Race Report, SCOTT Snowdonia Trail Marathon 2018

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Llanberis, Snowdonia, Wales

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.

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Inside the first 10km, cruising..

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!

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Start of climb to Pen Y Pass, Snowdon base.

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.

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End of Snowdon Climb at around 995metres

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.

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Descent off Snowdon, the finish in sight.

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!

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A smile of delight and relief at the line.

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.

 

 

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East and West

The last two weeks have been busy with a race in Wicklow last weekend and a more local adventure across the Maamturk mountains yesterday. I hoped to treat both events cautiously as I try to build up to Transvulcania. In saying that the Maurice Mullins ultra was a race and I would work hard without going totally into the red if possible. The Maamturk’s was more about a good training session and I decided to enjoy the day more with friends and not get into race mode for the day.

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Maurice Mullins 50km

The Maurice Mullins started at 9.30 and myself, Sinead Keogh and John Sherry travelled up early that morning from the West. The Wicklow Way was familiar to me from the 130km race last year. Anyone that has read that particular report, (The yellow men of the Wicklow Way) on this blog, will remember my hatred of those yellow men after nearly 19 hours on my feet. The Maurice Mullins, I hoped, would blow away those cobwebs and give me a new relationship with the Wicklow hills. A few years ago I ran the half or 26km version of this course so it was reasonably familiar terrain. That race had been my furthest ever run at the time and I came 6th place. It was my introduction to trail running. Little did I know back then how hooked I would become. Just shows how we can go from 26km in 2015 to ultramarathons in 2017!

Two hundred eager runners lined up and after a cattle like corral on the road near Jonnie Foxes pub, we were off. The different colours and styles on the start line really stood out. The bags and gear in the ultrarunning world make these mass starts a sight to behold. The run would take us along the road and then onto the Wicklow way trail. We ran at a decent pace. I decided to sit in and try stay with the top ten runners, without going into the red and hopefully running the majority of the first half of the race. I won’t bore you with the fine detail but the basics of the course meant we would cover grassy trail, boardwalk, gravel road, fireroad and some more technical trail. This variation of terrain was great and I enjoyed the technical stuff the most. We had a few decent climbs, around 1800meters, including Djouce Mountain before decending to the turnaround point. We would turn and run the course the same way home. This actually wasn’t as monotonous as I expected as at this stage I started meeting people running in the opposite direction. The comradory between runners on these events is second to none. High fives and constant encouragement for everyone. By the time I was around the 40km mark the 26km race started to pass. It was about here that my good pace began to slow and the rain came down in buckets, nice and cooling actually, but it did get very slippy underfoot. Shaun Stewart came bombing past on the 26km route, finishing 4th in a great display. Great to see a good buddie when your feeling fatigued. It picks the spirit up.

By the time I had turned at the 26km mark I was sittting in 7th position and I would stay here until the finish. I slowed considerably over the last 2 climbs and even though my downhill legs felt good my uphill ones began to tire. (This sounds like I carry the spare set of legs in the bag for up and downhill?!!) This loss in pace saw me drop off the front runners a little more than I hoped but all in all 7th place was a good day out. I wasn’t there to break records and I hope that this will stand to me in the coming months.

To conclude the Wicklow Way is now in the good books again. It’s always worth giving something a second or even third chance in this case!

Yesterday saw our return to the Maamturks Challenge in local Connemara.

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A typical turks view, fantastic!

It was a welcome day on the mountains after a week of recovery training. The weather was mostly fair with some mist and wind on the summits but all in all a real cracker of an event lay ahead as we set off around 6.40am. There is no doubt for a distance of 26 kilometres, this challenge is second to none. Relentless climbing, small running sections, nasty nasty ground underfoot, rock, bog, grass, mud, water, everything but snow. The hike starts at the base of Corcog in the East and follows several peaks all the way to Leenane in the west overlooking Killary harbour. Simlar to Wicklow almost 160 people took to the mountains today, none of which were mad enough to have taken part in an ultra race the weekend before, apart from myself, Sinead and John of course. We are quickly becoming the three amigos! A good adventure racing buddie, Mike O shea joined us after we met him at the start and it was great to catch up on the mountains. Mike is an experienced racer and always one for good advice.

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Misty tops with Sinead and John

We hiked the uphills and trotted on the downhills and slightly flat sections if possible, using the hiking poles alot. My kit of the salomon bag, carbon poles, salomon speedcross runners and of course the all important Tailwind as fuel is working a treat in 2018 so far. These days out are ideal tester days and the gear is all important during endurance events.

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Another climb?!

We used viewranger, Suunto GPS watches and maps to navigate, taking no chances in the low visibility. One after the other we summitted the Turk’s, my legs feeling great throughout, bar one ankle roll, which I seem to have come through safely. Around 13km we reached the first checkpoint at the top of Mamean. From here we climbed from 250metres back up to 700 and began another section of peaks and troughs. The rocky terrain on top was dangerous so we kept the running reasonably slow. We checked in at the next few checkpoints and with about 2 hours to go the clouds almost completely lifted and the vast mountains and expanse of views opened up. Once again blowing me away with how incredible this part of the world really is. I decided to bomb on and run the last 5km or so, which included the climb of Maamturk Mor and the Col of Dispondancy. They were two hard climbs but not particularly long and I was soon flying on the downhill back towards Leenane. A few big bowls of soup awaited at the hotel and this was what really pushed me on, having reluctantly left my friends to finish without me but I did want to run and push a little extra to make the most of that last hour. I’m sure they were ok with one of the amigos needing his lunch a bit sooner than the rest.

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The clouds decided to lift.

Two great weekends were had and I feel good, despite a bit of a sore hip and ankle. This are only niggles that a day or two will sort out and with the right food and hydration this week I will be building towards Transvulcania nicely.

It has been an absolute pleasure to spend these weekends with Sinead and John. They are both inspirational and and I think the 3 of us are improving at our own levels on a constant basis. Sinead and John took 30 minutes off their time on the Turks from 2017 this year. Incredible to see people constantly improve with pure grit and determination.

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Not a bad spot