I have always wanted to take part in a fell race: on Sunday I got my first chance and on arriving in North Wales it was clear I was in for a baptism of fire! I had chosen the Welsh 1000m Peaks Race, also known as ‘The Snowdonia Summits Marathon’ – a course that takes in all 5 of the 1000m peaks in Wales finally finishing on top of Snowdon. At 21 miles it isn’t the longest race in the world but with self navigation, 2800m of elevation gain and extremely rough terrain I knew I wasn’t in for a PB.
Clare (also part of team inov-8 OCR) and I were travelling up on the morning of the race. This meant the alarm was set for 2 in the morning, leaving us just enough time to get to Llanberis, register and jump on the bus to the start.
As we arrived the weather was atrocious…the car park had turned into a river and the organisers were facing a tough decision as to whether to cancel the event because of electric storms in the mountains. We got ourselves registered and tried to find the toilets just as the power to the building cut out. We were in for an interesting day.
Thankfully the weather was clearing. By the time we stood on the start line the rain was stopping and the storms had passed. The wind was light and it was strangely warm and humid in the air. This meant jackets came off and the race was on.
I met some of Clare’s friends that were also taking part. I got chatting to Chris Burn who had participated the year before and managed an astounding 2nd place. We ended up running the first two thirds of the race together; his knowledge of the mountain and navigational skills were great, I definitely owe my eventual win to him. I had a proper map in my bag but had printed small map cards which, it became clear, were not in enough detail to use with any confidence. I always knew where we were but didn’t have the confidence to strike out alone until we got to the Pyg Track for the final ascent up Snowdon. I’m not sure of the etiquette of fell racing but if it were an orienteering race I would definitely feel bad for basically following for so much of the race…
Chris and I led from the first control and a third of the way in I forgot it was a race and simply enjoyed running through the mountains taking in the epicness of what I was doing. We would walk many of the hardest ascents, some of which included scrambling which was a novel (and slightly scary) first time experience for me.
After a small navigation error at the beginning and even with some low cloud to find our way through we were still in the top spots two thirds of the way in at Pen y Pass. It was clear I was feeling stronger than Chris so after he pointed me in the right direction I forged ahead. It was a good job I did, as little did we know we were being hunted down by Colin Donnelly, who was later described to me as a fell running legend and still seems to be going strong even in his late 50’s! Collin had won the race 12 times before and wasn’t going to give up the 13th easily. Luckily I had enough steam in me to power up Snowdon, only starting to slow nearing the very summit of Garnedd Ugain, the last peak before Snowdon and the finish. As I was descending after 300m I passed Collin going up; this was the first time since leaving Chris I thought my win could be in danger and was surprised to see someone else in second. Collin had done amazingly well to reel us in but had run out of time; there was just a small climb left to the summit of Snowdon and the finish.
Once finished I jumped up the steps to the actual summit before retreating to the cafe for a beer and to warm up. After everyone had finished it was still a 5 mile hike back down to Llanberis…thankfully the sun came out and we enjoyed the walk down, convincing ourselves it was good to stretch out our tired legs.
After some navigational errors and what she described as a lack of ability at running downhill, Clare came in 4th. Still a fantastic result but knowing her she will be disappointed and use this to push harder in training.
I really enjoyed this race and am proud to have made it home first. Unlike a lot of other races I take part in, this race has much history behind it and has been running as a fell race since the early 70’s. There are many fell races around and even though they are quite low-key they are extremely fun and challenging.
The experience should prove invaluable as I attempt a 73km challenge taking in 10 peaks in the Lake District at the end of the month…looks like I am getting an appetite for hills!