Gold!! (in the hills)

WA Trail Championship (Long) Team Gold for Meirionnydd Running Club
WA Trail Championship (Long) Team Gold for Meirionnydd Running Club

Trying to write a story like my old English teacher taught me, when I’m this excited is difficult. A start, a middle and an end, never use the word nice!  Good rules to work on!

This week has been Melanoma Awareness week. If you have a laugh about getting burnt in the sun, or don’t know how quickly melanoma is becoming a massive problem please, please take a few minutes and educate yourself. The best presented information is here –

On Melanoma, one of the things I have been struggling with is how I can use my run across the big, hot beach (Marathon des Sable)  to raise awareness and money. After this week I feel like there is a campaign coming together. I met with Michelle from Caffeine Communications this week (actually on the day my Mum would have been 65 if she hadn’t died 23 years ago). Michelle has an idea or two, and I’m really excited to be working with her to promote Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. I’m certain you will be hearing more about this in the weeks to come!

Trail Marathon Wales 2013 held a few nerves for me this year. I really wanted to race it, and I felt confident of breaking 4 hours until I was knocked flat by a bacterial infection in my organs. My plan was to complete rather than compete, run my own race, at my own pace. Being a bit competitive I knew I’d get swept along, but I was keen to run it my way. 

I don’t race very often, but when I do I wear Meirionnydd Running Club colours. As a small young club, I’m very proud to be a part of the club.

Race day was due to be wet, which was good as it would keep the midges down and keep me cool. Early morning breakfast was looking out on rain. A light drizzle joined us on the drive to Coed y Brenin. But stopped almost as soon as I got out the car. 

Coed y Brenin looks great year round, but when the flags are up, the PA system is going and the excitement of a thousand people milling around for an event it really is a special place. 

I arrived later than I would normally. 20 minutes before the start. A few hello’s to familiar faces, and then 5 minutes to go, jeans and sweatshirt off, tie my shoelaces, strap on my bum bag. Lose my rucksack to an old paddling buddy who was serving up Carvetii Coffee. Stroll into the pack as the final countdown started to play. Listen to Matt Ward speak his prerace pep talk. Listen to the shotgun of Iori go bang-and it did, much better than last year. Then we all start shuffling towards the start line. The steady incline away from the start meant enough time to wave hello to the family. Settle into a good pace that I knew I could hold onto and see whether my legs would go the distance. 

Lots of people heading off fast, really fast. But this was my pace. a kilometer later, I’m still doing my pace. Instead of being passed, I’m now passing. I know if I’m going to come in under 4 hours I need to average 5:42/km. My watch says on this steady climb, I’m about right. I pass Dafydd Roberts (to my mind the founder of CyB) heading along Sarn Helen. I’m starting to forget the “complete” plan for this race. I’m starting to compete. There is a lot of cat and mouse, I climb passed people, they over take me on the downhills, I level with them on the flat and climb passed again. After about 15km not many people are coming back passed me on the downhill and I’m still climbing passed a few. I pass one guy who has had a pretty minging tumble on steep downhill rock, another guy who has hurts his ankle, another whose knee has seen better days.

I’m feeding well, making sure I say thank you to every marshall who is there. Standing in a cloud of midges is not a great way to spend a day, but the race needs these kind volunteers. 

Climbing away from the upper Mawddach I’m constantly on the edge of cramping, it’s a long climb and I decide to back off a bit, get electrolyte at the next feed station and keep going as hard as I can. At the next feed station there are some familiar running club faces, and I get a pat on the back from the winner of this years Cader Race. “It’s all hurting Ifs” I say. He smiles.

Crossing the Wen, I know the next climb is a bugger. It’s lonely here, I’ve had no one around me for a few kilometres.  This is the first walk I’ve had, it’s steep though and my legs are cramping in my calves and my abductors. I take moving slower as an opportunity to bang in some TORQ gel, some water and mentally commit to running everything but 500m to the finish.

