My First Ultra – GB Ultras Mt Snowdon 50

My first Ultra – GB Ultras Mt Snowdon 50

“If you think you can, you’re probably right; if you think you can’t you’re probably right”

I completed my first ultra-marathon on Sunday (it started on Saturday though) and by all accounts I’ve read it up until now it was a really hard one.  A mountain ‘trail’ ultra around Snowdonia which was meant to be 50 miles but had a few more thrown in for free.  I don’t want this to be another ultra-bore who did some training, got tired and some blisters before finishing and you want to know my secret to finishing ‘the toughest 50 mile mountain ultra’ in the UK (not my word but the internet’s so it must be true).

Come closer…  yeah that’s right… the race is the training!  I mean I did some training but certainly not enough.  If the race is the training you get fitter as you go.  I’m not bragging but I didn’t realise how many people have done this before, come prepared and didn’t make it.

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September.

So I did some jogging but not much.  So what right do I have to even start?

And August.

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And no I’m not a secret cycling fiend:

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So what happened?

I threw my kit into my bag at the last minute and hoped I’d got everything.  We piled into the car at midday after being told I had to work my day’s leave I’d put in months earlier.  The kids were great and we arrived 5 hours later in Betws-Y-Coed.  I joined the registration queue which was a bit more epic than I’d imagined especially after I’d heard rumours of a ‘backup light source’ being mentioned which wasn’t on the kit list.  Kit check complete, number in hand, I headed to dinner at Olif which is the brilliant Welsh/Spanish tapas place.  Leek and cheese croquettes were a highlight.  As was the Snowdon beer.

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We arrived at the lovely cottage 1.5 miles outside of Betws.  Maes Madog cottages, highly recommended.  http://www.snowdoniacottages.net/ Warm and snug.  Great welcome pack of Bara Brith, welsh cakes and prosecco!  I started to get nervous had a few beers to relax as I packed.  My wife wasn’t happy when I told her it was a 0530 departure.  I slept restlessly and then woke up 15 min before the time my alarm was set for, annoying.

I drove to the hall for the brief, then we all went to the start for the brief because the hall was too warm and comfortable or something like that.  A quick race brief which mentioned something about not marking your map as someone will hold your hand the whole way and it’s only the mountains and they’re really safe (seriously, very pleased the chap who had a tumble is well).  I smugly used the porta-loos and cleansed myself of last night’s beer; smugly as I was wearing my headtorch already, it’s a lesson you only learn once.

The 100 mile runners set off – little did I realise how mental that sounds now.  We lined up.  I placed mid pack as despite my overweight and undertrained state I was confident I could punch out 5:00 min/km (8:00 min/Mi) until CP1.  Off we went and immediately queued to get out of the playing fields, then through the Slate Trail in the woods we queued over stiles.  It was nice to catch my breath to be honest.  The section to the Ugly house and past the Swallow Falls flew by (crap pun intended).  I guess about 30-35 min for 5km.  It seemed a shorter than that at the time and a hell of a lot further 20hrs later!

I arrived in CP1 at around 13Km watch distance at about 0730 from memory averaging 7:00 min/km – stiles.  Although I wanted to start scoffing all the food, I only refilled the 500ml water bottle I carried in the front of my Salomon vest to not be weighed down and set off towards Tryfan.  I knew the route went ‘under’ little Tryfan so I was surprised when we got to follow tapes behind and up: Same, same but different.  I’d never done all of Heather Terrace but remember from my days of using my knees as a fat climber it wasn’t that hard.  Memory is a funny thing or is that age?  15 years ago with a pack full of mountain kit I’d have been up to the start of the route in a flash.  Now we were going up a steep gully which was the actual route I’d never actually used!  To be clear I wouldn’t call it scrambling, it’s just a steep mountain path.

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How far away is that mountain?!

