Dragons Back Circular - Black Mountains
The Dragons Back walk starts in the small village of Pengenffordd within the Brecon Beacons National Park. It boasts fantastic views of the surrounding country side and the beautiful Black Mountains.
Although it’s regarded as one of the singularly most difficult races in the running calendar, the Snowdonia Marathon has been voted ‘the best in the UK’ twice and continues to attract thousands of applicants every year. Find out more:
The Snowdon Marathon, or ‘Marathon Eryri’ to give its Welsh title, was founded in 1982 as an alternative to the huge, commercial races that were popular elsewhere around the country. Little did the organisers know how popular it would become. Entry is fiercely competitive, with some people trying year after year in vain to secure a place. The 2,500 places for this October’s race were filled within just 48 hours.
Organisers credit the marathon’s success to ‘the beautiful scenery, the runners that organise the race and the hospitality of the local people’. If you’re looking for a race that will stretch you – and your hamstrings – then this could be it.
Yes, the sights of London are fabulous to pound past, but if you want some really breath-taking (excuse the pun) scenery, then north Wales is the place to do your run.
While much of the race is on the road, the route takes in a few tracks as it encircles the majestic Snowdon. It starts just outside Llanberis and climbs up the 1,100ft Llanberis Pass - an unforgiving start to any race. However, Llanberis is a stunning village which is set on the banks of the Llyn Padarn lake and known as the ‘gateway to the Snowdonia National Park’. The pass cuts through the mountainous terrain, showcasing the magnificent landscape and hopefully taking your mind off the arduous ascent.
The route then descends to the Pen Y Gwyryd junction, with a quick detour off the road via farmland, eventually winding towards the postcard-pretty villages of Beddgelert and Waunfawr. The circular route then encompasses Bwlch y Groes – one of the highest roads in Wales, but one which offers unparalleled views of the Dyfi Valley and Aran Fawddwy - before taking you back to Llanberis.
And if landscape wasn’t inspiration enough, the race takes place to raise money for Tenovus Cancer Care, Wales’s leading cancer charity.
This is by no means a flat race. With elevations of 1,100ft along the Llanberis Pass starting at just mile two and a gruelling 1,200ft climb at Bwlch y Groes starting at mile 21 (known as ‘Hellfire Pass’ and one of the UK’s toughest cycle climbs, for your information), it’s challenging. This probably isn’t the run for a beginner – though there’s always the half-marathon alternative which takes place in April.
Completing the race requires some proper training and a nutrition strategy. Fortunately, the good people on the Marathon Eryri official website have done this and provided lots of training tips. Their advice – which could be used for future races – is broken down into fartlek, tempo, steady, easy and cross-train running, interspersed with plenty of rest days.
The plan commences a good 30 weeks prior to the actual race and that’s one of the most important pieces of advice: get training early and build up your endurance. Combined with a healthy eating plan and your race day sustenance, you should be fine to go.
Having scoured the web, we’ve put together some handy tips to both help you run and keep you sane:
- This is predominantly a road race, so make sure you have shoes that are right for the terrain and that support you sufficiently. Road shoes should be fine, just take it easy if it rains on the day.
- Don’t focus on your time – it’s more about completing the marathon than achieving a personal best, especially with those climbs.
- Remember to give due consideration to the downhill sections, as they can be just as tough as the uphills. Don’t get carried away and run too fast, particularly on the approach to the Nantgwynant track which is an uneven surface and prime spot for tumbles.
- Don’t let your nerves get the better of you. It might be tough, but there are reasons why this has been voted – by runners – as the UK’s greatest marathon. Train well, eat well and go for it!