Written by Marcin Krzysztofik - http://wolnybiegacz.pl
V3K (Vegan 3000 Ultra) is a mountain ultramarathon that I heard of for the first time about 2 years ago. Of course I got really keen to run it one day. Before I dive into the report, I can disclose that I finished the race. My result isn’t overly impressive, but I’m satisfied with my performance, considering this was my first such a highly technical race and the first ‘skyrace’ I took part in. My aim had been to finish the race, hopefully in a reasonable time somewhere around the middle of the pack. On top of that I had counted on beautiful views and had been excited to see parts of Snowdonia I’d never seen before.
Skyrunning is a term for a specific kind of running events. These are generally mountain races with a lot of vertical gain proportionally to the race distance. Skyrunning encompasses a few categories: Sky (races up to 50k long), Ultra (races longer than 50k), Vertical (1000 metres of altitude gain) and Extreme (just hardcore ?). Skyrunning originates from the Dolomites in Italy and over the years has become extremely popular, among others in countries such as USA, UK or Poland.
V3K Ultra is the first race of Skyrunner UK National Series. V3K stands for Vegan 3,000s. Vegan, because the organiser is vegan and all participants of the race have to adhere to a vegan diet throughout the race. 3,000s, because the race route winds through Snowdonia and takes in all 15 Welsh summits over 3,000 feet tall. More on what these summits are can be found on Wikipedia. All of them are located in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. The race is 54k long, while the sum of all ascents is over 4,000 metres, so considerable altitude gain. To make matters more interesting, there is a little bit of exposure and scrambling involved, so those with fear of heights might give this race a pass.
The day before
Together with my family we left Oxford on Friday morning (23rd June) and in the afternoon arrived at the event base in Tal-y-bont, just outside of Bangor. At 7 PM the race registration started. Before I started queuing to register I had met some friends: Maciek, Andrzej and Mariusz, whom I know from some previous races. Andrzej and Mariusz had ambitious plans to score high and finish under 10 hours. Maciek, similarly to me, pretty much just wanted to finish the race.
Once we collected our race packs we enjoyed some nice vegan carbo-loading to make sure we have enough calories to burn the next day. Then, just past 8 PM the race director welcomed everyone and delivered her race briefing, pointing out where to be especially careful, where not to cut short etc. After the briefing we went to our nearby Bed & Breakfast. I packed my race vest, prepared my clothes and went to sleep to get at least 4-5 hours of rest.
The alarm rang at 3:30 AM (!). I ate some porridge and a banana, drank some tea, got dressed and just before 4 AM sat in a coach that was about to take all the runners to the race start in Nant Gwynant on the other side of the mountains. It took us about 40 minutes to get there. Then we experienced an onslaught of midges. I haven’t been exposed to them for quite a few years so I forgot how annoying they are. They quickly reminded me! I carried the bite signs with me even over a week after the race!
Inspired by Andrzej’s and Mariusz’s plan I thought I’d give it a try too and stay not far behind them. To achieve that I made it to the start line and settled just a couple of metres behind them. At 5 AM 150 or so people set off!
Part 1: Snowdon
The race starts on a gently rising path which turns later into a tiresome climb up to the top of Snowdon. Over 900 metres of altitude gain, so no minor feat.
For the first few minutes I kept up with the front runners, but it didn’t take much time for me to realise that if I continued to maintain this pace I would be gone. Out of my league…
I continued at my own, slower pace, mainly walking uphill and letting others overtake me. After 1.5 hour from start I summitted Snowdon. From there a short and pleasant downhill run followed. Then a short uphill and summit no. 2, Garnedd Ugain was ticked off. Afterwards I enjoyed the most exciting part of the course: the knife-edged arete of Crib Goch, summit no. 3. Unfortunately, the rocks there made me realise that my Salomon XA Pro 3D shoes were inadequate for the terrain as they had no grip on the rocks. As a result of that I had to be extra careful and frustratingly slow; many runners overtook me on this stretch.
Shortly the descent from Crib Goch started. On a scree slope Maciek appeared and quickly passed me and got out of sight: clearly, he was handling descents better than I was. With the scree out of the way I continued descending along a picturesque valley until I finally reached the A4086 road. After 2 km or so along the road I reached the first feed station where I replenished my water supplies, ate something and promptly continued.
