Monday, 8 November 2010

Snowdonia Marathon

Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, a hundred - come on wimp, time to start running again. The rain seems to be relenting a bit even if the hill isn't. Creak back into action, overtaking people now, everyone else around still walking, a marshal shouts encouragement, how far to the top I ask, about four hundred yards, that's OK, I'll make it now, no more walking then downhill all the way to the finish, way to go.

The Snowdonia was apparently voted Runner's World favourite marathon a couple of years back, rather strange because it's a bit of a toughie. Not as hard as Beachy Head, judging by Stuart Mills report a week or so a go, but still plenty of up and down. You're unlikely to get great weather in the hills at the end of October either, so it must be the scenery that attracts people, and although it's pretty well on my doorstep I still find it a great place to go running. I last did the race in 2006 when I was getting close to 3.30 on the flat and came in at 3.57  -  that's what the hills do to you.

At 11pm on Friday the weather forecast was good, chance of precipitation light, but this is North Wales of course so by the time I turned up in Llanberis on Saturday morning to check in, it was uniformly grey and sheeting down. Competitors huddled in the Community Centre, cars, bus shelters and other sources of protection, until about 15 minutes before the start we all braved the couple of hundred yards up the road to the line. The weather was improving, the organiser assured us, so about half of us stuffed our rainjackets in our belts and off went the hooter.

A gentle mile or so along Llyn Peris is a good warmer-up, then the first bit of work has to be done. From Nant Peris to the Pen y Pass about three and a half miles further on, the road rises 800ft.  I walked bits of this last time but I must be a bit further up the field because no-one around me is walking and I definitely don't want to be the first to start. I'm breathing heavily at the top of the pass but not worried because I know there is a long downhill coming. I don't look at my watch until half way in marathons these days, just go with the flow seems to work best for me, and from Pen y Pass down to Beddgelert over nine miles further on there's a lot of flow to go with - a thousand feet of descent with no appreciable uphills and great views - just enjoy it while you can! One section goes off road for a couple of miles down a steep, stony but wonderfully runnable jeep track; the road runners hesitate, the trail guys accelerate, I overtake a lot of people. Then gentle roads to Beddgelert, chat to a few people, easy running, the rain comes and goes. Beddgelert affects us two ways, it's half way, the good news, but signals the start of the next hill, the bad news. I look at my watch at half way, 1.45, faster than I was expecting but I won't keep up this pace, the hills are harder and longer in the second half.

The rise out of Beddgelert is about 500ft in three miles; not too steep, but not steep enough to excuse a real slowdown; you've lost the freshness of the start but still need to keep something for what is still to come, gruelling stuff, probably the worst part of the course mentally for me. But then it's done and we're onto the undulating country through Rhyd Ddu and along the peaceful Llyn Cwellyn, the newly-built Welsh Highland Railway tracking us to the right, no trains in evidence today. Time to take in some gels, and drinks from the friendly youngsters at the feed stations, the shouts of "isotonic!" always trigger thoughts of G&T for me, no, put that out of your mind, there's a way to go yet. And so we approach Waun Fawr.

Waun Fawr! If you've done the race before, this name has been at the back of your mind since the start. Well, one way or another I suppose, I passed a girl a few miles back who said "Can't wait for Waun Fawr, then I can have a nice long walk!" At Waun Fawr, 22 miles in,  the course turns right and rises 700ft in two miles. As I turn the corner the rain turns to hail, typical. But deep down, this is what we come for, no options now just head down, grit your teeth and keep going. No need to save anything, it's downhill all the way from the top of this one. I run as far as I can, then move to 100 steps walking/ 100 steps running. This tactic is seeing me past a fair number of people. I'm sure the real athletes at the front run all of this but around me most of the field is walking, all my hilly ultras must be starting to pay off! It finally flattens out around the 24 mile mark, then a bit of level ground, then the downhill.
This must be one of the best marathon finishes anywhere. It's the steepest slope on the course, a jeep track giving way to a narrow lane, stony and a bit muddy today, but nowhere that you can't just let go in a full-on blast to the bottom. At the very bottom of the hill it's a right turn into Llanberis High Street for a crowd-lined final two or three hundred yards to the finish, brilliant!  I finished in 3:40:19 which allowing for the hilly nature of the course I was pretty happy with. A great day out and a first-class well-organised event, I'm sure I'll come again.

I've just noticed that the next race I had planned, the Doyen of the Downs near Brighton has been cancelled, so I'm looking forward to what will be the last one of the year for me now, the new 36-mile "Tour de Helvellyn" on 18th December. I'll have a couple of easy weeks then get myself off up to the Lakes to find out what the course is like.


John Kynaston said...

Congrats Andy ... sounds a great race!

Tim said...

Andy, on a course like that 3:40 sounds like a very good time indeed! I doubt I could run that on the flat these days. ;-)

You forgot to mention that you were the third V60 as well. Well done! Another great performance and report.

Fiona Rennie said...

Great report Andy, it brought back a few memories, I last ran Snowdonia in 1998 but I still remember the route, it’s a cracker… I also remember some poor soul walking backwards down the last hill, his legs were totally trashed and it was the only way he could get down. I’ll need to get it back on my “to do” list.