For the last six years, I have entered the Snowdon Marathon hoping to experience the iconic race.
All my running friends raved about the race and it was a must do event on the calendar. However, without fail, every year I have been unable to compete due to injuries or other commitments.
2016 was the first year that I hadn't entered so the race was not even on my radar. My focus for the year, the Celtman Extreme Iron distance triathlon, had been and gone and with a new job about to start I had deliberately left the second half of the year blank. Around August time lots of my friends were starting to mention Snowdon and training and I tentatively put out feelers for a spare place. Luckily a club mate was not going to race and I was lucky to be able to transfer his place. At the back of my mind I did wonder whether I was jinxed never to do this race but I pushed that thought away and plunged headlong into a shorter than liked marathon training programme. I was actually entered into another marathon just two weeks after Snowdon so just carried on following this plan.
Lead up events went well with a 38 minute 10k in Cardiff and a 1:27 half marathon also in Cardiff hopefully showing signs that I was on track. Being the last weekend of our half term break my wife and I took a leisurely drive to North Wales the day before the marathon, briefly stopping for lunch on our way up. After registering at Electric Mountain and already bumping into many friends from the race circuit we made our way to our hotel in Caernarfon. Enjoying a couple of pre race, nerve calming beers, watching an amazing sunset over Anglesey I was pleased that at last I had made it to the race that I had promised myself to do. Training had gone well and secretly I had a time in the back of my mind.
Race morning was perfect - mild with very little wind. Walking through Llanberis was fantastic, catching up with friends, asking about the course, taking selfies, the whole town had been taken over. I made my way through hundreds of fellow competitors until I saw some friends who I knew would be a similar pace. After hats, bin bags and old clothing were discarded the countdown started and off we went.
Although I have never run this race I knew the course well from lots of other events so I knew that there were places to take your time and places to make up time. The first few miles I took very steadily up Pen Y Pass. The climb started gradually but got steeper towards the top. By now the field was already well strung out but I was feeling good, holding the pace I wanted and in good company. The mist was down at the top of the pass which leant an eerie atmosphere as the field started to descend towards the Pen Y Gwrdd Hotel. This was a fantastic descent, starting on tarmac before hitting an off road gravel section towards Beddgelert it was easy to let the brakes go and make time back. Footing was good and the crowds willed you on as we all flew down towards the lake at the bottom of the valley.
Once back at the valley floor we continued for about 6 miles towards the half way mark at Beddgelert. Running was seemingly easy as the tarmac gently undulated and this was a section that I really enjoyed as it allowed me to settle into an even pace. I arrived at the half way mark at around 1:38 knowing that the second half was harder than the first. Again, the crowds were out in force through Beddgelert before tapering away as we hit the long, gentle climb out. I think a lot of people struggled on this section but I found a nice rhythm and enjoyed passing runners as we headed back towards Llanberis. The course profile seemed misleading here although I expect it was fatigue creeping up on me but the climbing seemed relentless with only the short amount of relief that a flat section gave. All the while I was keeping an eye on pace and was pleased to see that I was on course to hit my target.
Everyone talks of the sting in the tail. The last few miles when you reach Waun Fawr and the steepening road becomes trail. I had thought that I was prepared for this and was pleased to reach mile twenty three around 3 hours. In my head doing three 10 minute miles to the end should be easy and a sub 3:30 was definitely achievable. How wrong I was.
Slowing rapidly, I crawled up the steep tarmac before coming to an almost standstill on the gravel path. The one and a half miles of steep uphill seemed to drag forever although I was pleased that I wasn't the only one suffering. There was a small gathering at the top of the hill, jeering and generally cajoling you to Man Up and run so I broke into the slowest jog ever thinking that the downhill was coming. Unfortunately, any thoughts of actually enjoying the downhill were quickly evaporating into the mists as the gradient made forward progress excruciatingly painful. With every gravity assisted step the electric shocks I felt in my quads made every metre a battle. Looking at my watch regularly I was amazed at how slow I was moving downhill and could see my goal time becoming an impossibility. Reaching flat ground at 3:30 I tried to sprint the last few hundred metres to the finish but I'm sure that I was just hobbling.
Across the line in 3:35 any initial disappointment quickly faded as I reflected on what a fantastic race the Snowdonia Marathon is. I was even a little emotional when I saw my wife but this passed quickly as I soaked up the atmosphere. I was really pleased with 3:35, but already I was planning for 2017 as I stayed at the finish to welcome in friends. A fantastic event; brilliant course, great organisation and the best views of any Welsh marathon this really is a must do race.
Only thing now is to ensure I'm ready to put my entry in as it goes live next year and start to plan to recoup those few minutes. I'll be back!