Snowdonia, the Novelette: 26.2 Miles of Visualisation & Belief!

Posted on: 12 Nov 2019

Hello Buzzers 😁

Snowdonia Marathon Eryri - that truly magical set of words. My usual apologies in advance. If you think my blogs are always long, fasten you’re seat belts because this one is longer than the event 😂😂 For the last three years I’ve watched our amazing Buzzers run this iconic marathon - seen the pain, the pleasure, the determination and the enormous achievements. For the first two of those years, I never ever dreamed that I would toe the start line myself - I just didn’t think I had what it took. But HD has a way of getting in your head and making you believe in the impossible so last year I entered this magical marathon. Two months before the big day, I crocked my hip & ended up having surgery but I was still there on crutches, seeing my other half take on and finish his first (and he still says only 😂) road marathon. I was so proud of him that day and still am. His first road marathon at age 66 and the furthest he’d ever run was 15 miles on the flat (but had a few 100k walks under his belt 😂) - that was one hell of an achievement when he brought the baton home in just over 6 hours. 

So, as we know, you can’t defer a Snowdonia place, but the organisers were incredibly kind to me and because of the late injury last year, offered me a guaranteed place for 2019. In January when the hip surgeon finally discharged me from his care, it was with the advice that there should be no more ultras and definitely not any running otherwise I might find myself looking at hip replacement within a year. He knew from look that I gave him though, he knew I wouldn’t stop 😂😂 I even ran some of the the 7.5k home from that appointment, elated to back in business. Some may think it foolish not to heed the advice given, but the way I see it, you only get one shot at this life. I hadn’t been back running long at all and it gave me such a feeling of achievement and belonging plus I’d already decided that the year I turned 60 would be my year of running and had it all planned out. Despite new injuries, old niggles and the AS, I’ve made significant improvements this year - I’ll never be fast but I excel at being stubborn 😉

Snowdonia was almost undone for me again this year by another race that had been deferred from last year because of the hip - The Thames Path Challenge 100k. That was only 6 weeks before Snowdonia - quite a risk for someone susceptible to repetitive strain injuries 😬 I fell off a stool 2 weeks before the TPC and had a suspected hairline fracture of the tibia (turned out just to be a deep bone bruise thankfully) so the plan of run-walking that one was dashed. I really didn’t want to risk my Snowdonia place with the race going to a ballot entry system as of next year. 63k into the TPC, a sudden severe back pain that I hadn’t had before but no way was I giving in, I hung in there and crossed the finish line anyway 😊 Even now, I’m still waiting to see the spinal team and all I know is that another vertebra has shifted slightly and something in there tore as attested by the internal post-race haematoma that’s now enclosed in fibrous tissue. In the end, all I could do in the remaining six weeks to a Snowdonia was stop running and rest up and hope like hell that whatever I’d done would settle down. 

That absence of training and loss of fitness in the 6 weeks pre-marathon was a serious worry. I kept up walking despite advice to the contrary - I had to keep the demons at bay somehow 🤣🤣 In those weeks, I found a way of taping my lower back that seemed to help & I tried running at parkrun once or twice - with a back brace on it was uncomfortable but possible. That’d do for me 😁 One of our experienced marathoners at parkrun knew how worried I was and just put a hand on my shoulder and said ‘you’ve just done a hundred k, you got injured but you didn’t quit, you have the endurance to see this through’ and that helped so much in the last couple of weeks 😊 

I woke up the Wednesday before the marathon with the left hip out of place (technically called subluxation - there isn’t a deep enough socket for it to get dislocated over. Both hips will sublux, especially when relaxed or sleeping). Noooooo! Not now! It was only a couple of weeks before that the same thing had happened and it took 3 days for those overstretched tissues  to settle. I hobbled round on Wednesday cursing my stupid bones 😕 We travelled up to Llanberis next day on Thursday, two days before the marathon, so at least the hip would get a good rest! These bones don’t  travel well anyway and as it turned out, the journey up was like torture. Google maps reckoned it was a 4hr 20 journey. In reality it turned out to be a 7hr 15 one with only one brief stop for coffee & a stretch because of all the hold ups on the motorways. By the time we crossed the Welsh border though, we’d left the rain behind and the sun was coming out. 

