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.
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).
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.
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:
“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.”
“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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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!