Normally I’m around the slowest 20 percent of the field on a trail run, but I have never pushed. What if I would? Like today, at the ERYRI 25k at Ultra Trail Snowdonia?
It’s seven in the morning. Sara is baking pancakes, my favorite race food. It’s three hours before the start of the ERYRI 25k, and I still don’t have a plan for this race. We have to climb 845 meters within the first 8,4 kilometers. Climb non-stop. I’ve never done that.
Am I that slow?
Opening the LiveRun app. We need this app today to track us. Funny, it has a prediction, based on my UTMB index. It will take me 4 hours and 16 minutes to run this 25 kilometers and climb these 1.300 meters of altitude. It will already take me 1 hour and 49 minutes to get up to Mount Snowdon (Wyddfa).
4 hours and 16 minutes? I can be faster than that, can’t I? The race has an overview of the favorites. The fastest 250 runners, according to the UTMB-ranking, are on there. Not me. My UTMB-ranking is low. I’ve done 4 UTMB races so far, but ran every race carefully. For a reason. The Houffa Trail was the first time I did 770 meters of altitude; in the snow. Sussex was my first ultra and had 1.600 meters of altitude. The Mighty Marathon was just mud and still had 1.300 meters of altitude. And I ran the Brabantse Ultra Trail only a week after the Mighty Marathon.
It does mean I am number 454.939 out of 725.505 on the UTMB ranking. In other words I’m among the slowest 37 percent. Maybe getting a good score should be my mission. Let’s push myself today at the ERYRI 25k, and see what I’m worth if I give it all.
Time to go to the start
9 am. One hour before the start. It’s time to go to the toilet – only the 3rd time this morning – and gear up. The big question is; should I take my running poles and Insta360? Okay, a big no on the Insta360. I need my hands free. It’s going to be a technical descent. Earlier this week Sara and I walked a part of the trail. It looked okay, so the running poles stay home. Let’s go light.
9.30 am. We’re here. Getting nervous now. Lots of people with running poles. Should I have brought them? Should I run back to the Airbnb? Let’s just go to the toilet one more time.
9.45 am. Yes, we’re allowed to go to the start. This is it. One more kiss for Sara, one more hug. Let’s be among the first half of the field, instead of the last guy starting as I normally do. That will give me a better position going up Mount Snowdon.
9.55 am. Pffff, how long do we have to stand here? Yes the drum band is great, but I want to run. Move my legs. Not stand still. Come on!
9.59 am. Here’s the countdown. It’s going to happen. Can I do this? Am I seriously going to push?
Ready, set, go!
10.02 am. OMG. Everybody is flying. What a start. I’m running 4.30 minutes/kilometer. I run that on a 5 kilometer race if I push. Not on a 25k with 1.300 meters of altitude. This is crazy.
1.6 kilometers. Why is everybody still running? This is a 19 percent grade hill! Don’t people walk uphill here in Wales? There is the Dutch girl I was talking to before the start. She’s flying. She comes from the same flat country as I do. Okay, keep on pushing. Let’s get a good position to start the Llanberis path, where the trail gets smaller.
2.9 kilometers. I can’t remember it was this steep when Sara and I walked up here earlier this week. It’s a 28 percent grade here. I should have brought my poles. The good news; first 200 meters of climbing done, but my heart rate is already 180 beats per minute. I normally keep it below 140 at the start of a race. Should I slow down or push on?
Please let me sit down
6.4 kilometers. This climb is relentless. I’ve been climbing for an hour already. It’s killing my legs. I just want to sit down. Eight. Eight kilometers of climbing to the top. Come on, keep going. Or maybe, just stand still for a moment. What did Adharanand Finn write in The Rise of the Ultra Runner, when he had a climb of 2,5 hours? Walk 20 minutes, rest a minute? Maybe I should try that. Maybe it gets the strain out of my legs.
6.7 kilometers. F*ck, a 32 percent grade. I keep looking at my watch but kilometer 8 isn’t coming closer. I feel like I’m crawling up this mountain. Shall I just turn around and run back to the start? One DNF behind my name isn’t too bad, is it? No, come on. It looks a little flatter where the guy with the red shirt is. Just walk there and rest again for a couple of seconds. Maybe take a picture. That’s a good excuse to stand still.
