Sunday, 30 October 2011

Snowdonia Marathon Race Report

The final slippery descent at 25.5m into Llanberis

Snowdonia Marathon... An insight into one of the toughest marathons in the UK...

The night before.... I arrived in Llanberis to meet up with Nick Ham who was my roomy for the weekend and had very kindly offered a share of his twin room (I had left booking accommodation far too late!) Our minds soon turned to food. There was one particular eatery in town where all the runners were heading - Pete's Eats!! One Fish & Chip supper later all washed down with a pint of tea and I was a happy boy. We retired to our hotel for the night - Padern Lake Hotel and despite the Karaoke party right beneath our room a reasonable nights rest was had.

Race morning... a bowl of porridge was the order of the day with OJ and coffee. I was saving myself for the full Welsh breakfast only if I PB'ed today. This would require me to run faster than London 2010 (my last marathon over 18 months ago) and go sub-3:30! was it on....? Hell yeah!!!!

Race conditions... This was the subject of much debate and discussion on the Runners World SNOD forum all through the previous week. Would it be dry, or wet, warm or cold, windy or still... It turned out to be all of the above and more!! This made for some difficult decisions on race gear. How many layers were too few or too much? Do I start with a jacket or not. Gloves and hat too?? Decisions decisions... One very good decision the night before at registration was the purchase of a Buff. This is essentially a piece of tubular cloth that can be worn in a variety of ways on the head or neck. It doesn't sound like much but it was probably the one best kit choices of all!! And stayed on my head throughout the race keeping me warm enough without overheating.

The Start... Nick and I made our way to the start line a short walk from the hotel. We bumped in to Jez Bragg on the way and had a good chat with him. Jez was a late entrant and using this race as training for The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco in November. Jez would surely finish in the top 10 today. What a legend. We started right near the front... Was this wise? In hindsight... absolutely the right decision! And we may even get on TV as a result! Welsh channel S4C has an hour show covering the whole race on Sunday evening, and available online too. So take a look...

We timed our start perfectly and only had to hang around for 5 minutes or so before we were off!!! Long enough to frantically discussed whether to start with wind/rain proof jackets on or off. Decision made and they were off and packed away in our waist packs with our energy gels. It was a fast start and I covered the first 2 miles in 14 minutes... Oh heck slow down Stu... But that huge hill through the mountain pass ahead should do that for us! And it did....

The Rain... It chucked it down buckets from start to finish with the occasional break which lasted all of 5 minutes. The first climb up Llyn Peris pass was soooooo long and very wet and windy. If this was the face of things to come then it was going to be one hell of a battle. And this was the case as the rain simply didn't let up all race. But this race has gained a reputation for throwing everything it has at runners and you certainly don't leave dissappointed. I don't think snowdonia does 'dry and sunny'!

Oh the wind!!... And I'm not referring to my room mate Nick! ;-) The wind was relentless too but it was also on our back at times. It was both friend and foe but you soon learn to accept it and move on. And accept it I did and move on I did too well under a 7:30mpm pace.

And talking of pacing.... I made the decision to NOT where my garmin for this race :-O yes that's right no minute by minute feedback of how fast or slow I was going, no averages, no actuals, no bpms, no fear!!! I was gonna run this one by 'feel' alone. I don't want to be a slave to the watch that could potentially spoil my enjoyment of this epic race. I was set free from the shackles and relied soley on my trusty London marathon freebie watch. It worked a treat for so many reasons. 1- I didn't really know my marathon pace anyway so what use would the splits and instant feedback be to me, other than a cause of potential annoyance and frustration, 2 - on such an undulating course the splits would no doubt be all over the place as you either climb, descend or pump out the miles on the flats. So constantly checking your spilts is of no use. It was a great decision!

The scenery.... This marathon has the tag as one of the most scenic and beautiful races in the UK (certainly for a road marathon). It was truely breathtaking with sheer cliff faces rising on either side of you as if they were gazing down on us as we threaded our way up and over the mountain passes. These gave way to sweeping views of lakes, waterfalls, and open fields but mostly mist shrouded valleys and villages below. It was certainly a good distraction.

