Reach for the Sky – Snowdon Skyline – The Interview

UK Skyrunning has seen some changes this year, new races in IrelandWales and new routes in the Lake District …. if anyone was getting tired of the UK Series, they can’t complain, as their options this year really are wide open!

Ahead of the inaugural Snowdon Skyline, I caught up with RD Michael Jones for a look into what awaits runners this September.

Hey Mike, before we get to your NEW races, how did Ultra-Trail Snowdonia go?

This year was awesome! Event feedback from all participants was outstanding and I couldn’t have asked for a better Event Team. We put  what was learned from last years inaugural event into practice this year to make the whole event run pretty much without fault! Next year the event moves back a month to mid June and sees the addition of a 50km race distance on the Sunday too, which should open the event to more potential participants.John Shedwick (12)Image Credit John Shedwick

So, two new races, let’s keep things short to start with and talk VK. How would you describe the VK and the course? As the first Welsh VK & Britain’s 2nd, how does it differ from Mamores?

I think the Snowdon VK is a cracking route for those who get more of a kick out of redlining it at lactate threshold and above for less than an hour! The first half is a fairly gradual, runnable gradient, then it kicks up once you’re on Snowdon South Ridge and gets more technical. Overall it’s slightly longer than the Mamores VK at 6km, thanks to a more gentle and less undulating gradient. I’ve raced Mamores myself and it’s flat and downhill to start with then gets incredibly steep in places! The terrain underfoot in the Snowdon VK is on predominantly hardpack, rocky trails too, so no mud! The Snowdon VK will also be a mass-start event, as oppose to the time-trial format of the Mamores VK.

Congratulations on becoming part of the UK’s SkyRunning race directing team and being part of the UK tour for 2019. As someone who has battled for the overall title in previous years, how does it feel to now be organising and hosting your own event? How have you used your experience as a Skyrunner to design the course?

It’s a great privilege to represent Skyrunning and bring the UK series back to Wales again! As a relatively new Race Director I organise my events out of passion. They’re events that I myself as a runner wish were on the UK calendar, so am afforded the luxury of creating them from a blank canvas. Northern Snowdonia provides the perfect terrain to host a truly spectacular SkyRace! 

The goal while designing the route was simple: to link up the area’s classic easy scrambles and challenging descents as possible in a sub-marathon distance event, while favouring rocky, Alpine-esque trails wherever possible. There’s very little soft ground on the whole route! I also wanted to offer a well supported race, so there will be three well-stocked aid stations throughout the route. Snowdonia has a rich history of climbing and scrambling and this event blends this heritage with modern mountain running to conceive an event that this area has been crying out for for a long time, a sentiment shared by many I’ve talked to, both local and further afield.Tom Bailey (29)Image Credit Tom Bailey

How would you describe the SkyRace route? Are there any sections that racers can expect to put their minds to the test?

The Skyline race route stacks up at 36km with 3160m+ cumulative ascent. Following a figure of eight route starting in Nant Gwynant, the route takes in Y Lliwedd, Y Gribin, Tryfan North Ridge and Crib Goch before summiting Snowdon itself, where the last checkpoint is. One last lengthy descent comes in the form of Snowdon South Ridge (a personal favourite), before arriving back at the finish. While the route does feature Grade 1 scrambles, these are very manageable if you take your time with them, though Crib Goch may prove tricky on tired legs! It’s a route that will expose every runners weakness and will be an interesting race to follow for sure.Snowdon-Skyline_Map_Lo-Res_2019

I‘ve reccied the full route several times now and may be biased but as someone who has ran and raced many SkyRaces, I can honestly say it’s the best route in the UK if you like things technical and what most would consider ‘pure’ Skyrunning: steep climbs and scrambles, technical descents, epic views and a smattering of exposed ridges to boot! It’ll test every aspect of a mountain runners ability over its 36km and suitably reward them too! Comparing the route to others, it hits what I feel is the SkyRace sweet spot: Somewhere between the the Ring of Steall and the Glencoe Skyline in terms of severity and technicality. I hope the event becomes a European classic in due course and a must-do for runners who love their race routes highly engaging and both physically and mentally challenging!

What else can runners people expect over race weekend?

As well as the VK race, on Saturday evening there’ll be a Q&A session at race HQ with some of the country’s top trail runners including Salomon athletes Beth Pascal and Oli Thorogood. Then grab a drink and join us for film night! As per UTS, there’ll be free fresh coffee and tea on tap for all to enjoy! Nant Gwynant is my favourite area of Snowdonia, so why not make a weekend of it spend some time at the local trails, cafes and pubs even if you’re not racing.

For anyone thinking of registering or already in training for either race, do you have any training tips to prepare for the course?

Good question! The main thing that defines this race compared to others is the terrain underfoot. You need to be comfortable hopping along over rocky outcrops and along narrow singletrack descents then almost immediately embracing the vert on scrambling sections and using your hands to propel yourself skyward! The route lends itself well to being reccied over two days if you stay at the Pen y Pass Youth Hostel so book a bed there and come over and get those quads and that brain conditioned!…


To find out more details about Snowdon Skyline click HERE