Report by Mark Doyle
Race Date: Sunday 14th July 2019
Running the Snowdonia Trail Half-Marathon in 2018, my first half-marathon, I ended up helping out with a mountain rescue for an injured runner just below the summit of Snowdon. I finished the race afterwards, coming last, but was offered a free place for 2019 so signed up for my first full marathon. All of a sudden the year had passed and I was sat in the Heights in LLanberis the night before the race, with Matt (ultra, 37 miles), Tom (half), Mel (half), Heather (half) and Anna (support). Unfortunately I felt like shite.
And then it was race day. Knowing Matt had set off on the ultra two and a half hours earlier didn’t help me feel any better on the start line. I’d been so looking forward to the race but now it was here I was despondent. I placed myself in the pack a little behind where I’d planned to, and it began. Running up into the hills my legs were like lead and I had no ambition. I let anyone pass me, and walked rather than ran up the slopes. No way was I running those inclines at this stage. I might not have run a marathon before, but I’d learned the hard way to take it easy when starting a long race. It seemed there were now way too many people in front of me for my target time to be realistic. I resigned to running my own race and to try and enjoy it. The release of pressure was a relief.
The marathon routes leave Llanberis steeply and takes a line along a high valley to a pass. Here the half ascends the Ranger Track towards the peak, but the full and ultra drop down to the next valley to circumambulate the mountain before starting their ascent. I was wearing a ten pound Casio watch I’d bought the week before from Argos, and had written some target times on my hand as a way of pacing myself. Passing through the first chip station at Rhydd Du, I saw the time was 10am. To my surprise this was exactly my target time. A line of runners snaked away along the valley, and I hung back on an easy pace looking for fun times not fast times.
Somewhere around here the ultra-route peels off right to take in ten more miles and loads more ascent. It was inspiring to know that Matt was out there somewhere in the wilds. When I reached Beddgelert it was 10.38am, nearly time for Heather, Tom and Mel to start their half. Again I was surprised that this was exactly the target time written on my hand. I was enjoying myself more and more on a steady pace through the woods, along the river and past the llyns. Then the mountain was flanked and the climb began.
I was feeling strong now and started to make back some places. At Pen Y Pass I was greeted by a child in full camouflage at the aid station who politely asked me if I wanted a refill for my bottle. I thought about the half runners who would still be up there on the mountain somewhere. God knows where Matt was. From here the running changed from easy trail to the more technical rocky ground of the Pyg Track. I was feeling more and more at home in these surroundings, passing more and more runners. The track became rockier and steeper, rising now towards the clouds with the dizzying feeling of leaving the world behind and below. My confidence was growing step by step, and then all of a sudden a yellow vest appeared in front of me. Matt! And looking strong! A hearty chat ensued with some mutual kudos, and feeling inspired I pressed on ahead and into the steepest part of the climb. Funnily enough it was the feeling of my eyes bulging that checked my pace, not my legs or lungs. Clouds and rocks were all there was. My right shoe broke and all five toes popped out. I was seeing spots. And then the briefest still-point at the top.
Downhill time. Passing the place where I’d helped the injured runner last year, I hammered it hard down the rocky track, racing another runner for miles and miles way down into the valley. A feeling I’d not had before, like electrical pulses flashing through my legs, felt like some kind of non-debilitating cramp. We left the mountain into roads, woods, twists and turns and suddenly it was over. I’d made my target time and was reunited with Heather and Matt and Mel at the finish line for some cold fizzy pop and smiles and laughs. They’d all run fantastic races. And then Matt came in and got deservedly the biggest medal (by far). Thanks for running guys, you’re all my heroes.
The Marathon was won by Nick Swinburn of Northumberland Fell Runners in a jaw-droppng 03.18.10. First lady was Kirsteen Welch in 04.07.32.