Race The Train 2018 review

Last Saturday, I raced a train. Then on Thursday I went back and sat on the train instead.

This year was the second time I have done Race The Train at Tywyn in Gwynedd, north Wales.

Two years ago, it was pouring with rain and Hywel and I were nowhere near beating the train, but I loved the trail route through the hills, the atmosphere and the great organisation.

I jumped at the chance to do it again this year – it was less wet and just as good, with more chance to enjoy the beautiful views.

I was still nowhere near beating the train. But that’s not the point.

On the day of Race The Train, there are different distances in the morning, including a 10k and a 3.5 mile run.

Then at 14.05, it’s the 14-mile Rotary Challenge.

It begins at the railway station at Tywyn, where the Talyllyn railway starts and finishes (the railway is one of the inspirations for the Thomas the Tank Engine stories by Rev W Awdry and it is the home of the engines that inspired Rheneas, Peter Sam, Sir Handel and Skarloey).

All the runners line up on the bridge above the station and you start when the train sets off up the valley.

If you can make it back down in about 1.47, you can beat the train.

Having now done both the race and the train in the last few days, I can heartily recommend both.

The running route winds up through farms and fields, never straying too far from the train lines and the trail route is a challenging mix of tracks, road and mud.

There are lots of marshals and water stops, and you are always listening out for the train’s whistle or spotting if you can spot its steam in the distance.

My favourite bits are the single track uphill after the turn, the waterfall steps and the incredibly sloped field where you battle to stay upright.

By the time you make it back to Tywyn, your legs will be tired, but you have an excellent medal and t-shirt to pick up.

Alternatively – as I found out on Thursday – the train ride itself is a very pleasant day out with lovely cafe facilities and family-friendly activities including a nice playground at Abergynolwyn.

Obviously if you are running, you don’t get to enjoy such things, so take your pick. Or you can always come back another day like I did.

Either way, the railway is lovely and Race The Train is a great event to support if you get the chance. I certainly hope to be back.

Diolch yn fawr i pawb. Thank you to all Rotary Club of Tywyn organisers and volunteers for the run and all the friendly Talyllyn railway staff too.

More on Race The Train here and more on Talyllyn Railway here.

Summer running…had me a blast

It was hot. It had hills. But it also had locals with water.

Lining up for The Wales Marathon, it was impossible to escape the fact that most runners were onto their third endurance challenge of the weekend – I felt like a part-timer just bobbing along to take on the marathon.

If you’re not familiar with the format, Tenby’s Long Course Weekend gives you the chance to take on all the three full-distance elements of an Ironman, over three days.

I hadn’t done Friday night’s swim and I hadn’t done Saturday’s cycle ride, but you can choose what you want to do, and the Sunday marathon was plenty to be getting on with.

Even before the start, it was clearly going to be a hot one. In the first three miles, it felt like my body was just adjusting to the conditions.

There would be no heroics today, and the climb up to the Ridgeway from 4-5 miles was slow and steady.

There was a great atmosphere among the runners – everyone attempting the full Long Course was quietly determined, but also relaxed in the knowledge that the end was getting closer with every step.

It was just a matter of keeping going and I had some good chats, learning a lot about the epic cycle course and the jellyfish on the swim.

I had signed up for the run with the simple aim of just completing the course – I’m not superstitious but I will admit that I wanted to get my 13th marathon done and out of the way.

I felt under no time pressure at all and, given the conditions, that was a very good thing indeed.

Once I had got used to the heat, it was all about taking on water sensibly and seeking shade (where possible!).

The course took us out to Pembroke, where the half-marathon was starting, and so I was focussed on getting to Pembroke Castle.

As we neared there, the number of locals who were out cheering and offering support increased.

And there were many more to come. Some with sponges, some with hoses and some with sprinklers and some offering water as well as fruit and sweets.

Obviously the spray and the snacks were welcome, but it was as much the gesture itself that that I found inspiring – the whole event felt like a team effort – everyone was invested in everyone else getting to the end.

Pembroke Castle came and went, with an excellent feed station, and into the tough second half.

I had been warned about the hills at 15 and 21, and they did not disappoint. But as legs shuffled onwards, some great views and even better camaraderie kicked in.

