To date, this is definitely my greatest running adventure! So, sit down, make a brew and enjoy reading it because I absolutely loved doing it….
The plan had been to run a trail marathon in Snowdonia back in July to give me a taste of the terrain as this is certainly not the sort of underfoot conditions I am used to – but that didn’t happen (it’s a long way to go!!!) so I was a tad nervous…
Included in the race entry was 2 nights camping so I thought I would take advantage of that, driving up on the Friday to arrive in daylight with plenty of time to pitch the tent, eat, drink and listen to the briefing – did I mention I was nervous? Well, after that I was terrified! Looking around at the other entrants I felt like I should have been popping to the shops not attempting to run 58 miles around Snowdonia…oh yes, you get a bonus 8 miles for free!
So, what with the heavy rain and the nerves, didn’t manage a lot of sleep. But, thankfully the rain eased off around 2 am and by the time dawn was breaking it looked like it could be a nice day. My alarm went off at 5 and with a second briefing at 6.10 there was plenty of time to get ready – or you would have thought! For whatever reason, I was running around like a headless chicken at 6 still in my flip flops and falling face first over guy ropes..not the best start, BUT at least I had a focus……….trying to actually be ready to start at 6.30.
I just about managed to do it, running into the school to ‘dib’ my dibber pre start as everyone was running out of the school gates. But, hey, as Barry said (who was a godsend by the way) it was a long way and starting a couple of minutes late was not really the issue. (sarah, if you are reading this, I think you would have had a heart attack!!!!).
So, on my way. An easy walk down the main road towards Betws Y Coed trying to get a signal on my Garmin. The easy walk didn’t turn out to be easy for long, we turned off the main road within a couple of minutes and started to go up….and up….and up….but that was ok, I was fresh as a daisy. I was surprised, in fact, how quickly I caught up and passed a few people – noting a couple of ladies that appeared to be struggling up that first climb I felt better but did wonder how they would manage as we hadn’t even covered a mile.
As I was climbing, I came up behind a lady who seemed to be doing well and being the chatterbox that I am struck up conversation. Within a couple of minutes, I’d decided that this ladies agenda seemed to mirror mine and as I had always hoped I would pair up with someone, she copped it!!! Let’s see if we can stick together, I suggested, and I didn’t hear a ‘oh god’ or anything under her breath so Gin and Louise it was all the way!
There was around 6.25 miles to the first CP at Dolwddelan Train Station and after the first climb it did level out a little and it was actually beautiful running in the morning mist. I am a huge fan of trail running and I was beginning to think that maybe, today would be ok after all. Before I had started, I have made a little chart of the CP’s, distances and estimated times based on a 17min average mile (optimistic) and a 19 min mile (realistic) and arriving at the first CP I was pleased to see we were 9 minutes up on my optimistic time. I knew it was early days and that wouldn’t last but hey it does boost the morale slightly. After some coke and banana, which sounds hideous but was delicious, we were on our way to CP2 at Blaenau Festiniog, Just as we were about to leave, Barry arrived at the CP – perfect timing!
Early Morning Mist
The next section started to show the mixed terrains that we were going to cover, with some wooded sections, water logged bogs and slate quarries. The section through the woods was particularly interesting, it looked like a mountain stream to me…but no, that was the route so up we went.
Up here, really?
At the briefing, Henry (the organiser) had mentioned that once you come out of the wooded section you needed to look out for the bits of bamboo pole with cut up day glo jacket strips attached to give you guidance over the bog! Well, we reached the end of the wooded area, climbed the ladder effect stile and proceeded (under my instruction) to turn left…wrong!! After about 5 minutes I felt we were perhaps not going the right way and not appearing to spot any of the aforementioned ‘markings’ we stopped to check. I think, at this point, Louise decided to not just follow me and looked at her map. With that, and spotting some people going in the opposite direction (over there in the distance) we turned around and went back to where we went wrong and turned right!! I then proceeded to end up knee deep in a bog which wanted my shoe as a souvenir but with a helping hand I was out, shoe just about still attached to my foot.
