After a swift swerve into Cuerden Valley to set up for the beloved parkrun Ray and I were on our way to a beautiful part of Wales called Lllanberis. The home of the highest mountain in Wales and one of the three highest peaks in the UK.
Llanberis is a lovely little village nestled in Snowdonia loveliness and every time we visit it’s raining! Arriving in good time with no motorway madness we park up with relative ease on the outskirts of the village and go for a walk to find registration. The festival weekend is in full flow and the Snowdon mountain challenge race is due to start. This race is only half the distance of the full Snowdon race, wait a minute, only half? Yep indeed, you read it correctly, athletes run up Snowdon and the first to the top wins. Now, not one for being a party pooper, but, surely the downhill is the best part? Let’s answer that at the end of the blog shall we…
So, the first race has set off, the Junior races are preparing for their respective age category starts and time, and so it goes on every race day, time just disappears! Registration is super organised with a display board of all athlete names and numbers, then you go and collect from the desks in the visitor centre, which incidentally had a fantastic exhibition of all the race winners over the 40 events that have been held. However, the race record set by Kenny Stuart in 1985 still stands at 1:02:29.The women’s record of 1:12:48 set by Carol Greenwood in 1993 also still stands. Amazing times and even more amazing are the years that have passed with the records still intact!
Onto business…the rain is getting heavier, the sky darker and the clagg is moving down the side of the fell. This is going to be a tough day. Families are milling around the fun fair activities and the road closures are being organised. A third trip to the loo and it’s time to go and get changed and try to eat some flapjack, I am always poor at eating before a race. Barry and Ben came into sight walking up the high street and looking ready for a trip off shore (covered in waterproofs and wet walking gear). Both ready for some food (2pm race starts are a pain!!) we part ways and get prepped for the start.
The rain seems to ease off a little and another environmental loo is needed. Again a walk back into the village and a warm up is on the cards. Looking around the playing field I spot a friendly face or two, Sarah Sharrat from Wesham, and her other half Mark, Wendy Dodds from Clayton and the fab England team fell runner Ben Mounsey. There are some serious athletes taking part from Italy, Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. There are lots of club vests, both local and touring and 3 of the mighty reds are representing for #teamredrose.
Two gentle laps of the field, a few fast strides and a gathering around the start with yet another toilet visit and it’s nearly time. It’s surprising how many TV cameras are dotted about the place and the nerves turn into sickness. Every race without fail, that feeling in the pit of the stomach…Slightly over 2pm and we are off, I wish Barry and Ben a good strong race and we head out of the field. The crowds lining the streets are just brilliant, especially in such poor weather. Following the cones and tape a 400m flat, fast, tarmac start sees all the front runners disappear up the first climb of the race. Oh boy, what a lung burner!
Just short of a mile of up and we hit the trail onto the fell, through a kissing gate and spectators line the rocky, claggy route. A few twists and turns on a wide path and the real ascent begins. I can hear Wendy and Stu Mc Nair shouting out their support, “Come on Captain” “well done, you’re doing great”, “payback for interval sessions” and more, it was great to see their lovely faces and Red Rose hoodies! 🙂 Visibility was poor but just putting one foot in front of the other was the order of the day, keep moving and keeping upright. A rocky route that was wet and with poor visibility would bring about its own issues further up the climb no doubt.
Ray could be seen about a mile and a half up, easy to spot for a change in his bright red jacket. The usual quips and shouts of support, always make me giggle, which, when you’re huffing and puffing isn’t always good when you’re trying to get your breathing sorted! The task ahead now lay in full view as I turned the bend and the bracken cleared, all 3,360 ft of it. Having had such a quick start I had removed my waterproof very early on. I knew the chill would come once I slowed down and the heart rate dropped. The rain had subsided and it looked a bit brighter up top, for a short while anyway. Conscious that I needed to make 4 miles in the cut off time of 1 hour and 15 minutes I had to keep digging in. The climbing was intense, the quads were beginning to burn and the calf muscles were screaming. 2.5 miles up and the support of the event team at the ‘Half Way House’ was a welcome sight. Water stations and words of support lifted my head for a little while and a quick chat with a local club runner helped for another half a mile. Lots of run/walking on seriously wet rocky ground and checking with my Garmin that I stayed on target for a 49 minutes for three miles and I should make the cut off time of 1 hour and 15. Lots of marshals snaking the route in a line of high viz was reassuring as the clagg descended once again. Difficulties negotiating round tourist walkers was something I hadn’t factored into my race plan. Those extra steps boxing round a group of walkers felt like extra hard work! Then mile four hit me, in more ways than one. Feeling the cold I had missed the signs of earlier energy dips. The cold had hit me and combined with being wet and moving slower up a steeper gradient I hadn’t noticed the decline in my energy. Thankfully, questioning my ability the penny dropped, I was losing strength because I needed fuel.
Stuffing in a gel and a boiled sweet and less than a mile to go to the summit Ben descended out of the clagg from the summit, watching him effortlessly glide over the rocky surface was amazing. He too negotiating walkers who with the best intentions just got it wrong when it came to moving out of the way. A few fallers and again head down and keep chipping away. Visibility still poor I can see a few steps in front of me and nothing more. Thinking back to my coaches words a few weeks ago, he challenged the need to be able to see any further than you need. Keeping this very real piece of advice in my mind I plowed on. Marshals lined the route heavily from this point to the summit, the volunteers were fantastic in poor cold conditions. I can soon see the summit and the congestion ahead looks like it could be a head ache. I remember the steps to the trig from our trip just before Christmas. It’s a congested point on an average day, but today it looked dangerous. A marshal advised to pull to the left and look for the tape, difficult given the poor conditions. A second route had been mapped out with race tape to guide runners over the chip mats. Chip mats at 3,650ft! Amazeballs!
