Snowdon International Race 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Snowdon Race was first held in 1976, over the years it has developed a lot of prestige. Today, it's regarded as one of the biggest races in the British fell running calendar, attracting some of the best fell and trail runners throughout the UK and Europe.

The course record of 1:02:29 set by Kenny Stuart way back in 1985 is outstanding, so is the Women's record of 1:12:48 by Carol Greenwood in 1993. Most of the winners are legends in their own right; Bonzi, Holmes, Wild, Donnelly, De Gasperi to name just a few, they've all had their day on Snowdon and will recount their experiences with much gusto I'm sure.

My first year of running the race was 2014, about 4 months after I ran my first fell race. I had very little experience of how to train and prepare for such a race, but I was keen to see what I could do among the international runners. It's the first time in the history of the race that the course had to be shortened because of the threat of lightning on the mountain. We had to turn back at Clogwyn Station. I was incredibly nervous the week leading up to the race, I ran up Snowdon on the Wednesday evening, thinking it would somehow be beneficial to me. Then the night before; a stunning mid-summer evening and I didn't know what to do with myself, but I had to do something. So, I decided to go to the Llanberis Pass and solo a route called 'Nea'. A 3 pitch route graded Very Severe in difficulty, it was a fantastic experience and it briefly subsided some of the nervous energy within, until the following morning at least.

I think I tried fairly hard but I didn't appreciate the quality of the field and how hard you must train and race to be competitive at this standard. I came in 29th overall.

Most of my training this year has been geared towards a 30 mile trail race in Italy; representing GB was a fantastic experience but with only 5 weeks before Snowdon, would there be enough time to prepare myself to the change in pace. I tried to focus my training on the hills with some speed training done on the roads, also the odd fell race and even one track session. Minimal milage but very focused on quality for 3 weeks leading up to Snowdon.

The weather on race day would suit most people, 16°C and mildly damp, the wind would play havoc on the climb but at least we shouldn't overheat too much.

I made my way to Cae'r Ddol around 11:20am, meeting Arwel Lewis (Team Manager) who had kindly registered me and collected my race number. A brief chat with Ian Holmes while I pinned my number on the vest, a team photo and a quick warm up around the field, all too soon we were summoned to the start line.

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The 2017 Snowdon International Welsh Team, moments before we were summoned to the start line. Photo: Arwel Lewis.

Spectators have once again turned out in their hordes, lining both sides of the corridor that forms the run-out onto the road. Matt Ward gets the crowd going and will shortly start the countdown after the race organiser; Stephen Edwards finishes his introduction speech.

Kyle Greig appears between myself and Math Roberts, only a month ago the three of us represented GB in Italy, today Kyle was donned in his native Scottish vest. Math initiated a bit of banter as the countdown began. I suddenly get squeezed into an awkward space so I grab Russell Bentley, a fellow Welsh team mate, we wish each other luck. I decided to start directly behind him, he's going to set off quicker than myself.

The gun is fired and a huge cheer bellows from the crowd as we sprint down the field, It feels a lot more natural than previous years, past experiences have allowed me to feel comfortable and I'm grateful for that. I can enjoy every moment as I settle into my own race, making sure not to allow the lead runners to get too far ahead but carefully gauging my pace on the first climb past Ceunant Cafe, going too quickly at this stage can very easily hamper the rest of the run. As we leave the smooth bitumen road and join the Llanberis Path, I consciously speed up and set my sights on a runner just ahead, he's wearing a Northern Irish vest, soon I've caught up and settle behind him and another club runner, it's a strong pace. We soon arrive at the steel gate, a fast section of running ensues as we climb into the approaching mist. There's a tight bend as we dip under the rail tunnel, I take the gel I've been clutching in my hand since the start.

The next bit of the trail to half way house seems to take a while, the friendly shouts from the crowd keeps me working hard. As we approach the bottom of Allt Goch I begin to revel in the change in terrain as it steepens and becomes more technical. I have three new runners in my sights so I focus and increase my effort, picking my way over the large irregular steps to Clogwyn Station, another tunnel and I'm suddenly hit by a strong head wind. It's going to be a hard climb to the summit as we ascend deeper into the thickening mist.

This part of Allt Goch steepens, with loose gravel underfoot. There's an increasing number of walkers to watch out for as we move closer to the summit. A leader of a large group orders his walkers to form a single file, it's a nice gesture but they pick the best running line, which forces us to run on loose lumpy gravel. 

As the gradient eases towards the top of Allt Goch I dig deep one last time and make a dash for the summit. I reach the summit of Snowdon in just over 47 minutes, not too bad in the conditions but I'll have to descend quickly to maintain or gain positions. Taking more risks than usual on the first 1/3 but ease off slightly after Allt Goch, managing to gain 4 positions. However, shortly after half way I'm nudged by a fellow runner, a friendly mutter 'well done Gareth'. At first I'm taken aback but notice the fluorescent vest, which confirms it's none other than Ian Holmes, I try and keep up but settle back into my own stride and watch in admiration as Ian vanishes with each effortless step. I'm not overly worried as I know how well he descends, I'm not expecting anyone else to catch up too easily but I push on as hard as I can.

I reach the bitumen road and tell myself to forget the pain for the next few minutes as I tackle the steep road before being flushed back into civilisation and the crowd along Victoria Terrace, it's a cruel last section, the very slightest uphill to the roundabout almost breaks me, a swift turn left, I notice a few family members at the side of the road and wave. Then, a sweeping right into the field, I see Ian cross the finish line as I prepare myself for the final sprint, a few high 5's from the kids and I cross the line, exhausted but happy with my final result; First Welsh and 9th overall in 1:12:26, a new PB for Snowdon.

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Shortly after the first tunnel, the head wind becomes noticeable as I try and breath whilst ingesting a mouthful of energy gel.

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An early shot taken as I climb the first hill past Ceunant Cafe, and a contrasting shot taken near the end as I desperately search for my road legs along Victoria Terrace. Photos: Mike Blake.

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Final descent with heels on fire! Happy to see a friend but the smile is masking the pain in my feet. Photo: Dylan Cadwaladr Parry.