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!

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

Buff Winter Trail Wales 2015

Right at the start, I’m going to say a massive “Thank You” to all the organisers, volunteers, marshals, partners and Mountain Rescue team that supported this race as well as the supporters and competitors that made the event what it is. The time and effort that goes into the build up and break down to any event is pretty tough, but in the winter, in the forest  with the wet and cold that we had in the week before the tough conditions were lost on us, the runners.

Buff and finishers mug.
Buff and finishers mug.

As Coed y Brenin is a trail centre that has a history in making great quality experiences for bikers, it is amazing to see the growth of trail running right here on my doorstep. Despite many many passionate runners in the area, it is the vision of one man (Matt Ward) and a whole gang of helpers and partners that is putting Coed y Brenin on the map for trail running. Trail Marathon Wales came to town for the first time in 2012, since then we now have 4 waymarked courses  as well as a nearly endless supply of trails to explore and put together. We also have a really visionary running shop, Run.Coed y Brenin complete with the ability to demo trail running shoes out on the trails. If running off road is your thing, then just like if you’re a mountain biker, Coed y Brenin should drop on to your list of places to visit.

So that’s the location, about the race! Well, it is the same half marathon course that is used in the summer, only in winter conditions. 21.1km of hilly, woody goodness – views, single track, climbs, descents and the wild atmosphere of Coed y Brenin. 

With an entry list of 400 that filled up really quickly, the visitor centre was humming from early on. Loads of familiar faces from all sorts of running, whether road, fell or ultra it was great to catch up with all the different personalities. I’d set myself a goal of 1 hr 50 for this, and had been working on my hill form in the lead up to the event. I’d had a rattly lung infection just after New Year and this had stopped me feeling fully confident in my preparation. But, in terms of other goals in the year this was to be a benchmark to build on with my other races in the year.

Pre-race, picture courtesy of Janson Heath
Pre-race, picture courtesy of Janson Heath

The start-line is beneath the visitor centre, meaning that the route takes you straight up between the centre buildings before turning onto the trail through the main trailhead.

Because this bit of trail is a little hourglass shaped it is good to be patient. So I picked my normal startline spot, about half way back in the pack. And just mooched off. There is always a rush, and I was planning on pacing myself nice and steady. As is nearly always the case, I started picking people off on the uphill, before them coming back at me on the flat. But, again I either do well on slightly rougher ground, or on a climb. I think I may need to try going out a little harder. But. as this was only my second ever half marathon event, I’m still only learning the tactics. I settled back into a steady climb pace for the whole of the trip up Sarn Helen.

This next section then becomes an undulating fire road that works it’s way across the back of Cefn Deuddwr before the long drop to the “aerial bridge” over the Mawddach. On this descent, it was noticeable that I was catching runners in front, and I need to focus even more on my downhill pace. It was in this part of the race that I ran my fastest event mile (6:09). Then a quick diversion to the waymarkings for the half marathon and up the steep little muddy climb on the Goldrush route before nipping off along the lovely descent of the old Karrimor trail. I’d shot this short video in poor light on this section before, and as good as the trail is, I couldn’t use my local knowledge here as I was stuck in a row of runners. Popping out onto the fire road at the bottom to Metallica – “Enter the Sandman” could mean only one thing, local running legend Ifs Richards must be the marshal here, and it was!

On the Goldrush section of Winter Trail Wales
On the Goldrush section of Winter Trail Wales

From here is the longest sustained climb on the course, up through the halfway point. I knew I wanted to run this bit well, and I picked up a good 10 places along here. Through the first feed station, and stuck to my plan to take nothing here. A quick zip down through the trees to the Afon Wen, a guy having a heavy tumble crossing the mountain bike trail, and then the fire road back towards Tyn y Groes. This section I can definitely run faster than I did, and I think this is where my downhilling needs a bit of work. The transition back to the flat took me a little while to get momentum again, and whilst I din’t lose places I didn’t protect the gains on the previous climb. I love the section here from Penrhos over to the banks of the Mawddach and I had enough space to enjoy it. At this next (and last feed station) I took on a gel and some electrolyte and got on with the fire road run up to the bailey bridge. Some stern, but very welcome encouragement from Hilary sent me up “sting in the tail”, I pulled to one side to let a runner go by, let him go in front, before passing him back when his legs gave up. I made good progress to the switchback and then had to settle for a quick walk to get to the top. Just not quite enough power (or too much weight!) to see this one through at 18km. Then the undulating run and small climbs back towards Cefn Deuddwr before the little sharp descent back towards the finish. I caught a runner here, and was determined to pass him on the way into the finish, hoping that I would get him on the last rise to the line. Unfortunately he didn’t fancy giving way to easily and I finished on his shoulder after a good 80m push to the finish.

The finish line was well organised with the friendly face of Es handing out the mugs and various finishers having a chat. All in all really good. I finished just outside my target time at 1:50:15 which gave me 54th overall and 20th in category.  I’m pretty pleased with that. I know there are a few areas, especially in the opening quarter where I could make up a minute or two, and better mental preparation would help me in the last half as well. Job well done.

