UTS Snowdonia 50k 2023 Race Report by Lee Mills

UTS Snowdonia 50K (actually 55K 🙄)

Race Date: 12th-14th May 2023

Draft Version 🤷🏻‍♂️ (This report has been just as tough as the race… ask Katie and Nick! 🤣)

UTS Snowdonia as it suggests, takes place in the stunning national park. Races start and finish in Llanberis at the National Slate Mining Museum, with multiple races taking place over the weekend, varying from 100 miles, 100KM (105KM), 50KM (55KM), and 25KM to choose from.

Registration opens early on Friday for the 100 milers and 100KM and later on for the rest. It’s a big event and Llanberis is a small and very busy village. The race organisers do offer parking, but at £5ish the Yorkshire man in me, thought “*&^%$” that, I’ll wing it on the day! To be fair, there was enough parking for 50KM and 25KM as there’s an all-day parking close by. I’m guessing the 100milers and 100KM runners might want opt for the parking offered by race organisers. The start/finish area has real carnival buzzing atmosphere feel with music, drumming act band and stalls for those last-minute decisions. Plenty of toilets including specific designated women only options (not enough space to go in pairs though 😉). Queues were long, but I wasn’t in any hurry to join the race line up. Taking advice from fellow Head Torcher (HT) and Dark Peaker Jennie Stevens, I was starting at the back, ensuring that there was no silly start off too quick rush of blood.. there wasn’t trust me.

1 of 4 Climb (1st up Snowden)

Count down done and the 1500+ 50KM runners slowly passed through the start/finish archway through a plume of smoke and spectators cheering everyone on. A steady start down the main village road at just gone 8am and it was already hot with clear blue skies providing views of the ascent’s to come. As with most races there’s the bottle neck and it wasn’t long before I ground to a holt at the first gate/style. Only doing a reccy of the race route via YouTube, I was aware of the nice little 20% road climb was just the other side of the gate/style so out came the poles, for pretty much everyone who had them. This nice, quad and calf, warm up path takes a left onto the main Llanberis path for the first of two ascents of Snowden. Maintaining the take it really slow approach (no option to be honest ⛰️), I settled into the swing of things, hiking up nice and steady, chatting to fellow runners (hikers) and a T-Rex spectator on route… whoever was in there must have been melting! The first part of the Llanberis path is packed gravel, some parts flattened out to allow a very steady plod. The half way house (YouTube reccy) seemed to come and go feeling okay. As the steepness ramps up, the path changes from nicely packed gravel to random nasty steps that always seem to be to high for my legs 😂. Out come the poles and now leaning on them to gain grip and some sort of forward momentum on now very loose gravel and rocks, with around 3 or 4KM still to go to reach the finger post turning, I broke out the jam sandwiches. The usual blind summits came and went bringing us to the finger post turn off, which was met with very enthusiastic marshals clapping and pointing the way down the pyg/miners track. This was a great place to stop and water the plants, before descending down the M1 path. Straight away it was chocker with runners desperately trying to make some descending ground with hikers and walkers equally trying to advance their way up the technical rocky climb. It seemed like ages to get into any sort of rhythm. Actually there wasn’t any… constantly stopping and starting was pretty much for the first few KMs. I found myself with a steady group and following a couple from, I think Dorset, for the majority of this section. Pinch points and another bottleneck saw both runners/hikers trying to take different lines with one guy coming down who went off the edge and over a wall, causing major tail backs and resulting in myself also being pushed off the path and slipping down, losing my poles and my race vest now feeling all over the place. After a faffing around and redressing of myself, I caught up with the couple from Dorset and not far from CP1.

