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Friday, 30 October 2015

Snowdon Marathon - Run Walk Crawl

So many memories from what was my third successive stab at Marathon Eryri, one of the toughest road marathons in Europe.

Usually, to run a road marathon you make a start and plod along at as sensible a pace as possible, taking your brain out along the way for three flattish hours as the legs get heavy and the mind wanders, with nothing much to focus on apart from the competitors around you and the crowds to cheer you on.

The difference with Snowdon? For a start, it's hilly, very hilly. Then there's the scenery, absolutely stunning. Then there's the weather, usually raining, which brings out some more stunning autumn colours from the surrounding landscape. Then there's the surface, which goes from road to track, back to road and finishing with another track and a steep grassy descent towards the finish. You can break the Snowdon marathon down into so many sectors that the miles literally fly by, even when your own body is failing miserable, as mine did during this 2015 edition.

There are also the pockets of crowds at the few villages en-route, and the organisation, which is mainly made up of volunteers which makes for a real sense of community and camaraderie from when you first park up in Llanberis, to when you hobble back to your car many hours later.

For me, I set myself up by ordering a large americano in the cafe opposite race HQ and made my way to my club's resident table which they seem to acquire each year. I was late, and so had to down the double shot drink in time to make the club photo call. As a cappuccino connoisseur, the hit from the heavily caffeinated water based coffee made me feel a tad alert and ready for anything, or so I thought..

Behind Ken at around 6 miles in.

The day was a rainy one, the first rain for 6 weeks after a gloriously dry autumn, but hey ho, it was fairly warm and there was no wind.

I hadn't raced much in August or September, in fact, not at all and so with retrospective regret, i decide to run the Aberystwyth Twin Peaks hill race, just 6 days before Snowdon, to get the engine into gear. The race went well, as well as the notoriously hard Twin Peaks can go, and I came away with a PB. Unfortunately, in the days after the race, my aches and pains were far worse than usual, and I even had a touch of DOMS. The hamstrings were tight and so ice baths and a pro massage were the order of the day. Looking back, the aches stemmed from a triathlon in late September that i hammered myself on, especially the run course which involved two steep descents. I remember feeling great around this time, with some fast splits on training runs being achieved and thinking at the time that i wished the races were earlier.

Two days out from Snowdon, and the legs felt recovered and I felt good as I warmed up before the start. Always a bad sign..
I started near the front of the race, just because seeing a zillion runners ahead of me in a race is always disheartening. The first mile was a tad too fast and so I wound my neck in and tried to settle into a sensible pace but the legs were feeling good.

Mile two was still faster than scheduled. An old steady state pace strategy for me would be to stick at 6.50 minute miles (sub 3 pace on a flat marathon), but having done this race twice previously and having had three strong & fast 20 mile training runs in the lead up, I was up for experiment.

As the story goes, I ran Llanberis pass at what seemed like a normal pace. I had very little knowledge that i was in fact in 30th position out of 2000 odd runners going over the summit, . My club mate Kenny Caulkett came past at the top and informed me of our position. To be with him should have sounded alarm bells, especially when he also told me that eventual 7th place man Dylan Lewis was behind us. 
We chatted for a bit and tumbled down the descent. It was half way down that the first twang of hamstring pain made it's entrance, oddly on the left, my 'good' leg.
I ignored this and ploughed on, knocking out stupidly fast mile splits for me. I'd have said prior to the race that 6.40 would be the fastest pace that I was prepared to go, but as it turned out, there were some 6.11, 6.26's and even a 6.13 at half distance. Despite a toilet stop that Paula Radcliffe would have been proud of (just ask witness, Dyl Lewis), i hit half distance with a half marathon PB. My previous half marathon PB was not fantastic, but it was done at Cardiff, not having via Llanberis pass!
The road inclines once again in Beddgelert, and this part of the course usually catches people out. I'd conked out badly here in 2013 and not done much better in 2014, but today I breezed up the hill, keeping equal distance to Ken, Dyl and Gancho up ahead as we'd all gone through half way within a minute of each other.

It would've been nice to get back to sub 7's after halfway's climb, but as the graph below shows, pace remained ok up until mile 21. Mile 21! That's only 5 miles to go right? If the graph showed heart rate, i pretty much died at 23 miles, which was to be fair, one of the steepest road climbs of any marathon out there. 

My calf's and hamstrings were now unresponsive and i was overusing the glutes and quads, calling on any other muscles that could help. I pretty much walk/jogged/crawled the remaining three miles and the pacing target got hammered as I lost over 60 places to the finish in Llanberis.
My final time was 3.17, which ain't too shabby to be fair, but the target had been a sub 3.10 before my fast start demons got the better of me.  
The next day, i woke up with a bad ankle and pulled calf on the left side, direct results of whatever niggle was caught at the triathlon. Prognosis - it's a scratch wound. Onwards and upwards to the Aber 10k in December before a spring marathon to prepare for. Surely i won't start too fast again, will I? 

A grimace for the camera.
Walking the final descent