After I mucked my preparation up for Trail Marathon Wales, I really wanted to get some speed back into my legs. And so, shorter faster races are something I wanted to get my teeth into.
I’ve still got an Ultra in September, so I’m trying to keep the miles up and do speed work.
Ponderosa Fell race fitted with the plan of short and fast, without it being a road race, which I don’t really enjoy those at all. It’s organised by Wrexham Road Runners and draws runners from quite a wide area.
At 6.4km and 289m of ascent, it is a category BS fell race, and really is more of a hilly trail race. It’s a great place to start on fell running, or as I wanted something to go and really push myself on to get some focus on pace.
It starts at 7pm, and this year on a Wednesday, from the top of the Horseshoe Pass near Llangollen. The Ponderosa cafe car park is the starting point, so it’s easy to find and plenty of parking. Sadly the cafe wasn’t open, so there were no facilities to support the 100 or so people that this event attracts.
Registration done, the start is only a few hundred metres away on the vehicle access track to the aerials on top of the hill.
As with most fell races, the startline was informal and friendly, and the briefing quick and concise. With a quick “off you go” we were away, pretty much dead on 7pm.
The wide open track gave everyone a chance to settle into their stride, and find a place in the pack. This year, due to a bee hive or two, there was a short diversion off into the heather about two thirds of the way up the climb. This was all runnable, but very slow. Back out on to the track, for the final and steepest part of the climb to the aerial.
At this point I was breathing pretty hard, but felt ok. The marshalls ushered us right, round onto the single track path that descends slowly off to the right of the aerial. This section is very difficult to overtake on, with heather and small bushes keeping most runners fairly central. I was pushing my descent here, and normally where I’d try and recover downhill, I was keeping my breathing working hard.
After about 1.5km the track turns back alongside a barbed wire fence, on to initially, an even harder piece of trail to overtake on. This section is fast running, it slowly widens and heather gives way to bracken, the narrow rut gives way to a grass path and the running is technically easier. There are a few soft pieces of trail, no more than 10 metres in length, where some commitment can give a chance to overtake. I’d imagine if this was run after heavy rain, this section would be incredibly boggy! There is one very narrow section where I sheep has eroded a sleeping place, definitely need to stay right here! This soft section ends at a small stream crossing.
A very short climb puts you onto some slightly broader trail, without the cross slope. This winds and undulates over to where the race joins the Clwydian way. This is a very firm track, and really enjoyable running. That has a couple of lovely descents that are lots of fun, and justify the climb at the beginning.
This ends where the path passes a house, with a small bridge, and the route briefly joins tarmac before the final climb to the finish. This section is the wettest, and most deceptive part of the race. It is 500m long with about 90m of climb. I was blowing hard and trying to stay running, but failed at two points. One chap stopped for a messy vomit, and I managed to keep working hard to run in to the finish.
The results take a while to come out, so I will update when they’re released, but I was definitely over 30 minutes.
The finish line was friendly, with water and category wins getting bottles of wine. There had been a few bee stings, and some quite epic stories around that, especially Lucie, for which this was the first club run. The newest member of Meirionnydd, Rachael) managed to land first senior lady.
Back to the car park for a Meirionnydd Running Club #runfie and iced bun (Thanks Sandra!) before the drive home.
A massive thanks to the organiser and all the marshalls who put the race on, it’s terrific.
If you’re thinking about a first time mid week fell race in North Wales for next year, Ponderosa should be on your list.
I always look forward to the clocks going back, it means its the weekend of the Original Mountain Marathon (used to be call the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon).
The event moves around various mountainous parts of the UK and is a 2 day race for teams of 2 runners. The teams have to carry everything with them (tent, sleeping bag, cooker, food and various mandatory kit). The race has a range of different classes. Elite, A, B, C and D class follow a preset route along “controls”. These controls are small orange and white cubes of material about 40cm off the ground and are often hidden from view. They have to be “dibbed” with a little wrist worn dibber. When you put the dibber in the hole at the control it logs the time that you check into the control point. On these classes the fastest from start to finish is the winner.
There are three other classes that are ‘score’ classes. These classes have points assigned to each control. Each control has a different value. The classes have a set time on day 1 and an hour less on day 2. The winner is the team that collects the most points over the two days. Navigation and time keeping is critical. The highest points on a control is 40, and runners get 2 points deducted for every minute they’re late to the finish control.
Oh, the other thing is that you only get the map, marked up with the controls for that day, 1 minute before you cross the start line.
I run with a local and very good friend Jeremy, we enjoy the short score class and we do it for fun, not to be super competitive. This means 5 hours on day one and 4 hours on day 2.
