I first met Kurmang, Kurdish rocket scientist turned baker from Blaenau Ffestiniog, at a fell race in 2013 (read post here). I won, and he came last. He received a bigger cheer than I did. Well justified, he was out there running twice as long as I was. Entering a race, knowing there is a good chance you will come last, takes courage, I don’t care who you are. Famous around these parts, I am proud to say Kurmang has become a family friend, since we moved to Blaenau ourselves. He certainly gets more beeps and waves than I do as he goes about town (not that it’s a popularity contest, but if it was, I’d be losing). He comes round for Sunday lunch the day after Snowdon Race, we share our stories, and here they are…
Russell: I am nervous the week leading into this race. Having run the Snowdonia Trail Marathon on the Sunday, smashing my body and mind against the cold rocks of Snowdon, I now have 6 days to get ready for the International Snowdon Race, 10 miles up and down Snowdon as quick as you can. I have the added pressure and privilege of being selected to represent Wales, and also Snowdon Race being chosen as part of the World Cup Series this year.
Kurmang: I am nervous the week leading into this race. In Hebog fell race I slipped and twisted my ankle and went flying on my tummy. I normally recover very fast, but after Hebog I didn’t. My ankle is still very bad. I only have 3 small runs before Snowdon Race.
The Welsh team meet in hotel for race briefing. As I am leaving, I bump into the Italy team manager, who I last saw in Morbegno mountain race, 2017, where I fell and severed my knee. As soon as I see her, I get sharp pain in my knee, I know it is purely psychosomatic, it has to be, I haven’t felt knee pain in months. But try telling my knee that.
When I go to the race, I’m in my car heading for registration when my watch stops. This is important because they have shortened the cut off point to Clogwyn Bridge by 10 minutes. From 1hr15 to 1hr05. They emailed this a day before. I’m running around Llanberis asking people if there is a watch shop to get a battery. I need it to tell me if I am running fast enough. I am banging it and shaking it just before the race starts. I see Russell warming up. He has headphones that I have never seen before, no wires! I make him take them off and explain them to me. Bluetooth Bone Conducting. Amazing! My watch gets going again. I say thank God for that.
The race starts, I am finding it easy. The first half mile is flat road, and I am skipping along at 5min miling on the heels of Andrew Douglas, eventual winner. As soon as we hit the steep tarmac, I am immediately not finding it so easy. Lots of people have been asking me how my legs are, so soon after a marathon, “we’ll see!” I laugh. Well, now I know, and it’s not so funny. I try to hang onto guys streaming past me as best I can, but I am feeling worse and worse. Ian Conroy, who I beat at Snowdon Twilight, flies past me like I’m not moving. We get off the tarmac, onto another steep section of trail. In this part, I move from 5th to 18th. Want.To.Quit.Going.To.Quit. This is just getting embarrassing. I swear to God I am just about to quit when I hear Bronwen cheering me. She won last year, Nina and I are big fans of hers. I know, I can’t stop and walk back down the hill in front of Bronwen. Nina would kill me.
I have to go full effort, I don’t want to be turned off early. I take my music with me, it makes me go faster to the beat. It helps me concentrate better. If I like a song, I will listen to it again and again. A white van comes up behind us, nearly knocking us over, I don’t know how the marshals allowed that to happen. But then he gets stuck in a ditch, trying to get round runners;
It serves you right. You Bastard.
That first two miles is the hardest of the whole race. After I get off the tarmac I’m alright.
I keep going, the hill gets less steep. I manage to tag onto a guy from the Scottish team. I am getting so much support from spectators, he turns around and asks me if I’m a local. Best heckle/ cheer/ joke ever comes at Alt Moses, the very steepest part.
Your wife loves you!
HAHA! Well played that lady! That’s the first time I’ve ever laughed while running up Alt Moses.
I look at my watch and I have 10 minutes to make it. A marshal gives me a drink. I pour it over my head. I see a couple running together, a guy and a girl. I decide to catch them. I overtake them, it is very steep now. I find it faster to walk, pushing on my legs. I push hard, hard, hard and I make the cut off time by 1 minute. Faster than I have ever done it before. I am so happy. All the marshals know me and they are cheering. The couple I have over taken don’t make it and they are turned back. The marshals are very strict this year, it is so busy.
It’s windy at the top but not terrible. I reach the summit in around 19th place, pretty pathetic, I should be much further ahead. I am looking forward to a blazing descent, but instead I’m stuck in bloody traffic. There are so many walkers I can’t get around the runner in front of me. Infact, another runner even catches me up. It is at this point I start to feel there are hormones missing from my body. I would usually be very aggressive in a position like this, and apologise later. But I just can’t seem to muster it out of myself. I wait and wait in line, until I find my gap and then I go. It is always fun for me this bit. I leap away from the two guys near me, and am instantly overtaking other runners.
The front runners are already coming back down, some are happy, and some are petrified, like they’ve seen a ghost. I see Russell flying past and I cheer for him. Come on RRRRussell! I stick to my left, and I shout to the runners “Stick to your left, you buggers”.
Lots of runners are coming down now,
After I’ve made it up so fast, I have surprised myself and I have more energy. Maybe because I have had a big bowl of porridge last night. I can relax a little bit because I have made it past cut off.
The wind is so strong at the top, the seagulls can’t land to steal sandwiches, they are suspended in the air. I take my time coming down. Normally I am catching people on the way down, but my ankle is hurting too much.
With 2 miles to go, I see a flash of red, and know that I am bearing down on Mark Hopkinson, first Welshman. This is always a coveted position, and I want it. I come past him and an English International and I am not expecting to see them again. No one has ever come past me on the descent.
As we hit the tarmac, Mark is putting up a fight, I just can’t seem to release any adrenaline, or testosterone, or whatever hormone it is that I need right now. I can run down this hill so hard and so fast that it causes me to piss blood, but, you have to have an anger in your belly to be able to do that to yourself. My mind wants it, my body just can’t do it. Mark is slipping away, I see Nina and my kids, nothing fires me up. Six days ago, I was hammering down this very same hill. How many times can you do that to yourself, before you can’t do it anymore?
I hit the flat road to the finish, but I have already let Mark go. I cross the finish line in 1hr10. 11th place. It is decent. Not exceptional. But I will take decent with open arms right now. I have beaten some good runners, but have not performed to my full capacity. I sit in the tent waiting for the other Team Cymru guys, my legs are cramping, I watch them quiver. I can’t get up for about 10 minutes, standard stuff after running down Snowdon. The sun is out and we stroll around the funfair and playground with the kids. I make sure to cheer Kurmang as he finishes with his usual sprint, faster than mine.
I come down off the mountain to the high street, and there are parties on either side. One guy hands me a beer expecting me to drink it, I pour it WOOOOSHH over my head. They are all laughing, the wasps are chasing me all the way to the finish. I get lost before the finishing funnel, I am trying to take a shortcut but there is no way through. My ankle means I took longer this year, 2.43. My best time is 2.06. I am relieved. I have a banana and come back to Blaenau, get on my bike, cycle to the lake and go for a swim. I jump in with all my clothes.
Thanks loads to Snowdon Race and Welsh Athletics for the support, and Sport Pictures Cymru for the incredible photos.