• Barry Gerhold

Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon

Organised by: http://alwaysaimhighevents.com

At 9am, 689 of us runners headed off from Llanberis for an event that was going to test us both physically and mentally. Natalie cheered me on from the sidelines. She had not been able to do enough training recently, so had sensibly opted to do the 10k event, which would set off at 10am. This event was the first that I had done that required compulsory kit. I was expected to carry: a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, hat, gloves, a mobile phone and a minimum of 500ml of water. Today I opted for the Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 race vest to carry the kit.

For the first half mile, we gently climbed about 40ft along local roads and then joined a bridleway, which instantly became steep. People were already walking one mile into the course and with the effect the climb was having on my calves, I could understand why. I tried to run as much as possible; not letting my heart rate get too high. This bridleway passed the peaks of Cefn Drum and Foel Goch and up to Bwlch Maes-gwm, up to a height of 1525ft just 3.4 miles in... Welcome to Snowdonia.

We followed a path down past Glanrafon Slate Quarries towards Rhyd Ddu. This section I had planned to take it easy and recover from the climbs up to Bwlch Maes-gwm, but this was not to be. Firstly, we were slowed down by ladder stiles, which fair enough you’d expect on the trails, but when 50 people were queuing, it made all the hard work running uphill a bit of a waste. Many minutes were spent here waiting to cross these. As the course went on and the competitors spread out, the queues become shorter.

One of the queues to cross a stile

The most frustrating thing on this downhill section, which should have been easy, was the terrain. The land here was very boggy. In sections, my foot sunk beneath the mud and on the odd occasion it nearly reached my knee. These were not the conditions I expected. At one point, there were multiple choices of path. I opted for the more direct route, trying to be a bit of a smart arse and this resulted in me slipping and falling on my backside.

My heart rate was showing higher readings going downhill than it did going up…?! This would go on for two miles and I was not best pleased. 5.5miles into a marathon event, all I wanted to do was make it end. Not a good place to be, but at this point we joined a gravel track which was a welcome relief. The first time that I’d run on runnable terrain.

The mud!

Around the 10k mark, we headed out onto the Lôn Gwyrfai path, passing Llyn-y-Gadair lake and this path winding itself through Beddgelert woods and took us into Beddgelert village. I have some recollection of running alongside a river with a lot of rapids, which was around the 11 mile mark. Looking back on Strava, the stretch of water was Afon Glaslyn. I quite enjoyed this as it was a bit of a distraction. There was also quite a lot of people dotted around cheering us runners on, which gave me that extra boost. We followed a track close by to the river for a while until it fed into Lake Llyn Dinas, this was a beautiful scene. Fortunately, the technical trails that I had experienced were long gone and I was able to take my concentration away from my next step and instead take in these sights.

Admiring the views

15.5 miles the course became quite technical once more through tree covered sections beside lake Llyn Gwynant. Here there was a lot of mud and steep ups and downs that required some care. A load of wet tree roots made even the “easy bits” quite treacherous. There were a number of stream crossings as well as the ladder stiles that I came to navigate very regularly on this course. In the 10 miles prior to this, I was managing 9 or 10 minute miles, which on any normal day would be quite crap, but today it was all I could manage and considering the course conditions it was not a bad pace. This technical section however, reduced my pace to a 12:30 min/mile and then a 15:30 min/mile then a 16:30. Yes, these technical sections went on for 3 miles and even at that pace I was overtaking people. As these sections ended, the climbs then begun...

After 18 miles, we started climbing up to Pen-Y-Pass. At the start of this climb I could pass a fair few runners, I was trying to keep the heart rate comfortable in the mid 160’s. My plan was to keep this around that level and as the climbs got steeper and as the heart rate climbed to 170, I would begin walking until the HR dropped back to the lower end of the 160’s where I’d start running again. This worked well for all of 200 metres. I approached a section where we’d have to climb up some boulders and as expected the heart rate went into the 170’s. Once this climb was over the path became quite steep, so I walked and my heart rate did not fall below 170. This was the case up to Pen-y-pass. It felt difficult to even walk at times. My legs were certainly struggling. I stopped several times, pretending to admire the view, but I was in fact, just hurting. The climbs on Snowdon had not even begun yet and I was not in a comfortable place.

Slowly, I made my way into the car park of Pen-y-Pass, where a welcome aid station greeted us. I filled up my water bottle, drank some electrolyte type drink, ate some jelly babies and waited there briefly hoping that this 3 minute break would rejuvenate my legs and give me the ability to fly up Snowdon. You might be surprised to hear that this did not quite happen. We followed the Pyg Track, which I knew had a number of quite technical sections. By technical, I mean 20ft high rock formations, uneven surfaces, massive boulders and to make things even harder the weather was warm, which meant many members of the public to dodge. When trying to adjust my stride to get up any tall steps, my calves felt like they would cramp up.

