Salomon Trail Marathon Wales, 2015

This journey starts a year ago at Trail Marathon Wales 2014.

TMW is a local event for me, when it comes to participation events in Dolgellau, it is by far the biggest, and as running events go it is a tough marathon. Also, 2015 was the first year of a 3 years sponsorship deal from Salomon. This is fantastic news, and completes major sponsors for all the trail running events hosted by Run. Coed y Brenin.

2014, I came back from MdS and treated the event with complacency. It took me a good while to recover my feet, and then I just didn’t commit to training. A full write up from last year is here, but the brief line is that I had a big lesson, and didn’t achieve what I set out to.

I’ve had two goals in running this year, TMW and Ring o Fire (September). As well as challenges in work and family life it has been a bumpy journey for sure. However I’ve had a good deal of support from friends and family, and although not as solid as I wanted I followed a training plan, watched what I ate and stayed focussed on that finish line.

What does training mean, it means doing speed work, distance work and also getting my head in the right space. Training in the dark, the rain,  between meetings and just whenever I could was a strange constant in amongst all the other noise. Even working out how to combine a few shorter runs with my 10 year old Daughter, all very calming.

Focussing on the food a bit was helpful, getting rid of a lot of processed food, and just being sensible with portions helped me. At the startline of TMW 2014 I was 93 kg, where as this year I was 78 kg. For those still in old money thats a couple of pounds shy of two and half stone. On me, it means instead of wearing 34″ waist jeans, 30″ waist is the order of the day now. I’ve lost a lot of upper body strength too, but I’ll work on that in the winter, maybe. Possibly after Ring o Fire, anyway.

I’ve never been so anxious on the lead into the race. A couple of big emotional strains in the week leading in were tiring, and general stress levels had reduced sleep to a few hours a week. Hardly the best preparation for an endurance event.

A few friends came to stay the night before TMW, and we headed up to the pre-race party, nice to catch up with a few people, register, and share the atmosphere with Ciara (my daughter). MG Spalton was around with Lucy Bartholomew. Briefly, Lucy is the Junior World Champion in SkyRunning, and a really warm and inspirational character. MG has always been super supportive and warm towards running, and I’ve always been impressed with how she blends happy, warm, competitive running with duties of being a mum. No mean feat for sure! So after a bit of banter, music from CeadCyf we headed home for fluids and a snooze. With house sharing happening I was treated to my daughters bed, complete with princess net and snuggly blanket. Surprisingly I had a good night sleep, and though I woke feeling jaded the general feeling was good!

We woke to a slight drizzle, so I went with wet weather plan. I’d had two choices to make, shoes and tops. I was absolutely set on my Scott TR10 Trail shorts (no need for a belt). I was between a vest and a t-shirt. The T-shirt won easily. Then the choice was between my newly acquired (after demoing) Salomon Ultra 4 Soft Ground and the tried and tested Salomon Sense Pro. I went for the Soft Ground, knowing that both would struggle a bit on wet rock, but knowing a few soft descents would be quicker in them. I still slathered on the “Skin so Soft” to beat down the midges that are present at this time of year in Coed y Brenin. Breakfast down and then up to the forest.

Parking was even more slick this year (quite an achievement) and we all wobbled down to the event area at around 08:15. We met up with a few people who were also running, and the half marathon an hour later. My mind was all over the place, I just couldn’t focus between trying to make sure I was looking after Ciara, but also trying to get my head around what lay ahead. Gratefully my very good (best) friends Jeremy and Kim appeared, and Ciara happily went to hang out with Kim as planned. Phil and I went off for a short warm up and I tried to get “in the zone”. Phil was very gentle in encouraging me, and as a runner I greatly look up to this was, in hindsight really important.

I was starting to find my focus as we walked down to the start, underneath the Visitors Centre. This year I chose to start somewhere where I thought there was about 100 people ahead of me. This was very different to where I normally look mid pack. It was hard to hear the commentary own in the start box, the general chatter was loud. I could just glimpse Ciara and about 10 seconds out I waved, and then checked my watch. Glanced at Iori (game keeper with a rifle) and waited for the bang. 

Found my focus!!
Found my focus!!

My aim was to chase a 5min42sec km the whole way round. I’d set my watch to give me that information every kilometre. I knew the first half needed careful pacing. I wanted to make sure I went fast enough to hit 4 hours, but not too fast that I blew up too early. The initial jostling settled down, and I started running within myself. I could hear Matty Brenin telling me not to fight the hills. I was remembering that downhill were free miles. But, also I didn’t want to smash my legs, so held back a bit on the initial downhills.

Where people had gone off fast, I settled into a pace, and was picking people off on the climbs. I’d worked hard on my posture  and technique whilst running and this had felt good in training. In the race it felt useful to focus on that and my breathing. 

Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)
Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)

At around 3 miles the marshalls, Elly and Chris, were whooping and hollering. Whilst I always try and say thanks to marshalls, I was still not relaxed into the race, and thing I uttered something about not being able to be friendly. The next long descent to the Mawddach is definitely free miles, and as I crossed the bridge, I was now on my own a bit. I spotted Rhys who was out on his bike supporting Sandra. 

Everything was feeling good, and I wanted to get into the single track ahead in a place where I was free to run at my pace. In previous years I’d been held up, so this year I pushed into a bit of clear trail and tried to clear my head a bit too.

Things were feeling good, I was on target with my splits, and had my first feed coming up at the 10km mark (about 40 minutes in). A quick TORQ gel, and some electrolyte from the ‘usual team’ at feed point 1.

In to the top of one of my favourite descents, down to the Wen, last year I had a bit of a fall here, but this year with a lovely new bench cut trail, and being in the right area of the field the descent went well. The next firetrail shocked me a bit, at an hour MG came into view. Shocked because MG would be on for about a 3:40, and because though she was a good few hundred metres ahead I was closing on her steadily through the climbs.

A quick bit of tidy single track through Penrhos and here I caught MG. A quick hello, then she asked me to pass. I knew from this, and my splits that I was running the first half well. From here through to Sting in the Tail, my head really started going to the “am I going too hard”. As I’ve said before, because I don’t race that often, pacing is my biggest battle, but everything was feeling pretty tidy, so trust in my training was order of the day.

A committed run up Sting, a great undulating run through Cefndeudwr saying hi to half marathoners heading out, including seeing Sharon and Jude looking very strong. A quick TORQ gel ready to take on water at half way. Great camaraderie here, then the cheering (and slightly bonkers) Elly and Chris and the descent down the new demo loop to the half marathon. My chip split was 1:46:38. This was great news for a 4 hour target, potentially a lot better! A cup of water and then off under the A470.

I’d practise the next section a bit, early in the morning. Trying to learn the shapes and where to push well. At the top of the long climb, there is a feed station in an old quarry. Electrolyte, and a bit of banana and quickly on.

Some lovely downhill running here to the water point that gets two visits and cheerfully manned by the Hide’s. I was chasing a pair of runners, and was still gaining on the technical ground, right to the bottom of “snap, crackle and pop”. Well, at least nothing went snap or pop, but coming off the descent into the climb, my right quad started to cramp viciously. I tried shortening up my stride, and this helped a little, but I knew here that it was going to be a tricky run in.

The 20 mile mark was up at about 2hr38, which in theory gave me a decent crack at 3:hr30! This was enough to push on, but coming out of “Heart of Darkness” and starting the descent my left hamstring started cramping really painfully. Again a quick shortening of the stride to try and let it rest. I did manage to run much of the bit in from here, but it wasn’t very enjoyable. The single-track descent was ugly, I could hear the PA over in the visitors centre welcoming runners in, but now I was just trying to keep up enough pace to stay under 4 hours.

Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)
Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)

Al Jones was at the  marshal point at the top of the last single track, a quick sip of water, and then down to Mark Atherton who was on the road crossing.

Just here I lost two places to some quick runners, and then onto Pont yr Eden.

Just as I finished the switchback, there was a shout of “Ash!” and MG was catching me up.

Just as the climb on the animal trail reached it’s steepest, my left hamstring cramped again and MG came passed looking strong as always. I tried to stay with her, but I had nothing left.

The last little rise to the finish line was lined with plenty of people, my daughter, included. Across the line, and I knew I was under 4 hours, but everything was a bit of a blur. A hug from MG, Es (in charge of all the goodie bag packing) and round the finish funnel to find Ciara.

My chip time 3:43:34, and MG? exactly the same. Couldn’t have written it.

Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie
Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie

Then the meeting, cheering and supporting people coming in. Yes, I’d smashed the 4hrs, but know there is more in there. To have been on schedule for a quicker time, and then to have got my nutrition wrong is a good lesson. Definitely something to build on, in a positive way.

The trip out to mobile signal caused a bit of a jaw drop – 27th overall and 9th in category. That put the effort in perspective.

A really nice evening wearing my cozy new TMW15 hoody with some good friends, a few beers and some good banter. Then a little recovery jog up Foel Offrwm the next day and a great recovery massage from Katie from the Run.Clinic finished a great weekend.

A load of thanks are needed to quite a few people. Thank you all!

Looking forward to 2016 already, though I hope my legs have recovered by then…it’s taking a while!

For those with love of data, it was a 5:21/km average. Splits are here

Give it time

I recently posted on Facebook and article about being a “timeist” from Jim Taylor Ph.D. – original article here “Don’t Waste Your Time (It’s Precious)“.

