A day in the mountains – the Vegan Welsh 3000s ultra race

Photos by Scott Seefeldt

Last Friday the Macrobiotic Shop closed early for the day and headed over to Snowdonia in North Wales to take part in the sixth edition of the V3K Ultra, a very tough and quite unique mountain running race which takes in all of the Welsh 3000s in the course of about 35 miles. The race is also known as Vegan Welsh 3000s, and is organised by Kirsch Bowker and a team of fantastic volunteers. The Welsh 3000s is a classic one-day mountain trek, taking in Snowdon, Crib Goch, Tryfan and 12 other 3,000 foot peaks.

According to the race manual, These races are only suitable for experienced fell runners over our toughest mountain terrain, certainly NOT for the faint hearted!“. Nevertheless this year the race attracted 200 runners for the full (ultra) distance and 30 for the half distance. Aside from the normal rules to be adhered to in such events, the V3K also requires all competitors to consume a vegan diet for the day. The race has grown rapidly from starting with only three entrants in 2011 to having to set a limit of 200 this year.

In fact there has been a big increase in the number of runners and other athletes choosing a vegan diet not only for ethical reasons but for health ones as well.  The most famous of these is the legendary Scott Juerk who wrote the highly recommended book Eat and Run, part autobiography, part guidebook for those wishing to improve their health and athletic performance through  diet. Jurek’s dietary approach borrows a lot from macrobiotics, with a big emphasis on whole grains. Here in the UK the Vegan Runners club is a great place to meet other athletes following a plant-based diet. It’s a club we are  very happy to be members of.

Anyway, we were naturally both pretty nervous in the days leading up to the start, as we had been somewhat lacking in our preparation. But when we arrived Friday afternoon at Hendre Hall we immediately felt really welcome. The organisers do a very good job of providing excellent food on Friday evening and all day during the race on Saturday. Hendre Hall is a really good venue for such an event, a very spacious farm with a sheltered courtyard adjoined by a small campsite. While many of the runners are not normally vegan, we didn’t hear anyone complaining about the food. The pre-race meal of curry or pasta was followed by the race briefing, then it was off to bed to try and get some sleep before catching the bus to the race start at 4am for the ultra race. Georgina, who was running the half, had the luxury of a later start, and was able to have a little bit of a lie in.

Straight away the race climbs fairly steeply to the summit of Snowdon before heading over the infamous Crib Goch and then descending to Checkpoint 1. The rain which had been forecast did not materialise, but the morning was damp and foggy, not ideal for scrambling up and down steep cliffs and jagged rocks. But the atmosphere was great, lots of like-minded people off for an adventure over some seriously daunting terrain.

Crib Goch

Crib Goch is a knife-edge arête with very steep and deep drops on either side. One misstep would mean disaster. Although I consider myself a reasonable runner, I don’t really like heights and I am not exactly nimble when it comes such terrain. As a result, progress to Checkpoint 1 was slow, as I carefully picked my way over these perilous mountains.

The author somewhere on Crib Goch

The rest of the day went on in a similar way – frightening rock spires suddenly appearing out of the fog, steep drops, beautiful mountain lakes and waterfalls appearing briefly when the clouds lifted. I met so many other wonderful ultra runners and had the chance to briefly bond with a few. The two checkpoints were well stocked with all kinds of vegan food, most of it freshly prepared and quite good. The vegetable soup at Ogwen was the most memorable, as were the roasted potatoes to be grabbed and eaten on the run. I also took along a little food of my own, most importantly tempeh, avocado and home made kimchi wraps.

A runner high above Glaslyn, or Blue Lake

The second and third sections of the race were equally difficult in their own way. The Glyders were full of steep ups and down, with some difficult rocky climbs, especially the final climb of Tryfan and the very steep descent to Ogwen. The final section, the Carneddau, was very high, cold and exposed, with strong winds and swirling fog which meant that the last 15 miles to the finish were tough indeed.

Wet and foggy conditions led to tricky footing

Eventually I made it back to the finish at Hendre Hall, completing the race in a little over 12 hours. By the end my whole body felt shattered. My legs and arms were scratched in many places, my thighs could barely support me and even my biceps and forearms were aching from having to pull myself up and over high rocks and then lower myself down the other side. I even discovered a gaping hole in the back of my shorts where no doubt the fabric had shredded on one of the scree slopes I had slid down on my backside.

Despite having competed in and finished such ultra events as the 268 mile Spine Race, nothing had prepared me for such an arduous day.

Steep and rocky descents left runners with shattered legs

But my big goal for the day had been to catch Georgina before the finish. In the lead up to the race I had done some rough estimates and worked out that I had a good chance of catching Georgina on the run in to the finish. When, after over 10 hours on the run, I reached the summit of the final peak, Foel Fras, I asked the marshal if #326 (Georgina) had checked in. When I was informed she hadn’t, I naturally grew concerned. Had the marshal just missed her in the fog or had something else happened? I knew that even if she had run a very slow pace she would have reached Foel Fras easily by now. Was she perhaps lost or injured?

The finisher’s t-shirt

After collecting my finisher’s prizes I staggered back to our weather-beaten camper van. hoping to find Georgina there in one piece. I gave the door a shove and found her fast asleep inside, equally exhausted after many adventures, which included getting lost in the fog and falling into several bogs.

Georgina’s race report to follow…

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