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Man V Mountain - The Beast in Wales

It was a feat just thinking about it, let alone doing it... I never for one second thought I’d be doing Man v Mountain alone when I originally booked it, naively hoping I guess, but life happens and not everything is in our control. In truth I always wondered, when I knew I would be doing it alone, if I would actually have the gumption to do it.. or whether I would give in and claim “injury” as my excuse and forever feel shamed and guilty. Sitting with a steaming hug in a mug (AKA: Hot chocolate) one evening, regaining my focus and peace from this magnificent mug, I realised there and then, I’m no quitter, I’ve never quitted anything in my life, and maybe not all of that is a good thing but most of the time it is, I don’t run from things when it doesn’t go my way, I keep going and find alternative outcomes and am pleasantly surprised. Yes, this was daunting, scary even but I can do this. Thank you hot chocolate for the awakening...

I am pleased to report that I did and it was one of the most gruelling yet brilliant experiences of my life... no amount of training can really prepare you for the actual race... Snowden is a beast and unforgiving at times..

Before I even began, getting there seemed like a mission all in itself, Bangor - Wales.. with multiple train swapping and taxis, to the registration and buses, to the Airbnb. (Perfectly located 2 mins from the start line- well done Carole!) it took most of the day. Saying that, I did meet a fellow ‘rattie’ (endearing term for other Rat Race nutter) on the train who eventually turned out to be a comrade in arms and someone to celebrate with at the end...

These races are unlike any “normal” race be that a 10k, a half or even a marathon - yes you can get some comrades you chat to along the way, but nothing as you do in the Rat Races, this creates friendships out of thin air, it throws people together to support one another, even if you are in pain and struggling you help the person next to you in more pain.. these are special events that bring the best and truest nature out of people and one of the reasons I like doing them. Plus, invariably you all have one thing in common... you feel the need to push yourself beyond the norm just to see how far you can go and prove you have the grit and perseverance to finish.

Once registration was done and I found I got the wrong bivvy bag (who knew there would be a range!) and not everything for my medical kit, and purchasing the necessary bits, we took a wander outside.. clearly geography being an issue, no one knew which mountain we were going up nor which section of steepness was the vertical kilometre but we did see the water slides in the freezing cold lake and the final nail in the coffin, an obstacle not 10 feet from the finish line (will talk about that later!) hehe... there was no shortage of nerves going around in the disguise of hysterical laughter and sarcastic comments... as to be expected with the enormity of what we were to do the next day...

After finding a bus and heading to Caernarfon we bumped into 2 more ratties, this time travelling from Holland to do this race... and went our separate ways, most to hotels, me to my Airbnb which turned out to be a stroke of genius on my behalf, not only was it a lovely place, comfortable and a friendly landlord, it was 2 mins walk to the start line in Caernarfon castle! Well done me!

The evening consisted unpacking and repacking bags, one for the dry clothes which the bus would transfer to the end and filled with my post race foods: my own blend of hot Chocolate with masala chai, after all the cold lake treats, to have a steaming cup of hot chocolate is not only heavenly it’s a necessity to add warmth and soothe the stomach from the 22 miles of uneven surface we ran along. Trails do nothing for your internal organs! Add to that a few extra treats, my post exercise chocolate bar called “funky monkey” which is a fab combination of dark chocolate, banana, flaxseed, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts. This is a bar of body boosting goodness, to start the recovery process and improve wellbeing.. it’s my go to bar for any long run or big runs... then a homemade “snickers” bar with dark chocolate dipped dates with peanut butter in the middle: providing great fibre and protein.. I was set for the perfect finish line snack!

In my run pack, we all had to make sure we had a minimum of 400 calories at all times therefore 4 gels or 2 nature valley/cliff bars etc and whatever else you think you might need... for me it was 2 bladders of water, 600ml of double electrolytes and a few extra gels.. then add in the all mandatory waterproofs, bivvy bag, medical bag, whistle, you have one pretty packed bag which is surprisingly heavy! At least it was done, now time for the decisions: what to wear.. I still hadn’t truly made up my mind and well quite frankly didn’t until the following day when I saw everyone in a long armed base layer and top.. I am a sheep and proud of it! I follow the group and was grateful in the end as the weather was not the greatest! Looking out to the vague direction of where we were going and what do you see? Sunshine, blue sky? Of course not, dark grey clouds and no summits as fog was nicely settled across the top line! Oh well It really made no difference, come what may we would still be going up there..