I’ve been fascinated by the responses it has elicited. As friends have shared it, the piece has been exposed to a real spectrum of people. As with any thought provoking piece, I guess it is challenging to some, and to others the concept of being a timeist is easy to understand.

To explain the responses, some have focussed on the way the piece is constructed, some have said the author is selfish, some have cautioned about being close minded. Others have agreed with the authors premise. 

Me, I’m a timeist. I’m a black and white thinker. I quickly try and resolve areas of grey and park things in the yes or no, right or wrong box.

I think that actually, everyone can choose how they want to explore the concept of being a timeist. And, there is no correct answer other than the one you choose. Many people would look at “Plan, Do, Review” as an example of how to do things at work. Equally, those investing money take a view on risk and return. And why not take time, as with any commodity in the same vein?

To expand the discussion, I think to really get a perspective of the value of time, it is important to look at the frame of reference you make your judgement. Yes it is a physical reference, and as much as I want to talk about two people travelling away from each other at just over half the speed of light, and what they would see of each other -think about that if you have time, a lot of it, I shan’t!

Personally, I think as a commodity, time is often overlooked. But here is my frame of reference, and how I value the commodity.

I think much of this is actually about our general feel, or denial of mortality. In the UK we have an average life expectancy of 81.5 years. So we make choices on our phases of life based on that. Roughly, 20 years growing up, 40 years working and 20 years in retirement. But let’s explore a what if.

When would you change how you live your life, how far out do you need to look before you need to change your behaviour today?

Say you’re 30 today, you’ve 50 years to live – do anything differently? What if a doctor said you’d make 50? I still don’t think many people would choose to live their life differently. My belief is that even if a doctor tells you that you have 5 years to live, still very few people would choose to change their actions. But make it close. Take financial concerns away, what if a crystal ball showed you that you’d get run over by a bus in a month, in a week, or in a day? Yes, there would be panic, but actually, my belief is you’d prioritise your time. And to me this is the fundamental of being a timeist.

We have no such crystal ball. You do not know when you need to make that call of how to prioritise your time.

I learnt being a timeist as a teenager. It went like this. And it is written (oversimplified) from my Dad’s perspective.

General plan – be a success at work, make money, retire with my wife by the sea when I’m 55 and enjoy sailing.

What actually happened.

  • 1947-1973 growing up, loving material things, desires of being upwardly mobile.
  • 1974 Son is born
  • To 1985, being a success in the City of London
  • 1986 Wife has primary lung cancer
  • 1988 Wife develops secondary cancer
  • 1990 Wife dies of cancer (aged 42)
  • 1991-1992 Re-evaluating life choices
  • 1992 Diagnosed with colon cancer
  • 1994 Die from Cancer (aged 47)

From my perspective, my Dad worked hard, seriously hard. Left home at 7am and was generally not home before 7pm. So his time away from the house (it was a nice house) was 60+ hours a week. So, for 48 weeks a year, he invested 20 hours in commuting. For me there were 16 years like that  – that’s 640 days that I lost spending time with my Dad before I could drive.

I spent really amazing time with Mum as a result of their choices, and from 1990-94 I spent a huge amount of time with Dad in a number of different ways and roles.

I don’t resent their choices, not at all. But, as hindsight has been to the opticians, I had many discussions with my Dad about his choices. It was enlightening to see his black and white thinking being challenged by the reality that his life expectancy wasn’t as he had expected.

But, for me it has put a value on time, how many days of time could I have extra with my Dad. Today, as a 41 year old, an hour with Mum or Dad would be beyond any monetary value I can define. To have an adult relationship with them, hell, having a teenage relationship not bound by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, anti-emetics, colostomy bags, hospital visits, funerals, house moves and all the associated guff that goes with terminal illness, would be priceless.

So, my choices, are bound by this frame of reference – I’ve never expected to live beyond 46. I’ve had a longer relationship, that I’m aware of with my Dog than with my Mum. Could I have acquired more with different decisions? Undoubtedly. Could I have a different set of interactions? Undoubtedly. If my crystal ball showed me dying tomorrow would I live today differently? No.

And that, that is my definition of being a timeist, and it is a comment that came on Facebook that really resonated “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

So ask yourself, how could you invest time differently into those most precious people around you? How can you invest in yourself?

That investment may have financial ramifications, but all, bar none need time. Would you give  money without meaning? Why should you do the same with time?

I don’t think the author of the original piece was being selfish or dictating what is a correct or valuable use of time.

I do agree though. Time is not renewable. Spend it wisely and meaningfully.

If the idea of being timeist jars with you. Give it time. I suspect you’ll come round, eventually.