The Snowdonia Marathon

Every time you mention this race to people, usually their first response is. Well, I bet that is tough! It’s a challenge, yes. A massive challenge, it’s The Snowdonia Marathon! It’s lonely, it’s quiet, it’s country roads, in North Wales. It’s out of the big cities, it’s breaking free of the built up towns. It’s The Snowdonia Marathon.

Since York Marathon a couple of week ago, the focus has been completely on recovery. Getting my runs in, but getting my recovery in too. Usually after a marathon, it’s not until the Thursday after that I know what sort of damage, if any. That I might have done to my body. With the muscle aches and pains, overriding any other serious damage until they clear. I could injure myself on the Sunday, but not know the full extent until the Thursday! The day after is important for me, it’s the most important part of the whole training. It’s going out, when your body, head and legs, definitely legs, are screaming, NO! It’s the toughness developed in the heart, for you to want it enough to go out for a run or crawl! For me, it was a 13.2 mile toughness this time around. Split over my usual 3 runs but steadier, and shorter. But I got the job done.

Tuesday the pain hit, but I got out, half of it in good company with David Hanks. My pace, well some of it, started to come around by Wednesday. With tunnel training pencilled in for the evening, I was only really going so I could take Ellie up. But I might as well join in!

Then, it came around to Thursday. The day of all knowing. Muscle aches had finally some what cleared. The knowing of what damage I had done, was present, slight pain in my right hamstring, possible muscle knot. With again, slight pain in my right achilles, other than that. Everything was normal as normal can be! So the knowing was good, it was great. It left me with a bit of confidence that my legs would come around in time. The weekend came, no race planned. In order to recover and have a bit of down time, still ended up in York watching Ellie play football. That was after my run with the Team Barnsley crew.

The week of the Snowdonia Marathon came around before I knew it, I planned a little ‘taper’ out and mileage I’d need to run for certain days. But not a major taper, I wanted to speed things up in training and check my speed had actually come back. In some fashion anyway. From the accidental taper at Hull and the purposeful taper for York. I thought it best and given my recent marathon efforts, I needed my legs the most for this endeavour! This wasn’t a target marathon, neither was it a potential PB course but it was a true challenge, that would chew you up and spit you out if you didn’t feel strong enough and your idea of a target time, whatever it may be, will go straight out the window! Mileage came steady to begin with and then the speed returned, clocking some steady, low HR 6:20 run’s. With pace and mileage feeling easy. I was confident going into Snowdonia, slightly tight. But confident.

2015- 3:13:58

2016- 2:58:04

2017- 2:54:13

My performances at Snowdonia have come steady every year and have been my slowest marathon performances of that equivalent year. But it can’t go without saying, have you seen the course? Boasting 2500ft of elevation, its no fast Manchester or as favourable as York for a PB. It doesn’t boast to be the flattest or fastest in the UK like Edinburgh.

It’s The Snowdonia Marathon!

It’s possibly the most scenic marathon on the calendar, with views stretching for miles across a largely natural landscape. When it’s just you, the runner, the road and the open world. It’s a natural beauty, if you dare pick your head up and take it all in. Taking into account that Snowdonia usually takes the mantel for the slowest marathon time, every year for me. I’d have to look at slowest so far, that would be Milton Keynes on a red hot bank holiday. Hitting highs of 29 degrees.. clocking a 2:53:21. Mainly down to the soaring heat, it won’t be like that today. It might peak at 5 degrees, if we’re lucky! Next up in my times this year in 4th Place for my ‘slowest’ time was a 2:38:21 at Edinburgh. So given all these times and efforts, and my recent time at York. I’d be realistic in saying a target of anything below 2:50 at Snowdonia, to get me round in one piece. To enjoy it, look up and take it all in. Just to give me some sort of base, just to look and run to feel. Hoping I’d come out with something around that. It’s a race against myself, a race only I can beat. If I personally chose to.

This year for The Snowdonia Marathon when entries were released was going to mark a special year for the event. Not for the race itself, but for the people that had decided to complete it. The people close and around me that had decided, mainly due to Bryan’s large publicity around the event, they were going to take on the challenge for themselves. Initially Bryan, Adrian, Rob, Jonathan, Lee and Damien had entered, getting their place in when entries went live. Me, entering Bryan whilst I was actually meant to be working, but shush, don’t tell anyone! The hype around the event and the build up had begun. The banter flying and nerves gradually began building to race day. Then despite his best efforts, Bryan had chosen maybe that 2018 isn’t going to be his year, relinquishing his place to the person in line to the throne. Step forward, Mark Yates. The beast from Mapplewell. Massive loss to the team in losing Bryan, something that I can imagine took him a long period of time to drop. Mark’s a natural distance animal. So I can’t imagine it’ll be a challenge for him. The messages between the team have been flying back and forth for months, with possibly the only productive thing to come out of it, other than Damien’s moaning, a meal on the Friday night before the race. We got together, had a soft drink or two and some food. Chatting about the race, the event and life. We even brought Bryan along for the company, some kind words and impressions made of him. They were remarkably similar. Evidence that Adrian spends too much time at his side.