I see no bamboo or day glo!!!!
Once we managed to get across to firmer ground, we were then going through the slate quarries. The tracks were pretty water logged so we started by trying to go along the sides on the grass but this really wasn’t any drier so we decided that the firmer ground underfoot was better and waded through. The scenery, though, made up for the cold wet feet.
Now I see a sign!!!
As we were coming into CP2 we started to see some evidence of the ‘zip lines’ in this area and there was also a downhill mountain bike event going on. Watching them hurtle down the hills, I said ‘wow’ I couldn’t do that. But, I guess they couldn’t do what we were doing..
Into CP2, around 13.5 miles in 3 hrs 46. Not a record half marathon time!! but still 3 minutes up on my optimistic time despite detour, bog incident and stopping to take a few photos!!!
To the next CP at Croesor was only 5 miles but it took us nearly 2 hours. Looking at my data, there was nearly 1000 ft of elevation so perhaps that’s why?? We were met by Barry and Louises’ husband Andy who jogged in with us to be greeted by another well stocked checkpoint, manned by friendly, helpful volunteers. Checking the schedule, I was pleased to see that despite the slowness, we were still 9 minutes up on my realistic timescale.
Jogging into CP3 with Barry
It was another short section to CP4 at Beddgelert at about 4.5 miles and more down hill than up. I visited this area around 8 years ago and had walked along the river leading into Beddgelert so I was looking forward to this. It didn’t disappoint…it was also nice to see some tourists milling around, most of which probably thought we were out for a little jog round the village. As we came to the bridge over the river, we had a little ‘dilemma’ and a bit of a this way, that way moment and decided to cross – only to be told as we arrived that we were supposed to be on the other side of the river!
Even a hand hold for the less brave
Running into the CP we passed a lovely ice cream parlour and I was very tempted to have one, Barry offered but as the CPs were so well stocked I said I’d save it for another time. As, as it happened, we returned the day after and had some of their delicious icecream.
So, reaching CP4, we were still only around 23 miles – not even half way but still inside my realistic schedule by 9 minutes! Re-fuelling on chocolate spread sandwiches (that’s a first for me) and fruit loaf (yum) we were ready to tackle the longest stage at about 10.5 miles to Llanberis.
Time for a re-fuel
It had turned out to be a fantastic day, the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot and we could see the peak of Snowdon!
Who says it always rains in Wales!!
The scenery was so fantastic that the camera did have to come out a few more times. We had met up with a lovely couple of guys so we were chatting with them, they would go ahead, we would catch them, it was all very lovely….until the HILL!!!! Yes, there had been a lot of inclines but this one, coming at miles 32/33 was a killer – it took us nearly an hour to cover those 2 miles and it was the only point that I felt a bit p****** off. Even hearing the steam train whistling and then seeing it fly past was only a minor distraction from the fatigue I was feeling. Not only was it UP, there was still boggy bits to sink your feet into….I was seriously losing my ‘good humour’ but knew that once we reached CP5 at Llanberis we were well over half way and had been told it got easier.
A bit of ‘Train Spotting’ !
Finally, after what seemed like an age and despite Louise telling me it was just over that hill, around that corner, just down there, we did arrive in Llanberis to be greeted by my favourite volunteers of the day. Everyone was lovely but perhaps it was the fact that they were two delightfully lovely young men that they were my favourite…but it was more the fact that they have a microwave and a kettle so HOT food and coffee!!! Heaven….but despite my best efforts I couldn’t stomach the pastie so had some soup instead. Feeling a bit nauseas for the first time, I also opted for a couple of ginger nut biscuits. I usually don’t like them but they really did the trick. This was the only point on the event where there was a cut off, it was 12 hours and we were at 10 hrs 36 so well within that…phew…and checking my now dog eared schedule we were bang on 19 min mile target! Going into the event, I had a target time (if you can call it that) of 18 hrs and if we could carry on at the pace that would be 18 hrs 3 minutes BUT we still had 24 miles to go and it was going to get dark.