The support... The locals were out in full force despite the awful conditions. Each village and town that we went through had spectators waving, offering words of encouragement and support, handing out orange segments which I gratefully accepted, and generally boosting your morale. It was great and most definitely appreciated.

The hills... Oh the hills! Is this a PB course? Well you will have to wait and see for that ;-) but on paper it shouldn't be with over 2,500ft of equal ascent and descent. I can say with some certainty that you cannot make up the time lost on the climbs whilst descending. The first climb from around the 2 mile mark to 4 miles was emmense especially so early on in the race and with the driving side wind and rain. But it wasn't unjoyable! You just had to grin at what we were being subjected to, and put one foot in front of the other and continue climbing whilst taking in the stunning surroundings.

Off-roading... Trail on a road marathon I hear you say!! Yes that's right. The long descent down the first mountain pass took us eventually onto the first trail section which continued to weave down the mountain side with cliff tops and a lake to our right. It was a blast to run and I overtook many cautious runners perhaps not so use to running this type of terrain. I was loving it. The second bit of trail in the race was promised at the very end with a mile descent to the finish. I was looking forward to that!

Fuelling... I had 5 energy gels in my waist pack which worked an absolute treat. Sweatshop didn't have my normal GU gels so I opted for a new Powerbar gel made with real fruit juice instead and they had a real kick. The caffinated one was an instantanous pick me up that had me flying and had a dramatic effect on my positivity! I was even singing 'oh what a beautiful day'! Lol. The water stations were frequent and had bottled water, and energy drink. The Powerbar gel did need to be washed down with water so I used these stops to spreadout my gel intake. I took four in total at around 6, 10, 15 and 20 miles.

The flats... Despite it's reputation it isn't all hilly and there were also long stretches of flat road beside several lakes on route to eat up the middle miles. These miles had to be fast if I were to get under 3:30 because time was obviously lost on the climbs. The early flat stretches were easy going as I probably ran a sub 7:15/30 pace. As the miles wore on though even the flats were starting to tire the legs. The stretch between 17-22 miles which was flat/undulating was the toughest of the whole race. Strange that it was the flats and not the hills that turned out to be like this. Although perhaps understandable as the pace was so much quicker on the flats that it demanded a lot of effort to sustain it.

Half way split... I worked out before the race that I wanted to hit half way inbetween 1:35 and 1:38. Any slower than this and sub 3:30 was going to be extremely tough if not impossible. The second half of this race is slower than the half, no question. Negative splits were out the question with such a tough final climb in store at 22 miles. Anyway I hit half way in 1:38 which was remarkable considering I wasn't wearing a garmin! What pacing even if I don't say so myself. But it was at the bottom end of what I think I needed to run to be on for a PB so clearly the effort had only really just began.

Cameradaire Rules... It wasn't only the spectators that boosted morale. In the second half of the race I made the point to talk to those runners that had been within the same pack as me for quite some time now. One chap Paul who I said hello to just after halfway was also targetting sub 3:30 and had run this race before. I asked if he thought we were on for it and his confident response that he thought we could was an extra boost. If he thought we could and I did then what was stopping us from achieving our goal? With this we set about tackling the final half running together, whilst at other times I stretched ahead, and then a mile or so later Paul would do the same. So we were working well together to keep the pace going. This was great motivation and helped me to really believe that I could do it.

