Well it’s been a long while since I wrote a piece about running. Mostly because I’ve been out injured since March and just after my last race on Anglesey. It had been my intention again to raise some money for Myeloma UK by running the Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon.
Running the marathon for charity
I’m raising money to support the work that Myeloma UK does. Multiple Myeloma is an incurable form of bone marrow cancer which is not as well known as many other types of cancer. Myeloma UK do a lot of work in supporting those patients suffering with this horrible illness and their families. Myeloma UK is also heavily involved in raising awareness about the illness and in the research for new treatments and in time, hopefully a cure.
If you want to donate, here’s my fundraising page.
Right, on with the description of this event!
Bye Bye Bursitis (hopefully)
The bursitis persisted for way too long, not helped by the fact my job requires me to be walking all the time. That said, my job has kept my fitness up. I had to abandon the first marathon of the year in Liverpool due to the injury, and was equally resigned to losing the main event the same way.
My first Trail Marathon
However, having spoken to a couple of fell-running colleagues and having been away for a restful week, I decided at the last minute that I would take part in the Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon, an event organised by Always Aim High Events, who also arranged my previous race on Anglesey. I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to be in ‘race mode’ – heck, I’ve done no training in 3 months and not run more than 14 miles since last October. While it’s possible for me to wing a half-marathon, the full distance is something far more testing on the body.
As a result, no hotel, no overnight stop-over, just a 5am set off to get to Registration at Electric Mountain in Llanberis for 7am. And actually I’m glad I did. Whilst I wasn’t the first there, the car park was pretty empty, although by the time I’d picked up my number and walked back to the car, it was nearly full!
Preparation is everything (ish)
There were 3 race events taking place – the full marathon, a half-marathon and a 10k. In all honesty in retrospect, I suspect none were straightforward. This was my first off-road marathon, with only a couple of miles of tarmac to pound. The weather was, well, like Snowdonia often is – in the clouds and drizzly and as such the full compulsory kit list was required including full waterproofs, mobile phone, gels and home-made flapjacks neatly packed into tupperware for the journey. And a lot of water too! I elected to go for the goretex desert army coat from the outset, which drew comments and amusement from some other runners.
It begins with a hill
We set off at 9am, through the streets of Llanberis before heading off-road and up the first of the hills. Which was pretty tough as it was, with 3 miles of rocky trail climb. And whilst getting to the top of this was wonderful, the elation was soon dashed by the steep and slippery decent – I’m no fell runner and my balance is pretty rough at the best of times. I discovered an ex-colleague was also running, although he was doing the half-marathon route instead. And I must say at the point where the two routes divided, I wished I was doing the half as well!!!!!
Still, the descent became more manageable and followed a few paths down to the tarmac road heading towards Beddgelert. I actually recognised some of this from the Etape Eryri cycle sportive (another AAHE event) I’d done previously and when we turned off onto the paths around the reservoir I recognised this bits from the detour in the 2015 ride after an accident ahead closed the road and required us to go cross-country with the bikes!!!
Mildly Undulating terrain
From the route plan I was aware that we had about 13 miles of generally undulating terrain. Tracks that were easy underfoot taking us through picturesque woodland towards Beddgelert. A couple of other runners who had tackled the route last year gave me a few tips; basically save yourself until the main climb at mile 18. I really enjoyed this bit and it was an opportunity to make up some ground after the very slow start, and ensuring I’d make the cut-off for the mountain itself. Other runners commented about the noise from my back pack, which turned out to be flapjacks metamorphosing into smooth dense rocks and dust and the fact I was still in my overcoat!
Through Beddgelert and a bit more trail before mile 15 and the start of Pen Y Pass. This was a mixture of rocky and boggy terrain that seemed to get increasingly more challenging, before a final steep climb to the top. I’d made the cut with plenty of time to spare and took a short break at the feed station. The coat was dispensed with and it was onwards on the Pyg Pass.
Ascent of Snowdon
I’ve never ascended Snowdon before and really didn’t know what to expect. I guess in my mind I’d anticipated a rough rocky track which was relatively steep but obstacle free. So when I found myself climbing over boulders and then more boulders and scrambling over rocks, it threw me. I had several instances of cramp in both calves which took a lot of persuasion to shift. I was very slow on this bit, and the climb really felt never ending. Each upward bit was hugely steep and a challenge to get myself up.
There were a couple of times where quitting crossed my mind, however once committed to the track there’s no realistic option to go back down as it’s equally tough. So onwards it was with a lot of pauses and a bit of sitting down wondering why I was doing this to myself. In fact I was sat on one wall when another runner who was struggling in a similar vein pointed out we were on the switchback section and it was nearly the top of the climb to Finger Point.
I must say I didn’t know whether to believe them but another burst of effort and I saw the welcome sign of the two marshals on the top who gave me all the encouragement to reach it! Looking back on Strava this was a 3.1 mile section that felt like I’d climbed a mountain. Oh wait……!
And back down again
The downhill wasn’t exactly easy. A lot of rough terrain and it was quite slippery and steep, but at least it was downhill!!! The Llanberis Pass seems to be a popular route up to the summit which isn’t a surprise as it lacks the boulder clambering of the Pyg Pass! So a lot of walkers were going up and down, all shouting encouragement. I was exhausted and my big toe was now complaining having been squished on the way down. On the plus side, the terrain gradually got easier.
The last mile. Or is it?
At about 25 miles we reached tarmac which was a wonderful sight! However it was still a long way from Llanberis itself. It appears that this is actually an ultra-marathon, being beyond 26.2 miles!
The tarmac was steep but I had a lot more confidence running down it, before going through another trail in woodland through Coed Victoria and then winding around (the long way!!) back to the field in which I started. It felt like I was trying to sprint to the end but the reality was probably a snail pace crawl and I crossed the finish line in 6h4m8s which is the longest time I’ve spent doing physical exercise. Despite a complete lack of training for it, I’d completed the course. All 27.6 miles of it according to Garmin and my first (and probably last) ultra-marathon.
The Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon is definitely a challenge. The scenery is beautiful and the course is varied and tough. Always Aim High Events (the organiser) provided their usual high standard of organisation, marshalling and signage, and the whole atmosphere was very supportive.
If you want a challenge, this should be on your list. For me, I’m ticking it off the list now and will spend a bit of time recovering and working out where next.