Out riding

Not running due to injury has been a pain, but today a ride out across the back roads was just what I needed to keep my head in the right place.

I slept well last night, really well. I'd arranged to do something today and after my first deep sleep for a long time it was nice to wake up refreshed and full of anticipation. The house was quiet so quickly shovelled down some breakfast and fluids and headed out on the road bike.

Out of our road and up the hill towards the Nannau estate, quiet road, nice warm up climb. Enjoying lots of energy in my legs, keeping my heart rate down. The sun just starting to rise, enough ambient light to ride without lights, but not fully light. Over the top by the precipice walk and then down into Coed y Brenin. A couple of big patches of ice reminded me that it was still cold, although the sky was clear and bright and the air temperature was up a bit. Dropping altitude, letting the bike run, searching for the good lines giving vision, only braking where the speed would put me in the bonnet of an unseen car. I clipped a stone, momentarily shaking my balance. But on down, over the Babi Las. The sound of my front tyre changed. Gutted, a puncture.

Whip off the front wheel, grab my saddlebag. Pull the zipper and the tag came away in my hand. A little bit of road salt had eaten through it. A bit of MacGyver style work with the valve stem and I got the little bag open. 10 minutes I reckon!

Tyre levers in, strip one side of the tyre off. Pull the tube, I don't even check it. I know it's a snake bite and I'm going to swap in a new one. Push the new valve through, a couple of turns on the rim nut. Work the tube in flat, work the tyre over the tube near the valve, run a lever round the edge reseating the tyre. Put the rim on my feet to put a bit of force on it to slip the tight part of the tyre over. Work round the tyre quickly to check no pinches, then use my favourite ever bit of puncture kit. The microflate nano from Genuine Innovations, takes about 5 seconds to dump its 20g of CO2 into the tube. Hey presto, a 100 psi front tyre again. Slot the wheel back in, do up the quick release and re pack the rubbish into my saddlebag. Getting the zip done back up takes about another 10 minutes and the use of a bit of brake cable. The tube change took about 5 minutes, the bag took nearly 20!

Back on the bike and following the Afon Wen up, and over to Abergeirw. A steady climb with a little kick as it steepens up. Ice still all over the place. A lovely quick descent across the moors to Pont Grible, only interupted by the biggest Buck Hare I think I've ever seen. Turn right to follow the Afon Gain and up across the “ranges” road. So called after shelling took place until 1959 from Bronaber, leaving loads of unexploded ordnance. Some terrific old pictures can be seen here.

Over the top, into the Llew valley, the Arenig looking great to my left, mottled with snow. A long sweeping descent, encouraging speed, great vision ahead. Loading the outside pedal with weight, standing the bike up on icy patches to ensure balance before throwing the bike back over again for the next corner. Tucking in, head down. The rythym only being broken by four gates.

In the soft grass around the gates are tracks from two road bikes, one shallow, one deep. I know from Strava that this was Andy Braund and Dave Liddy from the day before. I chuckle to myself knowing who made the deeper track.

Just glancing in time to spot Dduallt, an unusual mountain that has the Dee rising on it's slopes. I'm reminded I want to work out the route from the Arening to Ddualt. Looks obvious today!

Down into the outskirts of Llanwchllyn, as it flattens out I shove a banana and an energy gel into my mouth- not at the same time. Spinning, chewing, enjoying this amazing day.

I cross the main road and out through the main part of the village, before crossing the Twrch. A right turn back on myself and I settle in for the long climb up to Bwlch y Groes. Mainly seated, but a couple of the steep bits get me out the saddle. The clouds closing in, and some large lumps of snow make me think about the descent on the other side.

At the top, I pause to take a picture into the amazing valley at the top of the Dyfi. Launching down the other side is steep and fast though I'm cautious of the ice.

Now tracking alongside the Dyfi I eat my energy bar, and drink the last of my water as I pass Cwm Cywarch. The leper colony springs into my head, must have been tough back in the day.

Through Dinas Mawddawy and spin along the A470 to the base of the Bwlch Oerddrws. The first two way road of the day, and the first cars after 60 odd kilometres. On the lowest slopes I can feel my legs tighten with lactic acid. This is going to be a painful climb! The steep sections are out the saddle for as long as I can bear, before sitting and trying to get some relief before grinding some more metres. Over the top of the Bwlch and Cader Idris comes into view. A quick zip up, click into top gear and blast down the other side. Into the new traffic works, an irate Nissan Qashqai doesn't like me filtering passed at the traffic lights, revving his engine. I stay at the speed limit as I sprint to the next traffic lights, filtering passed 5 cars and getting the jump as the lights change. The new surface is lovely, lots of speed putting 2-300m between me and the first car. Finally as I cross the Wnion bridge the Qashqai comes passed. A middle age “lady” effing and jeffing at me about how cyclists shouldn't be on the road. I smile pleasantly. They rev off into the distance, clearly feeling they had won.

A kilometre or two home from here. Clear sky, tired legs but a great ride. My head had been buzzing about all sorts of things, work, friends and random stuff, but now relaxed.

Wash the bike down, drink a protein shake, have a shower.

Lunch and a swim with family sounds like a plan.

Great ride.

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.

Rhinogydd traverse Trawsfynydd to Barmouth

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!