Manorbier Beach and Castle were highlights – and I will definitely go back to explore there on a day when I can do more than just glance upwards and trudge past.

All the talk among the runners here was that, once we got to 23, then we were back on the Ridgeway and it was mainly downhill to Tenby.

Any uphills were being walked now, and I fell into a great walk-run partnership with Lee who was one of the Long Course stars.

Obviously, you never quite feel as happy as you envisaged when you get to 23, and the thought of “just one parkrun to go” always rings slightly hollow by that point.

But then our chatter turned to the red carpet finish – and that was a huge motivation in those final miles.

It’s a proper way to finish an event and we knew the crowds would be noisy in that funnel.

And as we came off that hill and hit 25 miles, it was nearly done. There was just one climb into the town to be tackled and, with that done, it was all a blur as we went round the town walls.

And suddenly there was the red carpet and there was the finish. It was such a relief to have successfully got round in the heat, and that 13th marathon in the bag.

It was a great day out and wonderful to be part of that atmosphere around the whole weekend.

Thanks to all the marshals and volunteers at water stops – and to all those lovely locals with hoses.  And huge congratulations to all the runners, especially all those doing the Long Course!

10 things about running I have learnt in 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, here are some thoughts that I didn’t know at the start of the year.

  • When I am grumbling about something, I run faster. I run most weeks with my friends Alice, Sarah and Andy. Usually it’s all very sociable but if I start ranting about something, I am told that I speed up considerably. This can be about work, politics or sport, but one of my quickest rants was apparently about Bake Off Creme de la Creme programme. No one could keep up. Need to find a way to channel this during events…
  • If you are doing your first ultra, it’s best not to fall down some plastic stairs at a swimming pool a couple of days before. It was all ok in the end but I did smash my knee. It was not great for my confidence as I sat at home with a pack of frozen peas on my leg for the afternoon, but it did make me remember that finishing was the only aim.
  • On that note, I definitely learnt that, through the ultra and two trail marathons, running cross-country and not worrying about time is liberating and wholly enjoyable. It’s very different from road marathons. It’s harder in some ways but, without some of the pressures, it’s very good fun and there are some great medals/coasters on offer. Will do more.
  • I have said this before but volunteering at junior parkrun counts towards your parkrun 25 volunteer t-shirt and is also brilliant. Whatever your week has been like, how can you not enjoy helping? I am looking forward to the boy making his debut in 2018 and hope to still continue volunteering as well too. Volunteering at the main Saturday parkrun is also good but I knew this before 2017.
  • A good running rucksack opens up a world of new runs – fitting in extra runs here and there and/or combining chores/trips with a quick extra route has been great. I have got the Ultimate Direction fastpack and the exterior pockets for the shoes are a great idea.
  • In October, I found that a step counter got me walking out and about a lot more as part of a team mileage challenge for work. And in December, the Run Up To Christmas virtual challenge has been terrifically inspirational to get my mileage up. It is particularly great that it has raised money for Mind too.
  • I started this blog this year and it has been fun. I accept that the blog is probably more for me than anyone else and it’s hard to find time, but it also leads to some lovely connections with the running community locally and far away.
  • Speaking of running communities, I have got more involved this year and have got a lot more back. Thank you to Matt from runr, Carl, Sophie, Rachel B and so many more.
  • The Forest of Dean Autumn half has a very nice medal.
  • If you can’t run an event you have signed up for and trained for, it is a bit annoying but it’s not a big deal. Maybe I will sign up for Birmingham again, maybe I won’t…there are plenty more events.

When you can’t run your event…

I was supposed to run the Birmingham Marathon a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, when the weekend came around, circumstances meant that I couldn’t get there. 

It was one of those things, but was a strange feeling to be missing out. I was due to travel there with three friends and was on the WhatsApp group as they set off on the Saturday.


It was odd seeing the updates as they got ready for the big day and so I had a beer and tried not to think about it too much.

On Sunday morning, I did not quite know what to do.

I thought about going for a run but then opted for a volunteering shift at junior parkrun – it’s always a pleasure and I loaded up the tracker to keep an eye on the gang’s progress all morning. 

