Route: Almost circular route starting from Pen-y-Pass, 26.24 miles
This was our halfway marathon and the first of two back-to-back runs. Up till now we have had the semi-luxury of having a day off between each of our marathons, allowing us to rest our weary muscles. Even so, the burn in our legs at the start of each run is a gentle reminder of how much distance we have covered already and we knew that we had to take it steady so not to burn out too much for the following day in the Peak District.
The day started with a quick car shuffle to the start at Pen-y-Pass before beginning our walk up the Miner’s Track, one of the many tracks to Snowdon’s summit. The forecast had hinted at warm, clear conditions with a few clouds to offer protection from the beating Sun. Although it was hazy to start with the humidity was high and we were sweating profusely even before the track got particularly steep. It was looking likely that the forecast was going to be true so definitely a day for running caps, sunscreen and t-shirts to cover our shoulders. We have been developing some impressive tan lines, especially around our ankles from our short sports socks, so might as well work on them a little more!
On this run our support was Mike, Claire’s partner; sportingly accommodating our earlier than usual start to help with the car shuffle and fully prepped on where to meet us for the essential water stops. In addition to this, he is an experienced photographer so I was bursting with questions to ask him about the scientific and technical aspect of this art. There are many links between photography and physics so this was an area that we were keen to investigate more, especially as lenses and their characteristics are a common topic in the A-Level Physics syllabuses. Mountains make excellent subjects for photographs, especially when partnered with tarns and lakes. We were treated to clear, smooth reflections of the Snowdon Horseshoe as we crossed the land bridge on Llyn-Llydaw, the image accentuating the knife-edge shape of the higher path in the soft morning light.
The early start meant that there were few people on the tracks and we thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of our environment. Even the wind was still and quiet. In fact, besides the odd bleating of sheep, the only noise we noticed was from ourselves. Tap, crunch, tap, crunch as we placed one foot and one pole in front of the other, and our heavy breathing as we tackled the stepper section of the Miner’s track towards the top of the path.
As we broke through the clouds, the wind picked up, quickly cooling our over-heated bodies. We had reached the summit just after 9:30am and soon noticed that we were not the first by a long shot; about 12 other keen-beans had got up early to be able to take time to soak in the views before the heat and crowds of the day arrived. I love these magical moments, sitting on the top of a mountain, blue sky above with a blanket of white clouds below; a great time to reflect and just be!
It was almost perfect timing for us though as the café at the top opened at 9:45am, so after enjoying a quick chat with our fellow summiteers and taking a few photos, we headed inside for a celebratory cup of tea. My first visit to this long-standing café in over 20 years since on most other occasions it has usually been out of season and therefore shut. Only after walking into the warmth and queuing for our drinks did Claire remember that she had the HOBO attached to her backpack. Oops! That will be a blip in the data then! She quickly ran out to leave the HOBO sitting on a rock before reappearing again.
It is very fitting to be investigating temperature and relative humidity trends over and around Snowdon since it has the first semi-automatic weather station installed in Britain over 20 years ago. In fact, that small blip hardly caught our attention when we revisited the data at the end of the run. Instead of the relative humidity increasing with decreasing temperature as we ascended Snowdon, the mist inversion caused the relative humidity to decrease too. By breaking through the cloud just below the summit, we must have entered drier air and hence the lower relative humidity (RH) readings.
Taking the opportunity to use the Snowdon Railway Postal Service, I wrote a quick postcard to my parents since this was our half-way marathon and although not half-way in distance, it was definitely half-way in ascent for this run. We were then on our way down, trotting down the Llanberis path into town. Not far along, we heard fast footsteps behind us as two runners caught us up. Just an early morning run up and down the Llanberis path as part of their training for an ultramarathon in Spain the following weekend! Seeing one of their legs taped up gave Claire some consolation that the taping on her thigh was not so strange, it may even give her some kudos amongst the hard-core athletes! It was clear to see that town was now fully waking up as we passed lots of people making their way up to the summit. As always so many encouraging smiles and words, some asking us what we were running in aid of. One guy joked that he would tell all about these ‘two mad women, with too much energy’. Little does he know how much our legs are aching!
Feeling very pleased with our progress and energy levels, we allowed ourselves a short break in Llanberis with Mike, topping up our water bottles and taking on board electrolytes. The next section of the run was through a cooler, wooded section around the Llyn Padarn, giving us the opportunity to spin the legs. Unfortunately, this was not last for long as we had to start uphill again along a path through the quarries. It was at this point that I looked at my watch, 13.11 miles.
“Woohoo! We’re officially half way!”
Not only in this marathon but in the whole challenge; a pretty spectacular feeling! It was something we tried to keep in mind as the terrain became more and more hard work underfoot. The map had shown that we would be crossing undulating moorland but we had forgotten how energy-sapping this type of ground could be. Our speedy progress at the start of the day had decreased dramatically as we bog-hopped from one grassy tuft to the next, trying to spot small navigation posts to keep us on track. Every so often we would hear the whistle of the steam trains on the Lake and Mountain railways echoing around the valley, reminding us of how close and how far we were from the finish!
We pretty much fell into our final water stop at Rhyd Ddu, feeling slightly demoralised and more than a little battered. Glugging down electrolytes, thankfully provided by Mike, we took a much needed ten minutes. He had been patiently waiting a good hour for us to arrive and still managed to give us encouraging words to make the final 6.5 miles. With full water bottles, we set off along the bridle way towards Nantgynant and the A498. Mercifully, this path was a lot easier and we started to make reasonable ground again. By this time the wind had picked up enough to counteract the draining humidity. We were even grateful for the strong cold blast that we received as we passed over the saddle, the wind funnelled quickly between the two mountains either side.
Meeting the A498, we realised that we had already achieved our marathon distance and decided to save ourselves from a further 3 miles up to the van by hitching a lift. Unsure if we would be lucky to get a lift, especially as we did not smell our best at this stage, we were surprised and very pleased when the first car that came along pulled up. Our saviour was a proud octogenarian called Crawford, who ran a guest house in Capel Curig and who had been cycling 16 miles himself that day. Dropping us at our van, we told him that he had saved two women that day. In reply, he said with a cheeky smile, that he would also tell everyone that he had saved two women that day! What a super star!