At about 09:45, just as I’m passing the 2-mile marker heading towards the start of the 2013 Snowdonia Marathon a car pulls up beside me, the driver winds down his window, looks at my bib with my name on and following short conversation ensues:
Driver: Hi Guy – do you want a lift to the start
Me: Cheers mate, but no – I started at 5am and am running the route in reverse before doing the marathon with the masses at 10:30am
Driver: I don’t want to know
And with that parting comment, he rapidly shut the window, locked the doors and sped off towards Llanberis and away from an obviously dangerous and mentally disturbed individual.
“Double Snowdonia” – Why? A question I’ve been asked, and asked myself many, many times over the past few days, scattered through this blog is a few of the justifications I’ve made to myself and others.
Why? #1 – Because 2011 was too easy: In 2011, at the finish Ian said “I looked like I could go round again” and to be honest, it was a pretty comfortable run. I think that was the first “seed” planted
At 05:00 on Saturday morning, I’m standing on Llanberis High Street at the, (as yet unconstructed) finish line. It’s another 5.5 hours until the start of the 31st Snowdonia Marathon, and at least another 8 hours until the eventual winner will be passing over the area I’m currently occupying. But, for now – it’s quiet, dark and peaceful… I take a quick photo, post it to my Facebook status and head off down the High Street, turning left towards the first big climb out of Llanberis towards Waunfawr.
Within minutes Llanberis starts to recede below me and the headtorch goes on, it’s a beautiful night with broken cloud cover and little wind. This is the legendary final descent in the Snowdonia Marathon, the one which everyone remembers but I imagine few have been able to take-in and enjoy as much as I do. I imagine that in 52 miles and 10-12 hours time, I too will be looking forward to seeing that finish line again.
Why? #2 – Value for money: All-in with hotels, petrol and race entry it’s a £200 weekend ‘just’ for a marathon. That’s £8 / mile, doubling it makes the journey and cost more justifiable!
At the summit it’s foggy and wet underfoot, but soon clears up on the descent into Waunfawr whose residents are still sleeping, unaware that a lone runner is passing through their village in the darkness. I manage to find a garden with an outdoor tap to refill my water bottle and continue on towards Beddgelert counting down the mile markers in reverse. 20, 19, 18 down to a 13 painted on the road in Beddgelert. The occasional car drives past me on the dark road, and I say hello to some dustbin men, (or are they called something more grandiose these days – refuse collection executives I imagine?)
Dawn has broken by the time I get to Beddgelert so the headtorch comes off, I hid a bottle of water near the 12-mile sign on my way past the previous day, thankfully it’s still there as I come through so I pause for a while to take on some water before plodding on towards the off-road uphill section at the 8-mile marker.
Why? #3 – Jumping on the bandwagon: I may have been a little bit inspired by stories from Mimi Anderson in doubling Comrades, Badwater and 2013’s GUCR and Spartathlon attempts. Though I realise that my adventure pales by comparison
The off-road hill from the 8 to 5 mile marker at the top of Pen y Pass convinces me that I was right to do the course in reverse! I could have just gone around the normal course twice – but then I wouldn’t have got to see the views from this angle. There’s cloud covering the top of Snowdon, but the range is imposing and impressive in the broken cloud and early morning light. I reach the YHA at Pen y Pass with nearly 90 minutes to get to the start line, 5 miles away – mostly downhill so it’s an slow easy jog down through the valley past bemused motorists, hikers and cyclists.
At the 1-mile marker I pick up a can of coke which I’d also craftily hidden on my way to Llanberis the day before and I walk the final mile to the start line where around 2,000 people are warming-up for the start of the marathon. I bump into a couple of people who know about my warm-up lap and we have a bit of a joke, but soon decide to slink off to the back of the pack, drink my coke and get ready for the return journey.
Why? #4 – To see the course from a different angle: Have you ever run a familiar route in a different direction? Everything looks different – you see new things from a different angle
At 10:30 the race starts, during the 30-minutes or-so that I’ve been hanging around at the start my left calf and hamstring have started to seize-up. I set off with the main pack but it’s evident from very early on that the second half could be a different experience.
A couple of familiar faces pass by at the start and we have a quick chat, it feels strange though – having had the roads, trails and mountains all to myself for 5-6 hours, suddenly it’s full of people and even though I’m fairly near the back of the pack it’s a bit claustrophobic.
Progress is pretty good all things considering, the first half of the race to Beddgelert is over in about 2.5 hours which surprises me considering the amount of walking I’m doing. However, at about 16 miles my left calf and hamstring have had enough – it’s far too painful to run. However, I can walk at a reasonable clip – I’ve been going 3 hours and reckon I can walk the final 10 miles in around 2.5 hours, quitting is not an option as long as I’m ahead of the cut-offs.
So I walk, and walk… Back along the roads I passed in the dark earlier, through Waunfawr – now full of happy, cheering supporters. Back up to the top of Bwlch y Groes and to the start of the final descent down into Llanberis, back to where I was 10.5 hours ago, alone and in the dark. The weather takes a turn for the worse, gale force winds and horizontal rain lash down, nearly blowing the runners and marshals across the mountains.
I start the descent, attempting a little jog and the pain is bearable so I pick up the pace a bit. My legs start working again and finally the descent levels off and we’re back into Llanberis, a quick right-turn onto the High Street and there it is – the finish line gantry. The clock ticks over 5hrs 30min as I approach but finally I’m over the line and finished.
The weather is now horrendous, seconds after I finish the inflatable gantry collapses and gets taken down! I’ve been so lucky that, despite a few squally showers the last 11 hours has been OK, I doubt I could have made it in the current conditions.
So – thank you Eryri… I enjoyed your mountains, and thank you for keeping the worst of your weather until I’d nearly finished. However, your marathon just has too much tarmac for me and I’m just not a road Guy – I said that after 2011 and the same is still true. I’d like to give that 10-mile race a go though, maybe next year?
Why? #4 – Why Not?