost us on the map. This is not how it was supposed to be! That moment in the Carnedds I remembered a comment I'd heard about not just following the crowd like sheep. I stopped and said to Michelle, lets stop get a grid reference pinpoint ourselves on the map and navigate properly. This became my mantra for the week "Don't be sheep", If ever I started following someone I would stop and navigate myself. Primarily because they might not have a clue and secondly that is why I'm here to be able to nav across open fell. The navigation was tough as was the running but we got to Pen yr Ole Wen, high above the Ogwen valley. At this early stage I was surprised to see runners going in all sorts of directions not navigating just winging it hoping to stumble on the checkpoint or to tag on the back of someone else. Coming off of Pen yr Ole Wen you can either go the safe way to the left which is longer or the knarly rocky way to the right of course I went right. We descended for about 45mins before hitting the support point in the valley floor, about 6 or 7 hours had passed.

Crib Goch

Michelle and I decided on a relatively short stop and kind of agreed to stick together for the day, visibility was still poor and the nav was difficult so two heads were better than one. We headed straight out of the carpark and started the massive ascent of Tryfan, a steep rocky mountain, It seemed to go up for ever! As we reached the top, I lost the obvious way and kind of shimmied around the sheer rock face, I hate heights and Tryfans summit just seemed to be a pinnacle of rock with no obvious way off. I was nervous. As I scrambled about I smashed my knee on a rock, a big chunk of skin peeled back and blood gushed, the adrenaline was coursing though and I strangely felt no pain after the initial burst of nerve jangling agony. We made our way off the summit and headed for the Glyders, the visibility was now about 10 mtrs. We were doing an amazing amount of climbing and I was getting tired, we reached Glyder Fach but couldn't find the summit. I pinpointed us and using the compass pinpointed the summit which I passed out exactly, however it was on top of a massive pile of rocks and I thought well It can't be up there, so after 20mins of faffing I decided to climb the rocks and found it on the top. What a relief! We climbed the second Glyder and took a direct line off the summit straight across the open fell towards Pen-y-pass. I lost Michelle on the descent but also missed the youth hostel coming out further down the road. I tracked back up the road and checked in at the hostel. I stood in the carpark scanning the map and realized I still had the Snowdon horseshoe to complete. I had hiked it a few years previous with my brother and I knew it was tough but right now I had already been going for about 9hrs and I was tired. How was I going to do this? and still be alright for another four days?? I headed up the Pyg track, caught Michelle who had taken a more direct line towards Pen y pass and we were soon climbing towards Crib goch. Crib goch is a hard slog and the top is a knarly knife edge of rock which we had to scramble across. My fear of heights soon surfaced again and I was trembling as I picked my way across the summit. The cloud had lifted and there were some great views to be had. We carried through and went up Snowdon, back into the clouds, it was cold up there and I got some strange looks as I jogged through the freezing mist in shorts and a tee shirt. We then descended and ascended two more summits before finally dropping down to camp. I was crushed we'd done about 35mile and been on the go for roughly 12 hours. I wandered into camp and was shown to my tent by the ever friendly Andy Nuttall. I sat on the floor and ate some chips. My god I was knackered.

I am so scared of heights

Camp consisted of loads of sleeping tents, mess tent, food tent, medic tent, finish tent and some toilets. After each day you come down to the finish tent and get dibbed in for the day. As soon as you've dibbed you get a print out of your days splits. As you walk through a marshal has your bags ready and carries them to your tent. Then you need to sort yourself out quick and prioritise what is important. Wash? Eat? Change? Organise? Personally for me I need sleep so my number one priority was to get sorted asap to unable me to get to bed fast. So my first night I got in about 7pm ate some chips and drank lots of fluid. I headed for the single shower only to find 5 other runners queuing so I abandoned washing. I then went to the food tent and ate some chilli and cous cous. Most of it ended up on my lap though as my bowl broke and had a hole in the bottom, not my best poundland purchase. Nothing a bit of duct tape couldn't sort. I didn't hang about in the mess tent though, I headed back to my tent and sorted my kit out for the next day. Time was ticking and I was shattered so I blew up my mattress and dived into my bag, I must have been asleep within minutes. My tent roomie Fabrice came in about midnight and smacked me in the face with his mattress, no problem though he'd obviously had a hard day too.


Day 2


My alarm had been set for 5am but I didn't need it, Another of my roomies Hisayuki would be up at 4.30 to wake us all with his clattering of kit. I was up and out the tent by 5 to get breakfast but the queue was massive for eggs. As I queued I had my porridge made which I ate in the queue before grabbing my egg sarnie and tea which I wolfed down. There really was no hanging about in the morning because the midges were out in force and I am talking millions of them! If you stood still for more than a few seconds they covered you, each one giving you a friendly nip. I spoke briefly to Michelle to see if she wanted to team up for the day, she agreed and we packed up kit, dumped our bags in before collecting the map for the day.

Just another massive ascent

I had asked Joe Faulkner if day 1 was the toughest, he said without hesitation that day 2 was tougher. Looking at the map it didn't look too bad so I wondered what he was on about? I was soon to find out. We headed out of camp on the mandatory route before hitting the first massive ascent of the day, Cnicht. My legs were still sore from the previous day and climb was long and hard, but it was a lovely clear morning and the views were gorgeous. On the summit we could see the next summit across a massive valley it was the first of the Moelwyns. The easiest way to it was to do a massive loop staying on high ground but it was still a trek. We were loving it though, peace and quiet and brilliant mountain running. We descended Moelwyn Mawr and quickly ascended Moelwyn Bach. No messing now we were flying. The run down to Cp4 at the reservoir was great, I love smashing the down hills and this was no exception. I have worked a lot on downhills in training and I can sprint down most slopes. Michelle was exceptional on the ascents and I would try and tuck in behind her and we powered up them but I may have just had the edge on the descents and I think she was just fine tearing down behind me. We were making a good team.
The section between CP4 and 5 is massive and very hard to pick a route, we broke it down into smaller navigational pieces of say 3 miles before making a new plan. Soon down the track we bumped into Richard Leahy, a good friend and someone who'd actually done some recceing. We chatted and ran with his group, but we ran past our turning, Richard had another way. As we continued down the track we stopped, looked at each other and realized we were doing it again, Being sheep! We turned round and ran back up the hill to our intended route. I said to Michelle that I might title my blog "Don't be sheep" she replied "The Dragon eats sheep!"
We reached a road section and discussed our route options, there were a few but we agreed a route and ran on. Part of this involved passing through a massive forest on a minor footway. Bad move! We ran and circled and ended up going the wrong way, Michelle got the hump with this and said we should have gone straight across a large section of hilly, boggy, heathery crap. Totally not our plan but I rolled with it. My god it was awful, about 4 miles of all of the above. We were scratched, bumped, bitten and covered in shit. Also it was a nightmare to nav because everything looked the same. We were criss crossing with Charlie Sharp, Ed Catmur and a few others all running round like headless chickens. Ed streaked ahead but we soon caught him, he was laying down? It transpired he had put his foot right between some boulders and tore his shin open. The gash was big and to the bone. Luckily out of the 5 of us there 1 was some sort of medic and quickly patched him up. Mind you Ed was going nowhere, he could barely shuffle let alone run on the toughest terrain ever. Eds race was over, one of us managed to get a mobile signal and called for help. The emergency team were on their way. As the weather was fine so we felt ok to leave and press on.
Just a quick explanation about the conditions under foot, we experienced just about everything from Tarmac to rock climbing during the event. We had long grass, short grass, tussocks, bog, rock, boulder fields, heather, thistles, scree, high exposed ridges and river crossings just about everything! Unless you knew the best route pretty much the whole time was spent cross country, either going up, down or across a slope. You fall over a lot and Michelle and I had our fair share of tumbles. Also much to Michelle's annoyance my style of navigation is to go the shortest route, across or through anything. If I could see a summit, we would be heading straight for it! Sod the long trail all the way round. This just added to the cuts, grazes and falls.
We eventually dropped into CP5 after a 4 hour section it was about 8 hours in total to the half way point of day 2. We continued into the Rhinogs and quickly disposed of the first one, on the approach to the second we reached a lake and the summit was high up to our left. The easy but long way was to take a steady climb straight ahead then double back but I was having none of that. There was a near vertical rock fall to our left, direct to the summit. We climbed that way, it was one of the high lights of the day for me. We climbed two more summits and as we descended off of Diffwys we were tired, extremely tired! We had a measure of the map and worked out we had a 5 mile undulating run back to the camp, it was murder and after the previous day I felt I had nothing left, I was running on empty but we made it after about 14 hours and 35 miles on the go. My god that was a hard, hard day.
A lot of people had dropped including half our tent. I had thought that guts and determination could get you through this but you also can't be a slouch. I can happily run a LDWA 30 miler in under 5hrs but we were averaging 7,8 or 9 hours over the marathon distance during this event. People were getting timed out and injuries were becoming more common place. Shane had said half the field wouldn't finish, I was beginning to understand. My roomie Fabrice had dropped too with shredded feet, Fabrice has finished just about every mountain race Europe has to offer including Tour de Geants and he told me this was harder than any of them.


