This time I'm bringing you a race report with a difference.
This is epic! There will be cliffhangers, there will be highs and lows - emotionally and geographically.
It will also be over three parts!
Our Story concerns Harshad Patel and is third attempt at the Snowdon Marathon, and as you're about to read, his participation for 2014 wasn't a foregone conclusion...
After finishing Snowdonia Marathon last year, whilst having shower banter (it’s a guy thing!) with some other runners, a few of them were on about next year already. The last climb was horrible as it was windy and throwing it down. I said to myself going up it that I wouldn’t be doing this race ever again and nothing had changed my mind after I’d finished. A week or so later, I had booked up hotel rooms at The Royal Victoria for myself, Paul (a mate from West Brom Harriers) and my brother! Fellow Shabbarunner Dez had also booked up. Amazingly, he ran a marathon PB there last year as part of his 2013 miles in 2013! There’s something about this race that keeps you coming back.
Although we had booked hotel rooms, the race entry hadn’t actually opened nor had a date been announced. It’s fairly easy to predict though as it’s normally the last weekend in October and usually a week following Birmingham half marathon. Race entry opened at midnight on New Year’s Day so whilst you guys were singing Auld Lang Syne and shoving drinks down your throats, a couple of minutes after midnight I entered the race!
The only race I’d got lined up to do this year at that point was Stafford half marathon in March. This was one of my favourite races; smashed my PB by 17 minutes in 2012, well organised, great value for money, etc. I hadn’t yet got any other races in the diary due to my shin splints so kept myself busy with parkruns, rest and stretching. Due to the lack of mileage done, I reluctantly had to give my place away. It went to a good home though as Baz Nicholls smashed it off the back of 8 cans of Super X the night before!
It’s really horrible being injured. Found myself spending less and less time on Facebook/Twitter. It’s great seeing my friends doing so well from where they started off. But I wasn’t able to join them on races, wasn’t able to run without pain. Running was great to just get away from everything for that short while you were out. I never run with music as I just love running for the fun of it. The shin splints meant that I could no longer do this. My parkrun times were beginning to suffer too. From being able to run close to 20 minutes for a 5k, my times were now down to 26-28 minutes depending on how much pain I was in.To be honest, if it wasn’t for parkrun, I would probably have been doing nothing at all! And I was delighted to complete my 100th parkrun, and manage to make it coincide with my 50th at Walsall parkrun!
All of a sudden, it was the end of July and there were a few posts flying around about Equinox 24. I could barely do a 5k let alone be able be part of a team to take on a 24 hour running event! Shabba Paul had asked for people in the team to confirm they were still able to run. I didn’t know what to say or do at that point… Anyway, I decided to run Staffs Knot 5 at the end of July and make a judgement call based on how I got on. In my head, I figured if I could do 5 miles then I could do a 10k easy! #harshadlogic
I got through Staffs Knot with some minor pain but managed to hold my pace at 9 min/mile. Much slower than what I’d been doing in previous years but it was a start. So I gave the nod to Paul that I was a definite for Equinox. I don’t like letting people down and to be honest, had been looking forward to it all year and having a laugh with my Shabba mates more than anything else. The running on that weekend would just be a bonus. Even though I had said I was in, 2 weeks before I tried a run over 10k to see how I got on. I managed a pretty pathetic 7 miles which included having to stop a few times. I was in loads of pain this time. How the hell was I going to do 3-4 laps of 10k in 2 weeks’ time? I was pretty close to dropping out altogether but saw that we might be struggling for numbers in the team if I did, due to others having to drop out.
I decided to have 2 weeks off all running including parkruns and then see how the shins were feeling. They felt slightly better so I thought might as well do it. What’s the worst that could happen?? If I did get loads of pain, then I could just do 1 or 2 laps and get drunk watching the others instead!
The timing of Equinox wasn’t great… I was in Germany a few days before and had one too many beers over there!
I’m so glad I did it though. As you’ve seen from other posts from Shabbarunners, it was a truly amazing experience. I’d go as far as saying it’s up there with the 1st marathon I completed. Can’t believe I managed 4 laps of 10k in total having only done 7 miles as my longest run all year!
So many other highlights to list such as:
• Colwick parkrun in our Equinox shirts
• Having a few beers on the Friday
• Running in the dark
• Seeing the sunrise on my 3rd lap
• The full English breakfast after my 3rd lap
But the team lap at the end was something else. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!
The other thing about Equinox was that I’d managed to run 45km that weekend (inc. Colwick parkrun). It might have been split up into 5 different chunks but I’d done 45km…. A marathon is 42.195km. Hmmmm… could it be done? #harshadlogic
I had as good as written off Snowdonia Marathon a few weeks ago. Now there was this playing on my mind. Just the slight difference in that I wouldn’t be able to have a break during the marathon!
