Race Date: Sunday 9th July 2023
The Snowdonia (Yr Wyddfa) Ultra Marathon encompassed 7464 feet (2,275m) of climbing over 37+ miles (60km), visiting the slopes of Foel Goch (Red Bare Hill) and Moel-yr-Ogof (Bare mountain with cave) before ascending up to and through Pen-Y-Pas and finally ascending the slopes of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). “Yr” is pronounced “Uhr”, “Wydd” is pronounced “With” and “Fa” is pronounced, “Va.”
This race is generally considered one of the most challenging trail Ultras in the UK. It certainly felt like it by the end and the subsequent recovery days after (I’m on day four post race and legs are beginning to feel like mine again!).
I will split the report into four sections, each covering these ascents and descents. I will also put a general idea of the nutrition I used as it worked quite well for me.
It was the second time I was competing in this Ultra, following last year’s sweltering temperatures. So it was good to see some cloud cover as we all lined up for our 6.30am start. Early gusting winds on the summits of Eryri soon dropped, leaving a day that would warm up as it went along.
Myself and my two running buddies had been here before, last year was a success for me to complete this race is temperatures of over 25 degrees, but this year I had a time in mind, to beat 9 hours and 1 minute, I actually even flirted with the idea I might get closer to 8 hours, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, I knew this was going to be a hard race.
I arrived the day before in a damp, muggy North Wales. I was camping in the https://www.campinginllanberis.com/ campsite with my two running buddies. The pictures on the website of this campsite don’t do it justice. It is so scenic, nestling at the base of Yr Wyddfa (renamed in the Welsh, I will be referring to it as this but we know it better as Snowdonia).
We pitched with a direct view up the Llanberis pass, we could see the halfway house but not the peak as it was obscured by low clouds. This is a great spot for the night time to watch the 24 hour race head torches snake up and down throughout the night.
To our left we looked down onto the slate quarry lakes of Llyn Padarn and LLyn Peris with the race village nestling between them. Overlooking these were the ominous, grey misty slopes of the Dinorwig slate quarry with the twin peaks of Elidir Fach (Elidor the lesser) and Elidir Fawr (Elidor the Great) towering above this desolate waste ground. Again wisps of cloud clung to the slopes but the air was warm and humid.
Once pitched we visited the event village, this gave me the opportunity to go up the quarry to track some of the route of the Paddy Buckley Round that winds up and through the quarry to Elidir Fwar. It was enjoyable but a bit of a stupid idea as it meant me climbing over 2000 feet in just 2 miles, not the best idea considering I was running in a mountain race the next morning. It was an amazing view though.
Anyway, I slept pretty well, woke early, walked the mile back down to the start line and was ready to go. Yr Wyddfa Ultra Trail 2023 was about to start. In my bag I started with a full water bladder 1.5l with water, 2X 500ml bottles, 1 with tailwind and 1 with activeroot hydration. (both easy to use packets). I ate porridge and was eating a cliff bar at the start.
Llanberis to Foel Goch
The first part of the race takes you directly alongside Yr Wyddfa, looking across the valley towards it vista was beautiful, the sun came out and the thunderstorms that were forecast for lunchtime seemed like they might be a rogue forecast, fingers were crossed!
When we reached the horizon of this gradual rising ascent, after about 30 minutes of running, we were met with the Welsh coastline, Bangor and Caernarfon could be seen as well as the Isle of Anglesey. At this point I started on my first jumbo vegan roll.
The setting was beautiful, the going was generally good and the pace was great. The descent towards the first aid station zig zags steeply back down. Looking ahead, the front runners had already hit the road (about mile 4) and were heading to the first aid stop at mile 7. As you came down, each time the road pointed you South you could see the next ascent, a proper climb, the peak of Moel-yr-Ogof.
But before that was a road section, we ran through quaint villages, clapped all the way by residents and tourists making their way to a Sunday breakfast. As I reached the aid station I felt great, filled my water bottles, added tailwind and activeroot, I also started my second vegan jumbo roll.
I continued across Llyn y Gader lake and into the Beddgelert forest. This is the point where the marathon route splits off (they start 2 hours after the ultras) and the ultra-runners head up through the forest.