It was great to watch them build up the miles and wonderful when they were all safely over the finish line. I just felt gutted not to be there to be part of it. 

When they got back that night, I picked them all up from the station to hear all about it and see the medals. 

There will always be other days and other medals to pick up but it was going to be my last big run of 2017 so that felt a bit unfinished. 

As I had got some sponsorship for Stand Up To Cancer for the run, I also felt that I needed to complete the distance one way or another.

Weekends are always a bit hectic so I found time on a day off on holiday to set off early in the morning and get it done. 

As I was away from home, I did not do much route-planning and just decided to do small loops in the area I knew and avoiding too many roads and hills. I used both a Garmin watch and Strava on the iPhone to keep an eye on the mileage. 

There was no rush and the lack of planning saw me scrambling over rocks on a beach and doubling back a few times too. 

The early miles seemed to take an age and the best bit was along Saundersfoot beach when low tide gave me the chance to go on and on and on along the sand. In my head it was like Chariots of Fire but passers-by would probably disagree. 

When I was tired I walked up the slopes and found a nice riverside path to Stepaside at around 20 miles which was good to pick up a flat few miles. 

At 24 miles I had a nice chat to a family who had spotted that I had been out for a while! I saw them again at 25.5 miles and the dad (who was carrying an Ironman Tenby rucksack) gave me a great big cheer to spur me on – thank you IronMan!

As always there was a discrepancy between the two GPS versions so I kept going until both were over 26.3 miles just to be sure. 

And then it was done. It did feel good to have done the marathon I had planned for (and was sponsored for) and I shared an ice cream with my son by way of celebration. 

The Pembrokeshire coast on a pleasant October day was a wonderful place to do it and it was in the main week of Stand Up To Cancer too.

It’s such an important cause and there’s lots of great programming on Channel 4 to enjoy. If you can, text the word TEN or TWENTY to 70404 to support.

Have you ever had to miss an event? Did you make it up afterwards? 

Story: The boy who ran

As my boy grows older, I have started writing a few stories to tell him at bedtime.

This one is about running so I thought other runners might like it for any kids/grandkids/nephews/nieces.

Thank you to my friend Norman (@cyntefin) for the illustration too. 

If you like it, please consider making a donation to my Birmingham Marathon page for the Stand Up To Cancer campaign


THE BOY WHO RAN

There once was a boy who ran every day, 

He ran to school and he ran home to play,

He ran in the valley and up the town’s biggest hill,

And people would say “Gosh, that boy just can’t keep still!”

 

But he just loved to run and did not want to stop,

And he made sure he ate well and drank water a lot,

He wasn’t that fast but that didn’t matter,

He was just happy when he could hear his feet pitter-patter.

 

One day he was running and he heard someone shout,

He started looking around to see who was about,

He found an old lady who had taken a fall,

And was sitting uncomfortably at the foot of a wall.

 

He had a quick chat to make sure she was ok,

Then, like a flash, he went racing away,

He dashed along paths and along the pavements of roads,

Always remembering his green cross code.

 

When he reached the town, he raised the alarm,

Then ran back to make sure she came to no harm,

The doctor arrived to look after her soon,

And she was up and about by the next afternoon.

 

The people of the town saw what the boy did,

And they cheered and they clapped this brave helpful kid,

That day, some of them were inspired to run,

Now that’s what they all do and they all have great fun.

Parkrun goals for 2017 – complete!

Earlier this year I set a few goals to aim for at parkrun for 2017 (in this post here) and, midway through September, I am pleasantly surprised to have just achieved the main three. 

The first to tick off was 100 runs at my home parkrun of Cardiff Blackweir. 

The second was getting to 25 volunteering shifts and this was much-accelerated by the discovery that volunteering at junior parkrun also counted towards this total. I have thoroughly enjoyed a few shifts on Sunday mornings and it’s great to see so many kids involved. Hopefully my boy will be taking part before too long! 

