The International Snowdon Mountain Race 2016
Mount Snowdon, Snow Hill or Yr Wyddfa. Whether you speak English, Old English or Welsh, this is the highest mountain in Wales and the highest point in the British Isles outside of the Scottish Highlands. At an elevation of 1,085 metres (3,560ft) above sea level and described as possibly the "busiest mountain in Britain", this was going to be my toughest test yet.
So, after an extremely disappointing Three Peaks race in April, something I rapidly wanted to move on from, the next "big" race in my diary was Snowdon. Between those two races, I raced 12 more times - some local short ones but some of reasonable reputation, including the English & British fell championship counter Sedbergh Sports and even a weekend trip up to Dollar in Scotland for the Dollar hill race.
A common theme was occurring in most of these races post-Three Peaks. I found myself feeling very low on energy, with any form of incline proving difficult to run. My strength was fine but I couldn't catch my breath to inhale oxygen quickly enough to run at the speed I wanted and this all started at the English champs race, Up the Nab, which just so happened to be the first race I did after the Three Peaks. Coincidence or not, I'll never know! But anyway, to cut a long story short, after seeking advice from a few other runners (mainly thanks to Chris Barnes, Mick Cayton & Ben Mounsey for the tips & advice, they were a lot more useful than the GP I spent 30 minutes talking to...), I decided to cut back my training altogether, reduce my racing to 10km or shorter and just take things a little bit easier!
I put all the above in to place and obviously still raced but chose the shorter races and also made changes to my diet. It was an extremely frustrating 9 weeks in total, in the end. A couple of the races I ran, I actually ran slower than last year...to some people that might not sound like anything drastic but with the improvements I have made, I would normally be beating my times even if I sat down for 2 minutes around the course. I knew something wasn't right so implementing those changes was a simple thing for me to do. So for the whole of May, June and the first week of July, I felt in a shocking state of form and no training or racing was making me improve, it was actually making me worse! I raced at Henderson's End, Two Lads & Clougha Pike, three races I was really looking forward to but in all of those I fell foul to my poor form.
Clougha Pike - feeling sluggish & out of shape (picture by Woodentops)
Henderson's End - again feeling sluggish and lacked climbing legs (picture by Fellephant)
While reading this you might be thinking why does this have any relevance to the Snowdon race? Well, once I raced at Sedbergh on July 9th, I started feeling good again. I felt strong on the climbs, even if I did feel a bit slow but I knew that was just race sharpness lacking and that it would return soon enough. The frustrating 9 weeks of being "off" seemed to be behind me and I could now actually concentrate on Snowdon!!! Although I never did find out what actually happened to me...
My hill training was planned, I got an idea or two off my Grandad & Uncle and I knew that it would work for the type of race Snowdon is. I wanted to practice long, runnable climbs with technical terrain underfoot and on Darwen Moors we have a perfect path for that. My only worry was not having enough time to get the reps in that I wanted. I started off with two reps and built up to three by race day. Three reps plus my run up on to the moors gave me just short of 1,500 feet of ascent in one session, along with around 1 hour 20 minutes or so on my feet...a solid plan for me and if anything a rebuild of my hill climbing confidence that had all been lost.
I chose to run just the once in the week leading up to the Snowdon race. I've never previously done that as I prefer to just tick over with easy miles before taking a rest day the day before but as you'll see later on, it seemed to work perfectly, so I may well have found a new approach for myself when it comes to preparing for big races. The Snowdon race takes the Llanberis path, one of several paths, to the summit of the mountain. This is often considered the "easiest" path to the mountain's summit, although I challenge anybody running it to find it easy, even the likes of England Internationals on the day; Chris Smith, Ben Mounsey, Chris Farrell or Rob Hope...
Me & Simon Taylor (Darwen Dashers) had the race planned well in advance and we had the Royal Victoria hotel booked for both Friday & Saturday night. We got down to Llanberis around tea time on Friday, checked in and then took time to stretch our legs while also registering for the race at the Electric Mountain in the village. We then carbed up for tea with a couple of pizza's from a takeaway in Bangor and took in the stunning views to try and take our minds off the race itself as we are normally used to arriving one hour before the race start, registering, warming up and then racing but with the race at 2pm on Saturday, we had nearly 24 hours to wait in anticipation/excitement/a nervous state (delete as appropriate!).
Llanberis views, not bad at all...
On Saturday the atmosphere really started building in the village. We had breakfast in the hotel and wandered around with all the race prep already going on early doors as the Super Cup was due to take place just after 10am. Max Nicholls took the win of the uphill only Super Cup, in a time of 42:39 and Louise Mercer of Edinburgh University won the ladies race in 52:23. It was good to see Michael Cayton from Horwich put in a good time as well. After meeting up with Ben (Mounsey) for a morning chin wag, me, Simon & Ben headed over to Math Roberts' place to have a pre-race chat, brew and a laugh...it's not every race you spend the morning with a couple of lads who in a few hours were running for their countries (England for Ben and Wales for Math). We discussed race expectations and as you can imagine, mine & Simon's hope's didn't rival Ben & Math's one bit but as such is fell running, we all had common goals - enjoy yourself and work hard!
Full Super cup results here - http://tdleventservices.co.uk/race-results.php?event=2338
2016 Snowdon Super Cup start
Me & Simon then met up with Mark Walsh (Darwen Dashers) and Andy Britton (Idle AC), after they'd registered and we all had the usual discussions; which footwear to wear, what time's we were aiming for and who we reckoned would win the race outright. The weather was an odd one, it made kit decisions difficult as it was warm and humid but there was clag dropping down in to the valley from the mountains. Visibility would be difficult up on the mountain itself and this would make for wet underfoot conditions too. It was definitely too warm for a cag or any base layer though, I made that decision pretty quickly and also opted for my fell shoes, working on the premise that coming down I'd appreciate decent grip on the wet stone.
