Sunday, 30 October 2011

Snowdonia Marathon

This one as a bit of a date with destiny as I’d run this totally off the hoof in 2009, having run the Great Langdale Marathon 5 weeks previous, and came in at 4h46 – so the gloves were off this time. Myself and a mate (Nick Burnside) were running in aid of Myeloma UK and NSPCC – so finishing and claiming our sponsor money on behalf of our charities was the main priority, getting a quick time next down the pecking order.
I’d planned to rely on the food and drink stations on the way round the course, I remembered from last time that from around mile 10 onwards there were energy bars and drink every couple of miles.

This would make a nice change from running with the usual bum bag complete with provisions and would mean I could concentrate fully on the task in hand.

The weather was being it usual SNOD self, with a (very) brisk breeze whipping the rain into our faces for most of the course. At times it was like trying to run uphill whilst being sprayed with a shower head at the same time as having a small person hanging off my back.
I could have given it a little bit more up the first hill but I knew there was a decent downhill stretch waiting for us at the top of Pen-y-pass, where the first crowds were waiting to cheer us on. I managed to make up some lost time on the recently added trail section, and caught up with my running partner Nick who I’d lost earlier on in the race after stopping briefly at the first aid station.
We were making good time at this point, clocking around 8:15 minute miles on the road into Bedgellert. I knew things were going to get a bit tougher after this point from memory of last time and the route profile, but the constant climb from miles 13-16 really takes it out of you, it’s one of those where you have to be careful not to burn yourself out and just slow to a pace you can maintain. I felt like I was hitting the wall for the first time in the race, and it was a case of digging in with the knowledge that there was an aid station at mile 16 where I could refuel on snacks and drinks.

As it turned out when I got there one of the St John’s Ambulance blokes grabbed my head and starting rubbing me with a towel – I’m not sure if I was looking like I was struggling or just generally bedraggled – but it did the trick and I was on my way again.
The route goes quiet around this point, and I suddenly felt quite alone on the course, at a tough point in the race – the course is undulating for the next couple of miles, but the cold wind and rain kept battering us from every angle, which meant that slowing down too much meant losing valuable heat and wasting precious energy to get warm again.

A lot of races talk about a ‘sting in the tail’, but Snowdonia has the mother of them all – miles 22-25 are all uphill, leading gradually up the hillside before dropping back down into Llanberis and the end. It may seem easy for fell runners or those used to off road pursuits to dismiss this as 'another road race', but this is a real toughie and the relentless climbs and bad weather put it up there in terms of overall difficulty.

Whilst I was kept going during the previous miles by the thought that the race would be over, one way or another, in around 45 minutes time, there really is no comfort climbing that hill – initially I was walking/running between telegraph poles, until the road got really steep and I was reduced to a walk. The road gradually becomes a trail up to the quarry at the top of the hill, and despite being tired it was quite dangerous to walk, as I was soaking through and the windchill made it around freezing, meaning that it wasn’t safe to spend too long up there. I was passed in the quarry by Nick Ham, who I had passed around mile 14 and was looking strong. He would duly finish in a little over 4 hours – sub 4 still eludes him, which is testament to the difficulty of this race.
Once through the quarry the track turns steeply downhill into a path, which in road shoes is always quite an experience! I will definitely wear trail shoes next time around, as there are a couple of minutes to be made up on this section with the right choice of footwear.

The last downhill section is really steep but it was heartening to see plenty of other runners, all fighting their own battles with the final stretch of course.

the best bit was the decision the organisers have made to the finishing strait, doing away with the cruel detour round the back of the village to instead leave a final straight couple-of-hundred-metres finish to the line to be wrapped in a space blanket and towel.

there's something about this race that makes you feel quite emotional when you finish - whether it's the friendly local atmosphere or the sheer relief to have taken on the course and completed it i don't know. Nick came in 5 minutes after me in 4h21, looking slightly worse for wear; i was worried he'd got exposure, but an energy bar and hot drink soon saw him right and we were swapping tales about the race in no time.

SNOD - make sure you do it at least once in your lifetime!

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