Still catching up…
On 9th June, I took part in the Welsh 1000m Peaks Race. Many of you will remember that parts of West Wales were suffering flooding at that time (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18378124), and so won’t be surprised that it was rather wet. Actually, if the weather had been as bad as the day before, I would have probably not have bothered to turn up, but the rain had subsided to a level fairly normal for the western UK mountain ranges and the wind was only moderate, although it was cold for June.
All entrants had been encouraged to attend the pasta supper and race briefing on the eve of the race in the Capel Curig Community Centre. I’d come up with my family that afternoon to Greenacres Caravan Park, just outside Porthmadog. The drive over to the supper from there felt epic, almost biblical, with sheets of rain blowing through the valleys, flooded fields and the odd cascade flowing down the roads.
The supper was rather underwhelming. I had feared that, at £8 it would turn out to be poor value for money, and I was right: a modest portion of bog standard Bolognese and pasta , with no offer of seconds, and a piece of ‘Iceland’ gateau to follow.
I assume part of the £8 covered the hall hire, but I could have turned up just for the briefing without paying a penny, so we were subsidising anyone who chose to do that. If the organisers had wanted us to come to the briefing, they should have included the cost of the hall in the race entry, then charged an appropriate amount for the modest food on offer. The race is always full well beforehand, so it would be easy to cost this. If the charge was just for the food, then it really was appalling value.
The briefing didn’t really tell us much, other than they would strictly enforce race kit requirements because of the poor weather (no surprise) and we would be running a cut down route that hadn’t been finalised! We were also issued with our numbers and electronic ‘dibbers’, small bracelets to be used to ‘clock in’ to devices set up at each check point. We were free to get these on the morning of the race, so I really would have been far better off, in time and money, if I’d not made the 40+ mile round trip and stayed in the caravan.
We turned up at Aber the next morning for the race start, a cue for me to go into a panic when I realised I’d left my dibber in the caravan. We were given our final route instructions and I got a spare number with a new dibber! The new coarse missed the Carneddau and the major summits of the Glyders, although it would still take us over two 800m cols, the Bwlch Tryfan and between Glyder Fach and Y Foel Goch on the main Glyders ridge, before reverting to the standard coarse up Snowdon from the Pass of Llanberis up the Pyg Track.
The first half of the race was pretty straightforward, following a bridleway and minor road round the feet of the Carneddau, and a cycle path to Ogwen Cottage, one of the checkpoints. It was just damp and breezy and I felt strong.
It felt good to be getting into some proper fell running when we climbed up to the Bwlch Tryfan. Before we got to the Bwlch, crossing the outlflow of the Llyn Bochlwyd took a bit of doing, as it was fast flowing and calf-deep, with a very uneven stream bed. It was also very cold and my feet were a numb by the time I was half way across. I enjoy a few glimpses of sun on the way up and was cautiously optimistic that the weather was slowly improving as the forecast had suggest it might.
Once I’d got to the pass over the main ridge, the rocky path disappeared and I was running over boggy grass; slow going but easy on the feet. We’d been instructed to head ‘straight for the road’ once we got over the high point, but the stronger hill runners who’d passed me on the way up got so far ahead I lost sight of them and I had doubts I was still on coarse. However, I soon spotted the race director, Harvey Lloyd below me, near the road and knew I was fine.
I wound my way up the road to the pass, still feeling surprisingly strong. However, as I started up the final section, the Pyg track, the weather worsened (the sun I’d seen earlier had given me false hope) and I really started to flag. I was now getting passed every few minutes. It was properly raining, rather than that type that’s half way between mist and rain that’s so common in the mountains, which was what we’d had earlier. I’d taken some food at Ogwen Cottage and had been disappointed that nothing was on offer at the Pass of Llanberis: by this stage I was getting sluggish from low energy levels, exacerbated by the cold and wet.
I finally stopped quite a long way up, knowing that I had to eat something despite the foul conditions and proximity to the finish. I dug out my emergency food from my pack and sat on a step on the path, blocking out my discomfort as I ate. A slightly over-keen, but lovely good Samaritan, Gregor, who was going up with his daughter gave me aid; some hot chocolate from his flask and a sit inside his Bothy emergency shelter, were he helped me climb into my over-trousers). He was very concerned, but I knew I’d be fine once I got to the summit cafe.
It really was tough to turn right when I got onto the summit ridge, towards Garnedd Ugain, the penultimate ‘1000’ (and actually the first on the bad weather route), rather than left to the now very close finish on Snowdon’s main summit and the warm cafe. It was frustrating to grind my way up the shallow slope, which I knew I would hardly notice if I was fresh. Once I’d clocked in, it was ‘just’ a case of trotting back down a bit and another frustrating grind up through the throngs of tourists to the finish, to be given a slate medal.
I finished in 4:49:36, 48th out of 95. I often finish about half way down the field in fell races, but to do so in this felt like a real achievement. I’d was more spent than I had been for a long time and had been colder than I’d ever been (any worse and I would have had mildly hypothermic).
The cafe was heaven. I opened up my leaky waterproof ‘stuff sack’ in my bag to get my slightly damp tenner and bought an Oggie (the biggest pasty you’ve ever seen, similar to a Cornish one), a cup of tea and a sticky bun. Bliss. I still had to walk down to meet Cath and the kids in Llanberis, but that felt straightforward and I enjoyed some pleasant chat with a couple of other competitors on the way down.
If I was doing it again, I would have worn more from the start, taken more food and eaten some of it sooner! We learn a lot from the toughest experiences.