It’s funny what goes through your mind on race day... after the oh so familiar lack of sleep from waking every hour... nerves were somewhere, but it did almost feel like a dream.. as you recall I wasn’t sure I would have the gumption to go ahead with it and I think I was still in that mindset of will I, won’t I? Is this really happening? Turns out it really was... I bumped into my new found friend from the day before and we set off to the start time, not before dropping off our dry bags for the lovely marshals to take to the finish line so we had something to look forward to!

The start of the race is in the beautiful and magnificent Caernarfon castle... the looming start line surrounded by fellow runners, warming up, talking nervously to their team mates and random strangers, who soon become firm friends as one thing unites us all... come what may we will all get each other up the mountain and back..

Being in wave 1 gave me the advantage that I couldn’t linger, now or never. I had to do it.. since my comrade in arms was reach 2, he made sure I was in the penning area to head off and whilst listening to “Alan” the speaker with the rules of the road, I chatted to other runners, some new to this, others on their 3rd or 4th attempt...

3,2,1.. we go, we all hit the base of the start line entrance (hoping it will provide something akin to luck) and off we go, only to be stopped to walking pace not 10ft away due to the bottle neck trying to get out of the castle.. it’s an epic start hehe... spirits high, chatter is loud and everyone is full to the brim of fuel to get them through this, we start again once out of the castle and proceed... the way the route works is quite simple really... it takes roughly 10 miles of trail, valleys up and down, and road to get to somewhere close to the base of Snowden, this really is the easiest portion of it although still has lots of steep slopes and uneven surfaces but the views do get better and you really do feel you are out in the middle of nowhere. At around mile 8/9 there is a pit stop.. the magical Rat-Race marshal’s serving up bananas, drinks and biscuits, refuelling for the next section.

This is where the mental grit really comes into play.. and it really does.. with a strange sound in the background that I later learn is the steam train up Snowden chugging along, we start.... at first it’s undulating, windy and bitty then there is a point where you wander if running is actually making it worse and you need to conserve your energy, so I went for a fast walk... then something happened... I don’t know what, and it wasn’t even walking up Snowden, before that we had a climb of sorts, just at the angle that gets on your nerves, not too high but not low either, uneven surface and the wind blasting you off the hill that made me struggle... the one and only time.. I needed to actually stop and sort my head out.. it was beating me and I didn’t know why but it felt utterly draining... as I stopped, a rattie with a flag came past: asked if I was ok and then said... just slow and steady and you’ll make it... it’s funny how sometimes little things make the biggest difference and for me that was it.. he didn’t know me, he didn’t know what was going on but he knew how to throw away the demons and get going again! Slow and steady was the whole point on slopes like this, that man was a godsend!

Rounding the corner we then came to a downhill in which once again we all pick up the pace and try to make up our time, I’m not going to lie though, this is no flat comfy road, this is slippy sliding protruding stones ready to turn your ankles at any moment and if it wasn’t that, it was boggy and wet so as I leapt and lolloped my way down, I turn and go head over heels and only just manage to stay upright, much to the amusement and disgruntle of the photographer as he just put his camera away... aww shame!

That’s when you see it, not all because the summit is shrouded in fog but the snake lines all the way to the top.. at which point many groan or nervously laugh their anxiety... jogging along points I bump into a chap who had done this before: a pro therefore in my eyes! And we chatter our way up and around, huffing and puffing and willing one another and others along the path... the interesting point being the higher you got, the never ending turns that kept us going, the quieter it became... to look up and look down you see 100+ people all putting the same effort and silence... the cheering of one another fenced so close to only consume themselves in order for each of us to get through this steep brutal climb, silent comrade in arms, it reminded me of silent monks, all working together, all in solidarity but no voice.. it’s a strange experience but one I won’t forget... onwards, upwards, turn a corner and more twists and turns... it took us and hour and a half to do just over a mile and as you get into the fog, the waterproofs and gloves come on, and several sounds of “are we nearly there yet?” shout out... seeing tourists who had caught the train, walk down we ask “how far to the top” their look was enough to know.. too far to worry about.. just keeping going... eventually the sound of the train came loud and proud and the climb petered out some so we weren’t leaning at an angle. I truly never realised just how much effort it took on my back before this! The beautiful marshals at the tops freezing but cheering us along were a sight for sore eyes and a welcome distraction from the effort.. I know what we’re doing is tough but to stay there was tougher!