Moel-yr-Ogof to Beddgelert train station (aid station 2)
This section is the longest part of the race between aid stations, 13 miles! As we headed up though the forest a memory pinged back to me from last year, bogs! This next part, as you made your way up to Moel-yr-Ogof was boggy. And last year it had been hot and sunny for a week before we got there, this year it had rained the whole week! The bogs didn’t let me down! A number of people ended up knee deep after unfortunate route choices, the air was blue around there! I was pretty lucky, choosing higher ground and only finding ankle deep spots.
The ground dried out then we made a left turn and headed straight up towards Moel-yr-Ogof. The ascent is a gradient you think you could run but have to walk that turns very quickly into a hands on knees slog! The march past beautiful waterfalls, which had numerous runners making use of the sparkling cold water as by now the temperature had risen, was relentless. The clouds had gone and the sun was strong, not as hot as last year, actually quite nice and definitely no hint of bad weather, things were looking up. But you didn’t look up, because if you did, all you could see was the huge desolate mountain looming up in front of you and a steady stream of ants, in a weaving line, making their way to the pass at the top. Anyone that knows me, knows I like ascents, it was a good chance to pass people, especially those with cheat sticks!
Anyway, reaching the crest of the pass, it was time to take a quick gasp of air then head back down. The descent is both medium dangerous and exciting at the same time. You can pick your way down or go for it. Of course I went with the latter, dicing with injury on a few occasions but pretty much in control, it was nice to open up a bit after that long climb.
After this the route flattens out and you head back into the woods and join the marathon runners again. This is a hard part of the race for your head to deal with, suddenly after 18 miles people are racing past you and all you want to do is keep up. But that’s a different race. It’s a great mind battle.
I reached Beddgelert aid station still feeling good, legs a little tired. I filled up on water, activeroot and tailwind, again knowing the next section was pretty flat and runnable and looking forward to it.
Beddgelert to Pen-y-pass
Before I go further I just wanted to write a bit about the amazing people taking part in this race and my experiences of people running in other long distance ultra races. They are awesome, people are friendly, they want to chat and be helpful. They are supportive and, even though they have their own race in mind, will still talk to you, offer food, gels and generally chat about how hard it is but how great it is at the same time. This is one of the reasons I like doing this! The ultra running community is brilliant (as I am sure the other running communities are too).
Anyway, moving on (a little slower now), gently ascending towards Craig Penian (rocky top of the hill) which would lead to Pen-y-pass and following the Afon Glaslyn river and its subsequent lakes the route took us through undulating terrain, rocky, craggy footpaths only a foot wide and ready to break ankles, you needed to keep a good focus on where your feet went, this was harder as the feet were a little tired by now. There was another aid station here, I filled a bottle with water and one with a tailwind here. I ate 3 Soreen mini loaves as I climbed.
Then the ascent proper up to Pen-y-Pass started up the Craig. It’s unforgiving, a trod, troughs cut deeply by thousands of walking boots and trail shoes (and sheep), only a foot’s width at parts needed careful attention, you climbed pretty steeply. It was hard, the quads were aching a bit by now. But then I got a moment of reprise, something that made me smile, a laugh out loud moment which helped to push me onward.
A fellow runner, a metre or so ahead, was climbing slowly, stopped, sat on a rock and explained (in expletives) that he was ‘done in’. What is unusual about this you might say? Why did you smile Daniel? Well, he, like the rest of us, had his name on his bib. But his name was an absolute genius move. The name on the bib was Kilian Jornet! Yes, the world champion mountain runner!
Yes I did do a double take for a split second, but the silly sunglasses and Stoke football club t-shirt gave away this runner’s cunning disguise! It wasn’t the real Kilian, of course it wasn’t! But, at least now I could say I passed the world famous, record holding mountain runner!
I had new energy and even managed a smile and thumbs up to the photographer at the Pen-y-Pass car park. The challenge was now on because it was the hardest bit to come, the last 10 miles and some huge climbs.
Pen-Y-Pass to Yr Wyddfa to Llanberis finish
This is the second to last aid station and I took on fresh water and my last pack of tailwind. I also got my zip bag of 3 Mountain fuel gels and 3 Zoom bars out of the bag and put them in my front pocket expecting the need of these quick boosts on the next journey.
