I saw this event when it was first put on in 2016. It was the year that I was aiming to qualify for Kona, so no chance of me doing it then, or the year after, when I was training for Kona.
It has since changed to a biannual event, so 2019 was the next available opportunity to get involved. The other barrier I had, was the need for a support person. I asked my mum if she would be able to help out, and she agreed, not really knowing what she had got herself into. I sent her a few links and tried to explain what it involved but I’m not sure that she knew how it would work until closer to the time. She did an amazing job on the day, and I am very grateful to her, for her support.
The week before, I spent time planning my nutrition, checking routes and the map.
I tried to make it as easy as possible for my mum to get what I needed at the right times, by packing a folder for each leg which had all my nutrition and hydration prepped inside. We travelled up on Thursday in beautiful weather and managed to check out the car parks that my mum hadn’t seen yet. Got a fantastic view of Cadair Idris, which was good, as on the day I didn’t see much of it!
On Friday the race organisers emailed to say that there may be a change of route because the weather looked so bad. I was really hoping they wouldn’t, as I was keen to do the 3 peaks, but in the briefing, we were told that the route would go up Snowdon to 800m and then back down to Llanberis. This was due to the wind chill and visibility up there. This meant an extra 20km on the bike, going over Pen y Pass, and a reduced run.
A bit disappointing, but there was nothing I could do about that, and I think the decision was the right one, as visibility was very poor. So it was back to our apartment for some final prep and sleep.
Short fun and steady with quiet roads
Saturday morning started at 3:30am, we arrived in Beaumaris to a lot of rain, and fog. I was one of the few wearing shorts, but thankfully not the only one! I was starting to worry about my kit and whether I would be warm and waterproof enough. I knew that everyone would be excited to get going here, so I kept my effort down on the hills, there were plenty to come later. I was one of the slower riders on this leg, but only by a few minutes. It felt good to get going after the lead in. It always does!
Wet, and misty full of memories.
As I started the climb to Snowdon I thought about all the times I’d been up there with groups and felt really happy to be revisiting the area. I also remembered descending with my family the year before, when we walked up together. I overtook a lot of people, as most people had chosen to walk the run sections. Descending is my strength and I was having fun, looking forward to the day ahead. On the way down I saw the photographer and laughed at how awful the conditions were, and was amazed that there was anyone up there. The conditions were getting worse on the mountain, there was a lot of water running down the path now, as the rain got heavier.
Wet, cold and dodgy descending.
This leg started with us riding up Pen y Pass, which meant I was warm, more memories for me of climbing in the Pass and bouldering at the Cromlech, also The Slateman Triathlon where you ride up the pass on the bike leg. I was a lot slower this time! The water was pouring off the mountain and there were waterfalls everywhere. Descending on the other side there was a lot of water on the road, which made riding at speed a bit scary. A car ahead of me went through a very deep puddle which gave me time to react to it, and slow down. Luckily there was not much traffic on the road, as it was still early.
By the time I was in Beddgelert the wind chill had started to get to me. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t warm up and also worried that I had peed twice already. (This happened at Ironman Wales in 2014 and I ended up on drips at the end of the race.) There was a few of us together at this section, and I started to warm up a bit on the road from Trawsfynydd down to Dolgellau, which was mostly downhill. I kept a steady pace, looking forward to the next run, and a chance to warm up. As I rode into the next car park I was riding with a man who had done a lot of extreme Triathlons, so we had a chat about what appealed in these races. He’d done, Norseman, Patagoniaman and Celtman, to name a few!
Poor visibility more rain and a small diversion.
This was the Cadair Idris leg. I’d walked up with Patrick in October and seen the descent, but hadn’t been up the pony path before. My mum had some coffee in a flask, so I had a couple of small cups which was lovely as I was a bit chilled. I told her I wanted to change at the next stop, as I was cold and wet through, but I thought I’d be ok running as I had been warm enough on the Snowdon leg. The wind chill on the bike makes riding in the rain and wind so much worse.
I also requested some more salt, to try and stop the peeing! I started up, and a man also started at the same time as me. The path was easy to follow, and I ran where I could, but also had to walk a lot of the steeper rockier sections. When I got to the top there was a couple up there. I checked my GPS and aimed for the direction that I thought was right. I heard the man behind me ask the couple if he was going the right way, and they said they had seen me, and one other, go the way I was going. I thought I’d hang on a bit for him as the visibility was so bad, I wanted to get off on the right path. We started down a bit and realised we were off course, we’d gone a bit too far to the left. We traversed around and found the path, and were not too far off course, I was grateful to have had someone with me to check the route. Looking at it now we should have gone back down on the path we came up on, for a bit, but I was looking for a separate path, so I can see how we went wrong now.
