Chatting with Stuart we came to the conclusion that it was too warm for wind-proof jackets because we were already comfortable while standing still. With less than two minutes to go I took mine off and stuffed it into my bum-bag. It proved to be the right decision because my long-sleeved technical top with club vest over the top, shorts, white Inov-8 cap to keep the worst of the rain off my glasses and Buff around my neck to keep wind chill at bay would serve me well and keep me comfortable throughout the race. (No, I wasn’t the barefoot runner. I did have shoes and socks on as well.)
While I enjoyed my minutes of fantasy ‘at the sharp end’ we waited for the announcements and the S4/C television crew to allow our send-off. Unlike in recent years, the air horn was sounded almost early. I started running at a pace that felt comfortable to me and found myself keeping pace with Stuart for a minute or two. I knew it could not possibly last. They always start this way. I had to ignore those around me and get on with my own race. And so began a steady overtaking for the next 22 miles.
Our route ahead up the first pass disappeared into a black pall of windblown cloud and rain. As I ran upwards I was feeling confident of a good performance and likely PB. I had got a virtual PB on the Round Rotherham and had 2 weeks to recover, with daily running to work to maintain the edge. My heart rate was at its optimum of 165bpm for maintaining decent pace and it proved that I wasn’t overdoing my early pace. I would just keep up this effort and the PB would come automatically (wouldn’t it?).
My starting so near to the front turned out to be a good move. All those I know, most of whom are faster than I am, were able to exchange a few words as they glided past me during the course of the race. Never before have I experienced such a friendly and familiar SNOD. It was brill. I even exchanged a few words with Karl Hinett when he overtook me on the first climb (see my Dovedale Dipper report). (He finished in 3:52 and would be running the Dublin Marathon on Monday 31st to keep his year's worth of weekly marathons on the go.)
I took the first descent carefully, not wanting to push the pace too much and trash myself. As in previous years a stitch started on my right hand side, but it only slowed me slightly for a minute or two before it was gone. The sharp right turn brought us into a strong head wind, which only lasted for a few yards. The off-road section that followed was welcome. I was in my element as I picked my way down the rough, technical track, letting gravity take me. Other runners were suddenly blocking my progress as it became my turn to glide past. Near to the bottom, the track became a narrow lane before climbing steeply back up to the road, after which point normality resumed and I began to get overtaken again.
The undulating road through Bryn Gwynant to Beddgelert saw me slowing a little but still making decent progress, or so I thought. I passed the halfway point in around 1:55. I was shocked that it had taken me so long after seemingly running well in the first half. I knew immediately that a sub 4 was probably out of the question because the second half of this race is slower for most, certainly for me. My legs had begun to feel heavy and stiff from the hips, just as in previous years. Although I was fit as far as heart rate went, the legs must still have had a bit of the Round Rotherham in them.
The support we received from spectators was amazing considering the rain and wind. At least we runners were keeping warm by running. They didn’t have that luxury. The sound of applause, usually the muffled wet slap of glove on glove, was never far away.
As the miles ticked by I monitored the time and began to suspect that a PW was unavoidable. 4:15 must surely be exceeded. From expecting a PB to predicting a PW was coming as a bit of a shock but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I would just do the same as I always do – always keep plugging away as best as my body allows. What will be, will be.
I had to enjoy brief walking breaks as I consumed my four gels along the way to keep myself fuelled. The last one was on the final climb at Waunfawr, which I was unable to run as much as I did last year (a PW year). Alternating between walking and shuffling I caught up with Barny C again, who had passed me some miles earlier (I can’t remember where). That came as a bit of a surprise. I thought he was gone for good.
Climbing that final hill brought us into the teeth of the ever-present gale from the right, which is worse now that most of the forest has been cleared and we can no longer enjoy its shelter. Wind chill was approaching its maximum so I started to run to keep warm as soon as the track began to level out and undulate before the slate quarry. My final gel had kicked in and I was overtaking again. Woo-hoo! By the summit a lean to the right and compensatory staggering were required to remain upright. I didn’t stop running though.
