My 100KM Ultra race. The Ultra-Trail Snowdonia – Ben Comery
Over 100km of technical trails through the mountainous areas of Northern Eyri & Snowdonia. Beautiful beyond belief, savage beyond reason.
This was by far the hardest event I’ve ever done and I haven’t exactly been a stranger to tough events. It’s also the longest thing I’ve ever written, so sit down and get ready to read my adventure.
My plan going in was to take it easier in the first 50k and then allow myself to race after that. The mountains don’t care about your plans.
Adam and I set of from the slate museum in Llanberis at 5am, everyone was excited at the pace was high. Me and Adam had agreed to run our own races and maybe see each other out on course. Knowing it was a long day ahead I settled into a comfortable 5:00/km. My HR was high but that’s normal when I’m excited for a race. We hit the Llanberis path and I immediately regretted wearing a jacket, I was dripping with sweat and we’d barely begun.
A quick stop to remove it cost me lots of places and slowed my ascent as I fought back through the line of runners. I settled back into a rhythm and reached the summit with no issues and began the descent down the pyg track. I’ve ran both the tracks before so knew what to expect, and was maintaining a great pace down, dodging early morning hikers and seeing my mate Stacey who came to crew for Adam and i.
Glyder Fawr climb
I hit the first aid station close to my goal time and quickly filled my flasks, grabbed an orange slice and headed back out. The heat was already starting to effect me but I was in good spirits so I pushed on. The climb up glyder fawr was boggy and I wasn’t expecting it but I didn’t think too much of it, I’ve raced cross-country and OCR events and wet feet don’t usually bother me, in fact the water was cool and refreshing. Still trying to take it easy I was making progress through the pack, in hindsight I was probably pushing too hard at this point but I was feeling good.
The summit of glyder fawr is rocky and the descent into the ogwyn valley was technical and long. My feet took a beating and I slowed and began to move backwards through the pack as I approached the second aid station.
I filled my drinks, grabbed some oreos, downed a few cups of water, ate some peanuts and sat in the shade for a few minute to try and cool off. I had no idea that the next section would be a series of long and brutal climbs or I would have spent some more time resting but that’s the price of not studying the route. The heat was really starting to effect me and I was slowing considerably and it was only 9am.
I left the aid station and started the climb, carnedd Llewelyn has multiple false summits and every time I thought I’d finally reached the top another appear seemingly miles away. I slowed to a trudge allowing stronger climbers to pass me but I kept going, the path was rocky and unforgiving, the sun beating down relentlessly and the climb seemed endless.
Two hours after leaving the aid station and having travelled only 7km but gained over 900m of elevation I finally reached the summit. Mountains all around and endless blue sky in every direction, for that brief moment the climb was worth it. I continued on my journey, hitting a few more summits on this chain of mountains, technical terrain mixed with scrambles kept my feet screaming and my pace slow. The wet shoes from the bogs at glyder fawr began to take their toll and the balls of my feet burned. All through this section I remember thinking “you have no right to be here, you’re no mountain runner” but I kept moving, I wanted to quit. I text my wife Kirsty and said I was done and that I would DNF at the next aid station, but she was having none of my shit, I kept moving.
The descent was hell, miles of sloping grass that should have felt great but after all the rocks and water in my shoes, irritated my feet and the constant descending blew my quads. I had gained some places on the descent but hit the third aid station in a black mood.
Battle through the heat
I was suffering in the heat of the day, but luckily there was a small amount of shade at the aid station and a chair. I filled my bottles, drank as much water as I could be bothered and ate a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. I wanted to quit but I was nearly halfway one more section and I’d get my drop bag and more importantly I’d have hit 50k. In my head this was an acceptable achievement in thess mountains and I’d allow myself to stop at 50k. I knew the next section was fairly flat but pretty long at 14km so I set off, feeling sore but confident that I could run to the halfway point in 2 hours. I was wrong.
The first few kilometres flew by, I’m at home on flat trails and with the added propulsion of my poles I was making good time. I hit llyn cowlyd, a stunning lake set between mountains and I fell apart. The ground was boggy and my feet burned when I ran so I was reduced to walking. With every person that passed me, my mood got darker. I hated this event, I hated the mountains and I hated the bogs. I thought it couldn’t get worse. I was wrong.
