Our doubts are traitors: Eryri Marathon 2023

Race Date: Saturday 28 October 2023

Indulge yourself with Gillian Allen’s personal and honest account of her trials and tribulations on the way to another podium finish by Steel City Striders at this popular event. Whilst Gillian get’s the glory, five other Striders ran and anyone who can post a decent time on a course with 4,000ft of climb (and descent) deserves praise. Last years winner Caroline Brock ran two minutes quicker only to finish fifth whilst Rob Buyers finished twelfth in 2:48:29 which was handy as he could then go and collect the gear from the bag drop for the girls.

Put into context, on a more sympathetic course, this effort is in club record territory but we will let Gillian take up the story:

Eryri (Snowdonia) Marathon isn’t your average road marathon. As you might guess from the name, it’s not flat. It is however the favourite of the five marathons that I have run. Rather than a mundane flat 26.2 miles, it’s a race of three big hills, each being roughly two miles long. The first one comes after two miles, the second at half way, and the last and undoubtedly the worst at mile twenty two.

I first ran it last year after being inspired by Fran Cummings in 2019. I always looked up to Fran and her success inspired me to give it a go. My running had improved between 2019 and 2022 therefore I decided to target her finish time and see if I could match up to my idol. After completing a pretty decent training block, I succeeded in my goal however only just. That race hadn’t gone quite to plan, to quote my Strava: “Overall, happy with this however mistakes were made. Regretted going to the loo at mile 20, felt like I had to at the time but did I…? This then moved to stomach cramps which resulted in a little walk. Got going again and slowly shuffled up the the final hill only to have the worst stitch of my life on the down. I’d definitely come back“.

And come back I did aiming to do it better. I took a semi relaxed approach to training. The previous years attempt had left me injured so I slowly built back up and focused the first half of the year on enjoying running without any particular goal. I’d ran a few races and surprised myself with the success I found. My mileage was low but my results were looking pretty good. Eventually the time came for me to return to proper training and the 25th July saw me get back on the bus.

My training week wasn’t strict, instead keeping to a simple achievable target: one solid training session and one long run. What fell in between this I didn’t worry too much about however I aimed for at least one run of a decent effort at 8+  miles and tried to run five times a week. I didn’t avoid hills, started attending a strength and conditioning class and aimed to do more 20+ mile runs than my previous training blocks. I did this because I wanted to be sure that distance wasn’t an obstacle and I also used these runs to practice consuming gels, avoiding past stomach issues. In all my previous marathons I’d planned to take on five gels but had never been able to stomach more than three. However, despite my previous injury and being very aware that I suffer from a tight left calf, the one thing I didn’t do was stretch. Unsurprisingly, come the week of the marathon, my left leg was not happy. The tight left calf had started to affect my left ankle / foot and a four mile run on the Wednesday was an uncomfortable and painful experience. Standing on the start line had started to come into question.

The marathon is on a Saturday (another aspect I like) and I was staying in a holiday cottage with four other Striders and “AN Other”. We travelled in two separate cars with Seth and Ellie arriving later Friday evening. Rob had had the reverse marathon prep to me and spent much of his training trying to overcome an injury, but his knee issues still lurked in the shadows. Unsurprisingly, the journey was full of injury talk however the common consensus was that we might as well start and see what happens. Probably not the wisest of plans but we’d done the training and we were in the area. We filled in the back of our bibs with the phone numbers of our two drivers thinking that if we did have to pull out, we’d ask a kind stranger to borrow their phone and call for recovery. My ankle was not only sore but quite swollen so I spent the evening with it elevated and applied ice. Once Seth arrived at the cottage, he took one look at me and told me that I shouldn’t run. Not what I wanted to hear and after looking back and forth between Caroline and Rob (who both thought that I should run), decided that two votes to one meant that the marathon was on. Roll on the next morning and we dropped our bags and wrapped in foil blankets for warmth we looked like  superheroes with our foil capes on our walk to the start line.

Pre-race preparation. Not surprising that Seth told Gillian not to run.

