One week before Man Vs Mountain, I had Tough Mudder 5k in Edinburgh. I’d entered with my staff for a fun team building exercise. They’re a fairly hardy bunch but none of them are runners. Hopefully it was still going to be fun for them. I still had my broken finger and thumb to worry about over the obstacles but figured it was easy enough a course that I could almost do it all one handed.
TM5k came and went with no real issues; it was a lovely sunny day running around Arthurs Seat and my work colleagues all loved it. A few are even converts to the OCR scene and looking at races next year. We messed around on obstacles, helped slower workmates get over the big walls, chatted and soaked up the fun atmosphere. It was a welcome change of pace from the hours and hours of racing I was used to, plus a nice t-shirt instead of a medal wasn’t such a bad thing. But does anyone actually do anything with those headbands?
The week of Man Vs Mountain arrived; it had been a very busy time at work. I had been keeping my regular training sessions going, but I hadn’t had time for longer runs. The race is advertised as 22 miles with 5000 feet of climbing, the distance didn’t concern me too much, but the climb was higher than Ben Nevis. I’d never been up Snowdon before but I had heard it was a decent challenge with epic views, if the weather was kind enough.
Rat Race had put out a weather warning a week before, insisting that we had a jacket with taped seams. I grabbed my Endura MT500 jacket that the likes of Danny Macaskill used on Mount Kilimanjaro, bought some budget trousers as they’d only be needed in a dire emergency and packed some trusty long sleeve technical gear. The days before saw the weather reports improve but on a mountain, weather changes rapidly and you have to be prepared, so the list didn’t change.
As we got closer to the event, I got really excited at the amazing coastline and beautiful little villages of North Wales. At registration, there were faces I recognised from previous races and also from back home - that is always the best thing about the pre-race experience. On to kit check and my jacket failed! “Wait, what? This is one of the most expensive jackets you can buy for mountain biking!” I proclaimed. My jacket didn’t have taped seams. The issue was the people doing the kit checks had been told taped seems or nothing. It was infuriating, but I was determined not to take it out on a volunteer. “Okay, how do we fix this?” was my question. The answer was simple: I had to buy the £40 Rat Race plastic bag of a storm jacket. Disgruntled, I bought it, popped the receipt in the plastic wrapping and signed in. I was in a foul mood.
I headed to my home for the weekend, an AirBnB 10 minutes out of town, for the usual night of broken sleep followed by the early rise to get my big bowl of porridge before the start time. Starting a race inside Caernarfon Castle was a logistical hurdle but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Due to bad weather forecast there was a second kit check at the front door of the castle, for which I had my two jackets, the one I had to buy and the one I trusted. I felt all Jon Snow inside the walls; my surroundings equally awe inspiring and imposing I was totally buzzing! After conquering both the Coast and Lakes, Mountain was going to great fun. It was the last in the Man V series so I’d have the Trinity medal completed and in my hands. I had been allocated to Wave 1, which made me happy, as there are reportedly fewer bottlenecks early doors. The announcer made it clear during the brief that we would bottleneck at the start leaving the castle, but that the trackers don’t start until outside the castle so not to worry. As always I found runners like myself, standing on their own, and had a chat with them. I find it is the fastest and easiest way to ease my nerves plus like Scooter said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice”.
The atmosphere in Caernarfon Castle was totally electric. The choke point was just that, but it quickly gave way to the quiet streets of Caernarfon. We snaked our way through the countryside, the roads getting quieter every mile we pass until we’re in the looming hills and everything is still. The weather held pretty well in the opening miles of the race, it was cool, with a bit of a breeze and overcast clouds that could turn to rain quickly in the mountains. I opted for a lighter long sleeve to run in, figuring it would definitely cool down as I climbed. The valley (not glen as I was corrected a few times) between Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion was simply stunning, part of me wants to rerun these courses to stop and take pictures. The parting clouds, drizzle and sun shining through made for an eerie Middle Earth setting that took my mind off the miles past and the miles yet to come. A steady stream of Rat Racers could be seen snaking up to the saddle at the top of the valley before dropping onto the Snowdon Ranger Path. As I started along this path I was feeling good but very conscious I had the Coast to Coast race in 7 days time for which I must stay reigned in – for another few miles anyway.