Day3

Today was a subdued start, Michelle and I headed out at our now to be usual 6.30 and very little was said, we were tired from the previous two days. I had really sore feet from the previous days and Michelle's knee resembled an elephants head. The climb from camp was long and we spoke with everyone briefly on the route up. Visibility on the top was poor and I hadn't really followed the map too good. The first 5 miles of each day were the worst for me so I would rely a bit on Michelle to get us on the right route. As we reached what I thought was the summit Michelle ran off, no map talk just run. I was a tad disorientated so I followed her as quick as I could force myself until we reached the summit. I re-orientated myself and suddenly had a burst of energy, there was a large group of us and I led the running like It was day 1. We cruised along the ridge and any pain I had dissipated, I was having a moment, the sublime moment when running is the easiest thing in the world. Me, Michelle and an American guy, Travis pulled away from the pack and I navigated us on the move to Craig-y-llyn. Such was our pace I had already naved the next section too, we crested summit in the cloud and hit the summit square on. "Right lets not piss about, we are going this way" I stated. We descended the fence line flat out. Half way down we were buzzed by the camera drone, You knew your on the right route if you either see the drone or Ian the photographer pops up and starts snapping. We picked up another American guy, Kevin after the next Cp. Kevin was the guy pictured in the Times during race week. Kevin's reply to anything that you try to tell him is "I know", he made for tough conversation but the four of us were to spend the rest of day 3 together.

I love a scramble


We were still in thick clag and navigating along a tree line, one thing I know about navigating is that it is a nightmare naving through large forests, paths disappear, you become disorientated, everything looks the same and before you know it you are lost! So we did our best to stay out the forests. There was soon a break in the trees, I took a bearing and before they knew it we had hooked a left and we were hammering down an over grown hillside, after a few hundred metres descent we were straight back up the other side through thick heather. Not the easiest route but very direct. It was about a 5 mile run into Machynlleth from here and I had a major wobble. The high I had been feeling had passed and because I hadn't eaten properly, I hit a wall. The others were running good into town and I was about 50mtrs back plodding it out, preying for the Support point.
After refuelling we had a long and uneventful run to a couple more checkpoints, everyone was feeling it after the stop so I was happy with the run walk strategy. We had a last large climb and again we plumped for the direct route, my it was rubbish, the grass was 2 foot high and where I was lifting  my legs so high to walk I felt a ripple of pain from my thigh. Shit, I'd defo torn something, I just preyed it wasn't bad. We left the final cp and ran down the ridge through the cloud. " Stop", Travis yelled. "I didn't dib" he said. After much deliberation it was decided he had to run back to make double sure. It was too cold to hang on we had to move forward, Trav would have to go back then catch us up, Gutted! I kept looking back but couldn't see him, fair play to him though, he went back, dibbed and caught us just before the finish. As we entered the finishing funnel and dibbed for the final time we checked Travs splits for the day and he had indeed hit the last Cp twice, 10 minutes apart. Oh how he laughed ;-) It was a good day otherwise, a runners day, we had covered about 44 miles, naved well and got back in about 13 hrs. That was more like it. I had really sore legs after today and felt the best thing would be to spend most of the evening stretching, I ate some food and retired to the midge proof tent where I stretched for about an hour, possibly the longest I'd ever done it. My thigh was niggling but I was optimistic I would stretch it out.

Still smiling


In general we were going alright, we were still strong, people were dropping like flies but we were holding it together and speeding up slightly with each day. The Dragons back is definitely one not to be rushed. It really is a hare and tortoise type of race.


Day4

Todays map was massive! I'm talking the size of a table top! These bloody maps take some folding, todays was an OS map as opposed to the Harvey we had gotten used too over the past three days.
Cloud was low this morning and it was pretty dreary we were full on naving right off the bat, 10 mtr visibility, no features, take a bearing and make sure you hit your target. We nailed the first section and was soon passing the 6am starters many of whom were circling in the mist. We hit the corner of the forest bang on target but our worst nightmare, no path! We decided to cut through the steep forest on a bearing and pick up the main track. We found the path, changed direction and was bang on track. We reached a break in the path and a group had started to follow us. The features we could see looked right and just as we moved on up the track one of the following group yelled "this is all wrong" "we haven't covered the distance you think we have. With that the group turned on its heels and went the other way. Again Michelle and I assumed we were wrong and followed the group. Doh! The upshot was that we wasted about 20 minutes doing a massive circle to rejoin the original path further up. How annoying!! Don't be Sheep!!!
We eventually found the top and the checkpoint, we were in the middle of a massive wind farm. The tracks were clear on the map, the route was to cut across country and pick up the tracks as we went. Travis who incidentally joined us again for the day agreed but Michelle totally disagreed, she was having none of it. She insisted we should follow the tracks which was clearly further on the map? Hmm we were having a moment here. We discussed it for a minute and we weren't budging we were about to go our own way, At that moment there was clarity, Did it matter? No. Did I have to get my way? No. It was pretty irrelevant, in the grand scheme of things harmony and getting this thing done was important so we headed off down the track and after a couple of miles of silence I cracked open some jelly babies and normal service resumed.
The rest of the morning went quite smooth, some good running was to be had and our nav was good only having a minor mishap just before halfway. Travis had been quiet all morning and had rarely looked at the map, normal during a race when you have a bad patch you just suck it up and plod it out following the markers. During the Dragons Back if you have a bad patch you still have to nav or things are going to get a whole lot worse so if you can hitch on the back of someone elses navigation, that's a good thing, as long as you trust the leaders skills. He apologised for not getting involved before explaining he had the worst shin splints ever and judging by the red swelling he wasn't exaggerating. He asked me what I thought, well I knew he was in agony just by looking at his contorted face, all I could say was for him to forget the navigation and stick with us, get the day done, plod it out. At the half way point we sorted our stuff and filled bottles, Travis was hanging back and said he was going to stop with the medic and get strapped up. No your not I told him if you don't crack on now your days going to get worse now suck it up and lets move. He rubbed some ibruprofen gel on his wounds and we moved.

