Trail Marathon Wales 2017 – race review (of sorts) and pics!

This is my first attempt at a race review and I am not sure I am going to get it quite right, but here goes.

At the start and trying not to think about the hills…

Trail Marathon Wales is based in Coed y Brenin (CYB) in Snowdonia in north Wales – just north of Dolgellau and near Cadair Idris.

It is a beautiful area and CYB is well established as an excellent mountain biking/trail running centre, and the marathon weekend is one of the highlights of the year, with a full and a half available.

A few months ago I signed up to the marathon, seeing it as a chance to do a 10th marathon before turning 40. I knew it had a lot of climbing in it, and that any kind of time prediction was going to be pointless and probably unhelpful.

I was relatively relaxed about it and deliberately didn’t study the elevation map too much beforehand. I think this was a good move.

Looking at the weather forecasts the week before, at first I was pleased that it was going to be dry and that my road shoes should be ok, as I had thrown away my old knackered trail shoes earlier this year and have not replaced them (trainers are expensive).

The views all around the course were stunning

By Friday night, I was starting to get a bit more worried about the heat and was reorganising my kit and rethinking what to wear. I am not the best in the sun, and I was repeating a mantra of “I just want to get round” to anyone and everyone nearby.

I woke up nice and early, and had an hour’s drive to the start and got parked up and registered, then put on some suncream (thank you to “men in van” who helped me out after I forgot mine).

As soon as you arrived, you could sense the excitement around the place was building as fast as the temperature was rising.

The CYB centre is a fantastic base for the event, with great facilities, decent parking and a good café, and I was looking forward to getting started.

Random photo with a bull sculpture

I do love an event morning. After weeks of anticipation, I always think “today is the day I finally get to do this thing” and that makes me bounce around.

It’s the days before I don’t like.

I am always worried about not making it to the start line due to an injury, which is a fear that has grown since I smashed my knee slipping down a set of stairs at a swimming pool two days before my first ultra in April (strangely it felt ok when running so I did it anyway – was fine).

Anyway, back to CYB and when I went back to get ready for the start, I bumped into Matt from www.runr.co.uk and we recognised each other from UKRunChat and from a blog post I did for the runr site recently.

We got chatting and, despite only meeting properly minutes earlier, we launched into a quick and honest discussion about pace and race plans which went something like this:

This was a big hill. And it was only at 11 miles.

“What time are you thinking?”
“Seriously no idea – I haven’t done enough training”
“Me neither – I’m going to walk up all the hills”
“Me too – it’s going to be hot”
“What time are you thinking?”
“Seriously no idea.”
[silence]
“Anything about five hours would be great”
“Me too – shall we try sticking together?”
“Let’s do it”

And with that exchange, like the Hobbitses and the dwarves and the elves and Sean Bean, we made our pact to head off together on our quest to tackle the hot hills arranged by Sauron (or, in this case Salomon).

We wandered off to the briefing where we bumped into my friend Rhodri (a fast man) and then Ben (a fast man who has just launched goodgym in Cardiff).

Photo stop at mile 17

There was some talking, some music and then a confusing section where we all had to turn around as we were going to start running in the opposite direction to where we all thought we were going…and then we were off.

Within yards, Rhodri and Ben zipped off in front and Matt and I started chatting….and this is where my run report is going to go off piste…

Basically it took us 5.12 and here are some things that I now know:

  • It was a brilliant event.
  • It had a lot of hills. The one at 11 miles is called The Sting in the Tail. There are many others. We made up some of our own names for some of the ones in the second half.
  • There was a proper toilet block at the 10-mile point – it was very civilised compared to a portaloo.

