A bit of a hilly run

Posted: September 11, 2015 in Running
Tags: , , ,
Rat 1

A very cool place to start a run

Starting a run in a castle is pretty spectacular, running over a mountain is something special, combine the two and you have a very memorable day out. The castle was Carmarthen Castle and the mountain: Snowdon. The event was the Rat Race Man vs Mountain, a 22 mile run from Carmarthen to Llanberis via the summit of Snowdon, with a few evil obstacles thrown in for fun.

We all gathered in the castle grounds, three waves of runners had left ahead of us so we all knew what to expect. The briefing was given, the countdown music was played and we were off; all the way to the other end of the castle where a queue formed to get through the small doorway. A few used the opportunity to visit a handily placed loo, the rest of us just shuffled through the castle gate ready to be released into the sunlight and the start of the race proper.

Rat 2

Faires on the start line

The route lead us through the Carmarthen streets and out into the hills, although the first section looked flat in the profile on the website, it was anything but. It steadily rose up, not too steep but always upwards. I was surprised to come across a few people walking up some of the slopes. If they were walking now what would they be doing later on when it gets really steep?

I like to run on my own, at my own pace. The thought of trying to adjust my pace to stay with someone else fills me with dread. Others have completely the opposite view and like to run together so that they have support and encouragement. Normally this doesn’t matter a jot. Today however it was starting to bug me that people were running in groups of two and three’s chatting happily together oblivious to the fact that they were blocking the path. Behind them were frustrated runners trying to find a way past. There seemed to be two techniques to pass: the polite “wait for a wider bit and speed up a bit” or the slightly less polite “barge through”. I adopted the first or followed others who adopted the second. The odd thing was that the people blocking the way seemed to be oblivious to the fact that they were causing this and some uttered barely audible curses aimed at those passing by.

We continued our journey upwards and slowly the scenery unfolded around us. Snowdonia is pretty spectacular when you can see it (I’ve spent far too much time on the top of Welsh mountains in thick fog to know that the views are often hard won) and having the scenery slowly present its self on a clear day is just wonderful. It was getting warm, the lake in the valley to the left looked very enticing and my head filled momentarily with thoughts of swimming, it was a shame it was so far away.

The path was getting steeper, more and more were walking. I managed to maintain a slow jog but it was a struggle. Up ahead I could see a saddle and the path was highlighted by a long line of day-glo runners. Eventually the incline got the better of me and the slow jog deteriorated to a fast walk, no one around me was running at this point, there was no shame in walking.

We had a shock waiting at the saddle, we had to run downhill. This was a relief and also a disappointment. After struggling to gain the height it was cruelly whipped away from under our feet. The aid station with its chocolate bars and water seemed little recompense. We had been told that the mountain section started just after the aid station.

Another mile and Snowdon reared up in front of us. A marshal gleefully pointed out that it was “just up there”. It looked a long way and very, very steep. The valley reverberated with strange noises, grunting and heaving noises, loud mechanical noises. Way up to the left the source of the sound revealed its self as the Snowden railway train pushing tourists to the top. Right now that seemed to be a much more sensible way to travel.

Rat 3

A long line of humanity wending its way to the summit

The path to the top is steep, far too steep for me to run. Ahead I could see a long line of people slowly snaking their way up to the summit. No one was running up there. The key question was when to stop running and the proper way to perform the transition. It seemed that the accepted etiquette was to expel a lungful of air, stop dead in your tracks and let out a curse or two. It would have been rude not to comply with local customs.

It was almost a relief to start walking; just using the leg muscles in a different way was a rest for the movements of running. I could see the summit from here and it really didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Every now and again groups of people sat down at the edge of the path for a breather and a bite to eat. I’d decided that I’d stop at the top for photographs and a rest so there was no point stopping on the way. Eating can be done on the hoof. This may have been influenced by my “don’t be slow” time trail attitude that was still lingering from a few weeks ago. I did feel a pang of guilt when I passed some proper walkers who had presumably come to the mountains for the fresh air and feeling of space and freedom. It can’t have been nice to be passed by a line of 1200 sweaty runners, not exactly getting away from it all.

Eventually the summit got closer. Crossing the railway line confirmed it. It did cross my mind that there was an opportunity for a bizarre mountain railway and runner incident at this point but it was only a fleeting thought.

The summit was crowded, everyone wanted to stand on it, I was no exception.

Rat 4

The summit of Snowdon

I’d been dreading the descent, most people that I’d talked to had the ascent on their mind but the thought of running down the steep slopes scared me. It would have been easy to fly down and slip. I long ago realised I have lost the immortality of youth and these things pray on my mind. I went down the knee jarring slopes carefully, picking my way over the stones and rocks. Others were far bolder than me and attacked the slopes with gusto. The “paved” sections were the worse. They were made up of large uneven stones waiting to bite the unwary. Even though I was clocking off the miles at a reasonable rate it was intense and tiring. The relief at getting to the bottom was palpable. The aid station provided many chocolate calories and provided an excuse to stop moving for a moment before continuing across the valley floor to the evil twist in the tail: the vertical kilometre.

I was under no illusions, I would not be running up the slate mine, I would be walking. I was nearly spent. Someone came running past but the path reared up and brought them to a shuddering stop. I’m sure someone could run up here, but I have no idea how they would. It was just long a steep with small moments of respite where the keen would run and the rest of us would just jog. It just went on and on showing no signs of stopping right up to the top. It was just hard work, a sting in the tail was too mild a phrase to describe the sheer evil of this section.

In my mind this was near the end, from the description it seemed that there was only a short run to the obstacle section. I was wrong, it was a long way with lots of painful downhill, mentally I had shut down at the top and it was a painful process to get my head back in the game. It was so good to reach the first challenge, the abseil, as it was a chance for a rest and regroup.

The second challenge was a jump into water. I don’t jump into water from height; a long time ago I scared myself jumping from a high board. The drop was fine but the deep plunge into the water and the feeling of never reaching the surface has stayed with me. Standing high above the water clad in a buoyancy vest brought all these memories flooding back, this was staring fear in the face. It was not a good moment.

So close to the end now, I could hear the end, The PA announcing people finishing, I was spent. The next few water challenges were just a blur in my exhaustion. The eight foot walls were almost unsurmountable without a helping hand. Just one left, a slippery slope and then sweet relief, the finish line.

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