When I was a child my Nain (Grandmother in Welsh) would tell me the tale of a mountain nestled in the heart of Snowdonia. Under the mountain was a sleeping elephant she would tell me, covered in rock and grass. I would listen; wide eyed and naively enthralled as my young heart fell in love with the story she spun.
We would go up to North Wales at least once a year when I was a kid, my eager eyes would stare out the window, constantly asking if this or that mountain was elephant mountain. 999 times out of a thousand it wasn’t but as soon as I would see it I would know. The humped back and slopping trunk of Mynydd Mawr is utterly unmistakable. Back then Nain was living in Nottingham but in the last decade of her life she moved back to the land of her birth in a house that looked out towards the slumbering behemoth. From where she was sat in her living room chair she could look out and see the mountain, Mynydd Mawr to give it it’s real name, and whenever I would visit her the pair of us would undoubtedly stare out and talk about the weather on elephant mountain and how we wished we were up there or glad to be in the warmth of home.
A lot of you will know my Nain from my other blog posts of the Snowdonia Marathon. She lived along the route and in previous years of the race I would stop in and have a quick coffee with her before heading off towards the finish line. Those brief moments of family joy is one of the many reasons the race is my favourite marathon. It was only a few short weeks after 2018’s race that she passed away, peacefully surrounded by the family that adored her.
On the night she died, the full moon lingered lovingly over Elephant Mountain. As I stood outside in the cold winter air I looked at the pale white glow illuminating the mountain’s silhouette, like a worldly candle lit in remembrance as she became but memories to us.
11 months later as 2019’s Snowdonia Marathon neared I knew that I was going to have to face grief’s haunting stare head on. Combine that with my injured body and fragile mindset and this was destined to be a harrowing journey around Snowdon’s snowy peak.
Raceday morning and the rain fell with heavy thick droplets as the wind whipped cold and frigid air against my skin. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from Snowdonia’s savage weather. It was preparing to head off, in my tired and weary state, that I made a decision that almost cost me the entire race and put my health at serious risk. It was a simple and seemingly innocuous choice to wear an extra warm layer. A fleece like hoodie thrown on in a last minute craving for comfort. I zipped up my waterproof and forgot about it, but the weather did not. The rain seeped and soaked the material in cruel subtlety that I was blissfully unaware of it freezing my core temperature until it was too late.
The race begins with three miles of a cruel and seemingly unending climb up to Pen-y-Pass. Usually during this part of the race I trudge up in slow but continuous running attempting to keep my body in rhythm, knowing that the reward of the best downhill in running awaited me at the top. But this year I couldn’t run. The mental strength I assumed for so long was bullet proof had been left shattered and raw by this injury till all that remained was a weary shell of something that once stood proud. A Dresden home that I could not comprehend how to rebuild. I could not will myself forward because my will was broken.
Reaching the top felt like summiting one for the mountains that loomed above but now I had the best part of the race ahead I kept telling myself as I tried to shake off the shivering that was now beginning to surge from within my body.
I would normally use the steep downhill as a kickstart and run it at free falling quick pace, launching myself down the mountain until mile 13. It is usually my fastest miles in any race; marathon or half. A section of the race that cements it as my favourite race. But this time I would not find that surge, as we got back onto the road after a few miles on rocky trail my body came to a shuddering stop. By mile 8, I was walking. As I was being passed by the masses that I had just overtaken coming downhill I felt utterly desolate, a fraud amongst a sea of heroes. Snowdonia Marathon is my favourite race but in those bleak, rain sodden moments, I hated it with a passion. Hated how it was making me feel, hated how bloody long a marathon is, hated how my body was betraying me but most of all I hated how far I was from the finish. I was so focussed on the mental battle that I was losing the physical one without even knowing it.
As I neared the town of Beddgelert my sight became blurred around the fringes and a blizzard of dizzy spells kept hitting me like waves crashing against a crumbling sea wall. My breath shortened and I was shivering with every laboured step. I knew that not changing out of my sodden clothes was a horrible error judgement. My world narrowed as my body shut down in survival. I had hypothermia and 14 miles left to go.
PART TWO – Tomorrow Night…