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Russell Bentley sets new winter Paddy Buckley Round record

Written by Fiona

December 21 2021

Russell Bentley has run into the record books with a new fastest time for a Paddy Buckley Round in winter. He finished the 100km circuit, including 47 Welsh summits and a total elevation of more than 8500m, in 20 hours and 15 minutes. Russell bettered Damian Hall’s previous record time of 21 hours and 30 minutes.

Russell, who completed the round solo and self-supported, is delighted with his new fastest time. He said: “It feels absolutely amazing.”

Russell said he was inspired take on the challenge after reading Damian’s “excellent blog” about his own winter Paddy Buckley record. He added: “I set out to try to emulate Damian’s round as best I could.” 

Russell’s record breaking Paddy Buckley winter round came on his third attempt. He said: “I have been working on this for a while. Last year, I completed an attempt but I was 75 minutes off the record.

“Then, two weeks ago, I tried and failed in absolutely atrocious weather. I was caught in a snow storm in the middle of the night. Snow and hail was blinding me, forcing me to walk, which prevented me from keeping warm.

“This knocked my confidence and the weather only looked to be getting worse. But suddenly, this beautiful window opened at the weekend and I took another shot.

“It feels so nice to get it done before Christmas so I can eat, drink and be merry, without having to worry about staying in shape.”

What is a Paddy Buckley Round?

The Paddy Buckley is one of three classic fell running rounds in Britain. It comprises 47 summits in Wales, including most of the major peaks in northern Snowdonia, and extends to 61 miles (98km) and 28,000ft (8535m) of ascent. The other two rounds are the Ramsay in Scotland and the Bob Graham in England. Find out more in the Big Rounds Book by David Lintern.

Russell’s Paddy Buckley route choice

Russell ran the route anti-clockwise, which is considered less conventional. But the 40-year-old ultra runner explained: “Doing the round this way makes sense to me. I live near the route and the local fell race, Ras Y Moelwyn, covers part of the round, as does the anti-clockwise route. So, I started from there and noticed I preferred it that way. I find it much easier to scramble up Tryfan than down it.”

At the same time, another endurance runner John Kelly set out to try to complete the route clockwise. Unfortunately, John stopped before reaching 15 hours.

The pair didn’t see each other during their respective attempts. Russell said: “We missed each other. We were coming through Beddgelert forest, but took different tracks.

“I believe my way to be quicker, but there is very little in it.  It was confusing not to see him as I was sure he would be flying round enjoying the weather.”

The weather was described as perfect. Russell said: “The conditions for the round were absolutely ideal and it was just a pleasure to be out there making the most of it.

“Driving to the start there was frost on all the cars. That is usually a bad sign and it should have meant the rocks up on the mountains would be covered in verglas, but there was a very unusual temperature inversion, so the higher I went, the warmer it got.

“Rocks were bone dry, there was no wind and it was perfect vis. On the last 10 mile,s the peaks got enveloped in mist, but I was going so slowly by that point I can’t really say it made a difference.”

A summer of running

Russell, who lives in Wales with his wife and two young children, set a solo Paddy Buckley Round in the summer and also came second in the very challenging multi-day Dragon’s Back Race.

He described both as tough in different ways. He said:”During the Paddy Buckley in the summer I hit the wall in a very acute and painful way. I took two hours to come through that. Then came the Dragon’s Back Race, which was more a war of attrition.

“No single day was as hard or long, but they just stacked up relentlessly. It was hard day on top of hard day, with an increasingly tired body and mind.”

Tough times on winter Paddy Buckley Round

Russell’s biggest challenge was fuelling. He said: “I stopped being able to eat and I had to complete the last four to five hours on fumes. 

“It was also incredibly difficult to try to keep going through the night. I knew my stomach had shut down, I only had 10 miles to go and I was on for the record, but I had to find a way to do it with zero glycogen.

“Fat burning is possible, but my mind was starved and it was very hard to concentrate and stay coordinated. I had to move as fast as was safely possible, while managing my depleted energy levels. 

“I’ve never had to be in that state for so long. It was a new experience. I really had to tune into my body: What I could get away with – and what I couldn’t.”

With 10 summits left, Russell said he went right back to basics. He said: “It was a case of one summit at a time. I had nothing else in my mind. I could see my home town underneath me and I wanted so badly just to get off the mountain and get into the safety of my warm bed.

“I had to stop looking at Blaenau and keep my mind on the ground directly in front.” 

Highlights of a winter Paddy Buckley Round

The conditions in the daytime Russell says were “absolutely, indescribably beautiful”. He added: “To be in such a wonderful setting, fit, healthy and moving well, is something I will never forget and I will be forever grateful for.

“On the first leg, the Carneddau, it was still early enough so I had the mountains to myself. Patches of snow were glowing yellow with the sunrise and the clouds were below me, as well as the sea. It was breathtaking. “

Russell didn’t allow himself to believe he might have set a new record until he was descending the final hill, Siabod.

He said: “Even then, when I thought the danger was over, I was wrong. I ran round the back of Plas Y Brenin and there was ice and frost all over the car park. It was bloody treacherous and I had to work hard not to do the splits and tear my groin.

“I was laughing to myself, though, at how funny it would be to get through 62 miles of mountains without a scratch, then slip and injure myself in a car park at the finish.”

While Russell had been hoping to set a new record, he knew that anything can happen in such a long adventure.

He said: “I have been on these hills enough times to know that nature is boss. I went out with a schedule of 20 hours. At one point, I was 75 minutes ahead of that, but then I lost all that time as night fell.

“It got very hard and I just had to focus purely on finishing safely. I had to put the time out of my mind and take it one summit at a time.” 

Russell’s praise for John Kelly

Russell said he was very grateful to John – “a living legend in ultra running” – for agreeing to the idea of the pair setting off together.

Russell explained: “John was aiming to complete all the big three UK rounds this winter, whereas I was only interested in doing the Paddy as fast as possible. I was focused purely on that.

“I had only seen him once before, when he completed the Grand Round. I went to cheer him on in Rhosydd quarry, near Blaenau. So it was a bit of a fan-boy moment for me when we were suddenly doing the Paddy together.

“I thought the idea of two runners doing a round together, starting at the same time and place, but heading in opposite directions with the goal of getting back to the start first, could be a really exciting and unique format. I thought it would be good for us as the participants and for those watching the tracker.

“I was really pleased with how Open Tracking put the page together and I got loads of comments about how much fun it was to follow along.” 

Russell’s kit list

Russell wore VJ irock shoes – “Fort the best grip on the planet and they fit like a glove.”

He also used a Petzl Swift headtorch because “it is powerful and long lasting”.

He likes Voom bars – “I love eating these bars even when I’m not running.”

Russell has praise for his NoblePro treadmill. He said: “I only go out on the mountains for winter training when I have friends with me, so when this is not possible I do a lot of my training on the treadmill. Your heart and lungs don’t know the difference.”

A camera crew, Cwmni Da, followed from afar on the day. Russell said: “It was an amazing shift by them. I saw drones and camera people throughout the day. although none of them talked to me or offered any assistance whatsoever, which is what I requested. There will be a video coming soon.”

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