I was now well behind schedule and I had a date. 24km in 4 hrs was the plan to meet the train at the top of Snowdon for a family reunion.  I thought I’d make ground up on the descent to the road but no, this was not very runnable either and then became a bog.  CP2 was fun and I smashed some bourbons into my grid.  I also filled my bladder as I knew there was no aid station at the Snowdon CP.  I set off jogging a bit but mainly walking past 24km in 3hrs 50min right on time but the Pyg track was nowhere in sight.  As I went past Pen-Y-Pass we met the hordes of people in jeans and I remembered why I hate Snowdon.  I’d never done the Pyg track and it surprised me.  It was really hard, very busy and not much fun.  Someone asked me what I was doing it for.  When I turned around there was no one there.  She’d over taken me on the other side.  ‘Yes’ I replied.  She repeated the question thinking I’d misunderstood.  I said I wasn’t sure but I muttered something about how it was meant to be fun.  She was training to climb Kilimanjaro for some ‘reason’.  I was out of breath but reached the top before lunch and was glad they’d chopped Lilwedd from the route or I may have still been out there looking for a ‘reason’.  I’d had a good day out completed 20 miles and so it was probably time to quit.  My descent was slow and a real area for improvement.  I jarred my knee (I think) at some point on this part although it may have been the 50 miles that did it in.  I hated the big stone steps.  Looking at where I was and the time taken I knew this would be a long day for most and a lot of DNFs.

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Thinking I can. Happy at CP4.

When I hit the lakes I found a new lease of life.  It started raining, I felt that the game was afoot and started to run.  Getting a couple of 6 min km under your belt does wonders for morale and by the time I was approaching CP4 all was forgotten.  CP4 looked like CP2 but more upbeat.  I was probably a 7/10 before arriving but left as an 8.5/10.  I had a quick coffee (the rain had chilled my hands) in my crap ultra-cup which surprisingly wasn’t as pathetic as it looked.  I ate more bourbons and some cheese, tried to make a ‘shoe friend’ who I kept seeing and referred to him as such when I knew he might be near me so I could judge my pace (I don’t think he liked me).  I will do a blog on the INOV8 Terra Ultras as the World Exclusive Ultra review shortly.  I also mentally judged someone changing their socks before we went back through the swamp onto the Glyders.  I wanted to change mine but knew it was futile.

I set of and immediately hated life again as we went uphill (correlation?).  I tagged onto a group up to the ridge before trying to pick our way through the boulders. It was clear but raining.  I chatted with Derek and Trev(?) about their Dragon’s Back experiences before they left me descending the Devil’s Kitchen.  Another hard descent my knee was starting to throb.  I also had the ‘Baby Shark’ song stuck in my head so made up a new verse ‘Ultra Shark… do, do, doodoo, di do’ – the accompanying action uses the poles for the mouth.

I tried to send texts to my wife and she said she’d meet me at a check point – she said CP6 I replied between Llyn Ogwen and Pen Yr Ole Wen as I knew the CPs on the website hadn’t been updated and didn’t have signal to explain setting in motion 2 very different evenings.

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I kept stuffing my face throughout and definitely felt some low points when I needed to eat more.  I also did a lot of thinking!

I arrived at CP 5(or was it 6), changed my socks and had a good feed.  I felt okay except a dull ache and was pretty positive.  I knew I needed to leave before 1730 to get up and start the next horseshoe in the light.  I’ve not climbed Pen Yr Ole Wen before and if I had I’d remember; it’s rubbish.  Not really scrambling just crappy loose scree.  Anyway, I got up but my knee was slowing me down on ascent and descents (not useful) but this was the last of the hills.  The light faded and we saw the Carneddeau horseshoe open up which we’d all underestimated (common theme). Anyway, headtorches on the flags were great, tying in loosely with the GPX.  I took a few bearings without the map to check we were not being duped by some anti-American satellite jammers intent on hacking a Welsh ultra.  We got to CP 6 at about 2130 after a descent where every step was agony and I didn’t want to cause myself damage.  The flat 500m walk into the CP was nice and I didn’t feel bad.  I announced I was retiring and the lovely ladies said “no, you’re not” and that was that, I was told.  I enquired how far “15 miles to the end and to the next CP” was the response, the chap next to me (shoe friend I think but it was dark) was incredulous protesting that his GPS said he’d done over 40 already so I patiently explained how the GPX was never perfect and never will be and how 2 people will have different distances travelled so you must use the distance to go feature. Trust me when you go over 26.2 miles on your watch in 2:59:59 and you’re still 300m from the end you can thank me!  I had 2 coffees with sugar more bourbons, some pizza and then set off.