The final hill... And so we approached the final hill which loomed large and I had heard so much about from other peoples accounts. It is this hill which has broken many runners that have run SNOD and been reduced to a 15 minute per mile crawl up the two mile stretch. I certainly couldn't afford such a pace and had no intention of being beaten by it. I dug deep and gave it my all. I had 4 miles remaining and around 40 minutes to cover this distance. A 10 minute mile average seemed doable I thought to myself. I approached a chap in a '100 marathon club' vest who had previosuly passed me, and I asked whether he thought we were on for sub 3:30? His response was not as confident as Paul's was earlier who was now 200 or so metres ahead of me on the climb. With this grim prediction but fate still very much in my hands I set off up the hill with new vigour. After everything I had given to this point not letting up the pace once I was about to blow it with 4 miles to go. I grunted and shouted to myself to haul arse and make light work of this mere hill. I didn't count how many I passed on the way up but it must have been well into the 20's and not one passed me. I had made it to the 24 mile mark on top of the ridge and was looking forward to the final 'easy' 2 miles of descent to the finish. How wrong could I be...

The final descent... For a start the descent didn't start at 24 miles like I had thought and we continued to climb and undulate along the top of the ridge now on to trail. These weren't fast miles as I had hoped. When the descent did finally start it was far from easy. Road shoes on slippery grass, mud and rocks are not the ideal combo! It was now raining hard and it was a case of picking a line and getting down safely.

The 'fall'... WIPEOUT!! One second I was on my feet the next I was over on my left arm and arse sliding down on the rocks and mud. Ouch! No time to waste though and I bounced up quickly surveyed the damage and continued down. I overtook more runners on the way down this tricky part of trail and got back onto the tarmac road. The descending wasn't over though and this last part on road was extremely steep with my toes crushing into the end of my shoes. Applying the breaks was near impossible.

The finish line... it eventually flattened out and we were back in to the town of Llanberis. At this point I was now sprinting and wanting to go as much under sub 3:30 as possible which finally seemed to be a reality. I turned the corner, and another and another and there was the finishing arch ahead on the high street. I felt amazing. The pain was gone. I couldn't feel the rain anymore and I had finished. What an awesome marathon. The time on my watch was 3:26.51 :-) I dropped to my knees and kissed the ground - a bit dramatic you might think but there was a very good reason for doing this! My timing chip that was tied around my laces had come unstuck earlier in the race so I was now holding it in my hand and had been for the last 7 miles. So to make sure of an official finish and time. I placed the tag on both timing mats under the finish arch to be certain.

I collected my Welsh slate coaster from a volunteer and whooped with joy at what I had accomplished. In all honesty I had no idea if a PB was possible on this course and my training for this race wasn't exactly text book. With few long runs, little hill work and low mileage this all added to what was a great feeling at the finish. To better my London marathon time in Snowdonia on such an amazing course in such awful conditions was the icing on the cake.

Official chip time and position just in!!! 3:26.43. 115th position overall out of 1418 finishers.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thoughts turn to Snowdonia Marathon

So there's less than a week to go now until my big marathon of the year... Snowdonia in North Wales. My concern at this point is that I'm not nervous enough about the prospect of racing in one of the toughest marathons in the UK. I'm just looking forward to it emmensely :-)

In terms of training in the lead up to this its been a little hit and miss but this hasn't appeared to have dented my confidence. My goal in the summer when I turned my thoughts to this race was to go sub 3:30 which would be a marathon PB. I posted a 3:30.06 in London in 2010 and haven't raced a marathon since then. So where is my fitness now? That's the big question... Have I improved and if so by how much? I honestly do not know the answer to this one, which adds an extra bit of excitement to the race.

The Snowdonia course profile is reported to add anywhere between 10-25 minutes to a flat marathon time. A faster marathon runner would be at the bottom end of this scale with others somewhere in between. But its not an exact science and this is a mountain marathon of sorts so the weather and conditions will also play a large part.

For the record I'm hoping that i'm fit enough to run an equivalent 3:15 flat marathon time which may see me duck under by PB. But its a big unknown. At this point I thinking that I won't wear the Garmin as I really want to run by feel and with it being so undulating the course profile will largely take care of the pace. Wearing a garmin can also have a negative effect on your running by slowing you down unnecessarily. If for example I find myself running at a 7:15 mpm pace which feels really comfortable and sustainable but I see this on the garmin i'm liable to think... Oh that's a bit fast for a marathon i'd better slow down. Without the garmin i won't know and therefore my pace should be far more natural. The fact that I actually don't know what my marathon pace is adds to the arguement not to wear the garmin.

