by Sim

According to the race website, “the Snowdon SkyRace® route was designed to offer a real test of mountain running, speed, endurance and technical ability on a truly uncompromising course… to challenge skyrunners of all abilities. To clarify: these are truly world-class SkyRace routes!”

Sounds awesome! I thought. And, looking at the route, I was excited: 38km long with 3236m of ascent, running over Snowdon, the Glyders, Tryfan and finishing over Snowdon again. It’s not just distance and ascent either; in true Skyrace style the route includes genuinely technical terrain along Y Lliwedd ridge, down Y Gribin, up the north face of Tryfan and up Crib Goch. A route to test fitness and the ability to move confidently over tough mountain terrain – sign me up!

In the week before the race the weather forecast looked worrying with thunder storms and 50mph + gusts predicted on higher ground. Mike (race director at Apex Running) and his safety team kept us updated about the possibility of the bad weather route but we all hoped for an improvement. Unfortunately, as the day drew near the weather was showing no signs of improving and the bad weather route was confirmed the day before the race. Disappointing in a way, but definitely the right decision, and we still had a tough 24km loop with 1727m of ascent running over Snowdon twice. We’d just have to run faster!

I arrived the evening before the race and headed to registration. Despite a full kit check I was marshalled quickly and efficiently though the sign-in and soon had my map, number and tracker. An interesting Q&A session was held by Matt of Runncomm with some of the elite racers and favourites. Then it was time for more food and back to a rainy campsite for some sleep.

It was still raining when we started at 8 the following morning, running the first couple of km down the road to the start of the Rhyd-Ddu path up the western flanks of Snowdon. Having prepared for a longer, harder course I was running much faster than I’d expected to be, and walking less, moving from a fast walk to a jog whenever the terrain allowed. The weather was improving but still wet and windy with mist covering the higher ground. The first climb was about 4km up to just below the summit of Snowdon, where the route joined the Watkin path. We turned right, following the orange markers steeply down a rocky section of trail. I passed a few runners here, enjoying the technicality and testing my shoes’ – a test pair of Merrell MTL Skyfires – grip on wet rock. Branching left, the ground became more technical and rocky on the climb up the Y Lliwedd ridge, with some short sections of hands-on scrambling. Cresting this summit in the mist another technical descent followed, loosing height quickly on the way down to Llyn Llydaw.

The harsh weather and faster route made kit choice important. My clothes had to keep me warm and dry enough but also allow me to work hard and I didn’t want to add or remove layers if I could help it. I decided to start in my Merrell Entrada II run shorts, a light Rab Force long-sleeved base layer, an OMM Core fleece vest and my La Sportiva Odyssey GTX waterproof. I carried the compulsory equipment, spare layers, food and water in my Camelbak Zephyr race vest and wore Merrell MTL Skyfire shoes with Bridgdale T2 Merino Sport socks. It all worked well, allowing me to control my temperature by zipping up or un-zipping my jacket and using the hood. The Core Vest is incredibly breathable to the point that it looses almost all thermal properties when exposed to the wind, so you can dump heat effectively by undoing your jacket, perfect for the big contrasts in temperature on this race.

Picking up the main path above Llyn Llydaw, the running felt easier and faster but here I really started to feel the speed of the first ascent and descent in my legs. I passed the only checkpoint on the course, grabbing a banana and continuing down to Pen-y-Pass, loosing a few places to faster runners on the way. This is where the bad weather route leaves the original route, turning left and heading up the well-made steppy trail towards Crib Goch instead of continuing over the Glyders and Tryfan. Due to the wind we miss out Crib Goch and stay left on the Pyg Track, running a beautiful traverse above Glaslyn. I’d been eating every half-hour so far and following my food with a bit of water each time but I was still feeling a bit low so I ate a gel which picked me up, allowing me to pick up the pace a little. The final zig-zagging ascent back into the cloud at Bwlch Glas felt hard but I still overtook lot of walkers which is something!

The final few km of the race follow the Snowdon Ranger path downhill – it’s fairly steep and rocky but very runnable, especially when you know it’s the final descent to the finish and you don’t need to hold anything back. It was certainly a good test of my new shoes and they handled the hard, rocky descent well, offering enough grip and underfoot protection to allow me to trust them and concentrate on running. Turning left away from the main path the race route crosses some boggy moorland and drops down a fast descent through some old slate mining to the finish.

Well done to Finlay Wild and Georgia Tindley who both won convincingly, and everyone else who finished a tough race.

Entries will open in December for the 2022 edition – fingers crossed for the weather and running the full course next year. It’s in my diary!