The Paddy Buckley Round is a fell running challenge in Snowdonia that is considered to be the toughest of the established rounds in the UK.
It's route covers a distance of approximately 100km/62 miles, has over 9,000m/29,000ft of elevation and summits 47 mountains in the national park.
I'm often asked by people outside the fell running world, why I want to try these silly things!?! Understandable question I suppose! Given that it requires a massive amount of training, commitment, time away from family and friends, and more often than not, comes to a point where there is a considerable amount of pain to tolerate.
Every fell runner will have different reasons for participating in this beautiful sport but I like to think mine are quite simple...
Adventure - I don't treat my running as a chore, training (unless it's hill repeats up the face of the Blorenge!) or even a sport really. It's all about exploring nature and going on big adventures in the mountains. It's amazing how even the same routes on the same mountains can offer unlimited different experiences.
Health - Needless to say, running is a great way to stay fit and healthy. However, it's also massively underrated in its ability to improve your mental health, especially when practiced out in nature.
Why the Paddy Buckley? North Wales is a place very special to me. As a young adult, it's where me and the boys started buggering off on camping, hiking and drinking adventures (mainly drinking). While the other 'Jolly Boys' clearly weren't as inspired by the landscape, it sparked a desire to explore the mountains and ended up defining my adult life.
Back to the round... The Paddy Buckley crosses the Glyders, Caerneddau, Moelwyns, Hebogs and Snowdon mountain ranges, essentially linking up most of the summits in the northern half of the national park. A perfect route to pay my respects to the place that started me on my path of outdoor adventures.
The round itself, can be attempted in either direction, starting at any point on the route and has no set time to finish, providing it is completed in one continuous effort. Less than 200 people have completed the Paddy Buckley in under 24 hours, so I knew going in, my goal of 23.30 was a big ask.
Even after my attempt, I feel my training was pretty good. Over the last 5 years I've completed countless mountain ultras, solo big days, plus I can look after myself in the mountains. I put a lot of focus on upping my elevation in preparation for this. The distance is something I've done a couple of times, but the elevation is significantly more than the 5,000m of climbing I did on my Black Mountains Round. The fact I'm sat back in camp with no notable injuries or niggles says to me that I trained fairly well.
I decided to make my attempt clockwise, starting in Llanberis at 3.00am. My thinking was, that I could get the more technical scrambly sections of the Glyders done on fresh legs, in the dark, before the crowds appeared for their Adam and Eve selfies. I should then have had enough daylight to get through the Caerneddau, Moelwyns and part of the Hebogs before finishing back in the dark over Snowdon (again missing the tourists) and back to Llanberis.
My alarm went off at 1.15am, I'd been dosing on and off since 7pm that evening, but probably only managed a couple of hours of solid sleep. After some breakfast and a final check of kit at the tent, I wandered out of camp to meet my good friend Jamie waiting in the layby in Beddgelert.
Jamie agreed to run leg 1 & 2 with me and then join again to see me home on the final leg 5.
Nicola, the kids and the dog were due to be on road crossing duties to refill my food and drink supplies for most of the round.
We started in the dark at 3am from Llanberis, heading straight up through the slate quarry and out onto the hill. The steep start got the heart rate elevated nice and early, meaning I could sit comfy in shorts, a baselayer and a single pair of gloves. Anyone that runs with me knows I can easily have 4 pairs on in fairly mild weather!
We reached the first summit of Elidr Fach in good time
and started motoring across the rocky Glyderau. It was a clear night, so navigation was fairly straight forward, even in the dark. The sun started to rise as we got to Glyder Fach and we were treated to an incredible blood red sky. Still on track for the 4 hours I had allowed for the leg, we head down the scree slope to the bwlch before heading up Tryfan.
Jamie opted to hang low of the summit to conserve energy for later support, while I hit the top and carried straight on for the descent. As it transpired, Jamie had been feeling rough before we even started, but didn't want to let on in case it had an impact on my attempt.
I ticked the 8 summits of the Glyderau off with no drama until descending Tryfan. I'm always a slow descender, and I finally reached the valley floor having lost 10 minutes on my schedule.
We were met at Ogwen by two locals from the Hebog Fell Club. My colleague Sian, another local, and incredible runner herself had rallied the troops! Jamie and I were joined by Gonks and Dylan for the 2nd leg over the Caerneddau range. I felt really strong, the climbing in the area is steep and sustained which seems to suit my style.
