Snowdon International Mountain Race

We hear from John Morgan – he & Cath Elsworth have been running up and down Snowdon in the freezing rain – …. in July! Brave people…

My last attempt at the Snowdon Mountain Race was in 2006, so it’s taken me four years to pluck up the courage to do it again. This time around I was somewhat better prepared, having done more hill training and a couple of fell races as warm-ups.  I would also have my partner Cath for company, as I had sneakily persuaded her to enter too.  It’s quite a unique challenge, the distance of 10 miles doesn’t really tell you anything, more telling is the 3,000ft of ascent along the way, not to mention the steep rocky terrain. The organisers are trying to make it into one of Europe’s premier mountain races, so the entry requirements were more strict this year, and there was also a cut-off ¾ of the way up the mountain which would take out anyone going too slowly.
The forecast was 20C and light cloud, which sounded ideal, but hopes of good conditions soon evaporated on the drive to Llanberis, with the weather becoming gradually colder and wetter. After registration I bumped into some vegan friends of mine, who were there to support another vegan runner. After chatting with them for a while there was just time for a warm-up and the obligatory bathroom stop before heading over to the start, where the announcer was cheerfully assuring us that conditions on the mountain were “not that severe”. (More on that later!).
Before the start there was a minutes silence in memory of a local runner who collapsed and died in the 2009 race. And then, we were on our way. The route passes along the main road out of town before turning off towards the mountain, there is perhaps half a mile of flat to get you warmed up and then the road suddenly heads upwards. I had forgotten just how incredibly steep this first tarmac section was, but managed to keep running all the way. After half a mile or so of this the route moves off road, onto the main Llanberis path. The terrain is very rocky and wet after the rain, and I see a few runners slip and fall. Heading up into the mist I reach Halfway House in 30 minutes feeling pretty good, but know that the worst is to come. Shortly afterwards there is a ferociously steep section, and mortals such as myself are reduced to a walk. The conditions are worsening but there is a great sense of camaraderie between the runners, who all give each other encouragement. As the gradient slackens off I start running again, and approach the cut-off point at Clogwyn. There is just time to grab a quick drink and to spill my energy gel all over the ground before moving on to the next very steep section. I walk again for a while but approaching the top ridge I start to suffer. The weather is throwing everything at us now, with gale force winds blowing freezing rain into my face. It’s really cold, and I struggle to see where I am going. Either due to this or the altitude I start to struggle with my breathing and can’t seem to get going again, after a few seconds of running I am out of breath. After what seems like an eternity I finally reach the top in 1:06, and after climbing up the summit cairn I head back down.
Normally I would look forward to the descent but this time it’s a lot more difficult. Again I am struggling to see with the wind and rain in my eyes, and don’t have much confidence running on the slippery rock. A few runners go past me almost straight away. After a few minutes I pass Cath, who is obviously going well despite the weather. I struggle down the steep bits and try to pick up speed where the gradient eases off, but my legs are starting to tire now and I lose a few more places. Coming off the trail onto the road I can already hear the cheers of the crowd which lifts my spirits a bit. The final steep tarmac section just about finishes my legs off, and I can feel a few twinges of cramp. As the road flattens out I try to accelerate, but my legs feel curiously spongy and refuse to respond. The support from the locals is really terrific, it seems like everyone in the area has turned out to cheer the runners on. I finally cross the line in 1:43, slower than I’d hoped but seven minutes quicker than last time. Cath came home in a very creditable 2:11 – looking somewhat shell-shocked by the conditions and terrain, but after the post-race meal she was already talking about doing it again! Here’s hoping for better conditions next time!