My first 50 km run

No pictures for this one, just words.

I'm very pleased with myself, I've just finished my first ever 50km run. That means I'm an ultra runner. Get me!

What makes it more important to me is that it has been part of a bigger challenge. On Strava, a sort of virtual leaderboard logging thing, there is a challenge to run 50 miles between Christmas Eve and New Year. Excuse the mixed measurements, Strava is American. (50 miles is about 80km).

So, as of this morning I'd run 89 km in four runs. No tapering, no special preparation, today needed to be a good solid 50km with a 6kg pack.

This all started 361 days ago when Pete passed away. I vowed to do something, that something was run the toughest foot race in the world- Marathon des Sable. This time last year, I was a sporadic runner. I'd done a bit but at 92kg and most of my body strength being upper body, running 250 km in 6 days across the Sahara was/is a massive challenge.

Just to capture how today went, I want to write the key points in words. It feels like a massive achievement and I want to be able to look back on it.

Breakfast, 2 weetabix. Orange juice. Fruit Tea.

Decide to run something long, grab a protein shake.

Look out the window, bright, high, broken cloud. Start packing a rucsac.

Get kitted up, compression socks on. I hate them, but they work so well. Start to think about a 50km run. Leave a note to the effect that I'll be back in 5 ish hours and a rough route. Decide to run out of Dolgellau and see how I feel. Tight calves from the mileage after Christmas-swallow two Ibruprofen. Stretch.

Head out, warm up slowly. Wind through Dolgellau, concentrating on how everything feels. Climb the back road to Tabor.

After about a quarter of the climb my calves are screaming at me. Running isn't an option. Too much discomfort. Try and box up the negative thoughts. Get to the top of the climb. Lengthen my stride, the pain stops a bit.

Start thinking about random stuff as I turn on to Lon Las 8 towards the top of the Tal y Llyn pass. Everything still aches, adductors, glutes, calves. But they're warming up.

Over the top of the pass. Wind buffeting through. Enough to make me lean into the gusts. I want to be at Minffordd around an hour in. 12 km. I cross the stream on the minor road behind the lake. Lots of water. Wonder whether road shoes were the right choice.

Grab a banana and 250ml of water. Keep running, things feeling looser. Running towards the road over the top of Abergynolwyn (literally mouth of the river with a whirlpool). Joined by a Red Kite for a few hundred metres. I'm lost in watching the effortless flight.

Desperate for a wee. Stop briefly. Then run again. Easy running passed the confluence of the Cadair. Towards Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock). The arete climbed by Bonnington looking great. Slow for a walk at 2hrs and 20mins, grab some more Ibruprofen, sort out a ruck in my sock, fart around with my top thats rubbing. Eat an energy bar, drink some more water. After 5 mins of faffing, start running on to the base of Ffordd Ddu.

Lots of flooding near the EA gravel extraction yard. Water high enough that the small playwave local paddlers use is washed out. Running is easy, heart rate is relaxed.

Turn onto Ffordd Ddu. I know I've got 400m of ascent here. Head down, slow down, try and grind it out. Remind myself this is about a long run. Set walks from shadow to shadow and then pick a run about 5 times that length. Get to the sheepfold at the top of the tarmac. Run round the “Road Closed” sign. Enjoy the run down to the hairpin losing 50m over about 2km. Cattle grid totally flooded.

Decide that I'm going to run to the high point from here. Legs feeling a bit full of lactic. Know that this will clear at the top.

Cross the high gate overlooking Barmouth. Take a picture, bung it on Instagram. 34.5km. Is it 15.5km home form here? Quick “t'in iawn” to a farmer involved in a hunt as the track descends.

Picking my way through the washout that has closed the road. Onto the flat by the memorial plaque. Catch some walkers by some diggers who have mashed the track. Turn down the steepest bit. Legs feeling awesome, grab my last energy bar and a good slug of water.

Hit the tarmac. Check the distance. Not going to be 50km straight home. Briefly think about accepting less than the target distance.

The run down Cader road is like being on a flying carpet. Everything loose and really easy. Into the 30mph zone, this could be final approach. Turn sharp left towards Barmouth. Stacking for landing.

Finding miles. Nearly enjoying it. Onto the old road in to Dolgellau. Back towards home. Not fast, but comfortable.

I think I've judged the distance right. No finishing line. Just need the watch to click over to 50km. The bottom of my hill. 195m to go. Awesome.

Home. Stretch. Eat. Shower. Whack the Chicken in the oven to roast.

Have a look at Strava. 25th out of 1194 runners in the world on the 50 mile challenge between Christmas and New Year. 1st in the UK, 1st in weight category. 139.5km run with 2950m of ascent.