Back to the guest house and now project Snowdonia was underway, getting my kit ready. Sorting it out, getting a good nights sleep and arranging myself a timetable for Saturday’s proceedings. Mainly sorted by my Dad, of course. I had messages left, right and centre. Messages of good luck and support from plenty of people, plenty of friends from various walks of life. Every single message has been well and truly received and can’t go without saying, it is a so appreciated and reinforces just how friendly the running family is. How supportive we are of each other and how much it means to everyone what and how you go about achieving whatever we achieve. Knowing that whatever happens out on the course, you’ve got the almighty power of the Team Barnsley and wider community around you. A personal video message sent from Hannah from my new best friend Jack, her son, really capped off all the messages of messages. Showing how far the running you do can go, he beats me when he does the tunnel reps and he’s only 5. Competition aside he was wishing me good luck and piling on the pressure in his own way!

Anyway onto the Snowdonia Marathon. I woke up on Saturday morning, an usual day for a race for me. Feels an awful lot like a Sunday, I spoke to the guest house and I brought all my own food to snack on in the morning, with my own king size porridge portion and Nutella. With skimmed milk. Sorted all that out and fed, on our way to Llanberis for 8.45. Aiming for a car park that we’ve always used and parked in, much to our surprise finding it full. Many early starters here. Dad had a Plan B, C, D, all the way through to Z anyway. Finding myself parking in the middle of a field. Straight away spotting the Barnsley crew massive. Slowly but steadily making my way to the train station for a ‘quick’ wee.

Then heading for a steady stroll to the start line. Gathering around there, straight away spotting Rob Weekes, from East Hull. A chat with him about recent marathon endeavours. Also spotting past marathon winners or familiar faces at The Snowdonia Marathon.

Then before I knew my kit was off and I was making my way to the start line.

A bit chilly in Llanberis today, with random intervals of painful hailstone, but I wore the Penistone vest, with a generous helping of pride, given it was Gary Dean’s funeral on Monday. Giving us a little reminder of what life is all about, stopping and just looking around a little. Admiring the simple beauty of the world. Finding myself in the area, seeing John Spencer from Penistone, who has done that many Snowdonia Marathons, it’s not even a joke anymore. But due to his recent operation, won’t be toeing the line, but supporting instead. Then spotting Neil Burton from Horsforth Harriers, a shout from Lee and Rob, a quick chat with Martin James. Then finally seeing DB’s face, no not David Beckham. But Damien Briscoe, he made it, albeit being a little on the man flu side! I won’t see him again until the finish. A few announcements through the tannoy, one about rubbish being thrown on the floor, I’d just unwrapped my marathon Jakemans. Eventually passing the wrapper to a photographer, to save the environment and possible event disqualification. Then we was off and underway, ready to take on the route and the beauty of the Marathon.

Kicking and getting out, beating Damien, clearly in the first mile. Just like it said on the ‘training plan,’ but I’ll let him off, just this once.

