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Nikki Sommers sets female FKT for 136km Snowdonia Slate Trail

Written by Fiona

July 05 2020

Snowdonia Slate Trail

Nikki Sommers has run a Fastest Known Time (FKT) of 25 hours and 32 minutes over 136km (84.5 miles) on the Snowdonia Slate Trail in Wales. Her total ascent was 4600m.

The 31-year-old A&E consultant, who lives in LLanberis in north-west Wales, started the run at 3:01am on July 2 and finished at 4.33am the next day.

She said: “I had set myself a goal of possibly doing the route in around 26 hours but I really had no idea how it would go. I am very pleased to have finished in a faster time.”

Snowdonia Slate Trail
Nikki at the start.

Find out more about Fastest Known Times.

Why the Snowdonia Slate Trail?

Covid19 lockdown in Wales has seen wide-scale restrictions on outdoor activities in the hills and mountains. Although many of these are now being lifted, Nikki was keen to make good use of a week of leave from her job at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor last week.

She says: “I  really wanted a big challenge. I had been feeling lethargic and lacking in motivation in lockdown and another challenge I had been keen to do could not go ahead due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

“The Snowdonia Slate Trail seemed ideal because it did not go anywhere that broke the rules of lockdown and it starts in Bangor and finishes in Bethesda, close to my home.

“In addition, this is a new trail to me and I thought it looked like an interesting route to explore.”

What is the Snowdonia Slate Trail? 

Described as a 83-mile route with more than 4000m of ascent, the Snowdonia Slate Trail, from Bangor to Bethesda, offers a chance to “experience the unique slate heritage of North Wales and enjoy the wonders of the Snowdonia National Park”.

It usually takes people around seven days to walk the route, which is mostly waymarked, through some of the less-frequented but beautiful parts of Snowdonia. From small villages to the honeypot attractions of Llanberis and Betws y Coed, the trail provides a wealth of variety of terrain and landscapes.

The route is also popular among narrow gauge railway enthusiasts because it visits the Penrhyn Quarry Railway, Llanberis Lake Railway, Snowdon Mountain Railway, the Welsh Highland Light Railway and the Ffestiniog Railway.

There is a Snowdonia Slate Trail Ultra that extends to 90 miles. It usually takes place annually.

Snowdonia Slate Trail
It’s still raining.
Snowdonia Slate Trail
Finally a bit of sunshine.

Nikki’s Snowdonia Slate Trail run

The run started in the early hours of Thursday July 2 in the rain. “Actually, it rained for the first seven hours of my run,” says Nikki, who has completed a number of other ultra runs, such as the Cape Wrath Ultra and the Spine Race. 

This meant that her feet were quickly sodden – and towards the end of the challenge they became macerated and very painful.

She says: “I was wet through very soon into the run. Even my pants were soaked, it was that wet! At one point I passed by my home and I thought about giving up and just having a lie down.”

Further challenges were a remote and isolated section of the trail that was around 21km long, from Llan Ffestiniog to Penmachno, and just after Nikki had reached halfway. 

She says: “Running the first half, to about 70km, I felt strong. My legs were good and I was well ahead of the schedule I had been hoping for. I did that 70km in 11 hours.

“But then my wet feet became a problem. They were so wet and they were painful. Also, the navigation wasn’t so easy in the more remote part of the route and I was quite tired. I’d started the challenge early after a night of very little sleep and after a very long weekend of work and being on call.

“I had to run through the night as well. I was fortunate to have a friend Siobhan to run with me in the darkness but I did run the second part of the trail much slower than the first part.”

Snowdonia Slate Trail
The Snowdonia Slate Trail above Penmachno.
Snowdonia Slate Trail
Nikki feeling tired at 98km at Penmachno village.
Snowdonia Slate Trail
A refuel at 119km.

There were many highlights of the trail for Nikki. She says: “The route goes through beautiful landscapes and many interesting places because of the connection to the slate industry. 

“There are some really lovely villages, too, and it was great to see new places.

“I also felt strong, at least for the first half of the distance. I enjoyed the goal of setting a fastest time on this route, or at least seeing if it was possible.”

At the halfway point, she made a special phone call to a friend in Scotland. Nikki has a close bond with a small group of runners that she met while taking part in the Cape Wrath Ultra in 2018.

She says: “When we did the CWU, at the half way point on each day of that challenge we would sing a song. It was part of what kept us going and motivated. So, at the half way point of the Snowdonia Slate Trail, I called one of the group, Glenn.

“It was his birthday and he was out running, too. We sang the half way song together on the phone. That was amazing.”

Nikki was grateful, too, to another friend, Emma, who ran with her at the start of the Snowdonia Slate Trail in the rain, and her husband Tom, who met her at various road crossings with food and drinks. 

She says: “Another great highlight was changing my socks and trainers for dry ones. Apart from a short stop for this I didn’t let myself have a break at any point in the run. I knew I wouldn’t get going again if I stopped for too long.”

Snowdonia Slate Trail
Nikki at the end of the Snowdonia Slate Trail in Bethesda.

Nikki was thrilled to reach the finish of the challenge on the Snowdonia Slate Trail well inside her hoped-for 26 hours.

She says: “I knew that in the ultra race, the fastest time for a male is 21 hours but the fastest female time was about 30 hours. The ultra race is a bit longer, stretching to 90 miles because of a slightly different start and finish, but I was still very pleased to run the route in 25 hours and 32 minutes.

“It is the furthest I have run non-stop in one go. It has shown me what I am capable of.”

‘But I am just an ordinary runner’

Nikki describes herself as “just an ordinary runner”. She explains: “I just go out and run. I am not the fastest runner and I don’t win races. I slowly get the job done and I am stubborn. I am able to suffer a lot to get through long distances.

“I want to show other people, especially women, that you don’t have to be fast or superhuman to have a go at long-distance challenges. I think there are still many routes in the UK that other women could set an FKT on.”

What next for Nikki?

Nikki is still hopeful that the 215-mile Race Across Scotland might go ahead next month. She has also had her eye on a Paddy Buckley Round, in Wales, which is one of three big mountain rounds in the UK.

She says: “Having recently moved to Wales for a new job – just before lockdown – I am also looking forward to be able to explore the hills and mountains more. It’s such a beautiful country.”

Also read: In 2018, Nikki set a record for cycling the length of the Outer Hebrides.

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