Monday, 18 June 2018

Trail Marathon Wales 2018

Coed y Brenin - a place that I typically think of as mountain biking territory, mainly because I spent some time there a good number of years ago thrashing around the bike trails... this was before the "new" visitor centre was in place. (and that must have been there a good 7-8 years... right?).

A number of Glossopdalers had entered either the trail marathon or the half, we didn't really mean for it to be a particular club weekend away (as evidenced by the fact we were all over the place in terms of accommodation), but it was great to have so many of us bimbling about the event centre.
As a trail marathon it is fully signed, totally on trail (ie. fire road or single track) and had a load of drink and food stations. There was no need to carry anything, unless you were a little unsure of the "food" that was being provided. Having never tried any of the gels from the sponsors (torq), I thought it might be a cunning idea to take stuff that I was used to, and so packed 3 High5 gels into various pockets in my t-shirt and shorts.
Water was not going to be a problem, partially as it was raining and partially as the course seemed very generously stocked with stations.

The trails were mostly hard packed with some sections of slightly muddy bits, so the best shoes I had for that were a pair of battered old x-talons, so I wore them.

We were started by a bloke with a gun- as in a rifle, who appeared to be aiming it off into the forest on the other side of the hill- where the 2nd half of the marathon went (I half expected to see the victim as we trailed around mile 20...)  and the pace was quite tasty for the first hill.
The ups were pretty much exclusively on fire-road, and I worked my way into 3rd place by dint of the fact I didn't want to be caught up behind people on the single track downs.

As we motored along the tracks the guys in front (a New Balance athlete and a Salomon athlete) disappeared into the distance I settled into a nice pace alongside Gwyn Owen from Eryri. We chatted and generally passed the time as we carried on through the forest. He was most definitely stronger on the uphills while I left him for dust on the more technical single track downs. This worked well for the first half of the race as we basically followed the Half Marathon trail laid out by the trail centre.

It was passing the feed stations that we stopped, had a quick drink and retied shoelaces etc. that Gwyn learned the faster guys were 5 mins ahead... (the information came in welsh, hence why I got the information 2nd hand). Every time we passed a drinks station there was a cup disgarded about 300m further on, evidently from one of the 2 runners ahead of us. Now this might be perfectly normal behaviour on a road marathon, but in the race briefing the organiser was totally and utterly explicit in saying NO LITTERING under ANY circumstances.
If the rest of us are beholden to that, then so should the guys at the front of the field who are sponsored. Gwyn and I were pretty unimpressed by that, it has to be said.

We carried on, mostly together, but occasionally passing one another on the more challenging ups or downs, I was beginning to feel the pace, considering that although I've done some long stuff recently, it has mostly been walking AND running, not just running AND then running some more... still, I held on and we eventually came past the Sting in the Tail- the offroad uphill leading back to the trail back to the trail centre and the halfway mark where we started passing the half marathoners who were on their way out.

Down past the trail centre, across the river and over to the other side of the road and we were onto the second half of the marathon, I was beginning to feel it, especially on the right hip flexor... a bit of a pull, but nothing horrendous. Maybe I should have stopped at the half marathon mark? I was in 3rd/4th so hey, might as well carry on and see what happens.
As it happened, Gwyn took the opportunity to open up and basically put a massive gap on me on the road. There was no way I was going to respond, and going up through the trees I could see why -I was beginning to be caught up by 2 runners, Gwyn obviously wanted to keep ahead of them. Personally- with a bit of a pull on my leg I was perfectly happy just to motor on at whatever pace I could to see how it went.

All was fine, and I was enjoying the rain until mile 17. Bang. Stitch.
It starts as a minor pain in the abdomen and within about 15 steps goes from a niggle to a searing stabbing pain that simply cannot be ignored. It's like having a needle jabbed into your stomach and wriggled around and the only way to stop the pain is to stop and/or put pressure into it.
Once it goes- after about a minute or so, the best way to mitigate against it is to run at a pace low enough that you don't re-aggravate it, or run in a bent over stance so that you don't stretch the abdomen... running uphill in a bent over stance is fine, so I can shuffle my way uphill, but as soon as I get to anything remotely properly runnable and try to open up, BANG, stitch. Swearing and walking and pressure to the tummy.

The race as a race was over, but I certainly wasn't going to just stop and give up. It's only a stitch and as long as I run well within myself I'll be able to finish. So I limp along very slowly, trying not to aggravate the pain, though it keeps coming and going.
One by one people start to pass me, which would normally be galling, especially if I'd had blown up because of not eating properly etc. But now there was a simple air of resignation.
I walked into the next feed station and one of the marshals was quickly on the radio "control, we have an injured runner..." to which I replied fairly indignantly "I'm not bloody injured, I've just got stitch.".
Had a drink and carried on. At which point, 300m further on, I found ANOTHER paper cup. Considering that I was no longer being particularly competitive I picked it up and ran back to the aid station to put it in the bin - getting passed by another runner. Ah well, whatever.