    The route was a great mix of paths and trails
  • It was also Matt’s 10th marathon finish – he did not get a medal for finishing Edinburgh as they took his number away when he was in first aid at 22.5 miles. With a DNF on both of our records, we had a similar approach to this one.
  • You know it is getting tough when you start to dread the flat sections. We conserved our legs by walking up hills from early on, and when you fear those flat bits, you know you are feeling weary.
  • Matt and his friend Craig set up the runr site to help develop a community of people who enjoy running and talking about it. They sell a nice range of hoodies, t-shirts and mugs – but if Matt is going to have to run a marathon alongside every potential customer, he is going to be knackered, so check out the website.
  • It was good to have a loose deal to stick together. There wasn’t any pressure to do so, but the benefits were pretty obvious given the heat and the terrain. And by the time we got to the business end of the last 10 miles, there didn’t seem any reason not to stay together. We had come this far and the best case scenario for either of us pushing ahead was the prospect of finishing a few minutes quicker and then worrying about the other. There didn’t seem to be much point in that, so it was much better to both safely finish and enjoy it.
  • The views from the hills were spectacular. Some of the moments when we twisted through forests and around the hillsides were some of the best I have ever enjoyed.

    So close to the end!
  • It amused us to plan an agenda to discuss in the second half. By this time, I had to fall back on telling Matt some stories that I tell my three-year-old at bedtime. At this point, any conversation is better than none (Matt may disagree but he said he liked the stories at the time)
  • We also saved up talking about football until the second half and it turns out that, obviously from being from the south coast, Matt supports Man Utd. His brother is more sensible in supporting the mighty Tottenham.
  • The variety of the course was a great distraction to make the mile markers tick by – up, down, path, heath, track, woodland – you never knew what was next so that was good.
  • We reckon we could probably had won it if we hadn’t stopped to take pictures.

    Big smiles at the finish line!
  • I tried telling Matt that “it wasn’t really that hot” at one point but he was not convinced.
  • The marshals and organisers were brilliant – thank you to all involved.
  • You don’t get a medal. You get a wooden coaster which fits in with the fact you run through the woods (Coed y Brenin means The King’s Woods)
  • I like my coaster

So there you go – not sure it’s a race review, but it was a great experience, and one I would highly recommend. Apologies it’s quite long, but that has meant I can put lots of pictures in.

Massive well done to Matt for being great company (and then an extra congratulations for driving five hours home straight afterwards – #palaver).

The coaster made sense on Sunday night

Also huge congratulations to Rhodri who was doing his first marathon and did brilliantly, to Ben for doing the 5k the previous day and then climbing Snowdon the next, and to Elizabeth from UKRunChat who did the half to tick off the summer and winter events.

And a special mention to Nia – who came along to be part of my support crew but sprained her ankle in the car park within minutes of arrival and stayed to cheer before ending up in A&E.

Not quite the day we had planned but she was still an excellent supporter – diolch Nia!

Let me know what you think and if you did it too! All comments welcome!

10th marathon (before 40)

Am absolutely delighted to have completed my 10th marathon today and fulfilled a goal of doing it before turning 40 (which may or may not be very imminent…).

I had been worried about this one (Trail Marathon Wales) as I knew it could be hilly and hot, what with it being Snowdonia and in June.

And it was.

So I decided to focus on trying to be sensible and just getting round safely.

Race report will follow but it has been a great day. Thanks to organisers, marshals and supporters. Superb event.

And a big shout out to Matt from www.runr.co.uk – we met at the start and ran the whole way together.

Sponsorship page is here – I support the work of CRUK and all donations are very welcome.

B is for buggy running

This article originally appeared in Issue #10 of Like the Wind magazine with an illustration by Lisa Buchanan. It is reproduced here with permission of the team at this beautiful magazine – please do check it out.

Original article in Like The Wind magazine with illustration by Lisa Buchanan

“Can I get in the buggy?”, “That kid’s cheating”, “Who said men can’t multitask?” are a few heckles I’ve had recently.

“He’s going to push me round when he’s older,” is my usual reply, as I try to avoid tripping anyone up with the wheels.

I never planned to become a buggy runner. It was not a conscious decision. It started as a solution to the challenge of fitting in the selfish act of running with the new arrival. But now I enjoy it in its own right.

Before the boy appeared, my weekend routine often started with a parkrun or a longer Saturday morning run. After his arrival, I was determined to keep running but it just did not happen at first.

