Stu Tackles Snowdonia… again!
by Stu Blofeld
This year was my fifth consecutive Snowdonia marathon. I always look forward to coming here and can’t imagine not doing so. Everything about this marathon is top draw from the support you get from the marshals and spectators to the amazing scenery and then of course there is the marathon route itself. It’s simply the best road marathon in the UK. So on to this year. My preparation was textbook stuff. A solid 1 and a bit weeks of marathon training including a longest run of 12 miles, one hill session (Tring Parkrun), and one speed session (Race the Pain) with my running club LBAC. I was ready!
All the prerace talk is about one thing (as it is every year) – the weather. Not so much ‘whether’ it will rain but what type of rain can we expect. This year it chucked it down and I actually loved it. The video highlights on S4C captured that for sure.
The course itself for those that don’t know it, is best described as undulating and worst described as bloody hilly. The reality though is that it’s actually very runnable which many don’t realise, and because it is a loop there are the downhill sections to let loose and regain some time.
I always start this race full of confidence no matter what my fitness. No nerves, just excitement, expectation and
a knowing that this is where I belong. The race plan was a simple one. Stick to 8 minute mile pace from the start and hold on, hence a 3:30ish finish. The only thing stopping me was the small matter of not having run this distance or that speed for over a year. But I didn’t let trivial details get in the way of a good plan.
We set off in the pouring rain having enjoyed the frontman of famous Welsh band (apparently) The Alarm. The course descends for a mile before levelling off and then rising slowly at first before quickly climbing for 3 miles up to the top of Pen-y-pass. I reached the top at 5 miles in averaging 8:30 mpm pace. Pleased with that. The next few miles are all down hill and before I knew it I was back below 8 mpm pace. “Get in! I might actually do this.” Of course getting excited at 8 miles into a marathon is not advised and there was a long way to go yet. I ran on in the company of two MK lakeside runners Stephen and Rob who were also pacing for a 3:30-3:45 finish. Chatting with Stephen kept things nice and relaxed and made the miles flyby.
The pace felt mildly sustainable at this stage but I had no idea how my body would hold up beyond half way. What I was relying on was the residual fitness from my summer of ElliptiGOing. We hit halfway in the small town of Beddgelert full of beans soaking up the great atmosphere and the rain. 1:44 and right on the button in terms of pacing. All I had to do now was hold it. Let the mental battle commence.
The second half of the course has two climbs. 13 to 16 miles is a continuous gradual ascent that can eat away at your pace if you are not hyper aware. I’ve learnt to love this section more and more over the years as despite the hill it is very runnable and an opportunity to pass those who got too excited in the first half of which there are many.
However at first I wasn’t particularly on pace and my Garmin suggested I was running a 8:43 current mile. Damn that won’t do and soon after two guys looking strong passed me. That won’t do either. It was decision time. At this point it was the furthest I’d run since Snowdonia last year. So no recent form to rely on but I’d been here before so what was stopping me from doing it again (other than my mind and tiring legs). So back to ‘that’ decision. I told my legs that they had to pick up the pace and they actually responded. At first with a grumble but I had the two guys ahead in my sights who were passing everyone else up this long climb so I just focused on them and worked hard.
And it was pretty much the same story for miles 16-22. After seeing my family at Mile 16 and feeling good I just continued plugging away and took advantage of some downhill sections. My legs were really feeling it now but it’s a marathon so just accept it and push harder. I hit mile 22 in Waunfawr in 7:59mpm avg pace which marks the start of the sting in the Snowdonia marathon tail. A steep 2 mile climb up Bwlch y groes. Many fear this hill – yes it’s hard especially when you’ve just run the best part of a marathon but it’s also what makes this race so special. If you want flat and boring go and run Abingdon. I relish the challenge and it’s another opportunity to make up places in the closing stages which is always satisfying. So with my fourth energy gel of day sucked up I got my head down and powered up never stopping to walk. 10 minute miling might sound slow but on this hill it’s pretty good going.
Eventually up the top, or so you think, there is one false summit before you then have 1.5 miles of trail down to the finish in Llanberis. The rain had stopped but it had still left its mark on the extremely slippery descent that caught out many runners who came crashing down, some with comedy effect, whilst others clearly coming off a lot worst. I stayed upright (just) and managed a 7 minute final mile. I hit the last steep section of tarmac with my toes crushed into the front of my shoes and eventually rounded the last bend back onto the high street and the finish straight. I sped for home hands aloft and rousing the crowds… Why not enjoy the moment I say! Crossing the finish line in 3:33. To say I was pleased would be an understatement. I was ecstatic not just with my time but from the way I paced the race. I only lost 5 minutes in the second half which included those two climbs so translating that to a flat course I’d say it was a negative split in terms of pure effort. This wasn’t my fastest time at Snowdonia, in fact it was my slowest, but it was my best all-round performance. This gives me new found confidence that whilst running has taken more than a back step in 2015 I can look forward to better times and re-find my form.
I’ll put this into practice too with immediate effect. The MK winter half marathon is 6 weeks away so I plan to get down to some proper training now and get in shape for 2016.
I’m already looking forward to Snowdonia 2016 which could be something a bit special….
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