My first road race- Snowdonia Half Marathon

I don’t know what it was about the TORQ trail team assessment but it tempted me to run a road race. My first road race. Eeugh!

There was something about what Stuart Mills was saying about belief, and mental attitude that I wanted to test, and a half marathon with hills was just the right thing to do it on.

Obviously, like all serious runners, I treated my body like a temple on the lead in. Not. My dinner last night was a rather nice Chilli Chicken Kebab and Chips, not exactly a perfectly balanced meal! I’d had a hell week at work, some really long days and some very short nights of sleep. If there was a time to test getting the race done on the mental approach alone, this was going to be it.

I had it in my head that I wanted to run the race in a certain way – I wanted to get to the high point with an average pace of 5 mins/km and then open the taps and see how close to 4:30 mins/km I could get on the run to the finish.

As it was a race close-ish to home I had the family with me for support, which led to the discussion of what a good finish would look like. The Kiwi gauntlet got lobbed down with a “top quarter finish” should be expected.

I don’t race that often, so I rarely compare myself to other runners. Top quarter sounded tough, but as it was “expected” I sort of got on with thinking what that would look like.

Getting fluids in, and a bit of energy from Jelly Beans, followed by several trips to the toilet to get rid of the Kebab was how I spent a good half an hour in Llanrwst. Then a little run to loosen up a bit and settle into running. I bumped into Gaele, who does the photo’s at the National White Water Centre, where I work. She was there helping Sam from Bodhi Movement Massage (who beats my legs up occasionally). A quick chat and then over to the start line. Down to a vest top and shorts, it was a little chilly, and a couple of people said “ooh you’ll be cold”. I responded “if I get cold, I’ll run faster” to hide my doubts among these roadies.

I tried to mentally work through my plan, steady start, run through the steep hill, lengthen my stride passed Llyn Geirionnydd, attack the second smaller hill, over the top, lengthen the stride, and then run at the point it hurts all the way back to the finish. I was going to look at my watch once, at the high point, have two sips of water at mile 4 and mile 7.

I’d normally start any race in the back third of the field. However, the wife had said a top quarter finish. The only way I could judge this in a field of 700 odd was to be in the front 100 people over the line, and not get overtaken too much.

A quick estimated head count of people put me about right. A 30 second silence for Boston, then a cheer, then a countdown. We were off.

A bit of jostling, finding space, I settled down to my breathing, letting everything warm up whilst I was still really aerobic. A few people heading off fast, but generally I was holding my own on the way to Trefriw.

Shot just before the hill from Clic Clic Photography
Shot just before the hill from Clic Clic Photography

A double back on to a single track road and a couple of simple inclines, I ran through these, making up places, legs feeling really strong. The start of the 1:7 hill, a medal for those who run the whole way. I made about 10 places here, at one point I thought walking would be faster, so I backed off, let the lactic acid subside, but I kept passing runners with a fast walk. A gulp of water, then onto the flat-ish and lengthen my stride, looking for Geirionydd, a couple of faster runners passing me, but I upped the pace and tucked in behind them. At the end of the lake the road turns uphill again and I attacked, passing them back and putting some clear space in. The high point, a glance at the watch 4:58 mins/km, I was on target. My legs felt good. A gradual  descent to the 7 mile water station, a gulp of water. A short bit of off road. Then onto roads I know. I caught a runner I’d spotted on the start line, and sat with him, leaving him on the steep downhill, only for him to surge back on the flat bits between. The final long descent into Betws y Coed was great, my legs felt strong, the support was brilliant from the crowd and I kicked. The runners ahead were spread out, maybe 100 m apart. I wasn’t working on time, I was working on places. Top quarter, I must be close, I need places. So one by one, I started chasing down the vests ahead of me. My guts hurting but everything else feeling strong. I was blowing, but not as much as those that I was passing. This felt alright! A quick shout from Ifs and Es Richards from Meirionydd Running Club supporting from a car. Round the corner and the finish was visible over the river and a few fields; a couple of right had turns and I would be done. I picked a guy 4 runners ahead, got on with it. Onto the final bit of road, I passed him, turning into the football ground, 400m to go, one more place – go on then. If this guy kicked back, I had nothing. The crowd was cheering, and I really didn’t have much left. I saw the girls cheering me on, but I’d given up on thanking marshals and supporters at this point. My eyes were on the red inflatable finish line. Get over the line, stop the watch. Get my medal and an isotonic drink. Wander through the taped area and sit on the ground. The girls winding their way through the taped area, whilst I try and keep some fluid down.

Snowdonia Half Marathon Medal
Snowdonia Half Marathon Medal

Look at the watch, just under 1hr 35 and a 4:29 min/km pace. Tick.

I ask whether I might of made the top quarter. “Definitely” says Michaela, “Probably top 40”.

I can’t quite believe that. The finish area is pretty quiet, maybe that is why. I still can’t quite process that though.

A pretty quick recovery and I neck down a bit too much drink. I stop the trampoline tummy, just, as I walk back to the car.

Get home, get the oven on, and a chicken roasting. Have a look at a watch download on Strava. Of the ten that had already downloaded, I was KOM on the climb by a minute and fourteen seconds over 4.4km!

Have dinner, enjoying feeling the energy coming back in.

Will wait for the results to be published, but I’d be over the moon to have finished in the top 10%!

Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed running well, I enjoyed controlling my mind and I enjoyed my finishing position.

I dislike running on the road though. I’m a trail runner through and through.

For the Strava May Massive I’m looking to explore some new places. I will be doing some road miles as well though, but every run will have trail in it. Fact!

Next races Trail Marathon Wales (June), OMM (October) and the Brecon Ultra (November). Maybe a few fell races between, but a whole load of soul running out and around in Snowdonia National Park.

Strava of the race