The track was flat and I was actually doing sub 10 min/km with Lucy and her friend.  At Capel Curig the lovely flat track stopped but we only had to do that LITTLE LOOP bit I hadn’t really looked at and had underestimated.  My pace slowed to over 20 min/km (1:30 per 5Km) and I winced in agony as my knee jarred on the uneven Snowdonian moorland cum trail.  Everyone overtook me.  I was alone.  It was dark.  I was on my 3rd ‘low battery’ alarm from my watch.  My torch had 2 AAA energizer batteries (one of which was salvaged from a kid’s toy when the brand new cheapo alkaline ones didn’t work) propping up the 3rd cheapo wannabe battery.  I was praying for it not to die (it held out for over 7hrs of epic work)!  I was meant to be back by now.  I could call it a time on feet event.  I didn’t need a medal.  I can do cold and pain.  Earlier, Lucy (I think) had joked ‘things we do for Kudos and a medal’ I replied that ‘I didn’t care’.

I reached CP7 and announced emphatically that I was retiring.  The guys said ‘it’s 7 miles, you’ve got 6 hours’.  I muttered about not wanting to fall asleep driving and needing to get home to my family.  I tried to retire again but ended up setting off up the hill and before long was at the Ugly house, again.  I’m really not very convincing at the retiring bit.  I took a couple of wrong turns following phantom tape from the morning’s run out.  Thank you to the chap (Si?) with the ace headtorch who helped me near the end, not sure why he stayed with me because I didn’t ask and I didn’t feel in a bad way (except my knee) but much appreciated.  The trail to Betws was so long. It seemed to go on for ever.  We arrived in town I thanked him and told him to go on as I’d take my coat off for the run in and text my wife.

What happened next was on top.  20 odd hours and a barrage of texts explaining where she’d been, I watched as the cold and signal chewed my battery in seconds to below 30%.  They’d spent 6 hours at a check point thinking I was lost up a hill, hoping every head torch was me (if you saw 2 little kids at CP 5 or was it 6 late at night, that was them).  Thinking they were at home by now, I texted them as I entered the playing field to come and get me I’m finishing.  They said we’ll see you at the finish.  I put my phone away, dropped my poles onto my wrists and proudly marched across the field.  My heart welled up and my eyes started to stream – it was really dusty in Betws.  Then I saw them and the kids ran across the line with me.  I hugged and shook hands with people.  I wasn’t too sure what was going on, I was ready to go home.  Then Wayne (RD) got me y GOLD medal for 89th place and a t-shirt- I’d forgotten about the trinkets, it had been a long day.  Number of photos taken = 0.  No time.

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Terra Ultras and BD Poles.  Thanks for the support!

Sleeping or attempting to was painful and the drive home included freezing aircon and enough coffee to keep a sloth awake.  People obviously congratulated me on social medya and I thank them but I did feel a bit like ‘oh yeah that’s Olly he always does weird stuff’ and so although I was proud I didn’t feel that it was a big deal (and it’s not) but I think it’s quite impressive now against the backdrop of others experiences. When I read people’s blogs it started to dawn on me what I’d achieved.  There were real ultra-people who’d done this before who couldn’t finish, there were finishers saying it was the hardest they’d ever done.  There were nay-sayers complaining about it not having a handrail and a moving conveyer belt under their feet.  Also why wasn’t there WiFi in the mountains?  Ignore them.

I would not be here now if it wasn’t for the various checkpoints turning me around and spitting me out happy and determined.  I wouldn’t be here now if I had of met my wife at a check point, I’d have got in that car and gone home after a great day in the hills.  I didn’t need my kids to worry their daddy was lost (after I said arrogantly ‘but you knew I wouldn’t be lost’).  So thank you for all of those memories.  I hope everyone I met finished and wasn’t too bored (I realised that so much caffeine meant my jabbering had reached new heights even for me)!  I’m number 256 and I’m going back out.  Thanks.

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“If you’re going through hell keep going”

“Never quit at a checkpoint”

“Beware the chair”

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