Let me start by being clear about one thing, the weekend we had towards the end of June, of which Trail Marathon Wales was a part, was excellent. We caught up with good friends, the weather was great, the pre event party and actual TMW event was second to non in both atmosphere and organisation. Wendy’s birthday meal was excellent and even my little run the following day was good. In all we both had a great time, the only things that didn’t go according to plan were our races…
So what led to my first DNF (did not finish)?
My marathon training started just after Parbold Duathlon and was set to follow the same successful plan as the previous two years so I had no worries that it was do-able but this year a couple of things made it ‘not quiet right’.
Wendy picked up an injury early on coming off her mountain bike and as this was to be her debut marathon we shuffled long runs around a bit so I could help her stay on track – this may have contributed a bit as it meant my schedule was a little off plus it also meant my training pace was a little slow. Her injury was slow to heal and eventually Wendy dropped to the half marathon which made training a lot less stressful for both of us.
Somehow I picked up a niggle in my right butt (no laughing) which was eventually traced to a strained lower back muscle, this never really got better although it did ease a lot so like every other a mature runner I ignored it.
I got some very, very nice new Salomon S-Lab Wings trail running shoes which when I tested them out seemed fine and on shorter distances once I replaced the laces were great but once I hit the longer training runs caused all sorts of issues with my lower legs and knees… So back to the trusty Brooks Cascadia 10’s for me which sorted the shoe issues out.
By now I was hitting the big miles during training but unlike previous years I wasn’t enjoying it, too many little problems were making it a lot harder than it should have been and in my head the little voice was starting to whisper “you’re not ready”. It was only a whisper mind you so I ignored it as no matter how the training was going the views of Lancashire were still magnificent.
Fast forward to the Friday before Trail Marathon Wales…
We arrived at Caer Gwyn Farm with time to spare so we could unpack into our B&B and drive down the road to Coed-y-Brenin where we collected our number and a goody bag then joined the pre-race party for an informal talk and Q and A session from some of the Salomon runners, product managers, nutritional expert and Matt (the TMW organiser). It was a great start to the weekend and everyone was on top form, even the weather was looking good. After a good catch up with friends we made our way back to the B&B to get everything ready before a good nights sleep.
Saturday dawned and the weather looked perfect. Porridge and coffee eaten and all gear grabbed we were back at Coed-y-Brenin for 7:30am to make sure we got a parking space relatively close to the race. The excitement was tangible with friends old and new getting ready for what is a beautiful but tough race. Advice was being given to newcomers as people of all abilities gathered near the start to listen to the pre-race brief by Matt. No changes to the route or anything of note so we all made our way to the start and I was still fired up to go, I could do this, I’d done it before and I had a time in my head I wanted to beat (I’m sure we all do this even if we never admit it to anyone).
The sound of the gun marked the start and the mass of runners crossed over the timing mat. It was time to race and I remember thinking “I’m not sure I want to do this…”. Not the sort of thing to inspire confidence in yourself at the start of a race. I must have ignored it as I raced on, passing a few people here and there, where the route allowed.
The first half of the marathon route (which the half marathon follows) is beautiful but tough but I was really looking forward to the second half, or at least I thought I was. 7 miles in and my pace was good, I was on target and everything was going OK except… Is that a slight pain in my butt? And from that point on my fate was sealed, the pain got progressively worse and whether it was actually as bad as I thought it was or my mind made it out to be more serious that it was I’ll never know but by mile 10 I was considering just sitting down and quitting.
It was stupid but I just didn’t want to continue and looking back at it now I’m sure that as soon as the gun went off my mind started looking for an excuse to not race. No matter what I told myself I just couldn’t get motivated until I came to a standstill at the cross over point where the half marathon finishes or the marathon continues on for another 13 miles.
Standing there for what seemed ages as other runners passed asking if I was OK I tried to convince myself that I could do the other half, I’d enjoy it, it’s what I’d wanted to do, it was a new and exciting route but I couldn’t. I quit, and as I made the choice to finish at the half marathon point I felt a weight lift and a sense of relief.
Yes, my ass did hurt… a lot. I probably could have carried on but knowing how long it took me to recover from the injury (it’s still niggling 3 weeks later) and the half marathon distance I still had to run, it would have been a mistake. I wasn’t in a fit state to run a marathon either physically or mentally and pulling out at the half way point was the right thing to do even if it did make me feel lousy at the time.
Once I’d got my stuff together and had something to eat and drink I had a great time watching the first finishers of the half and full marathons come through and cheering Wendy though the finish line. Her race had been a nightmare as well with the injury recurring but after a while we both put our results behind us and continued to enjoy the rest of the day.
That evening we had dinner at the Cross Foxes celebrating Wendy’s birthday which was fantastic then it was back to the B&B for a bottle of wine which we tried to drink outside in the glorious Snowdonia hills but the midges wanted to drink the wine with us so we made our way indoors to finish it off. A great finish to a great day despite our rubbish results.
Sunday dawned and after a great continental breakfast we made our way back to Coed-y-Brenin to see if anyone was going for a run to shake out marathon legs. By ten o’clock it didn’t look like anyone was turning up so I ran the Sarn Helen Long route (8.5km) slowly to test my injury. I wasn’t too bad but then I wasn’t going at race pace. It was at this point that I finally figured out that a lot of the previous day had been mental, I just wasn’t in a “marathon running place” and it’s taken me a while to figure out why.
My training hadn’t gone to plan and I was mentally tired and physically broken although I’d been denying it. I’d been doing long runs or training for some race or event since March the previous year and I needed a break to let my body heal properly and just do nothing for a while, have a proper rest. The thought of doing long back to back training runs for the ultra at the end of August didn’t interest me at all, in fact unlike last year where I was looking forward to the challenge of the training and the run, I was dreading it. I’ve always said that the training is most of what we do, so if you’re not enjoying the training do something else.
I took my own advice and that was this years turning point. I cancelled my Ultra entry and I’m not doing any long runs or proper races until the Trailffest half marathon at the end of September and I feel great. In fact I felt so great I ran a personal best 5k parkrun at Southport the following weekend…