Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Snowdonia Marathon 2013 race report

The plan following UTMB in August was to wind down for the rest of the year, run a few Parkruns and get my speed back. I was doing just this up until mid October and got my Parkrun time down from 19:06 to 18.20. I was happy but as the long distance runner knows sooner rather than later you will get the yearning to jump back into what you know best.

The Snowdonia Marathon presented me with just this opportunity. With a week and a half before the marathon (which had sold out in January when entries opened) I emailed the lovely Sarah at Buff to enquiry whether they could get me into the race. It was nothing more than a punt but I thought I'd try my luck. The very next morning after an exchange of emails between Buff and race director Jayne I was in!! Awesome!

Then came the issue of readiness for running a marathon!!! Not something I had even considered when sending the email :-) Since UTMB my longest run had been around 8 miles with Parkrun blast at weekends. My average weekly mileage was no more than 20 miles and I was now signed up to the toughest road marathon in the UK. I liked my odds :-D and relished the challenge. In the preceding week I got in one long run of 12 miles and a nice progressive 5 miler testing my speed (slow) and pacing (ok) A few more steady miles thrown in for good measure and that was my marathon training complete. You don't see that plan in Runners World. Haha.

Fast forward to marathon day and I had that same excitement that I've experienced on the previous two years that I've run this race. It really is a wonderful marathon - i think undoubtedly the best in the UK. I was with many friends from home (Leighton Fun Runners, Red Way Runners) and afar, Nick Ham, Jason and David and the rest of the Runners World SNOD forumites. Everyone was looking forward to it as was I.

Sticking to my paleo diet meant that I didn't have to force down a bowl of porridge and instead went along to Petes Eats Caffi in Llanberis for the full works - sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes :-P now that's what i call marathon fuelling! With a leisurely 10:30 start time I relaxed and took a walk along the lake front and over to the registration area. Soaked up some of the premarathon buzz and wandered back to the house I was staying at to get ready.

The weather in Snowdonia makes this a marathon not for the faint hearted. The drive up on the Friday demonstrated this perfectly with gale force winds and  horizontal rain that the wipers could only just clear. Race day though was forecast to stay dry first thing with it turning fairly unpleasant in the afternoon. But the temps were in double figures so it was definitely shorts and t shirt weather. I was BUFFED UP in my team colours and raring to go. I had ran 3:17 last year which remains my official marathon PB (the 2:59 I posted in London was not in my name). My expectation for this race based on my complete lack of specific training was sub 3:30 baring in mind how tough this course is with 3 significant climbs at the start, half way and an absolute killer at the end. However I was relaxed and looking forward to my third Snowdonia marathon. Bring it on!!

Nick, Jason and I were pretty much right on the start line about 4 rows back with 2,000 or so runners behind us. Its always worth getting a good start down the first 1/2 mile downhill section before the huge climb up Pen y Pass to the 5 mile point. The excitement rose, the rain came (very briefly) and we were sent on our way. I told myself to hold back on the first climb and save something for later in the race but as it was I was feeling rather good (who isn't though in the first few miles right!) I clipped off a sub 7 minute first mile and got into a nice rhythm as the climb started up Pen y Pass. I was running right behind one of the lead female runners at this point so tried to use her even pacing to drag me up the mountain side. We reached the top in 35 minutes at 7:30 mpm avg pace, which was identical to my pace last year. The next few miles off the top are all downhill with a neat mile of offroad trail thrown in which always catches out the road runners a little. I used this to my advantage and opened up my stride a little to make up a few places and past the leading female.

The next section is fast flat road along the edge of the lake. Time to get into a good pattern and just hold a pace that felt sustainable. I didn't worry about who was passing me or who I was passing and was just concentrating on keeping it as smooth as possible. The effort I was putting in to each mile however was notable. We were racing after all and I came here to give it my best shot. Averaging around 7:15 minute miles for this section.

The half way mark takes you through the town of Beddgelert with lots of crowd support and cheering. There was only one thing on my mind at this point however which was the 2 mile climb out of Beddgelert from mile 13 to 15. I was so focused that I didn't even think about checking my half way split. The climb from Beddgelert is steep initially but then levels out before continuing to climb at a gentle gradient but enough to really know about it. At this point I was running with a number of runners that I was with from the top of the first climb at mile 5. So my target was to simple... dig deep and stay with them and don't let them out of your sight. And whenever someone would come up on my shoulder and pass me, I'd dig even deeper and try and stick with them. This worked well as each runner pulled me closer to the pack of runners that was 100yrd or so ahead on this long stretch of undulating road.

You are rewarded for your efforts after the 15 mile mark with a nice series of short downhill sections which allowed me to relax the legs and maintain a nice tempo. These miles felt fast and soon I was at the 18 mile marker. 22 miles marks the arrival at Waunfawr and the extremely tough 2 mile climb to the summit before descending to the finish. So I told myself that I had just 4 miles to hang onto this pace. I didn't look at the Garmin very much at all during the race and instead focused on those runners ahead. I got chatting to a chap slightly earlier in the race who was running his first Snowdonia. He was tall and quick and was confident of his pace and had trained all year for this race he told me. He was just ahead of me in this section so I just focused on him and tried to maintain the gap and not slip back. The miles went by and I was soon approaching Waunfawr and the climb up Bwlch y Groes.

The atmosphere was great with spectators lining the streets as the road started to climb. This was the final big push. What lay ahead was 2 continuous torturous uphill miles that at this stage in the race brings many people almost to their knees up the rain and wind swept mountain side. There was only one thing on my mind which was to crack on and ignore the now mounting discomfort in my quads and calves. They were screaming for me to slow down but I was having nothing of it as I continued to push my body to its absolute limits. I was steadily reeling in and passing everyone in front of me as I continued to the very top. Every person I passed voiced encouragement in the true Snowdonia spirit.

My legs were on the verge of collapse and were starting to cramp making the flat(ish) section of trail at the top little easier than the climb itself.  I pushed on into the wind and made it up to the second summit to the very top. From there it was 1.5 miles straight down to the finish. This is where it can get tricky as the path down goes offroad on mud, grass and rock. It was only upon reaching the top that I looked at my watch and saw that I could actually be on for a snowdonia PB by perhaps a matter of seconds. This motivated me to let rip and fly down the final slippery descent into Llanberis which is extremely steep in some parts especially where it returns to tarmac. I passed a few more runners as we made the final twists and turns into Llanberis and then I spotted last years female winner Emily Gelder as I turned into the high street. I must have looked like the guy who didn't want to get 'chicked' but honestly the only thing on my mind was to run the fastest time I could and get a PB. With that I sprinted down the high street and under the finishers arch.

I stopped my watch at 3:16. A new Snowdonia PB by one minute and my 'official' PB too! I was stunned by the time on my watch. I REALLY didn't think I stood a chance of getting near to last years time let alone beat it. What a way to effectively finish my 2013 with that. I was smiling from cheek to cheek as I stood in the finisher square for well over a minute just taking it all in. Thank you Snowdonia for another great race and more fantastic memories. See you again next year!

My race splits are on Strava - http://www.strava.com/activities/91676776?ref=1MT1yaWRlX3NoYXJlOzI9dHdpdHRlcjs0PTE1NzIxNjE%253D

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