We finally arrived at our rented cottage in Llanberis at 6.15pm & went for a quick walk around before getting unpacked. I was delighted how close we were to Pete’s Eats although not quite so amused it would be a short steep uphill walk back from the finish line on Saturday 😂😂 That night before turning in, I stepped out into the back garden, amazed at the clarity of the night sky, the Milky Way arching right over my head clear as anything, listening to the local owls calling to each other - pure magic that was 😍 I knew it was likely to be the last clear sky for a while though - the weather forecast for the Friday was grim......and accurate! By 9am, the rain started coming down and never let up for 26 hours! We had a lovely morning just chilling and being lazy (although I did trot down to the Spar for a paper mid morning and taught my brolly what it was for!). 

Clair arrived around 2ish then we went down to registration. Walking down the High Street, we bumped into Jim, Hobs, Liz, Max and Em - what a lovely reunion that was 😁 I picked up my number and had a cruise around the expo (seemed as if there was less on offer there this year but maybe that’s just my duff memory!). From there, Rich and I went to find Dolbadarn Castle which our eldest had assured us was worth an explore. What an approach to it as well - a single solid piece of 8” thick slate formed the bridge across the river before the climb up through the damp greenery of moss clad banks and trees and endless ferns - absolutely stunning 😍 There’d been so much rain already that the path was more like a small stream in places but that just added to the fun 😊 The remaining tower of the castle, built from local slate by the Princes of Gwynedd in the 12th century, stands 80 feet above Llyn Padarn  the lonely guardian of the Llanberis Pass. You can read more about it http://www.castlewales.com/dolbd.html and it’s definitely worth a visit just to climb up a ridiculously narrow winding stone staircase to the top of the 40 foot tower!

                           

Despite being a tad damp, I still felt like walking a bit more so we went and had a look at nearby Ceunant Mawr falls as well. Again, because of the rainfall, they were seriously impressive and we got even wetter in the wind-blown spray.

                            

It made sense then to head off to Pete’s Eats and dry off and catch up with the other Buzzers and it didn’t disappoint 😍 There were fewer Buzzers there than in previous years, but still plenty enough to give that wonderful warm glow of belonging. I thought that by now I’d be feeling really nervous about what the next day held, but there was nothing - no edginess, no nerves, just a calm sense of what would be would be. All I could do was give it my best shot and if it wasn’t going to be good enough then so be it. We didn’t stay too long as basically, because of multiple allergies, it’s difficult for me to eat out safely. We returned to our little cottage up the hill and Richard cooked me a spud-rich dinner. I’d got all my race kit ready before we even left home, so all that was left to do was to check I’d got absolutely everything I would need the next day. I was still waiting for the pre-race nerves to kick in but nothing was happening. After dinner, time for a nice relaxing hot bath and I have to say the bath in that cottage was amazing - unlimited hot water and a massive tub! Clare returned from her afternoon out and we all had a final cuppa before setting our alarms and turning in.

The bed in the cottage was super comfortable and the previous night I’d slept better than at home. The night before the race night I never expect to sleep well but this time it was an exception and again I slept so much better than usual. Maybe it was the continual drumming of rain on the roof but whatever it was, I was grateful. As soon as the first alarm went off the following morning I was up and doing my morning stretches to get going. The one thing I was dreading, was the likelihood of misbehaving guts - somewhat of a horrible pattern with races this year! For a whole week beforehand, I’d stuck to an ultrasafe diet and so far things had been good. It gave me great confidence to realise that they were going to continue to behave today. So finally breakfasted, dressed and already to go, we headed off down to the Coffee Pot at 9:35. Still no pre-race nerves, no edginess, just an awareness that there was a job to be done. The only dilemma had been what footwear to wear. In the end, because of the dire forecast, I opted for the Altra Neo mid height trail boots on the grounds that they were waterproof and would keep my ankles happier as well (and on superstitious grounds, they’d got me through the TPC 100 six weeks beforehand).We met up with Swiss Dave in the Coffee Pot and it was my great honour to handover the Realbuzz Baton to him 😊 It wasn’t long before we started the slow walk to the start line. The rain was still falling but nothing could dampen Buzzer spirits.

