Races (and blogs) coming thick and fast at the moment. With my legs still aching, scabbed and bruised from Wasdale the previous Saturday I turned my attention to Wales and the Snowdon Race.
The 41st International Snowdon Race (as it it correctly known) was going to be a big event and I’d been given the option of a stay over at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis following the race which was appealing. I’d seen the TV highlights from 2015 and Ben Mounsey, who finished 3rd in that race, had recommended it and so it had made my 2016 ‘Race List’. There were going to be some runners with real pedigree here and not just the English fell runners who regularly amaze and beat me most weeks. This week I was going to be beaten by some top Internationals too!
That’s not to say I wouldn’t be giving it my all and running as fast as I could but I wasn’t going to be troubling the business end of the race.
Straight Up – Straight Down
The race is straight forward and even though the Welsh weather was not looking favourable, there would be no need for a map and compass this week, no need to cling onto anything for dear life (refer to my previous post on Wasdale). Five miles up and 5 miles back down the same way. With this thought in mind and knowing it was less than half the distance and around a third of the climb of last week, I was feeling relaxed and without my usual pre-race nerves. Instead I was just happy to be part of it with no pressure on myself to do well.
We gathered on the starting field. Myself, Calvin Ferguson (CVFR), Simon Taylor and Mark Walsh (both Darwen Dashers). The three of them are all from Darwen and I only recently got to know them via races and social media, which is part of what makes our sport so great. A good set of lads – even if they are from the wrong side of the Pennines! A few laps of the field by the lake to warm up and then, lured by the shouty Welshman on the tannoy system, we made our way to the start.
“There’s no point getting to the front” I thought, as it would make more sense to take it slow and steady and pick off the over enthusiastic locals on the slopes. Five miles and over 3000ft of climb will soon separate the masses. 14:00, the hooter sounded and off we went with the internationals leading the way.
The first mile is all tarmac but after just a few yards it became very steep tarmac and I lowered my cadence and adjusted my breathing. “Slow and steady” I reminded myself. The pre-race advice had been to avoid a lactic acid build up before the mountain started for real and I was keen to follow this.
The crowds were amazing with cheering and cow bells ringing right from the off. Anyone wearing Welsh colours was getting loads of support and you get the feeling Wales is a very proud nation at the moment, as they should be.
Slow and steady – keep plugging away
The field now started to spread out nicely and although the weather was not good there were still plenty of bemused walkers heading both up and down the mountain wondering who these idiots in shorts and vests were. I continued to improve my position up the climb probably passing five or six runners to every one runner that passed me. Nice to get a shout, a wave and a photo taken by Stuart Russell of Liverpool RC around the halfway point. Although not running today, Stuart is another who I keep bumping into at races and he is always laughing.
Now it was getting tough. The legs were starting to ache and the lungs were starting to burn. I wondered how long it would be before the first runner thundered past me going the other way and who would it be? I kept on climbing with no sign of anyone yet, into the mist with the rain getting heavier and the wind whipping up.
Eventually it came in a blur of red and white. England were leading but it was not my fellow Yorkshireman Ben Mounsey, it was Chris Smith who I must admit, I knew very little of before this race. Then a gap. What seemed like an age passed with nobody else coming down as I continued upwards but then they came…
Blue next, one of the Italians, followed by Chris Farell of England flying past. The Frenchman Julien Ranchon was next, hotly followed by the second Italian and then multiple fell running championship legend Rob Hope of Pudsey & Bramley AC 6th. Ben was next and I offered some encouragement but doubt he heard it. All four England runners in the top 7. Wow.
They were coming thick and fast now and I don’t know enough of them to list them all but gave Ricky Lightfoot a shout as he went past, and Karl Gray too. Both fell running heroes of mine.
As the cascade continued I was nearing the summit and still climbing well. The last stretch from the marker, where the Pyg track and Miners track converge with the main Llanberis path, to the summit always seems longer than I remember even though I had only last been here in May. That had been a windy but sunny day and I had dragged my wife Rachel, and my two boys along with other family members and dogs up to the summit via the steep Pyg track. Today the sun was not out and there was no view of the surrounding mountains of Snowdonia and the North Wales coastline. The rain was now hard and the wind blustery as I went through the summit check point and began the five miles back down.
Back down to earth
The rock was wet and with the scars of Wasdale still fresh, both physically and metaphorically I was cautious to run flat out to begin with. Add to that the large number of tourists, dogs and other runners and I began my descent tentatively but my X-Talons seemed to grip the rock well here on this Welsh mountain unlike in Cumbria last week where I had slipped a lot. Not being a geologist I couldn’t be sure but I decided that it was different rock and therefore different grip which equals you being able to run faster.
‘Release the brakes!’
This wasn’t just a race for men. The ladies were very well represented here with each nation also having a women’s team as well as a men’s and not surprisingly these girls are amazing runners. A good handful had passed me on their way back to Llanberis with Ireland’s Sarah Mulligan first and Heidi Dent of England not far behind. Lou Roberts and Katie Walshaw were also on their way down whilst I was still aiming for the summit but I wasn’t too far behind. I now found myself in a strung out line of runners containing two Scottish girls and a Welsh girl quite far ahead along with a few other blokes and we were all motoring down the mountain.
There are a few racing lines that are slightly ‘off piste’ and you can gain a few valuable seconds by running on the grass. I was following an Eryri runner who was taking said routes and this was a good choice as we made up time on the girls leading us. Up ahead, one of the leading Scottish girls had fallen and another runner had stopped to aid her and shouted to the next few of us to inform the next marshal we saw, which we did. (I hope she was ok).
About half way down now and the sky was clearing and with it the temperature was rising too. Ahead was Welsh girl Sian Williams and she was being reeled in by the remaining Scottish girl Charlotte Morgan and I was flying after both of them. Looking back at my Strava for this section I managed a 5k P.B. of 18min 34sec and one of the miles in 5min 43sec which is fast (for me!). Charlotte was past Sian now and pulling away from me too even as I also passed Sian. My legs were reminding me of the 9000ft of climbing I had done the previous Saturday and I was looking forward to the finish.
To my surprise I caught and passed Katie Walshaw as we both hit the tarmac with a mile to go. Katie is a great runner and I know her best from the Woodentops Bunny Runs which she usually wins in a much faster time than I can muster.
Almost back now and Charlotte was gone but an Eryri runner was up ahead and looking like he was slowing. Could I take an extra bonus place in the last 200 metres? Just before the turning onto the finishing field I passed him, expecting a sprint finish driven by the Welsh supporters on the home straight but it didn’t come, and I crossed the line ahead of him.
95th position overall in a time of 1:26:50. A good time and within a few minutes of a couple of the International male runners.
Snowdon is a great, well organised race. Truly an ‘event’ and one well worth taking part in and I dare say I will be back another year to do it again.
However, for me, there is a romance attached to a low key fell running event where you turn up and pay a few quid with about 100 other like minded souls, register in a tent, pub or scout hut and get on with it. To me it feels secure, nostalgic, like a family or a secret society that Joe Public neither knows about or cares about. It’s exclusive while at the same time being one of the most inclusive sports in the world. The kit is fairly basic, cheap to get together and it doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 80, you will be welcome. You can run in the same race as a Great Britain International and these people are real – not like football stars in their media bubbles believing their own hype and price tags. The only prerequisite is a love of the outdoors and the hills across our land. This, for me is what fell running is all about.