This year the OMM was in the Brecon Beacons. This meant that the journey for Jeremy and I wasn’t too onerous. We left home at 1730 and after driving down, buying a few bits and bobs, had some food and faffed a good bit we were at race HQ at 2030.
The car parking was on a big wet field and even as we were parking a few cars were getting bogged down. HQ is a big barn, first job is to register, which means getting the dibber attached to the wrist of one of the runners-me this weekend. A quick look round the shop inside, buy some gas for the cooker, have a quick beer and a natter before getting some sleep.
Jez and I knew our start time was 0906 on day 1 and 0851 on day 2. We have a bit of a sort out of kit-splitting the tent up, sharing out our food and packing everything down. The nights sleep was reasonable, and we were up to get breakfast and hit the toilets before it got too busy.
The start was about 3km from the car park so we set off through the forestry and wound our way up to the start area. A few people milling around and a chance to chat with the course setter who assured us the layout would be plenty challenging this year. The weather forecast was ominous and the streams in the area were already high, with some being un-crossable. We had arrived 9 minutes before time, and at 0903 we are called forward. At the first line, the dibber number is checked in against the correct start time. A minute later move through to the check control to ensure the dibber is registering. A minute later we’re handed the days map and we’re stood on the start line. One compulsory control about 750m from the finish. But the finish is only 5 km away? That’s unusual. Normally the finish would be a distance away with the controls laid out spread across the route. Jez and I are talking about where we’re going as the start horn goes.
We’ve about 1.5 km down a channel with out of bounds either side. We’re run/walking in the steady rain whilst talking about which way we’re going to get points. We get to the control at the edge of the out of bounds channel. We’ve now got the whole of the Black Mountain range in front of us and some tricky decisions to make. Picking controls is a compromise between picking easy to run terrain, easy navigation (!) and enough points to make it worthwhile slogging some big hills.
The event maps are 1:40000 which I only use once a year and so the second control takes me a little while to judge. But we hit it after being about 100m away on the way in. I’m checking my now ancient Suunto Vector watch for height and time and working off a dead reckoning bearing. We’ve made good distance in the first hour so we agree to change our route and go for some more points. A hard pull over a ridge sends us towards a control that is Waterfall (E). This is the big waterfall on the Haffes, a mountain river that gets kayaked in big water. Although it’s a long leg, my nav is spot on and we hit the control directly on the opposite bank of the river… a few metres upstream and then splash across and dib. Thankfully the rain has stopped and though the wind is high it’s quite nice. Now for a really long leg to get a 40 pointer and a long way South. The area is full of rock, sinkholes and featureless terrain. We work hard to get south and I realise we’re drifting a little East of where the control should be. I’m planning to run through a saddle and then contour off West at the right height to hit the control. Hmmm over shot a little in finding the saddle, this means I now knew that the control was behind to our right. A quick turn round and gain some higher ground. We’re too far away from home to spend ages looking for this. Jez and I agree we’ve got no more than 5 minutes to get this one. With about 30 seconds left on the clock, I spot the orange and white material I’m after and I rush over and touch in.
Now it’s a dash North collecting as many controls as we can on the way to the finish. There have been literally no paths, really wild running and the going has been slow through tussock grass, broken rock and marshy land, but suddenly we’re on sheep grazed firmer land. This is now nearly pleasant to run on…passed the wreckage of a crashed airplane, then a series of river crossings and a climb up on to Fan Brycheiniog. From this control there IS a path, and a few teams are visible on it. However, we decide that if we straightline the descent we can get another control comfortably on the way into the finish. It works out and 25 minutes later we run under a finish line frame being held up by volunteers-it’d had just been blown over in the wind.
Down to the download area where all the information get’s sucked off the dibber. This show’s us we’re without penalties and scored 240 points (out of a possible 500). We scoot into the camping field and manage to get the last flatish piece of sheltered land,,we’re probably the 20th team in and there are lots to come so we’re pretty lucky. Time to fill some freezer bags with water to save getting up and down and get into some clean dry clothes. Because we’re travelling lightish, the only way to have warm dry feet with wet minging fell shoes is to switch to dry sock, ram these into freezer bags and then back in the shoes. We start boiling water, have a cup of tea, rehydrating food and letting the legs rest a bit. The rain and wind come back with a vengeance and we’re pleased to be dry and warm and getting food. There are a lot of runners still on the hill and we can hear some terrific volunteers encouraging them down to download in increasingly more worried tones. As the hours pass the message changes from a cheery “well done, download is only 2 minutes away” to “download is 60 seconds away” to a fairly concerned “are you ok?”.