Day 1 of base mile blast for total miles in January? 1st of 4739. That'll change when I'm back at work. But a good feeling none the less.

Should I blog?

Write the blog. Think of Pete. Thanks mate.

Adventure biking in the Dyfi

After riding some new routes around the area 18months ago, I was keen to get back and ride them in better weather. When Pete took me out ‘prospecting’ the weather was never a consideration, but good conditions make such a difference to riding off the beaten path.

Andy Braund, the mountain bike ranger in the Coed y Brenin area joined me for what I was sure would be a route I could remember.

We both left home in good conditions before meeting in Aberangell to faff our way on to the first climb. Unfortunately for Andy getting changed was a bit of a busmans holiday as we were asked by a bunch of off road motocyclists about where the “park” was. Illegal off road riding is a major issue in the area, partly due to the history of the forest being involved with lots of motorsport events, and partly because it is an uninhabited, attractive place to ride.

Dark clouds built as we got ready to leave, and after a few hundred metres the rain started to fall. There isn’t much chance to warm up before climbing off the valley floor and up a tarmac road that becomes a farm track that becomes open farmland. We were chatting away about heaps of stuff, so much that Andy forgot to turn his Garmin on.

At the top of the climb we joined a track that Andy recognised from the Dyfi Enduro and we went onto the first descent of the day. I picked up my first ‘off’ here as I was trying to remember the route not noticing some off camber strata that in the wet was happy to tuck my front wheel. The next section started to steepen with some riding, that in the dry would be quick and airy. A quick navovation stop to check where the bridleway went, before following a fire trail to a dead end and a puncture (mine). A quick tube change, chat about public sector mergers and the fact it stopped raining before a good half hour hunt the bridleway session. As with a lot of Rights of Way in remote areas, what is on the map isn’t what is on the ground. Eventually we decided to chase fire roads and climbed up and out of the forest on a lovely track across high moorland.

Before heading down the contours we had a quick chat about previous lives over a muesli bar. This next descent is a hidden gem, and is exactly my kind of riding. By the end of this track Andy and I were level pegging on the falling off stakes. Cross the Dulas before a short climb on tar to get back in the forest. Climbing up on fire road, I threw Pete’s gauntlet down, a technical singletrack climb that Pete hadn’t “cleaned”. Andy took a run up, but changing cross cambers and steep gradient soon claimed a bit of walking. The top of this climb resulted in another missing bridleway, but we were wise to this and span round, to meet the other end, on a fire road.

A piece of single track, no more than two tyre widths leads steeply downhill from here. This section, if you have the right head on, is the most giggles per metre of the route. Lots of offs, lots of slides, lots of axle deep ruts. After some bushwhacking and a seriously steep (unrideable for us) rock drop off at the end we regained a fire road. As we started to freewheel we started talking about the cut shins we were sporting, and how that used to be the mark of a biker in the 90’s. A bit different to todays groomed trails.

I got two recommendations-do the Dyfi Enduro, and join Strava. I’ve done one we’ll see about thenother!

A great day out, not quality mountain biking in terms of speed, but it is exactly the sort of adventurous biking that lead to the development of trail centres. We both enjoyed doing something different, getting back into to groove of navigating rather than following posts and just enjoying a ride in a stunning area.

Really, really looking forward to seeing Pete’s guidebook in print, routes like these are special, and should be shared!

£7 a day = £1000 on race day, please donate

Smoking causes cancer. So does sun damage to your skin, but in the UK we can be pretty apathetic about it. You probably know what you should do, but do you do it? Do you know what the tell tale signs you're looking for? Melanoma takes lives, great lives and yet there is so little money focussed soley on research and education. When I run the Trail Marathon in Coed y Brenin on 23rd June I'd like to have raised a minimum of £1000 for the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. Please, please take the time to donate today, I need £7 donated each day between now and race day. So whatever you can donate will make a massive difference in the UK. As of today most of the money donated to me is from ex-pats now living abroad who understand the need for this. Don't Melanoma stay a secret in the UK, or when it is diagnosed lets have more resources to beat it. https://www.justgiving.com/Ashley-Charlwood
Smoking causes cancer. So does sun damage to your skin, but in the UK we can be pretty apathetic about it. You probably know what you should do, but do you do it? Do you know what the tell tale signs you’re looking for? Melanoma takes lives, great lives and yet there is so little money focussed soley on research and education. When I run the Trail Marathon in Coed y Brenin on 23rd June I’d like to have raised a minimum of £1000 for the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. Please, please take the time to donate today, I need £7 donated each day between now and race day. So whatever you can donate will make a massive difference in the UK. As of today most of the money donated to me is from ex-pats now living abroad who understand the need for this. Don’t Melanoma stay a secret in the UK, or when it is diagnosed lets have more resources to beat it. https://www.justgiving.com/Ashley-Charlwood

Pete Bursnall (1966-2012)

I was one of a large group of people today who met to celebrate Pete Bursnall’s life. It was very touching and fitting to see how much Pete achieved and how many people valued and loved him.

