The Himalaya AllDayer first appeared on my radar when an event popped up on my Facebook feed a month or two ago. The event was in aid of Ty Hafan and would involve scaling Machen Mountain 28-ish times which would equal the height of Everest. You could either do it a team or attempt as much of it on your own.
Completing the entire quota of laps would equate to the best part of 90 miles and 29,000ft of ascent (and 29,000ft of descent!). With only a 49 mile DNF at Race to the Stones in July, there was no way that I would complete the distance, even if it was on the flat!
Still, the idea of having a go was very alluring for many reasons.
- It was on my doorstep.
- I could fill my car up with food, drink and fresh clothes.
- ‘Base Camp’ was a pub so could easily take short or long breaks.
- I was never more than 1.6 miles away from Base Camp.
- I could finish whenever I wanted to.
- It was great hill training and spending time on feet.
- Base Camp was a pub so could have beer!
Starting the Challenge
One of the organisers, Gareth, was heading out on the first leg with me tagging along. The first lap was always going to be a test of how the rest of the day would unfold. Either it wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought or it would be tough. It was tough!
Gareth was probably running to his full potential so set off fast, at least it was fast for someone that wanted to pace himself. After a small section on the road, it’s all off-road, and all uphill to the summit. Despite it’s steepness you were able to run the vase majority of the ascent, albeit slowly. However, I quickly switched to power hiking which was proving just as effective as a slow run.
We reached the summit in around 22 minutes after a quick photograph and autograph on the lap counting board we were racing back downhill. It was a very fast descent and I loved every second of it! The terrain varied between very rocky near the summit to uneven grass and short wooded sections further down but you can’t beat just letting yourself go. We reached base camp in around 10-11 minutes with a finishing time of just under 32 minutes for Gareth and just over 33 minutes for me. This was going to be my fastest time by far for the entire day.
For the second lap onwards I quickly adopted a run from base camp to the hill and then power walk to the summit. The early laps did have some running sections further up the mountain but it was easier to walk the entire route and then run back down. Doing so would mean completing a lap in around 50 minutes.
With the run starting at 1pm on a sunny afternoon, the heat was soon taking it’s toll. The sweat was soon pouring off me and it was tasty salty! I thought I was doing a good job of refuelling between runs by eating pizza, salty crisps and drinking plenty of fluids but in hindsight, not taking anything with me on each of the early laps may have caused some dehydration issues. Despite being only 5K, climbing a 1,000ft in heat is going to effect your body. By the fourth lap I had to force myself to take a more extended break. I was concerned that stop, rest and refuel I would deteriorate.
Base camp was a blast. The rugby club is the last remaining pub in the village and as such has become a really hub of the community. There was a mix of supporters, people enjoying the sunshine, those waiting to run and rugby players returning from a match. I think word had gotten around that an idiot from Newport was running as everyone seemed to know my name. The friendliness of the people really helped make it a special day.
Around 8pm I headed out with the barmaid (Sophie) from the rugby club on her leg. We were hoping to reach the summit as the sun was setting but according to the owners of a 4×4 that was parked as close to the trig point as you could get we had missed it by less than 10 minutes. Still, it was a stunning view.
Heading back down it was becoming trickier to run as the light was fading. There were a few sections that passed through short woodland sections which had become extremely dark. I had misjudged the need for a head torch at this point so we both had to rely upon the torches on our phones. We still managed a good time arriving back at base camp in 43 minutes which was around 2 minutes off Sophie’s best time. 7 laps done!
After another extended break I was ready to head out at 10pm for 3 back-to-back laps with the last one being the only one that actually counted in the relay. The first lap I headed up with two others and to help other throughout the night we cleared away any large rocks and twigs in the darker, wooded sections. Reaching the summit we were fortunate enough to catch the firework display for Pride Cymru in Cardiff.
Running at night was such a different experience and not only because of the darkness. It was so much quieter, owls could be heard in the woods, grasshoppers were chirping and moths would follow your head torch as you ascended. Having made the ascent so many times it was far easier to be confident about where to walk and I knew all the spots where I had to pay attention (Those ankle-turning sections weren’t going to get the better of me!)
I had originally planned on doing as many laps as possible and trying to stay the entire 24 hours but I had underestimated the toll the descent would take on my legs so decided early in the evening that I would stop at 10 laps. This would give me a total distance of approximately 32 miles so would be another ultra under my belt. I didn’t see the need to push my body any further and the 10 laps would take me a while to recover from.
My last lap was going to be the only one that counted and would be included in the relay schedule. I was knackered but knowing that this would be my last lap made it easier to get out there.
The ascent went fine but leaving the summit I strayed down a wrong path. Every time I had reached the summit throughout the evening I was always careful of which route I needed to head back down and this time was no different but being tired I continued down for a few minutes before I knew I was on the wrong track. It was then one of those moments when you have to decide between running back up the path or trying to cut across rough terrain to join the other path. I chose the latter and of course I wouldn’t find the other path.
I retraced my steps to the incorrect path, headed back up to the summit and joined the correct path back down. I’d lost 10 minutes at this point and was conscious of it on the descent. To add insult to injury, the battery in my head torch ran out just as I started to descend. I had a spare torch in the car but it was such a rookie error to not carry a spare with me. Thankfully my phone is always attached to my hand so the torch on it guided me back to base camp.
Arriving back I was done and my legs were done but what a great experience.
I wanted to use this run as a way of experiencing time on my feet, trialling different feeling techniques and new equipment and the whole things went well although there were a few things that I certainly could have done better.
- I ate salty crisps and pizza fairly often, although later in the night fuelling became more sporadic.
- After each lap I was drinking water, coke, energy drinks or SOS Hydration (or combinations of many of them).
- I was using vaseline to combat chafing (chafing won!).
- Despite changing tops (easier), I didn’t bother changing shorts or underwear despite having replacements and the offer of the facilities in the pub to change. Like on previous races I was just trying to avoid addressing the elephant in the room (or in this case, my pants!). I just didn’t want to have to deal with the soreness.
- On some of the laps I did take a bottle with me and it was filled with SOS but I think I should have made sure I took on board fluid during every lap.
- Had a boot full of fuel and didn’t use anywhere near half of it.
On a future run I’d love the opportunity to run with someone that religiously refuelled and followed a plan so that they could force me to do the same. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of plodding on and leaving things too late. You’d think I would have learnt by now but gradually I’m changing things.