The 2014 edition of Rat Race’s Man vs Mountain was my first attempt at conquering Snowdon and I thought I would share a few tips and advice which hopefully will come in useful if you decide to enter.
Rat Race put on a very well organised event and there’s no doubt it’s a big challenge but not so big that it’s out of reach for all but the most hardener ultra-runners.
I really think with a bit of training most people could enter and enjoy themselves.
Man vs Mountain tough event that’s made a little more of a challenge by the addition of the Merrell vertical kilometre, abseil and water obstacles that you have to tackle after a 13 mile from sea level to the top of Snowdon and then back down again.
This was my first attempt at anything like this but I’m a competitive person so after looking at the finishing times last year I decided to set myself a target of finishing under 4 hours. A bit of a challenge but one I thought was within my grasp if I trained hard enough.
I eventually finished 5th overall in a time of 3:49:44 so I was very happy despite a few problems that cost me a lot of time and taking it fairly easy up to the top of Snowdon.
So here are a few things I learnt from this year’s event that I hope can help others if you choose to enter, so in no particular order here’s my top 10 tips for conquering Snowdon:
1. Check the weather forecast and dress appropriately
I spent a lot of time checking the weather forecast for Caernarfon, Snowdon summit and Llanberis the week before so I had the right kit on the day.
In the week running up to the event it looked like it was going to be bright and sunny with some cloud and a high of around 15°C.
It’s especially important to check the conditions at the summit as this will have a big impact on kit choice, both what you wear and what you choose to carry along with the mandatory kit.
This is the Welsh mountains and conditions on the summit can be wildly different from those as sea level.
On other thing to take into account is that you will face a number of dips in the lagoon and lake so the last thing you want is clothing that becomes heavy when wet.
Coupled with the good forecast, water obstacles and the fact I didn’t plan on hanging around I decided to travel light.
My final kit choice was:
- David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation running vest
- Nike shorts
- 66° North ankle socks
- Brooks Cascadia 9 shoes – perfect for the conditions and drain quickly when dunked in lagoons and lakes.
- Salomon Skin Pro 3 Set (this was a big mistake, but more on that later)
Apart from the Salomon running pack this was a good choice for the event and I would run in this again if the conditions were similar.
There were people in waterproof jackets and leggings at the start and they must have been absolutely boiling before they even got out of Caernarfon.
Obviously kit choice is a personal choice but in the conditions on the day this was more than enough to tackle the mountain in.
If the weather was bad then I would have worn something more substantial for sure.
Weather forecasts for the area can be found here:
Top tip: Dress appropriately for the conditions
2. Choose your accommodation wisely
We stayed at Y Castell Hotel on the square in Caernarfon because it was close to the start which we thought would make it easier in the morning. It was also cheap.
Whilst the hotel itself was nice and clean and the room well equipped what the website failed to mention was that the bar downstairs is open until 2am in the morning and it gets loud, very loud with both music and drunks so getting enough sleep was a problem.
Not what you need when you have to be up at 6am to race 20 miles up a mountain.
It also didn’t serve breakfast so that consisted of a couple of pots of Oats so Simple with some bananas bought from the convenience store next door. You have to be able to adapt!
It wasn’t the best start to the weekend so make sure you pick your accommodation wisely if you stay in Caernarfon.
Top tip: Stay somewhere you will be able to get a good night’s sleep
3. Make sure you have a change of clothes ready at the finish line
You will get wet, very wet and sweaty so make sure you have something to change into when you finish.
Top tip: Don’t forget to pack a warm jacket, hat and gloves in your kit bag to change into
4. Don’t avoid the hills during training
You have wisely decided to enter a race up a mountain and back down that includes 1600m of vertical climb in total.
So you aren’t defeated by the mountain you need to include as much off road hill training as you can.
Even if you don’t live in particularly hilly part of the country find some steps or a bank and do laps or loops that includes these where you can.
It really will make all the difference during the event.
Near where I live there is an off road loop that includes some killer steps and a few tricky descents which I made sure I included in my training a couple of times a week.
Running on flat roads is totally different to running up the side of a mountain and you will be in for a massive shock if you don’t include hill training in your preparation.
Top tip: Learn to love the hills in training
5. Gravity can be a bitch to tired legs
Once you have reached the summit after 13miles of pretty much continual uphill running with the odd descent thrown in for good measure it’s time to turn round and start the descent of Snowdon – easy, right?
