Monday, 26 May 2014

"Mainly" Uphill....

The race profile
After a rather eventful week (in which my Wednesday evening run was interrupted by helping out the local fire, police and ambulance services when a lady fell down a 10 foot bank into the river, injuring her ankle) I found myself heading down to Wales for a new run, the Beddgelert-Wyddfa Challenge, a "mainly uphill" 18.2km race with 1240m of elevation gain.

In true Joasia-style, I combined the roadtrip with a chance to catch up with various friends, hence Friday  night saw me spending time in Warrington with Janet, Ash and their daughter Nina....I'd worked with both Janet (in medicine) and Ash (in surgery) many moons ago when doing my GP training in Carlisle.

I was going to go for a short jog along the river in the morning, but found a parkrun about half a mile from their house, and the lure of cake was so great that I rescued a battered barcode from my cardoor. People seemed very friendly and welcoming, though I did run rather faster than intended, but it was worth it for the flapjack and Swiss rolls (they more than made up for the long course)!

Watching the rain pour down in the afternoon in Northwich, I doubted the sanity of my planned run in Wales - the weather was so bad that my friend even called off his Sunday sportive.

After a lovely drive down in the morning (through much of the varied weather that Wales has to offer), negotiating roundabouts, tunnels, and even rabbits running across the road, while spotting huge Welsh castles in the trees, I made it to registration at the Victoria Hotel in Llanberis. They were not sure how many run
ners to expect, as registration was on-the-day only, but the race was incorporating the World Long Distance Mountain Running trials, so although small, the field would be of high quality. Although the sun was actually out in Llanberis, Snowdon itself was hidden in deep black cloud, so it was important to find out what compulsory kit had to be carried and what could be transported up to the summit for the return "jog"/cafe break.

Although I felt rather laissez-faire about the race as I drove down (it's hard to get really psyched up for a race that you haven't targeted, trained or tapered for), I was amazed how nervous I felt sitting in the carpark in Llanberis.......maybe it was the fear of the unknown!

On board the bus to Beddgelert, I started to wonder if people would run hard on the early fast runnable section of the race, or save their legs for the steep final climb, but I was soon distracted by the rather odd antics of tourists we saw. It's difficult to believe people would stop their cars, so blocking an entire road, just to take a photo of a sheep, but they clearly do. This meant that the trip took rather a long time, and so the start had to be delayed.

I'm not sure that I've ever come across such a relaxed start - initially people just milled around, but then we we
Race route
re all counted across a cattle grid so we figured that we must be in the right place. There was no briefing and no countdown - and I was actually still tying a shoelace up tighter when people started running. Several people shot off at a fast pace, but I decided to just run my own race, as it was all quite new to me.
That tactic seemed to work as I relaxed into the run, really enjoying the undualting trails. It reminded me of the World Trails in a similar area last year. I caught up to and moved past Pippa Maddams and Anna Lupton by the 2 mile mark, but I knew that, as seasoned international hill runners, they would be much quickler than me on the steep second half of the race.
Although we were gradually gaining height, there were also some downhill stretches, so I let my legs go with it(but hopefully not my arms as much as usual!!) - and actually clocked a 5:40 mile when looking at my garmin later that night!! No wonder I moved past Dione Allen by mile 4 and found myself as the leading lady (scary thought!!). It was nice to get a couple of cheers as we circumnavigated a lake and headed to the road crossing (even if I was mistaken for "Jayne" at one point!).
After the road crossing (and the only water stop - there were also gels, but I didn't think I needed one as 
Picture taken by Gwynfor James
we'd only be going 7.5miles at that point) the trail became much rougher and started climbing in more earnest. A few gates certainly interrupted your stride and slowed you down, but I found it quite hard to judge foot placement on the loose slate. Dione seemed at ease on this terrain and passed me about half a mile from the crossing, but didn't seem to be moving away too quickly.
I made a couple of slight path misjudgements here - at one point I was so looking at my feet so carefully as I picked my way across piles of loose slate that I headed slight too far to one side, and at another point, the trail seemd to be so narrow between a fence and a drop into a small tarn that I thought we must have to run the other side of the fence. I stopped to cross the fence and spiked my hand on the top row of barbed wire, only to notice the trail did become clearer and there was no need to cross it at all!!
After scrambling up and over some steps/stiles to cross a wall, a marshal pointed me to the left with the immortal words "free route choice, the path is directly up there". This was the start of the section described prior to the race as "the 3k that is not for the faint-hearted!" - gulp!! I took this statement to be about the steepness of the climb, as parts of it were a scramble up rock slabs using your hands, but later on I realised what it actually meant. Not only was there an elevation gain of 1600 feet over 1.5 miles, but at times we were ascending a ridge that was under 1m wide.
Anna showed her mountain running form here and passed me on this section, ready to reel in Dione, who was still in sight up ahead. Unfortunately for me (well maybe fortunately, as it meant that the drop-offs tended to disappear from view), the weather deteriorated and I found myself in thick mist. It made it harder to pick out a route as you weren't sure whether to keep going up over every rocky outcrop, or whether to try to skirt round them. As we were getting nearer to the summit, there were also walkers going in both direction (some in jeans of all things!!) so I sometimes had to pause for safety reasons due to the narrowness of the ridge.

Good to see what the summit should look like

It was spitting with rain, but the ridge widened out and people started to encourage me to keep pushing on up as I wasn't that far away from the top - though one lad did say "20m to I mean 200m....or is it further?". I thought there might be a slight flattening with a summit ridge to run along (hopefully with the finish line in sight) so enabling a "glory sprint finish", but it was not to be. I climbed up a final rocky slope through the mist and saw people about 10m away shouting "right to the steps....touch the finish when you touch the steps!".

Early results

Still I'd made it.....13th place overall....3rd lady behind 2 international mountain runners and ahead of many distinguished fell runners...and 1st Scot! Not bad for my first attempt at that kind of race - and I certainly know what to work on to improve in the future!

At the top with Shona
Unfortunately, there were hundreds of tourists sheltering from the rain and weather in the summit cafe, so it was impossible to go in for coffee and a cake. Instead, Shona (a fellow Scottish runner - who finished 4th lady) and I decided to just head for the cafes back down in Llanberis - not my favourite thing....running back down a mountain again, but at least there was the promise of food and drink at the bottom!

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