We motored through the 5 summits on the Caerneddau in great time, but lost Jamie who bailed out to the support point early to conserve energy for joining me on the final leg. The temperature had risen significantly, meaning I ran out of water fairly quickly, but managed to shave 40 minutes off of my allowance for leg 2, putting me half hour ahead of schedule at the end of the leg.
At Capel Curig, I had a restock of food and drink from team Mahoney, only stopping for 5 minutes before heading off to start the notoriously long, boggy and challenging Moelwyn leg.
For the first half, I was joined by my friend and colleague, Sian and a friend of hers, who is training for the UTS. Her local knowledge of the area made everything so much easier, allowing me to switch off, enjoy the view and keep moving. Many of the summits on this section are tiny ring contours, that could easily be missed without paying proper attention to the map and route.
The heat was unreal, with hardly a breath of wind, meaning I yet again, ran out of water quickly. Luckily, there was ample opportunity to pick up water from lakes on the route, using my filter bottle, otherwise it would have been game over already!
Sian and her friend said "Hwyl Fawr" after the 6th summit of the leg, leaving me for the first time of the day, alone to power on.
The running over the next section was phenomenal (apart from the couple of knee deep bogs I found myself being drawn towards). Rolling hills and epic views of the entire national park had me feeling invincible. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would complete the round.
The weather was due to deteriorate dramatically later in the evening. I had a plan. Motor on through the Moelwyns, get stuck into leg 4 on the Hebogs, get your waterproofs and headtorch on, head down, see it through.
I made it through to the final 3 summits of the Moelwyn leg, making steady progress up Moelwyn Bach before turning back on myself to the bwlch the head of Moelwyn Mawr. In an instant, the visibility disappeared. The wind grew, the temperature dropped and the heavens opened.
It caught me completely off guard. I have no idea why I had that mentality. My mantra in the mountains is always that the weather can change in an instant, and weather reports can be wrong.
I had all of my kit with me as always, so from a safety perspective, it wasn't an issue. I stopped to put my waterproof jacket on, hit the summit of Moelwyn Mawr and started heading off for Cnicht.
I brought my plan forward, head down, motor on. But I missed one vital part of the strategy. Eat.
Being an ex fatty, I'm incredibly good at fuelling on long runs. Long after everyone else is off their food, I can continue munching.
Before I knew it, I'd gone the best part of 3 hours without eating anything.
I made the summit of Cnicht and the weather deteriorated further. I found a spot to put my waterproof bottoms and a 2nd set of gloves on, and started heading off.
Something didn't feel right. It took me a couple of minutes before I clocked that I was heading the wrong way off the mountain.
I then traversed around to meet with the main track, which turned out to be incredibly energy sapping. As great as my trainers had been all day in the mud, bogs and rocks, they were not doing great on the wet, slippery, rocky terrain I found myself on now. Then started the bum shuffling. Quickly followed by the grumbling to myself and getting angry at my stupidity. Likely all down to the fact I had let me nutrition slip.
By the time I dragged myself off of Cnicht and to the end of leg 3 at the support point, I was 50 minutes behind my overall schedule.
Knowing I'd be spending at least another 6 hours in the dark, in the torrential rain, alone, before I had company for the last leg put the final nail in the coffin. Towel in. Time for beer.
I decided that I didn't want to complete the round for the sake of it. I wanted to enjoy the experience, finishing back in Llanberis in a time I was proud of, having given it my all.
As it transpired, after quitting, I found out that Nicola and the kids had an adventure of their own.
Some lovely soul refused to move over in their vehicle, sending them into the verge and smashing up the front passenger wheel of the van. Luckily no one hurt, but massive drama with 2 children, a puppy and no signal. Some lovely locals came to the rescue thankfully.
So, the learning from my first attempt at the Paddy Buckley:
1. My physical training was more than sufficient, the route direction and starting point/time works for me and I'm capable of completing the round.
2. I need to spend more time on technical descents to minimise impact on legs and stop wasting precious minutes by improving my technique.
3. Eat little and often. Duh!
4. Stay hydrated. Double Duh!
5. Don't completely base your plan on how you think the weather is going to play out. Remain vigilant that it could change for the better or worse at any time.
6. The mountains are awesome. I'll be back many times in my life time to do this route and support others in doing so.
7. My family and friends are awesome for supporting me in these adventures.
Until the next big one.
Total distance: 71.4km Total elevation: 5,752m Total Time Out: 15hrs 58mins Summits: 26
Strava link: https://strava.app.link/3hi0m18mkpb