So a simple stopwatch will do the job just fine and allow me to check some mile splits from time to time. I think the half marathon spilt will be the crucial one and tell me whether i'm on for a sub 3:30. The second half is far tougher than the first so there will be no negative splits here. I would hope to go though the half between 1:35 and 1:40.

Between now and Saturday I think its a case of total rest with perhaps a short leg stretcher on Thursday and walk around some of the course on Friday in town.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Swanbourne Endeavour Pics


Swanbourne Endeavour Race Report

Well this was like no other 10km race I have ever entered! This was a
race with a difference with an array of barmy army obstacles along the
entire stretch of the route with a final finale which was simply
mental. I don't want to give away too much so get comfortable whilst I
walk/run you through the course and the race itself.

This was a team event and I was part of a 5 strong LBAC squad called
'This is NOT Champneys'. The team time would be the accumulation of
the 5 individual times combined. We had a mix of runners men and
women. With Snowdonia marathon just a week away I told myself that I
wouldn't race this one hard, but who am I kidding. I just don't know
the meaning of hanging back and I wanted to contribute to the team
effort and post a competitive time.

And so with the blast of a cannon to signal the start of this
'nautical themed' XC race we were off!! The first obstacle was right
ahead of us... Haybales that took us over a wall and off the
otherside. And then across a field ahead of us where I found myself
leading. There was no hanging back :-) The next set up was a large
field on an incline that they had roped off to create a maze of
shuttle runs down and back up, down and back up 5 times. This was
already spreading the field and by the end of the 5th shuttle run I
had opened a nice gap to 2nd place. Next up was a few more haybales
and some mud before entering a straight stretch with 2 or 3 pits
filled with water. These were taken at speed with about 2-3 steps into
the water before leaping out the other side. This signalled the start
of what was to come with a constant dunking in various 'water
features' on route.

The next memorable obstacle was a 50 metre crawl through mud along a
shallow gulley with barbed wire just above the head and bum! This
required a shuffle forward flat out on the stomach using the forearms
to pull yourself along the mud and stones with the legs being dragged
behind. I got the technique pretty good but it was really energy
zapping. I snagged my lyrca compression shorts once on the barbed wire
too but fortunately just a small hole resulted saving any embarassment
that would have been caused if it was any bigger! :-O

I eventually reached the end of the gulley and continued on my way for
a km or so along the side of fields. I noticed that I had gashed my
knee on the previous section either from dragging it along the ground
or from catching it on the barbed wire but thought nothing more of it.
Certainly no time to inspect the damage at this point.

My lead by this point had grown to around a minute. The next fun
section was along the length of a nettled filled narrow river which
was about 1-2ft deep. It must have gone on for well over 400 metres at
a guess, perhaps a bit more even as it wound it's way through dence
woodland. I listened out for any splashing from behind but all was

Out of the river and following the tape in the woods led to the next
obstacle which was a series of logs at waist height which you
alternated between going over and under. Sounds easy enough but the
legs were feeling it a little by this point. Past this and it was a
few more fields and down to the next water feature. The inclusion of a
blue rope across the pond suggested that this one may be a little
deeper than the others! I took the plunge and found myself at chest
height in brown muddy murky pond.... Lovely. I pulled on the rope with
a left over right hand technique and took big strides to carry me
across. A stumble at the end on a sunken ledge had me neck deep with
the marshall just infront of me offering no hint what lay ahead. But
thinking about it now how would he of known. I doubt he took the
plunge at any point. I grabbed whole of some folliage to pull me out
and battled on.

More fields and an extended lead to nearer 2 minutes or so saw me
'plough' on ahead. I was having a lot of fun which was the reason for
entering this event in the first place and I was wondering what else
may lie ahead. My question was answered with another barbed wire
crawl. This one was shorter thankfully with no snags this time!!! I
didn't once look at my watch to check the time or work out how far I
had gone but I had the feeling that the finish line wasn't too far
away now.