As I paused, I looked up at the challenge ahead. Rising high above and behind the near vertical slabs of rocky steps that took you up the pass was the Dragon’s Spine, Crib Goch. An amazing sight and something I hope to run on in the future but I couldn’t hang about, I was on track for a better time than I was hoping for, but knew this next 4 miles to the summit would be over 2500 feet of climbing and a battle with the quads!
If you have never been up Pen-Y-Pass, basically it is steps, but large steps, with varying distances between each one. Sometimes you can just step up, other times it’s a scramble up vertically. And while you are doing all of this (on legs that have done a marathon in hills) tourists, walkers and other runners are trying to come down and past! It’s both challenging, painful, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. All the while you are thinking, once this bit is done then it’s another near vertical traverse along the side of a mountain to reach the Yr Wyddfa top. Anyway, after some steady climbing at an OK pace the pass levels out and you cross onto the Pyg track bypassing the start of Crib Goch (with a marshal carefully guiding you away from that experience!)
You get a half mile rest bite of gentle, rolling, gradual ascent before the running stops and the climbing begins, again. More tourists, more hikers but this time the rocks are also slabs that are at times 45 degree angles. It is both exciting and a little bit sketchy at the same time but it just has to be done!
To make it that little bit more exciting, as Yr Wyddfa has its own weather system, it decided to spit a little, all the way up, making things a little more slick and exciting. You climb up past runners taking five, taking ten, saying they will never do this again (but with smiles on their faces).
The climbing hurt, both my quads started to cramp up. This was a new experience for me. Continuing to climb I quickly ate a Voom bar (quick energy and electrolytes) and took in more water and within 3 minutes it had subsided. I continued to climb.
*A quick tip, if you did decide to do this race, don’t look at your mileage at this point! It doesn’t seem to move! You ascend so slowly and steeply you are making up height but not distance, at one point my watch thought I wasn’t even moving as I scrambled up a few large slabs!
But soon the summit came into view, a zig zag of caged stones and a pre-made pathway was the only thing in the way now. By this time I had teamed up with a female runner, Lou Teagle, who was suffering but chatty and still moving well. (She also happened to live in Sheffield and had done so for years! It’s like the running gods had willed it). We reached the summit finally and she explained, as we caught our breath, she was the second placed lady, she had been keeping the 3 place lady at bay for a while but could see her below, just about to start the zig zag (only 200 metres behind). I told her we were going to race as hard as we could back down, I was determined I was going to help to get her that 2nd place.
I liked and hated this bit last year because it was fast but my legs didn’t like it. This year I felt stronger, all the fell running with the Tuesday night striders had helped and I knew we could go fast. The last descent to the finish is 5 miles and we were averaging 8 and half minute miles.
The Llanberis path follows the train line, it’s bumpy, steep, undulating, cobbled, rutted and long. Llanberis is always a little too far away, but slowly we ate up the distance. My watch was telling me we were pretty quick and as we got to within half a mile that we would do it in 7 hours and 30 minutes or so. We had both smashed our previous expectations of time but didn’t really believe it. We couldn’t until we had passed the finish line.
The finish route takes you through a car park under a bridge and onto a long straight into the race village. Lou was crying tears of joy and I was proud to have helped, just a little bit, to get her there! We crossed the line to cow bells ringing and cheers of support from lots of spectators (they were cheering everyone, not just us!). We had done it, and I had done it!
I had smashed my last time by one and a half hours. I had also finished with the second place female, and as it turned out only 3 minutes behind the first place female and just two minutes ahead of the third place female. As well as all of this, I passed Kilian Jornet!
To sum up, the Snowdonia Ultra Trail Marathon is an epic adventure. I would recommend this race to anyone who wants to run in epic surroundings and be tested over a distance of 10K, 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles or over 36 miles. It is beautiful, challenging, and will test your running skills. Definitely one for the bucket list.
For me, I intend to go back again, next year I’m going to take on the Black Diamond Challenge 24 hour Snowdonia race. But for now, recovery, then back training for Dig Deep 50 miles in September!
Ultra Marathon Female:
Becky Hoare 07:28:58
Lu Teagle 07:31:18
Sonia Gascon Lopez 07:33:45
Ultra Marathon Open:
Ricki Wynne 05:45:32
Joe Farrelly 05:46:49
James Nutt 05:59:18
M40+ position 9th out of 41
Gender position 30th out of 159
Overall position 31st out of 188