Paths were now trail and a steady wander down was more fun. This included my first and only cheeky kissing gate experience. The lady went first, her partner followed, they kissed, and before I knew it, I was involved, with a quick peck on my on cheek from the Mr – some light humour that was very much needed as it was boiling hot at this point and the second ascent was looming. Coming into CP1 was a big relief and this was met again by the amazing marshals and one lady was just pouring water over runners heads! I had 2/3 soakings.The three of us started the refuelling process and now the panic started as it seemed that I’d lost my electrolytes… they must have come out of pack when I’d come off the path earlier. The Dorset couple asking me what’s up, as they could see I was in a flap. No electrolytes and crazy heat I was in a flap! The guy came back to ask what was up and I explained that I’d lost my electrolytes, so without hesitation, he gave me two tailwinds and wished me luck. They were ready to leave and I needed to repack my vest. And just like that the bromance was over 😂😂… I didn’t see them again.

2 of 4 Climb (2nd up Snowden)

This one goes to the top. The profile suggests its flat/flattish early on and mercifully that it takes in some wooded shaded sections for the first part. It’s not flat though and the rolling trails, in the scorching heat, are brutal and any ideas of running ideas were broken into plods and hikes as the trails dictated. I slowly caught up to a larger group that had left the aid station a tiny bit before me and one of the runners was done, she was saying she felt dizzy and dehydrated and was telling the next marshal. This was to become a regular theme across the whole day. The second ascent of Snowden was via the Watkin path. Once out of the lower section it was fully exposed to the heat and became a real slog and I was now feeling the same symptoms of dehydration. My legs were tightening up and I was feeling pretty broken at this point and constantly thinking about my previous Ultra DNF. Again taking the advice from Jennie that I was gonna feel shit and to just except it, not quit and keep moving forward, i did just that. Well let’s just say, this climb up to top was not fun, in fact I think it’s the main reason I’ve put off writing this report for so long 🤣. I’d say vile and relentless sums it up. A long steep slog with those horrendous steps that don’t fit my legs, as some of the guys and gals I regularly run with, this was bullshi* 💩 watching so many videos of ultras, watching their experiences,  I was in serious pain, cramping up when trying to climb over the rocks and boulders, runners just abandoned on the ground, slumped over rocks like a battlefield, one poor guy waiting to be airlifted off as he’d broken his leg. A few hikers took it in turns to shelter him from the direct sun and make sure he’d got enough water. I’m now down to taking a few steps forwards and then slumping either on my poles or some jagged rock and sipping on fluids. Around what I thought was half way up, I needed to just stop, like stop stop as it was too hot. So right there, behind a rock, I curled up and fell asleep. Don’t ask how long I was asleep for because I’m really not sure, but it felt so nice. It could have been 5 minutes or 30 minutes 🤷🏻‍♂️ but not a clue! I just was dead on my feet and needed a rest. Okay so some of you reading this might be thinking “really?! what a load of bs“. I can honestly tell you I was asleep and then the weird feeling of coming around knowing that you’d just had nap on the side of Snowden was surreal, but it did the trick I felt I was ready to push on and get to the top to rehydrate from the tap up there. That’s sort of what I was thinking about, as fluids were almost out, I’d taken 2x full 500ml, one of the kindly gifted Tailwinds and another just water, I had taken an extra water flask with a filter just in case. Going up, there weren’t really any opportunities to fill it, but i knew the tap was at the top right! Onwards and the constant technical scrambling on all fours was now energy zapping and cramping on my thighs was awful. It’s crazy how in this section its flat and then BAMM it just goes stupid up again. There’s a section where you can see the top and the cafe and you’re like, okay we’re done now, but nope it just kicks up and murdered you again! I’m done again! I eventually made it, feeling like I’d been going up the path, like, forever and I went in search of the tap!  It turned out I couldn’t find it and a few others couldn’t too… the cafe was closed! WTAF! The top was like Meadowhall at Christmas, just madness. I can say that before I’d started the race I was worried about the race route and the flagged course but the marshals were ace and the course was well marked out. I cannot fault this but going to the top at rush hour was insane.