After a quick turn around, a bit to eat, part chocolate and one of my energy chocolates - dark chocolate with banana topped with brazil nuts to get me over the hump, off we went, playing tango with the tourists, trying to not go over on our ankles or over the side covered in fog which I’m pretty sure was just emptiness and yet over take them.. we could begin our descent... 5/6 miles of down hill. You would think it sounds heavenly but after a bit, I’m not actually sure which is worse... the constant knee bashing, along with the uneven surface and potential ankle breaking working along side your toes being squished permanently to the front and pounding the pad away, making up time was one thing, pain of it all was another. I was almost glad to see other sufferers (although there were also a lot of mountain goats too!), accidents of feet running away from runners, crashing and breaking their go pro, cramps so bad they were screaming in pain crossed my path on that descent, and each other always asking : are you ok, if it wasn’t you asking that, it was someone asking you. The support is undeniable and always welcome and the goal is the same... finish and get your bling...

When I got to the bottom on the mountain, there is another pit stop, a place to fill up on electrolytes and oranges in my case and head off for the remaining 4, just 4 itty bitty miles... but it’s not just 4 miles noo that wouldn’t be a true Rat Race. You may think Snowden is the obstacle but really Rat Race want to push you to the max and drain every last drop of energy from you... I love you Rat Race!

So whilst you are running down along a lovely smooth road and can hear the cheers of other finishers, you go past that And start to climb up the vertical kilometre. This is a beast of all proportion, an old slate mine shaft that just goes up and up for eternity in slate style steps and so many of us try to jog it, but ultimately it gets every one of us and we have to walk.. it’s punishing, cruel and bloody brilliant because it’s so crazy to do after climbing Snowden. Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves all in fire trying to get you up... people having to stop because they have butt ache: Yes it’s a real thing!

Finally the top is in sight and what goes up must come down so off we trot once again down the other side, easier but no less painful. Wales apparently doesn’t do gentle slopes, just steep inclines and descents.. through wooded trails and broken trees we wound our way to the base... to find ourselves handed a life jacket... because after 21 miles you really want to throw yourself into a freezing cold quarry lake... but we do! Stroke of genius for the legs really and helps them cool down, however the side effect being trying not to hyperventilate from the cold whilst swimming to the edge. I’m not sure I’d survive artic weather!

Several other water stops as well as abseiling (yes you read right), water slides, water thigh deep in the water and swimming under barrels and finally swimming across another patch, we finally got to run the last half mile soaking wet...

Cheering, elation, and a few surprising faces of comrades in arms I’d met along the way cheering me over the finish line! However just before I cross it, the last hurdle, a box we have to use rope to climb up and once on the ledge jump, then down... I got to the top and stopped... I was struck by how high it was and a wave of fear overtook that if I jumped my knees would just smash to smithereens and I’m so close.. so I did the only thing I could. I sat on the ledge and swung my legs refusing to get off it, even with supporters saying ‘just jump, you’ll be fine’ nope! i have was having none of it.. hehe it’s funny what goes through your head but I just couldn’t do it.. thankfully a wonderful woman handing out medals came over and helped me down or I could have been there for days!! steps and I was finally finished and time to switch off garmin and rejoice!

Rejoice we did, with my dry bag in hand, trying to warm up and change clothes I realised how envious I was of everyone wearing the dry robe coats to get changed in and keep warm. They looked amazing and in that moment I completely understood the point of them and every race next coming up! Genius dry robe just genius.

When you cross the finish line the lovely volunteers give you a mug of soup to help battle the cold... I do wish hot chocolate would have been available for all and not just me but vowed to speak to Rat Race next time about it.. I alone should not be savouring the hygge bliss from a hot chocolate as I later found out my comrades in arms also would have enjoyed it, so can only assume more like minded people think the same...

After an epic and brutal run I phone my friends and loved ones and end up in tears on the phone, clearly hadn’t realised how much it did mean to me that I did it, I DID IT, I trained, I got injured, I trained around it and yes I can always train more but I did it, I found the inner strength I needed to do this just as I secretly knew I would but needed to prove it to myself and the best way to celebrate? Well with my hot chocolate and funky monkey bars with my new friends.... that’s what Rat Race is all about...

Roll on Next Year!








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