To the top
7.86 kilometers. A big crowd of people. A crossing. Somebody from the organisation cheering me on. I’m getting there and I am still trailing the Dutch girl. I am getting closer to her and I’m losing terrain again. Wouldn’t it be great to be 1.60 meters and 55 kilos? Now I understand why all the climbers in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia are lightweights and not big guys like me.
8.2 kilometers. I can see the top. I’m there. This climb is almost over. My legs feel trashed. Just have to make my way through the crowds, around all these hikers. Compared to them I’m climbing fast, and not too many people have overtaken me. That’s not too bad.
8.38 kilometers. 1.073 meter. This is the top of Mount Snowdon. Almost the top, we’re bypassing the real top. There is a line of hikers waiting to get up there. We’re allowed to go down. Yes, finally!
And down again
8.8 kilometers. Wow, lowering myself down with my hands. 39% grade down. Small ridge, big drop off. This is fun, this is fast. Leaving the Dutch girl behind now. Crazy guy in front of me, racing down the mountain. On his heels, watching where he places his feet. We’re going more than 13,5 kilometers per hour downhill, over a small ledge of sharp, upright rocks and along a steep precipice. If Sara would have seen images of this, she would have forbidden me to run here.
11.62 kilometers. My legs feel great. I’m flying over rocks and through the bog. Easily doing 11 kilometers an hour, overtaking lots of people. Getting hungry though, but how do you eat, when you have to fix your eyes on the trail? It’s too far to the aid station. I have to eat something. Half a bar?
12.5 kilometers. Following an old man, through the bog, over big stones and through running water. Am I allowed to think that? Yeah, I’m an old man. But how old will he be? Sixty? He’s picking his path fast, but carefully. A great lead. My legs are pretty trashed by now. How far is that aid station. I need water. I drank more than half a liter on the climb.
14.5 kilometers. Yes, aid station. These people are heroes. I should do that once. Orange, banana, sports drink, a bit of coca cola and I’ll be off. I know it’s early for Coca Cola, but I can use the sugar kick.
14.6 kilometers. Why is my phone pinging? Race info message. I came in as number 110 at the aid station. That’s pretty cool. Could I make the top 100? Let’s eat the other half of my bar and try to push some more!
16.73 kilometers. Forget it. I never make the top 100. This was supposed to be a small mountain, but I’m climbing again for ages. And I’m melting. It’s hot. In Wales! This climb is horrible. Bog. My feet keep sinking away. As if an elevation grade of 17 percent isn’t enough on it’s own.
What was I thinking?
18 kilometers. Elevation grade 20 percent. What was I thinking to sign up for the Dolomit Extreme Trail? That’s 55 kilometers and 3.800 meters of altitude. I can’t even do this. My legs just don’t want to walk uphill anymore. How many more meters is it? Luckily I’m not the only one struggling. I’ve even overtaken a few other runners.
19.4 kilometers. Yeah, racing down again. Doing 14 kilometers per hour. Trying to control my speed on the gravel. Bypassing other runners. Maybe I can finish in the top 100. Maybe doing those ultra runs earlier this year will pay off now.
22.39 kilometers. Who put this hill in here? It looked like nothing on the course profile, it’s horrible. Bog again. Why are all these race directors such sadists? Bog just before the finish. Why, why?
The finish in sight
23.14 kilometers. Racing down this crazy steep hill. I know where I am. The Slate Museum is just around the corner. Let’s give it all I have.
24.75 kilometers. Nobody is behind me. The finish is around the corner. Let me walk for 20 meters. Just easing the pressure of my legs. That’s it. Let’s run to the finish now.
24.9 kilometers. One more corner. I can see the finish. Where is Sara? Where is she? This is it.
25.15 kilometers. 10 more meters. Come on! Yes, the finish. The finish. And Sara!
Tears of joy
1.52 pm. Sara is getting the pizza. Let’s check the LiveRun app. What? Number 95! I’ve done it. I am in the top 100! And number 6 in my age category.
2 pm. Let’s show Sara. Okay, crying now. I’m tired, I’m proud. I am allowed to cry, aren’t I? 449 starters, I’m number 95. That’s among the fastest 21 percent. Not the slowest 40 percent. What a race. I can’t wait to come back here for the 50k.