Monday, 20 July 2009

Snowdon International Mountain Race

A long car journey up through Wales. Heavy showers and scenery that becomes more and more removed from the sanitised tame boring prettiness of the Cotswolds. Streams of water mark white lines down hillsides, the cloudbase sags like a bloated underbelly.

Down through the Pass. Familiar looking crags bring back memories of camping holidays in the '90s. It's good to be back - older, balder, slightly wiser and definitely happier.

The new surroundings of the Beris youth hostel challenge my instincts to be self-contained, so it's good to be with Mike who is naturally enthusiastic and an experienced hosteler. Whereas I'm internalising what's coming and failing to attain a state of zen-like calm, Mike shares out the excitement of the anticipation with the new people we meet. Over breakfast the following morning, an Australian evangelist claiming the ability to speak in tongues matches Mike's enthusiasm with his own. The exchanges to an fro like a tennis rally as they good naturedly yet persistently power their respective interests backwards and forwards; attempting to find the angles and make the passing shot.

Warming up in the field behind the fairground where the race starts, the Welsh international runner, Math Roberts resembles my spaniel Midge when he ferrets at high speed through the rushes before circling to a halt and doing a wee.

The proud Welsh countdown to the start sets the adrenal glands to 'Flow' and, with a blast of a fire engine's siren, we're off between the cheering crowds up and out of Beris.

Over to one side the TV helicopter blaps away. I can't find a rhythm in the congestion so sometimes make my way along the larger stones marking the edge of the path. The air becomes clearer and cooler. The landscape opens up and is welcome after the confines of the town. The bulk of the hill appears into view.

I snap away on the crap argos camera [photos] and chat intermittently with other runners. The route is heavily populated with walkers and spectators, the train chuffs away. Numbers feel incongruous in the setting.

It's too steep to run so I power walk with hands hips, hands on knees up into the cloud.

The path narrows and the volume of users on it increases. It's cold enough for breath to come out in clouds.

Marshalls' whistles up ahead and the lead runner Andi Jones comes past. More whistles, more runners going at speeds you really wouldn't want to get in the way of. We're supposed to be keeping to the right, but it just isn't working. Laura Kent comes past totally focused and I shout encouragement in the moment before she's gone.

The summit comes and goes. People in hoods, the chip timer mat bleeping as we run over it.

I'm gathering speed and momentum when the track narrows ahead. There's a big boulder in the middle, runners on the left and walkers on the right so i go over the boulder and through the gap between the bodies. "Good running," someone says as I pass. I'm tanking along, I see Mike working hard, coming up through the mist, he gives me a huge, "Go ON, Matt!" and I say something similar and then I'm coming down out of the cloud and trying to work the argos camera at the same time.

Eyes and mind and feet co-ordinate faster than I can process thought (which isn't saying much I suppose).

At the Clogwyn drink station I take a cup, get a mouthful and throw the rest to one side - unfortunately it goes over a watching kid. I hear the mother's instantaneous "Oh" and see her reach out to her child but I'm gone and all I can do is raise an arm by way of apology.

Still going flat out, I'm trading places with an Eryri runner, when karma strikes back. My shoe leaves a wet smear across the dust black plastic of a drainage pipe and I'm over, twisting and distorting, somehow rolling as I fall. I'm looking at the stones of the path in front of my face, my forearm has taken the worst. Immediately I'm up and going at the same speed as before, the Eryri runner ten metres ahead. I hear woman shout, "Well DONE!" and a marshall shouts to me that there's first aid just ahead, but I'm ok despite the the sudden cramping in my calves.

The steep road section back into the town is awful because it makes leg muscles go into reverse to slow down the momentum.

We're running down the street into town and everyone is out of their houses clapping all the runners as we pass. Turning the corner onto the high street and the cheering gets louder and my legs just dissolve. The Eryri guy goes away from me as if i'm stationary and I want this all to stop right now because I can't go on. But then we turn off into the park and I can see the finish and hear the crowds cheering us on either side.

I'm determined to smile as I finish and just about manage it. Someone presses a bottle of water into my hand and a cadet snips the timing chip off my shoe and then I just stand, looking up, pouring water over my head. Utterly, utterly knackered.

Then the melee of the end. Everyone euphoric, Laura (who managed 4th lady) and her husband are nearby and we wait for Mike to come in.

In Pete's Eats we gulped pints of sweet tea and wolfed a veggie breakfast each, high on the afterburn of the run and savouring the atmosphere of the place.

All of the above self-centredness falls into perspective with the news that one runner suffered a massive heart attack just below the summit. He was given first aid and airlifted off but very sadly died. RIP

Laura on her way to 4th position

Mike descending

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