The rest of the second half continued in much the same way. Mostly shuffle running, a bit of walking and swearing and generally wishing there was more single track. The vast majority of the latter half of the marathon was fire road- which suited the more road based marathoners down to the ground, me, not so much.
Passed another feedstation, found another cup, ran back to the station to put it in the bin, another runner comes past... I'm pretty much past caring about placings now, but the guys ahead of me dropping litter- that is NOT on.

In the final mile or 2 I get passed by a guy who must be V50, good effort, and then in the final mile I notice a couple more people who seem to be taking things quite seriously and are putting a lot into it. Not wanting to be too easy a target I figure that the final mile isn't too bad, and once I'm finished, it's done, so I pick up the pace a little to keep ahead of them- and in the process pass the older guy about 100m from the line. From there it is an easy jog to the end, finishing in 3:46ish and 13th place.

Generally speaking a decently organised event, well marked with a decent amount of drink stops. To be honest, to me it was more like a road marathon but in slightly nicer surroundings. If I was to do it again, I'd probably just do the half - the slightly techy stuff was much more fun than bashing out fire-roads.

There are some pretty nice pics at sport pictures cymru, but I'm not going to post any as they don't allow reproduction without permission.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018


I thought it might be good to write this in order to get a few things out of my head. Having re-read my previous blog about completing the Ramsay Round, it might have seemed like it was a bit of a negative experience. After all, pretty much the whole account was taken up with a litany of suffering, pain, agony and general "I don't want to be here"-ness.

Now, that is not to say that it is not a true record of the feelings experienced at the time and in the few days after. It is also not meant to stand as a warning to others about just how hard the thing is (it is very hard), but was more intended as a reminder to me about the level to which I had to raise myself in order to get through the experience. All that being said, the experience as is stood may well have felt like a negative at the time, but the overall outcome should certainly be seen in a much more positive light.

In recent times I haven't really pushed myself to the point of failure. Every race I have entered, every challenge I have done, pretty much, there has been no doubt as to whether I might finish it. (Ok, so I didn't go through with the TDS - but that was injury- to enter that while unable to even run a mile would have been sheer folly, we're talking about unable to finish because of something other than injury).

The Ramsay has been the only thing that I set out to do which had a greater than 50% chance of failure, not just at the beginning, but, in fact, for the majority of the time we were doing it. Had we gone the easy route, and just run the OCT, it would have been a fairly challenging day out, we'd have been slower than in previous years, but there would have been no doubt of completing it. For us, it was not a place where things were really being put on the line, and the only risk was that we might not be as fast as we had been previously. (we'd have also got a finishers t-shirt... but don't worry Chris, I'm not bitter about that at all).

The Ramsay was uncharted territory in terms of not knowing ANY of the route, and also in terms of not knowing if I was physically or mentally capable of getting round. Only now, a few weeks later am I coming to terms with the sheer amount of willpower that was needed to just keep on going. The round didn't make me physically stronger, it certainly didn't make me any faster, but it has re-inforced the understanding that I can go through a lot more and endure more than I initially realise.

While it is true that no matter how much muscle power you have, if the will is not there, the thing won't happen, there are so many more sides to the equation. Equally, willpower alone won't get you round. The ability and discipline to keep eating is fundamental to the success of this kind of endeavour. The faith in your equipment, and the knowledge that at somepoint in the past, you have done enough work to get you through this is fairly fundamental. However, each of the physical pieces of the puzzle can fall apart and the war of attrition can quite easily be lost if the glue that holds it all together starts to un-peel.

That glue is essentially, just sheer bloody-mindedness and the stubbornness born of many hours of moving across moorland and mountain having run out of fuel an hour ago and realising that home is another hour away at best. It is the practice that happens when you're trying to get back to the car through stair-rods of rain and mild hypothermia, dreaming of haribo and nutella filled sandwiches, washed down with coke and a hot chocolate, trying to stave off the mother of all bonks with sheer imagination. It is the knowledge that comes from knowing that the pain that you feel is temporary at best and not doing damage. It is knowing that at the end of the day, you put yourself here, so you get out of it. If you can still walk, walk.

I won't say the experience has totally changed me, but it may have been a turning point, a realisation, a revelation, it has re-inforced my belief in myself, and for that, I have to thank Chris for pushing/pulling/cajoling/blackmailing me into doing it with him.