Monday, 29 October 2012

Snowdonia Marathon race report

This weekend was my new annual pilgrimge to Llanberis in North Wales to take on the mighty Snowdonia Marathon (second year in a row). Its such an amazing marathon course that I see myself coming back again (and again) for many years to come.

This year caused much debate on the very lively SNOD RW forum due to the unusual weather conditions in that it wasn't going to rain! What to wear is usually an easy decision because every year its chucking it down from start to finish with gale force winds, hail etc etc so you just wore everything you had! The forecast this year was very very different. There was a big orange shiny thing in the sky radiating heat and light onto mount Snowdon. Weird! The temps however were on the low side making gear choice very difficult. You don't wanna wear too much and over heat but too little could be a disaster on the more exposed parts of the course. I packed for all scenerios and left the decision until as late as possible on race morning. I stepped outside the wonderful house that we were staying in on the high street to assess the temperature. It simply wasn't cold enough to justify the layers and woolly hat that I was planning to wear. In the end it was just lyrca shorts and T. Jacket and long sleeve top were useful for the walk to the start but disgarded before we set off. Wore gloves which I disgarded within a few miles and Buff around the neck which offered some protection from the light winds. Fuelling wise I had my new gel belt with 4 SIS gels. They worked a treat!

Everyone else in the house had left long ago but Nick (Ham) and I didn't want to hang around the start too long so left the short 1/2 mile walk up to the start line until just before 10 for a 10:30 start. It was a truly glorious morning with the sun shining. You simply don't get days like this at snowdonia very often so I made a mental note to make the very most of the 'ideal' race conditions. My target time was sub 3:20 which would better last year's time by 6 minutes or more. Quite ambitous perhaps but I was gonna give it my all.

We ventured right up to the starting arch and met a few known faces from the RW forum. Nick and I had 10 seconds of fame as we stood right next to the presenter of the welsh S4C marathon coverage as they filmed an intro segment that was broadcast last night. The atmosphere was fantasic and before long we were set on our way.

For those that don't know the course profile there are basically three 'signifcant' climbs. One at start (mile 2 to 5), one in the middle (mile 13 to 15) and at 22 miles they save the best for last. 2 miles straight up which is the steepest and toughest session.

Back to the start I was soon ascending Llanberis pass and holding a steady but keen pace. I reached the top with a 7:30mpm average pace. The views at the top of the pass over the valley before us were breathtaking thanks to the crystal clear morning. I tried to take it all in whilst keeping the pace as I quickly descended down the otherside.

Thanks to the next few miles of continuous descent I improved my avg pace further to 7:05 by mile 8. My gel strategy was to take one every 5 miles. The first one certainly did the trick as I picked my way along the first off-road section which is a continuous 1 mile descent. So much fun especially with the added caffine in my gel :-)

I hit halfway at Beddgelert in 1:33 in 104th place. 5 minutes ahead of my target pace. I would need that cushion as the 2 mile ascent out of Beddgelert was long and hard thanks to the constant steady climb and strengthing wind which was now head on and making the going extremely tough. This climb isn't too steep but just goes on and on zapping your energy. By mile 16 I was starting to suffer with my legs feeling heavy and right hamstring quite achey. Nevertheless I was still running sub 8 pace on the tough bits and closer to 7:30 on the flatter sections. I slogged out the miles on the twisting turning section between 17 and 22. This was undoubtedly where I had to dig deepest and not mess up. It helped that everyone immediately around me were evidently having their own battles too so I was able to slowly move up the field. Approaching Waunfawr at 22 miles marked a real turning point in my race. Despite the inevitable climb ahead I was actually really looking forward to this part the most. I had visualised it many times in my preparation for the race and I think this triggered me into action and find another gear that I didn't think I had as I approached Waunfawr. You have to experience this climb to believe it. Describing it simply wouldn't do it justice. It doesn't 'belong' in a road marathon and positioned at mile 22 I think this is what really sets Snowdonia apart from any other road marathon in the toughness stakes.

I took 5 seconds to stop and gulp down an electrolyte drink and gel at the aid station at the foot of the climb. It did the trick and I flew up without hesitation passing many more ahead. I knew that the finish was getting closer and closer and this propelled me forwards and upwards. The 24 mile marker marks the top of the climb where it flattens out for 1/2 mile or so before descending for a full out assort off road and downhill all the way to the finish. I was like a man possessed. Unlike last year where the rain made this section impossible to 'let go' and descend without fear this year was different. I blasted down at full tilt overtaking many who weren't so willing to disengage the brain. The final part goes back on road and gets even steeper in some sections as my toes were rammed into the front of my trainers.

The garmin gave up the ghost at 24.2 miles exactly so I have worked out that my final two miles were run at 6 minute avg pace probably with the 26th mile being the faster of the two. You certainly can't say that about many marathon finishes. Because of the broke garmin I didn't have any idea what time I was on for. I hadn't looked at the time since halfway (only looking down at the occassional mile split) so I would have to wait until the finish line clock came into view. I swung around the final corner onto Llanberis High Street and flew along the final 200yrds. I love a sprint finish and was quickly gaining on a chap infront. He knew the game too so we both cranked it up another gear and hammered it along. And just then I spotted the rather small official clock to the right of the finish line. Wow 3:17! I had no idea I was on for this time and the grin across my face was wider than Snowdon itself! What a rush. I finished in 71st position out of 2,200 or so starters. I'll take that :-)

I can't recommend this marathon enough! For anyone that likes their races a bit different to the boring flat roads common with marathons then this one is for you! I'll be back next year for sure.

My mile splits were as follows;
Mile 1 - 5: 6.41; 6.56; 7.37; 8.13; 7.49
6 - 10: 6.06; 5.58; 6.51; 7.19; 7.15
11 - 15: 7.18; 7.18; 7.15; 8.13; 8.51
16 - 20: 7.56; 7.28; 7.45; 7.38; 7.39
21 - 24: 7.57; 8.03; 9.58; 9.27
25 & 26.2; 6.00; 6.00 (avg pace)


  1. Well done Stu, great effort, great splits (you can certainly pick out the hills!)

    One to put in my 'to do' list once back to fitness.

  2. Wow Stu, what a terrific effort!!! and a great reward for that work and planning!!! many congratulations :)