Now I’m on the down part, should be okay right? Nooo… I hate them and this is where the damage was done to the quads. You descend off the ranger path and the first part is steep and lumpy with more steps that don’t suit my legs! There’s cut-offs for the race and a few others who’d raced it previously were saying they’re not as generous as previous races. I’d had my watch on actual time and was very much aware that I was now chasing cut-off times possibly due to the nap? Still with no fluids and I knew I’d not make it back without any, the descent flattened off fortunately, allowing me to sit in a few streams, head dunking, cap constantly dunked in and chucked over my head and yes the water flask with filter filled up. Back up and on the move again, actually sort of running now and yup, here it comes… a minor tumble on rocky gravel path. Nothing too bad, a commando roll at best. A couple of guys who I was following asked if I was okay and I got back up and off again. I thought if I make the cut-off, I’m finishing this thing. CP2 wasn’t too far and I was thinking it’ll be close.

I arrived with, I think, around 30 to 40 minutes to spare, A pee in the port-a-loos was the first thing. CP2 was down as a major aid station, but what was apparent was the lack of supplies. No coke, food was pretty much depleted and they were rationing water! No marshals giving out the head dunking this time. I’d taken my own food with me, a mobile picnic, so I was okay for that but seeing the water rationed was an eye opener. I’d refilled all 3 bottles, but some had only taken the mandatory kit of 1000ml. There’s been massive discussions about this since the race and I’m not sure were I sit? I genuinely think the organisers got caught out with just how hot it was, I’ve never seen as many bodies scattered along the side of trail paths, laid in streams, simply dehydrated and broken, dangerous at times. I thought CP2 was under staffed and lacked supplies especially as this was a major aid station and looking at the route the cut-off time to CP3 looked extremely tight and equally nasty in elevation.

3 of 4 Climb (The Short One)

Ready to go again, I was now determined to get this done. Honestly happy to get down in one piece (ish) I’d had a goal in mind to get round in under 12hrs, towards the 11hr mark would have been nice, but that was out the window – making it to CP3 was the only thing on mind. A brief road section leads the way with a right turn into the woods and cover from the constant sun. Back in a group again, we slowly made our way through the muddy lower and overgrown paths. It’s still a hike at this point and I’m conscious that I need to make some time up. Not like I’m going to break out into a run or jog but more I didn’t want to fall into someone else’s pace. I’d been eating regularly since topping out of the second Snowden ascent and sort of felt okay, well maybe not, my legs were battered and I was really really tired but I didn’t have that mental pain and this is bs💩. This stage is almost a blank to be honest. The wooded section was over quite quickly and as you come out and into open windy fields there it is, the third climb. My head down and back into the constant pole planting, just move forward was the thought. I was actually picking off a few runners/hikers at this point. Hauling myself over the style, fields now became single tracks winding their way up, more bodies just sat there, head in hands with no water and we’d possibly only done 2 or 3KM from CP2 at this point. This was honestly where it mattered to just keep moving, one foot in front of the other, dig the poles in and carry on as its the shortest between CP’s but also shortest in cut-off times and not flat. According to my YouTube reccy, it’s a doozy and apparently always windy! Please just let it be windy I thought 🙏 .

I caught up to a guy called Dan who was just sat on the rocky path. I didn’t notice his vest at first but he was the other Strider in this race. Only two of us stupid enough to enter I guess. Encouraging him to keep moving we both slowly made our way upwards, twisting and turning on the single track. Not long after Dan was dropping off. I needed to focus on making this cut-off, so Dan was dropped (joke!). I did hear through Striders that Dan didn’t make it to CP3 in time and to be honest there’s absolutely no shame in that. CP2 onwards was where most of the nearly 800 runners DNF’d. Yup almost 800 which was mainly down to dehydration I suspect. Dan, if you read this, bloody well done on getting that far. It sounds corny I know, but I hope you return back for another go!

