My kit for this race was kindly supplied by Salomon and shoes by Scarpa. The Salomon S lab ultra vest 8L was a great size to fit all my mandatory kit in (first aid kit, nutrition, whistle, full set waterproofs) and not a chaff in sight! My shorts were the Salomon Fast wing running short. They have plenty of pockets for phone and extra gels. They are comfortable and flexible. I think I have worn them for almost every run this summer! My vest was the sense pro tank. This is so incredibly light weight and perfect for a hot day in the mountains. #timetoplay
I did my first marathon when I was 19, so I decided in 2015, 17 years on and 2 children later, I was going to up my running game and do an Ultra marathon. Just the one I promised my family, just to see how I do. I wanted to escape the clock watching of road racing for a while and immerse myself on the trails with my back pack and adventure. I won that first race back in 2015 and therefore the seed was sown. 3 years on I have continued race and do quite well!
This weekend (July 2017) saw the first running of the Endurance life Snowdonia Ultra, coast to coast from Borth y Gest in the South to Conwy in the North. 46.8 miles and 9039ft climb. It takes in the national park with the little hurdle of Snowdon in the middle. Due to family commitments, I don't get to travel to exotic places to race. So for me, Snowdonia is as wild as it can get at the moment! This is my third Endurancelife race and that never fail to impress. The team are always welcoming, supportive and so well organised. They don't however overly spoil you. The fuel stops are regular but supplies are minimal (water, jelly babies, biscuits, bananas and crisps) so they encourage you to carry your own nutrition. Secondly, although it is a marked route, you do need to know where you are going. In general if a race tells me it is marked BUT you need to navigate to an extent I tend to not take much notice. However, take heed if you are going to do this race. Endless bogs and moorland with no path meant getting lost was easy. Signs were hidden by knee height grass and after following a different race half way up a hill I didn't need to go up, GPS direction was needed (and thank goodness I had it!)
Photography by Daniel Varga
The race started at 6:30am. In true Endurance life style, a stunning coastal location with the sun just breaking through the clouds dancing on the sea. It felt peaceful and certainly the calm before the storm. The first 2-3 miles was totally flat, so the pace was fast and it takes a lot of control to not be pulled along. With ultras you are in it for the long game, so sticking to the plan was essential. The first hill soon came and I took the female lead. Once we stretched away from the roads. we were confronted with the realisation of the challenge ahead. The gorse, long grass, bogs began and a hill so steep it was climb not even a stride. My calves screamed at me and I was only 30 mins in. It was such an effort to stop the negative thoughts and doubt coming in at such an early stage. The fog started coming in and visability was poor adding another challenge. Not playing to my strengths, the downhill on the other side was so steep and wet it was impossible to stay upright. I was already bleeding from my hand and a another runner had dislocated his finger. Some slid on their bottoms in the attempt to tackle it but the hidden rocks put a stop to that. To get to check point 1 took 2.5 hours, 30 mins longer than planned. After a mandatory kit check we faced the Mount Snowdon.
I am lucky that I am naturally strong on the hills. Living in the Chilterns I get to go up and down a lot but nothing prepares you for terrain like this. Due to work and family life I don't have the ability to practise in the "proper hills" or even recce routes of my races. My fitness gets my through the ups but you can tell on the downs that my technical ability is well below my physical ability. I knew I needed to use this climb to extend my lead comfortably so I felt no pressure on the way down. The climb was a mixture between running, climbing steps and scrambling to the summit. I loved it. The beauty of Snowdon was so motivating and this side of the mountain was pretty much free from day trippers. It took 80 minutes to summit and 70 minute to get to get back down. Dodging the crowds was the hardest bit of the decent, being a Saturday, CP2 was Pen-y-Gwryd. The plan was to have my support crew (aka my husband) to be there with hot tea and food. However, he had decided to go for a run to take in the scenery so I was left with my gels and water. Another runner did share his hot coffee with me, which was a god send. It really made a great moral boost and a great taste change to sweet snacks.
I had heard it got easier after descending Snowdon and in some sense I agreed. However the endless bogs and lumpy ground make it a frustrating last half. Disappearing up to my knees many times made for heavy, sodden trainers and plenty of bad language. It was so easy to go wrong and after following the wrong race half way up a hill I didn't need to go up I switched on my navigation on my GPS and got back on track. I was too tired to make that mistake again. I finally got my support crew to sink with me a a check point for a much needed train change and food. I have never changed shoes in a race but after 6 hours of wet feet it really made such a difference.
The final slog was just that. I knew I had a healthy lead over the lady in 2nd place so all I had to do was keep going. My GPS gave up with about 5 miles to go. LuckilyI had partnered up with anther runner by this point so we really helped each other through the last quarter. At this point when you are tired having someone with you makes all the difference. It keeps spirits high and keeps the demons at bay in your mind.
I was happy with the win. 45minutes in front of second female....if I had known I may have gone slower! I probably won't run this race again as I don't tend to repeat ultras but it is great one to do. Not many people can say they have run the length of Snowdonia in one go. I feel proud but again a race that has highlighted many things that need improvement as I increase the distance over the years. Work in progress!
Nest stop 43km in the Pyrenees but before that a nice rest :)