Oi Polloi

Dispatches From Snowdonia

Published: Mon Nov 14 2016

Like some fancy trainer launch, at 00:01am on New Year's Day every year, the online entries for The Snowdonia Marathon go on sale. And they sell out fast.

So, the very first thing I did in 2016 was pay money for the chance to run a lap of Mount Snowdon with about 2000 other people. 

For any avid Pica Post readers out there, you may recall an interview that David Keyte (of Universal Works) did with our Wigwam sales agent Phil Howells. Phil, at 69, runs marathons all the time – he has a hundred or so to go to get to his target of 333 lifetime marathons! He's obviously a bit of a legend - and when I last saw him, a few weeks before race day, and mentioned I was due to run the Snowdonia Marathon, he said "Oh that's a good one. One of the hardest!"

That was a little worrying, considering my training had never really materialised… so rather than try and get around in record time I decided to take my camera along and attempt to shoot a few interesting photos.

Because of the loo queue (if you’ve run a marathon, you’ll understand), I got to the start line at the tail end of the field, and slowly made my way through, looking out for characters.

I spotted Iorwerth Roberts - I'd read about him as a Snowdonia Marathon icon; the only person to have completed every single one, 34 and counting. Even more a veteran than Phil Howells too, at 73!

I also managed to catch up with the lunatic dressed in full desert ultramarathon kit - he'd been in the same loo queue as me, where I'd asked him how far he was planning on going; he was already in serious training for the Marathon Des Sables 2017 - if you've never heard of it, it’s a 6 day, 156 mile run through the Sahara Desert, carrying all your own gear!

I ran past Alan on the way up to the top of Pen-Y-Pass, and then entered thick fog for the jog downhill - I got a little carried away, flying past loads of people on the stony track, feeling blisters bubble up underfoot...

From mile 6 or so to about mile 20, I just plodded on, not seeing much beyond a woman dressed as a Drumstick worth photographing.

From mile 20, my legs were written off. I ground my way to Waunfawr, with very little energy for photography - but then I saw a decent MK1 Renault Laguna.

Back when I was chatting with Phil Howells, he'd warned of a hill at the end being especially hard. For most of the race I'd been waiting for it to kick in. At about mile 22 it started. And it was crazy steep and really long. I jogged just faster than walking pace all the way up, and broke my legs all but completely doing so. Phil's advice had been to walk this section, like most other people.

Coming over the top, with the descent as the promised respite, it all got worse! It was just as steep as the uphill and rather than being rocky it was grassy and wet. My legs couldn't move fast enough to let myself go with gravity, nor were the muscles strong enough to slow myself down easily - it was just a weird sort of agony.

I squeezed for a sprint finish that immediately had my left calf cramping and me limping to the finish in front of the crowds.

I got a silver blanket round my shoulders and a Welsh Slate coaster for my troubles, and then enjoyed a pink wafer, a party ring and a black cup of instant coffee from the runner's refreshments set up in the Village Hall. My legs were hurting so bad I forgot to take pictures…