Sunday 23rd July 2017 and I find myself in the heard toeing up the starting line of the Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon by Always Aim High sports event company who it would appear specialises in brutalising people by enticing them in with spectacular views then bashing them with the great North Wales rugged terrain. This event is not for the faint hearted!
I was lucky enough to call North Wales home for quite some time and I find even more enjoyment out of it now that I don’t live there and don’t take it’s magnificence for granted. It has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Fact! However its beauty can offer a very false sense of security. In the weeks drawing up to the marathon I kept this one quiet for fear I may ‘DNF’ and as I stood there among the crowd it did cross my mind that I may not be prepared for this one. My last proper long run was a very flat Swansea Half Marathon last month where I had huffed and puffed and stamped my feet the whole way round like some brattish child. So how on earth was I going to get round 26.2 miles of up’s and downs with a maximum elevation of 3,198ft and a total elevation gain of 5,265ft overall?
As we set off there was a very gentle starting pace helped by a bottleneck at the start of the first 1,500ft climb. There was lots of laughter and a general good feeling, no one was in a hurry to get anywhere fast and I instantly started to feel relaxed by this laid back atmosphere. The view from the top was simply breath-taking and speaks for itself…
From here the course starts heading in a downward trajectory with the odd scramble breaking up a fast paced descent. It was during this descent that we encountered some hurdles, quite literally, in the form of two stiles which despite everyone's greatest efforts to get over quickly seen queues forming and as you can imagine many jokes were offered regarding this great British pastime. Each stile had roughly a 10-15 minute wait respectively. This put real pressure on all those desperate to make the cut off time at Pen Y Pass in order to ascend Snowdon. Due to thunderstorms and heavy down pours the night before muddy bogs surrounded said stiles swallowing up runners and taking them down at any given opportunity in their haste to make up lost time. I found myself on my hands and knees on more than one occasion but managed to pick myself up each time and soldier on. All of a sudden ‘tell the next marshal runner down at 4.5 mile, broken ankle, pass it on’ bellowed from behind and echoed down the line, our voices travelling faster than our feet and unlike anything I have ever experienced in a race before, ensuring that our fallen comrade’s plight was made known to race officials at the earliest opportunity.
I continued the descent into Beddgelert where I was met by my mother and father in law and son. This came as a much needed boost, psychologically I was starting to become disheartened by the prospect that I may not meet the elusive cut off time to safely ascend Snowdon: the main reason I had chosen this race. It weighed heavy on my mind. With a hug and some words of encouragement I was sent on my way again.
Between wanting to do my AJ proud and finding myself running a thistle clad Llyn Dinas I discovered a renewed sense of purpose. I started to pick up a little and had begun to calculate how many miles per hour I had to cover to reach Pen Y Pass in time, it was at this point I realised that as long as I kept placing one foot in front of the other, although it would be tight, it was a possibility. I could work with that! I next met the cheer crew at Cwm Dyli, apparently arriving a different person to that which had previously been sent on her way but this time I couldn’t hang around as I announced I was on my way to summit Snowdon.
With this the course started to climb again, fast: burning thighs, quads, calves, shins, lower back, abs, swollen fingers and aching toes, you name it, it hurt! So much so that when my shoe innards picked up a rogue stone at mile 17 the thought of stopping and wrestling off my soggy footwear to evict it was so traumatising that I decided to continue with my new companion which eventually embedded itself into my ever expanding feet and remained there until the finish line. I was happy to come across the forest and technical terrain, for a short while it took my mind of the pain as I skipped over tree roots, slipped through mud and cooled my feet in the ice cold water that had trickled down the valley.
As the trees cleared and I looked up toward Pen Y Pass, I knew for sure that I was cutting it fine. Every step felt like wading through treacle and time was slipping away. There were people dropping out around me, those who had succumbed to the unrelenting sun when we were promised rain while grown men begged ‘please work legs, please’. I started to cramp badly and I could feel the shorting out feeling I recognised as diminishing electrolytes lost through excessive sweat. I could see mile 19 and it felt like my nemesis, towering over me, provoking my inner stubbornness that kept me trudging forward as I gulped down gels and munched on energy bars thinking ‘you will not defeat me’ staring back defiantly. The relief when I reached that pivotal moment, well it’s indescribable.
I headed toward the water stop with a few minutes to gather myself and request the army cadets to cut my base layer, much to their amusement, to relieve my ballooning hands and allow circulation to return feeling to my fingertips. It was here that a cheery fellow runner quipped that this particular “marathon” would be closer to 28 miles… but having come so far already even this could not break me now. Through the checkpoint I passed and began to ascend Snowdon, one step in front of the other, onwards and upwards until I hovered above Llyn Llydaw, a view that always gets me. It was here that I was caught off guard, reminiscing of a previous challenge, I just love this place, and for a brief second it really did take my breath away. I allowed myself to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the tranquillity and view before carrying on toward the summit. I am so glad I did stop as this was the last moment of peace I experienced as due to the fine weather the paths were busy and congested.
What was really nice was that there was not one single point where I could not see, or hear, another trail runner for the hills were alive with the sound of m… (other fu…ng) …usic. We were individually fighting our own battles but collectively willing one another on. I tried to take my mind off the increasing pain by thinking of what run eats I would like to try on my next long run though this only served to make me ravenous but I was struggling to eat/keep anything down.
I sat myself down as my mind reminded my belly and legs of our previous cramp situation while I tentatively nibbled on a banana and seeds trek bar. One last look up then it was head down and push on. My husband had made his way to the top to meet me, he described seeing me occasionally trying to run, wobbling and eventually crawling my way to the top. I gave it everything I had and it got me where I needed to be and although the trail turns off just short of the Snowdon Cairn I was ok with not swimming against the current of multiple bodies, I’d seen it before, I was high enough on life having climbed a whopping 3,198ft, the weather at the top had begun to turn, such is the nature of the beast of Snowdon and I was ready to head to the finish line.
Out came the top layer as the descent began. I tried to run, my legs had another plan. Going downhill was going to be a lot harder than expected. Occasionally I trotted referring to my acquired style as the ‘shuffling granny’, heaven knows I felt the ache in every bone and joint. Once in a rhythm gravity kept me moving forward. At 25.05 my watch gave up the ghost, but I didn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing, I knew it couldn’t possibly be only just over a mile left to the finish line – it was too far away. At times I walked backwards down the steeper areas, looking ever so unhinged, I really didn’t care I was going with the ‘whatever works’ mantra.
As we reached the road and the final arrow toward finish line I was confused, not difficult I know, but they pointed away from where we had started, a marshal then stated that we would follow a small trail around the back of the field from which we had begun. We had already covered well over 26 miles and it felt a little odd to continue to add mileage, all the same the trail was softer underfoot and allowed me to granny shuffle once again to the last 200 odd meters, where some of the 3M boys could be heard shouting my name and with their whooping and hollering I found the energy for one last short sprint to finish line glory.
Second only to child birth, this is the hardest thing I have ever put my body through. I reiterate this race is not for the faint hearted, you have to dig deep but it is oh so worth it when you do. All in all the Scott Snowdonia Mountain Marathon offers good pre-race information via email, easy registration, enthusiastic, helpful and smiling marshals, rugged and technical terrain, wild landscape, a beauty beyond comparison with views that will literally take your breath away (partly because you have to ascend an accumulative 5000+ ft to earn them) and if you are dogged enough to make it to the finish line it will make you feel like an absolute hero!
As for the bling, while it’s not the biggest, it’s quality which pretty much sums up this entire event. With a reputation that is gathering momentum as one of Europe’s toughest trail runs it is definitely one to be experienced.