Three words kept getting stuck in my head and I have no idea where they come from but all I kept saying to myself was “Relentless. Forward. Progress” and that was my only goal for the next hour or more. Once past the lake the course climbed slowly again through deep bogs that slowly became woodland. Or it was previously woodland and is now a mass of felled trees on more bog. Trying to dogde the bog was pointless and slowed you down but wading through the bog sapped my strength and made my feet worse. On the way into the aid station I messaged my wife again and she talked me back into doing at least one more checkpoint, she believed I could do it even though my brain said it was impossible. I kept moving. Finally after 3 hours and only 400m of elevation I had reached 50k and the halfway point.
As I came into capig curig, Stacey was just leaving thinking he had missed me because my tracker said I’d already left. He got me a seat and while I started to deal with my feet went a got my a drink and some chilli with rice. Although my feet weren’t blistered I’d began to get trench foot in both feet. Trench foot is horrible and absolute agony if left unchecked. If you’ve even spent too long in the bath you’ll have some idea of what my feet looked like, those wrinkles you get in the bath get bigger the longer you’re in water, when pressed into shoes the become folds that rub and press against each other creating blisters, tears and bruising.
Ideally I would have dried them out but that wasn’t really an option so cleaned them and wiped any dirt off them, smeared antibacterial cream on them before putting new socks and shoes on. I also took the time to take some paracetamol in the hopes I could stop the pain enough to run a little. I smashed a bowl of chilli while Stacey filled my bottles and added my nutrition to my pack. Quick trip to the toilet to change into fresh shorts, t-shirt and to wash my face and I was back on the trail.
Refuel and ready to go
After a slightly longer rest and some decent food, I felt great. My feet no longer hurt, my body felt ready and my mood was excited again. Some sweets and a caffeine gum while I slowly brought my pace back up and I was flying again but it was short lived. A short but sharp scramble up Moel Siabod, more bog and a fall that bruised and cut my leg cost me some time but I was moving and the next aidstation was edging closer.
I was still determined to quit here, knowing it was our campsite where a beer would be waiting and possibly a curry made me determined to reach the next aid station but I had no intention of continuing. From here it was a slow decent into Gwastadannas Farm, some more bog and a long hard packed trail that actually allowed me to open up my legs and hold a reasonable pace meant I was feeling good. We passed a runner receiving medical attention having collapsed and the realness of the event came crashing back. Mountains don’t care about your plans.
I hit the check point, filled my bottles, ate several biscuits, 2 packets of crisps, 2cups of cola and 2cups of squash. I took my time in this aid station and the mood of the other runners here was great. We all know what lie ahead, it has been looming large over us all day, Snowdon. In hindsight, at this point I should have taken more time to eat, looking back I can see that I didn’t use this aid station to it’s full advantage. I’d decided I could do snowdon, having done this route before and then it was only a couple of smaller hills to the finish, so I set off feeling good.
I started off at a comfortable pace enjoying the trail along the lake and hiking along side the pools and waterfalls at the bottom of this trail. When the terrain opened up I could see other runners ahead of me and I started to up my pace. One by one I caught and passed people, I was feeling good, this finally felt like racing and I allowed myself to push the pace a little. I was in high spirits when I reached the first scramble and made my way up easily but shortly after I felt sick and light headed. I tried to drink my nutrition but it made my retch so I stopped and sat down hoping that a rest would help but the nausea wouldn’t go away, I pushed on a little further, sipping my drink but feeling horrible, I was resting every couple of minutes and making very little progress.
All sorts of things passed through my mind, I thought maybe I had heat stroke or was this hyponatremia. I messaged my wife and said I was struggling again, she was supportive as ever telling me she believed in me, I spoke to another ultra runner friend Matt Evans who told me to eat whatever I had and it would go away. I searched my pack for food and the only thing I could find was a mcvities gold bar, it was dry and horrible in my mouth but I forced it down with a few sips of my drink.
On with the head torch
I felt weak, dizzy and sick but I kept moving. Relentless forward progress. My mum rang and said I didn’t need to continue and that I should be proud of my achievement, I was determined to reach to summit and then quit. I’d be taken down Llanberis path and be done. Nearly three hours after starting the climb I made the summit in the pitch black, my stomach had started to come back like matt said it would and I downed a bottle of nutrition drink. I put on my head torch and jacket and decided I would get off this mountain myself, it was only a few kilometres downhill after all.
I could see lights all the way down the mountain following the rangers path and even though I was taking it easy I started to catch and pass people again, each one a small little victory in my mind. The rangers path isn’t exciting and in the dark it could be anywhere, I was in my little bubble of light with only one goal in mind, get off this mountain. As the path levelled out I began to pick up speed again, nausea and dizziness gone I began to run and quickly arrived at the aid station to the sounds of system of a down.
