The tag line of Ultra-Trail Snowdonia, part of the UTMB World Series of events, is “Beautiful beyond belief. Savage beyond reason“. And the events certainly live up to that claim. Eryri (Snowdonia) is one of the most beautiful locations in the UK. The terrain, from the mountains, to the bogs between can be cruel and unforgiving for those ill-prepared.
Ultra-Trail Snowdonia Eryri (UTS 50) Race Summary
I’ll quickly get my personal race stats out of the way.
- Distance: 56km
- Elevation: 3425 m (11,237 ft)
- Goal time: 10:00:00
- Completed time: 09:34:04
- Average HR (wrist): 149 bpm
- Strava link
- Race number: 1947
Training and Lead Up to UTS 50
My training has been fairly consistent for a year or two, no real breaks aside from some scaling down of things earlier this year due to high hamstring tendonopathy (overuse injury).
I came into UTS 50 this year hot off the heels of having finished the Wild Horse 200 South Wales (which I finished in 84 hours). That race really pushed me to the limits, and I only had 1 month of recovery time leading up to UTS 50.
Recovery was a concern, but 1 week before UTS 50, I ran the local Preseli Beast fell race (24 miles with around 4900 ft of elevation) as a test / trial of how my body was after Wild Horse 200. Things were looking pretty good, so I geared up for UTS 50.
I haven’t had much experience running in North Wales, but something that was extremely useful was running a recce of the general area and some of last year’s UTS 50 route with someone local (and very knowledgable). We tackled about 32km of the area in September last year, with around 2000m or so of vert.
The following day, I made hay while the sun shone, and ran up and over Moel Eilio, starting in Llanberis with good friend Martin of Kelp and Fern.
This recce was very useful to get a feel for the terrain and obstacles.
Registration and Kit
I secured prepaid parking in a car park about 1 mile away from the National Slate Museum and drove up from West Wales on Friday afternoon. I had brought my bicycle with so getting myself to and from the Slate Museum was quick and easy.
Registration had seemingly opened slightly early, which was a nice surprise. I got that out of the way, queuing for only 2 minutes, and had the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax.
My accommodation was a 10 minute drive away, so I made sure to be up early in the morning for race day to ensure there were no surprises with parking spots.
I used the required UTS 50 kit list as a base. The LiveRun app was telling me to take the required (no hot or cold weather kit). However, I used common sense and the weather report to modify it slightly.
- Salomon Adv Skin 12 pack
- 2 x 500 ml soft flasks
- Additional 2L Salomon water bladder (carried empty) – plan was to use this to fill in clean water sources if I needed additional water due to heat
- 50 SPF Sunscreen in a bottle
- Desert / Sahara hat
- All required base UTS 50 kit items – e.g. whistle, elastic bandage, waterproof rain jacket, leggings, etc…
- Lots of extra calories
- 3 x 250mg precision hydration electrolyte capsules
- Black Diamond Carbon Distance Z trekking poles
- Kit worn
- Mid-thigh shorts
- Tech t-shirt
- Nnormal Kjerag trail shoes
A quick note on preparation. For the entire week ahead of the race, I preloaded electrolytes and drank well. 1000mg electrolytes sipped throughout the day, every day. I tend to do this for all ultra races / events.
I also ate about 1.5x the carbohydrates I would usually eat. On the morning of the race, I had 1500mg electrolytes which I sipped slowly whilst getting ready. I also slathered on my SPF 50 sunscreen on all exposed skin surfaces. There was no way in hell I was going to get sun burned today.
This preparation was key I think to performing well in the heat. I am a heavy sweater when I run!
So how did Ultra-Trail Snowdonia UTS 50 pan out for me? I think it went well. I really enjoyed the whole experience.
The morning was very busy, but I meandered over to around 2/3 of the way back in the whole pack of runners. Soon enough we were off.
Llanberis up to Bwlch Glas (near the top of Snowdon) and on to CP1
Setting off my Garmin Course was acting up, so I cancelled the activity on my watch after 600m of running and started it up again. I found I didn’t even need the course GPX anyway, the route was so well marked with orange flags, and we had perfect visibility the whole day.
It was very busy out of Llanberis and up to the finger stone at Bwlch Glas.
I didn’t find much opportunity to overtake the whole way up, but I did make a bit of positive progress past some of the pack.
This was a positive in one way – it made sure I didn’t overcook things too early on.
Heading back down from the finger stone was fun, but still busy. Care was needed on the smaller jumps/scramble downs as others were always in front. Still early though, and no real rush here. On the descent I ate one of my 40g veloforte bars.
Approaching Pen-y-Pass, I made sure to almost finish my 2 x 500ml soft flasks of water. There is a tap here if I needed, but I decided to hold out till the first aid station checkpoint.
The grass and dirt trail down had some difficult camber in places, but great views. The sun was beating down hard now as we made our way down the valley.
Approaching the first checkpoint at Gwastadannas, I sipped off the last of my 2 x 500ml soft flasks and had them ready for refilling. The area was busy with runners, but I only spent 3-4 minutes here getting my water refilled. I also had a cup of (warm) coke. I didn’t want to linger, so off I went again.
The next bit of the route followed along a lot of running water – perfect if I thought I would need to fill my 2L bladder I was carrying in the back of my pack. I used the water sources to dunk my hat in now and then. It was perfect for cooling off.
