Today is the first chance I’ve had to sit and reflect on Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. What an experience!
As always seems to happen when I have a bit of a journey, I chose the wrong time to travel and what should have been a five hour journey (including a pit stop), ended up being a seven hour journey. So I arrived in Llanberis at 8:45pm on Friday evening, after food service closed at the bunkhouse I was staying in. I dropped my bags off, parked the car up and picked up my race number from registration. Then discovered the local chip shop closed at 9pm! So, my carb loading for the evening consisted of a porridge pot and a bag of crisps. Not ideal, but better than nothing.
With the race start not being until 10:30am, it meant I could have a little bit of a lay in compared to a normal race day, a rare luxury. I awoke to the sounds of barriers being placed on the road outside my room and when I looked outside, found I was much closer to the finish line than I’d realised.
Once I was ready, I left the bunkhouse and made my way to the start, which was about 10 minutes walk away. It was cold and wet, so put my running rain coat on to try to stay warm until just before the start. Excitement was in the air and I got chatting to a few people while waiting for the calls to the start line. It was great to see runners of all abilities and experience waiting to get going. Before long, people starting congregating closer to the start line and I knew it was time to get my head ready to go. I looked around and couldn’t help but be inspired and motivated by not only the other runners, but the incredible scenery surrounding me.
Before long we were counted down and the race began. Knowing there were two big climbs in the route made the slight downhill at the start all the more pleasurable. I started at a good pace and felt comfortable. I didn’t have a race plan as such, other than my fuelling; I decided I would have a piece of flapjack every three miles and a couple of jelly babies every four miles, which worked a treat!
Within the first two miles came the first long slow climb, the peak of which was Pen-y-Pass, at around the 4.5 mile mark, and the first timing check point. I was very aware of the fact I needed to make the 18 mile point within four hours, which meant the slowest I could go was 4.5 miles an hour. I’d made it through the first 4.5 in 53:29, phew! The other big climb would come after the 18 mile check point so I then knew as long as I could keep this pace going I’d be ok.
I carried on going, enjoying the steady downhill winding road. Then at mile 6 we went off road and it was still downhill. This is where I realised just how much I love my trail running. Lots of people were being quite cautious because the ground was shingly, which isn’t the best surface for running downhill in road shoes. However, I was loving it! I allowed my body to be free and used the downhill to my full advantage. Picking my way through people, using the grass at the sides for grip. One whole mile of free, energy efficient running and now over a quarter of the way through.
Everything was going well and I felt well fuelled. The next hill began just before the half way mark, another walk break. This is where it started feeling tough. The next timing check point was at mile 14, which I reached in 2:39:03, a time many (non-elite) runners would be pleased with as a half marathon finish time. When I realised my half-way point time I was both very happy and a little worried. Had I done too much in the first half?!
The road became ‘undulating’, my hips flexors were painful and I spent many miles debating whether or not to stop and do some squats to try to loosen things off, but it felt like ,my hips might lock up if I tried. I reminded myself of how I felt during Clarendon Marathon and that I’d felt like quitting long before this point, but still finished, so I kept going. Many people around me were also walking and it’s this point where people pull together and get chatting to help each other through the tough bit. I chatted to one guy for quite some time about our different race experiences, until the next feed station. Not far now until I would reach 18 miles; unless something drastic happened I would definitely make it within the four hours.
Having spent a couple of miles mainly walking, with the odd trot here and there, a huge sense of relief hit when I reached mile 18. I hadn’t managed to reach the 18 mile point within four hours at Clarendon Marathon, so making this point had been my main concern. I knew if I got that far, I’d definitely make it to the finish.
I carried on with a mixture of walking and jogging, wondering at what point the final climb would begin. It came along shortly before the 22 mile point, and I knew this was the tough one, the one people had been talking about. The guy on the mic at the start had warned that it would feel like climbing a wall!
At around 22.5 miles we took a right hand turn, and suddenly the road looked very familiar. I turned around to take a proper look at where I’d come from and realised this was the uphill climb in the early stages of the Man vs Mountain route. Having done this three times, I was familiar with the climb and now knew what was to come. My head was back in the game and I powered on up the hill, passing many people in the process. Mile 24 to 25 brought the Mad Hatters tea party, the end of the climb and more trail. Along that trail was a lovely view across the mountains, and of Llyn Padarn, one of the lakes in Llanberis. I was feeling good and knew it was only going to get better with the downhill into Llanberis to come.
Something else people had been talking about was the steep downhill after that climb. People joked about whether it would be better to just roll down it rather than try running. As a good chunk of this downhill was also part of the Man vs Mountain route, I now knew that actually I could run down it, as I had before. Yes it was steep and the rain had made the trail section quite muddy, but it definitely wasn’t impossible to run, with a bit of caution.
Shortly before reaching the 25 mile point the descent began and shortly after that my pace picked up significantly. Another free mile, the final mile, a finish couldn’t be any better than this! Once back on the road, there was a right, a left then a final right hand turn before the finish was in sight. The street was lined with spectators cheering and I managed a ‘sprint’ finish across the line. I’d done it, and quicker than Clarendon Marathon, which was just three weeks earlier. The finisher ‘medal’ was a slate coaster, made locally, giving it all the more meaning.
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This truly was one of the most painful but also most pleasurable runs I have ever done. I’m so grateful for the opportunity given to me to take part and may even consider entering the ballot to give it another go in future!