I reach the forest track the heads down to Glasdir. I have 30 seconds of self talk out loud. I’m going to do this. My watch is showing an average pace of 5:42/km.  I know I’m going to have to use all the downhill to get that average pace down.

I do what I can and arrive at the bridge back over the Mawddach with 5:40/km as an average pace. This next climb is the sting in the tail. It’s steep, and late in the course. I settle on walking as fast as I can. There is a struggling runner who is running the half marathon. She’s very emotional, and close on giving up. I try and encourage her between breaths, but she is sat not moving and I was hurting (she did finish later). I get to the top of the steep bit, try and run but my legs are now cramping hard. I can only just manage a shuffle over walking pace on any ascent. As it flattens out I build the pace, but my average pace has slipped too far on the climb. I know I’ve missed 4 hours.

The run in to the finish is really flattering. It’s downhill, not steep, but a nice gradient to actually run quite hard. 

Trail Marathon Wales finish
Trail Marathon Wales finish

I cross the line, 43rd overall in 4 hours 5 minutes and 35 seconds. I’ll be back to take those 5 minutes and 36 seconds next year! 

I did the Native American War dance getting some trousers back on. Cramping legs were very funny for my daughters to watch me struggle with. My lower leg not bending when I need it to, hopping on one leg trying to balance without putting my foot in the mud.

Apart from a pair of skinned nipples, a sore toenail and some shattered legs the event went really well for me.

I was getting over the disappointment of being over 4 hours. Consoling myself that 43rd overall was ok with the illness I’d had, and my complete lack of experience in racing when I got a message.

Meirionnydd Running Club had won gold in the Welsh Trail Championships (Long). I was part of the team that won. Now, I’m under no illusion that Glyn Griffin and Dave Parker (who placed 5th and 8th) did the lions share of the work. But I won a medal as part of the team. I’ve never won a medal before, let alone a gold one in a Welsh Championships. A massive thanks to Glyn and Dave! It’s also really inspiring that our “little” running club, with two of it’s strongest runners not present at Trail Marathon Wales could see off clubs who have a big reputation. Very proud to be part of the team! It’s an exciting future for the club with the depth of talent we have.

What a week! Great news for the MdS, and personally the lift of winning a medal is nothing less that astounding. I know I can train more, run harder. I’m not at my limit yet. I’m really inspired to try and find it over the next little while. 

My next solo event is the Brecon Ultra in November.  I might have to have another look through the race calendar though for something sooner.

This week has left me fired up and that is, well, nice (Sorry Teach).

Antibiotics *bleurgh*

The night after my last blog was pretty rough. 

Vomiting, collapsing, waking up in pools of sweat. It hurt. Lots. 

Turns out I’d picked up a bacterial infection from some stagnant water I’d been working in. I knew there was a risk. Most canoeists do. But I risked it, and got ill. 

Some pretty strong anitbiotics and a fortnight of being felt like I was hit like a bus and the recovery started.

My short term running aim was to hit a target time at Trail Marathon Wales (TMW). Whilst everyone else has been doing their “last long run” and starting their taper, I’ve been trying to get out of bed and do a days work. 

The last few days I’ve managed to do a couple of runs. They’ve left me feeling tired, but I’m pretty happy I’ll be on the start line. I’ve used the time to do some mental preparation. After adopting Stuart Mills approach of total preparation, I realised that when I’m physically broken there are still things I can be doing that will help with physical performance.

*If* I can finish TMW in under 4 hours I will hit my goal since the day after last years. It’s a big ask given the last few weeks, but I actually think I’ve done the right preparation. As long as I can make it round, I actually think I’m physically prepared.

Time will tell. 

One really special moment for me, last weekend, was running with my daughter for the first time on a trail run. I was incredibly proud of her as she ran the hills, up and down and didn’t stop at all. Very, very cool to see her smiling, pushing and enjoying something that I have no expectation of her to follow me into.


Trail Running with Ciara
Trail Running with Ciara