The Mercia Machine Marches Again

­When you talk to Gill Harris about running it’s not long before she tells you about her “Bob”, ­and why not?  To be able to complete such a run as the Bob Graham Round is no mean achievement! B­u­t it’s not the run she enthuses about; it is the spirit of teamwork that came from the support crew on and off the mountain. It was this that Paul Cadman wrote about at the time in Mercia News “The Mercia Machine” and the support it provided in helping Gill complete her round back in 1998.

Now, we all know Gill would be thinking more of what was next rather than living on past glories, so an attempt at Paddy Buckley’s Classic Welsh Round (PBR) was always on the cards, but Gill felt tha­t a time of under 24 hours was possibly out of her reach, that was until 2001 when her running suddenly started picking up a pace. When F&M finally subsided she started producing personal best after personal best and maybe she started to have a rethink!

As plans developed for 2002 it soon became obvious to those close to Gill that she wanted to attempt PBR, she also fancied trying her luck at the LAMM Elite partnered by Keith Richards. The training for the two projects seemed to match perfectly, through the first half of 2002 weekends were spent putting in hours of training in North Wales, checking the routes for PBR, timing each of the legs from 1st peak to 47th peak, after consulting Mercia members in the know, an attempt at PBR started t­o look possible, at one point it even looked like Keith was having a go too!­

The date was set and a team needed to be built to pace Gill round the 47Peaks 62 miles and 29,000ft of ascent, being holiday time a few notable names were going to be missing but Mercia members were there in an abundance. The Ground crew was to be made up of Phil (Who else) Pauline (Who else indeed) and Bridget Jones, along with a host of others who thought they could get away with just watching.

The day dawned, the crew assembled, at last it was time, 11:10am Saturday 20th July, Andy Davies (2) and Ian Davies got the job of the first leg from Capel Curig to Rhosydd Quarries, Rob Woodall added his experience and Keith who intended to be everywhere all weekend made up a strong team to help her through the bogs and over the heather of Boundary Ridge; A good start was essential and by the end of the 1st leg Gill was 27 min ahead of her 23hr 45min schedule. In Rhosydd Quarries Richard Day and Tony Thompson waited with supplies to top up Gill’s fuel levels, Ian, Rob & K­eith dropped off and Andy Lewis from Shrewsbury AC came in to provide jokes and entertainment over the Moelwyns, but Rob, Ian & Keith had not finished yet, and were found on the route to Cnicht making sure the best line was found.

Gill arrived at Nantmor 34mins up on schedule, new pacers in Brian & Alan Morris from Wrekin Orienteers took over with Yiannis Tridimas the guru of the PBR a surprise navigator straightening out some of the summits from Moel Hebog to Nantlle Ridge. Again Keith was found on route this time with Pauline at the top of Y Gryn, giving encouragement, tea and ensuring a good line down off the summit.

Ten hours gone and the runners arrived at the Pont Cae’r-gors checkpoint, now 51mins up, the Ground Crew sprang into action, First they looked after Gill’s every need as she flew through taking just 10min’s rest, Then they tended to the support teams feeding them copious amounts of Tea, Chilli and Rice with a vast choice of cakes to finish off.

The next section took Gill over Snowdon and into darkness. Cloud was hugging the Snowdonia Massif at about 1700 ft above sea level. Climbing steadily over Yr Aran Glen Davies & Terry Davies helped pull Gill 60mins ahead! But soon all was to change, as darkness fell and they entered thick cloud, finding paths became difficult, time started to slip away, 17mins was lost before reaching the summit of Snowdon, here Keith was waiting with a welcome cup of tea, a big torch and more help for the trip down the Ranger Path, progress was steady but another 11mins was lost coming off Moel Elio, all of a sudden a little bit of strain crept into Gills face.

In Llanberis Pauline fed the girl, while Phil gave council. Then off she set, up on a direct line through the Dinorwic Quarries. Duncan Jones and Ian Cowie had taken on the pacer / navigators roll. As dawn broke over the Glyders conditions remained difficult, thick cloud and slippy underfoot, tired legs found it hard to stay upright, and time continued to slip away on almost every leg, Phil was at hand on Tryfan to help find the fastest line over the rocks and much more. A very tired looking Gill arrived in Ogwen now over 20 hours into the run and all of a sudden 6 minutes behind schedule, Pauline supplied food, solid words and encouragement, Gill still determined as ever took just 4 of her 10minute allocated rest then set off up Pen Yr Ole Wen.

Another 15kms and 1200m of climb lay head and she was slogging it out with brother Roger, Arthur Clare-Hay Phil Blatch and Rob Woodall (back after some rest). She reached the next top 63mins later having lost another minute, they pushed on, but more time was lost before they reached the summit of Carnedd Llewellyn.

Keith was again waiting this time at Craig Yr Ysfa, he knew every second of the Round having run it, timed it and put the schedule together along with Gill. He sat and looked up into the clouds, time ticked away, he checked his watch, 2 minutes he thought, if she’s not in view by then she’s blown it! - 2 minutes came and went, still no Gill, then just as he started to think “Well that’s it then” the team came into view, it was now a race, a race with the tiredest of legs, Pen Yr Helgi Du was summited 10mins down on schedule. Time for a serious talk spiked with lots of positive thoughts.

Back in Capel Curig a small crowd gathered in the car park, all binoculars were on Pen Lithrig, the last of the summits, Phil & Pauline couldn’t watch, they tried to phone Keith’s mobile for news, but no signal on the tops meant they just had to wait, Phil said “That it I’m off” he couldn’t watch any more, then come the phone call he’d been waiting for “We’re nearly at the top, we should come into view any second” came Keith’s voice. First the crowd saw Rob then Phil B’s fluorescent socks followed by Gill, a quick wave has she passed the summit and it was down hill all the way.

One minute had been gained on the leg to the final summit, the first occasion time had been gained since Y Garn five and quarter hours earlier. Now 46 minutes remained to complete the run down into Capel, as long she could keep moving surely Gill would do it? Rob was out front looking for possible short cuts and making sure any gates were open, Phil B paced himself perfectly just 2 steps out in front, and there with a helping hand at every rocky step. Gill looked tired but totally focused, Keith kept talking constantly feeding information on how far to go, telling her how it was going to feel as she reached each landmark that lay ahead. Andy D, and Andy L followed, feeding drinks giving time checks, Gill kept running, the finish got closer and closer, as they approached the road yellow vests and sweat shirts could be seen waiting, shouts of encouragement even the sun came out as the group hit the road.

1km remained and with time in hand, out of the depths of defeat Gill had found extra energy, 5minutes had been picked up on the last leg, Gill even managed a victory sprint as she passed Pinnacle Café. The round was complete.

A time of 23 Hours 48minutes 30seconds was recorded, Gill had become only the 4th Women to complete the Paddy Buckley Round in under 24hours and the very first Vet Lady, a superb achievement that even received acknowledgement from Paddy Buckley himself and I’m sure Gill would be the first to admit and recognise the help that came from having the Mercia Teams support. Well done Gill for completing PBR, and well done Mercia for all the support it provided out on the hills and at the roadside to one of its best.