The Snowdonia Marathon wasn’t the toughest marathon I’ve ever done (I came in 16th on the steep Whiskey Row Marathon in 2006 after a late session that resulted in us staying out till closing on Whiskey Row just past 4am and having a 6am start), but it was by far the slowest finish I ever had at 4h 17m 33s (chip time); the sting of this fact, documented for the world to see, is not at all muted by the 3:30 pace I kept when I was actually running on the course (more on the pub crawl this turned into, below).
I could tell two weeks beforehand, though, that I wasn’t well prepared (or didn’t feel well prepared) in spite of duly putting in mileage and other workouts in excess of past training. Age is a bitch. So, I feel like this was a race I could look back on to highlight some points of strategy, should I seek to enter another (as inevitably will happen).
Kick out the jams motherfuckers!
–MC5, Kick Out The Jams
1) Make a Good Choice of Venue Key:
The weather in North Wales is awesome. Past Snowdonia Marathons (note the prominent S&M initials) have seen the starters collecting behind the drop vans not so much for shelter as to keep the vans from tumbling over (I believe that was in 1999). There was a staging of the race early this decade that was cancelled mid-race and helicopters dispatched to rescue runners stranded on the final mountain climb. This year, we only had to deal with mild temperatures (10C, 50F), sustained southerly winds of 40 mph, and heavy rain for the delayed start, first 4 and last 8 miles (albeit, with horizontal sleet the last 4).
The initial hill climb from Nant Peris wasn’t very difficult at all and, once cleared, afforded nearly an 8 mile downhill trip sheltered from much of the wind by the rising cliffs and, when the fog broke from time-to-time, spectacular views of the lakes below. Almost every road in North Wales appears to be bordered by stone walls, so women runners were able to hop over to have a wee in privacy (and most of us men were civilised enough to turn our backs to the flow of traffic when the flow of nature called).
Half a mile from the county fair
And the rain keep pourin down.
–Van Morrison, And It Stoned Me
2) Run With a Mix of Music:
Most races ban mp3 players for the sake of safety, and for a shorter run I usually comply. In fact, had I known just how social this small crowd was going to be I would have left mine in the drop bag but it at least kept me company as I huddled under a bridge for an hour awaiting the start. However, I listended to some FM radio for news and current events shows just before heading back across the road to the starting line and my cheap player reset my mix from my planned “show” to alphabetical order by file title. I crossed the start line nearly at the back of the 2000 runners and once the crowd started to thin enough to run at all I turned on the mix. First up was Allman Brothers doing the Beatles’ Rain. “So this is how it’s going to be, eh?” I thought as it was followed by And it Stoned Me by Van Morrison (see first line, quoted above…remainder of quoted lyrics also from the mix).
Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac, yeah
The boy’s a time bomb.
–Rancid, Time Bomb
3) Dress Appropriately
Balancing rain and cool breezes against a need for comfort as the body sheds heat and becomes increasingly less responsive, I opted for a long sleeved t-shirt with another I intended to (and did) dispose of at the start. This throwaway shirt was picked up for a dollar in Chattanooga, Tennessee last winter:
The long sleeved shirt for the remaining run would have been better if my other suggested bit of running kit–moleskin plasters for the nipples–had been remembered. As it was, the front was already turning red from the bleeding by mile 10. I guess I could have dumped it and saved my stinging chest, but I was concerned that as the temperature dropped and my energy flagged I might be trapped out on the trail waiting for the pick-up van with no clothing for warmth. Besides, this would probably be stingingly pleasant in the post race shower so I kept the shirt until I reached the bag pick-up and only then discarded it (dunno if anyone there considered reading the hasher names on the back of it, but that probably provided a laugh or two if they did).
I could probably have avoided looking so pained, though, had I taken the lead of our friend, here, and chosen something red to wear:
–The Stones, Shattered
4) Arrive at the Start Healthy and Fit
On Thursday before the race, I felt a bit run down as the work day closed and by Friday morning I had a raging fever, congestion, and a severely inflamed sore throat. Perfect for running in any weather, I thought, as the delirium would probably take my mind off things. The symptons eased a bit by Saturday morning at the start, but I still had the buckets of snot to blast out to the side of the road thereby assuring that no one would try to draft off me. The fever probably helped stave off hypothermia a bit, as well.
Last night the bottle let me down
And let your memory come around.
–George Jones, Bottle Let Me Down
5) Proper Hydration and Carbohydrate Maintenance
A half mile into the run I spotted a pub, but it was closed. The next one was at about 4.5 miles in, but it was too far (~100 metres) off the course and I was concerned that I might be pulled from the race if I tried to make it over there. Then, just after 12 miles we entered Beddgelert and directly across from a water table was the Saracen’s Head:
I’ll make a longer entry for this and the other pubs, shortly, but let me at least say that they were especially friendly in there as they were at the Cwellyn Arms in Rhyd Ddu (16 miles) and at the Tafarn Snowdonia Parc Brewpub (~20 miles). Each bartender claimed they have never had a runner pop in from the marathon, which I think is somewhere betwixt a crying shame, shear arrogance, and a misdemeanor against the natural order of things.
Drinking beer in the
I fought the law and
–Dead Kennedys, I Fought The Law
There were at least as many spectators along the trail as there were runners at the start. This makes for a fun run, especially for a small race like this one (fewer than 2000 started, around 1320 finished with my chip time coming in at #660). Some spectators had placards and others had scrawled notes on the roads. I guess “Slow” could refer to any of us at the middle of the pack if it is used as an adjective, but I have to hope that these elaborate and plentiful markers were meant for me. Bless the Welsh and all who sail on them.
The Snowdonia Marathon is well organised, covers some beautiful territory, is remarkably social with a very friendly crowd for the most part (both runners and spectators), and I would highly recommend it for anyone willing to make the effort to join in. Who knows, the weather might cooperate one of these years.
Some of the photos the vendors at the race hope to sell have been posted…here’s what I’ve snagged so far: