Welcome to the 3rd and final instalment of Harshad's Snowdownia marathon tale.
When we left him last night, he was considering whether to stop at the 18 mile checkpoint.
Let's face it, given he's got this far - we all know how this is going to finish...
Mile 19 saw me finish my 2nd slowest mile in 15:17. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. Or maybe it was the fact that I’d passed the 18 mile checkpoint that the pressure was off. In my head I was leaning towards the latter! There was a sharpish descent on this mile though and I felt lots of IT band pain so it would explain why this mile was somewhat slower. It was also at this point that my thoughts turned to what was to come… Passing the mile 19 marker I glanced over to the right. There it was… The final climb. Now I could see it lurking in the distance and I knew that I would be going up it very soon, in fact in just over 2 miles... Bloody hell it looked steep!
I ran most of mile 19 with the chap from Wrexham RC. It was his 7th SNOD and he had taken to running backwards for some time to ease his discomfort. He said he’d get his stride back after a while and he bloody well did! I lost track off him on mile 20 as he scooted onwards. I tried to latch onto him but it was no good. However, I did manage my fastest 2 miles in the second half of the race in 12:38 (20) and 13:15 (21) so I managed to get some momentum going at last!
As I passed the 21 mile marker, there were only 5.2 miles to go! But, if you want to find the hardest 5.2 miles to ever do, this route has it. The first part of this climb is up to Waunfawr. I think Strava actually has this climb labelled as the “Bitch hill into Waunfawr” segment!! It was around about now that I had started walking in my previous 2 attempts at this marathon. It had been my aim to have a proper good go at it but it’s no shame to walk up it and it certainly was going to be no different this year for obvious reasons!
The only thing that kept me going up the short and sharp “Bitch hill” was that in previous years there was a lady handing out flapjacks as you turn right and I wasn’t far away from that! To be fair, the people in Waunfawr are awesome. No idea how they cope with that hill on a daily basis. I’m guessing that not many of them run up it much though! Had lots of shout outs of my name. I only wish I could have run up it for a while! I couldn’t. I could barely get one foot in front of another walking let alone manage a run!
I finally got to the right hand turn and there were drinks on hand. I found it quite ironic that there was a speed bump in the road! The worst bit about reaching the turn is just that. One look up and it breaks your heart! I remember reccing the course in my car with Dez 2 years ago. The road get narrower the further you go up it, you end up driving over a cattle grid (!) and the road even ends. Basically it is that steep that cars aren’t really allowed up it! Whoever came up with this route is a complete and utter sadist let alone chucking in that final climb!! Yet here I was, for the 3rd consecutive year. I think the only way to really prepare for the final climb is to do a 20-22 mile training run and then do some hill sprints at the end!
As I got past mile 22, I started to get really hungry. I hadn’t really thought about this as most of my other marathons have been fine. I guess I was just out of carbs. The vast amount of beer in Belgium was looking like a bad idea right now! The lady with the flapjacks was nowhere to be seen too. Maybe I had missed her having got to that point in a lot slower time. The greedy (faster) buggers ahead had probably hoovered up the lot! There was, however, another lady with jelly babies. Just what the doctor ordered!
I grabbed a few and onwards I went.
As I approached mile 23, I didn’t realise there was a checkpoint there. This wasn’t there in previous years. I went through it in 4:50. This was just where the cattle grid is placed but you can dip off to the left to get one last drink for the huge climb ahead! My hunger hadn’t gone though. I asked the marshals if they had any food! I was so gutted when they said they hadn’t got any! Still, 3.2 miles to go… Basically a (very steep) parkrun and a bit left!
Not long after passing through the 23 mile marker, I got chatting to a lad called Huw. He was from nearby Pwllheli. It was his 1st SNOD but I think he’d run a marathon before. It made me chuckle when he said we could probably get into finish sub-5:30. No chance of that! My estimate of 5:30-6:00 was looking all the more likely. Sub-5:30 would involve something like 12-13mins/mile. Certainly not possible for me having been up the ridiculously steep but beautiful Bwlch y Groes. All 1200ft of it!
This time last year, it was just horrible going up this climb. It was extremely windy, so much so that Dez was worried his number would fly off! He had clinged onto that for dear life as, and I still don’t know how he did this, he managed to get up the climb without stopping and was on for a PB. Not a course PB but an actual marathon PB! Remarkable yet utterly ridiculous. Not only windy, but it had rained loads too. It was not enjoyable in the slightest. I was better prepared for it this time round.
It was beginning to get windier as I climbed higher and higher up but there was no sign of rain fortunately. The running jacket that I had crammed into my camelback was out and on in an instant as well as the Karrimor hat. I felt warm and sheltered! I knew I would be walking up it anyway so I might as well enjoy my surroundings. The view as you climb up is just breathtaking. As you look to the right, you can see the drop into the valley below but also the impressive view of Mt Snowdon in the background. Wow. Words can’t describe what it’s like, you’ll just have to do it! It wasn’t that cloudy and the sun had come out to play too. I knew I had made the right decision to run and complete this race.