               

Despite the row of portaloos near the start, there was still the customary line of men peeing through a nearby gate 😂 As 1030 drew closer, the excitement was palpable. I tried to stay near the back so I wouldn’t get in too many peoples way - one thing I did know was that I would be slower than most people running that day! My plan was to run as much as I could and fast walk what I couldn’t. Finally we were off and it took three minutes to cross the start line. Still no nerves, no worries - never experienced that before! I started out at a slow jog and Emilie passed me then Liz, both giving me loads of encouragement 😊 It didn’t take too long to realise that the offended hip was not going to let me off very lightly. At first it wasn’t too bad, just a gentle ache, but after those first couple of undulating miles, the ache became a constant nag. I willed myself not to look up Pen y Pass, but how could I not? That incredible dramatic awe-inspiring landscape wreathed in mist with its long line of runners stretching as far as the eye could see. Suddenly, the enormity of the climb hit home. This was going to be tough and this was only the start.

As the gradient increased, both hips started protesting - the lack of running for the last eight weeks really hitting home. I’m convinced that fast walking and running build different muscles around the hips and I definitely seemed to have my walking legs on that day. At first I tried jogging 100 steps then walking 30, but after a few cycles of that it became obvious that I couldn’t keep it up and I’d be better off just fast walking. So began the long slog. At least the rain had pretty much stopped by now so that was a huge bonus! Not too far from the top I caught Emilie up and it was so good just to see a friendly face 😊 We walked to the top together and as we approached the Youth Hostel, we saw the photographers at either side of the road. I seem to remember saying “Oh bugger, that means we’ve got to run this last bit of uphill “, and run we did. I think the expression on our faces in the race photos at that point says it all 😂 

    

Over the top we went, and at last some welcome downhill. I knew I wouldn’t keep up with Emilie because I desperately needed a pee and knew there’d be no downhill running until that was sorted! Nothing for it but to hop over the wall. Well, maybe hop is an over-exaggeration - more like a kind of ungracious fall over it 😂 Looking both ways, I couldn’t be seen by the runners coming down and there was no one coming up. It was only when I was hoisting the tweeds up that a group of about 15 hikers rounded the corner coming uphill and all burst out laughing. I just gave them a big grin and said “needs must” before climbing the wall rather more gracefully and getting on my way. At least I’d had the forethought to put the back brace on under my skins so there wouldn’t have to be the kerfuffle of taking the brace off before doing anything then having to wrestle it back on again afterwards 😂

I didn’t like that first downhill road section much - it wasn’t steep enough to give me good boost, plus I was rapidly beginning to realise why trail boots aren’t good on road - they have rather less shock absorption than road shoes and that didn’t make things any easier. As I approached the corner where you turn onto the fame track, the support was absolutely phenomenal. People shouting my name, shouting encouragement and that really fired me up 😊 Richard had warned me about the concrete gutters crossing this section saying how last year, he really couldn’t get into a regular stride because of them. I’m happy to say that those gutters seemed to fit perfectly with my stride and didn’t give me any problem at all and I just loved the sensation of running down that bit. No hip pain now - something about my posture running downhill makes much of the hip and back pain barely noticeable. Work that one out! I feel pretty proud that those two downhill miles on the track were my fastest all day - a 13 minute mile followed by 12 minute mile as I gained a bit of confidence, which for me is quite something on rough ground. I didn’t expect so many loose stones and knew if I caught one of them wrong, it would be goodbye ankles! I loved splashing through the wet bits best (just a big kid at heart 😂). That little steep uphill at the bottom to rejoin the road though - instant and harsh hip pain again and that immediately took the wind out of my sails 😕