Safely at the summit I need to touch the trig, a marshal yells to me I’m going the wrong way, I explain I need to quickly touch it before descending and I get ‘that look’, yep, you know it, that ‘seriously does it really matter?’ kind of look. Well, yes it did matter and believe me I needed all the luck I could get on the descent.
I had been looking forward to this point all week, that feeling of getting to the top, knowing I had made cut off, and being able to enjoy myself going down. It’s funny when you push yourself to the limits, what goes on in your mind. Having coached athletes for a good number of years now, I know everyone has ‘their’ thing, some talk to themselves out loud, some make strange noises, some do a mixture of both or more. I on this occasion turned into Billy Connelly, swearing like a trooper, like I didn’t know any other word apart from THAT word, for about 400m on the way down. Overtaking runners who passed me on the way up, that feeling is irreplaceable – a true sense of freedom and control of ‘you’. I’m even filling up writing this.
The descent started well, my version of runners Tourette’s syndrome over, I needed to focus as the terrain needed concentration and not bravado. My friend in front was my navigator now, Phil is a local and recovering from man flu two weeks ago. I’ll let him do the work for now, again I’m struggling to see. He comes off the path to avoid tourists so I gladly follow, the ground is soft and squashy, a welcome relief for my feet. We gathered up speed as well, so all was going well until, the cross back onto the rocks.
I hit the deck, and it hurt, a lot. Completely misplaced my foot and slipped and my back took the hit. A quick assessment, nothing broken, get up and catch up, quick! A quick section down with lots of tourists and a fall had knocked me and I slowed. Phil was way ahead and I got passed by a few that I had overtaken. My toes are starting to hurt being bunched up in my shoes but hey, I’ve had worse, I think I have at the time anyway! I can see Phil in front, he’s stopped and is stretching out, here’s my opportunity to catch up with him. My knees feel like they’re going to give way but I’m gaining ground, the clagg is finally lifting and the sky is clearing. I can see the ‘Half way house’ in the distance and the rocks have also changed to larger slabs. Not the easiest to negotiate and down I go again. Once more a slip but for some reason I ended up with a leg behind and one in front. Who knew I could do the splits?
My dodgy hamstring has again made an appearance, I fear I have really done it this time. A walk to shake out my legs, stop shaking and gather myself up for a few hundred meters and another runner passes me. Well, I may as well have sat down right there and cried. All that hard work and what for? This was supposed to be the best bit right? Wrong! It turned out to be the worst, and I think I know why.
I started a gentle run again and assessed the damage, yep it hurt. Another walk, another runner passes, I can’t let this happen. I am going to DNF. What’s the point when I’m going to be last right? I know where I am and my time is seriously slipping. I try another run and it starts to feel better, I carry on making it to the house. The support team there were brilliant, more water and fast walking strides and another run. It’s loosened off and I can again see Phil in front and I’m gaining on him. I catch him and he struggling, he can’t get his breath and is tired. We run gently together having hit the wider section of the path, the rockiness has abated for a while and Phil tells me how he runs up Snowdon every week in his training for the last 30 years. His PB is 2.20 and he will be happy with a sub 2.30 today given the conditions and his health. I am very impressed with his tales and the next mile and a half seem to go relatively quickly. The end is near and I know what awaits. The tarmac downhill section, not just any downhill, it’s a downhill that I can’t really describe only to say that running it after having climbed 5 miles and 3,350 ft, then descending, your legs have little if nothing left. They feel hollow and jelly like, my knees felt like they wouldn’t hold me up anymore and the pounding on the hard surface just breaks you when you think you can’t be anymore broken. This is clearly Phil’s strength, he tells me he knows he nearly home and forgets the pain and looks forward to the flat, he shouts at me to keep with him which I do for about 400m and then I pull back.
He’s speeding up and I can’t it’s as simple as that. I can see cones and flags and I can hear cheering. My mind doesn’t compute detail after this point. I seriously ran out of juice, the finish was nowhere to be seen and exhaustion took over. I heard Barry and Ben and tried to see where they were, spotted on the corner of the flags and barriers I stop thinking I’m finished…how wrong.
Another 100m on grass to go and a shout from Barry to get moving and to get a sub 2.30. Well, that was the longest 100m ever, and I seriously don’t know where the energy came from. I finished, it felt amazing to be over the line, even more so seeing Ray. Always a welcome sight and he needed to prop me up for a while whilst my legs sorted themselves out! Coffee in hand and a packet of jelly tots (yeah he thinks he’s funny!)Wendy and Stu soon appeared and delighted in letting me know how exhausted I was. Love them <3 Watching the presentation and the England team winning the race was a lovely way to end the day. Italy hot on their heels all the way but today was about the England team and their victory. An expensive race but amazing for lots of reasons. Some of the goodies from the event
Training will begin again in a week or so for the next event, the Ben Nevis race. 4,406ft over 8 miles. I have already assessed my plans and will take some learning from this race. Snowdon was a massive challenge which I ran for my family and Welsh roots. My grandparents took me up Snowdon when I was 8 years old, we took the train down, I should have followed that race plan on Saturday!
Diolch am ddarllen