The descent was fun, I arrived back to a change of clothes and a bag of crisps. I was standing at the shelter of the toilet block eating my crisps when the guy off the mountain ran past, I gave him a shout and thanked him for the help with getting on the right path, it turned out quite a few people ended up going the wrong way here, so easy to do with poor visibility.
Still raining, swollen hands, and the longest, loneliest leg
This was the leg I was dreading 74 miles with 4544 ft of climbing, a lot of these were steep sections too. Leaving Minfford I knew there was a climb out, which I had thought would be horrible, but actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, the worst was to come! After Machynlleth you turn onto “the mountain road” this seemed like a never-ending climb, every time I thought I was at the top I would turn a corner and there would be more, with some pretty steep sections at times. I was cursing the organisers at this point. A guy from a relay team passed me half the way up complaining about the cold, and that was the last competitor I saw all day.
This is some footage of the road, but going in the opposite direction to the way we went. This was the only section where I actually had a view, as it did stop raining later on in this stage. I wanted to get off and take a photo, but also didn’t want to stop!
I’d planned to meet my mum in Rhayader, which was around 40 miles in. I chose to meet there as it was over halfway through the section, mentally this was the hardest section, as there was hill after hill, and I was still worried about the peeing situation. I had also noticed my hands were starting to swell up which I knew had also happened at Ironman Wales. I had slowed down my drinking and eaten some marmite sandwiches, and I was peeing a bit less, but still didn’t want to end up in the same situation as I had at Ironman Wales.
I had a text from my mum saying where she was waiting, I was around 40 mins away, so messaged her back to let her know. When I got there I said I was a bit stressed about my swollen hands and peeing too much, she had more crisps and I had a mouthful of Marmite to get some more salt in, she also said she’d try and get some salt tablets.
The next section was ok, I felt better after seeing my mum, and knew that Patrick and the boys were planning to meet me at the next car park, which was only a couple of hours away, I’d also done the worst part of this bike leg. At the bottom of the hill to the car park I saw Patrick, he ran up with me, and we chatted, he told me how well I was doing. They had been tracking me throughout. In the car park my mum was there with a salt tab, and my boys. It was great to see them.
On the home straight, feeling relaxed and happy, took a tumble.
I knew I could walk up Pen Y Fan, at the briefing we were told that everyone would probably walk this ascent. I had already recced the route a few weeks back, so I knew a lot of it was steep. I headed off and jogged a little bit when I could but mostly walked. As I got near the top visibility got worse and it started to rain again. Coming off the descent was the least technical descent of the day, I was enjoying myself even though my legs were really sore by now, the phrase that I used was “its only pain, it means you’re alive”. I was congratulating myself on my descending skills about 5 minutes from the bottom, when I tripped, and just saved myself from a face plant by recovering myself and throwing my hands out. On any other day I would have recovered from the trip and not fallen, but the fatigue was setting in, and I went down. I got straight back up, did a quick check, bruised knees, scratched hip, and a palm wound. When I got near the bottom the boys were there. They started to run with me, I was super happy and it was a really good memory from the day. There were a few supporters in the car park, and they noticed that I had also cut my elbow, so we did a quick clean up before I was off again.
Mostly downhill and surreal finish.
I knew the last section was mostly downhill, but I was a bit worried about getting lost on this section, as it was a minor road alongside the dual carriageway. As it happens it was pretty easy as I had the GPX file and my mum had been charging my Garmin in the car, so I could look at the map view all the way. I backed off my power quite a bit on this section, as I knew it would still be fast and I was just happy to be finishing. As I rode through Neath and the outskirts of Swansea I passed people going about their Saturday evening. I kept wanting to tell people what I’d just done, as it felt so epic. When I arrived at the finish in Swansea, my family were waiting, we celebrated and then walked up to the hotel, passing all the bars full of people drinking and singing.
Overall I loved the event, and I’d really like to do more events like this. I love running off road, and this event had plenty of that in it, as well as the challenging bike course!
The final results are here