I was enjoying it, feeling confident, the weather was good and I could smash this. I started to push harder at 11 miles in; at half way, it was all downhill metaphorically speaking but I hadn’t even summited the mighty Snowdon yet. I had over 2000 feet still to climb so opted to power walk the steepest sections but kept pushing. The last two miles took me around 50 minutes of calf burning pushing and by the end cramp set in. It was misty for the last couple of miles so there was little else to look at but the trail in front; I could’ve been anywhere.
The summit was a bit of an anti-climax; packed with runners descending mixed with the those, like myself, on their final push skyward and a large number of hill walkers and ill-prepared tourists littering the already slippery rocky path. I’ve climbed a good few mountains in Scotland including Ben Nevis, but I think Mount Snowdon is by far the busiest I’ve ever been on. A quick stretch off and some banter with the marshals (who were absolutely brilliant) and I then I lined up to begin my descent. It was my turn to dodge the ascenders and tourists. The Llanberis Path is an interesting beast; rocky is an understatement and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. It would be a tricky path in the wet if you were walking, but running turned it into a potential ankle breaker. Caution and speed meant my thighs were working serious overtime. Often the easiest route was blocked as a hill walker / tourist staring at their feet suddenly realised you were coming and moved into your way rather than out. It certainly didn’t annoy me as we all have an equal right to be there but it forced me to run on some surfaces I would’ve normally avoided.
It took me 3 hours to reach the summit from the start line; it then took me 50 minutes to descend the mountain. The calf cramp was gone but it had been replaced by considerably worse quad cramp. The downhill was like holding a squat for 50 minutes but a water station positioned perfectly at the bottom gave me a quick minute to stretch off, get some electrolytes on board and to take it easy for a mile or two. The “vertical” kilometre was shortly after, and in a mile I had another painstaking 600 feet to climb but I maintained a good pace as we hit the mine. Part of me was sad to pass through the area so quickly as it was one of the most staggeringly beautiful man made creations I’ve seen since the temples in Egypt. It was the scale of the mine that was the most remarkable, it just seemed to go on forever, but my time was limited. I was feeling pretty burnt out by mile 20 after my silly effort to “smash it”. I was holding a decent pace but I certainly wasn’t as comfortable as I’d have liked. The final water obstacles came into view but being so close to the end was a bit of a shame, I wasn’t enjoying them all that much, rather plodding through like a sad donkey. The event village can always be heard before you can see it and that was reassuring. The last mile took a while due to water elements and an “abseil” down a slope. It was an odd descent, as it was down a man-made slope covered by tarpaulins. This wasn’t difficult to do, just time consuming, which I guess was the point. The finish line finally came into view- normally I save a bit for a pacey finish to look good but I had barely anything left in my legs so a half hearted effort had to suffice. I hobbled over the line with a big smile on my face and I received my medals. I had brought my other Man Vs Medals and trinity segments for immediate social media bragging rights. I had hoped for a Thanos-like event when I combined all three parts, sadly absolutely nothing happened; no time control, mind control or the ability to throw objects with a mere thought.
Totally crushed by the mountain and its epic views, remembered I had to do it all over again during Coast to Coast in a week’s time. I had the fear big time. Man Vs Coast was the furthest I’d ever run - just shy of a marathon. Man Vs Lakes was further still only two weeks later, 50k of lovely hilly Lake District. Man Vs Mountain was the highest I’d ever climbed in a race at 5055 feet but Coast to Coast surpassed them all by a very long way. 105 miles, about 80 of that on something called a bicycle, not to mention climbing 11,500 feet. It was insane - what had I gotten myself into?