Welcome to the 2nd instalment of Harshad's Snowdon marathon race report.
When we left him, he was deliberating whether to race or not, given the less than ideal build up he'd had.
We all know what he decided - he's runner!
Here's what happened next...
In my haste to pack my running stuff, I hadn’t even packed my Shabba shirt! So I wore the bright orange Equinox one after sourcing some safety pins and Ibuprofen from Paul. I also had some KT Tape so used that to tape up my shins. Hadn’t used it before but thought I might as well try it as it might ease the pain somewhat. I stuffed a few gels into my camelbak, as well as gloves, a running jacket and hat. I knew that I would walking up the last hill from Waunfawr up to Bwlch y Groes and having had some horrible weather last year, I could always put that on to keep warm and enjoy the walk! I also put a tenner in there should I need to get a taxi back and my phone too.
We left the hotel at about 9:45am to take a bag to the bag drop right near to the finish line. It was there that I started to recognise more and more people. There were some lads from Sandwell Valley RC who I’d seen at this race on the previous 2 years I’d run it. And we met up with some of the other West Brom Harriers who were running it and supporting. Tommo took one look at me and you could just tell he thought I was bonkers!
As we headed to the start at around 10:15am it had started to rain quite a lot. We then bumped into another Harrier, Andy Moseley. He had a frustrating injury hit year too which almost meant he had to pull out of London Marathon but he made a last minute decision to run that and did very well too. He made a funny remark saying that with myself, him and Paul there wasn’t a fit runner between us! After a pre-race photo, Paul moved on a bit more forward so I wished him well for the race. It was then that I spotted the 2 Shabba shirts worn my Matt and Phil! It was so good to see those guys then. Phil had run it in his morphsuit last year but wanted to run it properly this time round. Matt was doing his 1st marathon. Some place to pick to do your 1st one!!
As the race has a limit of 2500, there are no problems of having to weave between runners and it doesn’t take too long to get over the start line either. Bang on 10:30am, the starter’s hooter went and we were off! I gave a quick wave to Rob Samuel (winner of the Men’s race for the last 3 years), who unfortunately had to pull out this year due to injury, as I crossed the line and started the Garmin.
The first 2 miles are completely flat and take you past a beautiful lake on the left called Llyn Peris. I ran the 1st mile or so with Matt and he was in confident mood considering it was his 1st marathon. He was aiming for somewhere around the 4 hour mark, which is a very respectable time on any course let alone one of the toughest marathons out there! Phil had already belted off into the distance by this point! Mile 1 was finished in a decent time of 9:26 with Mile 2 in 9:44; much slower than done in previous years but good enough. With my slower 2nd mile, I began to lose sight of Matt as I tried to find and maintain some sort of pace that would get me through. I knew the fun of the mountains were to come!
I spotted another familiar face, wearing a WBA shirt, around this point. It was one of Dez’s mates, Gurinder, who I had seen here before. He normally runs it with his brother Gurj but was running solo today. He hadn’t done much training either but said that there was something about this race that kept him coming back; something that his family didn’t quite understand!
Miles 2 to 5 take in the first climb, from Nant Peris to Pen-y-Pass. It’s an amazing experience running up this as you can see the road zig-zagging into the distance and runners heads bobbing up and down! However, it was here that I first started to feel pain in my shins. It seemed to get worse and worse as time went on. I popped the Ibuprofen to see if that would make a difference. My pace had dropped loads at this point. I was now half running, half walking and was in big trouble. I’ve never had to walk this early in a race before, let alone a marathon. I had run up this climb without stopping the previous 2 years. I was beginning to think I should just turn back around and call it a day. Mile 4 saw a split of 14:20. Ouch! Just another 22 miles to go! I was going that slowly that they had run out of supplies at the 1st drinks station.
Looking around me, I wasn’t the only one walking so I took some (little) comfort from that. Just one mile to go to reach the top of the climb, the last part of which is ridiculously steep! If I was going to DNF, then I might as well make it to the top of the climb then get a lift back from there. You can see the youth hostel at the top, but it seems to get further and further away with each stride. I spotted a cameraman around here and thought I need to at least put on a bit of a run so with 2 other lads we styled it out and kept going to the top. I’d made the 1st climb!
A much needed drinks station was at the summit so I stopped to take some water on before enjoying the descent. I knew that from 5 to 13 miles, it would all be downhill so I could try and get to halfway at Beddgelert and assess whether I should DNF there a la Mo Farah.
The view down into the valley is simply amazing. The road zig-zags along the side of the mountains but if you run close to the barrier you can see all the runners ahead making their way down towards Nant Gwynant where there is another lake. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy so I wasn’t able to make out Snowdon.