In summary then, the Buff Winter Trail Wales has, I think in it’s first year, built on the successful summer events in recent years. Great quality terrain, backed up by great facilities, put on by a high quality team who know exactly what they’re doing. A really fantastic addition to the events calendar in the UK. It was fantastic to be a part of the inaugural event, and I applaud Matt and his team for delivering the high standard, in year one, in the winter. Da iawn!

Ciara at the trailhead of the running trails at Coed y Brenin.
Ciara at the trailhead of the running trails at Coed y Brenin.

It was lovely that my daughter Ciara asked to go running with me as soon as I felt recovered, so we talked about heading back up to Coed y Brenin the following day. To say that I was super proud of her run/walking the 4.3km Sarn Helen – Byr route is an understatement.

It was tough for her, but she plugged away at the various bits, and as always flew off down any descent. Seeing youngsters running downhill just for the love of it is lovely and it was great to be out in the woods the day after such a big event for the area. It was quiet, and peaceful again and sharing it with Ciara was a real honour.



Running from 2014

As the year changed Facebook got full of my year in review posts. I hope most peoples lives are more full than their social media feed! As this is mainly a running blog, looking back I can’t do justice to all the experiences that running has given me in 2014. Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Wye one Way and OMM all taught me lots of different lessons. Critically they’ve left me with a lot of friends and memories that will last far in to my life.

Looking forward this year, running wise I am entered for Winter Trail Wales, Hope 24, Trail Marathon Wales and Ring o Fire . Whilst not entered yet, I’m sure the OMM will make an appearance too. Personal targets rather than podiums are the aim, though I’m already planning something special for 2016.

For those interested in statistics, Strava produce a little summary video that highlights some of the numbers. However, numbers don’t tell the story of 2014, certainly don’t describe some of the feelings and experiences I’ve had and those things that will motivate me for 2015.

As with every year, I wish I’d taken more pictures, but here are some of my favourites from 2014.

Have a great 2015, see you on the trail!

Trail Marathon Wales 2014

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.

Phil, Andrew and I, from Tent 96 in Marathon des Sables, all together for TMW 2014
Phil, Andrew and I, from Tent 96 in Marathon des Sables, all together for TMW 2014

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.

Post race inspection showed up some good bruising.
Post race inspection showed up some good bruising.

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. 

The turn up Pins and Needles
The turn up Pins and Needles

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.

Race number and finishing coaster
Race number and finishing coaster

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!!

Where next?

So what do I do after Marathon des Sables? It all feels a little black and white at the moment.

Stone gateway about Sligo, Eire
Stone gateway about Sligo, Eire

As I try and claw my way through the post event blues, which is a common occurrence, I know I need to focus on something big in the future. It’s like trying to step over a massive gateway! I’ve run a good bit since getting back, but I have to admit to running being a massive struggle to stay consistent with at the moment.

As much as I am really enjoying not having the early morning running sessions, and getting on top of a few jobs here and there, as well as starting a new business I am feeling hungry to compete. Though I’m not ready to go all out again at the moment.

I’m fortunate that I have Trail Marathon Wales on 21st of June, I’m looking forward to this, but I do feel a complete sense of fatigue at the moment. It’ll be a trial to get round, but I want to get out there and race. It’ll be brilliant to see my tent mates Andrew and Phil again who will also be at TMW. We’ve all had post MdS niggles, so I’m sure the social catch up will be not so subdued!

Depending on how TMW goes I’ll look to run Race the Train in Tywyn in August as it is part of the Welsh Trail Running Championships, but it really does depend on how TMW goes! After that it is the Wye One Way Ultra Race in Septemnber and then the OMM in October. That’ll be my big event year done.

It's all about balance. Strandhill Beach, Co Sligo. Eire
It’s all about balance. Strandhill Beach, Co Sligo. Eire

I’ll probably do the Meirionnydd Winter Fell Series for the first year ever too. Just to keep the legs turning over.

Other than that this year will be about exploring and enjoying the hills around home; and preparing for a personal challenge I’ve set for 2015. As far as I know, this challenge has never been attempted before, so I’m going to keep a little quiet about it!

One thing though, MdS has made me appreciate the smaller things, a whole lot more. Like the can of coke on the long day it’s amazing what little things can arrive in technicolour when we appreciate them!

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 – www.melanoma-fund.co.uk

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).

Race Report Trail Marathon Wales-an excellent run!

Today was Trail Marathon Wales, held in Coed y Brenin. I was a little apprehensive about the race, my injury has meant I haven’t put in the miles I really wanted to.

The last few days have been really wet in South Snowdonia. The rivers have been up and kayaking has been really appealing.

Coed y Brenin is great for events, loads of parking, good facilities and a great setting. The guys and girls have obviously worked hard to get loads into the event and done lots of planning. It shows. Foresty Commission Wales did a great job of parking people, and despite registration and the safety briefing being a bit delayed, the gamekeeper loosed off a shell from his 12 bore to start the race almost exactly on time.

