In the heart of Snowdonia National Park there was about to take place a disturbance to this tranquil peaceful area of the UK. Normal trips to the shops or the neighbouring town were about to be turned into awkward journeys for just on the outskirts of the National Park the local car parks of Llanberis were slowly filling up and lycra clad men and women were pouring into the visitor centre of Electric Mountain. Cafes were pouring coffee and tea for the friends and family of these runners as at 10.30 in the presence of Dolbarden Castle a starting pistol would echo around the valley signalling the start of the 30th Marathon Eryri or to us English speaking folk ‘The Snowdon Marathon’
Now I wanted to run this last year as a 30th birthday present to myself and you only have to browse the blog to see why that could be. I love running and I love Snowdonia more so if there was a chance to join the two then I would be there. However the issue with the plan was the race had been sold out and I also had done no marathon training so I made a promise that I would enter the race in time for my 31st Birthday and this is where we arrive.
Now I had already done a marathon and crashed and burnt as I smacked into the wall on that cold bitter Manchester day around mile 14. Not to be done I picked myself up from that event and carried on running and the minute the entries opened for Snowdon I had signed up. The training for Snowdon had been lax to say the least but while the amount of miles I was churning out increased the idea of hill sprints, tempo runs and all the rest failed to materialise and I only really ended up getting in two long runs. I had managed a couple of hilly half marathons for training including ‘The Langdale Half’ but I carried on deluding myself that I had a marathon in the legs all be it a painful experience and I was a keen hiker and could walk up hills at quite a pace all be it I had been told that running and hiking hills were very different and in some respect they are but I have found that my hiking has helped my running. So that’s the training dairy over with, now it was just a case of getting to Snowdon.
I always thought I would travel to my usual hotel and stay the weekend but for one reason or other it just failed to happen. It could well have been due to my best mate offering the use of himself as chauffeur and so it was my friend very kindly drove me to the town of Llanberis famous for it’s slate works and the Snowdon Mountain Railway and one of the more gentle tourist routes up to the summit of what still remains my favourite mountain. I registered and collected my race number and so began the waiting game. My friend wanted to get to the start nice and early to make sure he had somewhere to park, as he didn’t want to drop me off and then spend the race looking for a parking space only to find one as I eventually crossed the line. You may laugh but when he dropped me off for the Great North a couple of years back I crossed the line just as he pulled into Southsheilds. I tried to assume him that there would be enough space as there had been no warnings of ‘get there soon as parking is limited’ but never the less here we were sat in the car park at 7.30. As I slowly nibbled my last minute carb loading we spoke about his daughter and work.
At 10am after several trips to empty my bladder and bowls we started on the rather long walk to the start and the rest of masses seemed to have the same idea. Now for people who are unsure of the race route then this is how another blogger describes the route.
Starting in Llanberis, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. Following this it is a downhill and both on road and a brief stint on trail, then undulating road past until reaching the second of the climbs at Beddgelert. After this climb it is more undulating road until hitting the biggest climb of the race at mile 22 just past Waunfawr. This climb continues until about mile 25 before a steep descent back into Llanberis and the finish line.
So as I stood in the warm sun with a slight chill in the air I said goodbye to my mate and began the gruelling 26.2 miles. Now as we know from my last post I did not find this as hard as aI thought and this is due to me not racing, I was out for a gentle light jog and took the course at a good pace. After Manchester I did not want to burn out at mile 14.
As we started the first climb after a rather good flat start the gaze of Crib Goch caught my eye, the thought of the day when I climbed her and hung to her strong ridge propelled me up the pass to the Youth hostel and the main car park for many who choose to climb Snowdon via the pgy track. This was the hill I had been dreading but after Langdale it felt rather relaxed and I was making good time, hitting 4 miles on target. Next would be a decent and onto the trail path to take us to the long flat section of the course, I went through 10K in just under an hour and was still making good time and felt very relaxed. The biggest thing I noticed on this race was how quick it was going we seemed to be ticking off the miles very quickly. I felt like I had only been on the road for ten minutes but according to my watch I had been running for a good hour: time seemed to be going quickly. This could only be a good thing as towards the end I didn’t want the last six miles to drag on longer than they needed.
As I ran down the trail route I was surprised on how many people like me were non trail runners but unlike myself they seemed to be showing their inexperience at running such terrain. Now the shadow on Snowdon could be felt and soon it would fade away as we entered the village and hopefully one day the place I would call my home.
You could start to hear the crowds of Beddgelert before we even turned the corner it seemed like the entire village and all the tourists were out to cheer you on. This was half way and as I looked at my watch, I had crossed it just after 2 hours. I was still on target and felt fresh. Crowds called your names and even the car drivers who had been forced to pull over or stop were also shouting encouraging messages. It was just as well as now came the head wind and the slow steady climb for the next couple of miles. The scenery also dried up a little, but Snowdon was always hovering in the side of your eye. I heard the sound of a steam train at one point as we ran past the Welsh Highland Railway I suddenly forgot I was running and tried to spy the engine that was making the noise but alas only saw smoke through the trees.
Coming up to mile 18, which at four hours was the cut off, I did a quick watch check to see that I would be hitting in at 3 hours. I was on course and knew that if I stayed at the pace I would be home before five hours. The goal was just to finish and I was well under way to achieving this. As I ran into the 17th mile I turned to my right to see the wonderful beauty that she is standing tall surveying her kingdom and as I looked at her glimmering in the winter sun you could see the smoke funnelling up from the Snowdon Mountain railway as she shunted away from the summit.
Mile 18 was reached and a quick loo break in the car park was in order as the ginger bread man wanted to make an appearance. After using the car park toilet I was under way once again. This felt like the home straight now and all I could think off was the dreaded hill at mile 22. The banter on the course had been great with people talking and laughing all the way and as we came to mile 20, this did not change. I spoke to a club runner who had raced it before and asked about the dreaded hill. ‘Walk it’ he said ‘You’ll be quicker than those who run it’ and without fail he was correct. As I reached the brow of a smaller hill the road turned to be greeted by another village who decided they would turn out and support the race. Energy gels, water, pop, cake, tea you name it they were handing it out. After this slight distraction the true task could now be seen, 3 miles of hill and everyone seemed of have been given the same advice as they slowly put on the brakes and turned their jog into more of a walk.
It’s true what the runner had said I over took more people running on that section than I think I had the entire race and by the time it turned to flat I was up and running gearing up for the last bit of down hill. As the track turned to trail you could see the lakes and slate walls that made up the landscape of Llanberris and the sharpe descent started into the place where it had all began four hours ago.
Checking the watch I was on course to come in before 4.30 and as I stormed down the hill at a slower pace than I would have liked due to every step sending sheer pain through my quads I arrived on the tarmac and the last couple of bends into the home straight. At mile 26 you could see the final corner and hear the town folk cheering and as I turned into the final section I found some more energy and sprinted to the line clocking in at 4.17 to the roar of the crowd recording a new PB.
This race has to be up there along with the Manchester 10K. Manchester as it was my first race, but Snowdon because it was a good run, the support, course, aid, scenery the banter between runners. Everything about this race scores highly and I would recommend every runner who is serious about running gives it a go. Forget Berlin, Madrid or London the marathon who have to run as a badge of honour is Snowdon.
A big thank you to all those who came and supported the organisers and volunteers those special people with whom none of it would be possible.