Now, back on to the descent and I’m again with a steady group of plodders, but it’s getting close. Some of these guys and gals I’ve yo-yo’d with since the start and again I’m not wanting to settle into someone else’s pace and miss out. Again as the race terrain dictates, the lower part of the descent is sort of runnable (plodding) and I’m now at the front of the pack actually moving forward without the poles! More than 35KM into the 55KM and I’m actually smiling… crazy I know! Again, as before, a quick dip into the running streams, just dowsing myself to try and keep cool, filling up the filter flask and drinking it almost immediately and re/filling for more, there were a good few of us at the stream and looking back now, it must have just looked like a herd of cattle. At this point there was about 2 or 3KM to go, pretty much all flattened out by this point and the aim was to make it in time. I remember my phone going ping, ping, ping, ping as signal resumed but there was no time to check socials now I’d got a wriggle on! CP3 was just around the corner, winding its way through a very busy static camp site, one family had a full BBQ on the go, beers on table the lot and I know they were enjoying everyone drooling as they went by. CP3 arrived and I’d made it with about 20 to 25 minutes to spare. But again there was no coke, water was rationed and slow to get. Once all 3 flasks were filled up and my squishy cup full, I slumped down on a chair outside making sure to constantly remind the marshal how long I’d got. I was also questioning him on the electronic pad that timed the runners when entering CP3 – let’s just say I was annoying him. A guy sat down next to me with what looked like a full roll of k-tape on his leg. He was done. He had limped in and was calling it a day. He asked my friendly marshal if there was any chance he could call his wife so she could come pick him up but it fell on deaf ears as the marshal basically said he would be taken back to the start by the races own facilities and his wife could pick him up from there. He wasn’t happy, but I guess that’s in the guide rules. I knew I’d got a signal from all the pinging and so I let him use my phone as I’d got around 7 to 8 minutes left anyway to chat to my marshal friend. The guy spoke with his wife and sorted out collection arrangements, gave me back my phone and said good luck. I filled up my cup again and was off onto the final leg with only 15KM to go!

4 of 4 Climb (Deceivingly Nasty)

Now slowly walking and making my way out of campsite, I’m thinking okay dokey, this is it, just a Saturday excursion to go and the littlest teeny weeny of four climbs to get over. More plodding up a long field, again easily marked out and you could see the line, of now battle hardened runners, in single file making their own way up to the road where they then disappear into the woods. It’s steep again and I’ve only just put the bloody poles away! I dragged myself up the fields and into the woods which once again provided more welcomed shade. Instead of a single marked track, it was very much open ground within the trees – you can see the orange flags but you could also pick a path through the undulating ground, some deep muddy parts, which on a Thursday HT night would be fun, but nope, not today. This was again leg energy zapping slow mooching, up and down these tiny bumps in the ground which was horrible. Then the pinging started again and all i could think was just leave me alone! No distractions, but at the same time too knackered to ever get my phone out and turn it on silent. This endless Teletubbies land was a killer, constantly going up and down, dropping down into the streams, clambering over fallen trees. It was so painfully slow and right there in the middle of nowhere, just a random bright red armchair. I’d seen this on my YouTube reccy. Nope nope, don’t get in it or you’ll be back fast asleep again! The woods came and went and it’s the last final climb. Usual status resumed with bodies everywhere, people whacking gels and sweets down themselves thinking this is the last one. Well it’s not, it’s a nightmare, it just goes on and on and on. Keeping the wired fence to your right, it’s not only steep, but it’s just a continuous straight path. No zig zagging, no blind summit on this one, just a long ass drag up-to the top. Once again though, I’m finding myself pass people on the up bits,. I was quite surprised in all honesty, feeling that all the training with all the elevation I’d tried to squeeze in was now paying off.