A downhill start, finding it difficult to set my pace, mind telling my legs to slow down. Gravity telling my body otherwise. Finding myself too far in front, in 2nd place. Not the dream. Wanting to slow and trying to slow. Hoping slightly the ascent would sort me out. That it did. Hitting it around mile 2. After a 5:23 and 5:40 mile. It hit true and good. I was glad for it, cause now the Marathon was underway. Settling in and behind, it soon became clear that the weather was going to be a massive demon today. A breeze, feeling like an headwind, pushing against me, struggling to move. One step at a time, dig in and dig deep. Keep moving forward. The climb up to Pen Y Pass, goes slow and sweet. In previous years I’ve not been able to see the house at the top. This year I could definitely see the house, it was clear. I don’t know which I prefer? Seeing the pain and anticipating it, or not knowing what was coming at all. Trying to stay upright and taking each step as it comes. Seeing people sat up on the stones and bankings, the slate and listening ever so slightly to the rivers running down. Unbelievable when you open your senses. Breathtaking. Then we was at the top, ready for the rollercoaster coming down. Splitting the mat in 28:40. If anyone gets chance to watch S4C coverage tomorrow night, you’ll see what I mean by the rollercoaster. Before hitting the path and heading off-road. A 5:11 and 5:19 mile followed, I was feeling alright and then just at the bottom of the off-road gravel path. A pain in my left calf and sudden tightness. Not comfortable and not nice, then I tried again to slow down and begin a process of easy running. To ease it off and get through the following miles. Rolling out and onto the flat, heading pass the copper mine and towards Beddgelert. A crowded village, with plenty of support on the route. Also the destination of the next climb around 13-15 miles. I wrote the climbs on my hand, in order to rub them off, after completion. I didn’t rub them off. The hail stone later started to do that for me anyway. I had a view in front of a pack of runners, not close enough for me to catch, comfortably. So I was content in running on my own and sitting back into it. Taking everything in, the rolling flats. Looking up and ahead. Striding with calf pain still, thinking, am I actually going to get through this? Because this race is brutal! Being ever so careful not to get a negative thought into my head, then transferring that thought into something productive. Taking confidence in my days run, my races, my experiences. Moving forward and towards the goal, that is the finish line. Letting positive thinking take over. Then we was at Beddgelert. Finally hitting the climb, up and out. Mile 13-15. A 7:20 and 7:40 mile for the ascent and steadying down my progress, but onwards and upwards. Also the location of the next tracking mat at 14 mile, going through that in 1:23:52. Making progress and figuring out in my head at the end of the climb it was roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes of running remaining. Not taking into account the challenge of the last 10k. Neither taking into account the horrible headwind and hailstone we found ourselves in. Taking some solitude running at the side of the bushes, much to the pain in my shoulder casually catching on it as I brushed past, scratching away as I go. Nether the less rolling out and onto the flat, not struggling to recover but just not getting going after the climb. Levelling my pace eventually down to something comfortable, looking after the race, seeming to level around 6 minute miles. Now it was just a process of looking after myself and running sensibly to the final challenge the climb around Waunfawr, up and over to Llanberis. The gruelling mile 21.5 would bring this pain and torture. I was making ground on the lads in front, being Daniel Jones and Rob Weekes. Another runner had dropped out, so I was finding myself in 6th place. Coming to my knowledge due to the supporters telling me on the route. I could see every runner out in front of me and a quick glance behind, there was no one. Again reinforced by a car passing by. I would much rather have someone up and behind, to give me a quick when and if I ever need it. It became a chasing game. Making ground and clipping away at the distance. Counting down the time until the finish and how much distance left to run. Calf finally easing and feeling comfortable eventually. Just in time. Being about a 20 second difference between Rob and Daniel and Me. I was making a positive move and gradually getting there, but I knew my personal weakness was approaching. It wasn’t the climb. That’s my strength. It was the downhill. The descent back into Llanberis. Off-road, loose and wet. This is where I’d lose my time. If I hadn’t caught them by then, competition wouldn’t kick in for me. I was gaining and gaining, getting to the final water station at 24 mile, with about 5/10 seconds and within touching distance, almost. Then the loose stone and grass hit, and confidence over the ground isn’t great. I was trying and trying to move forward and was doing so. The motivation of catching them trying to take over. Losing my grip on the control. Letting them pull away, I wasn’t content in doing so, seen as I had ground it out for the last few miles. With a massive gap behind me, I had settled and approached Llanberis with caution. Hearing a small noise from the centre I knew the finish line was almost upon us, seeing the legend that is Dave Bennett with his wife Anne on the corner and then turning to hit the finishing straight. Striding out, not one for a sprint finish. Seeing the clock, the line. Ellie, Mum and Dad, with Laura, Nirvana and Orlando.

Managing to cross the line in:

2:47:28

6th place.

Quickly finding myself wrapped in a foil blanket, with a drink in hand and my slate coaster, a kiss from Ellie, a chat about the race with my Mum and Dad, propping myself against the fence.

Bryan was there to see me at the finish as well, running the full race with me. Like he probably was with us all.

Then I stood around the finish area, chatting with everyone and waiting for the others to come in, after a quick sit down in the cadet centre and resting my calves! Firstly seeing:

Lee Nash: 3:18:50

Rob Davies: 3:36:13

Mark Yates: 3:38:58

Damien Briscoe: 3:51:46

Jonathan Batty: 3:54:23

Adrian Gough: 4:27:53

Bryan even photobombed a photo with Damien. Before we left him to his day and drive home. Then making our way to the race hq for the prize presentation. Having a vegan chilli, a full loaf of soreen, protein bar and peanut butter bar. Trying to get as many calories down as possible, cause I was starving! Hanging around to receive an handmade map of the marathon route as a prize, some vouchers and a chocolate bar.

Then we was back in car, making our way eventually back to the guest house. Another Snowdonia Marathon completed, my 4th one to date, my best performance at the event. However, looking at dates next year it may not be on my calendar. So we’ll have to wait and see. In hindsight I’m thrilled with my performance. Maybe I set off too quick, maybe I ran too conservatively. But I treasured each step and made it count. It caps off my last few months of running immensely. With mates at my side. Achieving something in our own way. Celebrating with each other. Just keeping moving forward.

Tell me where the climbs are? Heart Rate I believe is wrong. Seems unusually high for me. I do only do it on my wrist, and I definitely felt comfier than that.

Strava Link

Results Link

All in all, the last few months have been an eye opener, they’ve been a lesson. I’ve learnt and moved forward, I’ve PB’ed, I’ve struggled, I’ve taught myself a few things along the way. I’ve had good days and bad days. I’ve respected what running is and the beauty of being able to do it. I’m not done yet. Going to take the winter doing a few shorter things until it starts to pick up again in the New Year! Then we’ll see what next year brings.

Just Keep Running!

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