Accelerate invades Wales!

Though there are quite a few of us in Team Accelerate-Scott, it's not often that we're all at the same race. However, this weekend the Accelerate crew descended on Llanberis in substantial numbers: From Accelerate-Scott were Julian, Chris S, Dot and I, from the performance centre Stu H, Col and Chris, and coached runner Lee Walker, all ably supported by Debs, Ben, Chris's wife, Dot's husband and Lorna (and Acer the dog).

Those of us running had the choice of two events, the inaugural full or half Snowdonia Trail Marathon. Chris, Lee and I were signed up for the full distance, and everyone else the half. Neither looked easy as both involved climbing to 993m, just below the summit of Snowdon. The marathon did this pretty much at the end, whereas the half-ers would still have another little climb afterwards!

After a sunny Saturday we all met up and pitched tents at a campsite rammed with school holiday families. The midges attacked so we all agreed an early night would do us good and retired to our tents...

Despite our self-deflating airbed I slept well and woke to a grey drizzly morning. I was a bit nervous as after a few disappointing performances recently, some niggles and some days when I just have not enjoyed training, I really had no idea if I would run well or not. I decided to try not to get carried away too early on, and start gently.

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It was time to find out. We packed up, drove to the start, did a final kit faff and it was soon 10am. The organiser shouted "Go!" and I realised I really had taken quite a relaxed approach, I was quite far back as we trotted out of Llanberis and began the climb up and around Foel Goch. I gradually passed people as we climbed (though not as quickly as Chris S who after starting slightly late flew past us all to the front!). The half and full marathon routes ran together for the first 5km or so, and with no way of knowing who was in which race I decided to stick with the group of three others I found myself in. We wound our way up to the top of the climb where the races split. All four of us turned right onto the full marathon course, and with no-one visible ahead we thought we were probably at the front of the marathon.

Half and full marathon routes

We descended the zig-zag ranger path to the Snowdon Ranger youth hostel quickly, then hit the road and turned left. I was feeling good and running well within myself, but I would now have to wait till Snowdon before there was any more real ascent! Not being the biggest fan of tarmac or flat running this was not necesserily great news. Two of us (Sam Orton and I) had now moved ahead of the others and pulled out a little gap, but as we reached Rhyd Dhu and left the road we were told that there was another runner, apparently 5 minutes ahead of us. We spoke briefly and agreed that 5 minutes was a good gap to have after only about 50 minutes of running.

It was good to be running off-road again as we made our way through the twisty trails around Beddgelert forest. It had rained quite heavily during the first climb but now faired up a little bit and I took my waterproof top off. Dot has commented since the race about this - it certainly took a few minutes of intense concentration to do so whilst trying to keep up with Sam! Due to the weather the race organisers (Always Aim Higher Events) required us to carry full waterproof kit as well as a hat, gloves and mobile phone, so I was using my little Scott pack. However, a few minutes later I realised all that concentration had been unecessary as we were forced to stop as the path crossed the Ffestiniog railway line! The train seemed to pass incredibly slowly but eventually we could see the back and jumped around the end as it passed, glad not to have been caught by the guys behind us!

After around 1:25 we were through the southern-most point of the course at Beddgelert village and heading northeast to Llyn Dinas. Somewhere along this section there was a little hill and I started to slightly get away from Sam. Between here and Llyn Gwynant was a great fun section - the singletrack rose and fell through the woods, it was twisty, rooty and slippery and required constant concentration to stay upright. I slipped a few times but not seriously, and when I could look back I saw that I had maybe a minute's gap. After about 2 hours 10 mins and 28kms I passed through our campsite from the night before, where I was told the lone leader now had 7 or 8 minutes on me. It sounded like a lot and I was starting to tire now, but I hoped that I would be strong on the climb up Snowdon and told myself it wasn't far till we could go uphill.

The climb actually started even sooner than I thought, and once the route left the road a few kilometres after the campsite so began the long drag up to Pen-y-pass. This seemed to go on forever, and being long and straight I could see Sam in the distance behind me. I tried to see the guy in front but could not. After about 200m climb I saw the marshals and Lorna at the top of the hill just before Pen-y-pass. I gave them a big wave from a good distance away, before they could see my face, which I suspected would make me look less happy! I don't know if this was a particularly painful race, but every photo I have seen seems to show me pulling a horrible expression.

