But let’s start at the beginning. I decided more or less on a whim to drive up to North Wales for a few days to do some running in Snowdonia. A change of scenery and some nice tough terrain to get lost in. So I packed up my camping and running gear and loaded up the Trailmobile. When you need both sets of gear it’s amazing how much you need for a few days – And I still managed to forget stuff!
So I set off early monday morning, the odd thing about Wales is that although it’s a small counry it takes ages to get from the south to the north. You’re pretty much on A roads for the entire distance and most of those are windy and when you get stuck behind trucks or tractors or tourists gawping at the views it takes ages – 5 hours to get up there! However the views through the Brecon Beacons, Mid Wales and then Snowdonia keep it interesting.
So I arrived at the campsite just outside LLanberis which was perfect, just rough grazing land around a farm and pitched the tent.
So I figured I needed to stretch the legs a bit and got changed into my running gear – couldn’t find my flipbelt which I wanted for my phone and camera as I wasn’t intending going far. So instead I chucked on my hydration pack and threw a jacket in with some of my energy biscuits. Just a run around to find the start of the route up Snowdon which should apparently be joinable from near the campsite …. which I couldn’t find so I trotted into Llanberis itself – walkers everywhere! No chance of feeling a bit odd running around in gear with a pack here. Everyone or every shape and size was kitted out for hiking.
After a mile or so I found the Llanberis railway which actually goes up to the Snowdon summit and right next to it a street leads straight to the start of the Llanberis route up which I knew was the longer ascent favoured by walkers. I hadn’t planned on using this route originally as I didn’t want to run while having to deal with multitudes of hikers. At this point it was well gone four o clock so I decided I’d run a small part of it to see what it was like and to see if I could get a good view of the path up to the summit to get an idea of what to expect as I’d now decided to get up early the next morning and go for it before the masses were out of bed.
And this is where things went wrong – or right. The start of the mountain path is actally tarmac and it is steep – I mean really steep. I figured it didn’t really matter as I wasn’t going far so I blew my legs up a bit just getting up this part, the road leads to the actual path a bit further up and I noticed that everyone was coming down not going up. I still couldn’t see much of the path up so kept going, determined to get a view of the path and summit.
And kept going … and going. The legs felt great and I wasn’t really labouring at all, there weren’t too many people and they were all going downhill so I didn’t have to wait behind anyone, they could see me coming and the vast majority were kind enough to step aside. It was one of those days – probably as I’d been sat in the car all day that I felt good and at that point I decided I’d give a full run up Snowdon a go right there and then. I think I’ve been running long enough now to know my body and how it’s feeling – You lot know what I mean – some days it’s all a bit of an effort and struggle but today it all felt good and clicking.
The path in most places is a mixture of dirt, rock and gravel. Ok to walk on I guess but for running it meant I couldn’t run with a consistent stride pattern or even out my effort, I was continually having to change stride lengths to make sure of my footing. Plus there were many bigger steps which required effort to leap up.
The views though were stunning – I didn’t take many photos on the way up as I soon discovered that when I did it took considerable effort to get back into the flow.
The gradient wasn’t too severe here but it just seemed to go on forever. I’m not used to long long ascents and was basically pacing it as best I could. My calfs were hurting and I was aware that I was no longer nose breathing (forgive me!).
And on and on.
I was a little concerned by the time and the fact that everyone was going down. I hadn’t passed anyone going up. Nahhhh keep going and see how it pans out.
Did I mention it just went on and on and on? And on … And then a little train chugged past me with a cheery toot of its whistle, people sat comfortably inside waving cheerfully at the idiot running up the mountain. I did actually wave back in the spirit of the thing and tried to look graceful and in control but dear reader I shall admit I called the people on the train all sorts of bad things under my breath. I cannot repeat the exact words here as my folks will read it but many of the words may have started with F C and W.
I passed a building at one point – I now know this is called the halfway point – It’s actually lucky that I didn’t know this at the time as it probably would have crushed me. It felt like I’d been climbing forever now and everything was hurting and it was around here I stubbed my possibly broken toe yet again (why is it every run I’ve been on since I damaged it I’ve stubbed it) which was possibly a signal to turn back. Nahhhh run it off! Idiocy had now overtaken sense it seems.
