The time had come and we set of from Lancashire towards Snowdonia for the Trail Marathon Wales. The drive down through North Wales’ mountains was beautiful, made even more so by bright blue skies with only the odd small cloud (thank goodness we’d packed sunscreen ). Arriving at the Coed-y-Brenin visitor centre around lunch time and after parking the car one of the first things we saw was a sign pointing towards registration.
It was real, we were really here, I don’t think I could have been more excited if all my birthdays had arrived at once. Past the sponsors, some of whom were still setting up, we picked up our goodie bags which contained our numbers, some leaflets, a 9bar, a great t-shirt, Salomon socks and a Torq gel voucher and after a quick look round to try and calm down a bit (we failed) we had a great lunch while reading through some of the leaflets. We called in at the Torq stand to ’cash in’ our vouchers and to try their gels which were surprisingly good, I took a Rhubarb and Custard one, Wendy a Raspberry Ripple.
Leaving the visitor centre after taking a few more photos we made our way to the Cross Foxes about 25 minutes away where we checked in for our two night stay, unpacked and generally faffed about in an over excited need to calm down sort of way. We spend the afternoon either on the balcony or in the garden next to a lovely stream relaxing in the beautiful welsh mountains. Martin arrived later in the afternoon and after more cups of tea the three of us made our way back to the visitor centre so Martin could pick up his stuff and to watch the end of the 9bar9 race and grab some pasta bake at the welcome party.
I’m glad we decided to go to the welcome party as we were a bit undecided and thought it would just be full of super fit people who run up and down mountains as a way of life. Instead, after some great food put on by the staff at the visitor centre we all had a seat in the conference room where we picked up yet another goody bag (more socks, DVDs and other bits and pieces). Matt Ward, the organiser, introduced himself and gave us a brief speech on the ethos behind Trail Marathon Wales and there was a quick question and answer session with some of the elite runners. It was well worth the time and it gave a real sense of what the team are aiming for with the trail running at Coed-y-Brenin where there will be a dedicated trail running shop opening soon.
Arriving back at the Cross Foxes we got all our bits and pieces ready, numbers on shirts, shoes, socks, shirts, bags, food, etc. and with head full of images and thoughts of tomorrow’s race I tried to get some sleep…
Waking just before 7am (the race was at 9am) we had our usual porridge and coffee or tea then gathering our racing things together and our drop bags full of post race snacks we set off once more to Coed-y-Brenin. It was a lot busier today but we got parked up easily enough and had time enough for the usual last breaks and to take a few pre race photos. Matt gave the run briefing and then Martin and I left Wendy on the balcony of the visitor centre (she was running the half marathon) as we made our way to the start.
The sense of ’something wonderful’ hit me just before the bang of the starting gun (literally, it was Shotgun), the training and early morning runs had come to this, I was about to run my first ever marathon and it was in the magnificent mountains of Snowdonia. It felt incredible.
I’ll never forget the moment just before the start when I looked towards the balcony and saw Wendy ready to cheer me on, I smiled and sent a thought her way… “Good luck with your race darling, see you in a bit”. I felt a stillness, almost as if my world paused and then bang, we were off.
I looked at Martin who was grinning at me, I think I grinned back although I can’t be sure as I was a little overwhelmed by the experience. Quickly we were over the start and under the balcony, through the cheers from spectators, half marathon runners waiting for their turn and visitors to the forest and then a sharp right and we were onto the trails.
The initial climb took a while as everyone sorted themselves out but it did do us a favour and stopped everyone going out too fast as we jogged up through the forest. I can’t really give a description of the course as around every corner Snowdonia presented us with something different. Whether it was single track running through the dappled light in the forest, fire roads descending (or ascending) forever up (and down) the hills or tracks over the open moorland in the 2nd half, the trail had everything and it was, without a doubt, the best, most beautiful and spectacular run I’ve ever done.
I remember breaking out of the forest to see the mountains of Snowdonia in the distance, a view so magnificent Wendy stopped to take a photo.
Bouncing across the aerial bridge with the River Mawddach crashing below us. The ’sting in the tail’ around mile 11 (near the finish of the half marathon), an incredibly brutal climb that just would not end that was then followed by an amazing descent which switched left and right down the single track through the forest.
After some amazing descending Martin arrived at the half way feed station at the visiter centre just before me, so we had a very quick chat and I refuelled while he set off on the second half of the race. As far as races went we were now heading into unknown territory. Would our training hold up? Had we done enough?
After going under the main road we started the second half with a gentle climb alongside the river Eden, it wasn’t gentle for long. This half of the race was a lot more technical than the first and although overall there wasn’t as much elevation what climbing there was ,was hard work as a lot of the this section was the Red Bull mountain bike track but run in reverse. Yes, we were running up a downhill mountain bike course.
A lot of these up hill sections were large rock slabs or steps and I found I could power walk up them faster and easier than running them, most people around my pace were doing the same so it seemed the thing to do. At the furthest point we passed one of the many food stations and ran a loop over a newly made path through some scrubland. As I arrived back at the food station I refilled one of my bottles with an isotonic drink (with salts in it, I was getting a bit of cramp, probably due to the heat and sweating more than anticipated) but even with this new found pain I couldn’t help but smile as in my head, knowing how far I’d run, I was on my way ’home’.
I remember the last descent before we crossed back over the road to rejoin the half marathon route, birds singing, blue sky and in the distance the cheering of the crowds as runners arrived at the finish, and although I was exhausted it felt wonderful.
And then it was my turn, one final push along the River Eden, a sharp left turn and then the final 100 or so meters up a hill (I know, it was a touch harsh) and crossing the finish, physically spent beyond anything else I’ve ever done to collapse into Wendy’s arms, her smile lifted me so much I could almost have run it again, in my head at least.
I picked up my ’prize’, a lovely wooden coaster then collected my bag and proceeded to eat and drink everything inside it, if eating was a sport I’d have won it there and then. Not long after Martin came through the finish, I’d passed him around mile 16, the ’sting’ of the half marathon had taken its toll and slowed him down a little. After a good stretch we had lunch (a little late) of the best bacon sandwich in the world then made our way back to the Cross Foxes for showers and an afternoon of relaxing with cold drinks. I’d picked up a tip from one of the elite runners the night before and found a rock next to the stream, sat on it and cooled my calves and feet, after the initial shock it felt great and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I don’t feel as beaten up as I thought I would.
The three of us met for dinner where we all had starters then burgers of some type, all huge and very tasty and the best pint of ale I’ve ever had closely followed by another one. The food was wonderful, the service excellent and the atmosphere just right as we took our time and chatted about the days adventures.
After retiring you’d think sleep would have come easily but I kept waking up, my body was exhausted but my mind wouldn’t shut off, over and over it kept telling me ’I’ve just run a marathon’, I’m sure when I finally fell asleep I was still smiling.
Breakfast was a ’full welsh’ after which we ventured back to Coed-y-Brenin for a walk to gently stretch aching legs and take in some of the beautiful scenery but at a somewhat more leisurely pace. After a quick lunch and thanking Matt who’d taken out some runners that morning we made our way home after what I can only describe as an amazing weekends running.
I’ve always scoffed a little bit when people talk about doing things as ‘going on a journey’ but looking back on the weekend and all that went into enabling me to run my first marathon I think I now know what they mean…
This marathon is only a stop along the way, the ‘journey’ goes on.