I kept trying the jog 100 walk 30 but it really wasn’t going to happen today beyond a few cycles so again, I resorted to fast walking, with just a little jogging here and there. Another quick wee stop behind a wall somewhere between 11 & 13 miles and fortunately this time, no audience! I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to keep looking at my Garmin but I just couldn’t help myself. My aim was to keep the average below 15 minute miles, so every time I saw the numbers creeping up, time to force another little jog. I really was genuinely surprised when I realised that I was going to be in Beddgelert in about 3 hours 5 mins - dead chuffed I was about that 😁 I also knew that much harder was yet to come, but there was still no sense of dread or fear, I’d just take it as it came and do my best.

Richard was a welcome sight in Beddgelert and I don’t think he expected me there quite so soon 😂😂 He was super quick though to make me a sugary cup of tea (absolute nectar!) and restock me with energy bars. It was a brief stop of about three minutes. I actually jogged out of Beddgelert grinning, then promptly had to jog back again as I’d left my nice warm gloves on the table 🙈 Ah well, a slower jog out the second time then 😂 I’d heard so many other Buzzers recount this section out of Beddgelert yet at first it didn’t seemed too bad. The gradient isn’t too horrible but it’s just relentless. I was rapidly reduced to walking again and my pace was definitely slowing horribly as the hip pain ramped up again. Cue the photographer around mile 14 - once in his sights, a spirited jog, the huge grin and thumbs up - my favourite photo of the lot 😊Good job he didn’t catch my expression two minutes later then 😂😂

               

Somewhere around mile 16, I looked up and saw Richard walking down the road towards me and he’d seen me long before I saw him. He knew how much I was hurting but he also knew better than to mention it! I’d forgotten to pick up my head torch in Beddgelert - better to be safe than sorry! Then came the incredibly beautiful section by Llyn Cwellyn - man what a sight that was. Even the sharp wind that made me pull my hood and buff up couldn’t dull the wonderful sense of privilege to be in such a beautiful setting. I was glad though that I’d kept my waterproof on and gratefully zipped it up to keep that chilly wind out. The steam train was puffing away in the distance, a truly beautiful site, especially as now the weather was really beginning to clear up. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of reaching the 18 mile cut off in four hours but no matter, nothing would stop me from going onward. I was actually pretty chuffed that I got there in 4:32 to be honest considering how little running was happening! The chap there was too busy packing gear up for him to notice me passing and I was glad of that 😊 Around mile 19 the road crosses the Welsh highland railway line and just as I got on the bridge the train went underneath. Huge billows of steam engulfed me from both sides of the bridge - quite a surreal moment but it certainly made me smile 😊

There weren’t many people in sight either in front or behind - they were the same ones I’d been shuffling position with and having brief chats with for miles on end now. I liked being out there mostly on my own - this was my personal battle and I very much wanted to fight it alone..... and the sun was coming out! Miles 19 to 22 and I was still managing 16 to 16.5 minute miles. Back in Beddgelert, I’d actually started to believe that I could finish within the official 7 hour time limit. Fortunately, I had no idea at that stage what the final hill was really like 😂😂 I was aware that my pace had dropped overall since Beddgelert but I still kept checking the watch which made me push myself a little harder. No shambling here no matter what the hips and back were telling me! 