Jeremy and I have a rule, that we go as light as we can without spoiling our enjoyment of the weekend. So after our rehydrated plap we break out our Wensleydale and Cranberry cheese and some oat crackers. A nearby tent guffaws as Jeremy says “Do you want to have a go at the 12 year old or the 15 year old first?”-I’ve already got the 18 year old between my legs, warming up. As well as the cheese we’d got some miniature single malts. I can’t think how it sounded from outside!
We spend the next few hours talking rubbish as only boys in a tent can.
There is a quick break in the rain at 9pm and I shoot down to look at the results and start times. We’d done pretty well and from 151 starting teams in our class, finished the day 25th. This meant we were issued a new start time of 0751. This was great, it meant we might get home before the big weather front was due in!
A reasonable nights sleep came and went, some heavy rain, some thunder and lightning and some big blustery gusts meaning sleep was even harder. The tent we use is a 1+ man tent, so for Jez and I it means a good bit of coziness. The informal spoon only broken when a hip seizes or a calf cramps.
An enormous thunderclap wakes us at 0545 (now GMT after the clocks change) and so I get on with boiling water for porridge and tea. We shovel that down, get the toileting over and done with-the portaloos are pretty horrific and start breaking camp.
The rain is coming and going and the wind is much stronger than the previous day. We get everything squared away and we head down to the start area.
The same process is about to happen, 3 minutes to go. A lot of the nights conversation had been whether we were going to be able to get off the car park, and whether we really wanted to be car 400 of 800 cars being towed out one by one. Jez needs to be at an airport early doors on Monday so sitting in a car park for 12 hours waiting for a tractor wasn’t going to happen. We’d agreed we’d see what the course looked like, but we certainly didn’t want to be on the course for ages.
The Southerly wind and heavy rain meant that working back over the Black Mountains was going to be a big ask. Jeremy had rolled his ankle and his calves were a bit “tweaky” after last weekends dualthlon. The first climb took me a while to find my rhythm and Jez was definitely suffering. We were looking to do a loop of about 160 points and get to the finish ASAP.
The second long climb was straight into really strong wind, it was cooling down as well, this front was arriving sooner than expected. The nav was spot on and we hit every control we wanted. We turned back under the escarpment of the Black Mountains to be blown in 3 metre strides down the hill with hail pinging off our hoods. Pretty fun, but also not without risks!
We blast our way across some soggy mush, with both of us falling up to our waists in bog holes. We’re tiring and making mistakes. We discuss whether we can get a 30 pointer off to the North but both agree our legs don’t have the power to do that and get back early. We climb to 600m, grab the penultimate control and then start the best descent of the event (for me) down to the finish. Mucky, soft runnable hillside, then down a piece of forestry track, then picking a route in and out of the trees down to the finish.
Over the finish line, dib out, then Jez and I have a lovely hug, and then make our way to download. We’re the 6th team in and we know our position will change loads as the other teams come in over the next few hours.
Our plan is to down the free soup on the way back to the car park, get off the field and find a layby to change in. We made it about 30 feet before the front wheels buried themselves. The farmer came over in his tractor and gently pulled us out to the tarmac…he was going to have a long afternoon and night ahead of him!
The results were published later; despite taking nearly an hour less than those around us we’d finished Day 2 in 20th position. This meant we’d scored 405 points in 7hrs and 51 minutes, good enough for 26th overall. To compare 25th place had scored 406 points in 8hrs 48 minutes.
The winning team scored 535 points in 8hr 18mins, so there was some epic running out there in really tough conditions. Full results are here
A brilliant weekend!
We’d planned to do more filming, but the only footage worth sharing is here and the commentary is good from Jez.
I was supposed to be racing down in Oxfordshire this Saturday. By Friday evening I really didn’t fancy the 7 hour round trip in the car and the forecast looked like it would be the last day of summer.
It looked like it should be a hill day not to be missed.
Saturday morning, I organised my kit as if it were going to be a long, fast but light day in the hills. The Rhinogydd traverse is a trip of two halves. The northern section, down as far as y Llethyr is a rocky formation of Greywackes, I’ve only really had a couple of trips into this area and knew it was hard going. I was expecting the final run down from the southern Diffwys (there are two on the ridge) to be quicker as the hills become rounded and less steep.
The area of the Harlech Dome is noted as one of the most remote areas in England and Wales, it’s also tricky to navigate through some of the clefts in the rock and featureless plateaus. Fortunately there are several escape routes, east and west, I just hoped I wouldn’t need them.
I parked on the southern shore of Llyn Trawsfynydd and quickly the lack of footfall is really apparent.
Bridges are makeshift and the drainage areas really wet, I was soon knee deep in bog, but the ambient air temperature was good and the sun warm.