Leaving Llanberis we had about 4 miles of respite from climbing until it started again. And despite a couple of ‘which way’ moments we were well on our way to CP6 at Bethesda. Again we encountered, who I know now were, Huw and Gordon. They were such characters, particularly Huw, and a real pleasure to chat with. Huw is training for MDS and Gordon, I found out, had just run the Ring of Fire……in road shoes!!! Fantastic…
I had sent a message to Barry when we left Llanberis as that had been the only CP he wasn’t at – he had his own little adventure running up Snowdon…- so he could make his way to meet us there which he did with Andy as well. It does make all the difference having support on these events, a friendly face, a hug, a kiss – it all helps.
What a motley crew!
So, CP6, 42 odd miles and still just about daylight! More hot soup and coffee to tackle the next 9 miles to the final CP at Capel Curig. We were reassured that it did really flatten out now and the path was easy to run on and also easy to follow – which it was, mostly…! I hadn’t really had any ‘bad’ moments apart from that bloody hill but I was about to throw my toys….! It was now properly dark and we came upon a campsite area and could not work out where the path went. Taking what I suggested was the ‘right’ way we ended up again in knee deep bog and at a dead end!! Another loss of good humour time…but with some team effort we worked out we needed to be on the opposite side of the river to which we were so backed tracked, or back waded, to the point we knew was right – and loe and behold there was the gate we needed….I swear that it wasn’t there before!! So, drama over we carried along being glared at by hundreds of pairs of eyes!!! Sheep and horse eyes that is….i hope anyway…
My new favourite place…
Finally, we saw some lights and arrived in Capel Curig. Never have I been so happy and relieved to get some where. As we hit the road we could see a ‘fire’ over to our right, hear music and cheering. Is that for us? we thought….and yes it was. The coolest CP ever!!! Just Henrys’ brothers trailer but there were armchairs and everything!! I will say I didn’t sit in one otherwise I would not have got out again. Music was playing, Barry was drinking beer!!!! – it was just awesome and most awesome of all, only 6 miles to go!
The final section to the finish was through a wooded area dropping back down into Betws Y Coed. It was fully dark now and late and I was super tired after 50 plus miles, so tree roots sounded scary…..!! When it was suggested that we could take the main road option instead – it was the same distance – we gladly accepted. So now we knew we had just 6 miles of path to cover, mainly downhill and we would be done!! What’s not to be happy about? We set off down the trail and took the first left, as advised, but that just took us around a toilet block in a circle and back to where we started….only a bonus 400 metres luckily. So, a bit further along the trail and we hit the road….and did the Ultra shuffle………
And shuffled…and shuffled…and shuffled for a very long 5 miles until we came across a very welcome sign!
The emotions were building…..we’d bloody done it!!! Mustering the energy to run (well sort of) up the road into the finish at the School we were greeted with huge cheers and bells ringing (or was that just in my mind???) and the sign saying FINISH…
With a hug from Henry I was handed the most awesome ‘medal’ I have ever had….
Barry said I looked like the ‘green goblin’…..
Time? 17 hrs 52 minutes…..but not 58 miles Henry….60.49 thank you…..and 8600ft of elevation. (Snowdon is 3560ft high to give some idea).
Although we were almost the last finishers to come in, the vibe at the school was great. Still a good few people milling around and to chat to, I was handed a beer before making my way to the best bit…..a shower! Set up in the school playground….
It’s Huw and Gordon!!!
A nice touch…
So, it was time for bed….and sleep….still buzzing….
The following day there was a presentation for the winners at 9.30, then time to pack up the tent and head home. But time for a quick walk, rather stiffly, around Betws y Coed and Beddgelert – well I had an icecream due to me!
I will finish by saying that this was the most fantastic experience, mainly due to the location but also by the organisation and support of each and every person involved. I cannot recommend this event highly enough. I’m not sure I could manage it again, I made my target and really don’t feel that I could do any better but it anyone wants a support crew just give me a holla……
And a new friendship was made which I can see lasting through a good few more adventures….eh Louise?