Looking at the Garmin is just pointless on these miles! For the record, mile 23 was 19:59 and 24 was 17:40. Clearly mile 23 is just ridiculous! It starts to flatten in places a little after that so you can at least start a run/walk routine. The 24th mile marker seems yet another drinks stop. These guys really know how to organise a race. There are an abundance of these throughout with water, energy gels and energy drinks throughout (just no real food!). So many friendly faces and enthusiasm. I can’t thank them enough.
The path continues down to the right and goes completely off-road after the marker. This is a short descent before the very very last climb! You do have to negotiate rocks, stones, streams of water and mud though. Unfortunately there was no room for my trail shoes in my camelbak! However with 2.2 miles to go, the end wasn’t far away.
Huw had gone on by this point. He didn’t have the luxury of a running jacket (or shin splints and IT band issues!) so plodded on to get it finished. I’d caught up with the group of 4 lads though and they were great company to mile 25! One of the older lads, Bill, had done SNOD an astonishing 23 times. Just wow. But you can see why people keep coming back year after year. I finally got it.
I decided at this point to have some more fun. I got my phone out and started taking pictures of the descent. I even got a photo of me with the marshal at the mile marker. She looked somewhat bemused. You had to be there! After passing it you can actually see right down into Llanberis. I could just about make out the hotel I was staying in too. I gave Paul a text to say I’d be down in 10-15 mins too.
After what seemed like an eternity of running on the downward trail, I finally hit the grey stuff with about half a mile to go. Oh yes, it was tarmacked path! I would have got onto the ground and kissed it but fear I would not have been able to stand up again! After a sharp left to get onto it, it was a longish drag down but I could hear the crowds of Llanberis in the now much nearer distance! I took my running jacket off and stuffed it into my camelback and along with my hat. I had to at least style it out for the finish photo!
Rod and his mate went past me as, although I was now running, was still in considerable pain. They had adrenaline like I did but we looked at each other, gave a well done message to one another and knew we were going to finish! Just 2 more corners to go before turning right onto the High St! I was proper buzzing. Getting goosebumps just writing this now!
Lots of people were lined along the sides of the High St as I turned right onto it, although not as much as when I had come through there in previous years. I could now see the finish line though!! I started to quicken my stride but with 100 yards or so to go I felt some cramp in my calf! Arrrrggghhh….
There was no way that I was not going to walk now though. People were shouting my name and I was within touching distance of the finish that I thought I would never see. One of them was Paul who I spotted to my left. So happy that he had stuck around as it was just what I needed to get me over and he took some cracking shots too!
I passed over the finish timing mat and under the “FINISH” banner. I had done it! I held out my arms and celebrated as the bloke on the tannoy announced my name. What a feeling. I was so happy, I think this might have topped any other feeling I’ve had when crossing the line in a marathon! My chip time was 5:46:38, pretty much bang on with my prediction but obviously much slower than any other marathon I had run, but it was a finish nonetheless.
Paul was quickly on the scene and it was hugs all round! He had done it in 4:07:17 which was a little outside the sub-4 he was aiming for but given his ankle problems it was a very good return! We went back towards where the finish line was so that we could get a joint photo. Our smiles say it all about what it meant to complete this difficult but amazing race. As I mentioned, they really do know how to organise this race. We headed to the bag drop and they had free massages on offer but I had a much needed cup of tea and biscuits. It’s the simple things sometimes!! I was practically inhaling those chocolate digestives. I sent a text to my brother and sister telling them I had done it and what my time was. Their replies were pretty consistent with “crazy b******” mentioned and my sister said “I knew you wouldn’t be able to cope with not doing it! But well done”. That’s pretty much spot on. It would have tore me apart not being able to run this race being stuck in Llanberis while it was going on!
As we headed back up towards the hotel, I was trying to find out the Arsenal score. We were 1-0 up and as we got into the bar for a celebratory pint, it had just gone 2-0! Happy days.
The next morning was amusing seeing the majority of guests shuffling around at breakfast! At least this time round though, we could have the full works cooked breakfast and not some boring porridge! Bloody typical that the lift was out of order and I was on the 2nd floor though. Arrrrggghhhh!
As I headed up Pen-y-Pass though, I began to think about my short time in North Wales. I bloody love this place. We have this amazing scenery and part of the world and it’s only 2 and half hours away from the West Mids. We’re pretty lucky really. I didn’t want to leave.
I got a call from Dez as I got nearer to home. He couldn’t believe I’d done it either though I sensed a tinge of jealously that I’d got a 3rd slate coaster! It was great to speak to him having run with him for the previous 2 years on this iconic race and he’d know what I’d been through. The first thing I did when I got home was to find the other 2 slate coasters and take a photo of the 3 combined. Sad or what??