Part 2: Glyderau
On the arduous climb to Elidir Fawr, summit no. 4 I caught up with Maciek and since then we stayed together for most of the race. With Elidir Fawr bagged we stayed on high ground, always above 700 metres above sea level. With a mix of walking and running we continued checking off summits 5, 6 and 7: Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach.
After a steep descent from Glyder Fach we scrambled atop Tryfan, the 8th summit. Another slow and rocky descent followed, this time down into the valley and the A5 road. Maciek reached the road a few minutes ahead of me, but I kept him in sight when we run along the A5 for a short while. We soon reached the second feed station where I arrived 3 minutes after him.
At the lavish feed station I ate/drank some soup and drank a cup of invigorating coffee. I ate a few roast potatoes and some sandwich as I was very keen to break the sweet taste of gels and bars. At this stage I felt pretty exhausted and my legs and back were sore, but on the other hand I was glad that ‘just’ one, last part remained.
Part 3: Carneddau
Maciek lingered on at the feed station while I set off, being sure that he will catch up with me later. This part begun, similarly to the two previous parts, with a long climb up to the high ground, concluded with peak no. 9: Pen yr Ole Wen. Similarly to the Glyderau section now followed a bit of a flat, or gradually descending terrain suitable for running.
Having bagged Carnedd Dafydd (summit no. 10) I could enjoy a fair bit of running until I reached Yr Elen (no. 11). At the following ascent Maciek caught up with me and together we bagged peak no. 12: Carnedd Llewelyn. A gradual and runnable descent followed by a short ascent and Foel Grach (no. 13) was ours. Then another runnable descent, short ascent and Carnedd Gwenlian (no. 14) was ticked off. Shortly thereafter, maintaining a nice pace, we bagged the last summit: Foel-fras.
What was left was just a few miles of gentle downhill to the finish. Most of it was either a grassy slope, or a runnable path, so we pushed on as hard as sore legs allowed. We had a chance to finish under 12-hours, so every second mattered. This really kept me going. Admittedly, the fact that we overtook 3 runners on the last descent was also quite motivating.
After the last grassy bit we were left with a final stretch of a minor road. We made it across the finish line 3 minutes or so before our self-imposed target of 12-hours! At this point I really need to thank for Maciek for sticking together with me on the final descent. He was clearly capable of running faster and finishing a few minutes ahead of me, but decided to cross the finish line together as we did most of the day’s running and walking together. We finished at 82nd place out of 149 finishers, the last of whom needed just over 17 hours.
At the finish line my wife awaited with the camera ready to immortalise our finish. Andrzej and Mariusz were also waiting there. They had a brilliant run, finishing together in around 9 hours at a top 20 position. Respect! Even greater congratulations to their friend Jarek, whom I just met there. He finished as the 6th runner in 8 hours and 34 minutes! The winner needed just 7 hours and 25 minutes… incredible!
After the finish and when I settled down I really started to feel how exhausted I was. I was drained, sore and could hardly force the delicious vegan food into me. Luckily, at our B&B accommodation we had a bathtub to our disposal, so I could take a hot and relaxing bath to regenerate a bit. I got so relaxed that I actually felt asleep for 15 minutes or so while there ?
After my good results in April’s Harpagan (6th place, race report here) and May’s Kierat (37th place, race report here) the reality hit me hard and showed that I’m no good in skyraces. I’d need way more training, especially hill training, to improve. Despite that, I’m really glad that I completed the whole course in reasonable time and without any injuries. Interestingly, on Saturday, a few hours after the race I felt quite good. On Sunday I was sore but it was rather fine. However, on Monday and Tuesday DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) hit me with a brutal force! I could hardly walk, not to mention sit. Suprisingly, not only my legs were painful, but also arms and shoulders. It does actually make sense if you think of it, considering all the scrambling when I heavily relied on my arms or descended on all fours.
I very much recommend V3K as a race worth running. It has a great atmosphere. Unlike many other races it doesn’t seem to be very commercialised and you can sense the organisers’ and runners’ passion of mountain running. Combined with a great setting in beautiful Snowdonia and a demanding, technical race, V3K offers a memorable experience.
All the best,