Man vs Mountain 7th Sept ’13

Dory’s ‘Just keep swimming’ became my Mantra on a cold and rainy Saturday to help me win the epic Man vs Mountain race up and down Snowdon.

Photo: The First Lady of Man Vs. Mountainphoto by Bob Atkins, courtesy of Outdoor Fitness Magazine

Starting in Caernarvon Castle, Man vs Mountain, organised by Outdoor Fitness magazine and Rat Race was a monumental  23mile race. Spurred on by my qualification for the GB Age Group Team for the European Champs in Kitzbuhel next June I set myself the loose/hopeful/mad task of being 1st lady.

The race started well, I positioned myself close to the start line, with my good (fast-runner) friend’s words in my head ‘get to the front and don’t let anyone get an advantage on you’. As the race started I made my way swiftly round the beautiful castle and ran with a pack of army-looking lads through the first, relatively flat, 8 mile stretch.

Getting used to running with a back pack containing sloshing water in the bladder pack and wearing 3 layers and a Montane jacket was my first challenge. My usual 10k road races require vest and shorts only and at that time my inexperienced self thought I had overdressed and could have managed the whole race in shorts and t-shirt. That was before I started climbing the mountain in pouring rain and freezing temperatures. It was then that my windproof/waterproof (lush) Montane jacket, zipped right up to my eye lashes became my very best friend!!

Running at around 7.30mins/mile pace was a lot slower than my usual 6:30mins/mile but I was acutely aware that the mountain ahead of me would soon be robbing me of energy and oxygen. Throughout the 8miles I kept calm and relaxed and simply found a rhythm I was comfortable with. I knew I could use my road running legs to my advantage in that first stretch before the mountain climb would begin.

I said hello to everyone I could, fellow runners, photographers, walkers and watchers to keep myself positive and enjoy the experience.

I skipped the feed station at 8miles knowing I had enough food and water to feed all the sheep on the mountain and feeling too fresh to want to stop. After all, I was 1st lady at that point and didn’t want to risk losing that position.

From around 9miles onwards the ascent became steeper and I started to use mile markers on my Garmin as treat opportunities. I told myself that at 10miles I could have 3 jelly babies, little did I know that stuffing 3 jelly babies in my mouth wasn’t the best idea whist also trying to breathe! A gel might have been better but, for me, gels are a last resort and definitely not a mood enhancing treat.

Gradually the gradient increased too much to be able to run and I joined the army pack in walking up the mountain. It was at this point that the temperature dropped dramatically and I realised the gloves, hat and Montane jacket were my best friends. Crazy fit men in shorts and t-shirts went by me at break neck speed while I pushed up every step and tried to ignore the horizontal wind and rain.

For me, the climb was the hardest part of the race physically and psychologically. My training involves practically no strength work and my legs and back were screaming at me to stop. I also got very cold and couldn’t feel my hands.

Words like ‘you’re doing this, it doesn’t matter’, ‘you’ll be running down soon’, ‘you’re nearly at the summit’ dominated my mind with the emphasis of thinking positively. Knowing I was 1st lady and continuing to encourage others around me also helped.

Just before the summit I clocked in with the marshalls and began the final ascent to the top, I was buoyed on by all the speedy runners coming back down and telling me it wasn’t far.

At the top I kept my goal in mind and decided to make my way straight down, passing on the message to fellow runners still ascending that they were nearly at the top (knowing how much that had helped me).

Descending the mountain allowed me to speed up and therefore warm up enough to feel my fingers. It was at this point that I received the most encouragement, walkers moved out of the way for me and told me I was first woman. The cheering reinforced my goal to get across the line first as I tried to ignore my aching legs.

At around mile 18 a fellow runner asked me how far we had left, I told him around 2 miles. I was a bit wrong there, we actually had a 1km killer, near vertical ascent then and abseil and a couple more miles running.

The ascent was crippling, I mean crippling, on tired achey legs that have safely got me up and down Snowdon I now had to climb, climb, climb. The top eventually came, followed by a descent leading to the abseil. I couldn’t enjoy the abseil as much as I wanted to as I was starting to feel cold again.

The run that followed was the most painful, I had strained my groin and stopping for the abseil was enough to fool my body into thinking the hard work was over. It was at this point that I allowed myself off the swim and ran round the lake instead of swimming through it. I was overtaken my a fellow lady just before the lake, I soon realised that she hadn’t done the abseil and I was therefore still in front but my competitive spirit kicked in enough to force me to speed up again and overtake her.

The end couldn’t come soon enough but as I overtook the second lady I realised we had 2 final obstacles, climbing up onto platform and jumping down….twice – on tired strained legs….this was when I realised why it was called Man vs Mountain.

Crossing the finish line in first position, I was elated and most definitely done.

I loved the race – fabulous organisation, great atmosphere, lovely marshalls and the most amazing soup I have ever tasted at the end!!!!!


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