This weekend a gaggle from Girls on Hills took on Snowdon SkyRace. Jess, Keri and Georgia all tackled and completed the race in less-than-ideal conditions. And we were all still smiling at the finish line!
I was mainly attracted to Snowdon SkyRace because of the challenging and exciting route it takes. 40km is a long way to run, but I find it more appealing when I know it is going to be broken up with a variety of terrain. The draw of Snowdon SkyRace are two proper scrambles: Tryfan and Crib Goch. These both come in the latter half of the race and I was eagerly anticipating the challenge of moving over this difficult terrain with a tired body (and looking forward to a welcome break from running!).
Unfortunately, when we picked up our bibs on Saturday afternoon we were told that the race route would be modified because of the bad weather. As we'd all been checking forecasts and speculating on this the announcement came as no surprise. Though it is always disappointing to have the exciting bits of a route cut it is reassuring that races value participant safety over running the event at all costs.
In the end we ran a PBWR. What is a PBWR? I'd never heard of it either, but I'm impressed by the idea. Instead of resorting to the 20km Bad Weather Route the organisers came up with a Partial Bad Weather Route. This circumnavigated the slippery scrambles (which wouldn't have been safe in the winds and rain forecast) but kept the distance and elevation of the original route. Although it was the parts of the route that I'd been most excited about that were cut it was really nice that the organisers kept the majority of the route despite the soggy conditions.
The race itself involves 40km of technical running (even without the scrambles!): there's four long climbs, minor scrambling sections, rocky descents, slippery roots, bog hopping, and lots and lots of rocks. A great introduction to the wide variety of running available in Snowdonia.
The Race Itself
The race started at 8am and runners began to gather in the field from 7am. We were nervously putting on bibs, warming up, and deciding what to wear. The forecast was bad but down in the valley it was warm and muggy.
The race started with a quick 2km blast along flat tarmac - the only tarmac we'd be running on all day! It was fun to get the legs moving quickly and competitors chatted as we eased into race pace. We turned a sharp left through some houses and began the climb. This is (mostly) of a gentle gradient and very runnable. It's a long way but a great climb and I really enjoyed this section of the race. As we neared the top the clouds were still high enough to see the ridge leading towards Snowdon summit. This was a lovely piece of single track; a mixture of smooth and technical with great views and steep drops.
As soon as you reach the high point the marshals point you down a steep descent. I always struggle at this section as the descent is steep and rocky and it feels like such a change in gear from the long climb you've just done. It's important to remind yourself that everyone is struggling at this point!
As the descent continues it becomes smoother and faster, eventually passing through an aid station and across the road at Pen-y-Pass. From here a steeper, grassier climb leads you up to Glyder Fawr. I noticed that lots of people were using poles. I think this is becoming more and more popular in UK Skyrunning, and with good reason! Most of them came gliding past me on the long climbs.
Glyder Fawr is a rocky moonscape leading to a steep, technical descent. I enjoyed jumping between rocks and route finding through bracken on the approach to the second checkpoint. From the aid station was where the route PWBR began. Instead of going up Tryfan we took a route to the east which was very runnable until it was a steep wall of grass! Once up the wall it was a lovely, very Scottish feeling, grassy and squelchy and slidey and boggy descent to the final checkpoint.
As we couldn't go up Crib Goch the final climb instead took us up the Pyg Track. This is always an interesting race experience as it is so popular with walkers and often very crowded. Running up it involves a lot of 'excuse me' and sometimes the 'you're mental' response! It is a lot faster than scrambling, however, as it is quite a runnable gradient. By now the clag had come in and the rain had started so the PBWR was definitely the right decision.
From the top of Pyg is a long descent to the finish! Though you feel tired by this point a new lease of life finds its way into your legs as the prospect of finishing approaches. It is the lest technical of the descents and you can truly enjoying flying down the hill with the finish line tantalisingly close. A great way to end a challenging race.
It was great to see strong finishes from lots of women at Snowdon SkyRace. The top 2 women were in the top 5 overall and 3rd woman was in the top 10. Holding our own and proving our talent!
One of the really nice things about being at this race was hearing how many people are focussing on completing the UK Skyrunning Series this year. This is a series across several UK Skyrunning races where your total points add up to an overall ranking at the end of the season. After an hiatus it is great to see this series return and so many people choosing to take part. More info can be found here.
Similarly, if you've been reading the Girls on Hills Skyrunning posts and are eager to get involved there's still space on the Intro to Skyrunning course this weekend! Sign up here and gain all the knowledge and skills you need to race later in the season!