19 July 2014 – Shortened Bad Weather Route – 7 miles / 2161 ft
In the past we’ve had some strong P&B runners at the Snowdon International Mountain Race – with Rob & Danny Hope as well as Graham Pearce having represented England – but skimming though previous results there’s a bit of an absence of our more middle-of-the-pack runners. Consequently, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We entered so far in advance, I’d half forgetten about it until a few weeks prior, whereupon Rach and I commenced a short programme of cramming in as much hill work as we could.
Thankfully, among the 650 or so entrants, we had a nice little group of Maroon & Gold – with stalwarts Pete and Caroline (who’ve run it before) and tentative Finny (with his ‘will he race, won’t he race??’ antics) completing our rag-tag gang of P&B. (Rob Hope was on the entrants list but presumably decided to turn down his England vest – as you do! – in order to remain fresh for Kentmere the following day.)
The Bed & Breakie Rach and I were staying at seemed to be entirely booked up with runners, making for quite a nice atmosphere of excitement. Over breakfast our host mentioned that she’d heard rumours of a possible route change due to the weather forecast and potential lightning… (not again!)
The weather remained hot and humid with just a tinge of that familiar ‘storms-a-brewin’ heaviness in the air. Not a huge surprise then when the announcement came not long before the start: for the first time in the race’s history, the route would not be going right to the top of the mountain, and instead we’d be turning around at a point about a mile or so from the peak.
Slightly disappointing but understandable from a safety point of view. The kit requirements were surprisingly easy-going though, which I assumed was in part due to the amount of support along the actual route. In fact, as we gathered at the start area, with TV crew and photographers dotted about the place, I began to notice just how many people were there to watch the race – it felt like the whole village had turned out. I’m not usually keen on crowded starts but the atmosphere was a positive one as we made our way to the start line.
There was a minute’s silence for John Ellis Roberts, Head Warden for Snowdonia National Park and President of Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team who had tragically died in a climbing accident the previous day. A poignant and appropriately thoughtful moment to remind one’s self to race safely (and to be thankful to those willing to come to your aid if things take a turn for the worse)…
There’s a bit of a road stretch to start with, which feels longer than it is – mainly because it almost immediately lurches upwards. Even with the shortened route, it’s still a solid three and a half miles of climb. It takes me a little while to settle into a pace that feels right but by the time we hit the rocky start of the Llanberis Path, I’m in the right gear and I’m feeling good mentally. Lots of people cheer us on, including a few familiar northern faces of those that had run the earlier Super Cup race.
The climb wasn’t actually as bad as I was expecting. While it was fairly ‘runnable’ it made up for it by being relentless, rocky, and roasting hot. The water stations were a welcome respite from the syrupy heat; a little gulp of water and the rest poured down the back of the head and neck – I could almost hear the hissss of steam coming off the series of imaginary wheels and cogs steadily ratcheting me up the mountainside…
Since the route is a straight-up-and-down it wasn’t long before the International Elite runners were hurtling past on their way back down – not only do you have to keep an eye on your own ascending line but you have to keep your head up in order to judge the oncomers line of descent too, lest you are smashed aside like a bowling pin. One descending runner took a vicious looking tumble very close to me… he skids a few meters through shards of rock and slate. Oof. Lots of runners ask if he’s okay. He gets up and thankfully seems to be. Someone did actually warn me the descent is the hard bit.
As the turnaround point comes into sight, I’m reminded I might need to top up the fuel in the old legs. I swig down my little bottle of flat Coke, slurp down a gel, touch the stone bridge which marks the end of the climb, and prepare myself for the descent – noticing how much it feels like the highest point of a rollercoaster before it drops…
I’m a little bit wary initially, having not long seen someone fall, but it’s funny – as soon as gravity gives you that little push, the idea of personal injury just melts away and careening down a rocky mountainside as fast as you can go seems like the most natural and carefree thing in the world.
It is an absolutely cracking descent.
It’s technical, so a fair bit of concentration is required to make sure your feet avoid landing on the worst of the sharp and loose rocks, but I think I was smiling the whole way down, with the cheer of spectators and the din of cowbells spurring me on. At one point I’m alongside the steam train and I can see the passengers waving. I imagine parents having to explain the dangerous-but-fun looking activity going on outside. “Aww, Dad, why couldn’t we run down?”
It’s not long before the rocks and flagstones disappear underfoot and you hit the tarmac. It’s alarmingly steeper and wetter than I remember. “Bloody helllll!” I cry as I overtake a couple of runners ahead – not through any sort of tactical move on my part, more down to the fact I literally, absolutely cannot slow down. Thankfully I manage to stay on my feet and the road soon flattens out, the final stretch in sight.
Turning the corner and seeing the finish line, my brain goes into Le Tour mode and I instigate a little sprint finish with a Rossendale runner. I have just enough left in the tank to pip him to the line… Small victories!
The atmosphere in the finishing area is great. There’s water and fruit available, and runners everwhere are eagerly exchanging race stories. Other than people asking how much further the full race goes, nobody seems particularly short-changed that we didn’t run the full route. I end up chatting to a few runners whom I finished near, including a chap from Wharfedale who I was shoulder-to-shoulder with on the way up (but who descended a touch more bravely than I on the way down…).
Rachel finishes not far behind me (a superb 5th in the Female Open category), and Pete, Martyn, and Caroline soon follow. Great running, and some respectable category positions, by all. None of this year’s P&B runners were on the England list, and the winning times of 47:20 for the men (by Cesare Maestri of Italy) and 55:20 for the ladies (by Sarah McCormack of Ireland), were miles ahead. But as is the way with us who are used to running in the middle-of-the-pack at the bigger events, you race against yourself and those around you – and of course the mountain.
With success criteria met, local ales were later drank, as is the custom for celebrating a lovely day’s racing.
The next day the weather was clear and glorious, so Rach and I decided to make the most of it and speed-hike to Snowdon’s summit. Plenty of other runners had the same idea, as we spotted a few wearing the (surprisingly tastefully designed) Snowdon Race tshirt, and received a few nods and hellos. Our run back down past the lake is stunning and I snap a few pics on the way.
When we make it back to the car, there’s time to cool our tired legs in a nearby ice-cold steam. What a glorious place.
Apparently next year is the 40th anniversary of the race… definitely one for the calendar.
Graham Pilling 183rd (59th MOPEN) 1:07:10.
Rachel Pilling 211th (5th FOPEN) 1:08:23.
Pete Hill 335th (37th M50-54) 1:14:41.
Martyn Finn 358th (42nd M45-49) 1:15:42.
Caroline Harding 539th (14th F40-45) 1:27:36.