Suddenly, the terrain changes from bogland to crags, and big sedimntary rock highways. Route finding means lots of referring back to the map, and picking the best line in front of you. I really relish this kind of terrain, though my speed over the ground became much slower. Some of the quickest route means that hands are needed for ascent and descent. Without exposure generally, but straight line scrambles up good quality rock. The west facing crevices still held cooler air from over night, just as a spectacle wearer fogs up when they come in from the cold, quite a few of the pockets of cold air had me momentarily swirling in my own sweaty steam.
Climbing out of one of the deeper clefts on Craig Wion I heard some male Grouse in the distance. Coming out onto a rock shelf a few minutes later I spooked a couple of groups of male and female Grouse. After watching them briefly I crossed the ground towards my favourite wild swimming spot – Llyn Morwynion.
Llyn Morwynion is nestled in some lovely angled rock that warms up nicely in the sun. It is a really nice spot to swim with amazing views over Tremadog Bay. No chance for this today though, I contoured round quite quickly to Llyn Du, anxious to get the crossing from Rhinog Fawr to Rhinog Fach under my belt.
The going here eases for a bit, mainly due to the number of people coming up from Cwm Bychan via the Roman Steps bashing a cleaner path. As I was moving quicker I caught a goaty whiff. The smell of goat is unmistakable and I dropped onto a track following a small herd of these wild chaps. A few kids and a big, but young looking Billy.
At Llyn Du I stopped for some electrolyte, a power bar and a quick refill of water from the outflow of the lake. I was disappointed to see, in this wild place especially, a laminated card with a rock wrapped in yellow insulating tape. A charity walk was coming through and the card (A4 sized) asked that it shouldn’t be removed. I feel strongly that if this is needed then organised events shouldn’t send people into such wild areas without the appropriate skills.
Llyn Du to the summit of Rhinog Fawr is straight forward, and on the summit I was rewarded with the best view of the day. From Bardsey Island, right round to Pembrokeshire the view was immense. The next section down to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy held some trepedation for me. On my last trip through here, with my friend Jeremy, he had a tumble on some of the boulders above the scree. Fortunately apart from being shaken, some scrapes and a badly scratched watch he was ok. I was pretty clear the consequences of me having a similar fall would be much worse, I headed off the summit in a south west direction finding some shelves along which I could lose height. After a brief encounter with a large Billy Goat who had a slight limp, who I wondered whether he had lost his alpha male status in the herd I saw earlier, I made it down to the valley floor without any problem. I climbed from here to Llyn Hywel.
Llyn Hywel is one of my favourite places in the UK. It’s a really protected wild spot, a great place for a camp, it gets the evening sun nicely and again the rock slabs stay nice and warm and have a lot of grip.
Looking across to the Slabs of Y Llethyr I contoured briefly around the western side of the lake before scrambling up the gorgeous rock. When I reached the path from y Llethyr I came across my first ” walkers”. I was really looking forward to the running getting easier and the navigation along this section to Barmouth is easy… it’s always the highest point along the ridge you’re looking for and in the visibility this was a pleasure.
Some energy gel and water on the go whilst crossing the flatter area near Llyn Dulyn were needed. The wall along here always makes me think of the Great Wall of China, just a bit smaller. A small pull up onto Diffwys meant the last of the big climbs and some great views of Cadair Idris and Mawddach Estuary open up.
The next part of the ridge is quick, and soon I was crossing Bwlch y Rhiwgyr. It made me think briefly of Pete Bursnall, I suspect his guidebook “North Wales (Mountain Bike Guide) 2nd edition” was being launched at that very moment at Plas y Brenin. One of the routes crosses through this wild place and I know it was one of Pete’s favourite places. I’m sure he would have forgiven me making the best of a fantastic hill day.
From here I only knew the route from one trip more than a decade ago. Coming to Bwlch Cwmmaria I descended with the stone wall to join the new “Ardudwy Way”. This meant I could pick the pace up on good trails. Winding down past Barmouth Slabs, no one climbing, I could start to think about the ice cream. A quick diversion to Frenchmans Grave to take a picture of the beach.
A quck check of the phone told me that my wife was on the beach whilst two daughters were skinny dipping. So wandering across the beach I was greeted by two little girls who had a good monster party before we all sat down for an ice cream before I got a welcome lift back to pick up my van.
A great day in a really special place. Quite slow to begin with but picking up later on brought back an almost respectable pace.
To be honest, it was so much better than the M54, M6, M42 and M40 I wasn’t too bothered with the time!
