Snowdonia Marathon Eryri

Everyone I’ve spoken to about this event has said it is incredible. It’s been on my to do list for a good few years and I finally got around to it. Beth signed up on the 1st of December last year when entries opened (selling out in 2 hours!) and was the main focus of her running year. I’d be in Llanberis supporting her anyway and thought I’d probably be able to get hold of a transferred entry, which I did from a friend in August.

It was a bonus race for me after running ultras chasing points to enter the UTMB CCC ballot. With that goal achieved, I was really looking forward the marathon and feeling pretty relaxed about it.

As the 5 weeks passed from the Humani’trail race in the Swiss Alps I started to think about what sort of time I’d be aiming for in Snowdonia. A last minute decision to run the Cardiff Half Marathon 3 weeks beforehand, (I realised it would be my 10th in a row and couldn’t resist), produced a comfortable and reasonably quick (for me) time of 1hr25mins with satisfying 5k splits all within 10seconds of each other. I was surprised since I’d averaged slower than 11:30min/mile pace for the past 2 months of “running” and I’ve been carrying a good 10lbs of extra timber.

So, with all the long distance runs in the legs and the apparent retention of a decent bit of pace, I thought it wouldn’t be unrealistic to have a crack at my marathon PB of 3hrs17mins, even on the hills of Snowdonia.

That was my dream goal decided but the main objective was to enjoy myself, run hard and soak up the atmosphere and have a cracking weekend in a stunning part of Wales with Beth and loads of our running friends.

View of the first off-tarmac section of the race between 6-7miles, taken on the drive up.

Beth and I drove up to Llanberis the day before the race with Andy “Andrew Price” Price and got a look at the first half of the marathon route in reverse. The hills seemed alright.

Race numbers were collected; vast pizzas and beers were consumed; pre-race conversations between seasoned Snowdonia Marathoners and virgins were held. Then it was time for bed.

I was far less nervous than usual and fell asleep quickly. It lasted until 3:30am. I lay awake listening to the wind, rain and hail hoping it would stop, willing the time to pass.

Team Richardson kit shot.

After a light breakfast of porridge and much coffee in the hotel we set off to the start line. It was cold, clear and very busy. It was only half a mile to the start line but no time for a warm up. Not ideal but not the end of the world. I gave Beth a kiss, and Andy a hug and wished them both a good race and set off to get closer to the front with Faye, Paul and Pete from club. I followed Russell Bentley, the eventual race winner through the crowds for a bit and settled in about 10 meters behind the start line.

Race route and hill profile. It has to be one of the toughest road marathons in the UK, surely?

We were off. It was a little congested in the first half mile with some slower runners starting too far forward. A bit of darting and zig-zagging then things settled down. I’d told myself the first 2 miles were free. Sure enough mile one was a bit tasty at 6:33 but settled into an easy rhythm over the second mile (7:00) through Nant Peris and prepared for the first climb of the day up to Pen-y-pass.

I’d warmed up by now and felt good. I made steady progress up the pass, taking in the rugged scenery with the sun on my face. People passed me, blowing hard. I reckoned I’d be seeing them again later in the race. Still a long way to go. Around 4 miles in I turned round, running sideways, to look back down the valley. Runners in brightly coloured kit filled every twist of the road as far as I could see. It brought a big smile to my face and a spectator on a bike laughed at me as if to say “you’re meant to be racing”.

Cruising up the last part of Llanberis Pass.

The support and noise at Pen-y-pass was amazing as the road rolled over into the first descent. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station as my mouth and throat were incredibly dry. (I definitely had a cold coming on, as I found out afterwards. It’s 4 days after the race as I write this and I’m still off work sick with gentleman’s influenza).

I had planned to control my pace on the descent but that went out the window straight away. It felt amazing pushing hard down the winding road with a huge visa off to the right and the wind swirling around me. I was passing people too, which always feels good.

A right hand turn off the tarmac onto the gravel track and was instantly glad of my shoe choice. I’d opted for a 600mile-old pair of Hoka Speedgoat 2. Still a bit of trail grip left on them, fairly responsive on the road but enough cushion to batter the downhills without wincing on every stone. A 5:54 mile 6 and a 5:52 mile 7 and a good few overtakes was the result.

There was a short, sharp rise back onto the tarmac then a rolling, gently downhill road all the way to Beddgelert and the halfway point. Time to rein the effort in a little and settle back down after the fun descent.

An uneventful few miles followed. I saw small groups of supporters here and there and I was running easily enough to be able to thank them on my way past.

I went for a very simple nutrition strategy of water and Clif Shot Bloks. I must admit it was an afterthought and not what I’d trained with all summer or used during any of the ultras I’d run this year. My stomach started to protest at around 11 miles and my pace dropped by over 30 seconds. I decided to just take on water for a while, let my stomach settle and regain my composure before halfway.

