Persistent rain, low cloud, poor visibility, mud, bogs, wet rocks, climbs and descents that made even the most adapted legs scream in pain, yes, that was Ultra Trail Snowdonia 2021.
Missing in 2020 due to the dreaded ‘C’ word, the UTS returned in 2021 to Capel Curig as part of the Ultra Trail World Tour and supported by Hoka One One to confirm the dream of Michael Jones of Apex Running – A big UTMB style weekend of racing in the heart of Wales.
With distances of 50km, 100km and the whopping 165km, one word was touted pretty much everywhere all weekend, brutal! And it was… A savage weekend of racing but as Michael says, ‘beautifully beyond belief, savage beyond reason.’
Despite the rain, despite the lack of views, Wales was a stunning playground for trail running. Let’s be clear here, there is no ‘easy’ running at UTS. The 50km is a wonderfully challenging route that may well have surprised many with some of its technical challenges, particularly the climb from Ogwen up to Carnedd Dafydd, compensated for what could be then considered a ‘relatively’ easy run in to the finish via Lyn Cowlyd and Blaen-Y-Nant.
The 100km route followed the early miles of the UTS50 all the way to Pen-Y-Pass but then headed along the Miners’ Track for an extended loop to return via the Pyg Track heading off to Y Garn, a loop around Tryfan and then head up to Carnedd Dafydd via a different route to the 50km and then follow the same run in to the finish.
The 165km is well, just a monster! As expected, it created carnage amongst the competitors. It’s a relentless beasting of mind and body that passes through the whole of Snowdonia. The 100km and 50km routes all utilizing sections of this all-encompassing journey but only the 165km giving the full perspective of how beautiful and hard the Welsh mountains are. As with all races at UTS, it started and concluded in Capel Curig. Heading off to Blaenau Ffestiniog, Croesor it then picked up the 50km and 100km routes to Pen-Y-Pass. Nantmoor, Moel Hebdog, Llyn-y-Gadair and then after Yr Wyddfa it followed the Snowdon Ranger Path for an extended loop before returning via the Snowdon Massif and Pyg Track to Pen-y-Pass. From here, the 100km and 165km routes were identical all the way back to Capel Curig.
Tremayne Dill Cowdry summed it up:
“45 hours to do just over 100 miles and every minute of that was a hard slog.
Mountains, bog, wet rock, tough nav on a marked course, sleep deprivation, mist, rain and the terrain!! Very little was even runnable. I can’t imagine a 100 miler more difficult than that. Easily the hardest I’ve done and definitely the hardest in the UK. I was going ok although I would have happily dropped given the chance but my feet succumb to the permanent wet and I had to hobble the last 20-ish miles…
As with all races, someone has to cross the line first, and of course there was stunning performances all weekend. However, the real sense of achievement came firstly from toeing the line and being in with a chance of completing a journey. The second came from completing the journey. Every medal was hard earned.
In the 165km event, Josh Bakker-Dyos lead from the start and while many expected him to blow up, so fast was his pace, he never did. He was relentless and consistent crossing the line in 28:51:43. It was easy to say, ‘he made it look easy!’ But for every other runner who crossed the 165km line, it was very clear, there was nothing easy on this route! Toby Hazelwood was less than 60-minutes behind in second, 29:45:17, another stunning run! Adam Jeffs rounded the podium with 34:09:54. Alice Sheldon and Becky Wightman were the only female finishers, 45:09:55 and 47:41:06 their hard-earned efforts stopping the clock – a brutal two nights and days out in the Welsh mountains. Only 32 completed the race.
The 100km route was won, but not dominated by Lakeland 100 champ, Mark Darbyshire ahead of Josh Wade and Jack Scott. Mark crossed in 14:25:47 with 14:33:36 going to second. It was 16:02:05 elapsed before the third crossed the line. Sarah Stavely (21:41:03) won the women’s race with Kajsa Holgersson and Julie Finn in second and third, 22:28:49 and 22:44:53.
Harry Jones flew around the UTS 50 route and looked as strong at the finish as when he started, his 6:13:33 a stunning time. It was 6:56:54 elapsed before second place Will Simmons crossed ahead of Spencer Shaw in 7:14:53. Lauren Woodwiss, like Jones, lead from the start dictating an excellent pace over the 50km route and completed her journey in an excellent 7:54:18. Celia Waring placed second in 8:36:18 and Abelone Lyng from Norway, moved up from outside the top-10 women to eventually finish third in 8:43:16 after sprinting for the line ahead of Jenna Shail who was just 13-seconds behind.
As Capel Curig slowly returned to some normality on Sunday, it was easy to see that the UTS will become one of the ultimate trail running events not only in the UK but the world. It may not have all the glamour and glitz of Chamonix and the UTMB. It’s a much more grass roots event, some would say a ‘true’ trail running event. Ultimately though, Wales was the hero of the weekend offering stunning routes. This landscape combined with the vision of Michael Jones of Apex Running and a team of dedicated volunteers and supporters will make UTS a ‘one to do!’ However, if you are thinking about the 165 event? Think long hard and without doubt, train hard, it’s a beautifully brutal beast.
‘beautifully beyond belief, savage beyond reason.’
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