I finally reached Waunfawr and there was just one half cup of water left on the table so I drunk it gratefully downed it on the move - 4.5 miles to go. I reached the bottom of that hill in 5:30. If I could do what I did going up Pen y Pass, there might just be a chance of cracking that 7 hour mark. I wasn’t quite prepared though for the hell that the hips were about to unleash on me. As the gradient steepened, the hip pain became sharper and sharper. The right hip was now more painful than the left and knowing there’s still a cam lesion in there, it did cross my mind that this might mean another injury brewing. Now I was too hot but couldn’t be bothered to take off the waterproof - just unzipped what I could. That climb became walk 50 paces, stop & bend forwards, massage both hips, repeat. I remember feeling really surprised that the timing mat was still down at mile 23. Some chap even stopped in a car coming down from the top and asked me to pose for photos. Out with the big smile and thumbs up, but I haven’t seen those photos anywhere yet. Miles 23 and 24 were just the pits - 24 and 22 minute miles plus 18 minutes of stoppages just hanging forwards waiting for the pain to ease up a bit. It was only long after I finished that I remembered that I was carrying two instant ice packs in my race vest. What an idiot! They would have made things so very much better but I just wasn’t thinking at all by that stage. I even backed up against a wall at one stage, digging the pointy edges of a rock into the spasming hip muscles.  I remember looking up at one point and thinking ‘please don’t let me have to go over that highest ridge’ and thankfully the track stayed below it! HD was very much with me through this section - shorten your stride (stride? more like a stumble now), keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep opening the doors .... The door that got me through that section was the one with my Dads face behind it. No bloody way was I giving in, just keep plodding girl, you’ll get there. 

I must have started paying more attention nearer the top as I remember seeing a spring emerging from the middle of the track and looking at the flow patterns in the sand being spat out - ever the geologist 😂 At last that superb final water station came into view just beyond mile 24 and one last push saw my pace pick up a bit as the gradient finally levelled out a bit.....I knew there’d be hot tea 😍 The Mad Hatters tea party theme was just superb and everyone was just so kind, caring, welcoming and full of praise. They must have all been so tired after their long day but it didn’t show at all. I declined the invitation to sit down though I’m sure I’d never have got up again 😂😂 That tea went down a treat but I think they were a bit surprised at now much sugar went in there!! It gave me just the extra kick I needed. For once I’d been so good, drinking at every water station and in between and keeping the snacks going in even when it was the last thing I felt like. I’ve found out over the last few years that dehydration and lack of fuel make the pain far worse than it has to be.

It was just a quick stop before pushing on up the final uphill bit to a couple of marshals standing right at the top. I’d hoped I’d see Red Dave and Jenny up there, not knowing about poor Jenny’s horrible fall and broken wrist 😥 The ground was getting wetter and wetter but because of the boots, I didn’t have to step around anything - I just ploughed through the lot. Over the top and the sight before me took my breath away - a snow capped Snowdon peak in the early evening sunshine. I may have just stopped for a few seconds and gawped a bit. I’d found out early in the race that I’d put my phone the wrong way round in it’s waterproof case (and it’s a hell of a faff to try and get it out once it’s in) meaning that the camera was covered and if there’s one shot I really wish I could have taken, it was that one. The start of the legendary final downhill stretched away in front of me. This was it! Now I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I’d cross that finish line and a slow smile spread across my face. I think that smile didn’t leave my face until I was across the line! 

                   

A 'borrowed' image of that view! 
 

The stretch in front of me - flowing water, mud, rocks, muddy grass - that made me smile even more. The footwear I’d chosen that morning weren’t a good choice for the road but they were made for this section! Down I went, absolutely foot sure, toasty warm dry feet, whooping with joy, all pain temporarily forgotten. I passed four or five people who were cautiously picking their way down and that just added to the joy. Looking at my stats, that was a 14 minute mile 😁 Then the pesky stile 😂😂 Oh dear, the hips had a minor rebellion and 3 people caught up again while I was trying to haul myself over it but no matter, off I went again. Finally back on tarmac and that wasn’t quite so comfortable to run on so it became a run/walk again. 