The contrast was amazing, it felt like a party, I grabbed some food and drink and sat down at a table to rest. This time I ate crisps and more biscuits and I took my time ensuring I was well fed, finally I drank a black coffee with two more biscuits and it was back out into the darkness. I only had the two smallest hills left and the next aid station was just the other side of the first Hill so I set off. This first section was flat and I was moving well, I kept my pace comfortable but I was moving quickly, passing people every so often. Eventually the ground started to rise, the climb up mynydd mawr started gradual but became step, with steps worn into the grass my the passage of hundreds of feet, I passed a few people early but this was terrain I was used to and I pushed onward, once at the summit I ran along a Ridge of sorts slowly climbing before getting rocky again.
The trail began to descend steeply but rather that risk a fall or blow out my quads I descended gently only being passed by one mad man who quickly disappeared into the night. At the base of the hill the grass and rocks gave way to more bog but I could feel the end now with only 15km to go, I lost a few places as I tried to navigate around the bog before giving up and sinking to my knees.
The trail turned back into woodland and u found myself running behind two guys, we ran together in silence for a while untill one stopped and then it was just two of us. I forgot to ask his name but for the first time in the event I had a full conversation with some one whole we jogged along. We’d had similar experience in the event and both found ourselves hours behind our plans. The aid station appeared before us and we went inside. This time I had some soup and a few more biscuits but knowing this was the final aid station I was keen to push on.
The lad I was running with looked about ready to go and we decided to run together for a while, so off we went into the final leg. In my head this leg was a long slow climb with a long slow descent to Llanberis but I hadn’t run this before and I didn’t expect the segment to be so long, even if I knew it was 16km. Anyway we set off and chatted away while keeping the pace comfortable, the ground was nice and runnable so we made good time and eventually hit the real climb, we could see headtorch Bobbing far into the distance but assumed it was some other part if the race because it could be this small Hill we had to run up.
As we climbed the hill got steeper and I was feeling good so I pushed on and before I knew it my new buddy was behind me and then I was catching people, slowly clawing my way to them through the dark. The climb seemed to last for ages, my calves and hamstrings began to get sore but I couldn’t stop now, in my head the finish was just over this Hill so I kept going and eventually reached the summit. The trail turned and as I followed I felt the asking on my feet move and the burning coals in the ball of my feet returned. My watch said 96km, and I thought the race was 103km so only 7km left. I could either go slow and drag this pain out for hours or I could run with the pain and be done soon. I decided to run as much as possible but the descent I was expecting didn’t come. I’d descend a little and then be climbing again, over and over again, this wasn’t what I expected.
I hit another climb and then suddenly the descent was incredible steep, I could stand on the hill and touch the grass behind me I was leaning so far back to stay on my feet. Fog began to roll in and visibility was down to only a few feet, I could see lights below me and a trail under my feet so just kept on moving, I could see a head torch in front of my stop and look around and when I reached them they where lost and couldn’t see where the trail went. I checked my watch and it showed the trail turning left down a gravel road. In my head I only had 2km left and I took off running 5/km pace again. I was flying through the fog and I was catching and passing people again. My watch hit 102km and I asked someone ” how far to the finish?” “about 5km” shit.
I slowed my pace slightly to 5:30/km but I felt strong and I was confident I could maintain this lace through, I made quick work of the trail and quickly reached a turn that I nearly missed but my watch saved me and I climbed over the style and ran across the muddy trails, I slowed slightly as this track had a slight incline and I didn’t want to blow up before I could finish. The trail continued on and I was still making great time and finally I recognised the Llanberis path, this was it 1 mile to go.
I was really running hard now, down the steep tarmac Road and past all the sleepy terraced house I had passed almost 24hours ago. Turn left and the right into the slate museum, I could see runners who had finished now, hobbling back to their cars but I was flying, all the pain forgot as I dug deep and heading towards the finish.
As I entered the village I saw another runner and joking shouted let’s see what’s left in his legs but he was in disbelief as a sprinted passed him to cross the finish line.
I had done it. It was all over. Never again I vowed to myself, even telling my crew that I hated every second but I know deep down I will be back. The mountains broke me in ways I didn’t think was possible but I can’t let them win.
UTS you where beautiful beyond belief and savage beyond reason.
Great write up Ben, sounds brutally awesome 🙌🏼🙌🏼
It was Brute – iful 😂
Lost for words mate – stunning achievement 🙌🙌🙌
Cheers Matt, got your name all over it for next year
Awesome work buddy! Great write up too. System of a Down can always be relied upon to change a bad mood for the better. Rest up well