With over a week to go, I did an inaugural parkrun down at Harcourt Hill, near Oxford. With the terrain being completely off-road, my shins took a battering. I’ve never had to walk during a 5k before had no option here. I was in big trouble. That was it as far as Snowdonia was concerned. I had planned on doing Birmingham half the next day for the 4th consecutive year. That was in tatters too. I was so jealous having to watch the vast majority of Shabbarunners take part in it with me sat at home. And they all did really well too!
In the week leading up to Snowdonia, I was in Brussels from Tuesday for the Arsenal game and returned back home on the Thursday. Knowing that I wouldn’t be running on the weekend, I thought I may as well have a few beers while over there… Strong stuff!
When I got back home, I was still umming and ahhing over whether I should go up at all. I had the hotel room booked but had free cancellation on it. By this point, Dez had already pulled out some time ago. If he was going to run it, he wanted to run it well and hadn’t done enough training to justify going up. My brother had also pulled out much earlier in the year having known that their baby was due around the same time. But my mate Paul was still running, as were a few other mates in West Brom Harriers. So I decided on Thursday night that I would still go up and enjoy it as a spectator. I’d messaged Tommo and he said he was still going up despite his injury so would have had some company anyway.
Throughout the night, all I could think about was running it. The longest run that I had done all year was 7 miles. I remember at one point googling “Is it possible to run a marathon with little training?”!!
The answer from most people on the Runners World forums was a resounding NO. I found this article quite interesting to read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17456672
As I began to get my things together on Friday morning, I figured I may as well pack my running stuff (!) and leave the decision to run for a later time… What I should have done was not pack any running stuff and made the decision there and then! I hadn’t even thought about carbo loading so hammered through some pasta at lunchtime before chucking all my stuff in the car and leaving at about 2pm. My aim was to arrive in Llanberis at about 5pm. Paul drove up separately as he had got a ticket for the Burnley-Everton game on the Sunday so would be heading straight up there from Llanberis.
The weather was foul on the way there! I hadn’t even thought to check what it was going to be like on race day. Normally I’m checking every few hours but it’s in North Wales at the end of October so you can expect the worst! 2012 had dustings of snow and below zero temperature to start off. It stayed dry that year though! 2013 was pretty foul. Very windy and had a bit of rain on the last climb. Upon arriving, I checked the forecast and it looked surprisingly ok! On my way there, you get to drive along part of the route in reverse. It really is a beautiful part of the UK. As you pass the youth hostel at the top of Pen y Pass, it’s a steep 3 mile descent down into Llanberis. We would be running up that climb tomorrow about 2 miles into the route, with there being another 21 miles or so to go once that was out the way… Yikes!!
The good thing about our hotel was that the location was perfect. We were within walking distance of the Expo, start line and, most importantly, the finish meaning it wasn’t too far to crawl back to get there after the race! And, as they know lots of runners will be using it that weekend, they put on a special menu with pasta dishes to load up on carbs. The hoodies and t-shirts from previous years were instantly recognisable. You could tell that these guys had done this race on more than one occasion.
It was great to catch up with Paul and it transpired that he had an equally frustrating build up to this race with pain in his ankle. But he had managed to get a few long runs in over 20 miles.The other WBH posse were staying at Betws-y-Coed and Caernarfon so it was just the two of us. Romantic.
After a cheeky pint, we both headed off for an early night. It was then that I had to give it some serious thought about whether I should run or not. My main worry was that would my shins hold up. I’d run through pain before but could I do it for 26.2 miles? But also, would I make it round? They have a cut-off at 18 miles. If you can’t make it to that point in 4 and half hours then you can’t finish. That works out at 15 minutes/mile which for most races would be fine. This is no normal race! There’s a small matter of 3 very steep hills!! http://www.snowdoniamarathon.co.uk/courseprofile.pdf
I briefly logged onto Facebook and saw a few posts wishing good luck to fellow Shabbarunners Matt and Phil Box. I remember seeing that Sarah had tagged me onto a post wondering if I was running it but I chose not to reply at that point. I didn’t want to put anything on there or Twitter in case people tried to talk me out of it, besides I didn’t know myself if I was going to or not. Even my family were under the impression that I’d just gone up to watch! It’s fair to say that I didn’t sleep too well that night!
Another good thing about this race is that it doesn’t start until 10:30am. Upon waking up, I decided that I wasn’t going to run. There was no way that I’d be able to get round so I went to meet Paul for breakfast at around half 8. But when I saw everyone there in running gear I started to get massive amounts of running envy… Paul asked if I’d made my mind up and I was back to 50-50 by then. Knowing what the course profile was like, I would never have considered it if I hadn’t already run it before. Might sound a bit mad but at least I knew what to expect, especially on that last climb!