It was back to Snowdonia last weekend for a repeat of 2017 and the hope of another great race on an amazing course. We travelled up on Saturday early in time to get a nice spot by the lake in Llanberis for a swim and a long barbeque. The day was a long one with an early start in Bristol as well as a short nights sleep. Not the greatest race prep but I really enjoyed the day, met up with some local friends and some Irish buddies over to take part in the race. We enjoyed the chill time either side of the hard work.
As already posted last week, I explained how hard this race is, but also how I had enjoyed my 2017 experience and was really chuffed to finish in 14th overall. This year would be much drier on the course and a bit hotter, around 21 degrees but all in all I had a race plan to try and beat my 2017 time and see where I was. So here goes!!
The course is basically made up of a decent hill to start and an incredibly decent hill to finish, that being Snowdon Mountain. With this in mind I decided to try to take on the first hill without quite going into the red and then maintain a steady pace for the flatter sections before giving Snowdon a good lash. Smash, bang, wollop, this all went a bit pear-shaped to say the least!
I can remember one of the first checks of my watch was at the 10km mark and I realised I had gone up over and down the first hill in 50 minutes. Too fast? Well maybe too fast but time would tell. I felt strong but had I gone off my original track of not going too hard. I was in 10th position or thereabouts, far too high up, in hindsight, at this stage as my strength would come in the latter stages if I raced smart. I was running with my usual Tailwind in my water bottles and had decided to carry enough water and jellies to last me until the mountain. I think my nutrition was working but something started to go wrong around the 17km mark when my whole body became more tired than it should be. The terrain early on is reasonably technical with a slog to the top of the first hill and then a fast descent as far as the first checkpoint. At this point you hit a gravel trail and follow it around a lake, through forestry trail until arriving in a little village and the next checkpoint. It was towards the end of this section I started to think I had gone a bit hard early on. Now it totally remains to be seen whether this was the case, did I just have a bad day, or have I raced and trained too much in the last 6 months? Who really knows, maybe I wasn’t enjoying the race as much as I should and when you stop enjoying yourself it really can go very wrong. I met a fellow runner and we discussed briefly how we felt pretty crap. We both decided that the next time we felt good we would enjoy that moment, as long as it lasted!
Outside of this developing tiredness and realising this was going to be one of those really tough days, when it just wasn’t all in my tank, I did take in some of the amazing views. The countryside all around me was just buzzing, not to mention those vast mountains looking over us all day. The earth was totally scorched from the dry spell, in comparison to a wet, lush green course in 2017. It is an incredible route and one to savour, no matter how sore you are. Around the 21km mark we started to meet the ultra runners, on the 61km course and I thought to myself how I have become an ultrarunner in the last year. What I have accomplished in the last year and the mileage I have put in, sure I am bound to have a bad mountain marathon every now and then. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get on with it. It is all preparation for France in August and you are a lucky person to be in the position to run in the top 20 of any marathon”. This was me talking to myself throughout. Anyone that runs long distance has these constant conversations with themselves. It is all about coming out on top in a positive way. It is way too easy to get bogged down and think negatively when things go wrong.
I arrived at the base of Snowdon climb in 2 hours and 45 minutes, 32km into the race and 8 minutes ahead of last years time. This was a boost to my morale considering I had been passed by up to 10 runners and was feeling spent. I would lose some of this time before the finish, mainly because the first half of Snowdon was awful. I couldn’t get my legs going on the climb, sometimes almost stopping. The second half improved as I chewed on some jellies, barely able to swallow, but gradually the legs began to move. I finished the climb in a stronger fashion and began to descend out of the mist in what was a long 8km decent on tired legs. I admired the train tracks on my left, thinking a train ride down wouldn’t be the worst thing right now.
It may seem funny to people who have read my race reports, that this post is such a downer, after some really good races this year, especially that it was a mere 44km race. The thing about the shorter distances, when you get into long distance running, is that you go harder and the body takes a different type of beating. I was clever in recent races such as Transvulcania and the Maurice Mullins ultra in my race strategies. This time around I got things a little wrong, maybe not on the day, but definitely a mixture of race prep and my actually attack on the day. I truly believe that it is never until you are out there that you have an idea how your day will go. If prepared to the last it can still unwind with the drop of a hat. The body and even more so the mind have their own ideas planned for you and sometimes you just need to go with the flow.
As you can see my spirits were lifted as I came off Snowdon, briefly halted by some awful stomach cramps, random but they came and went. I managed to gain a place or two on the way down and finished the 43.7km in 4.27.40, about a minute and a half faster than 2017 and in 18th place. I was actually 3rd in the over 35 category but we won’t dwell on that one. In my book it was one of the worst performances this year but in saying that, when you race badly and still finish in a good position, in one piece and ahead of a previous time things must be going pretty well. I often thought when coaching football that if we could play badly and still scrape a good result it was the sign of a really good team, so lets hope the same applies to my running!
I met Emma soon after crossing the line and she had taken time off her previous half marathon from last year as well, so all in all a good day. The rest of the gang all finished the race, not a scratch to be seen and we enjoyed a swim and a nice feast with a few pints in Caernarfon in the evening. All I can say is bring on next year. Maybe throw my name in for the Ultra?!
Below is a brief clip from my very average go pro footage during the race. This gives you an idea how I felt, not sounding the most positive at times but these are the days that count in the long term. Get through the tough ones and the rest is a piece of cake!
And last but not least, the course overview thanks to Suunto.