It’s time for a first. When I tentatively took the decision to leave MyOutdoors and set up my own site a few years ago, I wasn’t sure what to do and over time, this site has become a home for reviews, interviews, musings and all manner of endurance related content. One thing I never expected was people asking to contribute, but times have changed and I am stoked that Yanar Alkayat reached out last year after we got chatting on Instagram. So, I will stop talking & leave you with lessons learned on the trail, cheers Yanar!
14 things you need to know about Snowdonia Trail Marathon
Words: Yanar Alkayat
‘If it scares you it might be something to try’ goes the quote by author and modern day thinker, Seth Godin. At around three months into my training for Always Aim Higher Snowdonia Trail Marathon, I was definitely feeling the fear.
I’ve run several road and trail marathons but this would be my first mountain event so the thought of climbing a total ascent of 1666m/5466ft across the course’s 27 miles, felt at times, overwhelming. But after six months of diligent training I ran on the day with an open mind and ended up coming in the top half for females (which is a huge achievement for me as I’m usually rank near the bottom!).
Whether you’re a regular on mountain trails or this is your first ever event up high, here’s what I think you should know about prepping for and racing this fantastic event.
- Be strategic with your training
If, like me, you live in an area like east London that’s flat as a pancake then be strategic with your training. I focused on three key elements in my six-month training block: I ticked off big number road miles the first three months, I then booked several weekends to Wales to get onto real hills, not speed bumps, in the following few months, and added run and hill-specific strength and conditioning to build leg and core strength and stability. These included: deadlifts, front squats, backs squats, heavy hip raises, single leg RDLs and core work, two to three times a week. This totally paid off on race day as my limited time on hills didn’t matter in the end as my muscle endurance took over and I powered up the inclines.
- You can run hard for the first section
Snowdon trail marathon is essentially a two-part race. The first part is an 18-mile flow of constantly-changing undulating terrain that’s fairly speedy to run on (and enjoy!). Once you get over the first small climb (three to four miles in) the winding route then takes you through dramatic countryside, knotted woodlands, rocky roads, gravel paths, a slate quarry, picturesque villages and much more. This section’s maximum elevation is 200m/800ft so you can afford to push hard and cover as much distance and pace as you can before the real hard work begins.
- Get ready to climb at mile 18
There’s a timecap to reach mile 18 but it’s a generous one so it shouldn’t be too stressful; I arrived with more than an hour to spare. Once you’re through, the five-mile ascent up the Pyg path to Snowdon’s summit (at mile 23) begins. It’s a long slog to the top and one word for this part of the race comes to mind: patience. As with all climbs, find a steady pace and stick to it and use your breath as a metronome and pacemaker.
- Take poles if you use them
For some runners, the poles came out around mile 18 and I overheard many people mention how useful they were. For others, like me, it was long, purposeful strides instead. In the last mile the slabs of rock get steeper and steeper and eventually everyone is on all fours climbing up to the top anyway.
- Look down, don’t look up
Once the five-mile climb had began I was mentally locked in for the long haul but there was one thing that kept distracting me and that’s seeing the miles of Pyg path meandering up the mountainside ahead. This was turning my focus into fear as I could see how long and enormous the task ahead was so I decided immediately I would no longer look up (apart from snatching a few glimpses of the views) but keep my gaze fixed firmly a few feet in front only. This kept my mind focussed on steps and breaths rather than worrying about what was coming up ahead. This might be a mental trick you find useful too.
- Don’t underestimate the descent
I’d been warned about the difficulty of descents but had no idea my legs would fail me like they did. On paper, the descent (starting just after mile 23) doesn’t look steep and even once I’d got there, it looked fairly flat ahead but after hours of intense uphill climbing my knees thought differently. They buckled and I could not longer run. Not one bit. So I hobbled as fast I could for a mile or so before my knees miraculously came back to life and I flew home to the 27-mile finish line. So be prepared for the unexpected.
- Don’t overestimate the summit
I’d spent weeks in the run up to the event day dreaming about the moment I’d finally reach the summit, imagining the euphoria and pride. In reality it was more of a hazy, bleary-eyed stumble over the last knee-high slab of rock and then a half glance behind my shoulder to catch something of the view behind the mist. If you’re after scenic views (and there are plenty throughout) then catch them on your way up, before you get to the top.
- Beware of bottlenecks
The event organisers warned us of a little congestion at field stiles so if this is the case in the year you run, then be prepared to lose some time. This goes back to which farmers will allow certain access over which fields so it’s just one of those things that’s frustrating but unavoidable. Good time to take in some food and chat to others.
- Leave negativity at home
The right self-talk is crucial to any race but even more so with the unpredictability of trails. I’d personally spent a lot of my training months riddled with self-doubt about my abilities to run this race but on race day I decided I didn’t want negative voices to ruin things, especially after I’d trained so hard. Running up mountains is hard enough without a voice telling you how badly you’re doing! As my coach, Luke Tyburski, would say, there’s nothing to gain from self-criticism so leave it at the start line.
- Find positive inner dialogue
On a similar note, as the miles rolled on I decided to replace my self-critical voice with an inner dialogue that was more supportive. I decided four specific qualities would help me the most: patience, focus, non-judgment and acceptance.
Patience – to respect the course and the time it will take
Focus – to keep mind and body on track
Non-judgment – to not get annoyed or angry about how I run
Acceptance – of external and internal experiences however hard they might be.
There’s no point grumbling about the terrain, weather, environment or how you’re feeling when you just need to get on with the job. Developing acceptance really helped to quiet the mind and gave me the mental space to focus. Adopting these attitudes made the whole experience entirely different and far more enjoyable. Give them a go!
- No-litter policy
It’s a welcome relief this event has a strictly no-litter policy and enforced with instant disqualification (if anyone’s bib number was reported). With gel wrappers and plastic water bottles all too commonly chucked away on road and trail races, we’re totally behind any move that helps to weed-out the litterbugs.
- You can’t predict the weather
It was set to be another hot weekend but with mountain weather being unpredictable our kit requirements still included a long sleeve top, full length trousers and foil blanket. I wore Montane Snap run vest which was spacious enough to carry everything I needed but in a super-compact and lightweight way.
- Arrive early to enjoy Llanberis
If you’re travelling from London, it’s a smooth and easy journey to the race village in Llanberis: a three-hour train from Euston to Bangor and then a 20-minute taxi ride. If you arrive on the Friday or Saturday morning, you can enjoy the town’s serene lake and scenic hills and unwind in the local cafes and shops, picking up any last minutes bits of kit you might need.
- Come prepared for special needs
If you have special dietary needs, come prepared with your food and drinks as the town only has a few small shops with basic food options. There was one lovely café – Mafon – with vegan and gluten-free options.
- It’s a sociable race
Whether you’re waiting to get over a fence or stopping to catch your breath at a drink’s station, there’s no denying this race has a lovely, sociable vibe. Many runners were in groups and pairs and several I spoke to were running for the second or third time, having enjoyed it so much before. And there’s nothing that gives you a boost more on race day than hearing how much other runners had enjoyed it the year before.
Good luck if you’re running this race and let us know how you get on!
Thank you Yanar.
Yanar is a Health and Fitness Digital Editor and has been running and racing for over a decade.
If you would like to find out more about Yanar, her physical challenges and training, below are the best places to reach out.
If you would like to find out more about the Snowdonia Trail Marathon – Click HERE
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