The top arrives and the marshals again were fantastic with encouragement aplenty. One even pointed out its all downhill from here, but let me tell you it isn’t! Yes it starts going downhill and that was exactly where the wheels came off. The downhills destroyed me and then the next up was painfully painful and then comes comes another downhill. These last few were on steep gassy banks that didn’t only pummel the legs, but the toes too!! OMG they were battered. The poles were back out to help me go downhill and this point to take away the constant landing and bashing of the feet. Those downhills were the difference in any training I’d done and I simply wasn’t prepared. Now I was in a different kind of pain. Yes the legs were tried, very tired in fact at this point, but the feet were now screaming. It felt like I’d got broken toes and I just wanted to finish right at this point with roughly 10 to 11KM to go. Hobbling onto the gravel path, I sat on the bank and decided I needed to take my left tyre off. I know I know you’re all thinking don’t do that! But I was pretty certain I’d broken toes and was preparing to tape them up. Tyre off and… Where’s my insole gone 🤷🏻‍♂️?! Completely gone, vanished, vamoosed… how’d that happen?! A quick F1 pit stop showed no blisters and no insoles – both had just disappeared. I had my last jam sandwich, put the poles back away, laced up my now known inner-less tyres and started the steady plod down a nice gravel packed descent with only the thought of finishing this bloody thing.

The Friday started out as a nightmare where I almost turned back home as I struggled to get registered. With no internet signal to access my QR-code I’d been lucky that my work colleague had sent me a picture which I’d saved onto phone. Without this I wouldn’t have been able to register. So if you’re planning this race (after this report) know your number as the Wi-Fi they provide doesn’t work. Then the hotel accommodation – turns out I missed evening food by 15 minutes and breakfast started too late. I did borrow myself some butter from the kitchen and with the food I had brought made my own meal and race sandwiches on the hotel table. Anyway, back to the race…

The gravel track section was surprisingly good and I was managing a decent pace (for me that is and especially at this point in the race) again picking off a few runners who had earlier asked me if I was okay whilst I was sat down sorting out the tyres. We dropped off the gravel track and started going up again… really!? Downhill from way up there the marshal had said and he never mentioned cows, a whole bunch of them, in this muddy uphill field. Then it was onto the road 🙄. Great… just what the legs were wanting, tarmac. It was tarmac from that point on. Still sort of jogging/plodding along this last bit seemed to take forever and even a slight gradual gradient halted the jog/plod into a walk. The legs were done and I knew what was coming next… that 20% road climb, only downwards! A killer. Every step painfully battering the quads. I was trying not to put my feet down, levitating almost. The couple of guys I’d past earlier soon past me on the down but I couldn’t bring myself to going anything quicker than walking down.The final village streets seemed to go on forever and I did ask a group of locals if they’d give me a lift back! I needed to break things up, some banter, just something, as I knew I’d finished. Okay I was 1 hour over my time, but I’d got round and beaten all the cut-offs and I didn’t break when pushed to what I thought were my limits.

The last road into the slate museum, just around the corner and I’m home. There’s still spectators about and other finishers clapping and cheering you in; everyone knows exactly what its been like out there. And that was it, I’d crossed the finish line, even managed my jump tap of the heels to celebrate. It felt weird at the time to be honest it still does. Has it settled in? Yes, but it’s taken its time.

On the whole, the UTS races are expensive, yet well marshalled and well organised. They do attract a huge number of runners especially the 50KM, erm 55KM. Did I enjoy it? Parts of it yes and parts I’ve tried to forget 🤣. Would I do it all over again… never say never!

On a final side note, I really want to thank a few people that helped me out. I know that it was their help and advice that got me round even when they weren’t there in person: the Saturday Excursion BPSH Ltd regulars, Mark Platton, Craig Baird, Paul Smith aka the route planner and Vicky Hawkins – they’ve put up with some effing and jeffing from me during the last 4 to 5 months. Thank you to Jennie Stevens for the little pep talks, the regular Thursday HT group which just keeps me grounded; no heirs or graces, no look at me type of runners, all there for just one reason, “the mud” 🤣.

Oh, not forgetting Katie Gill and Nick Burns for believing in me when I said the reports in rough draft. Honestly, if you’ve managed to read this babble, I’ve spared you from the long version…


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