Innit lovely

I was having a good day really, I'd managed to sort my sore feet out, energy levels were good, I was running well, naving well and any leg niggles I had I'd managed to stretch out the night before. All was well with the Cowdry body. Michelle was doing ok too, her knee was a swollen mess and crunching a bit but she is a machine and complained very little at all. I had been drinking from any source of running water I could find and today I think I pushed it a little too far and drunk from what can only be described as a puddle. Oh boy was I going to regret that! We had a cracking run down off the last bit of high ground and was joined by a team of Americans a couple of whom had completed the 2012 event we chatted and run all the way down to the road. At the road we went to go left and they went to go right. There was no way they were right, the only way to go was left, We agreed to differ and went our separate ways, having had a little sportsmans wager on the best route. The running was good, part road, part trail and we munched the miles away. As we approached the last road section Travis was dropping further back and as the route was obvious it was time to leave him to hobble in, 6 miles of tarmac is a long way to walk! That 6 miles smashed my feet and joints though, that far on road in a pair of trail shoes is not good. I was glad to finish that section, about 12 hrs and maybe 45 miles we'd done ok. My legs were sore back in camp so as we were right next to a river I thought it'd be a good idea for a dip. I dived in. Shit!!! It was freezing, I got back out, warmed up then dived straight back in. I was so cold the pain just disappeared. I ate, sorted kit and sat chatting to Fabrice for an hour while I stretched. I don't know what effect the cold water had on my legs but all I could feel was pain. Excruciating, eye watering muscle pain. I was invited by a marshal to visit the medics tent but what use would that be? "Does it hurt mate" "Yes" "Hmmm do you want to pull out" "No" "Ok bye then". Instead I rolled into my sleeping bag and hoped I'd be ok in the morning. Incidentally Travis rolled in about 30 minutes after us having walked, crawled and with gritted teeth dragged himself to the end, he even commented on walking one steep down hill backwards just to relieve his shins. As for the group of Americans they came in 45 minutes after us having done an extra 5 mile of road!


Day5

 



Oh happy days, the last leg, surely this thing is done, its in the bag! Travis was going to walk it in so it was just Michelle and I today.

 

 

Start gate

We set off full of high spirits and jogged our way up the road away from camp, talk turned to what we would eat and drink when we finished a conversation reserved strictly for the last day. All I truly wanted was a cold can of diet coke and maybe a burger. Mmmm. We soon climbed the first summit which was half the size of some from earlier in the week. The Nav was simple, the running easy we soon started overtaking the 6am starters. We picked an easy route and the run to the support point was a pleasure. The support point had only just been set up, I had saved some chocolate all week for the last day so it was a real treat to eat that as we run away from the Cp.
Today must have been set as an easy route, there was nothing that could stop us finishing now.

The climb to Cp5 was long and steady, there was little in the way of paths or trods so we took a direct line towards the ridge that would lead to the summit, the wind was picking up and the tops were shrouded in cloud, the temperature was dropping and there was a few spots of rain in the air. What I have learnt is to try and make a call on the weather at the top before you get there, if you don't it is very difficult to get your kit out while it is blowing a hoolie. I could feel the weather was turning and stopped on our ascent to get my coat out, the first time all week I've had to do so.

The first view of our destination

As we reached the top of the steep approach the wind was whistling, visibility was gone and we took our bearing and found the Cp. The weather suddenly got worse as we moved to the next, we descended slightly and a few runners ahead turned left to contour the hill, we decided that it would be better to hold our line and carry on forward back up top. We had been joined by another runner who was part of the Berghaus relay team and the chit chat we were having soon stopped dead as the rain decided to lash in. This was serious stuff, it was cold, wet, windy and we were on high ground with no visibility. We took a grid reference to double check our position and then followed a bearing direct to the next cp, trying to run all the time so not to get cold. We were joined by another runner and we double checked our bearing, we were ok we ran on and nailed the Cp. We stopped briefly picking a route and taking a bearing in seconds before running on. There were four of us running and the pace was too fast to nav properly, I was getting frustrated, the weather was horrible and I was just following someone else again. At this point the leaders came belting through and two of our four picked up the pace to jump in on their group. We could no longer keep up and I was losing it, what had been a dead cert finish was now a battle against the elements just to get through. We carried on what I thought was the bearing but it didn't feel right, I hadn't eaten or drunk because I dare not open my coat so as soon as I saw a rock sheltering us from the wind I decided I had to stop and eat. We stopped I put on an extra layer, ate, drunk and orientated myself. We re-joined the weather and after a long cold slog we hit the Cp, what a relief!! That section between Cp 6 and 7 had been the scariest of the whole week, I let my guard down and the weather came up and bit me on the arse. We had been joined on the summit by another group who headed off too the right, we took our bearing and it appeared to be way left of where they went so we went our way and hit the road in no time at all. The rain had subsided but visibility was zero so we had to take a direct bearing to the next cp straight through rough heather and rock, I paced this section so not to miss our mark, we were spot on. We were on our way to the last cp and tried to run on a bearing but the terrain was awful and I soon had one of the biggest falls of the week, I went right over and reopened the gash in my knee and scuffed my thighs on the rock, I lay there buckled on the floor and had to laugh on the inside, what an adventure. As we reached the last summit the cloud cleared and the wind stopped, we could see the castle! I had a real feeling of emotion and a shiver went down my spine right at that moment, we stopped at the trig and both silently stared at the castle, this really was in the bag now.

The last few steps

The run up to the castle was steep but half way up we decided a run was In order so we ran all the way. My wife was there taking photos and we ran into the castle and dibbed in for a final time. It was done, we had completed the The Dragons Back race! Around 35miles and 11hours for the day, 24th place overall in 59hrs 37mins 18secs.

In the carpark we had ice cream and diet coke it was heaven, the sun was beaming and the crap weather was long since gone. We were ferried to the rugby club for hot showers, clean clothes and more coke. As we sat in the bar I noticed some movement on my legs, I had ticks feeding on me! Then from her bag Michelle's mum pulled out a tick remover, Who the hell has a tick remover on their person? Michelle's mum that's who. The presentation came and went and we headed to our hotel, no more camping for me this week. I was done.

The A team
Ooo ice cream 

I coped really well during the week, we paced it perfectly from the first day. My body held up well and when I did get macerated feet I managed to deal with it and not make it a major problem. I felt if we had had to go out for another day I could have. There was guys running who usually beat me at mountain races and they did again on days 1 and 2 but because I looked after myself I was able to pass them later in the week and they had no response, that felt good ;-) Also I was very pleased with my navigation, there is room for improvement but going from novice to Dragons back in six months, I'll take that, it has certainly opened many doors race wise. Teaming up was really not what I had intended to do but meeting Michelle had just worked right, I'm an ok male runner and she is a very good female runner our pace was matched perfectly. When either of us had a low the other pushed on, pulling the other through it. We both had to compromise too which is hard when you are both mentally very strong. She liked running on good trails where I would just cut straight across the direct route, both strategies had their pluses and minuses. Anyway thanks for a great week Michelle.

That's what its all about.

This race was made to look easy by the elite but be under no illusion it is tough. Had the weather been really bad for the week I know there would have been far fewer finishers. Two of the toughest out there were Travis who virtually power marched the final day in horrendous pain but got to the finish and my pal Richard Leahy who did more hours than most out there, he was first out and last in and suffered massively with his feet these guys epitomise mental strength and my hat goes off to you.
It has been a week since the race and I have started running again if only a few miles but I have picked something up from the water and have had terrible stomach issues. I'm awaiting results from the doc who reckons its probably a parasite and should shift in about 10 days.
This is the point where I usually get negative about my performance but not this time, I feel I did good and I absolutely loved the event. Sometimes everything clicks into place and you find a gem of a race, well the Dragons back is that race. Will I come back in 2017, too right I will I can't wait.

Written by Gemma Bragg - http://www.themindandmanymiles.com

Awaiting in the Village hall in Ingleton for the start of The Fellsman :-)

Well where do you start to write about this… what a race, pure adventure!
I was extremely nervous the days leading up to this race, in fact Jez said that he has never seen me so nervous, I wasn’t even as nervous on our wedding day! I think the nerves were for a number of reasons, there are so many aspects to have to think about during this race and you are not allowed any outside assistance otherwise you get disqualified, so you really need to get it right.
Firstly you have to think about the right kit, the Yorkshire Moors are notoriously wet, windy and misty on the higher ground, unless you are a front runner you will be running well into the night, so you have to think about being warm enough for the night section. You then have to think about the navigation of which is not a forte of mine… the race is not marked, a lot of the land is privately owned and only opened once a year for the sole purpose of this race, so for a lot of the race there is no ‘well trodden’ path, well in fact for most of the race there is no path/ track at all, it is just a case of pick a route on the map and follow it. You may reach a peak and then go down and see other runners going down a completely different route to you. There are also walls which you have to climb over and barbed wire fences that you would usually not consider clambering over and question whether you had gone the right way, but for this race you go over them. There is no one out there cutting the barbed wire down or sign posting you over a wall.

feeling relatively fresh in the earlier stages of the race!

feeling relatively fresh in the earlier stages of the race!

