What is it? Cader Idris Race is essentially, 10.5 miles up and down Cader Idris in the South of the awe-inspiring
Snowdonia National Park at the head of the Mawddach estuary that starts and finishes in Dolgellau
I’d heard a lot about this race and decided it was time to mark it down on the calendar. After morning
birdsong and rain tapping lightly on the skylight to nudge me out of bed, just for an instant my enthusiasm
had waned. Just one week before setting off to the Lletty with the bluest of skies and thinking there is
something about the sun that makes you feel alive, Instead it was a quick dash into the car for cover as
the dull grey miasma above created an atmosphere of dark intent.
A few miles in, heading over the welsh border, Simon and Garfunkel on the radio (not realising how apt it
might be later “Slow down you move to fast…..Just kicking down the cobble stones” and the excitement
begins to swell like a summer tide. Picturesque Bala glimmers to the left, so is there to be a brief
respite from the rain?
Only the lightest of rain offering the softest of touch welcomed me into Dolgellau, and a quick
look around like all good fellrunners to find the cheapest car park and I had my spot. Already
there were many smiling faces and stretching limbs, yawns awakening the body from car long
journeys, people heading to race registration in Dolgellau, some walking, some jogging.
Those familiar faces from other races that acknowledge you with a little nod or a cheeky grin.
With a race start in the charming Dolgellau complete with band and a good crowd this
is definitely a moment and a race to savour. The deep beat of drums (from a band also splendidly dressed)
somehow infuses the body with an energy of tribal spirit, and then you realise the rain has stopped and
a good chance they’ll let us run the complete route to the top.
Lining up at the start, single file, in preparation of the invaluable kit check, the sun breaking through
the clouds, the promise of some warmth at last, well it wasn’t to last long but the air was fresh and like
the start of all races, that rainbow of vests, serious faces mixed with the chatter and banter of friends,
last minute stretching, looking at watches, waving to more sensible members of the family on the sidelines
with cup of tea in hand and they wave back with incredulous belief that people they love and members
of their family find enjoyment in doing this! Well I’d driven on my own but I like to share the moment!
It is to a different beat that we start the race, the pounding of fell shoes heading up the steep
metalled Cader road, lungs already being tested for the roughly 2.5km run to Gelliwyd Fawr the first
marshalled checkpoint. People clapping at various points, already cheering, the body now finding that
familiar rhythm that desires to go faster than is sensible, knowing how long is left of the race.
We are now off the road, ducking and diving, trying to miss the lower branches of trees, but still
watching for tree roots, a feeling that the race has really started, the heels of the person in
front, the breath of the person behind. The route then reaches the rear of Gwernan Lake, opening
out from the trees and the feeling of light and freshness and nature and significance and
insignificance. This is why I run. But that perfect moment was lost to the sound of a misplaced
foot into a muddy puddle and someone with a deft manoeuvre overtaking through scrub.
Ty Nant another marshalled checkpoint arrives and some offering of water much needed even though the
sky had been offering it all day. The first photographers already in prime position catching us at our
Runners are directed to the Pony path, which, maybe I shouldn’t say this word, is the ‘easiest’
but the longest of the main trails. Its length from the mountain base is 5km with 2000ft of climb.
At some point it had started raining and then a few minutes later all you could see ahead were
phantoms of people, grey ghosts, apparitions getting steadily further away. It was certainly
testing conditions, especially as it felt the ears were filling up with water from the
horizontal rain (was it amost hail?) and to think earlier I had the silly notion that I’d
gone off too fast. My legs were arguing differently.
It was slippy and the recommended choice of a shoe with grip for the slabs and scree was welcomed.
There were little lines and off runs to take to save valuable seconds and bit by bit as more ascent
was made the scenery disappeared.
The first two ladies were having what appeared to be a close battle to the top, Helen Fines
leading Phoebe Webster by maybe 20 metres or so.
Cadair Idris is composed largely of Ordovician igneous rocks (I know this from geological
research undertaken at the University of Google - I spent the best three minutes of my
life there) is quite a technical route once you are high up. The top is covered in scree
so choosing a good line and even better foot choice is essential. Yet this race is
runnable albeit if you are very careful or can disengage the brain.
Somehow I’d made it to the top. It’s not every day a summit actually has your name on it.
Penygadair, or if translated Top of the Chair. Well I do like a good sit down. And if
conditions had been a little better I think I would have done.
Credit and thanks really does have to be given to the marshals on a day that could
easily have sported the decision of a lesser route. It was wet, windy and they still
offered encouragement to red-faced fell runners who could only manage the merest of
grunts in thanks.
According to the other web expert Wikipedia (Where do Mr or Mrs Wiki find the time?)
there are numerous legends about Cadair Idris, one of them being ‘anyone who sleeps
on its slopes alone, will supposedly awaken either a madman or a poet’. Well I guess
a 50 per cent chance isn’t so bad, and I didn’t have a chair, was definitely not in
the mood for sleeping, and have no desire to tell limericks for the rest of my life,
so if bards would sleep on the mountain in hope of inspiration what could fellrunners
Run down it as fast as possible I guess? Which is exactly what people did and it
appeared some of the front-runners were risking the ridiculous to achieve the sublime.
Long strides, muscles taut, and arms out offering balance. I am always impressed by what
speeds people can achieve downhill so I guess Ifan Richards ran superbly downhill as I
noticed him 5th coming down from the top but he ended finishing the race in 2nd! Andrew
Davies who won the race overall looked comfortable but I bet it takes an incredulous
amount of training and effort top achieve that look I’m sure! Helen Fines overall
ladies winner surely had a good run down to finish 18th overall.
And even coming down people going up were still offering words of encouragement to
the runners, Becki Law 5th lady overall still commanding a smile even in those
severe conditions. How does she do it?
When you look back on something you realise it’s fun but at the time? I’m sure
that’s how the other 214 competitors felt running down Cader that day, because
you have been in cloud, you have put your body through a rigorous trial, you
have tested muscles and mind and then you have to hit the road heading back
to Dolgellau after a hard descent but your legs want to refuse any notion of
speed for the last section of the race. And so it is only with the knowledge
of a cup of tea and cake that through gritted teeth you can push your body
just that little bit further.
And then you can hear people clapping and cheering and see the unique Dolgellau
town centre and find yourself immersed in very welcoming and generous applause to
the finish line. What a race!
How better to summarise than some more of the words from Simon and Garfunkel that had
seemed so apt for the day “I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep….Life, I love you.
All is groovy”