The atmosphere in Beddgelert was electric. There were so many people out on the streets cheering. I high-fived children, people shouted “da iawn Dave!”, it was a massive buzz.

I left Beddgelert smiling and eased into the 2 mile climb to 15 miles, feeling a lot better stomach-wise and re-energised.

A runner turned to me and said “this is where the race really begins” and shot off up the hill. Helpful words or a bit of gamesmanship? I wasn’t sure but I got a good look at him and hoped to see him further down the road.

The climb itself wasn’t too bad. Not as steep as Llanberis pass but suddenly there was a strong headwind to contend with, shortly followed by horizontal hailstones. Ouch! The hail didn’t last too long but was enough to numb my arms from the elbow down.

My pace dropped to almost 9mins per mile in the last part of the climb and I was glad to reach the the top. It was all gently downhill into Waunfawr at mile 22 but the headwind, varying from annoying to vicious in strength, made it feel somewhere between flat and slightly uphill.

This was the toughest part of the race for me. The headwind slowly ground me down. My glutes and hamstrings were sore and tightening up with every mile, probably because they’re not used to trying to run quickly over longer distances. Ultras are easier in that respect. My average pace was slipping and the dream goal of an outright marathon PB was fading. I wasn’t bothered. This was a tough race, I’d not trained specifically for it and I was packing a lot of extra chub. PBs don’t come that easy. Excuses made.

I got overtaken by a few people on this stretch and I was looking forward to the final climb and descent.

Cool annotated elevation chart I found online.

Arriving at Waunfawr to cheering supporters was a welcomed relief. With a right turn off the main road the climb began. It wasn’t as steep as I’d imagined but I kept my effort easy knowing that it would go on for a couple of miles.

More people overtook me. I overtook some people walking, all the while keeping my pace and effort even and controlled. The road steepened and my glutes and hams complained. I refused to walk. Only another mile of climbing to go.

At the top the tarmac gave way to a gravel track. I was glad I’d saved some energy on the climb and pushed on. The aid station at 24 miles was amazing. People in Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts on the top of a freezing cold welsh mountain cheering runners on is not something you see very often. I heard afterwards that they even had cups of tea there. I opted for water. Just over 2 miles to go and plenty of downhill.

There was another little climb which stung a bit and I’d started to bonk. Wooziness and flickering lights in my peripheral vision were the telltale sign that I was out of glycogen. I got to the crest and an incredible view down into the valley opened up. I could see Llanberis below and knew I’d be finishing soon. I had this in the bag.

I’m not an aggressive runner. I try to take a controlled approach to racing. Usually anyway. I love downhill running and I was very disappointed with how tentative I’d been in the Swiss Alps…This Race was different – Probably due to the potent combination of hypoglycaemia and wanting to prove that I wasn’t a “downhill pansy” I threw myself down that mountain track like a man possessed.

Beast mode activated on the final descent. (I tried to buy this image along with the others but it wouldn’t let me for some reason, sorry SportpicturesCymru!).

I hammered through the gate at the 25mile marker, wild eyed and arms windmilling. A man at the gate shouted to me “keep that up and you’ll catch them all!” I gritted my teeth and pushed even harder down the grass. I was flying past people left and right. The course reverted back to tarmac and I accelerated harder still. I was rasping and snarling like an animal and it felt f**cking amazing. I passed the guy who’d spoken to me on the hill out of Beddgelert. My eyes were watering from the cold air and my vision was blurry. My watch beeped: a 5:49mile – get in! Only 0.2miles to go.Thanks to Jenny for this photo.

Finish in sight.

I hurtled around a right 90 degree bend and into the finish straight. I saw a guy ahead who’d overtaken me 3 hours earlier. Eyes fixed on the finish arch I stretched out and moved past him. As I’ve come to do in the last few races I jumped over the finish line and stopped my watch. 3hrs 22mins 01second. Result: Happy with that but room for improvement.

I looked insane crossing the line but made the Marathon Eryri Facebook post.

I jogged back to the hotel, had a quick shower, grabbed some stuff and headed back to the finish area to watch the others come in.

Beth came round the final bend smiling and looking strong. She bagged a marathon PB too! I felt quite emotional.

Andy came in not far behind her and ran over the line with his daughter Hannah. A truly incredible achievement for his first ever marathon. It was very moving and had a tear in my eye when congratulating him afterwards.

The Snowdonia Marathon Eryri surpassed my high expectations. It’s such a tough and beautiful course. The support is so welcomed in between long lonely sections and beyond anything I’ve experienced at other races. It made me feel proud to be Welsh, proud to be a runner and proud to have completed such a prestigious event.

I will undoubtedly be back. I would love to have a proper crack at this race when I’m leaner and with dedicated marathon training.

Well done to everyone who ran and a big thank you to all the supporters who made the weekend so special.

Slate coaster – way better than a medal.

2 thoughts on “Snowdonia Marathon Eryri

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