Through the gateway at the top, the path continues to undulate once or twice more before the final descent, which I'd been looking forward to all race. That final gel and the change of muscle use on the climb had left me feeling fully revived. I involuntarily reverted to fell-running mode. All the mid-race dragging my ar*se along those 'flat' bits was forgotten as I blasted downhill, weaving between the mincers and wincers, gliders and sliders, stumblers and grumblers. My new Brooks Defyance shoes were giving me amazing confidence on the wet, muddy, stony, grassy path. I didn't slip once. I was astounded to be feeling so strong, as if on a short fell race, at the 25th mile of a marathon I had run so slowly up to now. I was spotting, chasing down and picking off other runners I'd seen disappearing into the distance miles earlier as if they were now standing still, yet it was all seeming so effortless. I was just letting gravity do its job.
I hit the Tarmac and it became even steeper, such that even I had to apply the brakes a little to avoid runaway, but my well-seasoned leggies stood me in good stead to continue the overtaking all the way down to the High Street and right turn to the line, on this best of finishes of the best of marathons.
My time of 4:11 got me 638th position, which was pretty mediocre and not what I was hoping for, but at least it wasn't a PW after all, and my legs (quads, calves and knees) exhibited not one iota of soreness, DOMS or any sensation of having been used in the days that followed. 15 years of Ultras have had one benefit at least.
And how did the others do? Rather well it has to be said. Several marathon PBs were achieved among friends and forumites, on THAT course in THOSE conditions. Stuart finished 114th in 3:26 for a marathon PB. Ian finished 108th also in 3:26 on his first marathon. Iain finished 12th in 2:51. Jez finished 7th in 2:45. WHIPPETS!
The winning time was 2:36 by Rob Samuel. Second was Murray Strain in 2:38. Last year's winner Richard Gardiner finished third in 2:41.
First female was Kelly Morgan in 3:11. Hot on her heels in second was fellow Runner's World forumite Ruth Johnstone in 3:12. Hot on HER heels in third place was Ellie Sutcliffe in 3:13.
Did I mention whippets?
Pete's Eats was well patronised once again for post-race refuelling. After that came the bit I'd been waiting for all year – the Karaoke party in the Padarn Lake Hotel lounge bar. On the assumption that we would have run another wet one (we weren't disappointed) I had been dreaming all year of singing “It's Raining Again” by Supertramp. I recall looking through the MC's book of songs last year and failing to spot it. A check this year confirmed it, so I asked him. He replied that he had virtually every song we could wish for in his database, and that the list was only a small snapshot. He checked and there it was.
I suspect it was the first time that track had ever been accessed. It's not exactly a top Karaoke hit after all. Things were going swimmingly until the music started to falter, miss the odd fraction of a second here and there and the lyrics on the screen began to disintegrate into alien characters. Aargh. The moment I had dreamed of all year was about to fail in tatters. Luckily it didn't give up completely and we muddled through to the end. I suspect his bits must have become corrupted – seized up through lack of use by cobwebs and fluff. I'm an expert. I know these things. ;-)
Our Runner's World forumites' post-SNOD party, planned all year, rocked like never before until 12:30 (11:30 after the clocks had gone back). There were several rather excellent performances by other singers. I managed to squeeze in a few more – Elton John and Kiki Dee "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (duet with Andrea), Neil Diamond "Beautiful Noise" (I think that was when the first of the 'laydees' got up onto the dance floor and demanded male attention; I didn't know where to put myself; she would have eaten me alive if there hadn't been witnesses), The Monkees "I'm a Believer", Queen "We Are The Champions" (a massed mauling by all the runners). X-Factor eat your heart out. It was a blast. I can't wait for SNOD 2012.
The rain had stopped, the stars were shining, the wind had dropped and it was very mild by the time we emerged. Much to our amazement the burger fan outside in the carpark was still open and serving. Being very close to the finish line it had served the crowds well during the day. Now it was aiding the runners' refuelling process, post revelry and post (ahem) imbibing. 'Dirty burgers' were consumed with relish to aid a good night's sleep and farting (there's nothing like ale and cooked onions for that, is there?).
What a weekend. I don't think it can be topped. Can it?