The UTS Snowdon 50 is regarded as one of the toughest races in the UK Ultra calendar. 86km of scrambling ascents and technical downhills takes in stunning mountain scenery and often all the weather Wales can throw at you. Often the preserve of experienced trail ultra marathoners, read how first time ultra runner, Andy Pye tackled the beast.
Its the 11th May and its 04:30hrs, and I’m in a marquee in Llanberis. Ahead of me is approx 50miles of mountain trail and approx 16700ft of climb.
How did I get here?
In November 2017, I had completed a year's journey and ambition to become a fell and trail running coach. I had created my own business offering coaching to runners and non runners on the wonderful trails of the West Midlands and I was an active trail and fell runner for Mercia Fell Runners. I had completed every off road distance……but not an ultra. The timing was right.
A year later, the idea was dropped to have a look at the UTS 50 (Ultra Trail Snowdonia). Then whilst on a night shift (I have a full time job in the public service), I had a look at the website and in a tired state, clicked on ‘register’. The event required a few qualifying races, and I hoped that the Wales Trail Marathon and Snowdonia 7s would qualify me.
I had 6 months to prepare to run 53 miles and climb 5200m
I decided to coach myself and see how it went, putting all the knowledge I had, and seeking advice from friends who had completed mountain ultras in the past, I put my plan together. This included a few big races in the Shropshire hills during the winter, a recce or two of the route, and getting as many hills in as possible. Quality not quantity. Amazingly, I managed to get to the 11th May without an injury and that was also thanks to regular sports massage and the odd trip to the physio to check me over.
Kit was prepped, including a rucksack full of safety gear, a change of clothing, head torches, food and water, and the knowledge that there would be seven check points, all with hydration, all with snacks and two with food.
We started at 4:50 in the morning
Thank the heavens for such good weather. I would get to see the views! One thing that did concern me though was the fact that the majority of runners were experienced ultra runners and quite a few were known in the ultra community. Oh and this is one of the hardest 50 mile ultras in the country.
I just had to remember to go at my pace and not to go too quickly.
The first few miles were fine and before long as the sun rose we were headed up Moel Ellio and the top of the first climb. At checkpoint 1, I only took on fluids as forcing myself to eat a bagel before the start had been struggle enough. Onwards to the second tough climb, Mynydd Mawr, a long and constant uphill. It was here that I realised I was near the back of the race. Great, bringing up the rear!! This was the first time my morale dipped but it wasn't until after the next checkpoint and we were well into the climb up the Ranger Path that I first started to suffer.
I was only 18 miles in but my muscles were showing signs of cramp and I was hungry.
Salt tablets and a Chia Charge flap jack later and I was feeling like a new man - well almost. Down the Rhyd Ddu Path and 1km from checkpoint 3 I was greeted by my wife, Becca who ran in with me. Her words of encouragement and praise really helped spur me on, not to mention her force-feeding me tea, juice and a sandwich. Restored, it was off to the hardest section of the race. I was now 6th from the back with the climbs of Moel Lefn, Moel Ogof and finally Moel Hebog ahead of me. All those months of hill reps paid off as I overtook two people and found myself skipping down towards check point four and Beddgelert. Again Becca met me, telling me I only had 20 miles to go to the finish. The beast was almost beaten.
Changing my clothes and eating real food was amazing and I hit a high for the first time.
I ran most of the next section of undulating trails to Pen Y Pass and felt strong, even managing to overtake a few more people. The climb up to Pen y Pass was a shock, but my head was now strong and I was confident I could finish. More food, and I was off for the final climb of Snowdon via Llewid. The scrambling meant it took an hour to cover a mile!! Once off Llweid, it was the final climb up the Watkins Path to the Snowdon Summit. I know the Llanberis path quite well and off I went, powering through, feeling strong, acknowledging all the night time walkers and without realising, I closed down some more runners. The route then took us off to the left and into the woods. I counted another 5 people that I overtook.
At one point, I had to retrace my steps as I had taken a wrong turn, but the end was getting closer and I could see the lights of the event area.
Climbing uphill to the finish, I was knackered, tired, hungry and thirsty but nothing was going to stop me running those last few metres and being greeted by my wife with the biggest and proudest hug ever! I had done it, I actually finished. No injuries, beaming with happiness and pride, UTS50 was done.
On reflection the ultra took over my life for the six months that I trained. Planning, preparation, sorting kit, training. I was talking about it most days, training for it 5 days a week, and constantly packing kit, unpacking, changing kit….. but I got to the start line apprehensive, respectful, but fully prepared and with a strong mind, stubborn enough to get over that finish line. And if that wasn't enough, I raised £1314 for Save the Children.
Andy Pye is an EA Fell/ Trail Running Coach based in the West Midlands who loves nothing more than encouraging anyone and everyone to get out running trail. Search for him under Find or contact him on Andypye1981@outlook.com