There had been a late route change, mainly due to the exposed slopes outside of CyB being soggy (under water). It meant a small repetition of the route for the full Marathon, but the course was so good that it made no difference. I was expecting the second lap to be pretty cut up where it had been shared with the half marathon course but, all in all, it was in good shape.

All the race numbers had first names on them; this meant that South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue and the marshalls would give a welcoming shout to people. Can’t fault the volunteers involved in providing support. The feed stations were well spaced, stocked with a variety of Electrolyte, Carbo gel, Banana’s, Jelly babies (my favourite) and water.

If there is any doubt that this isn’t a road race check out my elevation profile from today, just over 1200m of ascent meant pacing was important.

Whilst I can’t fault the feed stations, I can fault my use of them. Lack of conditioning meant that I didn’t take on enough electrolyte early on and that, with the up and down meant a brutal onset of leg cramp around mile 20. I never got my rhythm back from that but did have a nice chat with a few runners from Eryri, Cerist Tri and other clubs all struggling with the same problem.

Crossing the line was a great experience, the technology meant that nearly every runner was encouraged over the line by full name over the radio mike- iPad and data tags on the back of the numbers, great stuff.

I picked up my bottle, wooden medal and flapjack-lots of goodies at registration (T shirt, socks, energy gel, etc..) Had a natter with a few friends and then made a move to get home.

Admittedly, my drive home isn’t too far, but getting a text as soon as there was reception with my placing and time was great and I’m sure those with a longer journey would have really appreciated it.

Impressions of this as a first time running the event? Brilliant.

A massive thank you to Matt Ward and all the people involved from Forestry Commission Wales and Meirionnydd Running Club. The volunteers, the sponsors the SSMR team all did a great job and it was great to run in the inaugral event. I hope it will build and build. It should get a reputation as a very special, if tough, trail race.

Well done all, organisers, supporters and runners.

Given what could have gone wrong for me today, I’m pretty pleased with my finish. It was supposed to be a training run, and to be fair, it probably was. In amongst a field of racing whippets, as a 90kg recently injured runner, I was pretty pleased with the result.

Bring on next year!

Last long run

50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn't come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I've really enjoyed coming away from
50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn’t come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I’ve really enjoyed coming away from “the” training programme. Todays run wouldn’t have been on the schedule. I left the house just before 0545 in a bright patch between showers. I wanted to run slow and steady but somewhere new. I headed roughly NE out of Dolgellau on to the side of Rhobell Fawr. Then tracking round on a bridleway that follows the 300m contour round the West side of the hill. My one whinge with this bridleway is the fact there are ladder stiles crossing stone walls. Bridleways are usable by bicycles and horses, the latter, I suspect would find this “countryside furniture” a little tricky. Anyway, when Victor (Meldrew) quietened down in my head the run passed quite quickly. The main memory on this run was the beautiful sight of a Doe with her Fawn just short of Abergeirw before I climbed up onto mountain bike trails for the run back towards home. My legs felt good when I got back to Glasdir copper mine, so I chose to climb steeply up to the precipice walk. From here it’s a nice fast road run home, though by now the rain was heavy, the wind strong. Longer strides were the order of the day! A good stretch and foam roller relaxed my still slightly tight calf, but overall a great last long run. My new trail shoes are still brilliant, absolutely no complaints! This week will be one run. I really want to do more, but I won’t. Lots of roller work and stretching. Race report next!

New video, work and @2012milesin2012 update

Work has been cycling up with a good bit on recently, the World Cup in Cardiff that starts tomorrow is taking everyone’s time up, but it is an amazing event to have in Wales. I had a break from my normal job, last week with the Mawddach Paddlefest. It’s really good to see so many happy faces on the water. And the weather came good, with the wind dying out on Sunday for some stand up paddleboard action.

The chart above shows the big dip in hours spent training since tearing my calf muscle. I’ve taken my eye off the challenge of 2012 miles in 2012. So I thought that as the end of a month has passed, I should have a quick check of how far behind I am. Whilst I’ve been doing my rehab, I haven’t been logging my miles too diligently, but I’m at 493miles so far. That means I need to fire some miles out over the next few months, while the weather is good to stand any chance of getting there.

Silly things like minor injuries are a real annoyance, but the don’t stop me getting out. 

Got to do something about my old, badly fitting trail shoes!

I’ve had a another go at putting some running footage together, definitely got some things right, but also got more to learn. On the plus side, I like the fade across big areas, and I like that I’ve cut the time down. On the bad side, I don’t like that the render changes the frame size when panning and zooming. Also hadn’t realised that the copyright on some music tracks means that YouTube won’t deliver the clip to mobile devices.

However the clip looks, it was a nice day to be in the hills, first day of the year for me when a vest and shorts was plenty all the way to the top and back. It was actually much harder to get the footage on the hill as it was, in effect, a really long, hard, set of hill intervals.

Looking forwards to Trail Marathon Wales in 3 weeks.