Race Report by Jez Brown
Saturday 6th June – The Welsh 1000m Peaks Race
Four Buckley runners entered this race, which in the words of the race organisers “starts at Abergwyngregyn, near the foreshore of Conwy Bay, and finishes on the summit of Snowdon and includes the ascent of the five 1000 metre peaks of Snowdonia. From the windswept wilderness of the Carneddau, over the rugged, rocky landscape of the Glyderau and finishing on the tourist paths of Yr Wyddfa steeped in its mining history, the long course covers a distance of about 32 km with 2500 metres of ascent.”
It is a grueling event, even in fine weather and is the supreme test of fitness, endurance and navigational skills amongst some of Britain’s finest mountain terrain. The long Fell Race is considered to be one of the most arduous events in the UK fell running calendar.”
Well, that sparked my interest, and it has been on my list of races to get strong and fit for, for a number of years now. So keen that my race number was number 1, having entered the first day the entries opened– definitely not an estimate of my position in this race which attracts runners from around the UK
Andy Pritchard and Steve Toogood started the race, all of us new to the race, and quite wary of what it entails. Unfortunately Simon Edwards, who had probably been the most ready for it after an excellent performance in the Excalibur marathon the week before had been medically advised that an injury he had would probably not be best served by running 21 miles over tough terrain.
Steve made the very sensible decision of staying over in luxury at the Heights Hotel, a 2 minute walk from the race headquarters, whilst Andy and I travelled in the early hours, meeting well before 6 a.m. for the drive to Llanberis. The arrangements for the race are generally excellent, with the organisers arranging buses from Llanberis to the race start in Abergwyngregyn, electronic dibbing, water and food stops at the roads, and marshals who were out for many hours with smiles and words of encouragement.
My main worry before the race had been if the weather would be kind – it’s a hard enough race, but in bad conditions, there are real dangers in getting lost, particularly on the Carneddau, which is fairly wild.
I am sure Simon Roberts will remember the conditions in 2009 when there were more non finishers than people who finished, in horrendous conditions.
The worst conditions, I thought would be the cloud coming down and we were so lucky that until the very section towards Y Wyddfa there were sunny and clear skies.
The bus stopped just off the A55 and we made our way down a country lane to the start, which was a field next to the beach. Surprisingly for such a challenging race there were over 170 starters, with a real air of adventure, excitement, and chatting about the many things that can go wrong on a longer race like this one; getting lost, taking the wrong lines, missing checkpoints, the cloud coming down too low, cramp, the steep climbs and descents, being too hot, too cold, and not taking on enough water and food. If I wasn’t worried before, now I am, and very keen to get going!
The route has got to be one of the most spectacular in North Wales – the first few miles felt like a friendly jog, taking it easy up the country lane which heads up to Aber Falls. This is where the climbing starts, with runners veering off on a rocky path which skirts past the left of the waterfall, following a stream up the valley. This is where the first decisions re the right line came in –I followed the leading group, thinking they probably knew best, but looking behind me as we went further up the stream, I could see most of the other runners already climbing up the hill, which was less steep than when we started to climb. There probably wasn’t too much in it though as we converged at the top of the first climb, which then followed a sheep path towards the first checkpoint.
Just after this, I was surprised to see a group of runners running back towards us – the leaders had gone too far right and missed the checkpoint (easily done), and were running back for the important dibbing and recording of passing each checkpoint. Just as well they had gone far ahead of me and that I was in a group of people who seemed to know where they were going – a good sign for the race ahead I thought.
From this point the wind picked up. I had heard people saying that 45 mph winds were forecast on the ridges, but I didn’t really think it would be that bad. However, one day after the warmest day of the year we were soon battling against an incredibly strong headwind. The coat, hat and gloves were on and stayed on for the rest of the race. With it being a point to point race, the wind was in our faces for a significant part of the race, which you got used to after a while, but did make it more challenging. And when there wasn’t wind, we were either climbing sharply descending sharply. Oh well, no one said it would be easy !
The ridge between Carnedd Llewellyn climbing up to Carnedd Dafydd was a great run with some rocky parts. It’s an area I have never ran before without there being cloud but today the visibility was spectacular with views in all directions for miles, when there was a chance to look.
At the summit of Dafydd, the runners turn back so this was an opportunity to see the lead runners again, who were all well on form, and flying back down the hill towards Ogwen.
