Thursday, 11 November 2010

Snowdonia Marathon. 30/10/2010.

Snowdonia Marathon
Judging by the lively, year-round ‘SNOD’ thread on the Runner’s World forum, the universally positive comments, the number of converted marathon first-timers and my own personal experiences over 5 consecutive years of running it, this must be the best marathon in the country. For a ‘road marathon’ it isn’t half bad for those who run mostly off-road hills and trails. This year, on its 28th running, it was made even better by some route improvements (a bit more off-road trail on the first descent and a nice downhill finish straight onto Llanberis High Street without the detour back around the back of the village).

The new route required a road start closer to Llanberis to make up the distance lost on the other two modifications, so shuttle buses were no longer needed. We got to start in the correct direction with a nice bit of downhill to start off with, instead of in the wrong direction followed by a 180-degree right turn onto the road. On the first descent, after the sharp right turn at Pen-y-Gwrd, we were soon diverted right through a gateway and onto a stony track that descended more directly and more steeply to Bryn Gwynant, where we rejoined the road. I could not believe my luck as I let rip down there in my element, and to think this is regarded as a road marathon.

We were challenged by the weather as usual. It may not have been quite as cold, windy or wet as it has been in previous years, but when the showers came, they really came. It all added to the excitement and challenge of this race. It just wouldn’t be the same without the adverse weather conditions to add spice to the experience and give us something to talk about afterwards.

I was in my usual survival plodding mode and getting overtaken well into the second half until the true order got sorted out. The regular water stations provided excellent support. I had my own water bottles and only needed an occasional refill, but a few cups of electrolyte drink really hit the spot and kept the energy flowing.

Runners of all shapes and sizes were there, and I was reminded once more that outward appearance is no predictor of speed. I got overtaken by a man in Halloween fancy dress (I assume) which involved a wig and a long cape. I thought how hot it must have been to run in as he slowly disappeared into the distance. Another time I was aware of a strange squelching sound behind me that was taking a very long time to catch up. When it eventually did, I realised it was the man’s minimalist running shoes that reminded me of Plimsolls. He slowly disappeared into the distance too. I also heard afterwards that someone ran the race in Vibram Fivefingers. Ouch!

The final climb from Waunfawr, over the top past the old slate mines and down into Llanberis was as memorable as ever. I had enough left in the tank to not walk (I hesitate to call it running) all the way to the top. I joked to one of the many supporters cheering us on, who remarked that I looked as fresh as a daisy. I must admit I was feeling pretty good at that point. On the way I was noticing the ominous blackness to my right over the mountain. The next shower was beginning to make itself felt by the first spots of rain, but this looked altogether more dramatic. As I neared the summit I saw a bright silvery flash from the blackness. “That was a bright camera flash”, I said to myself, “and why would someone be taking pictures over there?” Of course I knew what it was. I waited for the rumble, which soon and protractedly came a-booming.

I couldn’t care about the rain but I did care about getting struck by lightning. I felt a rush of adrenalin as I summited the final climb. Despite my minimal clothing and slow pace compared to ‘real’ runners, I was still working hard enough to keep quite warm. Even my lightest weight showerproof top would have caused me to overheat, so I never bothered putting it on.

I had overtaken countless runners (who were walking) on the climb, and hoped that I hadn’t overdone it for the descent. Not on your life! I blasted down the other side like I always do, taking it carefully at times when the running became skating as my road shoes slid down the sodden grass with flowing surface water. The rain was getting heavier. Everyone else seemed to be standing still. I expected a bit of competition when we reached the first bit of tarmac track and solid footing, but it never happened. Everyone still seemed to be standing still. I suppose it was quite steep for road runners, but not for trail runners! My quads were doing their thing and the knee was not complaining. I was so in my element at last. I had waited over 4 hours for this and it was as good as I had imagined.

The rapid overtaking continued onto the road proper and I wasn’t slowing down. The rain was turning into a deluge now. Still no-one was catching me. I passed the junction where we used to turn right back out of the village, but not this time. It was a left turn, still downhill, then right to the blow-up finish arch in 4:15. Wow. I had expected 4:30 because I had been feeling anything but race fit, but I surprised myself by equalling my Personal Worst of last year. What a result. A commemorative slate coaster was thrust into my hand by a marshal and a silver sheet was draped around my shoulders to keep me warm as the deluge turned to hail. The timing was perfect. I was thankful for the sheet’s protection from the worst of the impact.

My heart rate averaged at 170 beats per minute for the 4 hour and 15 minute duration of the race, and it peaked at 184bpm (no doubt on the ‘sprint’ finish). I had little or no after-effects in the legs in the following week. My limitation is my cardiovascular system. It defines me as a plodder.

I and several others from the Runner’s World forum had accommodation in Llanberis for the weekend. Pete’s Eats kept us fuelled simply and cheaply (I had two dinners after the race). We rounded off Saturday night by a drink or five and a right good Karaoke session in the hotel lounge bar until midnight. What a fantastic weekend we had.

I only took a few pictures after the finish. S4/C, who televise the race every year, were at the finish line later on after I had showered and changed at the hotel, which was conveniently located close by.


  1. Sounds like a good event, I would mind doing it one year.

  2. Stu, for a road marathon it's pretty good - just enough hills and scenery and the odd rough bits to keep you sane.

  3. Did this one in 2008 Nick and loved it. It filled up too fast in '09 and '10 and I missed out. May try it again. Probably the only road marathon i'd consider. The limits on numbers keep it low key. Like always I ran a similar time to you but on the old course obviously.
    Did you see jodg(Jan) from FRA forum came in 29th just over 3 hours!!! Awesome.

  4. Indeed I did, Simon. I spoke to him at registration on Friday, missed him at the start and he'd long gone when I'd finished. He's a natural.
    SNOD entry opens in Jan, I believe. Get your entry in then.

  5. Captivating report Nick. Definitely sounds right up my street! think I may just enter in 11 and no doubt you will too.

    I emailed you back about Winter Tanners. let me know what you think.

  6. Sounds like an enjoyable run Nick. Hopefully I'll get down to North Wales in October one year soon - this is definitely a race I'd like to do.

  7. sounds like a great improvement..and as memorable as ever.i heard you led the party!!

  8. Hi Nick. Great race report. Respect for running the whole of the last hill. I was in bits at that stage.

    I was wondering if I could get your advice on which race in mid to late 2011 would be a good first ultra. I am looking to do a mid thirties or low forty miler as I don't think I'm quite ready to do 50 miles. I had a look at the Ripon Round Ultra 35 as a possiblity. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Stu, I'll see you there in 2011, and sooner at Winter Tanners.

    Ali, dead right. It's amazing for a road marathon.

    UC, what have you heard? Improvement over what? Running? No. Singing? No-one knows cos I've never 'done it' in public before. In fact I hadn't even done it in private for 4 or 5 years. I did enjoy it though. The adrenalin without the exertion, mixed with a dash of alcohol, created a heady and memorable mix.

    James, thanks. I could only run the last uphill because I didn't go fast enough earlier. You were probably faster than I was overall.
    I cannot recommend highly enough the High Peak 40 in September, based in Buxton. It's quite a hilly yet runnable trail ultra through beautiful limestone country, but it will eat you up if you go too fast too early. I've done it most years since 1998. My reports are in this blog.