When I ran my first Marathon race in 2012, it was the first edition of Trail Marathon Wales. If I had to pick one race to run every year it would be this one.
Apart from it being my local race, it is just so pretty, challenging and inspiring.
This year I really wanted to compete, but I knew that 11 weeks after Marathon des Sables I was always going to struggle getting my legs back under me. Mainly because I didn’t feel like I’d found any pace back into my running.
The social side to the race is really special, lots of friendly trail runners from all over Europe, plus a local organising team who are passionate about the area makes it a really engaging weekend. For that reason I had encouraged tent mate Phil from Marathon des Sables to join Andrew, another tent mate in a quick run round the woods.
We all met up at registration on the Friday night. This is a super simple process, and the goody bags must be hard work to make up, but have some great stuff in them. This year, for the first time there was a welcome party. Phil and I went to this whilst Andrew treated his family to a meal locally. With the TORQ pop-up shop in place Phil got some advice and bought enough gels for the marathon.
The welcome party took the form of a meal, a Q&A type chat and a video. As the welcome party was starting at the same time as the finish of the 5 mile 9 Bar 9 race, it was a great focal point to the evening.
The meal was a yummy pasta and drink, all enjoyed on the deck of the visitors centre, with a great view down to Cader Idris.
The Q&A was hosted by the race organiser Matt Ward, with Salomon athletes Mary Grace Spalton and Rob Samuel and 9 Bar 9 runner Charlie Sharpe. It was a great format, and one that I hope gets more support in the coming years.
Race morning was bright, and as expected a few midges around in the woods. I had suncreamed up, and put some Avon skin-so-soft on over the top. It didn’t stop me being a midge magnet though. Lining up for the brienfing was a trial to not inhale the little blighters. The new format meaning that the visitors centre was the start/finish for half and full marathon distance really made the area feel like a hub.
The start beneath the visitor centre made for a feeling of a natural amphitheatre and meant it was much easier for spectators to be involved. Iori, the gamekeeper appeared with his .270 rifle for the start and we were running up and under the visitors centre before joining the waymarked half marathon course. I knew I was going to need to pace myself, but felt like I was running easily and so made good progress through the first few miles. The half marathon course broke away from the normal route and onto the Goldrush trail route to pick up the old Karrimor mountain bike descent (one of my favourites back in the day) and I was happily picking people of in descent.
I had my first gel at 45 minutes and literally a couple of minutes before the first feed station. At the feed station, one of the marshals, Graeme commented on the amount of midges on me, there were a good few drowned critters on my arms, head and chest. From this feed station there is a nice climb up above the Afon Wen, which then means a great single track descent. In places off camber, but generally a quick flowing descent. I was moving a bit quicker here than some others and so was trying to overtake carefully. I spotted a place where I thought that if I went high and then cut back down on to the track I’d gain a couple of places. The theory was sound, the execution no so much. I gained the places, but totally misjudged the turn back on to the track, I managed to wipe a lot of midges off, but did collect a lot of the forest floor and stomach surfed a little further than I could imagine possible. I got up quickly and got back on with the running. One runner said “that sounded like a heavy fall”, I ignored it.
The next section to the 12 mile feed station was uneventful, I knew I was running at a pace that was quicker than I’d expected but all felt good so I pushed on. With the Mawddach down to the left, Rob Samuel came flying passed on his half marathon race. He was really working, but moving super fast. An absolute pleasure to watch!
2nd place half marathon Felipe Jones passed me just before we crossed the bridge over the Mawddach, looking very smooth. The normal “sting in the tail” climb, which was still at the tail of the half course is now mid course for the full and I eased my way up to the top of this. I was managing to keep a good rhythm going and this meant I was passing people more than I was being passed.