I knew that the race entry took up to 500 runners; they aim to have 450 runners on the start line, as each year there is a large number who can’t make it on the day of the race due to injury or some other reason, statistically there is usually 350- 400 that line the start on race day. There is often a high drop out during the race, looking back over previous years, around a 1/3 of runners that start, voluntarily drop out during the course. The race also spreads out pretty quickly, with the front runners finishing in a time consisting of 10hours + something minutes and the end runners finishing in over 24hours. This means that there may be large sections where there are not many, if any people around you in the race. I found that there were actually a lot of runners who came as a two and ran the whole race together, in fact there appeared to be more people in a pair opposed to sole runners.
About 5 weeks prior to the race, I had driven up to the Moors with Jez and run some sections to get an idea of the terrain, that weekend the weather had not let us down with strong winds, rain and big mist meaning you couldn’t see 10ft in front of you. Although it was good for me to get a ‘feel’ for what was in store in terms of the terrain, the fog and mist had increased my anxiety as it would make it very difficult to be able to see other runners, let alone follow them so I really did need to know where I was going! On most races that you do, there are markers- taping, sign posts etc but I guess this is what makes this race so unique. It is not just about testing your endurance and strength- it’s about your navigation skills too or your ability to seek out other runners and befriend them!
I guess these factors were all that added to my nerves. I remember going up to watch Jez race the Fellsman 2 years ago in 2011 and I actually thought ‘I don’t think I could do this race’, the course is extremely rough, the amount of road running is probably about 5% give or take and trails 15%, the rest bog and moorland. However 2 years on I found myself toeing the start line with 350+ other runners taking on the challenge and adventure of The Fellsman…with purely one aim in my mind to get to the finish.
When you check in on the day you are given a tally card, with 24 check points which you tie around your neck. There are some big check points on the lower sections and on the summits and along the high ground there is a small tent with usually two volunteers huddled inside that chip your tally, and if you don’t get every tally chipped then you don’t finish the race. Therefore if you go off course and miss a check point then you are disqualified. The volunteers of this race are amazing, huddled up in a small tent on the summits through the night, or at the bigger check points preparing bread and jam, soup, tea/ coffee, custard creams….
We were able to check our kit in the night before to save time on race morning. Race day we made our way by catching a coach which the race organisers had put on to a village hall in Ingleton, where the race was to start from. Everyone huddled in the hall at the start, eating their breakfast, it was wet and cold outside and I was a bundle of nerves. We were all then led out to the field ready to start at 08:30am, first tally point chipped and we were off.

Nervously awaiting the start of The Fellsman

Nervously awaiting the start of The Fellsman

The first climb I found pretty tough and a technical decent, a lot of rocks and clambering going on. It had rained heavy the day before and through the night, so was super slippery. The top of the climb you could not see a thing, thick fog and wind; I must admit I did think, ‘what have I signed myself up for?’ However down into the next valley and the weather began to improve. The second climb I felt stronger and the fog was less dense on the top, I found that I began to move more easily and descended happily off the second summit. I ran the first half of the race pretty much on my own, although there were generally one or two runners in sight; I was surprised how quickly the field spread out. On my way up the fourth climb I met a chap called Lee he had not done this race before either and we ran a bit together, coming off the fourth climb and down into Redshaw, a few other chaps descended with us. I was keen to stay with someone across Dodd Fell and Fleet Moss as it is easy to lose direction and choose the wrong path on these sections, through the bog. Coming down into Fleet Moss check point I felt my body hit a bit of a low, so was glad to fuel up at this point. I actually consumed quite a lot of fuel during this race, roughly; 2 Marsbars, 2 Yorkie bars (although Jez tells me there just for men!), 4 slices of bread and jam, soup and bread, pieces of wrap filled with Nutella (which I had prepared the night before), 2 slices of cake, a slice of amazing homemade flapjack (made by one of the volunteers), bowl of rice pudding, jelly babies and about over half a dozen custard creams! There aren’t many days in the calendar year where I eat 4 chocolate bars, 2 slices of cake, a handful of biscuits and a slice of flapjack and don’t feel an ounce of guilt! I also made sure I kept my water pack filled at each check point- I had electrolyte tablets in here, and also took a few salt tablets and I drank about 8 cups of squash and a tea.
I ended up going across Fleet Moss with two guys that had done the race 4x before, therefore I knew they would have a good idea about what route to take through this section, we decided to go around the edge opposed to through the middle, although this is slightly longer, it saves going through the thick of the bog, which really zaps your energy. I felt comfortable through these sections; I was slower on the climbs but felt I made up time on the descents and flatter sections across the tops.
At dusk it is the rule of the race that you get grouped, this is for safety reasons. Navigation is difficult at the best of times, but in the pitch black with just a head torch to lead the way that’s another ball game all together. Although some people don’t like this rule, as you have to stay within 10m of your group at all times, I was extremely happy about it and felt a lot safer and happier in a group then I would have going at it alone at night, I may well still be on the moors somewhere if this hadn’t been a rule. As it was I ran into Cray checkpoint just after 8pm with 4 guys I had already been running with for about 3hours, so we automatically got grouped at this point. Just 16 more miles to go and 2 more climbs. I layered up my clothing at this point, had some soup and bread and then we headed up the next climb. When we got to the summit we all got our head torches out and started the next descent. Although a lot of people who run the Fellsman come back each year, probably about ¾ of the entrants have raced the Fellsman before, I found myself in a group where none of us had run the race before, unlucky? May be, but at the same time it was a lovely group and I knew whatever happened we would get to the finish at some point, so I was happy. We did take a slight detour off this summit and in the dark it really does make it a lot harder, as you can’t see other runners, in less they are close enough to see their head torches. You can’t see landmarks- fences etc, so it is going on bearings alone and trusting that. However we did find the right path in the end and joined on to a couple of other groups that had taken perhaps the more direct route off the summit , in to the last big checkpoint, Park Rash before the final climb. Here I met Jez who had long finished his race, showered and come out to meet me.

The last big checkpoint, before heading out for the final climb

The last big checkpoint, before heading out for the final climb

When we got to the summit of the last climb, it had turned a bit foggy and although there had been another group of runners just ahead we soon lost them. The volunteers in the tent at the summit directed us to go about 30m to the left (I think it was) and we would hit a fence, to then follow the side of this fence all the way down to the path. However we didn’t find the fence and ended up going off course, through more bog. I thought we were never going to see the red beaker light (which flashes from the check points in the dark) but we kept moving forward and down, over a few more little hills and eventually there was a light and was I happy to see the light, although it seemed a long way off, so I still had a little doubt in my mind that it might be a car somewhere, but as we got closer it was definitely a checkpoint, relief. The final 6miles were down hill, 4 miles to the final checkpoint and then 2 miles of road (a real novelty in this race) to the finish.

Having my tally clipped at the last checkpoint

Having my tally clipped at the last checkpoint

at the finish with the four chaps I had been grouped with for the section through the night

at the finish with the four chaps I had been grouped with for the section through the night

We made it to the finish in Grassington in just over 17 hours and what an epic journey, race and adventure it had been. The Fellsman for me really was a challenge and that’s why I do these races and what I love about these races; and that’s why I get so nervous the days leading up to the start, because they take you out of your comfort zone, they test you and they push you and at the end you sigh and you think ‘I did it’ and you sit down and you drink tea and you reflect on it for days to come.
I would like to thank Jonathon for organising and leading this amazing event, for all the Volunteers who without, there is no way this race could happen and to the Scouts for supporting this event for the last 52 years! If you want to find out more details about The Fellsman, then this is their website www.fellsman.org.uk
Will I be back again….? You bet I’ll be back ;-)

Written by Mandy MacIver - https://mandymaciver.com

photo(c) www.facebook.com/jordisaragossa

The Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, in the majestic mountains of Glen Coe, was the most amazing event on the most brutal but beautiful course ever. I’m saying that now, but two weeks ago I was cursing the course. After 33.8 km and about 3000 m of ascent I’d missed the cut-off time. I was too slow. I was a duffer. My spirits were as damp as the weather. I had so badly wanted to be strong and finish. It was too hard and I’d failed. No way was I doing this again….

