So I did it! The 20-mile + obstacles Man vs Mountain race over Snowdon was the hardest physical challenge i’ve ever done. Here’s what happened and some life and leadership lessons learned.
We began at sea-level inside Caernarfon Castle. The weather was cool and slightly damp – perfect running conditions. The first 5 miles on the road were straightforward: choose a comfortable pace, don’t use all your energy going off too fast. Lesson 1: pace yourself. Having all the kit doesn’t make you a good runner, just someone with all the kit, so we set our pace by those running at our pace, not those who looked the part. Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image. As we hit the off-road the grinding nature of the constant uphill began to bite.
fresh-faced and slightly terrified inside the castle
Running with my brother, we were chuffed at 10 miles to be met by our dad, who had walked to encourage us and give us some much-needed nourishment. We took a rest, as others passed us, knowing the next 3 miles to the summit would make or break us. Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something. Joining the Snowdon Ranger path here, the terrain got tougher, steeper, and visibility foggier. The line of runners became a line of walkers zig-zagging up into in the fog. Much-needed encouragement was given and received as runners stretched aching muscles, took on food, put on layers, and we collectively hoped the sun would break through. Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.
beautiful sight as the clouds began to clear
At this point I could have run faster, but I held back to pull my brother up the hill; however, if I had gone quicker, I think I would have overdone it. Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything. As we neared the summit, there was a beautiful moment as the sun burst through, melted away the mist and we got an amazing view from the summit, where we took the obligatory summit-selfie, briefly paused, my brother and I said our goodbyes and I set off for the descent. The 7 miles down was tough, with tripping, slipping and braking, so I took it steady and tried not to think about the Merrell Vertical KM up ahead. I was happy that up until now I had paced it well, done the right amount of training, and hadn’t got lost! Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.
the obligatory summit-selfie, looking not-quite-so-fresh!
As we reached Electric Mountain at Llanberis after 20 miles, the evil nature of organisers raised it’s ugly head! First up was the Vertical KM, a steep uphill slog up the slate mine, treated as a timed race-in-a-race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I decided to push it, going past many who were walking, and trying to ignore the burning thighs and the fear of cramp. I was unexpectedly rewarded with a 12th place out of 750 in this challenge, in a time of 11m48s, only just over a minute slower than the winner. Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.
the vertical km results
Next up was the abseil. This I was terrified of. There was a walk-around for those who didn’t want to do it, but I decided I would do it. As I climbed over the edge of the railway bridge, I decided I wouldn’t look down. Ever. And didn’t. I looked at my feet. So I had no idea how high it was, or how far to go. I chose to trust the equipment and the instructors. I was surprised when the arch of the bridge left me dangling. But I did it! Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.
Grinning widely and proud that I had done it, I ran to the next obstacle – a 20 ft leap off a plank into a lake, exiting by swimming through a submerged gate. Again, this was terrifying for me, but I again chose to trust my knowledge it was safe, rather than my fear that it wasn’t. I shouted “what a sense of achievement!” to nobody in particular, and nobody replied. Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know.
The cramp was truly setting in to my legs now. The effort of the Vertical KM was taking its toll, and I longed for the end to come. Just 2 more water obstacles and the final run to the finish… oh no, not quite. The two 7 foot walls just before the finish were the final evil sting in the tail. I made the first one by climbing the edge of the scaffolding, thanks to advice shouted from a spectator. Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice. The second wall was beyond me. In full view of spectators and my dad’s camera, my legs totally cramped and I lay prostrate on the floor. I’ve never known cramp like it. Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help.
i thought I’d have a sit-down, just a few feet from the finish
A leg stretch and a leg-up from the marshall later, I was over the finish line, 134th out of 750! A total of 4 hours 49 minutes, 2 bananas, 4 gels, 2 shortcakes, 1 energy bar, half a bag of dried berries, 3 bottles of water, 1 mountain, 1600m and whole load of fun. I’ve never been so appreciative of hot soup. Thank you to my brother, thank you to my dad for being our team support, and thank you to all those who sponsored me on behalf of Sutton Schoolswork. Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone.
the overall results
The question is, did I conquer Snowdon? Did I win in the Man v Mountain challenge? No, of course not. She was kind to us, but she was very much in charge. She taught me many lessons, which I will never forget. A race like that is such a good metaphor for life, especially the Christian life that I follow. My final lesson? Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks. If you live life safely at the bottom of the hill, you never get to see the view. Or as Jesus said, make an effort or be bored. Ok, he actually said “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”
proud, wet, exhausted and happy!
Here’s my 13 lessons in life and leadership:
Lesson 1: pace yourself.
Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image.
Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something.
Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.
Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything.
Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.
Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.
Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.
Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know.
Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice.
Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help.
Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone.
Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks.
As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.