Sunday, June 24, 2012

The nature of a trail marathon

There was only one way to find out if I could do a marathon and a new one on my doorstep at Coed y Brenin seemed the obvious choice. ‘Trail’sounded so much more appealing than road; although at the time I did not realise trail would translate into 3,959 feet of altitude gain.

A strong breeze kept away the worst of the midges as the organisers outlined a revised course. Torrential rains had forced a new route to be marked at the last moment. Then it was into the starting funnel, ‘The Final Countdown’ blaring out of the speakers, and Iori, the wildlife ranger, started us with a blast from his twelve bore.

For the first mile there was much shuffling of the pack as runners settled into their pace, conversations were struck up and there was a steady, easy going atmosphere as we ambled along. After an hour and six miles into the trail, front runners of the half marathon went pounding past on a thin, steeply downhill path laced with slippery tree roots – having started 30 minutes later than me they were obviously going twice as fast.   

What we lost in altitude into that deep gorge was regained by an exhausting haul up the other side. Once more on high ground we were able to take in distant views towards Cadair Idris but low cloud meant only a local would know that. At Tyn y Groes, friendly assistants handed out snacks and drinks at one of the many oases along the way. Beginning to feel a bit weary I chanced a gel, a pouch of instant energy, but I won’t be using them again.

Twelve miles in two hours’ my new friend from Edinburgh told me, reading off her high tech gadget. For her this was just a training run for a sixty four mile event around Mont Blanc. Much as I enjoyed her company I explained that I needed to drop down a gear and off she went. This was my black spot with legs feeling heavy. I was now at the furthest point I’d run before. If I could get through the next six miles I’d have a good chance.

The following stretch seemed to go upwards for ever and I wasn’t the only one walking the steep bits - and later on the not so steep bits. Four young women passed me chatting as they went. There was talk about the Champagne being on ice. One said she’d have some tonic with her first gin. Printed on the backs of their T shirts:
Never under estimate
the strength
of a woman

Don’t f@#k with
one who enjoys
running 26.2 miles

My heart sank as the route took us back down that deep gorge and up the other side but then it was steady running once more. My companion at this stage was a woman from Abergavenny, also doing her first marathon. Knee bandaged and pumped with pills after an early fall she was determined to reach the finish. Whilst I was looking forward to a hot bath, supper and a couple of beers in front of Euro 2012 she had the prospect of feeding four young children at their campsite.

Flapjacks and a few words of encouragement buoyed me up for the final stretch. After crossing a river one of the helpers said ‘well done, just over a mile to go’.  I think he meant just a mile of uphill, it was steep and a cruel sting in the tail. Then a steady half mile freewheeling down to the finish. A few minutes under six hours was not fast but I’d done it. The first person in the world to ever do a trail marathon in this body.

Many thanks to Trail Marathon Wales for organising the event in cooperation with Forestry Commission Wales – it was brilliant, friendly and atmospheric. Thanks also to all the marshals, volunteers and to South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue Team whose presence gave me a little bit of reassurance. My only criticism would be towards my fellow runners for dumping so much plastic along the way.

What next? How about having a go at the Dragon's Back Race?

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