The obstructions faced on the ascent.

The days and weeks prior to the event whilst sitting at home, I hoped that I would be able to make some effort to run some sections of Snowdon. I really wanted to see what I’d be able to do. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for this course and I did not run a single step of the ascent up Snowdon. I did think prior to the event that if I was reduced to walking then I’d be able to manage 20min/miles. This again was nowhere near reality. It took me an hour and a half to get from Pen-y-pass to the top and that section is little over 3 miles. There were many sections that were potentially runnable, but I really didn’t have it in me, I was drained and happy just to be moving!

Half a mile from the top, the clouds came over and the wind picked up a tad. A nice comfy stone wall appeared in front of me and invited me to have a little sit down. I could not resist this kind invitation so I complied. Three army looking chaps were having a fun little walk up Snowdon and arrived at this wall at the same time as me. I heard them suggest putting jackets on as the temperature had started to drop and I thought that this would be a sensible idea. I popped on my jacket and to my left another competitor had opted to eject everything out of his stomach. A few people checked that he was ok, I decided that now was probably a good time to get moving again. The last bit up was a steep zigzag section and did not last very long. I was soon greeted by an official who acknowledged my efforts and directed us down Llanberis path where we’d “enjoy” the downhill sections.

Again, at home I imagined I’d be flying down the mountain, hitting sub 8 min/mile, maybe even close to 7min/mile. I had even checked street view on Google maps to show me the terrain. What I now know is that those 2d images do not quite show the technicality of terrain. The first mile downhill was quite steep and also tricky to navigate. The rocks were quite sharp and some of the rocks a bit loose, it was not possible to get any decent speed here and sometimes I even had to walk. After the tricky first mile of the descent, I started to hit the crazy speeds of 9min/mile, sometimes even touching on 8min/mile. The tiredness of my legs as well as the rocky path prevented me from going quicker. I was quite eager not to trip and face plant Snowdon.

After 26.2 miles, we reached the base of Llanberis path and you’d expect after 26.2 miles that you’d be finishing a marathon distance event. Oh no not today! Here my homework actually did pay off. I knew that the course ran long. Running long by just over a mile. Many other runners it seemed were unaware of this. If I was unaware of this, I am sure I would have sat down on the side of the road and wept for a short while, but no weeping today. I walked and ran this last mile; running past spectators, to make it look like I was having a good day, walking when no one was looking, hoping that around the next bend I’d see the finish line. Instead of ending at 26.2 miles, the course took us through some woods and around a field before heading in the direction of the finish line. Before long the finish line was in sight, as the numbers of spectators gradually grew and the finish line approached, it meant that I had no choice but to run, which I did. Natalie was there on the sidelines cheering at the top of her voice and I was so very thankful to cross the line in an awesome 6hrs 41mins… What the F*%k!

Fortunately Natalie’s legs were not as destroyed as mine and she was able to drive us back the comfy bed at the B&B. I say “able to drive us” but I say it loosely. She drove us up until the point where a chicken stopped in front of the car on a steep hill and Nat flapped a little and was unable to perform a hill start. From this point I continued the driving.

The positives:

Footwear – I wasn’t completely sure what trainers to wear coming into this event. A week before the event I was torn between lightweight road trainers and a pair of Nike Zoom Kiger 3 trainers. The Nike trainers I had only worn for runs up to 13 miles. With the rain on the days leading up to the event, road trainers were not an option and the Kigers were therefore used. I would say they held up to the task very well. They lost grip a number of times on the waterlogged boggy sections, but only fell running trainers would have performed well here. Wearing fell running trainers would have been a hindrance on 75% of the course in my opinion.

Seeing it through – A number of times I wanted to quit. Through the boggy section in the first 10k I was hating every minute. On the sections before and after Pen-y-Pass I was struggling walking up the climbs. Gradually my motivation dwindled and only my stubbornness saw the task through. Knowing that I can get through events like this is a useful tool. A memory that I can use when struggling in future events.

Future focus – A bit of a kick up the butt makes you appreciate the work required to prepare. Preparation I did not do quite so well. I needed to do a lot more hill work, that was obvious, and also a bit more practice wearing a pack. The additional weight drained me and I believe a big factor in the tiredness I felt later on. My naivety here will be my strength in future events.

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