A few fields later and I spotted some spectators in the far distance
as I closed in on what would be one hell of a finale!! They had
definitely saved the best for last but had I saved anything to meet
the challenge that lay ahead? Before that however was one last fuel
stop but what they were serving was certainly not evian!! No sir...
Instead we were treated to a shot of rum which certainly got the fires
burning inside. And this wasn't the only fire as I will come to

First up on the home straight (although it was anything but straight)
was a double height haybale wall to clamber over, next up was a pit of
FIRE that you had to jump over!! I'm not kidding. And with many
spectators looking and cheering on I had to be the showman and elected
to leap over the largest flame. I figured that I was drenched enough
to not be a fire hazard!! This was followed by several scramble nets
that you had crawl under in the mud followed by several several pits
of water in quick succession with a very low beam across them meaning
that the only and quickest way through was to roll down through the
water and under the beam and clammer up the other side. As I was doing
this there were loads of kids all running beside me cheering me on
which felt great. There were more nets, more haybales, more fire and a
tunnel half full of muck and water that you had to crawl through. And
then if that wasn't already enough I was handed a wooden log of
significant proportions with rope handles tied to each end which I had
to carry for about a 200m+ loop. Unbelieveable!

From there I was almost home (but certainly not dry!!). A small climb
later and up and over a wall and I had finished ringing the captains
bell to sound my 1st place victory. Now I know how captain Nelson must
have felt!! What a rush!!!

The warm taste of victory and hot tea at the finish was very sweet
indeed. Whilst time is completely irrelevant on a course like this i
finished in a clip over 48 minutes. 2nd and 3rd came in virtually
together at around 51 minutes. The other 4 LBACers were soon back too.
Jane was 2nd women home!! We exchanged views on just how awesome the
course was and just what a fantastic event this was and had our photos
taken. We have to await the full results to find out if we claimed the
team prize.

The entry fee may have been a little steep but it was a not for profit
race with all the proceeds once costs were covered going to 3 army
based charities so you definitely can't complain about that. On the
knee front I saw the St John Ambulance folk at the finish who took a
look and told me I required a trip to A&E to get it stitched up. You
gotta be joking I thought... It's a mere flesh wound!! Anyway one trip
to Boots later with some steri-strips purchased I sorted out the gash
myself and all should be good for next weekend and Snowdonia!! Bring
it on baby cos I'm ready!!!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Toronto Running Club run

It must be said that my preparation for the snowdonia marathon or SNOD as its often referred has hit something of a plateau. I was going great guns at the start of September getting in some fast local 10 and 15 milers on a hilly road course. However a week in Canada on business has somewhat seen me stop in my tracks.

Not altogether perhaps.... as I previously blogged I did get in a 25 miler along the Ottawa River which I needed due to lack of long mileage but I'm not sure how much good it did me. Since then I did one further run with the Toronto Running Club last Wednesday. This was great as I ventured out of the city and into the suburbs. The club runners were very welcoming and I would certainly recommend the idea of hooking up with local running clubs wherever you find yourself.

I met new people, got a local eyes view and saw areas of Toronto I would never have seen otherwise. Plus the beer and huge burger afterwards was ace! There were 3 Brits in the club running that night and quite unbelieveably one chap called Bob who was in his mid 60s and had run a 3.27 marathon 3 years prior was flying to England in 3 weeks time to visit a good friend... And where does this friend live..? Just 2 miles up the road from me in Leighton Buzzard! How insane.. So I have invited Bob to join our local LBAC club run on the Wednesday he is over. And perhaps Toronto and Leighton Buzzard could become the most unlikely of sister running clubs... How cool would that be!

Back to the training though and with one thing or another I haven't been able to string together a series of solid runs which build my speed, strength and endurance one after the other. Instead I feel like I'm merely hanging onto my current fitness, IF that. What will this mean for SNOD in a few weeks time....? Well firstly despite the far from ideal build up I'm still gunning for a sub 3:30 time. I've no idea if this is possible but I'm committing myself to it 100% So pretty much a boom or bust scenario awaits me!

