Report from Sarah Fuller:
‘its only 50K it will be a nice chilled day out in the mountains’ that’s what I thought when I signed up for the UTS 50 (Ultra trail Snowdonia). Turns out I was right and so very very wrong! I’ve spent a lot of time in the Snowdonia mountains over the years climbing and running and was really looking forward to getting back there after a long absence. I originally entered the race as an alternative to doing the lakeland in summer 2020 but obviously neither ended up happening. UTS got put back a couple of times finally settling on a September slot and I ended up with a lakeland 50 place in the 2021 event so it turned out lakeland was a warm up for UTS! The lakeland 50 at 50 miles was obviously longer but turns out UTS was harder so it was probably the right way round in the end!.…
I rocked up in Capel Curing Friday night ready for the very civilised 9am start time the next day. I was super nervous about the race even though (unusually!) I was doing the shortest distance out of the 3 races on offer over the weekend (there is also a 100k and a 100 miler). The UTS events had a reputation for being hard (the longer 2 races were new routes this year and this was the first ever 50k event) and the cut off times being tough, on paper it all looked doable what were people on about? 14 hours to do 50K surely that’s not that hard I’ve done hilly 50 milers in a similar time but then there is the small factor of 11,000ft of climbing and the technical ground….
The race starts with a long but steady away climb up Moel Siabod as usual it was hard to not get caught up in the excitement and I probably did the climb a little bit too quick for me but I was very pleased to see the top and still be in the main pack of runners! The run down the other side it fast and furious but then it enters the ‘bog’ zone (anyone who has been on the Paddy Buckley will know exactly what Im talking about!) – thankfully unlike the Paddy we only did a few miles in the bog zone before dropping steeply down to Llyn Gwynant and checkpoint one. I made the first cut off with 20 odd minutes to spare and ran in with my friend Mike so was well relieved. A bit of nosh and then off up the valley then a steep pull to Pen y pass where the ‘fun’ really started.
The route (I wont call it a path because quite frankly that would be an insult to actual paths) ascended straight up the steepest bit of Glyder Fawr they could find, it was horrible and I had a torrid time going up it. Mike had already pulled ahead before Pen y pass, I let him go and got my head down. I started to panic as I was feeling so bad (the same thing had happened on the second big climb of the lakeland and the second big climb of Lakes mountain 40) and loads of people came past me. I tried not to stop but I had nothing in my legs, felt sick and dizzy and was going glacially slowly, every time someone went past I tried to stick with them but soon they would pull ahead and disappear into the clag above. After what seemed like a lifetime I got to the summit and sat down a bit despondent with the whole thing. I’d convinced myself I was going to miss the next cut off at Ogwen but the summit marshall gave me a good talking to and said there were still people behind me and if I pushed hard I would still make it. I thought what the hell lets try and latched onto a couple of guys and set off determined at least Id try my best to make the cut. The descent was steep scree and we fell a few times but I kept pushing and left the guys behind and eventually started on the next climb up Y Garn, thankfully the nausea and weakness had subsided and I felt I was climbing a bit stronger again. I eventually started to reel a few people in and by the summit had caught a few up. The descent was long really long and really steep but I ran hard (well as hard as my legs and the terrain would let me!) a renewed determination at least to make the cut off. I passed a few more people then a few more I felt I was flying and by the time the checkpoint loomed into view as we dropped out the cloud I knew I would make it in time. I’d lost a fair bit of time but made the checkpoint with about 20 minutes to spare. Phew!
A quick pit stop and I pushed on. The next leg was back on the Paddy buckley route and was pretty much the same route from Ogwen, which meant straight up the steep way on Pen Yr Ole wen. This climb redefines steep its ridiculous, in places its so steep you are pretty much rock climbing but although I was slow I was no slower than anyone else and in fact I caught a few folk on the technical parts (my rock climbing experience definitely came in handy!) and was moving a lot stronger than on Glyder Fawr! After about 3 weeks we got to the top, again in the clag (sadly) and set off on the traverse of the Carnedds. I love this section I’ve done it a few times and was really looking forward to it. I caught up with a couple and we pushed each other along, running parts, walking technical bits and up hills and trying to push the pace a bit. They dropped me on the pull up to Carnedd Llewelyn but I caught and passed them again on the scrambling section along the ridge to Pen Y Hegli Du. We dropped out the cloud at this point and the view was wonderful (see picture) I was buzzing and feeling pretty good (considering) and reeling more people in. After Pen Y Hegli Du we diverted from the Paddy and took the long ridge down into the valley – this section was really lovely, actually runnable and not covered with bog or rocks so I got a shift on and reached checkpoint 3 now 50 ish minutes up on cut off. Back in the game! As I arrived in the checkpoint I saw Mike again and Dom another friend who I’d last seen leaving me for dust up Glyder Fawr (not sure who was more surprised to see who!).
I made sure I got some food on board and set off on the final 9.5 mile leg about 5-10 minutes after my friends but well up on the cut off times. Turns out I would need that buffer! The last leg on paper was the ‘easiest’ with the least amount of climb (~450M) but it was also the longest. It started ok with a steady climb up and then a ‘flat’ path along a lake – the ‘path’ however was boggy and covered with slimy rocks so it was slow going in places and it was hard to run much of it. Near the end of the lake it was headtorch o clock and at this point I also started running with a lovely lady, Fred, and we would end up sticking together to the end. She was brilliant and one of those people who just talk and talk and it was just what I needed at that point, we really kept each other going and tried to push each other to run where we could. After the lake there was a boggy climb which wasn’t too bad in reality and soon we were dropping down and down – the descent was really slippery and through a felled wood so covered to slimy tree roots, holes and mud it was so slow but we felt we must be getting close. Eventually we emerged and saw some buildings – could this be it – no of course not our hopes were dashed as the route took us back up a steep climb – probably in reality about a Chevin size but it felt like Snowdon at that stage in the game! After that there was more technical ground, more bogs and more rocks and my feet were starting to feel it. We could feel time ticking away and although we weren’t that worried about missing the overall race end cut off the section had taken longer than we thought and we honestly were really pushing the pace. A few miles from the end we caught up with Mike and Dom again and would yo yo with them to the end as well so there were quite a few of us as we finally dropped down into Capel Curig – my new friend and I were determined to run in so we pushed on and finally could see the finish – at last! We crossed the line arm in arm new buddies and very very happy and very very relieved. We made it with about 15 minutes to spare on the 14 hour limit although as it turned out people were ‘officially’ finishing over an hour later and anyone who got through the last checkpoint in the cut off was allowed to finish. Rumour has it they had underestimated the time allowance for the last section and it will be reviewed but who knows I was just pleased to finish and to do it in the ‘official’ stated time allowance.
I finished joint 217th (242 finished and 273 started) but more importantly I had a brilliant time (with the exception of Glyder Fawr we shall never speak of that again). I need to work out why I keep having these massive low points on big climbs I could really do without that rollercoaster! If you like technical terrain and massive hills then check this one out