We must have woken up at around six am, to find Race Director Matt Ward and Tim Lloyd standing over us. Jez and I had been held up by hours of traffic on the way up and got to Coed y Brenin late, so we slept in our sleeping bags under a hut veranda, the waterfalls roaring all around us after days of heavy rainfall. Matt didn't look too surprised, he knew what I was like, not so long ago I had slept in the car before a race… not ideal as I don't have a particularly big car! After a chat with Matt and Tim we collected our numbers and goodie bags and set up breakfast, for me it was a banana, porridge with brown sugar and coffee. We moved the car only to see Martin Stacy arrive, a passionate trail runner who had only just completed the South Downs Marathon last week! We talked about the course and shoe choice before wishing each other luck for what was going to be a real challenging race!
Trail Marathon Wales was a dream come true for Race Director Matt Ward who regularly runs the trails in and around Coed y Brenin, the first in what I have no doubt will be the the biggest trail marathon in the UK. Matt wanted to show what the area had to offer and give all competitors the feel of an international race and that it did. I love races organised out of a garden shed as much as the next trail runner, but there's something special about a race where every little detail has been carefully though about and executed in the best possible way.
A quick change in to our race kit and we were ever closer to the start line. I'd gone with the Salomon SpeedCross3 as there were too many compacted ground sections for the FellCross but equally too many soft muddy sections for XA Pro 3D's or similar. I left the Garmin at home too, choosing to just run off the feel, only the stopwatch running on my Suunto. Race preparation for TMW was not what quite what I wanted, I'd probably only done half the training sessions I wanted to but what concerned me more was my irregular and poor eating habits recently. It was only when I looked back that I realised how many meals I had missed, and when I had eaten, it was less than ideal food! This is something I need to tackle asap before it really affects my performance, feeling uncontrollably hungry out on a run is possibly one of the worst things I have experienced, I find it's worse than any pain I've got while running.
Those of you that know me or read my blog will know I'm a great believer in the power of the mental side of running. The night before I had made a promise to my girlfriend Ellie, I promised to give it 150%, she's an excellent and dedicated climber and we encourage and push each other for competitions. Little did I know but that promise would contribute a great deal to my finish time. It's the little things like that which can make a far greater difference than you might appreciate.
Matt stood on the top of a cabin to give the race brief, it brought back memories of Kilians Klassic in the Pyrenees last summer, it had all the markings of an international race. The red arrows, thats's what I needed to know, the green for the half and the red for the full. Additional course markings came in the form of white arrows and Salomon tape, of which I believe 1,5km's was used! A man with a beard climbed up onto the tower, shotgun in hand, head gamekeeper at Coed y Brenin he was going to start the race with his shotgun. I was half expecting Matt to start reciting the speech from Henry V as they do at the Western States 100. The shotgun was raised into the air, I turned my head to the trail, I felt like I was looking at an oncoming train. Excitement, anticipation and curiosity as to what lay ahead.
The crack of the Shotgun and we were off, I started side by side with Jez, we watched as dozens ran past, I made the comment to Jez that I didn't want to start off to fast. I knew if I took the bait and followed suit it would bite me in the ass later, sure enough it didn't take long for me to take the bait. Despite telling myself that I hadn't, I think I knew, but you know what, I had a promise to keep. I knew it was going to hurt so I figured, if you're going to run through hell, you might as well run right through the middle.
My 'plan' was to kick it up the hills with a manageable pace (all 4,500ft of them!) , stretch out and cruise the flats at a decent pace and red line on the downhills. If I was going to earn all that height fighting the uphills I thought it would be crazy to waste the downhills. I kept short quick reps on my feet, on the unstable terrain it would help me keep my footing and not over reaching I hoped would lessen any chance of injury.
I cannot express enough my awe at the scenery, to say it was Snowdonia's best kept secret would not be an understatement. The recent heavy rainfall made even the small waterfalls energetic torrents, rivers corkscrewed their way through glistening rock overlooked by trees on both sides. When you finally climbed through the tree line a distant panoramic was exposed, the peaks of Snowdonia national park standing proud despite the dense cloud and patches of mist. When you're pushing hard and hurting, seeing all this around you makes it all worth while. The views rivalled those that I saw last year in the Pyrenees, was I coming back next year? I had already decided, there was no question, I will be at the start line of TMW 2013.
Mile after mile passed, I followed my regimented gel and electrolyte routine and race plan. At about 2hours I guessed I was somewhere near halfway along the course but couldn't be sure, things were beginning to ache now but no red lights were appearing on the body function dashboard. As time went on more focus was required, tree roots, loose rocks and muddy patches needed to be avoided or I'd face an inevitable trip, slip and probable fall.
There are few things worse than running hungry, and I could feel it setting in, the gels weren't doing enough, I needed proper food and pronto before something bad happened. At every corner I hoped for a checkpoint with food, I rationed out what I had on the assumption I would find some food soon and pressed on. Thankfully I found an aid station quickly, with a smile across my face I munched down quite a few jelly babies, some banana and shoved an extra gel in my pocket. Life returned to my weary body almost immediately, the void was filled, for now… but I knew I was just eating a short term gain and it wouldn't be too long until I would need more food, or face the painful consequences of a sugar crash.
It was beginning to hurt now, I played through motivational quotes in my mind and the promise I had made to Ellie. I knew that the tough part still lay ahead, so I kept my wits about me and didn't embrace the temptation to blaze all I had left. The uphills were steep, and I resorted to power walking up some, making up any time by launching myself down the other side. I just needed to stay strong and stay consistent, stick to the game plan I kept reminding myself, stick to the plan.
I guess it was the last quarter when things got darker, some warning lights where blinking and I knew I was pushing my body to- and possibly over its threshold. My mind wondered over things… I was kicking my way into hell and I couldn't wait. I imagined Ellie on a bike or in a car, cheering me on… almost to the point I could swear she was there, I had a promise to keep, 150% Matt, no less. If I had any energy left after the finish it was energy I should have used in the race. I started to just run, hills I would have walked up earlier I just powered up, causing more red lights to flash. I remembered the ending of a book called 'Fuel' (by Jeremy Chin), I won't tell you what it is but it gave me energy, energy that I needed badly because I was all but running on empty.
Closing in on the finish there was a brutal uphill, it seemed to have no end but I just kept pushing, each step is another step closer to the summit I told myself. The last couple of miles I genuinely did not know how I was running, I shouted at myself, feeling surges of adrenaline strike me like lightning. Finishing was a certain, what mattered now was I had given it 150%. I shut out the rest of the world, ignored my body crying for me stop and pushed harder and harder. My eyes locked onto the finish line, letting out another shout I started to sprint. I don't care how tired you are, how far you've run, you can always sprint finish. Throwing myself across the line I dropped to my knees, I could hear the commentators voice but I my mind found it difficult to focus, all I can remember was being asked how it was and saying 'Brilliant!'. I knelt there, face in the ground, I had done it, I had given my all.
I can say without a doubt TMW was one of the most enjoyable trail races I have ever entered, well organised, fantastic route (especially considering the many changes due to the weather) and stunning scenery. Massive thanks to Matt and the team for such a great event, looking forward to TMW 2013! And next time, I'll be trained, fed and waiting...
My finishing time was 4:18:13, 55th Overall, 34th in Category
Congratulations to Jez who completed the race despite a knee injury flaring up at half way, Martin for surging on with post-marathon legs and everyone else that took part!