From First to Last


Ras Moel Tryfan, Fell Race

So I must start by saying that I come from a track & field background, where the only directions you need are ‘left, straight on, left again, and repeat’. I am not good at bearings at all, Nina and I have literally spent HOURS trying to find our car in carparks, I am not at all proud about it!

I went up to the organisers and told them I’m a city boy who is not very used to finding his way on mountains, and to ask if there is anywhere I might get lost. They assured me the course was completely fool-proof (ha! I’d soon see about that)…


At the race briefing all the directions are in Welsh, we are underway and the guy I’m running next to, John, starts up a conversation! This never happens on the track and scares the hell out of me to be honest. So I take off. I am straining my eyes to see the red and white tape which leads the way, but a thick mist has descended on the hillside and I’m having difficulty concentrating, whilst also running pretty much flat out up a big hill. I see two cars parked and there are three potential paths. I can’t see any tape anywhere so I ‘hit the one in the middle’ (Rocky IV style). It leads straight through a slate quarry and I think to myself, what a great idea for a race. The small track had sheer faces left and right, making for an exhilarating ride.


the Moel Tryfan slate quarry I ran through, on my own

I start getting worried that I can’t see any tape, but think to myself there will be one round the next corner, there isn’t, and then there isn’t again. So I stop and wait for 2nd place to catch me up. He doesn’t. He still doesn’t… I’m not that fast. I start heading back but am now lost in a dark maze, a confusing quarry, and I’m surrounded by heaps of slate that all look exactly the same.

I finally get back onto the race course where a nice gentleman, who was not involved with the race in any way, shows me the correct route. I should have gone left at the two cars. He tells me that last place passed 10 minutes ago. My legs turn into the heavy stone they’ve been running through. I had started the race hoping to win, now I had to finish knowing I was going to be flat last.

I make it to the guy clearing up the flags and tape. He is friendly and chatty and assures me cheerfully that the course is straight forward from here, and I wouldn’t get lost again. I run on and am lost again within about 50 meters. After calling me back the guy doesn’t talk to me again, convinced that I am obviously just an idiot.

I was having trouble staying motivated to run fast, but then it occurs to me that I am so far behind, my friends might actually call out mountain rescue. I could just imagine Prince William landing his helicopter and me having to explain to his Highness that, no, I didn’t fall into a crevasse and break my leg, I just took a wrong turn cos I’m from the city…I speed up.


me trying (and failing) to smile as someone helpfully tells me which way I SHOULD have gone

The organisers were all very sweet afterwards, and John was a deserved winner. My friends had been distracted from having to stand in the rain by the kind offerings of free cupcakes and flapjacks! I also managed to run an extra 4 kilometers in this incredible scenery so everyone wins really.

A great race course that I highly recommend. Big thanks to all the friendly organisers and people at WFRA. Will definitely be back next year, hopefully I can bring some sense with me.

And from further up the track…


here I am, getting my place in the race and thinking I don’t want to be here

There is always a point near the start of a fell race, that I think seriously about pulling out. This probably has something to do with the fact that they all seem to start with an ascent onslaught. And I think that it might be the passing of this thought that gives me the good feeling at the end.


Russell is almost too quick for the photographer, but I think he has captured his elbow and foot fetchingly

I saw Russell head off into the low cloud, by now about 300m ahead. I had thought that his race tactic was going to be to stay with the leader/leading pack, and make a move when he was sure of the way. Having got lost in couple of trail races in the past, I was surprised to see him working a 40m break from the guy behind him (who was wearing the unmistakable green and red of the Eryri Harriers). I figured he was gambling on the snatched advice at registration that the route was clearly marked, marshalled and worn in. But there is no way it was a sure bet. He disappeared into the fog, and as usual, I didn’t see him again till the finish.

nina-over-peakI suspect I am fit enough to have run up the hills today, but when all around me break into a fast hill walk, bent double and powering arms into thighs, I find myself joining in too, despite what Russell says (something like ‘runners should always run’). By the time the summit is in view, all thoughts of pulling out have vanished and I’m looking forward to getting back into my run again.


Look – I’m smiling! And I’m running under there too, I promise

1st of two peaks summited and I got on with the short downhill and maintaining a run up the 2nd. Then a long grassy, rocky, boggy descent which hit a track and then a wicked uphill road section to finish the race. I think I crumbled a bit towards the end, maintaining a steady pace, but with no-one coming to take my place from behind, and the nearest competitor to me over 100m away, I trotted through no-man’s land to a finish I wasn’t even sure was there at all, but for the loose crowd of wet runners hanging around in a car park.

The excitement started when some friends of ours informed me that Russell hadn’t come through yet, and added, for the sake of my slow receptors, that I had infact beaten him today! I realised that he hadn’t come to pick me up and shout, cajole and force me to a strong finish (as his way of warming down). When he appeared 10mins later, I was worried that he would be more upset than he professed to be. But I guess the general atmosphere and friendly fellow competitors meant that he had to join me in the ‘it’s all about the taking part’ arena, for this race anyway.

for other Fell Race reports this winter, see Pipe Dream and Corndon 3 Peaks Classic

Some photographs are courtesy of Math Roberts – thank you!


24 thoughts on “From First to Last

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  2. Scarred of conversing during a race and getting lost all the time! There’s something wrong with you! What are you twelve? And what’s all that “a thick mist descended upon the hillside” nonsense about? Who do you think you are for goodness sake? Ernest Hemingway? And are you handing out cards with the address to your blog on it to everyone at these fell races or what?

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  5. Would it make you feel better if you knew no-one went the right way up Moel Tryfan? You went too far, and everybody else didn’t go far enough after the path between the walls! I got very worried half way up, not seeing any tape, knowing I’d told everyone it was clearly marked!! Oops, and sorry!!

    • Hey Gwen. Yes much better! As we said though – great race, great atmosphere. And we’re beginning to understand that getting lost, muddy, bloody and last is all part of the fun (???). Thanks for commenting. Nina and Russell.

  6. Great story. Some wonderful insights there. I’m pleased to learn that I’m not the only one running around fell races in total confusion.

    • Oh yeah – we’re starting our own club of confusion here. Russell makes an experienced CEO. Thanks for the comment. Hope to have you keep on reading. See you on the start line soon. Nina

    • Haha that’s fine Paul we are new to it aswell to be honest. We don’t have facebook or twitter accounts so are learning as we go. Yes I am just about healed from that fall, one of my knees is still not happy with me! Running around like an ejut is definitely what I have been doing lately, looking forward to seeing you at the next one!

  7. It was my first run too, thankfully being fat and slow I was able to follow everyone else.
    The tea and flapjacks were worth it. Hopefully next time I will be better prepared for that first hill, what a shocker!

    • I know! I’m really pissed off with him. I’ve always thought we’d be great friends. We have so much in common. I also studied History of Art at uni. And I could really do with some help with my hair from Kate. If you’re reading this guys – you’re welcome over to ours for tea anytime. Nina

  8. Oh dear never mind …………remember the tactics I always recommend ……….hang on the shoulder of the first guy then run past him at the end.
    Or maybe things like the Snowdon race where you run up till there’s no more up will suit you better……..come to think of it you could still get lost on the way down.

  9. Welcome to my world, although I ended up overtaking everyone only to get lost again. All good fun though. I couldn’t see the tape either, rather than being an idoit. 😉

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