Thankfully, the dodgy foot had more or less eradicated any pre-race nerves. I’d given it a little test and the fact that I run on my toes enabled me to run with only minor discomfort. In my mind I was just going to run and see what happens. Seth was going to be supporting at the halfway mark therefore that was an easy out if needed. However, a strong voice in my head was that of Caroline’s who had strongly advised against having an exit plan. She was totally right as once you let those thoughts creep in, it’s very easy to give into them.

The first part is downhill so I was cautious not to go too fast. Rob had started more or less on the line and was well away within seconds whereas Caroline and I had started a couple of seconds behind. I’d allowed Caroline to run ahead but then thought better about it, putting in a tiny bit of extra effort and eventually appearing on her shoulder. As many have found to their cost I do love to talk and upon reaching Caroline immediately started a little chat. Personally, it keeps me comfortable and stops me from getting too caught up in my own head however I quickly realised that Caroline was focused and running alongside my friend in silence felt a little weird, so I pulled off ahead and chatted to a guy with two Marathon Eryri tattoos. He wasn’t appreciative of my chat either so off I went again and as I made my way up the first hill, I found myself in fourth place, (confirmed by the TV camera men on the motorbike). I never expected to hold on to fourth and as we came over the top of the hill Caroline passed me, asked if I was ok and then flew off.

The route then takes the road downhill, exits onto a rocky track before joining the road again. As a fell runner this would usually be perfect territory for me however wearing Alphaflys and with a dodgy foot, I was cautious. However I manned up (are you allowed to say that these days, ed.) closing down on other runners before Caroline came back into sight. Once back on the road I maintained a pace, found myself in third position although wasn’t 100% sure of this fact until I saw the cameramen on their motor bike. The bike had been stationery in the road and as I approached they set off, started filming and said “you’re now in third. Naturally I had a little chat back and told them that I suspected as much when they set off on my approach. Letting the negative thoughts creep in I also told them that I didn’t expect I’d stay in third. I didn’t think I’d like being followed by the camera as it would throw my pace however I actually really enjoyed it. Knowing that I was being filmed forced me to think about my form which was ideal with my dodgy foot and the little chat and updates they provided kept me company. They would film me for a little while and then set off up the field to film the others. The next time they came to me they said that the front two women were closing in on one another and I had increased my gap on 4th. As the first two women were Welsh international runners I had no ambitions to catch them and cared more about my gap on fourth.

As I reached the last hill my pals on the motor bike told me that the front two women were struggling on the hill and I had a big lead on fourth. Once I’d started the descent a spectator told me that the woman in second was ruined and that I could catch her. I half doubted the information but I did get a little bit excited and I still felt like I had fuel in the tank. I saw her as I entered back into Llanberis and realised that I definitely could catch her. I started to drain the tank, ran past her and hoped that she was as broken as she seemed and didn’t try to chase me down.

If you want to see it, there’s an embarrassing interview on Welsh language channel S4C with other clips of Steel City vests along the way. At the prize giving Steel City were mentioned numerous times with Caroline being singled out as being the happiest runner. It seems as though the club is building a reputation in North Wales and it will be interesting  to see who’s going to help maintain it next year.

Gillian crossing the line with the third placed woman in white just visible only twenty odd seconds behind.

I now have a confession to make. Current marathon thought suggests a three week taper, reducing mileage but maintaining intensity and leaving formal hill sessions behind. It was advised that I should avoid the groups big hill session in Norfolk Park on the 10th October and given homework of 3x2000m which I did on the roads of Coal Aston on my own. What I didn’t tell the coach was that I was running the FRA Relays the week before Eryri. He was furious when he found out and still isn’t pleased with me even though I finished second.

Pos Name Cat Time
12 Rob Buyers SM 02:48:31
47 (2) Gillian Allen SF 03:04:46
60 Ben Jones SM 03:10:59
62 (5) Caroline Brock SF 03:11:24
843 Matt Gibson M45 04:26:44
1142 Phil Kelly M55 04:46:53

Women’s winner was Alaw Evans (Les Croupiers) 2:58:07 with Marshall Smith (Ashford AC) leading the men home in 2:31:21. Amazingly, only twenty days earlier, Marshall had won the Chester Marathon in 2:21:32. There were 2226 finishers the last of whom were out on the road for nearly six hours. Link to full results with all the details including splits Eryri Marathon Results 2023.






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