30 March 2022

World's steepest street race

The race that had lured me back to racing had been 'the World's Steepest Street Race' in Harlech. I had seen it advertised and it sounded right up my street. If I go for a daily run and the weather isn't too wet and therefore the hills not too muddy and slippery, I go for a run that goes straight up the nearest hill, and then loops around so I come down on the less steep trajectory. And this race would do the exact same thing, but then on the road and as a race. And I had never been to Harlech.

The day approached and no racing number appeared. I checked the detail; we had to pick them up on the day. And the race would start at 5 PM, but they wanted us to pick up the numbers between 2 and 4 PM. I didn't like that; it meant there was a compulsory period of picking your nose for an entire hour before the start. They also said there was going to be a compulsory safety briefing at the start at 16:45. So you had to be all ready to set off and then just hang around idly at the start for 15 minutes!

I wondered if I should make a bit of a day out of it and go visit the castle. I packed a bag with hot flasks and some food and a book and set off, but not stupidly early. I had wanted to do some gardening stuff first, and I was also feeling a bit lethargic. Not good for race day! But I knew that the race itself would wake me up. It always does.

It is a fair drive to Harlech. I felt a bit bad about driving so far for just an estimated half hour of racing, but here we were. I had suggested car sharing with my colleague David who I knew was going to be there as well, but he had said his car would be entirely full with his family. Unfortunately!

When I got to Harlech I found the parking lot where the race information had suggested we should park. It wasn't usually far from the actual start, but not particularly close either. I parked up and went to get my race number. I also went to the loo (the parking lot where my car was did have public loos but they were closed), and walked past the start so I would know where that would be. Then I walked back. I wanted to eat and drink something before the start but there wasn't an awful lot of time left, so I figured I shouldn't go far. I was parked right next to the dunes so I decided to go into these. Not an unmitigated success! By the time the path into the dunes (which unsurprisingly, but annoyingly, got very sandy) allowed you to come off it, you were almost in the sea. It would have to do. I ate a sandwich and drank some tea. Then I went back to the car to change into my running kit. And about 16:40 I set off to the start. I had a few minutes to spare. To my surprise, they did the safety briefing at exactly 16:45. I assumed they would just say 16:45 so people would be there 16:50, and then they would do the announcement. But no! I spent my time doing some last stretching; my left buttock felt a bit tight and I thought I might as well stretch my calves. They would be given something to do! I also spotted my colleague David and had a bit of a chat with him. And then we lined up for the start.

At the start

I made sure to start fairly, but not overly, close to the front. I didn't want to have to wrestle my way through crowds on the way up! I figured my strong point would be the way up, so I didn't want to be too boxed in. But I didn't want to burn out too soon either. I think I paced it well. I was having to work for the way up but I wasn't wearing myself out. I did see people burn left and right; not everyone has the opportunity to practice on an incline with an average grade of 32% and a maximum grade of 36%. And it is indeed quite a steep hill! I'm happy I don't live on it; I don't think it is very practical. But it was fun to run up. 

Running up

David had vanished in the distance; as soon as the gun went he was gone like a bullet out of a rifle. But I think he may have regretted that; the extremely steep part of the road is over fairly soon, but then there still is quite a lot of the hill still to go. And I saw him get closer and closer. He was walking! And he kept looking back. It happened twice that I got to within some 20 m of him and he restarted running. I think there was some collegial rivalry there!

When the steepest part of the race was over the landscape widened out a bit and it was beautiful. The late sun made it extra special. I had been quite grumpy about the forced time wasting, but now I was running I was happy. And then I reached the top of the route. Now the downhill would start! It is not my forte but I would see what I could do. I spent quite some time running behind a bloke in a white top. The field had thinned out considerably, and there weren't very many people in sight. At the start they had said there were some 200 runners, but I would later find out there had only been some 150. Quite something different from the almost 700 of the Anglesey half marathon!

On the not-so-steep part

Those views!

I had to dodge a big tractor on a narrow road; that safety briefing had not been for nothing! Their main point had been that the roads weren't closed for us. No kidding. Shortly afterwards I lost the bloke in the white top, but soon afterwards I heard footsteps behind me. A woman in blue and a man in pink overtook me. We then stayed close to each other for quite a while. Sometimes I overtook them; sometimes they overtook me. But then we reached a steep downhill bit and that did it for me; I'm not good with that so they vanished in the distance.

On the downhill; notice the man in pink approach

The locals were out and cheering us on, by the way; they were a cheerful bunch! And very encouraging. The atmosphere was amazing.

I tried to not lose too much time on the steep downhill, but I also had to be careful; on one of the steep bits we had come up as well I stumbled. I was glad I caught myself! Falling on my face right there could have ended rather messily. But it didn't. There were some gasps from onlookers…

Coming down steeply but cheerfully, with the castle as a lovely backdrop

When the route became quite flat again I accelerated a bit. I felt safe to do so, and because of having focused more on avoiding accidents I also had the breath to do it. I thundered towards the finish. I felt confident I had done okay! I was looking forward to finding out what my time had been and what my position was. I had no clue.

Tired at the finish

The first thing I saw behind the finish was David drinking from a cup. A cup! I looked back and saw I had thundered straight past the people handing out a drink, an energy bar and a memento. I went back to get mine. Then I congratulated David with his result. He introduced me to his partner and we had a nice chat. This was not without difficulty; at the start, the organisation had been handing out cowbells for the crowds to cheer us on with, and both his daughters had grabbed one, and were clearly not yet tired of walloping them around. But it was nice to have a chat. David made me laugh; his partner said to me she had earlier owned tried to walk this famously steepest hill, but had had to stop. Then David interrupted with 'but that wasn't the actual hill yet!' I think she thought we were slightly mad. 

The finish underneath the castle

After a while I said my goodbyes and went back to the car with my treasures. I went straight in and drove home. I went over Maentwrog this time; it's a beautiful route. Although I took it by accident. While I was driving I heard the 'ping' that I thought was the text message giving me my time and position. When I got home I had a look. 30:13. That looked okay! Of course I have nothing to compare it to; I had never run a 6K race with such a steep hill in it. But I was pleased. I was more pleased by my gender position; I had come 3rd! That is a bronze medal! I hadn't seen that coming. If I would have realised that the time I might have stayed for the medal ceremony. But I didn't. And the advantage was that now I could have a quick shower (I was quite sweaty) and then have some food. I finished at around 17:30, so probably got back to the car at 17:45, wasn't home until close to 7 PM, and was quite up for some food by then! They expected to hand out medals at 18:30, so that would have meant quite a late dinner. I am not sure if I was more proud of this then I was at having finished first woman in the Parkrun once. But proud I was!

I had already decided that I was not going to run this race again unless I would be going with someone. All this faffing around is not a problem if you are in company, and all that driving is less bad if you are car sharing. Too bad really; I really enjoyed the race! Just not the run-up to it. But when I got home I did register for a next race; again a half marathon. That one is in Llanrwst so a lot closer to home!

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