Snowdon Race 2019

Posted on: 24 Jul 2019

We've history, this race and I.

My first experience of it was in 2012. That brilliant, beautiful, bolstering year, when Britain had the Olympic Games.

Even the flame itself had made it to the top of Snowdon. The image of Sir Chris Bonnington, stood messiah like on top of the trig point holding out that golden torch is still imprinted on my mind. 

Knowing I was following in its footsteps definitely contributed to what powered me up the mountain that year, even though I knew the flame had gone up on the train, I also knew it had climbed the very steps that would take us to the summit.

As for the race itself, I had never known, and indeed still have not known an atmosphere like it. Fell races are generally quite small, fairly secretive affairs, where you see the same handful of faces, and though we run and keep ourselves fit, in North Wales at least you don't really find the usual mundane chatter of road races, about times and paces and stuff like that, because it's more about the fells themselves, and the love and appreciation of the beautiful world around us.

Not the Snowdon Race though. Cadair Idris has a big atmosphere, where the whole of Dolgellau turns out and gets behind the race. It's like the carnival comes to town and it is all about the mountain. This was supersized Cadair!

International runners come to Llanberis, England shirts, Ireland, Italy, Wales, Scotland.... I had never seen anything moving down a mountain as fast as Murray Strain as he hurtled over the stones heading down to Clogwyn bridge. 

The buzz in the town, the event village on the field, the support along the route, the thrill of ducking and diving inbetween the hundreds of walkers, and weaving through the other runners, in addition to the challenge of the path itself, it was electrifying. Spectators too lined the flanks of the Llanberis path, rattling cowbells at us as we ran by - it was like being in an episode of Ski Sunday, except it's summer, and you're running, and all of it just lights you up inside.

I had a good run that year.

You have to be sharp getting your entry in, it is a very popular event. 2014 was my next visit, and the course was cut short because of lightning strikes at the top. 

I returned again in 2017, in hindsight probably too soon after smashing up my knee. I did the best I could, but the jelly legs at the bottom were a new experience for me, the strength I needed wasn't there, and the fizzing sensation in my knee stayed with me for days. Still I'd got through it more swiftly than I thought I would, so some signs of encouragement were there.

Roll on 2019, and here I am again. Excited by the atmosphere just like I was in 2012. It has not faded. Even had a plan for how I wanted to run it this time. I have been looking forward to this day since I got my entry done in March, and I've tried to train accordingly, slowly building up my leg strength, slowly building up my lungs, trying not to push too hard or too far after the injuries of the last few years.

Run all the way up, coast it all the way down, hope the legs still feel like they're my legs at the bottom.

We set off and like usual I was right at the back of the pack. For once this was not by design or choice, they'd just crowded into the start area while I was in the last throes of a little warm up. I'd wanted to be further forward because I knew I could run up the steep tarmac after the village, and I knew a lot of others would be instantly reduced to a walk. I fought my way through, determined not to let anyone or anything break my stride.

Through the mountain gate the gradient eases but the terrain then becomes the challenge, rocky steps and a bit less room to get round the walkers and walking runners that are all over the path. Everyone in the race is being good though about sticking to the keep left rule, so anyone moving faster can see their lines to overtake. It's just about measuring your effort then, letting your lungs recover a little on the not so steep section to the halfway house. The lungs will be needed later on.

Allt Moses is a tough climb, rocky steps all the way up to Clogwyn bridge, and hard to keep your rhythm on here. Break your stride on this bit and you'll be walking all the way until it levels out at the top of the scree. I hit the bridge still running, and just the other side, met the race leader coming down. It was just like seeing Murray Strain. It was in pretty much the exact same place. Made me feel like I was doing alright. We had eye contact. We had a moment.

As it turned out, Andy Douglas won in the fastest time for 20 odd years, so I'm pleased with my effort to Clogwyn.

I wasn't very far up onto the scree when the stiffness I'd been feeling in my achilles tendons finally kicked over into a pain level that would let me run no more. My hope of running all the way to the top simply wasn't going to be. So I walked, and as soon as I could I got going again, and with my attitude towards summiting as quick as I could now relaxed because I'd already failed, I just enjoyed my time on the hill. 

The cloud was down and it was damp and there was water running on much of the path towards the top. Whistles blowed not so much to warn walkers that runners were approaching, but seemingly to say "they're on your shoulder", as the grey made it hard for those marshals to see when those speedy runners were coming. I stood in behind walkers to let the downhill runners pass, and enjoyed the cool air of the mountain while I was up there. The wind was enough to be blowing us sideways as we passed the monoliths of the Ranger Path and the Pyg Track, and it was totally engaging trying to run.

Turned around at the top and took my time over the wet rocks heading down, dodging through the crowds when I could and just waiting when it seemed reckless to weave through. It was definitely busy up top, and the marshals, fair play to them, had a right job on their hands trying to get the swarms of hooded walkers, for it must have been raining up there too, to keep the path clear for runners to pass.

And so I coasted my way downwards, a little gingerly compared to how I can run but I was hindered by the stiffness in my tendons, they just didn't have the movement in them that is needed. I know I get days like these though, so it didn't spoil my enjoyment, and it didn't bother me that where once I would have flown back down this hill, I was getting overtaken all the way down.

What was good, was that after the steep return on tarmac to Llanberis, I could run ok back to the field. In all of my 3 previous attempts this short stretch has felt so tough it might as well have been another run up the mountain, but it wasn't like that today, I finished strong, and although the Sport Cymru pictures show the pain etched clearly on my face, I am very happy with my run, and I have learned from it.

Buggered, brutalised, but un-broken.

Only 1 minute 15 seconds off the time I set in 2012.

Most of all though, this run has told me that I can run in the mountains, that my knee is going to be ok, and that is the greatest news of all 😊😊.

This story isn't over yet. There is more history to be written.....

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