Perhaps with another week of good running and a solid long run this weekend my confidence may increase. We shall see.... But time is running out...

Monday, 3 October 2011

Ottawa River long run report

Its my third day in Ottawa, Canada. I'm out here on business and getting into the groove of the laid back style of Canadian life (pleasure and business - in that order).

Ottawa is a small city (especially for Capital standards). One million population and strangely it totally shuts down at night beyond 10pm! I arrived on Saturday afternoon picked up by my client and taken to my hotel (the room/suite is MASSIVE!!). I found myself wandering the streets downtown in search of food and it was eerily quiet. I needed to fuel the following morning's long run, and found a steak house. A huge pork back rib steak and chicken BBQ breast with fries later I was really hit the sack. Only 9pm local time but 2am in the UK so it was a long day and I was knackered.

I didn't sleep well and found myself wide awake at 3pm. So actually did a bit of work whilst I waited for the sun to rise so I could go for my run. Fuelled on coffee, banana and pop tarts I headed out the door at 7am. It was 6 degrees but having checked the weather the gloves were on and long sleeve compression top (from Aldi for a tenner) kept the chill at bay.

On Sunday's in downtown Ottawa they close the main Ottawa River Parkway which is the main road that runs alongside the river and North out of the City. This entails a full police road block so that cyclists, roller bladers and runners get free rein of the road. Amazing. Can you imagine that happening in London every Sunday. I think not....

The plan was to run along the Ottawa river which also has a smooth cycle/foot path along a 10m stretch beside the parkway. So an out and back would provide a nice 20 mile training run. I didn't take any photos but I've nicked a few from Google maps of the route I took below. It was a good run even despite the light rain. The first 10 miles were easy at run at an 8 mpm pace. As I came to the end of the footpath I decided to continue along the river along the roads and push out to 13 miles so I would run the full marathon distance. A crazy idea as I hadn't run long in a while but knew I needed to as SNOD is just 4 weeks away now.

My lack of long runs did show as my calves tighened on the return and slowed me down to a 8:30 mpm pace. I think the cold didn't help though and was perhaps the main reason for this tighening. It was a bit of a struggle but I battled on and knew that I needed this run and had to start posting some miles. The return leg was made that little bit easier when I struck up a conversation with two local runners Roger and Laura who I was slowly baring down on on a straight stretch on pathway.

They were lovely and we chatted for around 2 miles which made the time pass so much quicker. We talked about running naturally and also why I was out there on business and then back to racing, and training, and Dean Karnazes!! (Roger/Laura - The book I mentioned Ultra Marathon Man can be found here on Amazon). Its a must read! Nice to meet you both and happy running. I mentioned my blog so perhaps they are reading this!!??

We parted ways as Roger and Laura were out for a 14km run, and I continued into the city where I caught the tail end of a local 5km race for Breast Cancer. I saw them setting up on the way out 2hrs before the start and did consider racing it but I needed to get the miles in and knew I would be in no state to run 5km as part of a 20 miler. How right I was as my legs were shot!!!

Door to door the run was 25 miles. This was strange because I swear I turned around just before the 13 mile point, and on an out and back you don't expect the return leg to be 3/4 mile shorter!... weird! My theory here is that the Americans have fiddled with their satellites which purposely gives out false distance readings (just to Canadians). So if the two nations ever fall out their missiles miss the target! :-O ok ok so the 25 miles had effected my legs AND my brain!

Looking across to Parliament Hill - Photo by PACO PARRON (

Looking back to Ottawa - Photo by sandmonkee (

Amazing stone sculptures that stopped me in my tracks - Photo by GHISLAIN BONNEAU (

Sherleys Bay - Photo by Mike Alexander (

The turnaround point at Sherleys Bay - Photo by Viktor Terlaky (