I vowed after this years FLM not to bother with marathons on the road for a while. 6 miles of cramp, legs taking week to recover from the hammering on tarmac, crowds. Don't get me wrong, FLM is a great spectacle, just not a good race for the "everyman". Anyway, I digress, Snowdonia was my exception, mostly road, but smaller field and supposedly stunning surroundings.
I stayed in Llandudno the night before at my Uncles guesthouse. Its proper comfy, and a good discount for family members. Though judging by the Runners world Snowdonia Forum I should have got organised, laid out some notes and stayed in Llanberis so I could enjoy Petes Eats and the re-hydration Apres-Run. My arrival on the day was a bit late meaning I got the furthest away - but cheapest - car park. I was just in time for a soaking as I walked to registration. met up with Claire who had decided to tough it out and have a go at running the marathon despite very little training due to injury. See how far she could get. Can't help thinking I wouldn't do that, I'm only tough when I'm trained up and confident.
With my windproof jacket and leg cover already letting water through to the running kit I decided to walk to the race start. Better that then stand around in the race and get cold. On the way one joker walking the other way said to somebody in front of me it had been cancelled, but added after the shocked reaction that it hadn't really, but it was likely to be delayed. Ho ho, I don't think so when I'm wet and windswept. This wasn't a bad thing though as it allowed me time to change to my dry - for now at least - reserve running top. About 15-20 mins late, we were off into the wind and rain.
The opening miles are perhaps deceptively easy, your gradually climbing from step 1 and by about 3 miles its slightly more than gradual. After about one mile a strong gust gave us some of that hard rain that almost feels like hail. Eyes squinting, leaning into the wind, like the other 1000 or so I plowed on. It wasn't long before the rain slackened and then stopped. This weather may not be abnormal in the area, judging by the torrids of white water cascading down the mountainsides either side of the Llanberis pass and the rapid river next to the road at points. The landscape was already stunning but the best was yet to come. Only the last part of the initial 800' climb felt even a bit challenging, which inspired confidence.
Just after the 4m mark the climb was over, passing through some loud crowds, a water station and small settlement we hit an initially quite fast downhill. Loads of people flew by but I held off a bit, just going with gravity without applying effort. The route made a left turn to reveal my personal highlight. A gorgeous greener-than-green valley far below, between hills on the left and the foothills of what I guess was Snowdon on the right. My lack of local knowledge means I can't confirm if Snowdon was there. Neither could my vision as the clouds sat just above the top of the Llanberis pass hiding the peaks above.
The drop down to the valley bottom progressed in stages over quite a few miles. Lots of people passed me, many who I saw again later. I maintained a decent pace down but felt a slight stiffening in the legs as I'm not used to steady downhills of this length - who is... right? Next stop Beddgelert and a small climb to halfway. A nice change and confidence inspiring to go uphill, which always seems a bit less uncomfortable when the legs start to suffer from the repeated foot strikes on hard roads.
Try as I might I couldn't seem to get far below 9-min/miling on the flat - I suppose this is fast compared to many of the off-roaders I have done and the road pace has probably suffered a bit due to this. I could have probably forced a fast pace, But I'm sure I would have suffered. I already had various stiff sore bits on my legs including right knee which felt sharp at times.
On the long road to Waunfawr I was looking forward to the climb. I was fairly sure I could get up there mostly running due to my training this year, I was also sure many others wouldn't. Not that it would be easy, but I knew if I could get up there at more than a walk I had a good chance of my sub-4 target.
The support at Waunfawr was great and I felt good to run up the first hill through town. Like at the Llanberis pass many miles earlier I had the feeling it must get more difficult. I wasn't disappointed. Around the corner and got one of the chocolate goodeis on offer at the feed station. I'd already taken a big swig of energy drink, but I'm no slave to one form of energy provider and the stomach felt alright. The narrow road became more of a track and ot felt like any one of many moorland climbs I'd one in the last 6 months of long off-road LDWA, fell runs, etc. Call it cruel but I drew confidence from running up this, even when it was barely faster than a walk whilst so many others were walking at a variety of paces. This is the terrain I can do well and I guess many of the competitors weren't so used to this kind of climb.
As it levelled out the track became rockier and the weather descended again, strong side winds almost blowing the runners sideways. Combined with the rain which had restarted on the way up it felt cold again. Then came the descent, at some stages just a path. At first I meandered along and lost a few places. Then the off-road conditioning kicked in and a I thought "this is steep, but I've done worse" and the old classic "brain off, brakes off" and down I went skipping down, jumping, windmilling the arms, hoping to inspire others to enjoy the moment - catch me if you can! I was kind of disappointed to hit hard road again as each footstep hurt that bit more.
The loop around Waunfawr dragged and the motivation dipped a bit as some of my - as of yet unexperianced today - road marathon leg cramps started to make things akward. I cursed and got going again. As I passed 800m to go I kicked a bit as people started to run passed me and the competitive bit decided I would lose no more places. Pumped the arms to drive the legs, gaze straight forward and gun for the line. Then it was there, I had to duck around somebody on the line as I drove through.
Under my target of four hours, at halfway I thought I'd be well under. But I think its safe to say this isn't a course for a negative split, what with the climb after Waunfawr coming at the most difficult time. In many ways the descent that followed was just as tough, certainly more painful.
I grabbed my hard earned coaster and foil blanket, I thought I'd overheard talk of forum near line so I headed over. Had a quick chat with a few other forumites anfd then headed off to get some warm clothing. I hung around for an hour to see Claire in and contemplated the planned forum meet-ups for food and booze. Though in the end I was so chilled by the winds I headed back to Llandudno to get a warm shower.
I really enjoyed that and will be back for another go. As you might have guessed the temptation of the mountain race is too much so I'll no doubt do that too in the meantime.