Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Monday, 31 October 2011

Ellie runs the Snowdonia marathon (in hurricaine-like conditions!)

On a very dismal day, Ellie and 2000 ish other runners lined up on the start line on the shores of Llyn Peris for the 29th annual Snowdonia Marathon. (Loving my lucky race number - is it to be my year? ... Read on to find out!)

To round of the half term week, I, Ellie Sutcliffe, headed off to North Wales to take part in the Snowdonia Marathon. This year was the 29th running of the event and over the years the race has built up a fearsome reputation for itself and is now dubbed as the toughest marathon in Europe. It gets this reputation not only from its hilly profile - you run 2400 feet of total ascent over the 26.2 miles - but also from the truly horrendous weather conditions that the race has come to expect over the years. In neither of these respects did this year's race fail to live up to its tough standards!

At 10.30am on Saturday 29th October, I and over 2000 other hardy and yet ever-so-slightly masochistic runners gathered on the start line on the shores of Llyn Peris (Lake) at the foot of the Llanberis Pass. Already soaked to the skin from the 10 minute walk in torrential rain from my friend's house in Llanberis where I was staying to the start line, my toes and fingers were numb and I had forgotten my gloves. Luckily I bumped into an old friend from when I lived in the area who was spectating and she lent me a pair!

Facing us was a nice gentle start to the race: just a 4 1/2 mile climb of around 900 feet to ease us in. Add to this that the gale force winds and driving rain that were totally against us and blowing down the pass to further hinder our progress and basically I was knackered at 4 miles in and my target for the race was beginning to change from competing to place top 5 to just completing the ruddy thing!

At the top of the pass my lungs were heaving but then came a lovely long descent of 7 miles to get my puff back and get into a good stride. The first off-road section came at mile 6 and was on a track of shingly slate - lethally slippery when wet! I had passed a couple of women on the climb but one of them came back at me on the descent and I found myself sitting in 2nd place at around 8 miles. This attracted me the attention of the S4C camera crews on their motorbikes who then rode just a meter in front of me for most of the race from this point on. Nothing like feeling rotten, looking like grim death, and wanting to wipe snot off your nose, all whilst having a camera permenantly thrust in your face to make you feel good!!

The road to Beddgelert, which sits at the halfway point, was winding but at least quite sheltered as down in the valley. Another couple of women passed me at this point but I didn't panic as I knew I would be strong on the last climb at the end if I just left something in the tank, so I let them go and sat in 4th place for the next 7 or so miles.

The climb out of Beddgelert is a long, slow drag that goes on for 4 miles. Despite the fact that we were going in the opposite direction to the pass we seemed to have attracted yet another headwind... just marvellous! I managed to pull back a female runner on this stretch and moved up to third. Though shortly after, another woman, being paced by a man from her running club, shot past me at an astouding pace. I'd no idea where she came from but obviously had found a second wind!

This next section of road that winds along the south side of Snowdon seemed to take forever. Normally there would be lovely views here as a distraction but today they were totally obscured by cloud! I plodded on, soaked to the bone and with my legs feeling heavy due to all the ran water my leggins had absorbed. I was actually looking forward to mile 21 and the turn up onto the mountain track just for a change of scenery and pace! I love hill climbing and as soon as we got onto this steep section I started to pick off loads of runners. Some male runners turned the corner, took one look at it and slowed to a walk straightaway without even giving it a bash... wimps!

About a mile up the hill another female runner came into sight ahead and I was gaining on her. My legs felt strong and I just kept bashing out small steps and I overtook her nearing the top of climb. I knew that another female runner, who has this year represented Britain at fell and ultra running, was somewhere behind me. Although I hadn't seen her the whole race I knew from previous years she has pulled herself up several places with her skills and experience on this last steep mountain section, so when it came to the downhill I knew I couldn't hang about. It was blowing a gale on the top of Moel Ellio - the mountain standing between Waunfawr and Llanberis, the finish, and I kept getting blown sideways into the puddles I was trying to avoid! I threw myself down the hill and put 3 minutes distance between the woman I'd overtaken at the top.

Leaving the rugged and treacherous mountain path to rejoin the tarmac with just over 1 mile left to go!

Turning into Llanberis High Street was a great moment. The crowds were out in their droves, despite the weather. I crossed the finish line in 50th place overall and 3rd female in a time of 3h13m50s. Us top 3 women were within 2 minutes of each other and the positions had changed throughout, making it an interesting race. My legs were shot to pieces, I was cold and knackered but thrilled. They had said that this year the competition was tougher than ever and so I had thought that 5th was the very most I could hope for, so 3rd hadn't really sunk in. Then when I went to the presentation ceremony I got announced as 2nd female. Very confused as clearly 2 women had crossed the line in front of me. Rumours abounded but upon further study it seems that the lady who finished 2nd was a V/40 and so got the prize for that instead, which moved me up to 2nd in the open. An old Bangor university friend of mine, Rob Samuel, won the race outright in an astounding time of 2h36m45m - thrilled for him!

No rest for the wicked though, a quick bath and some food and I was dropped at Bangor station for the 7 hour train ride back to Devon. There were times during this particular race when I questioned why I was putting myself through such torture, but you soon forget that after and I'll probably sign up for next year and try and better my performance... one thing's for sure, the conditions couldn't be any worse!

On Llanberis High Street and the finishline is in sight - thank goodness!

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