Facing the Dragon

Trail Marathon Wales 2015 - 27th overall
Trail Marathon Wales 2015 – 27th overall

The Dragon, facing the Dragon. It has always been pretty symbolic for me. Representing something that was  easy to run from, hard to face. I can still hear my Dad telling me, aged 10 to “Face your Dragons!”.

2015 has been a tough year in a number of ways. The final heartbreaking throes of a dysfunctional marriage. After 2 years of trying to find answers, finally accepting there are none. The needs of my two daughters, one with me half the time, one all the time, but for 2 days a fortnight. This and developing my business has been quite draining.

Through these times, running has been an optional extra, but also a really important way to work through my thoughts. A place of disconnected Solace. In terms of me time, and healthy time in stressful periods it is essential (honestly). It has also provided me with friends that are the most respected, anchored and trusted people in my life.

My running had two main aims in 2015, a sub 4 hour Trail Marathon Wales, and the 3 day Ring o Fire. I achieved TMW and in the process picked up an overuse injury that ruled me out of Ring o Fire. My tent buddies from MdS and I had a great time at Hope24 and some much needed social running, with a healthy dollop of machismo.

Cwm Ratgoed from Waun Oer
Cwm Ratgoed from Waun Oer

Whilst I rehabilitated my poorly ankle after TMW, I spent a while trying to work out my motivation for running. I don’t really fit the normal profile for a runner. I’ve done one road race, a half marathon, but don’t really derive pleasure from running in crowds, or towns. I don’t run to collect medals, t-shirts, or to beat people. I finally settled on running for the journey as my meaning.

I love the feeling of moving freely, to places that are remote. The challenge of managing myself and my environment. The feeling of resilience to move through those spaces without a massive sense of insurmountable challenge.

That is the reason I run. That it is my validation. Not peer recognition, nor a talking point. I run, for my own satisfaction. To expose my own vulnerabilities, and then conquer them. To face a smaller Dragon in each run, or to just kick up my heels and fly through an environment that I love.

And that then asked the question why I run in events. Why is it that I am drawn to things that I can run any old time. When it suits me, either alone or with a small group of friends. And that I can’t quite answer. There is the feeling of a safety net, being able to push myself harder than I would alone. Running alone I always try and protect my descending and my ascending, without putting anyone else at risk (friends, or Mountain Rescue). So, an event gives me a place to run “on the limiter”, in a more controlled manner. That encourages me to run drills, to further my technique, my fitness, my enjoyment through nasty sessions that don’t fit my criteria in many ways, but to go to a limit, and stretch it a bit more.

The other is the challenge of someone else’s cunning. Mountain Marathons, are so much more than just running. Club runners typically don’t understand why you would run competitively, not for distance or for time. But, it is more about the craft of moving quickly and accurately, and that really needs an event to be truly testing. Navigating, moving, connecting to that environment and focussing on that movement.

I had tentatively decided that 2016 was going to be a soul running kind of year. No events. But, Marmot24 snuck in, after spotting it in 2013. This is a very unique event format and one that really inspires me, endurance navigation. Then a place at the Brecon Ultra was offered, and that fits for so many reasons – a very special race. I suppose then that returning to Trail Marathon Wales is a must do as simply the best local trail marathon I have, and voted one of the seven best trail races in Europe.

Pen y Gader, Mynydd Moel, Gau Craig from the East
Pen y Gader, Mynydd Moel, Gau Craig from the East

So there we are, in the period of a fortnight, the race calendar for 2016 filled up. And that will keep me moving through the winter months of darkness and cold training. And that will put me in places that I love, that I feel alive and connected to. That is my running plan for 2016.

Did I answer why I run, or why I run events? I don’t think so, but actually, I also am growing more calm with not needing to know.

And where did the Dragon go, when I faced him? Not sure to be honest. Might have to run down his back the following year and have a different view!

Why run a Mountain Marathon?

Where else can you spend a weekend, in tough conditions, camping in a tiny tent that is pitched on a wet slope, in the wind and rain, and end up with a smile like this after 50km of running up and down big hills?

Running in to the finish, slightly broken, but very happy.
Running in to the finish, slightly broken, but very happy.

It was the challenge of navigating in the mountains and the camp craft that attracted me to my first Mountain Marathon in 1999. Since then I’ve got fitter but the challenge is still the same. I like the score classes. You don’t receive the map until 2 minutes before setting off. The map is marked up with controls. These are 15cm square flags, with a small electronic “dibber” on them, Each control has a number of points, these points, with your exact time are recorded on a little chip you wear on your wrist. This chip is dibbed into the control box when you find the location. Each team of runners has a set period of time with penalties for not finishing within the time period. It’s a two day event and the pair of you must be self sufficient. The winning team is the one that collects the most points over the two days. In the event of tied points, the fastest team wins.

I’m really lucky to have a really solid running mate to share this with – Jeremy.

There is a huge amount of tactics involved, and for the winning teams a lot of fitness. I really like running these events with Jeremy. After talking to another team a few years ago, who persuaded us that being minimalist and uncomfortable isn’t necessary. We now do things in comfort, cheese, crackers and whisky make the evening far more enjoyable than being in a cramped tent waiting for the morning.

This year neither Jeremy or I were that fired up for running fast across the Cheviots. We set off on Day 1 with the plan to have a nice weekend. We were a little surprised to find out in  overnight camp that we were lying seventh, and had made the chasing start of the top 20 teams. We had obviously picked a good course to pick up plenty of points.

This meant a 0742 start for Sunday, but with the clocks going back it wasn’t going to be a massive hardship.

In retrospect we made a strategy error on the Sunday, and should have gone West, onto the moors, instead of East of the start line and into the forest. We were lured by some controls with big points, and totally missed the fact that we could have picked up several smaller scores, worth more, in the same time. Anyway, we ran in, finished 54th on day 2. Combining our points gave us 22nd overall which, given 120 starters, and our less than competitive approach to the weekend is pretty pleasing.

For me, the event is all about the chance to go run somewhere that I wouldn’t  normally and have the challenge of having to have really good navigation. That I get to do it with my best mate makes it really special.

Thanks Jeremy, a cracking weekend, and proof that guts makes glory, not a diddy rucksack! Though to be fair we could cut back in a few areas…I might take one less buff next year!

Finishline photo Cheviots OMM 2014
Finishline photo Cheviots OMM 2014