Around this point I was passing very few coming down and just before this section a walker stopped me to tell me helpfully that it was still an hour to the summit. My reply was in the range of arghghagahghh spit really? What about running? Hmmm maybe 45 minutes then he replied. Yeah thanks for the confidence booster – I must be running close to walking pace if I can only shave 15 minutes off.
Just after you go under the tracks for the second time you swing onto the shoulder of the final climb up which is too steep to run (unless you’re actually a good runner I guess) which was the only section I had to powerhike up. But the views from here were spectacular.
And then I hit cloud – literally at one point I was running in sunshine then hit the cloud level and couldn’t see more than 10 yards or so – the wind picked up and I instantly went from overheating to freezing. I was bathed in sweat from the climb and if I hadn’t at the last second thrown my jacket into the pack I would probably have to have called it off there.
I now had no clue about how far it was to the summit or what was around me but the paths gradient had lessened and I could run again so I simply followed the path past sheep who were clearly adept at looming out of the cloud at passers-by – Probably the only fun they get up there. To be honest as I thought at the time sheep are the most spectaculary stupid creatures – there are loads of places to graze in the sun lower down yet they end up here in perpetual freezing fog – Idiots (Said he then pondering that they do it because they’re sheep they don’t choose to run up here for fun)
This is probably the time to also explain that I don’t like heights – or rather I suffer from vertigo or more accurately acrophobia – I had it while climbing the last section of Pen Y Fan and I had it on Snowdon. It’s a very peculiar feeling, when I get anywhere close to the edge of a cliff or even a fair distance I suffer terrible fear of falling even though I know I’m safe enough. The ground feels like it’s moving underneath me and I feeling like I’m swaying. Looking back from ground level it’s almost impossible to explain why it happens and I can only sort of reimagine the feeling but as I approached the summit in the fog it came back with a vengence. Rationality tells me that hundreds of people walk the path everyday so the chance of me falling is pretty much zero but that was out of the window. I think it’s probably lucky that I was in fog as I couldnt see the drops!
Strangely enough running helps with it – As I found on Pen Y Fan the running is fine – I’m in control then but when it turned to the actual climb at the end I was petrified and had to force myself not to turn around – It was the same here, I almost decided to say enough was enough and I had already proved I could run the mountain but deep down I knew I wanted to reach the actual summit. It was literally just eyes to the path and keep going. It actually made me forget how much pain the rest of me was in as it was overriding everything.
And then steps – out of nowhere steps! This was it the summit – I climbed the steps – using my hands – thats how unsteady I was – and was finally on the summit – Completely alone – There is a small set of steps to a raised plinth at the top which after a few minutes I climbed up slowly – I had run up Snowdon!
To many of you this may sound like a small achievement in running terms but to me it was huge. I’d doubted my ability to do it and then forced myself to continue so many times on the way up both through exhaustion and then fear so I’m very proud of the feat.
The view from the top – Unspectacular!
It was windy and cold and after a few minutes to gather my thoughts it was time to descend. Oddly the vertigo doesn’t seem to affect me so much going down. I took it easy through the cloud just jogging down and then sunlight!
The run down was fun – I mean serious trailrunning fun. The path which was a pain on the way up became a technical playground on the way down. It was incredible to be able to leap from rock to rock, picking lines at speed. I’m grateful for the countless hours running the technical sections of rocks on the beach. It still amazes me how the body and mind work together when descending, the mind just keeps picking the lines and foot placement spots and the body follows. When the mind says “Woah ok now I can’t process this quick enough” you automatically take the foot off the gas and slow down until its all back under control.
I did stop a number of times for photos on the way down. I’m not used to such long descents either but after the climb up there the run down was effortless and exhilarating.
Google photos kindly autocreated some panoramas for me
I finally reached Llanberis without much of a clue about time as I hadn’t bothered checking my watch much as the data was meaningless without context. In fact I wouldn’t know the stats until I plugged it into my PC.
As it turned out the actual ascent (Ignoring the mile or so I’d run to the base of the mountain) took me 1 hour and 23 minutes! Far faster than I thought so I’m incredibly pleased with that. Apparently its regarded as a 3 hour walk minimum.
Apologies for the wordy post – This one is also for me to look back on – It will always give me confidence that I can achieve if I believe in myself and tough it out when the hurt starts.
Will post about day 2 later!