This couldn’t be any further from the truth. After that climb your legs are tired, it feels like your heart is going to burst through your chest, your coordination isn’t at its best, your eyes are full of sweat and gravity is a bitch to tired legs.
Once you hit the Llanberis path the track starts to widen and drop away at an increasingly steeper gradient. This was nearly the death of me.
As you descend and pick up speed gravity takes over and there was a point where I was practically sprinting down the side of Snowdon, still picking up speed with no ability whatsoever to be able to slow down because my legs were too tired to slow me down.
I have never had my life flash before my eyes before but I guess there is a first time for everything. Try as I might I just couldn’t slow down and the track was starting to get rockier. One wrong foot and it would have been game over but I just couldn’t slow myself down.
Eventually I decided to cut back up the hill to counter the effects of gravity. Fortunately this worked and I managed to get back under control but not before scaring some walkers half to death when this orange streak flew past them swearing at itself.
Top tip: Don’t let gravity pull you down
6. Watch out for walkers
Snowdon is very popular with walkers and the day of the event was no different and we have to share the paths with them.
The majority were great and offered words of encouragement as they stepped out of the way for you to run past.
A few, probably through no fault of their own, didn’t see me or expect me running past so I ended up having to side step a couple and on one occasion this resulted in a high speed head butt of one of the gates.
Luckily there was plenty of give so I didn’t knock myself out but it was close.
Top tip: Try and give walkers a friendly hello as you approach so they know you are coming and it gives them chance to move out of the way
7. A race is not the time to be testing new kit
I thought I would treat myself to a new running pack – a Salomon Skin Pro 3 Set – for the event but due to a few things, mainly me leaving it until the last minute to order, it didn’t arrive in time to try it out before the event.
When I was setting the bag up and loading it with the mandatory kit I noticed that the shoulder straps were only held together by Velcro.
I thought this was a bit strange but the pack was from Salomon and they have a good reputation so just thought that once on and secured with the chest straps it would be ok. How wrong was I?
On the road section the pack was great and I was really pleased with my new purchase. It almost felt like I wasn’t wearing a pack, all my food was within easy reach and the drinking system worked great – I was really pleased with my purchase.
This all changed once we hit the off road section and the Velcro straps started to work themselves loose causing me to stop to reattach the straps and carry on.
This happened a few times and eventually I had to fashion a fix using one of the 4D pole holder straps.
This is not something you expect to have to do on a running pack from a brand such as Salomon that retails for £100. I was fuming that I kept losing time having to stop to fix the pack. I think I lost about 10-15 minutes in total.
I plan on writing a full review of the pack shortly to highlight the issues I had. In short terms it’s just not fit for purpose, the most useless product I have ever bought for any application.
Top tip: Make sure you are happy and comfortable with your equipment before you line up on the start line.
8. Make sure you have enough food and liquids to get you through
There is a minimum amount of food and drink you have to take with you as part of the mandatory kit but it’s a good idea to plan your nutrition strategy before the race.
I used a combination of High5 energy gels, Chia Charge Flapjacks and High5 energy drink to keep me going.
I think in the end I had 5 gels, half a flapjack and drank 1 litre of fluids.
If you think you might need some additional fluids after the bag drop you will need to plan this in and carry bottles with you.
It’s another few miles to the finish once you drop your bag and that includes the killer vertical kilometre so it’s a good idea to try and take something with you for that last push if you can.
Top tip: At the bag drop fuel yourself up for a fast finish
9. Set yourself a target finishing time
I wanted to push myself and finish under 4 hours which I’m pleased to say I did but whatever time you want to finish I think it’s a good idea to set yourself a target to aim for. It just makes the event that little bit more fun!
Top tip: Set yourself a target time that will push you to try harder
10. Most importantly – have fun and enjoy it!
Without a doubt it’s a brilliant event that’s well organized and something you don’t get to do every day. There is a real sense of camaraderie with the other runners that you don’t get anywhere else. Perhaps it’s the enormity of the task that brings people together but there was plenty of smiley, chatty faces before the field started to string itself out.
Whether you decide to take it fast or slow it doesn’t matter in the end because once you cross that finish line you can say ‘I conquered Snowdon’ and believe me that’s a great feeling to have.
Thanks to Rat Race for organizing the event and all the marshals manning the checkpoints.
See you on the start line next year
Top tip: Enjoy yourself – it’s not that brutal but it certainly is beautiful