Mt Snowdon Ultra 50 miles 2018 – Simon Jennings

I could probably talk for hours about this race. The terrain, the weather and the fantastic other runners.

But, I’ll try and keep this as concise as possible. (it still ended up being a little long, probably best if you grab a cup of tea before you start reading)

The race started in Betws-Y-Coed at 6:30 in the morning, the crazy people doing the 100 mile race started 10 minutes before us.

There were seven checkpoints on the route, so loads of places to get food and water. I had my map and compass and more importantly the GPX file showing the route on my watch. I was feeling really confident, especially after the Pennine Barrier race.

Nothing particularly eventful in the first 7 miles, a few very small hills but nothing out of the ordinary.

Hit the first checkpoint feeling good.

That’s when I started the first climb, up Tryfan Heather Terrace. (5th highest Mountain in Wales) It quickly became apparent it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I had originally thought. The climb was very technical in places, large boulders to climb over with sheer drops at the side, everything was very slippy and wet underfoot so you really had to take your time. (I found out later one of the runners did fall off on this section, fell 10 ft and landed on a rocky outstretch, he badly damaged his jaw and had to be airlifted off the mountain)

Getting over and down Glyders Fawr and Fach was just as tricky, we had to climb and navigate over large jagged rocks, waterfalls and bogs to get into checkpoint 2.

After a quick refuel at checkpoint 2, I’d covered about 13 miles in 3hrs 40mins. Next, we headed to Mt Snowdon, this climb wasn’t too bad, it was just very busy. Because of the bad weather, it felt like everyone had decided to climb Snowdon on the same day.

Because it’s such a popular route it’s basically just large steps, with a few tricky sections to get over. I got to the summit without any issues and headed back down the Miners track, I was feeling great at this point, I’d been looking forward to making the summit of Mt Snowdon (highest mountain in Wales) ever since I entered the race.

It started to rain on the way down the Miners track and gradually got heavier, I had no issues getting down Snowdon and was even treated to a flat section where I could run. It’d been 5 hours since checkpoint 1 and this felt like the first time I’d been able to really run all day.

Mile 24 and I headed back into checkpoint 2 which was now checkpoint 3 (the original checkpoint 3 had to be removed, they couldn’t get any water up the mountain because of the weather). This is when the “fun” started, the route took us back up the Glyders. This was hard work, having to cross the same bogs and rocks again wasn’t fun, it was raining hard, my feet were soaked and it was starting to get cold.

This climb seemed to take forever, I was with a group of other runners but we got separated when I had to make a quick pit stop. I made the rest of the climb on my own, got lost a few times and ended up having to climb over a section of rocks that looked like it was straight out of Mordor.

I finally made it to the top of the climb and was greeted by more of the nasty looking rocks to navigate over. Navigating this section was hard work and I ended up taking the wrong route a few times.

Luckily, I bumped into some other runners that knew the way so I jumped onto the back of their group and followed them down. Unfortunately, they were a lot faster than me at descending and I quickly lost sight of them.

This was a really low point in the race, we’d been running for 9 hours and only covered 28 miles. I now had the Glyders to get down and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. My quads were starting to cramp up and it wasn’t feeling like fun anymore.

I took a few wrong turns on the way down that led me to sheer drops down the mountainside, luckily the rain had stopped and when you’d remember to look up the scenery was beautiful.

Unfortunately, if you did look up you’d immediately slip and almost fall off the side of the mountain. Best to keep my head down then. I’d only covered 28 miles at this point, it was going to be a very long race.

I finally got down the Glyders and was delighted to be able to actually run for a few miles again, I was now heading to checkpoint 4. I was feeling a lot better, I’d had some food and more importantly, I’d completed 3 of the 4 climbs, only one more to go. We’d climbed about 10,000ft so far but I knew that this last climb was the hardest.

30 miles in and I’d been on the go for 10 hours. The lovely volunteers at checkpoint 4, while filling my water bottles and handing out food, gleefully pointed out that the mountain that loomed behind me was Carnedd Dafydd and that’s what we had to climb next. It was a beast of a climb and looked like it just when straight up. (I found out 15 minutes later that it did)

We only had to do 6 miles to the next checkpoint, easy. Another runner and I got ourselves sorted out and we headed out together.

I equally hated and loved this climb, it did go almost straight up. We covered nearly 1600 ft in one mile. We had loose rocks to tackle and sections where the only way up was to pull yourselves up massive rocks. You’re constantly on the lookout for the tiny little orange flags that let you know you’re on the right path, all the while trying to keep as close to the mountainside so that you didn’t fall.

It reminded me of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol that Sam and Frodo have to climb to enter Mordor. (In hindsight, I was thinking a lot about Lord of the Rings in this race)

We had to double back a few times but it was definitely worth it, the views where stunning, it was a little nerve racking at points but we made it to what we thought was the top. What we didn’t realise about this climb was that it had three false summits.

At this point the weather started closing in, it was getting dark, foggy and cold. The other runner and I joined up with another group and between the six of us, we found our way to the final summit, looped around and started the descent down to checkpoint 5.

The sun had now set so the head torches came out, we had a few tricky sections to navigate but we were able to figure out which way to go.

We got into checkpoint 5, we’d done 40 miles in 14 hrs. But it was at this point we were informed that it was another 15 miles, not 10 to the finish line. Bearing this in mind, we all decided that the best way to get through the night was to stick together for the rest of the race. One of the guys had badly hurt his knee falling on some rocks (turned out later he’d also broken his foot) two others were doing the 100 mile race so we all made the decision to take it steady and get this bugger of a race finished.

Off we headed into the dark, I had the GPX file on my watch and a couple of guys had been on the recces so we managed to navigate to checkpoint 6 without any real issues, it was cold and dark, very wet underfoot but by this point, we were all determined to finish the race.

We got to checkpoint 7 feeling good, we were on the home straight, only 7(ish) miles to go. By this point, you know you’re going to make it back and all you want to do is finish, so we quickened the pace and set off into the woods. It was hard going in the dark, I was constantly tripping over rocks and tree roots, my feet were still wet through and they were starting to get very sore, basically, everything was hurting.

A few hours later and we headed back into Betws-Y-Coed to the finish line. Because we’d covered the last 25(ish) miles together we all crossed the line at the same time and was shocked to find out we’d finished in the top 100 and got a gold medal.

I finished in 63rd, my total running time was 19 hr 18 mins, the distance was around 56 miles, with 14337 ft of climbing. So much longer then I had planned at the start but in the end, I was incredibly happy to just finish.

200 runners started the race, of which 114 went on to finish. 15 people dropped down from the 100 to the 50 mile race. So there was a total of 129 finishers.

71 people didn’t finish, that’s the most I’ve ever seen.

This was without a shadow of a doubt the hardest race I’ve ever done and I’m incredibly pleased to have finished it.

Would I do it again next year, definitely!