Who should be waiting near the top of the tarmac road but our Mr Barber, celebratory beer in hand and hats off for not spilling a drop of the run in Rob 😊 A little further down, Richard was also waiting, saying he’d run on ahead to try and get a finish photo. A big smile and thumbs up for the photographer then the final stretch down into town. I wish I could have run that entire stretch but the impact was just too much - the spirit was willing but the bones were definitely not. Hearing the noise of the approaching the finish was magical, but it wasn’t a tiny patch on hearing the Buzzer roar as I rounded the final corner. Every time I relive that moment, I really choke up. Only if you’ve done it do you know what that particular finish means and now I understand too, but to have such tremendous support at the end - that is a memory as clear as crystal and one I’ll never ever forget and my smile reflects that ❤️ 
 

                       

One final walk break before the final run in to the finish, and I think I must have had my eyes closed for those final few yards judging by the finish photos. No barbering captured - that happened further up the street. Not even the big cheesy grin, no arms raised, just mouth breathing in a most unflattering way - I can’t even remember what was going through my mind right then. I know that once under the arch, my look was upwards, to the man I so wish could have known that I’d achieved this. 

I was handed my precious slate and I held it with so much pride and welled up. Then came the water bottle and space blanket. Thanks Rob for just coming and wrapping me up and ushering me towards the tea room otherwise I might just have turned into a blubbering mess! Max and Em soon joined us and I know that Max, so adept at reading expressions knew I was on the edge then and the best huge hugs from them both got me straight again just in time to to give a Richard a gigantic hug as well and be far more joyful when he walked in. I think I texted the boys and my Mum as well but I know they’d been following the tracker and would know already.

                    

My time came through so quickly! I knew it’d be close. A tiny flash of disappointment in myself - 7:01:18, but it was still a finish and originally that’s all I wanted 😁 I can remember so little after that for a while other than being ushered up the street, hugging buzzers, the lack of finish line cake and rapidly starting to feel very cold as I always do. Richard and Clare got me back to the cottage without falling over though that final hill up to the cottage was about as welcome as a poke in the eye 😂😂 One hot epsom salt bath later and I felt so much more human again 😊 I even managed to FaceTime my Mum and Ben but I have absolutely no idea at all what I said - I must have looked like the living dead 😂😂 My stats of pace versus elevation says all that needs to be said about that final hill 😂😂

It was so good that our celebratory meal this year was a little later - it gave us more time to groan our way to the Vic. What a splendid celebration it was too. Jim’s idea of gathering people’s favourite memories and telling their own as well was just so fitting for whats likely to be the last big Buzzer Snowdonia meet up. Absolutely inspired idea Jim!! We lurched our way back to the cottage, full of warmth from this superb event and another incredible and truly inspirational meeting of good friends 😍 I spent almost 7 hours in bed that night - the longest time in years! Some of it awake and smiling, some of it awake and groaning a bit, but with a feeling of achievement like no other challenge has really given me. I took on the kind of landscape that troubles my hips the most and somehow I hadn’t been defeated. AS well and truly kicked, job done 😊

The tradition of climbing Snowdon the day after - how I would have love to but I didn’t dare ask any more of my bones by then. Another 7 hour trip home sitting on a cushion because the hip bones were too sore to sit on 😂😂 A lot of short stops to stretch too but it was worth every bit of discomfort. The muscles afterwards weren’t too bad at all, it was just the joints that weren’t my friends 😂 It felt quite odd that within a day or two, the pride I’d felt at the finish line had completely evaporated and it’s taken until I’ve finally sat down and written this to come flooding back. That’s when you realise that blogging is so important to remind you that it was no picnic but damned hard earned.

Only two and a bit weeks ago yet it seems far longer. I know at the time I thought ‘and that’s that ticked off’ but in the last week, the thought has already crept back in that I can do far better. Maybe there’ll be a ballot application in 2021 after all 😁 I’ve had a couple of short runs since. A lovely 4.5 miles on local trails (through lovely mud) with Richard which we both really enjoyed despite me still having to shuffle up the hills, and parkrun last Saturday (yep, still shuffling up the hills yet only a couple of minutes off my PB - I really must be seriously slow 😂).

Never stop trying, never stop fighting, as Vin the Warrior once said.....impossible is a lie ❤️

Happy running everyone 😁 xx

 

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