Work has been cycling up with a good bit on recently, the World Cup in Cardiff that starts tomorrow is taking everyone’s time up, but it is an amazing event to have in Wales. I had a break from my normal job, last week with the Mawddach Paddlefest. It’s really good to see so many happy faces on the water. And the weather came good, with the wind dying out on Sunday for some stand up paddleboard action.
The chart above shows the big dip in hours spent training since tearing my calf muscle. I’ve taken my eye off the challenge of 2012 miles in 2012. So I thought that as the end of a month has passed, I should have a quick check of how far behind I am. Whilst I’ve been doing my rehab, I haven’t been logging my miles too diligently, but I’m at 493miles so far. That means I need to fire some miles out over the next few months, while the weather is good to stand any chance of getting there.
Silly things like minor injuries are a real annoyance, but the don’t stop me getting out.
Got to do something about my old, badly fitting trail shoes!
I’ve had a another go at putting some running footage together, definitely got some things right, but also got more to learn. On the plus side, I like the fade across big areas, and I like that I’ve cut the time down. On the bad side, I don’t like that the render changes the frame size when panning and zooming. Also hadn’t realised that the copyright on some music tracks means that YouTube won’t deliver the clip to mobile devices.
However the clip looks, it was a nice day to be in the hills, first day of the year for me when a vest and shorts was plenty all the way to the top and back. It was actually much harder to get the footage on the hill as it was, in effect, a really long, hard, set of hill intervals.
Looking forwards to Trail Marathon Wales in 3 weeks.
Well, I feel like I haven’t updated recently enough here. After today I’ve got heaps to say, but I’m going to break it up into a number of posts.
I’ve spent the week watching a high pressure building and really wanted to get out for a run in the hills. Before my calf strain I’d been doing lots of training sessions but not really enjoying my running. I’ve decided it was more important to enjoy the run.
So this morning I woke early and headed out. From the house I look at a sky line of the Cader Idris range, and this morning I’m heading for that skyline. The ascent profile looks like thisIt’s an old friend, this route, views opening, paths unwinding without the need to think too hard. Technically challenging running, my favourite romp across a moorland plateau and enough climb and distance to really clear my lungs and legs.
The sun is low and warm giving beautiful relief on the hills.
Climbing out of a shaded Dolgellau is lovely, racing up the contours as the sun comes rushing down the hillsides quickly letting me chase my own long shadow.
I love that this end of Cader is hardly ever visited, it means that I often see mountain wildlife that is harder to spot on the Western end. This morning is no different. Just on the final pull onto Gau Craig I spotted a couple of Black Grouse scuttling into the heater and minutes later a Hare bounds across my path, zig zagging to confuse me. No chance I am going to catch it though.
Then onto the long plateau towards the base of Mynydd Moel, a stunning place, the Tarrens close, Plymlimon in the distance to the South. The Arrans behind, The Rhinogs just to the North, Rhobell Fawr alone. A great place.
Into the hardest climb of the route, the steep path onto Mynydd Moel. Lungs definitely working hard, my heart thumping in my ears and my legs running along the pleasure/pain barrier of lactic production. The gradient eases as 820m passes, a quick glance over your shoulder as you cross the summit shows you Llyn Cynwch (Precipice Walk) at an unusual angle. Behind this is the square blocks of Trawsfynnydd power station reflecting sun off its flat sides. Then moving west, suddenly Pencoed Pillar appears, then Penygadair, the main peak of Cader Idris appears. Frost and icy puddles still sit in the shadows behind rocks and ridges. This morning whisps of cloud are being blown South over the lowest part of this ridge and in my shorts and light shirt I’m keen to keep moving.
This crossing from Mynydd Moel to Penygadair is quick, I pass the summit hut just before 0700, quickly recalibrate my watch for altitude, and then off the other side. This bit is a bridleway and I unusually spot a mountain bike tyre print. I think about work momentarily, the white paper on the change in definition of Rights of Way. My mind wanders to memories of Pete Burnsall for a few seconds before edging over to Cyfwry and the beautiful lollop down to join the Pony Path at Rhiw Gwerdydd. I have mixed feelings about the path improvements here, but I follow them to try and do my bit to prevent any further degradation of the hill side through heavy use.
The terrain gets easier, the pace increases and quickly you arrive at Ty Nant. From here I head through the car park that most people access the hill from and follow a footpath that goes round the back of Llyn Gwernan, through some woodland and then rejoin the Cader Road for a nicely sloped run into Dolgellau.
Dolgellau, now bathed in sun, is slowly waking up, I run through the small back lanes down to the main bridge. Now feeling hungry and a bit tired but still quite springy. Time to go home, have breakfast and spend time with the kids.