Close friends led the ceremony at the crematorium, raising a few laughs and remembering all that Pete achieved.

I want to explain how I ended up amongst those people.

I’d been fortunate enough to have been introduced to Wales by a passionate climber whilst I was still at school in the South East of England. I immediately felt at home in Wales and would try and work out how to make the journey without a family of outdoor enthusiasts. My parents were hunted by the same “black dog” (as Pete called his cancer) before the end of my teens. My mountain bike got me out of the house and away from some of the goings on that were associated with chemotherapy at that time. During that time I became good at hunting down little used bridleways and occasional footpaths in a wide radius about my house.

One hill walking trip I was camping at Garth farm at the end of Llynau Mymbr and had poked around in Joe Browns in Capel Curig at the books on the way back of the Glyderau. Its here that I “met” Pete first through his guidebook. I sat in the tent in the rain reading his book and realising that I had to ride in Wales. His writing was inspirational and fitted with my thoughts about what mountain biking should be. Biking created a pace and rhythm that I found incredibly therapeutic and this guy in the book could lead me around routes with simple narrative. Brilliant. So, invariably, trips to the hills ended up with a bike and so I started ticking off Petes’ routes.

I went sailing for a while, but always went back to Wales when I was in the UK and it wasn’t long before I settled in Wales and really started exploring South Snowdonia for myself.

I started working for the Welsh Canoeing Association (now Canoe Wales) and quickly bumped into Dave Bursnall. We were talking about the use of Wales for adventure tourism and Dave said “you should talk to my son Pete, he’s into tourism and building connections.” I called and met Pete at Snowdonia Active-a story about Petes love for the outdoors in itself. I was immediately impressed by the guy; his passion, his beliefs and his easy going nature. We quickly found ways to meet, chat about business, but generally chew the cud about a bunch of random stuff, always on a bike. Walking into our house for the first time he heard my wife retching and just smiled and shouted “congratulations!” down the hall-he knew morning sickness when he heard it! A family man through and through! As always humour like this found its way on to Pete’s blog-“Blog 42”.

I was fortunate to spend a number of days with Pete researching new mountain bike routes. Falling off, being laughed at by Pete, laughing at Pete and getting to know how each others mind worked. During these rides I learnt about a number of people he knew and loved. Pete had an effortless way of making everyone feel part of his team. 

We went canoeing once with Pete’s Dad, his daughter Noni and son Owen and my eldest daughter, Ciara-there may have been some Cherry Bakewells too! Seeing three generations of the Bursnalls out was terrific to be a part of.  Seeing the family effortlessly enjoy the Dwyryd was a memory I will cherish, always.

I learnt that day why Pete was so good at influencing the tourist industry when it came to adventurous activities. He was be able to tell stories to the guys about calmly packing his paraglider after a horrific crash in the Glyders-calling a mate to collect him because things weren’t bad enough to get the lads out from Mountain Rescue (despite lots of broken bits). Or his ability to bike up and down loopy steep hill side, some would call him extreme. However, Pete could and did use those skills to allow anyone to enjoy Snowdonia.

His illness never stopped him until the very end, he never complained. He was fearless or if he had fear he had a good control of it. He had drive and passion and a never ending love of his Family and his homeland. Pete always gave pertinent counsel, something that was raised during today. We often talked work/life balance-something Pete seemed effortless in the way he achieved. His goals, energy and passion were combined and used in efficient and productive ways that have created a legacy few will achieve with more years in the saddle; something I will always be inspired by.

After the crematorium a group of us rode back to Plas Menai for the food and a yarn. It was brilliant to see Owen, wearing his Dad’s yellow jersey riding at the head of the peloton spinning along, hopping off curbs and weaving through his Dad’s friends.

I know Pete would have been especially proud of all his family today as he always was.

Pete talked me out of coffee and onto “hippy tea” so every day starts with a reminder, after today though, I learnt he even talked people out of eating meat, so perhaps I got off lightly? Then again I hadn’t planned to publish this blog, but Pete inspired change.

I feel truly lucky to have known Pete and will miss his physical presence greatly.

Pete leaves his wife Aila, children Owen and Noni and parents Chris and Dave to whom I send my deepest sympathies.