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The race course tattoo! I made it to the deep V two-thirds of the way along!

Why did I run this race? I love running in the mountains and I love scrambling. The sport of Skyrunning has fascinated me for the last few years. When I heard about the Glen Coe Skyline I knew I had to try and get an entry and make it my first ever real mountain running race. Glen Coe holds a special place in my heart. It’s close to where I was born and brought up in Dumbarton. Decades ago, when I was a Munro bagger I sought out its peaks in the snow and the rain; these adventures are etched in my memory. The first time I ever remember being aware of the awesomeness of a mountain landscape was in Glen Coe. I was a kid in the car on the A82 with my mum, dad and twin brother Graeme. A moment in time— gazing out the car window up towards the Glen Coe mountains and thinking “wow”— has stayed with me for forty years or more.

The Glen Coe Skyline—it drew me more than any other race I’ve done or read about.

And so, earlier this year the minute entries opened I was at my computer with my answers prepared for the vetting questions. It was the dead of night. These days I live in Canada so with the time difference I had set my alarm, I think for 2 am. I had the necessary climbing, scrambling and running experience, I filled out the entry, then waited. I got a spot. I was over the moon!

The Glen Coe Skyline is one of three races in the Extreme Skyrunner world series. The other two are Tromso and Trofeo Kima. To give you an idea of the nature of the Glen Coe course, I’ve copied and pasted part of the website description:

The course is designed to challenge the most experienced and competent mountain runners. The proposed race route traverses high and remote mountainous terrain. Once committed to many sections it is impossible to retreat. The entire race route is subject to rapidly changing and extremely severe weather. For this reason, competitors must be capable of ‘robust completion’ of the route in all but the most serious weather conditions. The route is very rough underfoot with long sections of rock and scree-covered terrain. There will be an enormous amount of ascent and descent. Experienced but slower competitors are very welcome at the race but please note that the cut-offs will be strictly enforced.

The stats: 55 km and 4700 m of elevation gain

Get the idea?

I wasn’t daunted by the terrain or the distance: I’ve scrambled and climbed for years and I’ve run a good number of ultras. What scared the living daylights out of me was “the enormous amount of ascent and descent”. As race day approached I knew I hadn’t managed to do enough training for the vertical and I knew I would be one of the slower runners chasing the cut-offs. I hoped I’d be able to pull it off with the training that I had been able to do.

So, back to the race! It started in Kinlochleven. On race morning I didn’t feel great. Nothing new! But, when I saw everybody milling about in the start area I felt really nervous and wanted to run away. All I could see were lean mean mountain-running machines: the athletes I hear about and admire when I listen to Talk Ultra podcast. There weren’t many women and even fewer veteran/masters women like me. I started wondering why I was there and my mind went into a downward spiral of doubts and worries. But negative thoughts will be the death of you and with a few deep breaths, I put aside those destructive thoughts. Breath!! I visualised images of happiness and joy. The mountain spirits would carry me round. It was going to be amazing to be part of this scary event. Yeah!

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The race start

I stood at the back of the pack. I was carrying the mandatory gear, water and enough calories for eight hours of hard effort. There was no aid available until checkpoint 11. My pack felt heavy! Then, to the sound of bagpipes, we were off!

For the first 10 km or so we followed the West Highland Way out of Kinlochleven and up and down The Devil’s staircase to checkpoint 1 at Altnafeadh. I felt crappy! To be suffering from the off was not good!

We hopped over the A82 and from there we traversed across and up a hillside heading straight for Curved Ridge. Curved Ridge is a Grade III scramble and the most technical part of the course. I was one of the stragglers near the back. The front-runners had long since bounded up. The scramble was airy and it was exhilarating! I focused on every move and forgot about my tiredness. Mountain instructors were on the route pointing out the handholds. At the top of the scramble, there was an amazing view of Rannoch Moor, desolate and beautiful, stretching far into the distance. I looked back at it and was absolutely awe-struck.

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Curved Ridge. Photo thanks to Zoe Procter

The steep face of the scramble gave way to flatter, rocky ground and then checkpoint 2 on the summit of Stob Dearg. I still wasn’t feeling great and felt a bit woozy. I checked in by beeper and asked the marshal “what way?” It must’ve been a silly question! She asked me if I was OK? Had I fallen? Crumbs, I must have looked bad! I was fine I said, just slow, and I went on my merry way from there, over the rocky vastness of Buachaille Etive Mor. It was spectacular. The clouds had gently rolled in and I was seeing the last of the sun but the visibility was still good. I looked all around for other runners. I saw only one person far behind and one person far in front. Peace and solitude. Quietness, I’m always searching for that rare thing. Here it was and I was storing it up and relishing it.

After this high ground, we dropped down to checkpoint 4 in Lairig Gartain and hopped on boulders to cross the River Coupall. That led to a good path and a steady trundle up the valley, then the next steep ascent, this one grassy. Up and up and up we went heading towards a pass, Mam Buidhe on Buachaille Etive Beag. It was here that I met another runner, Scott from Manchester. It was great to have his company. Up and over the pass we went, then we had a quick, steep descent on a rocky trail to checkpoint 5 in Lairig Eilde.

This next valley section was just about runnable. There weren’t too many places you could run on this course! The clouds had been thickening and half-way up the valley the rain appeared and stayed for the day. Stopping to put on my jacket I could see the next tough, steep climb ahead of me disappearing into the clouds. I trundled on up the valley and reached the climb. Here goes…

I hiked up the steep grass into the mist and a miracle happened: I started to feel better. Those mischievous mountain spirits were finally giving me some help! I caught up to and passed some runners. On the upper, steepest section I was with Scott and an Irish guy and we breathed a sigh of relief when we topped out. But, instead of picking up speed after the near vertical grassy slope we had to stop to look for the route. Ahead we could see only rocks and mist. Nothing else! The little red flags we had been following all day had become invisible.

Time passed slowly and the next couple of hours saw us crossing rocky ground peering into the wet mist looking for flags. The flags would appear out of nowhere if you stared hard enough. Thankfully we didn’t get lost and finally we found the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and checkpoint 7.

The stretch to the next summit didn’t look far on the map but it was! It was also rocky, wet and foggy. I lost track of time but it took me forever get over the difficult ground and reach the next marshals with their blue jackets and encouragement on the summit of Bidean nam Bian (checkpoints 8 and 10). I’d last been there maybe 20 years ago. Today it was unrecognisable in the Scotch mist. I said a quick hello and got checked in with my beep.

Throughout these long misty sections of high summits, I had been chasing my dream of reaching the finish line in Kinlochleven. It had been tantalising me in my mind’s eye. In a foggy vision, I saw myself cross the line, drop to my knees and kiss the ground. If only! Reaching Bidean, I knew time had run out and it would be impossible to get to checkpoint 11 by the cutoff at 3pm. My daft vision disappeared with a puff into the cloud and rain.

With a heavy heart, I did the next section, an out-and-back to Stob Coire Lochan (checkpoint 9). As I was going out to that summit over a rocky, gravelly, down then up trail I was thankful to see and say hello to a few runners coming back on it. I consoled myself. There were people not too far ahead of me. I wasn’t miles and miles behind everyone. I reached the marshal at checkpoint 9 on the summit and another beep. The race blurb described this out-and-back ridge as “another stunning mountain spur into Glen Coe”. Today there was a grand view of mist.

