I have had a week to reflect on my first race abroad. Hopefully I can get across in these few words, the magic of the Snowdonia mountain range. I might even persuade a few of my running mates to come along next year. I reckon it is time to start racing abroad. It seems even in North Wales there is more sunshine than in the West of Ireland.
We arrived in Llanberis, North Wales on Saturday evening, registered and had a nice evening with Emma’s friends who kindly made dinner and put us up for the night. I thought about my first proper mountain marathon which lay ahead in the morning, not really knowing how I would fair out. I was running on reasonably tired legs after the year behind me as well as the race last weekend and I would be running on unknown terrain as well. The main thing was that I was excited and reckoned I should be able to enjoy this one as there was no pressure to place well and I could use it as a learning experience. The field would include some pro runners and some top mountain runners from up to 40 different countries. Bring on the morning.
Llanberis in the morning, pre race.
Not only was I competing in a new type of race but Emma was also taking on her first half marathon and a mountain one at that. Emma seemed very chilled out of course and in general I didn’t feel nervous as I lined up in a crowd of around 900.
Looking a bit drunk in the sunshine just before the start.
The Snowdonia Trail Marathon began at 9am and we sped down the road, soon taking a left up out of Llaberis. The road turned to farm road and soon we started to climb. The first climb was sharp and I started into a fast hike. As I hiked I flew away from those running around me. The terrain leveled out and then we descended down the farm track to meet a trail at the valley floor. The trail turned rocky underneath and I began to feel like I was in a trail race. We gradually climbed up through a luscious green valley with scree slopes on one side. I started to pick off a few runners onfront. They had hit off too fast up the first hill and were feeling the effects.
Around 2.5km into the race.
Within about 6km the field was breaking up and I soon found myself in a group of about 6 runners. One guy was very strong on the flats and would take off, slowing fast when the hills arrived. The rest of us seemed close in strength and we ran five or six yards apart for miles. After the second climb we started to descend on some boggy, grassy farm land and could really let go. A lovely fast but tricky downhill brought us down and into an old slate quarry. I think it was somewhere around this point that the half and the full marathon races split. I was running as fast as I could without totally expending myself, knowing the the second half of this race would be the real killer. Snowdon itself would only arrive around 19 miles into the race.
Our little group were all together as we arrived at the second aid station around 10km into the race. A very fast gulp of water and away we went. I had a few gels and had taken one already. I planned to race all day so I wouldn’t be stopping for food. Some jellies and a few gels would suffice. The next section, from mile 6 to 11, and from there to mile 16 or so would be reasonably flat. It started with a gravel track around some amazing lakes. You may notice I am talking a bit in miles today. The reason being it is all miles over there and when it comes to marathon racing, miles are the only way to talk anyhow! It’s all the same if you ask me.
We ran along with the lakes on our left and the towering Snowdon mountain in the distance to the left as we circumnavigated it. We arrived at a farm gate and then another, and another as well as numerous stiles over walls and ditches. We made our way through farmland and eventually over some undulating hills before arriving at the third aid station. A brief stop, a few cups of water/electrolytes and away once more. The last 10km (6miles) had been fast, averaging 4 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre on my watch. These guys weren’t holding back and I intended to test myself against them.
The Climb before the big climb!! Concentrating on the slates.
The next few kilometres were over some bogland and on muddy, rocky trail with lots of little ups and downs thrown in. It felt like real trail running. I love the technical stuff, I think it comes from all the football over the years and enjoying the tricky footwork. Way easier without the ball! The climb to Snowdon would start with a climb to Pen Y Pass and from there we would start the real ascent of Snowdon Mountain. At about 2 hours and 37 minutes I had 32km on the watch. This climb was going to be epic.
The first section to Pen Y Pass was steep in parts and this meant mostly hiking. At this stage the legs were not enjoying running uphill so the fast hike was far more effective. Our group had split before the last aid station and I had been alone now for about 10 kilometres. I had passed three guys and caught up with a fourth, but he soon edged away from me. As I climbed to the Pass and the aid station before the Snowdon climb I passed one more competitor and felt like I was moving well. I had no idea what position I was in but reckoned I had to be close to the top 20. I was blowing bubbles at the aid station and looked to my right to see the mighty Snowdon stairing down at me. I really had no idea the length of the hike ahead. Get to the top was my next aim. I might even take in the view as I go.
The hike was relentless. I ran any flat or downhill, of which there were very few. It was hands on quads hiking and pushing all the way. The trail was made up mostly of slabs of rocks, hard to run on and some of the boulders were huge making the footing tricky as well. I managed to hold my place all the way and as I summited I passed two athletes right at the top. A nice little confidence booster before the 7/8 km downhill to the finish. The views of the high valleys, pristine lakes below and rocky verges along the sides of the trail were spectacular. I would love to head up on a non race day to take it all in. The only downside of the hike up were the crowds of tourists winding their way up the trail, sometimes not realising there was a race going on around them. A huge thumbs up to them all for taking on this hike though.
This face says it all, sore on the summit of Snowdon.
I rounded the bend under a bridge for the train, which goes right to the top of Snowdon, to find the last aid station. It was all downhill from here the ladies at the aid station announced. They also said it is only 2 miles. Now I am no expert on the whole mile/kilometre thing, but my watch said just over 38km and according to the organisers it is a 44km course. I knew I had a much longer descent than just 2 miles.
The final 7km went really well. I felt fast on the downhill and even though I didn’t catch anyone I made up a few minutes on those behind and rounded the final bend into the finishing field feeling reasonably good. I crossed the line in just under four and a half hours, in 14th position overall. I was greeted by Emma, covered in scrapes from a nasty fall on the mountain. I told her she was now a fully fledged trail and mountain runner. We both had left it all out there and that is all you can ever do, in any race.
I did smile a few seconds after this one!!
Next up, holidays to Sweden, some mountain hiking and running thrown in and a little 58km race down in County Kerry on my return.