For Mudstacle favourite Adam Jacobs, the first week of September can only mean one thing; a return to the town of Llanberris to take on his favourite race on the calendar- Rat Race’s iconic Man vs Mountain. Settle in, and let’s relive the majesty of this killer event through his eyes (and thankfully, his legs).
This was my 3rd year tackling Snowdon and I have had very different experiences in the previous two years. I wasn’t fully prepared for my first year, but loved the experience and views as I passed through the beautiful trails of Snowdonia national park. Last year proved very different, with an altered route due to extreme weather conditions. We were unable to summit, and those wonderful views were grey and seen through half closed eyes as I was battered by the wind and the rain. I still loved the day though, I know some were disappointed with the altered route and weather but for me Rat Race still pulled it off
With events of this size and scale, some forward planning is needed as it is a point-to-point race. I would advise staying at the finish and using the offered bus service to the start the next morning. Registration takes place on the Friday in North Wales most will need to book at least a half day off to make it by the 10pm closing time. Registration is also where you present your kit for the mandatory check to ensure your safety, and they will check everything. Luckily for the forgetful few, the Rat Race shop is on hand and fully stocked.
The start line is one of the most spectacular you will experience; Caernarfon castle is beautiful, and you begin right at it’s heart. This year Rat Race had obviously booked the weather in advance as the skies were bright blue, and not a cloud was in sight. There were plenty of familiar faces on the start leading to a great atmosphere and sense of anticipation for what was to come.
When the start arrives it’s best to get off quickly, as runners stream toward the eastern exit of the castle, which can be quite a squeeze when 300+ runners are trying to escape. After exiting the castle you are alongside Afon Seiont, reinforcing the fact you are starting at sea level and have a long way to go to reach the Snowdon summit.
In fact, you can see just how far in this Relive video.
The first 9 km will see you run a mix of trails and roads as you work your way to the start of the long winding ascent to the summit. I ran most of this section with Craig of massive beard and Suffering Legends fame, Paul Furness ,and the now infamous G-law from Pete’s MDS adventure (no, I didn’t punch him in the face).
You soon come across one of Rat Race’s famously well stocked aid stations, they are a beacon of nostalgia during a gruelling run like this. Stocked with childhood favourites like Breakaways, Gold bars and Wagon Wheels, even if you aren’t in need right at that moment, it’s worth a quick stop for a post race treat.
If you can tear yourself away from the chocolate bars and crisps you’ll begin the approach to the painful main ascent of Snowdon itself. It’s at this point when the views make the transition from merely beautiful to the truly breathtaking. Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion rise up either side of the trail, funnelling runners toward the testing Ranger path and glory at the summit. On the way up, I passed some guy that I’m sure I knew, but he was without his tiny red shorts I can’t be sure it was him. It’s hard not to be distracted by the views of Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas on the way up, especially when your pace is reduced to a power hike. Towards the top, it starts to level out and you can start to run again, (and if you time it right you can run alongside the train and smile at all the confused faces staring back at you).
Once you’ve summited, the fun really begins as you turn to descend the Llanberis path. This is a chance to really open up the legs and let the mountain and gravity do the work for you. It’s a technical, rocky path and you need to watch your footing and dodge the tourists making their way up. It’s a real thrill ride and one of my favourite parts of the event. Running downhill brings a sense of freedom like few other things.
Before long, it’s time to head into Llanberis to drop off your running pack in preparation to tackle the notorious Vertical Kilometre, a brutal climb that plays tricks on you. When your legs are burning from the ascent, and you turn on to a level path between some old derelict buildings, you could be forgiven for thinking you had reached the end. You haven’t though - there is still a steeper climb to the top of the old slate mine to come, and it will have you cursing. It is worth it, though; the way down is fun, with some technical woodland trail to compliment the hard packed trails that make up most of the route.
At the bottom is where this truly becomes a Rat Race event, with a series of challenges to complete; a quarry jump into a cold pool of water, (refreshing given the weather), a rappel down a 45% incline into Llyn Padarn, a water crossing and a brilliant water slide before you are reunited with your running pack with the finish line in sight. There are 2 final obstacles to overcome: a rope climb - a cruel and unusual punishment just 50 yards from the finish line, and a small ramp. Once these are skilfully navigated you cross that finish line and pick up that coveted medal. There are also tokens for soup and a beer, both much appreciated.
Once again, Rat Race delivered with Man vs Mountain, there is a reason I have come back three years in a row (and it’s not just the amazing Sunday morning breakfasts at Pete’s eats). This race is special, the location, the route, the organisation, the camaraderie between runners, and this year the sun even shone. I cannot recommend this event highly enough. If you are an OCR addict or a seasoned trail runner, this race holds something for you.
With 2018 bringing a new ‘Man vs’ event to the series, we will not only have to conquer the mountain and the lakes, but the Cornish coastline, with Man vs Coast. It seems as though a Rat Race season pass will therefore be hard to resist.
Thanks to MyBibNumber for all photographs.