Heading back to Bidean and checkpoint 10, I saw a girl who I had played leapfrog with earlier in the day. She was on her way out to checkpoint 9 and looked strong and determined. While going past each other she asked me if I thought we would make the cut-off. I said I didn’t think so. She was truly devastated. Geez, I should have kept my mouth shut so she could enjoy it all for a wee while longer. (We met up again on the merry bus-ride for the DNF’ers from checkpoint 11 to Kinlochleven).

So it was back up to the summit of Bidean and checkpoint 10; to another wonderful marshal and another beep. He pointed and said straight down there to checkpoint 11. Ha ha! This descent was something else. First, there was more expansive, rocky ground and playing the game of trying to spot little red flags while trying not to get lost in the nothingness. Then, finally, there was an obvious trail. Yeah! But it was no ordinary trail! I’ve run a lot of descents in my time. This was one of the trickiest ever: long, steep and treacherous! The zillions of rocky steps were wet and very slippery. A fall would take you on a nasty tumble for sure. Slowly, my tired legs took me down.

After that final downhill adventure, I was at the A82 and checkpoint 11—the end of my race. It was almost 4pm and fifty-seven minutes over the cut-off. I was sad and happy at the same time. It had been an amazing mountain journey. Over the next hour, a few more runners arrived from the misty descent and joined in the damp party under the awning; where the marshals were so caring, making sure we didn’t get too cold and giving us tea, crisps and bananas while we waited for the bus.

We found out that the Jonathan Albon had won the race in six and a half hours. Six and a half hours! That is unbelievable; so amazing; so inspiring. Jasmin Paris was the first female in just over eight hours. Amazing and inspiring too.

While waiting I looked upwards into the clouds and the next section of the race, the section that wasn’t to be—the Aonach Eagach, that legendary mountain ridge. The rain was still coming down, the clouds were thick and I thought to myself it must be treacherous for the runners, way up there hidden in the damp mountain greyness.

And so, the warm bus took us back to Kinlochleven. The bus of shame! I’d got cold waiting and I was glad to have all the mandatory gear. Better to have to use it on a bus than lost in a white-out on a mountain top! I wrapped myself in my emergency bivvy bag and was as warm as toast. Everybody on the bus chatted as we headed to Kinlochleven and the race finish. I handed in my spotter and beeper, ate some wonderfully delicious hot food and headed back to the  campsite and my little tent and dry clothes. I made use of the extra time afforded by not finishing by snuggling up in my sleeping bag with a cup of tea listening to the birds chirping around Loch Leven. Relaxation and post-race celebrations Mandy-style!

My tale’s not quite finished. The next day when I was driving down the A82 to Dumbarton I made my usual stop in Tyndrum at the Green Welly Stop. Sitting with my cuppa and scone, iPad perched on the table, a fellow Glen Coe Skyliner sat down beside me. He had noticed I was looking for the results on the race webpage and asked me how I had got on. His name was Paul. We chatted about the race, about that slippery descent to checkpoint 11; about the Aonach Eagach. He was one of the runners on the Aonach Eagach around the time I was gazing at it, hidden in cloud and rain. He said the footing was treacherous; also, he’d caught up to a Polish runner who was struggling and was very cold, maybe hypothermic. Paul said he helped the cold runner, making him put on his extra clothes, and staying with him. They both made it to the finish line in under thirteen hours. The final cut off was fourteen hours. So inspiring, Paul. Well done!

The scrambling and the mountains, my memories and my roots—these are what brought me to this race. In the end, it didn’t go right but it was epic. This was my second enormous challenge of the year. The finish line eluded me in both but I had two truly unforgettable experiences, met amazing people, saw beautiful places and learned a hell of a lot. I’m happily planning on returning to them both next year, using what I’ve learned, getting better and finishing! How amazing that would be. That’s assuming I can get in!

What I learned in this race:

I’m sure nobody else did what I’m about to describe and this is a tip to my self: Don’t start with 2 l of water in your race pack! Talk about “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Knowing the one and only aid station was going to be about 8 hours into my race I automatically filled up my 2 l bladder. That’s what I would normally do. You see, most of my ultras have been done in Canada and USA on very different terrain. So, I carried all that water, but as you can guess, there was tonnes of water on the route—in crystal clear mountain streams—probably the same stuff you find in bottles on the shelves in Tesco.  Duh!

I felt out of sorts before I started. I’d been busy with stuff. Of course, we run better when relaxed, with no stress, and this race clearly showed me that. Other than being tired and slow, I didn’t struggle. I think I gained 15 places between checkpoint 1 and checkpoint 10.

But to make things go better next time the biggest thing I need to do is more uphill training. The ascents were what I found most difficult. I wasn’t fit enough and maybe that’s the only reason I felt tired. Maybe it was nothing to do with being busy. We all like to look for excuses!

Next time I would download the GPS file. I think the most time-efficient way of staying out of trouble in a whiteout is to follow a GPS line on your device.

Cheers!

Written by Al Pepper - https://alanpepper.wordpress.com/

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Trotting along and chatting away to a running buddy of mine, Garry, we took a right, dropping down from Ripponden Bank Top and along a small track. We’d been catching up on our most recent races and I’d asked Garry about the upcoming Fellsman I’d entered. His response was well I’ve been there done that and drawn a line under it! I noted a sense of that he probably wouldn’t do it again.

At that particular moment we were running in the Calderdale, another tough event and especially this year as the route was a new one with much added excitement and even bigger climbs.

We did eventually finish the Calderdale after much shuffling and swearing and it turned out to be a cracking well organised event and another one I shall return to each year.

18:20. It was excellent to be back in Threshfield and it always feels like home as I do seem to spend quite some time running around there. I’d been there a few months earlier and run the Wharfedale Off Road Half Marathon route with Henry (Our Springer). It did feel quite strange being there without Henry especially as he normally rides shotgun and howls for most of the way there before we run and then sleeps in the back of the van all the way back!

Anyway I digress, it was a brief walk to the school (Race HQ) for signing in and kit checks at 18:30. I’d arrived early and tied up with a couple of fellow Spine Challengers, David and Johnathon.

Off to the kit check and was surprised to see another Spine legend ‘Tom Jones’ helping out with the kit checks.

It was apparent that the Fellsman was a well-established race and similar to the Spine race it too had a friendly running family feel about it. I’d retired back to my newly fitted out van to re-pack my kit, eat as much food as possible and settle in to watch a film and of course have the obligatory couple of cans of Guinness. I drifted off listening to the sound of rain hitting the van roof wondering what tomorrow would bring

05something or another. Whatever, it was it was early! I re-packed my kit yet again(putting some more warm layers in) and got ready to go and catch the coach to the start line in Ingleton. On arrival we were greeted with a downpour, some smiling marshals then promptly issued with the iconic Fellsman Tally. The tally is a round disc with 24 checkpoint locations around the edge. At each CP you get it punched and nowadays in the world of modern technology it also has an electronic tag that you swipe at most CPs and it records you having being there. I’d seen pictures of the Tally before but I wasn’t quite sure if I was glad or not to actually have one hanging around my neck and about to face collecting a full house of punches on it. The route is around 61 miles (more if your navigation is slightly out) with 11,000 feet of climbing. As a warm up at the beginning it takes in two of the Yorkshire 3 peaks (Ingleborough and Whernside) followed by many of the tallest summits in the Dales eventually finishing back at Threshfield.

With a bit of banter between us and a difficult decision of waterproof on or waterproof off we started. I’d opted for a windproof jacket instead of waterproof and thought I’d save that for later just in case the weather got worse. How little we knew about what we were about to encounter.