I was getting a bit thirsty and hungry by this point, getting on for about 11 miles, and greatly looking forward to the promised bananas, flapjacks and drinks at the checkpoint in the Ogwen Valley. But before that there was a steep descent down to the road and the first worrying moment, slipping on the bottom rung of a stile and bashing my shin. Ouch! I thought for a while that it would be easy to stop at the checkpoint if the pain didn’t go, but gritted the teeth, and once realising that I could run on it, carried on. The next climb would certainly take my mind off it, as, after half a mile on the road next to Tryfan, we turned off, and began the steep climb up to the Cribyn ridge.
This is an area I have never ran or walked in so I was really looking forward to this – until the steps started, then later progressed into huge boulders which required scrambling skills, coming out just underneath the summit of Glyder Fawr. I could just see the few Helsby runners I had been chatting with on the road steadily going further and further away in the distance – a mixture of their strong climbing ability, and my lack of strength on the sharper gradients – no one caught me up though, and there were parts of the scramble where I wondered if I had gone off track, so getting to the top, and seeing the welcoming marshals at the top of Glyder Fawr was great.
Not being used to this climb toward Glyder, I did get slightly confused at this point, thinking there was another summit to climb, which I could see to the right. Realising that there wasn’t another, but that the next part was downhill towards the Pen Y pass hostel, which I could see far below was a great feeling – until I started the descent – zigzagging and tiptoeing round the rocks, and protecting my muscles as best as I could from the change in running style after that climb. It was a relief when the path flattened out and there was a boggy run in to the hostel.
Wow, only a short run now, up to the top of Snowdon. No cramp, not too tired, enjoying it greatly – It’s almost over!
This is where the flapjacks, sweets and drinks kicked in – probably, if I am honest also slightly showing off a bit to the hundreds of walkers going up the Pyg Track (despite the clearly marked warnings of there being 50 mph winds on the summit).
I had a second wind, and felt strong, running most of the way up, dodging the walkers, politely at first, not so politely a bit further up. I know we all share the same mountain, but come on, let me past please!
It was good to catch quite a few of the runners who had left me for dust on the climb up Cribyn. At the top of the Pyg track, the walkers turn left going up to the summit of Snowdon – as there is a another 1000 metre peak to get to the top of, the runners turn away from Snowdon for one more climb up to the summit of Garnedd Ugain and straight back down.
I had expected that this would be really tough, psychologically and physically, but being so near to the end, it didn’t seem too bad, as I knew that when I turned back, there wasn’t far to go – just the final push up the last set of steps to the summit of Snowdon.
Couldn’t wait to get to the top, get out of the wind, and have something to eat and drink in the café. Finally pushed past the last walkers to reach the summit – Hayley, Alice and Simon were at the top –I could tell Simon was cold as he was shivering, and I wondered why they hadn’t just waited in the café – it was very crowded on the summit, and conditions were awful. That was when I realised, oh no the café and toilets were closed!
So many thanks should go to Alice, Hayley and Simon who had brought warm clothes, coffee and food for all of us (taking the Crib Goch route no less!) A well-prepared Alice was able to help a few runners who were clearly becoming very cold, and needed space blankets and drinks.
Whilst the organisation of the race is generally excellent, it was clear that in bad weather we all just had a responsibility to help each other, to get off the mountain, and get warm, as there was nothing really provided – no drinks, food, limited emergency equipment by the looks of it too, though this will have been due to the train not running I suppose.
This is when I heard that unfortunately Steve had pulled out of the race, having taken a bad fall on the rocks in the Carneddau area. He was able to carry on to Ogwen, but I am sure made absolutely the right decision to stop the race and get medical help and a lift back to Llanberis – hope your bruises mend quickly, Steve. Andy wasn’t too far behind me, and looked incredibly fresh, also having enjoyed the race greatly.
One of the additional challenges of this race is of course, where it ends – there is only one way to get back down, unless you have booked a train, and the train is running, which it wasn’t! And that means running or walking the five miles back to Llanberis for cakes and coffee at the race headquarters, and a look at the results, which were already posted. I was 14th in 4.45, and Andy an excellent time and position, 37th in 5.17.
No time for any pints or ice cream today. It was a long but really enjoyable day with a warm shower and few drinks very much needed.
I would recommend this race to everyone – it doesn’t matter how long you take, or how much of it you walk – it is a classic way of seeing the best of Snowdonia in a day. A real adventure.