CP1 onward – up Snowdon once more
This initial bit was a little more runnable, and I was sure to keep moving well along here. Soon enough we were beginning the ascent back up to summit Snowdon.
The terrain got quite technical again. Lots of loose slate, scree, and sharp, jagged rocks to contend with, along with the already tough gradient. I loved it though!
Sweat pouring from the brim of my cap, trekking poles strapped in, I worked my way up relentlessly, making positive gains the whole way up.
I stopped for a couple of photos here and there looking back, or observing those ahead of me.
These scrambles were still quite busy in terms of numbers of runners (and the general public out on the trails). Some short video as I made my way along:
After the technical climbs and small scrambles we got to run the beautiful ridge of the Rhyd Ddu path (I believe this is the name of this bit).
Coming back down again was an absolute blast. I really enjoyed the second descent, and it was from this point on that I started working my way up the pack for the remainder of the race.
At a certain point (I think it was 27 km or so), I passed a chap who was screaming/shouting out in agony every few steps. I asked him if he had cramp, and he grunted back a “yes”. He didn’t have any electrolytes, so I handed him one of my precision hydration capsules. I took one myself while they were out, as the incident made me realise the sides of my face were already caked in salt and I needed to stay hydrated.
At the bottom of the descent at roughly 31km was the next checkpoint (2). I had taken on more calories (Veloforte bars) and made sure my water was just about finished.
At the checkpoint, I refilled, had a bit more coke, and spent 5 extra minutes re-applying a full covering on sun screen. I topped up my calories with a couple of orange slices here, and moved on out, looking even whiter than my usual Irish-ancestry-skinned self.
At this point I was confident in the 2 x 500ml soft flasks capacity of water. The 2L salomon bladder felt like extra dead weight. Still, there were a number of hours remaining, and I took pleasure in knowing I had more capacity if I needed it.
Climbing again – up and down Mynydd Mawr
Mynydd Mawr is Welsh for “big mountain”. And it is quite a big one. The sun was fully baking everyone at this point, and the climb up was punishing in the heat. At least the technicality was slightly reduced from the previous ascending and descening we had done though.
This climb did seem to go on forever. The photos don’t do it justice at all. Near the top we passed the very rocky summit where volunteers/supporters were cheering out from a little shaded tent. My spirit was still very high and I was enjoying the day.
I had some great conversation with a couple of runners along the next section (which was quite technical on the descent) – lots of loose small rock on a narrow trail.
Near to the bottom was a lot of bog and wet bits. In fact, I ended up knee deep in some of it! After my shoes and socks were fully wet I just embraced it and ran along the weird jelly-like floating grass and boggy mud bits.
The red chair and CP3
There were bits of woodland and forestry that we ran through. Some of it was a bit technical to run through with sharp branches and fallen trees blocking some of the path.
Here I discovered the famous red chair. What? How? Why? Were the immediate questions in my head.
Distracted by the chair I suddenly found myself knee deep in the thickest of mud so far. Very carefully and slowly, I pulled my leg out so as not to lose my shoe and laughed as a couple of other runners around me did the same.
I can’t remember if CP3 was before or after the chair – I think after. I refilled my water one last time, and took on some more carbs for the final push.
Moel Eilio to the finish
Having run Moel Eilio last year (albeit from the other side), I knew there was a fair bit of suffering in the elevation, but it was a lot “smoother” and undulating than other mountains around. I also remembered it had a series of false summits. I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up then.
Ensuring my goal time was met
A little way into the initial approach, and looking at my watch, I saw that there were around 10km left to go, with most of the mountain up ahead of me to climb. Looking at the current time, and with some quick calculations in my head, I worked out that I needed to move up the mountain doing roughly 16 minute per km pace, and then barrel down the otherside as best as I could to the finish to get the average back down again. The goal being 12 minutes per km, in order to get to the finish just before 6pm. This would net me my 10 hour or less goal.
Climbing was fairly tough at this point, and the descents were almost just as tough, needing to constantly apply “quad-braking” quite heavily so as not to let gravity get the better of me. I used my trekking poles to help alleviate the strain on my quads a bit.
Once I hit the gravel track at the bottom of the mountain, I knew it was pretty much just downward gradient all the way to Llanberis.
My watch showed an ETA of 6:05pm. Not good. I needed 5:59pm for my 10 hour goal. However, I think it was just being overly cautious in it’s estimate based on my previous slowed pace from the climb.
I broke out into a good run, which I maintained all the way back. The minutes on the ETA quickly diminished, and soon it was showing an ETA of 5:35pm. Perfect.
Into Llanberis, and soon the Slate Museum and crowds were within sight. Rounding the corner, onto the red carpet, across the finish line, and the job was done.
I was pleased with my overall result, especially with only 3-4 weeks of recovery in my legs since my 200-miler.
The event itself although high in numbers, felt well organised. I’m not sure how things were through the checkpoints further on back in the pack, but I have heard there were shortages of water. Hopefully those short on water were able to refill from the running streams if they weren’t able to get water at checkpoints.
The finish line atmosphere was great. I sat in a deck chair and enjoyed a couple of refreshments from the nearby food stands while chatting with some of those who were finished, and got to watch the top 5 come in over the finish line for the 100k.
This was a fun race, and great technical mountain training for my upcoming Dragon’s Back 2023 race this September.