Welsh 1000m Peaks Race
Why would I drive 300 miles to run in a 1km race? Well, the 1000m refers to elevation not distance. A close inspection of the OS map reveals that there are 4 Peaks over 1000m in height in Wales. Two in are in the Snowdon range and two in the Carnedd range. In between these two ranges is the Glyders ridge which mercifully tops out at 999m and is therefore not in the race. However, the course still crosses this ridge at the lowest practical point at 750m. For a bit of added challenge the race starts at sea level at Aber on the North Wales coast. All these details add up to a 18 mile race climbing about 8000ft, finishing on the top of Snowdon.
The weather this year was hot and clear. The course is loosely based around Llanberis but neither starts or finishes there. At the start there were around 70 runners and it seemed more Welsh than English was being spoken. The route started gently enough following a beautiful wooded valley. Then we left the trees and shade behind and headed out onto the open hill side. The following 4 miles and 3000ft was over rough, steep and pathless terrain. Visibility was perfect and my initial apprehension of such a big unknown event evaporated (together with all of the fluid in my body). The views opened up as we gained height; it was going to be a spectacular day. There was a cooling breeze on the tops but it was still very warm in the blazing sun. I drank the litre of water I had set off with.
The first two controls were on the summits of Carnedd Llewelyn and Dafydd. There was lots of high, exhilarating running at this stage. You felt on top of the world. Then there was a long descent to the Ogwen Valley and the A5. This descent was a little more hairy than most fell races, involving some downward scrambling and some recklessly large 'drop-offs'. I reached the control on the A5 after around 2:25 hours. I filled up another litre of water and gulped down several cup fulls.
The next section is the hardest psychologically. It involved the crossing of the high ridge to Pen-y-pass Youth Hostel. It's the middle bit of the race, with the finish still far away and initial energy levels severely depleted. It was a hard slog, mainly walked. The only consolation was that the descent down the far side would be the last descent of the race, the rest was all up hill! I finished the next litre of water and munched my hi-tech nutritional solids; jam sandwiches.
At Pen-y-pass Youth Hostel after around 3:45 hours, I picked up a yet another litre of water and got hosed down by an obliging marshal. Then I made my only navigational error of the day, albeit one of staggering stupidity compared to the miles of pathless uplands I had crossed without incident. The area around the Youth Hostel is a busy car park from which two of the major routes up Snowdon begin. The two routes are the 'Miner's Track' and the 'Pyg Track'. I was after the former but amid the confusion of cars, families, buses, ice cream and exhaustion, I took the latter. I only realised my mistake after I had gone on half a mile. I decided to press on. The route I was on was about 0.75 mile longer but a large part of it is flattish and runnable. The other route is shorter and gains height steadily. I don't know if I lost much time due to the error, possibly 5 - 10 minutes.
The final climb up Snowdon is a steep zigzag of rough stone steps. I was able to keep passing the day trippers and Saturday afternoon strollers but only just. I reached the summit ridge after about 5 hours on my feet. At this point the crowded summit of Snowdon is to your left. However, the race takes you right to take in the other 1000m peak of Ugain. This is really just a subsidiary peak of Snowdon but by whatever arcane rules these things are decided, it has been defined as a separate peak. These rules are based around the amount of descent between linked peaks. Anyway, we had to run away from the finish to a check point 0.25 miles uphill and then return to climb up to the trig point on the top of Snowdon. I made a valiant attempt to run past all the many tourists to the very top but failed. I staggered and stumbled to the check point and then climbed the last few steps to slap the trig point. It had taken 5 hours 11 minutes.
I sat near the top and surveyed the scene. I could see miles and miles in every direction. I could see the mountains I had crossed earlier, a barely credible distance away. The breeze this high up quickly chilled me. My family had walked up to meet me and we had a picnic at the top. Now there was the slight logistical issue of getting back to the car which was parked in Llanberis, 5 miles away and 3500 feet below us. We had considered the train, especially if the weather was bad or the children exhausted but as it was, there was no debate; we set off at a brisk stroll back down the mountain. Anyway the train would have cost £50 for the family! There aren't many 18 - 19 mile races where you then have to walk a further 5 miles to get back to the start but then there are few races with such a spectacular finish. I chatted to a couple of runners on the way down, one of them had tried to drop out at Pen-y-pass but had been told, 'Don't be so soft lad! You look alright, get up that mountain'. He did and was delighted although I'm not sure how such advice would play with Health and Safety enthusiasts.
The race was won by Tim Higginbottom from Eryri Harriers in 4:03 and Pilar Near (female) also from Eryri Harriers in 5:24, there were 70 finishers and I was placed 17th. I read on one website that the event 'made the Three Peaks feel like a walk in the park'. It didn't. However, it is very exposed, with a lot of time spent high up, there are a smaller number of competitors more thinly spread, in bad weather (there was snow on the tops a week before the event) or in poor visibility, it would be a very stern test of mountain skills. A fantastic event but not for the faint hearted!