Race Tips: the Snowman Triathlon

We ask 2013 winners Jane Hansom and Ewan Brown for their advice on how to tackle this end-of-season stinger in Snowdonia


Are you racing the Snowman this Sunday? Then you’ll know what you’re in for – a tough, cold, windy and challenging triathlon in north Wales that demands absolute respect. 


We’ve asked last year’s victors Jane Hansom and Ewan Brown how to tackle this beast, which involves a 750m lake swim, followed by a 69km bike through some of Snowdonia’s most beautiful (and challenging) scenery, finishing with a 9km mountain run to the summit of Moel Siabod and back…


Jane: “The swim is in Llyn Mymbyr. Brrrrrrr. Yup. Aptly named. It even sounds cold. And it is. It was last year anyway. It will be 2°C colder than the official temperature so brace yourself! Stay to the right.The left hand side has weedy undergrowth close to the banks. Last year was quite choppy so be prepared if the wind is up.

“Many underestimated the difficulty of this swim last year despite the shorter distance. You will be swimming anti-clockwise into the current and wind. It will be tough and hard to get into a rhythm with the waves.

“Stay calm. Breathe and pace yourself. Once you reach transition, you may want to take this opportunity to put on a jacket if it’s cold. A few seconds in T1 to do this is worth it given the longer bike leg.”

Swimmer reaching T1 at Snowman Triathlon 2013

Ewan: “The swim isn’t long, but if there’s a strong wind funnelling down the Dyffryn (Valley) Mymbyr it can make up for the shortness with horrendous choppy waves, making a tough 750m, as was the case in 2013!

“Don’t worry, just be prepared. Do breaststroke to get a breather. Get some water space to yourself. Remember, if it is windy, only half the swim will be upwind!”


Jane: “The most stunning bike route ever. A few climbs. Several amazing descents. Eye-popping scenery. Hard not to take your foot off the gas and appreciate the beauty. The kind of route you need to ride again not in race conditions to appreciate the setting.” 

Ewan: “Stating the obvious: this bike ride is long and hilly! Go out more gently than you think you should. Wind it up through the ride and finish strongly, as much to keep your mental state positive for the Moel Siabod run to come. 

“When you go through Betws-y-Coed, you’ve got 5-6 miles to go which is all steadily uphill. If you’ve overcooked it up to here, you’ll lose a lot of time over this section. Save two minutes on the bike by going too hard and you could lose 20 minutes on the run!

“At the end of the bike ride you can see Moel Siabod standing alone, towering up just off to your left. Don’t let this get to you! I nearly dropped out the first time I did this race looking at that view. The end of the ride is nigh, so just keep the pedals turning.”


Marie Coburn running at the Sprint Snowman Triathlon 2013

Jane: “You need proper trail shoes with a rubber grip. The surface is uneven. It’s tough running uphill. It’s steep.You are required to take a jacket and tights. Race rules. Tie them around your waist. If you don’t need them at the start you may need them at the top.

“The run is what makes this race. Moel Siabod in Snowdonia. Not for the fainthearted. Last year the wind was howling and the fog so low that visibility was 50m metres. It’s a proper fell run. A scramble even. At some points I was definitely on my hands and knees.

“My strategy for the run was to  get up as quick as you can and catch your breath on the way down. I passed a group of climbers on the way up dressed like Chris Bonnington. Full wet weather gear. Gators. Goggles. The lot. I ran last them in a lycra tri-suit to a rapturous round of applause. They must have thought I was bonkers.

“At the top you will touch the stone cairn on the summit. It was so foggy (visibility 10m at this point) I didn’t even see the cameramen. The descent was amazing. Downhill fell running is a real skill. It’s hard to let go and trust your legs to guide the way without “putting on the brakes”. But do it. And relish it. High five those on the way up. They will appreciate the encouragement.

“You will end this race covered in mud, wet and exhausted. Or like me last year, in the medical tent getting my legs dressed after two falls. Oh yes. And it will take you two weeks to recover. But it’s awesome. You will love it. It is bonkers but you’ll be back next year for more. It’s that kind of race. Moel Siabod cast a spell on me for sure last year. I have thought about that mountain several times since and I cannot wait to see her again.”

Huw Brassington wins Sprint Snowman Triathlon 2013

Ewan: “Don’t think about the run with any sense of logic or it will defeat you before you even start. Take your time in transition to have a drink, pick up some gels and add on layers if necessary. Carrying windproof cover is mandatory for the run, so consider taking a small hydration pack to carry these, loaded with some water and gels.

“What goes up must come down. Moel Siabod has a technical descent that can make or break you! Three words of advice: concentration, concentration, concentration. Imagine yourself as a fighter pilot flying down, unable to take your eyes off the game.

“Slow down every few minutes or so, to a walk if required, rest your mind, catch a breather and refocus for a few seconds. Better this than losing concentration, falling and injuring yourself.”

(All images: Mel Parry Photography)


Are you racing the Snowman this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!