So why is it then, sitting here now on the morning after the event, do I feel like I’ve just completed an intense, full body workout?
This is because the race is a bit different to most ultra-marathons you see, in that it happens to cover 15 of the highest peaks in Wales. In fact, the reason the course is called the Welsh “3,000’s” is because of the 15 peaks >3,000ft. I think an apt description for the event would be more like ‘a full day of mountain climbing’ than it could be described as a ‘running race’. Nevertheless, the result is spectacular! Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely spectacular.
There is so much climbing up giant rocks involved and scrabbling around on hands and knees that the time almost becomes irrelevant. The challenge is to finish in one piece. This is actually a remarkable comfort in a strange way once it settles in your mind. In a hare vs the tortoise scenario in your head, you can now relax a little and take your time; might as well enjoy the views while you’re at it.
The mood on the coach to the start line (from the finish) was a quiet, pensive one. The reason for this I think is we were all a bit worried about the weather… Also, it was the ungodly hour of 4am, but mostly the weather thing. The forecast was for rain, but fortunately it seemed to be holding out. This brought the midges out, which was a nuisance, but I think we could all agree the lesser of two evils.
We set off at around 5:20am towards Snowdon; that’s right, start as you mean to go on… What I didn’t realize was that Snowdon would be one of the easier peaks to ascend, in that you could manage it with minimal upper body use. Next up was Crib Goch; I was warned by many people that this section would be the most technical. I think the term “technical” could also be rephrased as most “nerve-racking” as well.
I was up near the front at this early stage, as I’m pretty good at ascents and Snowdon didn’t present an overly daunting challenge to me yet; just a bit of hands on thighs stuff. However, here is where it gets tricky for me. Scrambling over big boulders and running along rocky ridges with perilous drops either side. The runners flying past me at this point were doing literally that; flying! I don’t know how they do it, they make it look so easy and it was great to see (if a little infuriating at times). You could see a lot of experience in mountain running purely from the surefootedness of these guys.
Next up, another one of my weaker areas I’m afraid to say, our first major descent! Running down steep slopes of loose, shale type stone does not agree with me. As I watched the experienced mountain runners majestically skipping down these sheer slopes effortlessly away from me, I spent most of my time falling over.
People talk about downhill running like an act of “throwing your brain away”, which I totally understand now. The effort of trying so hard NOT to fall was paradoxically making me fall down a lot. Unfortunately despite having an understanding of this, does not make it easy to do; this only really comes with practice.
The course was well marked and navigationally I made good progress throughout the morning, even if it was a little slow by my own standards. The descent from Tryfan was particularly tough. At one point I clocked a 39 min/mile going down the mountain due to the scrambling down seemingly vertical rock faces. Nevertheless, still finding myself at the bottom and to aid station in Ogwen in reasonable time (about six hours ish I think). Then in the afternoon, the clag came down.
Up in the mountains, this meant visibility was now meters, so all of a sudden those tiny red flags that were so easy to spot during the clear morning had become a little more elusive. Time for my next regular party trick at these races; bonus miles!
A little before reaching the Carnedd Llewelyn peak, we were redirected by the marshal to bear left towards another peak we had to find to self-clip our checkpoint cards. I was told to head left until you pick up the red flags again and find a path. I picked up the red flags and proceeded to head down the steep grassy hill I assumed they were pointing me towards. I was wrong.
Luckily, I made very slow progress down this hill, so hadn’t travelled as far as I thought I had when I realised I was heading the wrong way. Nevertheless, this meant I had to climb back up the hill and to add insult to injury, the soles of my feet had softened up due to all the running through water and the skin was starting to split. Nothing like a minor case of trenchfoot to make the last 15 miles more interesting!
I eventually made it back up the hill on my hands and knees and saw a small group of runners coming towards me in the distance (or as much distance as I could make out). Difficult to describe the relief I felt here, as my detour probably only cost me about half an hour. I chatted to a guy called Mike here who had done the race before and was clearly very good with navigation. We found the checkpoint and then promptly turned around to head back towards Carnedd Llewelyn and the final major peak! I joked to Mike that I’d see him again the next time I got lost. Little did I realise how premonitive that statement was. About 20 minutes I think I might have lasted before I was lost again.
I stuck with the group this time, as we were well inside the final ten miles now and I thought it wise to not venture off into the mist on my own again. So the final miles were much more sociable and a big part of why these kind of long races are so addictive. We soldiered on with a target of purely not getting lost and finishing inside 12 hours if possible. Of course, after the final peak, as the old saying goes – “it was all downhill from here” and we all finished quite strongly in my opinion, well inside 12 hours! My official finish time was 11:37. Not too bad when I consider my low preparation for the event and my right hip and knee were still not 100% from my JOGLE cycle (and my 30mph fall).
The atmosphere and food on offer at the finish was exceptional. Everything was vegan made, as this was another theme of the race that everyone stuck to a vegan diet for the day. You could tell a LOT of effort went into this; not all the competitors were vegan, including myself, but we could all agree it was very good food and very satisfying after a tough course!
So next year the race takes place again on June 18th and I’m sure I’m among the many planning to participate again and hoping for good weather on the day.