So that left the target of 20 locations and this Saturday I had an opportunity to do a bit of parkruntourism again. It was up to Maesteg and it was a very friendly event with a lovely atmosphere. The course was four laps with a little hill at the start of each. It was nice to be out again after resting all week. A great morning (although there was a nervous moment when my barcode wouldn’t scan at first) and it was followed by a #nicecupoftea too. As always, thanks to all marshals and volunteers. 

So with a few months still to go, I am making a few updates – 25 locations and 30 volunteering shifts are the new aims and we’ll see how it goes!

(I will admit there was a fourth possible parkrun target but I am not confident in it – going sub20 again is just not something I am aiming at really at the moment!)

Bacchus marathon review: Long and wining road

Doing the full Bacchus marathon felt a bit like being stuck at work while all your mates are at a party. 

Don’t get me wrong – I had a great day and really enjoyed it, but the half-marathon certainly seems to be the main event. 

​The whole event has certainly got atmosphere and, with its offer of wine at all the water stops, it gets lively at Bacchus from early on. 

On your way in, you will be sure to see all the outfits making their way towards the main building at Denbies Vineyard, just outside Dorking in Surrey.

Gangs of Romans, Bumblebees, Unicorns and Cluedo characters (Mrs White, Miss Scarlett etc), mingled with those dressed as Sherlock, Kermit, a cricketer (complete with pads and bat) and Hulk – to name but a few of the many, many costumes on show.

Every run has its fancy dress runners of course, but the percentage here is off the scale. 

I had been expecting this carnival of costumes – and everyone was exchanging smiles and banter – but what I had not realised was how many people were doing the half and not the full. 

When I got to the registration list, I was surprised to see only 200 were in for the full, compared to columns and columns of half runners (and the final number of marathoners was actually nearer 150).

I was a bit bemused to get the race t-shirt at registration, as I had nowhere to put it, so I wandered around as I got my bearings for the day.

The Vineyard was a great base – it was a sunny day but so nice to be able to be inside – and I had the chance to meet some of the UKRunChat gang as we all got ready.

As always, it was great to meet new people and then, proving the point immediately, @runningmiker came to the rescue to store my t-shirt in his bag until afterwards, and let me steal some sun cream too.

By this time, it was time to get outside for the start and we were off! 

I was in the 10am wave which had the marathon runners and the first third of half runners. 

We set off between the vines and it was everything I had hoped for – a fine day, lively banter and beautiful surroundings.

Three miles in and it was the first water stop, complete with a fantastic view and a brilliant live band. There was wine on offer but I had decided to abstain for the first lap. I had decided this was the only sensible policy as I definitely wanted to sample some of the wine (or there was not much point choosing Bacchus over other events), but I feared going too early could lead to problems.

So while others dallied at the station, I set off again, enjoying some lovely paths and up some challenging climbs, with the wine stops and the tremendous bands providing great support and encouragement for the next seven miles.

Passing St Barnabus church at the top of Ranmore at 10 miles was a highlight, even if it was followed by a tricky off-road loop. And then you head back down the hill for a fantastic finish at the Vineyard for the hog roast. Or that would have been the case had I not been heading off around for the second lap.

As half-marathon runners wooped and danced round the corner to the finish funnel, the marathoners were sent off on a sharp left turn. It immediately got a lot quieter on the course and a sudden downpour was a bit of a surprise too – the second lap was proving a different challenge altogether.

I had a bit of a walk at 14 miles to send a few tweets about Children’s Cancer Awareness Month that I had been planning, and then it was off again. The first water stop at the top of the hill at 16 miles was my first sip of wine – I had a moment’s hesitation before drinking, and then got on with it. 

Although it wouldn’t be my first choice, I don’t particularly mind a lapped course – there is something familiar and encouraging about passing small landmarks or sights again – the bridge under the railway, the gate, the tree you have to clamber over. On the second lap they are there to be ticked off and, as you know you have done them already, you already know it’s achievable.

And of course, this time I could enjoy the wine – the Surrey Gold, the Bacchus, the red one, the fizzy one…forgive me if I did not take down all the names.

By this point I was starting to catch up with some of the half-marathoners from the later waves, which made for entertaining chats at the stops but it definitely made me wonder if I was doing the event in the right way as much wine was clearly being enjoyed!