Sample gurning
Despite what my face might've shown, I was actually really enjoying the race. I kept thinking back to the 3 Peaks, which in hindsight I really did not enjoy very much at all, and remember thinking that although this race hurt there was nowhere I'd rather be. The scenery was spectacular and I was loving being back in a proper race. After the 3 Peaks I decided that to enjoy racing I needed to be motivated by the chance of doing well rather than the fear of failure, a thought which I had with me as I passed through the 20 mile mark in the Pen-y-pass car park and headed up onto the Pyg track. It had been great to see Lorna, and the other supporters at the car park had given me a boost too. I knew the leader now had 10 minutes on me, which I doubted I could catch, but it was worth a try...

Lorna had told me I looked stronger than him, which I suspected (and she later admitted) was a lie, but I was happy to believe it for a while and tried to run as much of the track as possible. The climb from Pen-y-pass to the checkpoint at the top took 47 minutes. I had no idea whether I was climbing well or not, but having watched the awesome Tour de France stage to Alpe d'Huez on Saturday I tried to channel my inner Quintana. Being in Wales I also tried to conjure up some of the courage of Geraint Thomas, though luckily avoided headbutting any telegraph poles.

As I got nearer the top a few walkers told me that the gap was smaller than I thought: First "3 or 4 minutes", then "a couple of minutes", then just before the marshals at the top someone told me "he's only 60 seconds in front".

The Pyg track
My legs felt rubbish as I reached the mashal point and turned around, but at least it was downhill from here! As I set off down my quads refused to work and I hobbled for a while, but eventually got going. After not much descent, and still in the fog, I saw a person in a green vest and shorts with some walkers, he seemed to be rummaging frantically in a rucksack on the floor. And he had a race number on! This was Callum Rowlinson, who had led all day but apparently had struggled on the climb and ran out of energy at the top. I think he was getting some food from a friend out to support him, but at the time I didn't know what was going on (or even if he was running the full or half marathon) so just tried to keep going as fast as possible. The marshals at the Clogwyn station confirmed that a guy in a green vest had been leading the race, but that they hadn't seen him yet, so it seemed I was now in the lead. I hadn't expected this!

I knew Llanberis was at about 150m altitude and kept glancing at my watch to see how far I'd descended, it seemed to be taking forever to get down. I remembered talking to Stu Hale before the race and him saying that after the summit there was only "that far" to go to the finish. "That far" seemed a looooooooong way! Even after the descent there was still a fiddly little section through the Coed Victoria which seemed to take me away from the sound of the finishline tannoy. Eventually though I popped out of the woods and saw Chris S and Ben Hale who took another classic gurning photo...

More gurning. Nearly there... Photo by Ben Hale
Then across the road, through a bit of car park, and I could see the finish. The final marker sign said 400m to go, I glanced behind me and saw no-one and realised I was going to win. Lorna and all the half marathon guys were there at the finish and the two half marathon runners I crossed the line with even gave me a cheer!

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My (chip) time in the end was 4:04:04, which is slower than I expected the winner's time to be, but I think is testament to the difficulty of the course. Even the flat bits were often tricky due to the conditions. Half marathon times were also slower than expected, despite intense competition at the front between Dan Doherty, and Accelerate-Scott's Julian and Chris S. In the end, Dan won by 10 seconds from Julian, with Chris in his first race back after injury getting third. Dot was 1st V60 by miles and Stu H 3rd V50. In the marathon Lee beat Chris H by 6 minutes - you can read Chris's blog here (maybe wait till you're not eating).

In the end I had about 5 minutes on Callum in second, who in turn had another 5 minutes on Sam in 3rd. Jez Brown was 4th and an impressive 5th and 1st lady was Katie Beecher. The race was fantastic, as I mentioned earlier I genuinely did enjoy it (despite what my face said) and am obviously pleased with the result. A huge thanks as ever to Accelerate-Scott, all my kit was great and the Kinbalu Supertrac shoes managed to keep me upright despite the slippyness. Thank you to Lorna for coming to support me, and thanks (and well run!) to Stu H, who seemed as pleased as I was at the finish and gave me a massive hug. Finally, as ever, huge thanks to the organisers and to the marshals who spent all day out in pretty minging conditions - you were all great!

My legs are still pretty shattered but I'm going to enjoy this recovery week while it lasts, it's only a couple of weeks to the Ultraks now...


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