Snowdonia Trail Marathon

Snowdonia Trail Marathon - 23rd July 2017

The backdrop and uniqueness of this event led me to share my amazing weekend with a race report.

It all started back in October with another crazy David Allen suggestion that he had found out about a trail marathon involving running (mostly!) round beautiful parts of the National Park, finishing with a climb and descent of the Snowden Mountain itself.  It did sound pretty good I must admit, at the time i figured yes it would require some training but more than I realised (more on that later), anyway I figured I would be able to factor the distance aspect in with London Marathon training which proved a real help.

So, before i know it I’m on the Always Aim High Events page with credit card to hand and clicking the submit button I was entered, it was 9 months away, nothing to worry about!  I thought little about it as I focused on London but instead started to invest in some kit that I would need for the day, it was compulsory for you to carry full waterproofs, hat and gloves with the ever changing mountain conditions.

Fast forward several months, with some trail practice, off road running and climbing (wherever you can in Norfolk!) we felt prepared enough, more hill work would have been preferred; I was pretty naive to it all if I’m honest having not done mountain walking for a few years, David on the other hand……well lets say he wanted to enjoy the experience.  So come the Friday off we set picking up our friends Matt Parkhouse and fellow Road Runner Kelly Marie-Loftus (come and do some club nights again Kelly..!) and headed off on the 6ish hour car journey to the other side of the country.  We stayed at a bunkhouse close to Llanberis, very typical of the accommodation for exploring the mountains and at just £14 a night was a bargain to say the least, no luxuries here but a dry room, a bed, kitchen and with showers available too, just don’t forget a sleeping bag.  Whilst there we used Friday evening to recce the start of the race and Saturday for some tourist viewing, we even went to the local zoo!  Then it was off to the race HQ to collect David’s race number and Kelly’s too, she was taking part in the 10k event they also hold.

On to race day and the weather was perfect even for this part of the world, it was warm but most importantly, dry with a cool breeze.  Oddly I didn’t feel nervous, I knew I was in good shape after much preparation, after all this was about endurance and really taking it easy where you could, my race plan was to try and shuffle on the steeper parts and on the flatter areas trot along at 9:00-9:30 pace, with the exception of the very steep parts which walking was your only option (unless you were the leader who was frankly amazing!).

All smiles at the start…

Off at the start and it was a 1500ft climb over just 5k, so a battling start to the race to say the least, just keep moving I thought as I eventually reached the top before descending down the other side through wet peat, marsh and bog land.  So after just 6 miles my shoes had lakes in them, socks were soaked and I was covered all down one side in mud after losing my foot 2ft in mud and falling over, much to the amusement of the official photographers who captured it perfectly…

Muddy at the start, not ideal.

Thankfully warm sunny weather meant I dried out quickly, but I dusted myself off and carried on, after another few miles I did have to stop and wring out my socks as they were so wet and the thought of blisters later on didn’t fill with me with excitement.  After this part it flattened out a fair bit as you meandered round lakes through forests and continued on some brilliant trial paths, I was able to push on a bit from mile 9 and get down to my normal long distance running pace and pumped in some 8:30ish- 9:30 pace splits.  I stopped at mile 13 for a snack, take off the rucksack and grab a photo or 2; having only stopped for about 5 minutes Matt then came past asking if I was ok, damn I thought he was miles behind! He continued on and I saddled up to head off again.  I re-caught Matt and ran with him for a bit, I later learnt at about mile 15 he was struggling to breathe but nothing serious but it hampered his progress.  The miles ticked by at a solid pace and I felt ok, then we hit another real off road path which involved a lot of stopping, climbing, jumping through rivers and more marshland which meant at times you had to walk given the terrain.  Still I was sort of enjoying myself….

Then the fun really started at mile 18 and the climb began to the Pen-Y-Pass car park, this was hard, really hard, after making good progress it was a short but very steep climb of 1000ft before you even started Snowden itself, this didn’t start to hit me just yet pain wise but it was narrow and really difficult to pass anyone.  Finally at the car park I stopped for a good 10 minutes to refill bottles, eat and stretch for a bit.  The big climb was coming….

Just a few miles upwards right….?

So after re-fuelling onwards and upwards quite literally as I began the ascent to the top, I managed to hop, step and walk quite briskly where I could and jogged a few parts of the mountain too, wish i had done a bit more off road practice for this; then it just goes up and up and you are reduced to climbing and walking.  Thankfully it wasn't that busy on the paths despite the good weather, by now it was getting a little chilly as you reached the clouds and scrambled more and more.  I remembered to look at my watch for the start of the climb and It said 3h:40 when I began; I did stop for a few photos but was pleased with my effort to reach the top as it said 5h:00, 1h 20 to climb was good in my book.  However looking back now I could have made up more time here I think.  I was getting cold quickly and short on water, a walker kindly topped up my bottle which I was very grateful for!  Then the real hard work began, descending, this was a chance to finish strongly and I jogged off after a quick photo at the top and I was feeling a little tired now and the legs were suffering, the terrain was tricky in places and I stumbled a few times, reminding myself to watch where my feet go otherwise Im ending up with a serious injury.  Still I ran down as much as I could and hopped between rocks brilliantly I must say, the support from walkers was amazing nearly everyone said well done and clapped as you sped past them, they even stopped and let you pass which was really thoughtful.  Keep pushing I said to myself but the legs were burning, aching a lot and I was really quite battered by now, I didn’t want anything but water and I kept my head down knowing that I was only 2 miles from the end, it felt like an eternity and I kept getting signs of cramp in my right hamstring too.  The tarmac path towards the bottom was probably the worst as I zig zagged to stop the gravity taking me, another watch check and I had managed to descend in about 45 minutes.  However I was shuffling now and as I reached the main road I could hear the tannoy, one foot in front of the other I said….

Down the final path and I was welcomed by Kelly cheering; ‘its brutal’ I muttered to her as I headed down the funnel, seeing the gantry time at under 6 hours I crossed with a chip time of 5:58.14.  I was delighted to be under 6 hours as I collapsed on the floor, then the cramp hit me like nothing else, I was hauled up by another runner as I tried to keep moving, eventually I could stretch and warm down a bit.  The organisers had loads of food of which after a few waters I began stuffing myself with crisps and chocolate, I had definitely earned it…!!

As I sat, recovering, eating and drinking I then wandered off to meet Kelly; as I did Matt was coming in, looking quite bad, it turns out he had fallen on the descent on Llanberis path and cut himself badly and ruined his shoulder, he got over the line in 6:26.55 and we attended to him quite quickly, he was mainly exhausted by the pain and the breathing issues he had must have been awful.  Once he was recovered David then came in staying under 7 hours at 6:58.47, again looking worst for wear but he had a smile on his face at least..!  To round it off Kelly also ran a brilliant 10k time over a very hilly course of 1:13.15, her first trail race too.

 As a runner, we go through numerous thoughts after such an event, at first thinking about running was the last thing and do something like that again would just be insane.  However despite the mud and the climbing it is quite simply spectacular, anyone wanting to attempt it I would say ‘go for it’ but it is very hard, brutal as I kept saying so you really need to put some climbing in during training, if you’ve done distance you don’t need to train in this area much, it helps with the fitness no doubt but its about endurance and stamina.  No negative splits here….

Oh and make sure you have a driver capable of getting you home if you leave the next day, I thought my legs were ok but had to leave driving duties in Kelly’s capable hands in the end.

So, the winning time? 3:51.42. Utterly amazing and bonkers at the same time!

Would I do it again…? At first I thought it would be something to say ‘I’ve done it' and move on, but whisper it quietly….

Made it to the top!

Tired and weary, but what a day!