The GPX of the route. The blue marker is the start and the red where I finished.
On Friday 20th September 2019 I travelled to Snowdonia to run the Maverick Race X-Series Snowdonia Ultra Marathon. The course looked brutal with a double summit of Snowdon, in the first 30 km with a total distance of 63 km.
The race was to start in Llanberis, then to Snowdon summit via the Llanberis pass. From the summit, there was a technical descent of the Rhyd Ddu then back around the base of the mountain to the Miners path. This joins the Pyg for a steep scamble back up to the summit.
Physically I was in good condition for the event, my training had been consistent but not quite as rested as desired. I did my first road half marathon, the Bristol Half, as it is on my doorstep.
Overall, I was feeling confident for a good race and especially with the cut offs for the Ultra being very achievable:
Start: Parc Padarn 0km, 08:00
Outpost 1: Nantgwynant 13km, 10:30
Outpost 2: Nantgwynant 34km, 14:00
Outpost 3: Beddgelert 40km, 15:15
Outpost 4: Rhyd Ddu 53km, 17:15
Finish: Parc Padarn 63km, 19:00
On the Friday I slept in my micro camper in the campsite, Camping in Llanberis linked here.
The weather was lovely, the sun was out with a gentle breeze. I did some yoga and stretching before boiling water for my pre-run carb loading pasta. It was a perfect pre-race evening; calm and relaxing.
The weather for the following day was due to be dry, with strong winds forecast for the summit. I was ready with my OMM trail running jacket for the wind, Salomon Speedcross 4 shoes and Dynafit Ultra Poles to give an extra boost during the ascents. In the morning the race was due to start at 08:00. This is unheard of in trail events, usually the start is unsociably early but 08:00 meant I could almost have a lie in.
The morning came, I prepped my Moka pot for the morning coffee and got my breakfast mix out the fridge (my little van has a little cooler in it, perfect to keep the post-race beer cool). My breakfast mix is 1 banana mashed up with a fork, 3 tbsp of oats, 1 tbsp mixed nuts, 1/2 tbsp of mixed seeds, 1/2 tbsp chia seeds, pinch of salt (early electrolytes but don’t over do it or it is gross) and a couple tbsp of yoghurt all mixed up together. It is full of carbs and energy to get you going during a race. Sometimes I add red berries or dried fruit depending on the season. My race bag was packed, the sun was rising so off I hopped down to the start area.
I love the Maverick Race events. The organisers are fully of energy and float around chatting to the runners, calming nerves and raising spirits. The runners are always a good mix of ages and abilities, there is always a communal buzz of excitement. After the pre-race brief, we were ready to go. The sound of the airhorn, the clang of the cattle bell and we were off.
The first leg to Outpost 1 was good. As predicted the side wind was fierce as we ascended the Llanberis Trail. I hit the summit quickly and then set off down the Rhyd Ddu at speed, I thought I could make some time up on the technical descent.
As soon as I dropped off the summit of Snowdon the wind disappeared, and the unseasonably hot Welsh sun was beating down on the runners. I reached Outpost 1 with 30 minutes to spare. Plenty of time.
In hindsight, this is where things started to go wrong. After a leg pounding, technical descent the route followed a valley before it came back around the mountain. The sun was blisteringly hot so being dehydrated I got through my liquids too quickly. I started to feel bloated so by the time I set out from Outpost 1. Due to the liquids and the heat, I was really struggling to get food down. The lack of fuel meant that I lost my energy was suffering by the half marathon of distance.
As I came to the Pen-y-pass car park, I refilled my bottles and chatted to the marshal. I was not feeling good. Serious doubts were creeping into my mind; can I do this, should I stop, why am I so tired? I knew I was losing the time that I had gained being fast in the early sections, but I pressed on. The beginning of the Miners trail is generally flat, so it gave some respite from the technical ascents and descents. I was able to find a bit of a rhythm and able to force some food down. The path gets very steep as it joined the Pyg Track.
Unfortunately, due to the time of the day, the day trippers and walkers had flocked to the mountain in mass. I picked my way through the people and distinctly remember hearing a woman shout to her friend, “well he doesn’t look like he is having any fun”. I bit my tongue, kept my head down and pressed on.
I reached Snowdon summit for a second time and the again descended the Rhyu Ddu path, albeit much slower this time. Coming into Output 2, I was 30 minutes behind the cut off. Where and how had I lost so much time? The crew shouted words of encouragement and said they had extended the cut offs as hardly anyone had come through. This gave me a huge boost; was I just being haunted by my own race demons?
The next section had a lung busting ascent, not a steep as Snowdon but still never ending. I approached a singular marshal who was cheering away positioned at the bottom of the ascent. Her words of encouragement were brilliant but the messages of “this hill is tough” I could have done without.
Pushing on to the top and then following a winding descent path I reached Outpost 3. The marshals were clapping away but sadly, it was just an hour over the original cut off and had now missed the extended cut off time. For the first time I timed out, DNF.
A quick check on my watch showed I was just short of a full marathon, so I ran a couple laps to top up to a full marathon distance. Sore, aching and a bit disheartened I waited collection for return to the start. When the minibus arrived, I hopped in with the 3 others who had come to the same end of the event.#
Arriving back at the start, one of the organisers approached me asking “what happened? Were the cut off’s too tight?” I replied, “I was timed out at outpost 3, the heat was so unexpected so I couldn’t get the fuel in that I needed. That accompanied with the harsh cut offs made the event brutal and sadly I ran out of time.”
Never mind, I enjoyed the finishing area, with my complementary Freedom Brewery Ale and I bought a pizza. I gathered my things and returned to the Llanberis campsite where I lay in the last of the sunshine, recouping the lost energy from the day.
It was the first Maverick event in Snowdon, I think they did get the cut offs wrong, but I wouldn’t want to blame the organisers for my own short comings. I did not expect the heat, I got my fuelling plan all wrong and ran out of energy so I could not keep up the pace. I later discovered that around 80 people entered. 31 finished and around 10 more people made it as far as the marathon distance.
I learnt a lot of lessons during this event which I will be able to take into the future. I celebrate the fact that even though I was suffering I managed to overcome my mental demons and push on past when my mind was telling me to quit. I need to improve my nutrition plan and have a bullet proof fuelling scheme that works for me. This was my first DNF and I hope it will be my last but as I push further and harder, the unexpected can strike. The understanding that not everything goes to plan is a very important less but to be flexible will stop runners facing the same complications I did.
This is not a defeat; this was a valuable lesson. Now on to the next adventure!