There was not much exercise of any kind going on – there was far too much else to do (including sleeping).

But four weeks on, one of my very first trips out of the house alone with him was to see friends at parkrun and have a cup of tea afterwards. It was great to get out.

Over the following weeks, I grew in confidence with these trips, volunteering as a marshal a couple of times and then nervously lining up at the back of the running pack.

A couple of nods from the other buggied parents as we gathered, and then we were off. One of the dads shot off at a blistering pace, equipped with a bicycle bell on his buggy to warn of his speedy manoeuvres. Clearly a pro.

I knew the route was flat and on a good track, so I could concentrate more on pushing style, trying not to clip anyone, and not veering into the path of any bikes/dogs/walkers when I hit any twig or rock.

Nearing the finish line at Cardiff parkrun (pic by Luke Heslop)

I have still never really discovered a specific pushing technique – it varies so much depending on the terrain, how I am feeling and how much attention the boy wants – sometimes he wants to hold my hand for a whole mile, which leads to a very ungainly bent-double-stance.

Of course the biggest thing is to make sure the boy is appropriately-clothed, well-fed and generally happy. In those early days, he was sleeping a lot and he might wake up on the walk home, but two years on, he is much more mobile.

When it’s all going well, you get a few smiles or the friendly heckles, which is nice, but if he is screaming, writhing and shouting “No running, Daddy!”, those smiles quickly turn to disapproving stares.

“He likes it really” sounds a bit hollow at those moments, but they usually pass…Usually. I must admit there have been a couple of abandoned or shortened attempts where a combination of factors (usually caused by poor or optimistic planning on my part) has led to disaster.

The worst saw him twisting himself into a wet knot (I blame not-tight-enough shoulder straps mixed with a sudden downpour) within seconds. And then his trousers inexplicably started coming off. I had to cower under a bridge that day. Hashtag fail

Those are the exceptions though. Whether we’re exploring new places, revelling in perfectly flat paths or getting fresh air together, buggy running gives us a lovely sense of sharing a moment.

And that’s what I particularly love now. The joy of being together is our special treat, and our conversations are improving too – he points out lots of animals or trees, so we talk about those, or whether we are going to go over Boing-Boing Bridge (he loves the jolting bounces as we go up and down the shallow steps of an otherwise-very-ordinary bridge near the house).

Marshalling with buggy on the 9th anniversary of Cardiff parkrun (pic by Luke Heslop)

Ending at the playground for him to have a run around it very popular too.

When we are doing parkrun, or any other event involving with more people, I do worry about annoying other runners, either by introducing an unexpected vehicle onto the path or by just overtaking them, but I haven’t experienced any real grumbles.

And I have been on the other side of that too – not long ago, in my pre-buggy days, I was beaten by a buggy in a 10-mile race. I was going as fast as I could but only nearly caught up near the end when the baby threw a toy out and his dad had to circle back to fetch it. It still makes me laugh.

I do hope it is going to encourage my son to be a runner too – I see other parents running with their older kids and would like to think we’ll graduate to that one day, although I do suspect I will miss the buggy days hugely.

I am not just saying it – but he genuinely does seem to enjoy buggy running too – especially if I lean over to tickle him while we are going along.

It’s a killer on the back, but hearing him giggling as he hurtles along is one of the best feelings around.

And I believe buggy running has taught me to be less competitive – another dad recently passed me at a parkrun with two kids in a double buggy and also a dog. Fair play to him…I was happy to let him go!

Although there are limits…At the Barcelona Marathon, I saw a man who seemed to be running round with a buggy – now that is too much…isn’t it?

Things to consider  

  • You have to plan well – not just with snacks and drinks, but also in terms of the route and you have to be prepared to bail out at any time
  • You learn lots about good pavements – some routes need to be avoided!
  • It’s not about the buggy – I don’t have a proper running buggy (even though it’s called Baby Jogger). Some people have three-wheelers but I like my four-wheeler as it’s quite responsive.

Any other buggy runners out there? Please comment with any more tips to pass on too!