Simon, Mark, Me & Andy - pre-race
We all took to the start field and with about 30 minutes to go, warmed up and got our "race heads" on. With me doing so many races, I don't tend to get that nervous but after my Three Peaks disappointment and my previous bad form, I was really nervous for this one, although very excited to get going as well! I took the advice of the race day MC who said not to go out too fast at the start to avoid any early lactic build up when hitting the steep road leading to the fell gate, also taking the advise of my Uncle who emphasised the fact that on an International standard race, the fast lads are FAST! Something I was obviously aware of but I do need reminding of these things sometimes when I get carried away in the excitement of race day.
The race started and I took it easy, I passed Simon on the road not long after coming out of the field..."I thought you were taking it easy?!" he shouted. I was taking it easy but I felt good, I was really in the zone and ready to tackle the 4.7 miles of climb that was ahead of me. My untold plan was to hammer it to the top, recover for around half a mile from the summit on the rough stuff and then step it up a gear again when it became less technical underfoot. I was making steady progress and still passing people even a third of the way up. I felt strong, really strong and was growing in confidence the further up the mountain I went. I saw my good mate Stu Russell just before the halfway cafe, he offered me water but I was in too much of a rhythm to contemplate slowing down for anything so I politely passed on the offer and continued to dig deep.
Working hard on the ascent (picture by Stu Russell)
Running well on the ascent, feeling really good!! (picture by Sport Pictures Cymru)
I'd pretty much ran all the way up until three quarters of the way up the mountain then it starts getting really steep. My long legs don't help much here as I have to cut my stride to pick a decent line with the terrain becoming a bit more mountainous and technical, there's very little room for error and with your energy starting to drop a little, it's all about finding the sections that require less effort than the others. The visibility was now down to around 5 metres and with the International runners starting to come back down from the summit, you had to be all ears to listen for the "RUNNER!!" shouts echoing down the Llanberis path. I had passed the hour mark but I knew I wasn't that far from the summit, I felt an overwhelming buzz that I was still feeling pretty strong and I felt a lot, lot stronger than I had anticipated pre-race, I was having a storming run!!!
Club mate Helen Buchan showing me how to run the technical sections (pic. by Richard Sunderland)
I reached the summit in 1 hour 7 minutes, I couldn't actually believe I'd done it in that time. My pre-race aim was sub 2 hours for the full course, which would've meant between 1:15 and 1:20 to the summit. When these moments come around in races, they just give you a huge second wind and as I was descending, I heard shouts from both Helen and Simon who were only a minute or so behind me and you couldn't split the two of them for places, really well done you two!
Still spurred on by my summit time, I was descending at a decent speed but I knew Simon would soon be behind me so I had to push for as long as I possibly could, but mainly I wanted to go sub 1:50 after running a 1:07 summit time. As I continued on the Llanberis path back towards the village, I was managing to maintain a good pace and was actually getting faster as the path got less technical. I expected to tire a lot quicker than I did and soon realised I could go under 1:45 if I could carry on pushing all the way to the finish. Still the visibility was poor and anything could happen, especially with the amount of walkers & hikers on the mountain, along with dogs (one of which came close to wiping me out!).
Descending through the Snowdon mist (picture by Stephen Wilson - Grand Day Out Photography)
I kept on pushing and reached the fell gate, back on to the tarmac. I knew this would be a tough section as it was such a steep uphill on the way out but with such a negative gradient on my already tired legs, I was running at 4:30 min/mile pace now and my feet were really burning up. As I mentioned earlier, I had my fell shoes on so these weren't helping at this point and every step felt like flames were coming out of my heels, one of those kids cartoon moments (in my head, obviously!).
I was back in the village soon enough and the crowds were amazing!! I'm normally used to seeing a few sheep and a handful of marshals on the fell races I usually compete in around here (Lancashire/Yorkshire/Lakes area) but this was something else. What looked like the whole village had come and to support and even though I was about 35 minutes behind the race winner, Chris Smith of England, the crowds hadn't dwindled and the support was fantastic. I pushed on and saw I was in the field for a 1:42 finish, I couldn't believe it, absolutely buzzing!
I was the last one back of the four (me, Simon, Mark & Andy) although me and Simon both ran 1:42. Mark had a stormer in 1:25:06 with Andy not far behind in 1:26:50 - with the latter two securing top 100 finishes, superb lads. Chris Farrell of Horwich (running for England on the day) came in 2nd place, with Italian International Luca Cagnati 3rd, Nicola Pedergana (Italy) 4th, Julien Rancon (France) 5th, Rob Hope (England) 6th and Ben Mounsey (England) 7th. Sarah Mulligan, representing Ireland, won the ladies race in 1:20:51 with Heidi Dent of England 2nd in 1:21:11 and Stephanie Provan of Scotland 3rd in 1:23:51.
Full results here - http://tdleventservices.co.uk/race-results.php?event=2337
Fist pump while crossing the finish line of Snowdon 2016 - ecstatic with my performance (picture by Sport Pictures Cymru)
With Snowdon essentially my first experience of a mountain race, I'm hoping to do many more in years to come and after such a positive experience all round, Snowdon will be on my list for many years. A fantastic weekend spent in great company and topped off with possibly the race of my life, can't beat it!
Thanks for reading,