I stumbled across this epic looking race at the end of last year but after realising that I wasn’t up for such a brutal challenge I decided to volunteer instead. I’ve volunteered at a few races and it gives you a first-hand perspective of the race that is hard to get any other way. I roped in my trusty sidekick Neil, emailed Mike, the RD and we were on the volunteer list.
When it came to allocating jobs I asked Mike if we could man the hilltop checkpoint on Carnedd Llewelyn. He almost bit my hand of which should have been an insight into what was to come. As well as the Carnedd Llewelyn CP on Friday night we were also allocated the final CP on the banks of Llyn Llydaw just below Snowdon for the Saturday night; Mike was making full use of this bunch of eager lunatics. I should point out at this point that our ranks had been bolstered by Chris who asked for a lift to the event and ended up stuck with us by association.
Friday night – Carnedd Llewelyn
After checking in at Race HQ, a quick browse around Joe Browns and a hearty burger at Pete’s Eats we headed out to the Ogwen Valley for our first night in the mountains. The instructions provided by Mike said to allow two hours for the ascent. I thought this was optimistic especially because a cursory glance at Mud & Routes said it would be more like four and we were carrying a ton of kit and water for the runners; my pack was pushing 30kg and Chris was hand carrying a big ole jerry can. Also, our planned route was to take us over Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd before reaching our destination.
The slog up Pen yr Ole Wen was a tough one with boggy conditions at the bottom and a full-on scramble further up. Oh, it was raining too. But once up we were treated to the most amazing sunset over Anglesey. We paused here for a sec and took in the views. The sunset was a beautiful sight but made us realise that our plan of arriving and setting up in the light was out of the window. Shortly after leaving the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen the rain and wind suddenly stopped and were replaced with snow. It was a little sleety at first but soon turned into cartoon-like snow with massive flakes coming down in flurries. It was May FFS I didn’t sign up for snow! But as quickly as it started it stopped and we were in for a cold but dry night.
After crossing over Carnedd Dafydd and ascending Carnedd Llewelyn we were here. But here was a bit ambiguous as it was pitch black. We had found the summit cairn but from looking at photos online I knew there was also a summit shelter up here and I had plans on turning this into our checkpoint HQ. We dropped our kit and scoured the peak by head torch, after a brief search we found that we were mere feet from the shelter and began setting up the checkpoint and tents.
We were now ready and awaiting the first runners which according to the crew instructions should have been through around 23:20. Midnight came and there were no runners to be seen. We decided to start a sleeping shift system with each of us getting 2 hours sleep; Neil bedded down first and that was the last we saw of him until sunrise, although he assures us he didn’t have a good sleep. Diddums.
The first runner came through at 01:30 over two hours later than expected. This is a testament to how tough this course really is. From then on there was a steady stream of runners coming through, some solo some in small hardy packs but all happy to see us. We upped their spirits with a constant supply of instant coffee, Torq gels, and cheesy 80s music before pointing them in the direction of the next aid station.
It was a cold night but for me and Chris, the time flew by because as soon as one runner left you could see the head torch of the next nearing the peak. Most runners were through our checkpoint by sunrise but a few hardy souls remained out on the course. We had heard from the previous checkpoint that 39 out of 46 starters had been despatched towards us. 36… 37… 38… 39, all were through our checkpoint safely. One of the later runners had a minor navigational error earlier in the race and hat clocked up 39 miles before he reached us; we were only 26 miles in!
We sat and watched the sunrise while listening to Circle of Life from The Lion King soundtrack, as you do and after sending runner 39 on his way we packed up camp and descended into the valley for some breakfast and a nap before night two.
Saturday night – Llyn Llydaw
After resting a little at the Rhyd Ddu CP we headed out around 17:30 for our next overnight stint under the shadow of Snowdon on the banks of Llyn Llydaw. The race manual stated that it was through the gates at the back of the Pen-y-Pass carpark and some way along the miners track and that it was passable by car; Well we had a Defender we could go anywhere. And we did. It was a scary drive but kudos to Neil the owner of said Defender who popped his off-road cherry and finally used his beautiful car for its designed use. It transpired later that we did not have the landowners permission to drive along this track and although we did so in good faith if they ever read this we are sorry.
As we neared the already set up CP the smiles of the current crew were visible. They were woefully underprepared for the task and had been there for a whole four hours! Us, on the other hand, were well prepared and would be there for a heck of a lot longer. At this point, we did not know when our relief would be arriving only that it was going to be the following day. This didn’t faze us however, we’d just survived a night on Wales’ second highest peak.
This was the final CP of both the 100 and 50-mile races. The 50 milers had been going since 05:00 that day but the 100-mile runners were well into their second day out in the mountains. We set out the CP how we liked it and were soon running like a well-oiled machine. The previous crew had left us with a few bottles of cola and one bottle of water so as well as getting more cola and snacks shipped in we set up a rig on the back of the Defender to filter the lake water. This MacGyveresque contraption was a godsend and we kept it running all night supplying the runners with freshly filtered Welsh mountain water.
This CP was pretty boring compared to the previous night but the determination and the stories from the runners kept us going and provided more than enough entertainment. As well as keeping the runners watered, fed and caffeinated with coffee we acted as a mini field-hospital treating minor wounds and ailments. One runner had the worst case of blistered feet I’d ever seen but was determined to finish so I treated them with iodine spray and gave him my spare socks before sending him on his way. He asked where he should leave the socks for me to collect but I told him to keep them and pop a few quid in the next charity collection he saw; I did not want those socks back, ever. We also kept a few runners warm before sending them out into the night and over Snowdon once more to complete this epic race.
Our relief showed up at 06:00 on Sunday and after a brief handover we packed the car and disappeared before the track became too busy and our illegal vehicle was rumbled.
All in all, this was a beast of a weekend and I’m still reeling from the epicness one week on. I have a new found respect for the runners in this crazy race and will join their ranks one day but for now, I’m more than happy to volunteer and facilitate their greatness.