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Ingleborough was upon us and after a long slog in the cloud and drizzle to the summit it was the first CP punch on the tally

The weather at the summit was slightly harsh to say the least and saw to it that we all got a good battering by the wind. Dropping down along the NW side of Ingleborough gave us a full view of Whernside covered by cloud. Just after the Hill Inn CP the rain came down with anger assisted by strong winds and an icy cold feel to it. It was definitely waterproof on time! The climb up Whernside was cloaked in mist and went on forever to the summit. This was a climb to do quickly as the weather had really taken a turn for the worse. Second CP punch at the summit and the long boggy descent with a river crossing thrown in towards the Kingsdale CP. After a mug of hot sugary tea and several chocolate biscuits dunked in it now was the time to push on the summit of Gragareth. Nother summit and another punch on the tally at the Gragareth CP. The weather had now decided we needed a little snow and more wind just in time for the traverse across the high ridge to the Great Coum CP. This was becoming less enjoyable with now endless knee deep bogs that threatened to suck your very feet from your lower legs. I was busy bog hopping when I caught up with another racer who was taking a rather more tentative approach to the whole matter and was busy measuring the depth of each bog with a walking pole before he attempted to cross it. He was prodding each bog with his pole like a master swordsman before jumping across. I slowed and watched with interest and also thought if he disappears up to his neck in it I’ll take a different route. However, he stabbed his pole in the ground and it promptly sunk up to the handle. This would have indicated to him that the bog was quite deep and to find a different route but unfortunately with the method he was using he proceeded to follow the pole into the bog. Head First! He eventually reappeared holding his now banana shaped pole and looking like the creature from the black lagoon. A few of us picked him up and I chose not to take that particular route before continuing with my bog hopping routine in a different direction. The weather was now biblical and reminiscent of the Spine race on the side of Pen-Y-Gent. It was a long long way to Great Coum but the relief of dropping down through Flinter Gill then eventually reaching the larger CP at the village of Dent was enough to drive me on.

At some point along this part of the route I came across another runner who seemed to be limping. I slowed down and asked if he was ok? He was actually quite cheery under the circumstances but pointed out that he’d lost one of his shiny new Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes in one of the recently mentioned bogs and he was retiring.

I’d promised myself a decent stop for 5 minutes at Dent and was warmly greeted by some hippies in a tent handing out hot sausage rolls and tea. It was heaven and I managed four large sausage rolls and several mugs of tea. Needless to say the hippies (marshals in fancy dress) were happy to oblige handing out the savoury delights to us wet a freezing racers. One prominent thing that I’d noticed was just how many people had pulled out and were sitting wrapped in foil blankets on the fun bus patiently waiting to be taken back to Threshfield.

I had to get moving before I either froze or ate all of the sausage rolls. The weather was changing and it had stopped raining, there was even a glimmer of sunshine poking through. Proceeding up towards Blea Moor CP I decided to make myself into a clothes line and steadily pushed on with most of my damp and wet clothing hanging off me with the hopes of drying out before nightfall.

The next character I met was Justin who was struggling a little with his knees and had had a bit of a moment just before I’d caught him up. He’d not attempted this distance before but had done the Haworth Hobble a few months prior as his first ultra. We chatted and decided to stick together for the next few CPs.

Justin had done a route reccy for the majority of the Fellsman and clearly had good knowledge of what we were likely to face through the night.

As we passed thought the next large CP at Stonehouse it was more tea and this time pasta and cake with more tea. I also think that this was served to us by either elves or santa clause. Whatever, they made us most welcome and the temptation to sit in the warmth of the tent nearly got me so I stood outside in the cold and filled my face instead.

On the Fellsman at nightfall or last light individuals are grouped at certain CPs as a safety measure and myself and Justin had decided that we should stick together and drop into a group with similar pace. This eventually happened on reaching the Redshaw CP. The journey to Redshaw CP passing through and up and over Great Knoutberry was hard going with soaked ground and more bogs.

Redshaw CP was again an oasis in the world of cold damp mud. However, the skies were clear and it looked like being a fantastic clear evening. Inside the CP I was greeted by Tom Jones ( a legend of the Spine Race) and he quickly made me a cup of hot sugary tea and directed me towards the hot dogs. We chatted briefly before I yet again headed outside so as not to get too comfy. Justin talked to a friend who was at the CP whilst I had noticed a bit of a niggle in my left lower leg so I got some Kinesio tape out and strapped it up.

Eventually we were made part of a group and would stay together until the ungrouping at the penultimate CP at Yarnbury. There was seven of us, Myself and Justin an American lady (Alison) and guy that had done the Fellsman 37 times (Ted), A lovely couple from Ipswich and another guy who I believe was called Ibby and Italian? We all seemed to be similar pace.

We left Redshaw CP and headed off towards Snaizholme CP that was only just over a mile away but what was now a bit of a theme was that just a mile on the Fellsman is neither easy or straightforward. However, we were rewarded with an absolutely stunning sunset as we passed through Snaizeholme and onto Dodd Fell.

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I was reminiscing in my head about the last time I’d passed through here on the Spine CR and just how much colder it had been. We bagged Dodd Fell and dropped down to Fleet Moss CP and this time we’d made a decision to stay a little longer and get warm. The temperature outside was rapidly dropping and I already noticed ice on my pack when I removed it. More tea and I’d decided to eat a couple of pork pies that I’d brought along with me. They were like rocks! So I packed them inside my jacket with the hopes they would thaw out by the next major CP.

Navigation from here on would be a challenge but having Ted along with us who had done this 37 times would definitely be an asset.

We left the warmth and smiling faces of the CP and entered a starry night to be confronted by plummeting temperatures.

Middle tong CP was our next target. Now at this time any specific fence crossing points were indicated by red flashing beacons and they were to be our navigational points. Using compass. Map and gps backup we eventually found Middle Tong CP. It had been hard going as none of this was paths but as a bonus the bogs had now frozen up.

Our next CP was an aptly named ‘Hells Gap’. It certainly was Hell and it had definitely froze over.

You’ve got to feel for the CP marshals who had been out there for hours in a tent patiently waiting for racers to pass by and also wait for the last person. Outstanding effort.

Cray CP was to be our next large CP and it was a welcome sight and a chance to warm up. I even sat down in there too! This time I treated myself to hot chocolate and tea…..both in the same cup. And my pork pies had warmed up so I downed them together with a ‘Power Cookie’ topped off with a tramadol and a caffeine tablet.

I also put nearly all my layers on as I’d started to shake a little bit just before the CP. Off again into the darkness leaving the happy bunch of marshals behind with one or two not so happy racers who had been completely frozen and exhausted.

Buckden Pike was one of our final large summits and it more than made up for it with what seemed like a near vertical path (it probably wasn’t). Again it went on for an eternity and was relentless but just as a teaser we could occasionally see the flashing read beacon light at the CP on the top.

Eventually we reached it and again was greeted by a marshal in a tent who was happy and smiling, sort of.

The next little tricky bit of navigation was to find the CP at Top Mere. If my memory serves me right it was quite well hidden and took us a little bit of time to find it. The going under foot was still tough and instead of deep bogs we had frozen peat bogs to climb up and down and clumps of heather to constantly fall over.

We could make out the CP at Park Rash and I thought I’d made a mistake as I could see head torches coming towards us leaving the CP. In reality they should have been going away from us!

In the warmth of the Park Rash CP all became clear. The group in front of us had missed the Top Mere CP. Every credit to them for going back to find it and not pulling out.

Meanwhile I was busy putting more layers on. My plan had worked out and all my layers had dried earlier in the day so I was one happy camper and extremely warm. We spent about 20 minutes eating, drinking and chatting to the marshals before once more heading out into the decreasing darkness.

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It was almost sunrise as we made our ascent onto Great Whernside. This was our last big climb and it certainly knew how to spoil us.

I was sure that my legs had been lost several miles earlier and they had been substitutedwith a couple of fence posts.

No matter what the difficulty was or just how painful it was we had the honour of seeing the sunrise on what was to be a glorious start to the day and that seemed to put everything into perspective. By the time we had reached the summit of Great Whernside it was spectacular and the feeling of elation and that it was nearly all downhill together with we only had two more punches to collect before the finish. It surely was a bit overwhelming. We pushed on downhill and I’d been intending on making it back within 24hrs and it was still a possibility.

