The Snowdonia Marathon
‘The inaugural Snowdonia Marathon was held in 1982, and was conceived as a dramatic alternative to the numerous city and town races becoming so popular. The demanding and spectacular route, encircling Snowdon, Wales’ and England’s highest peak, has given the event a unique place in the annual marathon calendar ever since.’ (source www.snowdoniamarathon.co.uk)
So as the description states and the image shoes, this marathon is a run around Snowdon starting in Llanberis, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. Following this it is a downhill and both on road and a brief stint on trail, then undulating road past until reaching the second of the climbs at Beddgelert. After this climb it is more undulating road until hitting the biggest climb of the race at mile 22 just past Waunfawr. This climb continues until about mile 25 before a steep descent back into Llanberis and the finish line.
With the profile giving an indication of the amount of climb involved, this is by no means you classic practically flat marathon with a view for setting PB’s if you have previously run marathons. To put it into perspective how a different a beast this run is, the London Marathon has a total climb of around 174 meters, just compare the below profiles to get an idea.
Going into this run, I knew it was going to be a challenging, with the potential for the weather to really add to the challenge!
It had been a long time coming, with the NDW50 well behind me I had been waiting for this race to bring my running year to a close. Training for this specific event had been sporadic but I felt I had a base level of fitness following the work done previously so although I was uncertain of what time I would be able to achieve, I knew I would be able to get around.
I was going to be running this race with Gareth, who crewed the NDW50 for me, with this event being his first marathon. With race number on, kit ready and feeling the anticipation of the race starting we headed to the start line with about 1600 other runners.
The race started and we headed off, the course is pretty flat for the first couple of miles before hitting the climb up to Pen-y-Pass from mile 2 to 4. The first 6 or so miles went by in a flash, the general atmosphere of all the runners around us carrying us forward and our pace reflected this averaging about 10 minute mile, increasing slighty on the uphill but us making up time on the downhill. The one section that caused me what would be a repeated problem later on was the section after Pen-y-Pass of about 2km which was on a trail. I was wearing New Balance Minimus Road, zero drop shoes and with the rocks and uneven surface I was getting a lot of discomfort on my feet as the soles of these shoes are very thin and designed primarily for the road.
We got past this section pretty quickly and before we knew it we had hit the half marathon mark in 02:04:26, a new PB for Gareth and I. As we crossed this milestone the second of the climbs was upon us, heading out from Beddgelert. As the legs were starting to feel it we opted to walk this hill, although when I say walk it is more of a march so as to minimise the impact on our time. With this hill out the way from mile 15 to 22 the course undulated along the road heading Waunfawr. During this section we were experiencing the support of the local people, with kids and adults shouting their support and offering high fives. This really kept us motivated, particularly as my choice of zero drop shoes may have been a step to far. My arches were starting to suffer and with the balls of my feet getting sore maintaining the proper gait was getting harder and harder and I kept dropping to my heels which was causing further pain.
My problems were not going to get any easier as we hit mile 22 and the last (and biggest) climb of the race. After 22 miles the last thing you want to see is a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. This was punishing, there is no other word for it and we were not alone as other runners were suffering as well. We passed people who were struggling with injuries, trying to stretch out their legs and one runner who was throwing up (possibly the dodgy stomach that can come from too much carb gels). This 3 miles of pain was taking its toll and the decent into Llanberis was no better. Dropping from 376 meters to back under 116 meters in about 1 mile just destroys any remaining strength in the legs.
With the balls of my feet in agony and literally no strength in my arches it was a struggle to carry on but with the finish almost there I thought I was over the worst of it, I was wrong. With the finish now in sight both calf muscles cramped up and I literally couldn’t move. This is the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, Gareth who had carried on about 10 yards turned back and asked what was happening, I said cramp and for him to carry on. Gareth wasn’t having any of that and said we are going to finish it together, so I did the best to stretch and started running, both legs still cramping as I ran to get over the line.
Crossing that line was the greatest feeling in the world, we had done the marathon despite the aches and pains and set a much better time that we anticipated. What topped it off was seeing my wife and kids waiting for me and giving them a hug just made the day even better.
Would I recommend it?
In a word, yes. The organisation is great, the atmosphere fantastic and the route amazing. I myself am a trail runner at heart but this is one road marathon that I can see me doing again. If you have done a marathon in the past and are looking for a road marathon with amazing views and something a bit different (read significant climbs) then this is for you. It is a run that everyone should add to their bucket list.