What I hadn’t banked on was the sudden downpour at about 11 miles. It was like a monsoon had ripped through North Wales! This wasn’t in the weather forecast. It was meant to be dry. I had been moaning to Tanya and Rebekah about the weather being bad last year. This was a whole lot worse. We were completely drenched and there was nowhere to hide. We just had to get our heads down and grin and bear it.
At 12 miles, the rain had started to ease off a little and it was just spitting as we continued the descent towards Beddgelert, the halfway point. It was here that I began to feel a sharp twinge on the outside of my right knee. Unfortunately, I knew exactly what this was… It was the dreaded IT band that I could feel causing me grief. The same IT band that had put me out of action for about 5 months in 2011. Although the pain in my shins was manageable, I knew that this most certainly wouldn’t be. I kept going with the girls and made it to Beddgelert.
The noise in this village was deafening. Despite the rain, the streets were lined on both sides with people shouting out our names, which were visible on our race numbers. Rebekah had spotted some of her family who had made it to the village to support her on the way round. As a runner, if you don’t get a buzz from this kind of atmosphere, then you are not human!! I passed over the halfway point with 2:22:57 on the clock. Not bad for someone that had only done 7 miles for the longest run! My head was telling me that I should stop here as the IT band was getting worse. But for some reason, I didn’t listen to my head and continued running.
Between 13 to 15 miles is the 2nd climb. Although it isn’t the steepest climb, it’s enough to be annoying and seems to be quite a long drag. I knew there was no way I could keep going at 10-11 mins/mile and with the ever increasing pain, I began to walk. I wished Tanya and Rebekah good luck and off they went slowly into the distance.
That climb seemed to last forever. It was so frustrating knowing that I’d run up it in the previous 2 years and just got it out of the way. This year was spent watching runners fly past me as I pulled over to the left side of the road on my walk. I tried to get going again but it was no good. The IT band pain was just beginning to kick in and I had no more Ibuprofen. Watching the Garmin for my mile splits was no good either as the average pace dropped further and further away. There was a girl in a yellow jacket who must have been annoyed with me as I kept running past her and then stopping to walk! Mile 15 saw my worst split in the race so far with a snail-like 16:51. As the route continued out of Beddgelert, the crowds were now few and far between and as I wasn’t running as quick as in previous years, it became a bit lonely. So many thoughts were running through my head. Would I make it to the youth hostel at 18 miles? At least then I could get a lift back to the start as there was more civilisation around there. Would my knee pain even hold out for me to be able to do that? Why oh why didn’t I just stop at halfway?!
After the 15 mile split, the punishing 2nd climb had buried me. I struggled to find any sort of rhythm. But I wasn’t the only one struggling. There were now several others doing a run/walk to keep themselves going. There was a guy with Rod on his tshirt running with a mate of his. There was an old guy who had a Wrexham RC vest who was struggling even more than me so it seemed. And then there were a bunch of 4, 2 younger lads and 2 older. They were to become close acquaintances in the remaining miles.
The next 3 miles was just about survival. I kept focussing on points further up the road and try to run to them. After reaching each mini-finish line, I could have a walk as a reward! The scenery for these 3 miles was stunning so it’s not a bad place to be in pain at! The lake Llyn Cwellyn is beautiful although the side winds around here can be a bit unforgiving. I was fortunate enough for the weather to be sunny though so can’t complain. There was a cameraman just short of 18 miles who felt really sorry for me. He could see I was struggling but at the same time wanted to take a photo. He shouted for me to style out a bit of a run so I could get a good photo so I obliged. The camaraderie (see what I did there!) of this race is like no other!
My main goal for these 3 miles was to get me to the 18 mile checkpoint at the youth hostel (Snowdon Ranger). I knew I had loads of time to make it there before the cut-off of 4:30 hours so if I could just keep it under 15mins/mile then I would be fine. Easy you might think, but not when you’ve got shin pain in both legs, a knee that feels like it’s hanging by a thread and having just done a mile close to 17 minutes not long ago! But I managed to achieve just that as 16 (13:44), 17 (14:04) and 18 (14:17). I could see the hostel. I had made it before the cut-off with loads of time to spare in 3:35!
The question now was, do I continue? Against all odds, I had made it to the cut-off well inside the time. But I knew that the race was only just beginning. Trust me, that last climb is the climb to end all climbs!! Not only that, but the last mile is like falling off a cliff. I’ve never actually fallen off a cliff but I don’t need to as I’ve descended down Bwlch y Groes! But I had done 18 miles, what was another 8.2?