YOU have to feel for everyone who entered last year’s Man Vs Mountain event. You sign up for one of the UK’s toughest races, aiming to scale Britain’s third-highest peak, only to be robbed of the opportunity by poor weather. High winds led to the course being rerouted, preventing runners from reaching the summit.
Thankfully there were no such problems last Saturday as the sun shone over Snowdonia for one of the jewels in the Rat Race crown.
Starting in 2013, it was the original ‘Man Vs’ event and remains popular, with more people taking part this year than ever before. Almost 1,200 runners arrived at the start line, inside the walls of Caernarfon Castle, and from that dramatic location on the Welsh coast, the route winds inland towards Llanberis and the Snowdon summit, before heading down to the banks of Llyn Padarn beside Llanberis.
At 22.9 miles it is not as long as the marathon-distance Man Vs Lakes but, as it includes the highest point in England or Wales, the ascent is almost double – 5,055 ft compared to 3,037ft. I’d been up Snowdon twice before, both times via the Pyg Track, but that was strictly hiking – and not after a 20k run. However, having completed Man Vs Lakes 7 weeks earlier, I felt well prepared.
Despite there being the same mandatory kit list, I forgot to pack some gloves, which I realised at registration in Llanberis on Friday night, so I only had myself to blame as I parted with £15 for a pair at the Rat Race store. However, I didn’t feel as bad when the guy behind me had to fork out £99 for a waterproof jacket. The one he’d brought didn’t have taped seams, a requirement Rat Race do make clear in their pre-race info.
After a pint and some pasta in Llanberis, I drove back to my campsite in Caernarfon ready for an early start on Saturday, and as the sun rose that morning it became clear the positive weather that had been promised would be delivered.
The castle walls cast a shadow over the start line as the first wave set off at 8am and after a slight bottleneck leaving a small exit facing the Menai Strait, we could now get our legs moving as we turned back on ourselves past the main castle entrance. Running past the Welsh Highland Railway terminus, we continued along a series of trails and narrow country lanes, crossing the A4085 just before the village of Waunfawr.
Looking back towards Caernarfon about 35 mins in, the castle was already a speck in the distance, with Anglesey beyond. To the south, we enjoyed our first sight of hills for the day, so high that they had wisps of cloud round the top, and these were only the babies – we weren’t near the daddy just yet.
Sounds daft when I’m writing about doing Man Vs Mountain but I’m not a great fan of running uphill. Yet I was making good progress. It was a gradual incline from the start, which eased me into it, and I was pleased to see it took me just over an hour to reach 10k. Clearly all these mad races are doing me some good!
In fact, the first 11k were uphill, until we reached a ridge looking back out towards the Menai Strait and Anglesey. Then it took me a few moments to realise the lake and the town below must be Llyn Padarn and Llanberis. I didn’t think we’d get within sight of them this soon.
We ran across the foothills for a while before heading down towards Llanberis, giving us the first chance to open our legs. Running downhill is something I relish and having had a run over the loose rock atop Kinder Scout a few days earlier, I felt confident enough to really give it some. I must have raced past 20 others before reaching the first pitstop at around 12k (in 1hr 35mins).
This was as close as we’d get to Llanberis for now as we then began our long ascent. Across the valley a steam train chugged its way up the Snowdon Mountain Railway while (maps at the ready?) we ran across the lower reaches of Foel Goch. I expected us to next march up the peak opposite, Moel Cynghorion, and hoped the Snowdon summit would be lurking just beyond. Wishful thinking. Having reached the crossroads to go up Moel Cynghorion, we continued forward, going around it for one last downhill stretch before joining the Snowdon Ranger Path for what would be our last push for the summit.
We could see the runners ahead of us zig-zagging up the mountain, although by this point there was no running going on. It was a long, hard slog but I found the best way to tackle it was to keep my legs moving while occasionally admiring the scenery, looking down into the Cwm Clogwyn horseshoe to our right. On this final climb of around 3k I stopped once, to open a protein bar and take some pictures of the exquisite view behind me, with Mynydd Mawr and its surrounding peaks looming over the water of Llyn Cwellyn.
