I didn't quite manage my ideal pre-race prep on the Monday morning. Having requested something early for breakfast from the B&B (eg cereal, bread, fruit or something), all I was left was a small bowl of cornflakes covered in clingfilm, with no milk etc. After that I had to detour round the houses to pick up a few people who had begged for lifts to the start....only to find that when I got to the Travellodge, they had already left having hopped into a lift with someone else! Oh well, it's unlikely I would have been able to sleep anyway....and it saved hanging around for too long before the start!
We dropped off our bags for the support point and then all headed in to huddle in the visitor centre. It was great that everybody had their names on front and bag, as it meant that I could identify Jonny Whilock - another competitor with whom I have a couple of mutual friends, and who was much more proficient (and hence confident) in navigation that I am. We were given the maps for the day as we entered Conwy Castle, and so I checked with Jonny after planning a basic route - phew....so far so good!!
A Welsh send-off!!
I had a quick kit change to remove my longsleeve top and put my waterproof top on as the rain started pretty much as the Welsh Male Voice Choir started to sing. It was rather surreal to be standing in a ruined castle with 139 other runners, looking at a map, listening to singing and watching a clock count down to the 7am start!
And they're off....
Shane (the race director) had to provide assurance that there would be no racing around the castle walls, so after a fun run up and around various parts of the castle (including through the visitor's centre), we all had to "dib" at a checkpoint on leaving and heading out onto the road out of town (straight up a hill).
The castle walls
It was nice to get away from town and get running - I always feel that I settle down once I've visited the first checkpoint - though narrow paths and a mass start did mean that it became difficult to run your own pace at times as there were tailbacks of runners. It was nice and cool in the light drizzle (but I did experience some surprise hail just after checkpoint two). As we headed into the mist and clag I found myself running alone, but tried to focus on my own naviga
tion and ignore others that might be choosing slightly different paths to me - occasionally the cloud would clear and I would realise that I couldn't see a single other soul....so I had to hold my nerve and keep going.
Into the hills - photo credit Ian Corless
I found myself on a really wide rockstrewn track after checkpoint 6 - this didn't seem right to me, as it had been a combination of grass, rocks and small paths up until then, so I really doubted myself. I took Jonny's earlier words of wisdom into account (it's better to spend a short period of time making certain of your position than carry on in the wrong direction) and looked back on myself to the last checkpoint as I could be confident of knowing where I was there.
At that checkpoint, I bumped into Lizzie (Wraith) just arriving, so we carried on together. It was lovely to have company and be able to chat while we ran - and bounce our nav off each other......and as we ended up running on the track I'd been on previously, it turns out I hadn't actually gone way off course earlier (I do think that people following my tracker would have a good giggle at me looping around!!). It was nice to run a few checkpoints with Lizzie as we managed to chat and get to know each other better as we hadn't met pre-race.
We heard a group of runners coming up behind us through the mist and Lizzie hooked onto their train. I decided to let them go ahead, as I didn't like the feeling of having someone directly in front of me (I know how clumsy I am and so like to be able to see exactly where I'm putting my feet), and I felt that they were going a very slightly faster pace than I wanted to go. Alone in the mist again....but I had no nav problems and found the next checkpoint then started to head down towards the support point in the valley.
Descending isn't excatly my forte so I expected other runners to catch and pass me on this section, but I was rather surprised that the only person to do so was Jonny right near the bottom (I had thought that he was away ahead of me!). We joined forces and ran along the road to the support point, where I sat down and got out my powerade, Mr Kipling slices and scones. Unlike me, others just stopped for a brief moment to restock their bags and bottles, but Jonny soon chivvied me on to get moving.
The climb up Tryfan wasn't exactly at high speed, but as a fairly strong ascender, we caught up and joined forces with Sabrina (I'd chatted to her over dinner after the briefing the previous night) on that ascent and then with Lizzie on the next slog up to the Glyders. It was a good thing that there was a group of us, as it required teamwork to get up to one of the checkpoints, as it was situated high on a rocky outcrop. The first accident of the day came for me when I slipped and skidded down a wet rock coming away from the checkpoint (wet rock skid + loose shorts riding up = sore grazes on buttocks ;-( ).
On the path to Crib Goch
I decided to try and stick with the group as we started the descent down to Pen-y-Pass but it was not to be. An early fall saw me take a huge tumble onto a mixture of rocks and grass. I faceplanted rather well, so I found myself lying there slightly stunned, having to count my teeth to make sure that I'd not knocked any out. All present and correct, but by the time I was back on my feet (with blood coming from both my face and leg) there was nobody in sight so I knew I had to descend alone. That was probably a good thing as it took a few minutes of limping to get my legs working properly again (I believe that's called "running it off"!!).
I must have looked a sight when I crossed the road at Pen-y-Pass as the marshal there asked if I wanted medical treatment, and also offered to strap up my hand (I hadn't noticed banging my right little finger so it was swollen and black until then, but kindly declined, as I knew that the ridge of Crib Goch lay ahead). I have to say that trying to climb/scramble when your little finger doesn't bend or grip isn't the easiest thing to do, but no way was I giving up.
Catching up with Littledave - photo credit Ian Corless
I was very fortunate to catch up to Littledave as we climbed up, because I was all for giving up when we got to the ridge. The wind was blowing, the cloud had opened so that I could see the steep drops on either side, and I was straddling what seemed the tiniest of ridges. I was paralysed by fear and didn't know how I was going to manage to move in any direction - it was rather tempting to set off my SOS but then again, I couldn't see any way of being rescued either. Littledave was great, encouraging me along the ridge, talking calmly and telling me how well I was doing....and so I made it! I would describe that section as being so far out of my comfort zone that I was actually in another country....and was so glad that I hadn't reccied the route, otherwise I doubted that I'd have been there on race day. We also picked up Sabrina again on the ridge as she'd taken a slightly lower path in error.
Climbing Crib Goch - photo credit Ian Corless
By the time we got to the top of Snowdon, I would have hugged and kissed anyone that said we could finish the day there, as I knew there was a lot of descent still ahead of us, and I think that facing the fear had used up a lot of my energy - I know that fear is all in the head, but knowing and doing something about it are two entirely different things! By this point Littledave, Sabrina and I had decided to stick together and support each other to the finish. It wasn't "just a descent" down to the valley from the summit, but there was a trip round the Snowdon Horseshoe included....ie another few peaks and a lot more running, both on trail and through tussocky grass. Still, we did it and managed to run into camp (in the sunshine!!!) with smiles on our faces.....I was 22nd on the day (which is not to be sniffed at as I'd definitely doubted actually finishing at various times!). Thanks to everyone I ran with on the day - and Littledave definitely earnt his nomination for the "last rolo" award, a packet of rolos given to someone at the end of the week who had put helping others ahead of their own race, as he could easily have raced off along the ridge and left me floundering!!
(pic credits in "Dragon" posts: Ian Corless, Rob Howard and Angela Foster)