Down through Capplestone Gate CP and pressing onto Yarnbury CP the ground had now become as Justin described it a ‘Fairway’ (well he was into his golf). We were de-grouped at Yarnbury and it was a free for all back to the finish. Myself and Justin started speed walking as initially the hard tarmac road was painful and unforgiving compared to the last few miles of pasture land we had crossed.

Anyway I announced that it could possibly be done and we could be back within 24hrs. With that we broke into a very gentle trot down through Grassington.

I had to slow down as the pain in my right leg was just immense and was like being stabbed each time my foot hit the ground. Justin went on ahead as did the couple from Ipswich whilst I hobbled my way through the village centre to be applauded by two elderly gentlemen sat on a bench at the edge of the village square. Out of Grassington I knew I’d cross the river then up into Threshfield and home. I saw another group of racers in front and told my legs to ‘man the F up’ as we are overtaking them so off I went running past and up the hill towards the school knowing that I was within two minutes of finishing.

Several more people applauded and one guy wished me all the best and said he’d seen me at various CPs as he’d been following the race around all day and night. Rounding the corner for the last few hundred meters a motorcyclist gave me a high five as he was passing and shouted well done.

That was it! Before I knew it I’d entered the school and finished. I parted with my Fellsman Tally and handed it over to prove my journey and that I’d finished. Justin was waiting sat on a nearby chair, so we exchanged congratulations before I headed off to find more sugary tea. I’m not sure if I was within the 24hrs but I’m sure I’ll find out soon.

It’s funny that after that last bit of energy and expenditure and managing to run to the finish I was now struggling to drag myself back to my van in the car park.

The sun was now high in the sky and providing a warming glow. I managed to get my shoes off, sent a text to Liz letting her know I’d finished then sat for about twenty minutes reflecting on the race and wriggling my toes in the slightly damp but cool wet grass, it was heaven.

So there we are. That was the Fellsman. If you’ve read this and done it then you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s something that’ll get into your head. If you’ve not done it then go and do it, I promise you’ll not be disappointed with yourself when you hand over that fully punched Fellsman Tally back at the finish. A fantastic well organised friendly race.

Finally a big thanks to everyone who helps to organise and make the Fellsman work. Your incredible people who give up your time and comfort to allow people like us to indulge in a sport we love.

Thanks to all my friends and family who support me and give me encouragement to keep going, it really does mean a lot to me. But most of all thanks to Liz for her continued support, looking after me and putting up with my crazy world.

Thank You

AP

PS, Get out and go and do stuff!!

Written by Pedro Dorrington - https://petesoutdooradventures.wordpress.com

Four miles in and starting to enjoy the race!

Four miles in and starting to enjoy the race!

The Glen Ogle 33mile ultra is a cracking event but for the first time since I stopped being a fat pie I had no real appetite for a race. Ironman Barcelona had come and gone 5 weeks before hand and with it 18 months of focus and determination. I had come crashing down from my “A” race high having not only completed my first Ironman but also surprising myself with a decent time of 12hrs 32ms. With Glen Ogle looming I went into training 10 days later but my body didn’t thank me, going back to running only was difficult and after 2 x 6 miles and a 9 mile I pushed out a 15 miler with Stevie 3 weeks to the day after crossing the Barcelona line. Stevie was flying on that run and the last 5 miles crushed me! I decided to rest for the final two week run in to Glen Ogle and only ran a 6 miler on the Monday before to break in new race shoes.

On the Wednesday morning I woke up feeling ill, gunk was coming out my left ear and my balance and hearing were affected. A quick trip to the quacks led to a diagnosis of an aggressive ear infection, a prescription of Amoxicillin and orders not to run………………..

So obviously I ran.

DNF there is no shame in those three letters although to date I have never had one, I am sure it will come to me one day but I would rather see those letters next to my name than DNS. So at 5 am on Saturday morning I picked up Stevie and we rocked up to Killin and as soon as I registered the love came back. The atmosphere of the other runners and the thought of the challenge ahead brought my mood back to buoyant and I looked forward to running.

Stevie boy and myself around 18 miles in.

Stevie boy and myself around 18 miles in.

We met up at the start in Breadalbane park with Kevin, Greg, Tim and Ross and the banter began. Kevin and Greg would be competing in their first Ultra with Kev’s longest race to date having being some novelty race he called a “half marathon” or something along those lines. Their focus had been on this race and they had trained hard for it but it didn’t save them from savage ribbing! I am proud to say though that they both went on to have a storming day.

So with the skirl of the pipes we set off, 350 or so dafties trotting up Killin main street and into the woods. Using a bit of experience and savvy Stevie and I marched up some pretty steep hills only running the flats to save our legs for the miles ahead. It was a brutal start to the race but at mile four as the terrain changed to some flatter cycle track I got in to my stride and began enjoying the running and strangely was still in tow with Stevie. We chatted, ran and ate, crunching up the flat easy miles in sub 9 minute pace and were soon onto the road in to Balquhidder and the 13 mile mark. By now my legs were starting to tighten and I was struggling to keep hold of Stevie, it was also bouncing it down with rain and a funeral cortege passed me adding to my darkening mood, even the dead where travelling quicker!

I dug in and got back to Stevie and we walked a hill as I took in a gel that injected a bit of life. A great wee stop at check point 3 in which a lovely volunteer filled my water bladder as I faffed, put on a jacket and ate my weight in chocolate and shot blocks. I felt better and a glance at my watch showed us to be at 3 hours, a sub 6 hour finish was well on the cards which cheered me up no end as I didn’t think my legs and body had that left after a long hard season. So with my jacket on the rain obviously stopped and we hit the monster hill across the A85. Two miles of tramping up a never ending forestry track followed by the same down the other side and we were back on to the cycle track and on our way back in. I had a problem though, those shoes I had “broken in” with a six mile run 5 days before hand were a different brand than normal. I usually run in Asics but was giving Sketchers Ultras a go, great on the flat so far and really comfy but they had a wider toe box than I was used to and my big toes were slamming in to the front of the them on the steep down hills. I knew I was doing damage!

Doh, school boy error.

So we snaked up the switch back hill on the cycle track and hit the 26 mile mark around 4hrs 30ms and spied Kevin and Greg ahead of us. We tried to sneak up on them but Kevin turned round and saw us! I immediately felt sorry for him as when he seen us he was at that very moment struck down with cramp and twinges forcing him to grab his leg, limp, walk and make funny faces all at the same time. Greg? Well he just s**t himself. Quite literally actually as he set a course record of “visits to the woods” with four in one day!!!!

The boys were glad to see us and it gave us all a lift as we teased the next mile or so out together. Stevie’s pacing had been impeccable so far but I could no longer hold on and I slowly fell out the back of our wee group. Kevin and Greg fell to a similar fate a mile or so on as Stevie stretched away. I kept the other two around 50 – 100 metres ahead and at this stage thought my experience of grinding out the harder final miles would see me catch them. However a mixture of their fitter running legs and the fear of being caught by fat Pedro saw them hit the final down hill 4 miles before me. My toes were battered by now and I knew I had no chance of catching them so concentrated on keeping a decent pace with sub six hours still in my grasp.

Oops.

Oops.

A last wee push had me back in doing a sadistic loop of the park (whose idea was that!) to cross the line.

So after not really feeling the love in the run up I ended up having a great day, a finish of 5.49 and probably the best I have ever ran. Great pacing by Stevie really helped and being the uber athlete that he is I know that he could have pushed on at any point and I am grateful that he tolerated me so long!

All the guys had could times with Tim breaking five hours and then puking and Ross beating his previous effort. a special word of praise to Kevin and Greg though, first go at an ultra and a finish of 5.43 on a tough hilly course.

So thank you BaM racing team and your brilliant band of volunteers you host a great, friendly race in stunning countryside and all for a measly 22 quid! See you next year.

Kevin mocking me with a slow hand clap.

Kevin mocking me with a slow hand clap.