The summit really was within sight now and the clouds were closing in. The path leveled out just before it crossed the railway track and joined the Llanberis Path so I took the chance to get running again, to stretch my legs and warm up a little. I scanned my timing chip just short of the summit (3hr 20) and the Rat Race marshals said we didn’t have to go all the way to the top. Are you kidding? I’m not going through all that to then not reach the summit!
But my body temperature was dropping fast. I had to get my jacket on and, since I had a nice new pair of gloves, I thought I might as well make use of them! With plenty of tourists around, it was quite congested at the summit, so I was probably up there longer than I would have liked. But after grabbing some video clips and a selfie, I slipped through the crowd, packed my jacket and got moving, again mainly to get warm.
Going down the Llanberis Path, it was firm underfoot and a fairly consistent descent so this time I really let loose, passing Rat Racers and hikers at an even quicker rate than before. They must have all been thinking the same thing and, inevitably, it did happen. I came a cropper.
I tripped, I well and truly went ‘a over t’! The nearest runners stopped to check I was ok, with one saying “nice commando roll though”. There was a moment I realised I couldn’t break my fall so it was either land on my face or roll and let my side take the brunt of it. I chose the latter and, miraculously, the only damage was a graze on my shoulder. Most importantly, none of my kit was damaged, especially my precious gloves!
The second pitstop was supposed to be at around 25k but by my reckoning it was more like 28k (4hr 10). Moments later we crossed the Llanberis Pass and ran past the modest Dolbadarn Castle, which stands between Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris.
Hearing the PA system at the event village made us believe we were almost home but we still had to conquer some obstacles and the Vertical Kilometre. Unlike at Man Vs Lakes, this really was vertical. There was barely any let-up, taking me 19.17mins, as we climbed through the site of Dinorwic Quarry, a former slate quarry beside Llyn Peris. Thankfully there was a pen to ditch our bags before we climbed almost to the top of the hillside and then we ran a loop on trails and tarmac to arrive back at the National Slate Museum.
There we had a welcome plunge into the Vivian Quarry, a popular diving site, before abseiling into Llyn Padarn. I didn’t enjoy abseiling the last time I tried it as a kid and nothing’s changed. Although most people probably enjoyed it, it just doesn’t do much for me, and to top it off I managed to slip backwards just before we reached the water, getting the rope caught around my wrist and needing the help of two marshals to get back to my feet.
A slide and two more swims followed before reaching the finish area. I did the rope climb before running up the ramp, and at the top I stopped to tie my shoelace before dismounting and crossing the line. “You can’t be too careful,” said the guy on the PA system. Indeed, and what’s a few more seconds when it’s taken you 5hrs 37 anyway (252nd from 1,195 starters).
There was none of the elation I felt at completing Man Vs Lakes, my first marathon, just the satisfaction of crossing another challenge off my list while feeling relatively fresh. Plus the pleasure of seeing my parents at the finish to make the most of that Snowdonia sunshine with a hard-earned beer.
Village: Not much at the start area and it was quite cramped inside the castle but it did offer spectators some great vantage points. Plenty of stalls at the finish with tables inside the marques and out, so that we could enjoy the sunshine and mix with fellow Rat Racers 4 (out of 5)
Course: Whoever devises the routes for Rat Race deserves a pat on the back. They’ve picked a scenic approach to the Snowdon Ranger Path which wasn’t too taxing. The Vertical Kilometre was a real challenge, especially after more than 30k. The obstacles are really just a bit of fun but still add a dimension that sets it apart from other strictly running races 4
Goodies: Rat Race buff and tech t-shirt, although the latter varies only in logo and sleeve colour to other events. Chunky medal with water and a Rat Race flapjack at the finish. The well-stocked pitstops were welcome, so too the free soup/roll and a beer at the finish 4