Then Gary Wyn Davies came passed in third place. Gary has been really supportive of my MdS campaign and so I gave him a bit of encouragement into the last half mile of his race. We drop down to the start finish area, half runners peeling off to the right and the full runners heading left and down over the Afon Eden. I took the chance to grab some electrolyte and then felt like a I ran really well round to the old trail centre at Maesgwm. As we climbed up the Tarw Du things tarted to get much harder. My legs were on the lactate threshold too much of the time and I just couldn’t clear them, Turning right on to “Pins and Needles” in reverse I was really working hard.
I joined a group of runners from Clapham, one runner was definitely struggling and went down really hard on the rocks, he was up slowly, but then went down even harder about 200 metres further on. Tired legs was meaning mistakes had consequences.
From here and on up the long fire road ascent, I resorted to walk running. I know I can run this ascent well, so it was frustrating, but I was enjoying my run and that was all that mattered. I did end up here with the Urdd Eisteddfod song going round in my head “Cwch banana, myndd y Bala”…on repeat, and not going anywhere.
Over the top and then starting the long descent with only a few short climbs, I thought I might be able to put some pace back into the run. My left hip abductor had different ideas, just the most exquisite cramp. It had me hopping and wobbling from side to side, so apologies for the people trying to pass me.
We came down to the looped part of Tarw Du, a good bit of banter with Simon and Fiona Hide. I grabbed water and tried to find a pace, but I could shuffle a bit before the cramp came back. On down to the snap, crackle and pop section (still in reverse) and a bit of deja vue as Es Richards appeared again (I’d seen here earlier in the day on a different section). I’d been thinking about how much I could use losing a few kilograms and so I made some smart remark about needing to go to weightwatchers next week. Back up to the Hides feed station and up ahead I spot Phil, he’s not looking like he’s moving so easily. It takes me about 2 minutes to close the gap. I offer to run in with him and he tells me to get on with it. My cramp is coming and going but not as bad as it was, and I can keep a slow run up. I can’t get my heart rate up because my muscles give out.
Even so, the final run in, with the exception of the fire road slog up to the start of R74 is beautiful and I can here the finish line over the main road. It’s not pretty, but I slog back under the A470 and round the nature trail to join the start finish climb. My world is very small now and I’m working hard to run to the finish line. I’m aware of noise and people and a few familiar faces but this is brutal. I grab my water, finishers coaster and then my two daughters are there. I stagger to the shade under the visitors centre and sit down to try and get some control back. Then Michaela appears with flapjack and kindly gets me a sugary drink and quite quickly everything is back under control. I head back to the finish line to watch Phil and Andrew in as well as watch the prize giving.
I’d finished in 109th overall and in 4hrs 31. This is going to change for next year.
I was the first Meirionydd runner home, and first from tent 96, I suspect that’ll change too.
Personally, I think Trail Marathon Wales is an incredibly tough race. Intensity wise I think it is tougher than any stage on MdS, but that is probably a function of being able to run without having to hold back for tomorrow as in a stage race. But whatever, it is a great event and one that I hope goes from strength to strength and inspires more and more people.
I do have one rant though…rubbish. The amount of litter left on the course was dreadful this year. If you can take the time to carefully place a bottle on a tree stump a couple of metres away from the race route, then carry the thing to a feed station. Gel wrappers, if you carry it in, carry it out. There should be no need for marshals to collect more than the race marker tape as they leave the course. However, I suspect there will be black bags of stuff to be collected. I personally would like to see all gel wrappers, bottles and lids marked with a race number, as they do in Marathon des Sables. If anything with your race number is found on route it is disqualification. Trail running is about enjoying amazing environments, if we want to stay welcome then it is essential we respect and protect those environments, not just for ourselves, but for others and future generations. Please do not be selfish and leave rubbish on the trail. Ever.
I’ll be back next year, it’ll be the focus of my race calendar next year and 4 hours is my target. Oh, and with luck it looks like there might be a few more members of MdS2014 tent 96 running the race too!
This race takes a huge amount of time and passion from the organising team; a massive thank you to all of the team, marshals, timing team, visitors centre, running club, locally rotary and other runners that make this event as special as it is. Diolch yn fawr!!