Carrying on, I was delighted to be back at St Barnabus at around 23 miles – my family (who had been at mile 4 and mile 11) were there, which was lovely. 

It also meant I was at the top of the hill and, one small climb aside, it was nearly done and then I had the pleasant surprise of bumping into @bigcarlrunning as well – a quick chat was all I could manage at this point though!

This time, the last two miles were far, far more enjoyable knowing that this was the finish. It must be one of the best ends of a race around – a fantastic road all the way from the last wine stop, winding down the hill amongst the vines – a tremendous feeling even on sore legs.

Then it’s round the corner and over the line…and into a free hog roast with drink. @runningmiker was there to cheer, which was great – and his mum who had just done her first ever half was there too! 

With our “well dones” completed, I found my family and wandered into the food/drink tent. I had not expected to walk into a full-on rave and fair play to the folk who were dancing – particularly the man doing an extremely energetic Running Man manoeuvre.

Sadly I was not quite able to join – I was seeing the scene through the glazed eyes of a tired runner, and we found some nice quiet seats outside instead – I don’t know how everyone else feels after events, but I need a bit more time before attempting proper conversations let alone dancing (I quite like the funnel systems of big events for this reason – it gives you some time to compose yourself before meeting people!) 

I enjoyed the hog roast and, with that demolished, I wandered back inside and saw Helen (12 Marathons/@_FatGirlsCanRun) and Michelle @whiffenpuff waving me over wildly to the UKRunChat table again – thank you to them all for their company and support!

Overall, a great adventure. I am very happy to have done the full, but maybe it’s best to do the half and do it properly with the wine! 

Other than that, there was a lack of toilets out on the course and I have heard some registration issues, but the unique atmosphere has to be seen to  be believed!

From a marathon to a mile

On Sunday, I joined Mark and Harry Keville on Day Two of their 10-marathon challenge, and ran from Worthing to Chichester (plus a bit more to make up the distance) on a lovely sunny day on the south coast.

And this Sunday (27th), I am switching to the other end of the spectrum at The Butetown Mile – a fantastic community event appealing to all runners in Cardiff which is over in less than five minutes for some.

Last Sunday, we all met up at Worthing Hospital at 8.30am to meet staff who are part of a network offering the new NHS service Robbie’s Rehab.

Alongside Mark and Harry were routefinder Neil, and Harry’s friend Dave, with Steve on the bike and Neil’s family in the support car.

It was already a sunny morning and we set off for a gorgeous stretch along the coast.

On the first day, Mark and Harry had done a half marathon on each of Jersey and Guernsey and, with another eight days to go, it was important to let them set the pace, with the rest of us there to keep them on track and entertained.

There were snacks, there was some talk of chafing, there was banter with passers-by, and there was some walking on pebbly beaches when the path ran out. Most importantly, there was a great atmosphere which it was a privilege to be part of.

We turned inland towards Chichester and the non-pavemented roads became a bit more challenging as the traffic zipped by, but it certainly focussed the mind and stopped any thoughts of tiredness.

Reaching Chichester, we headed to the hospital for the second visit of the day, and Mark even put in a sprint as we got close.

At the hospital, it was lovely to see lots of the Keville family had turned out to welcome them in, and Mark and Harry were visibly lifted by all the support. 

The hospital stops also gave such a clear and meaningful connection to the cause they are running for. Mark and Harry didn’t want to talk to staff there about the running – they wanted to spread the word about Robbie’s Rehab.

With that visit done, we headed back out – there was still another 5k to do to complete the day’s distance.

Getting started again after a break is never easy but we were soon on our way and then we were done! 

A tremendous day and gave just a window into what’s involved with multi-day challenges. 

Thanks again to Mark and Harry for the invite and to Neil, Dave, Steve, Susie and Sophs for the company and support (and the lunch, water and biscuits). To follow Mark and Harry’s progress, visit https://robbiesrally.wordpress.com/

And if you are in Cardiff at the weekend, do check out Sunday’s Butetown Mile – the start is not far from John Lewis and you can sign up on the day. Elite race is 11am, with the fun run at 11.15am.

For more information – click here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/butetownmile/

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