For those that saw my post yesterday you will probably already be aware that my overall impressions of the event were positive. I guess I should begin on the Friday evening, after a long journey to Wales from London.
The Build Up:
Arriving at Coed y Brenin Visitor centre at around 19:00ish myself and Gareth (designated driver and running the TMW Half Marathon) went in to collect our goody bags and race numbers, the goody bags were particularly nice with a decent pair of Salomon S-Lab socks, T-Shirt as well a Shotz Gel and Gel bottle (and some brochures etc).
When I collected my number I was told that the Marathon route had required a change due to the weather conditions over the past week and that we would be told more at the race briefing. This news didn’t make much difference to me as I hadn’t had an opportunity to run any of the route at this point, although for anyone that had been lucky enough to recci the route this news may have caused them some concern.
A restless night followed with the nerves starting to build up.
Arriving at the Coed y Brenin visitors centre the nerves were really starting to take hold, which wasn’t helped by seeing the calibre of runners that were turning up. I tried to maintain focus, telling myself that I wasn’t racing anyone and the challenge was the route and the distance but its unavoidable not to think about where I may place, would I even finish….. The mental battle had already begun and the race hadn’t even started.
At 08:45 we received a race briefing which explained why the route had been changed in more detail. The day before the organisers had been on the route checking out how it was fairing under the huge amount of rain that the area had been seeing over the last week and unfortunately a section of the planned route was now ankle deep bog and it was deemed that in order for all participants to be safe the route would be changed. We would now be following more of the half marathon route, splitting off around mile 11 before rejoining it again at mile.
With the briefing over it the marathoners moved forward to the start line, I was now starting to need the toilet but the queue for the loos was too long and so I decided to try and hold out for a bit. The organisers started playing the Final Countdown to get everyone ready for the race start and with a gunshot we were off. As this was my first marathon I had given myself a conservative estimate of 12min mile (which is also the pace for the Ultra) and opted to stick to this rather than set off too fast and regret it later on.
Within about 15 minutes I had to stop for a toilet break, moving over to the bushes at the side I did the deed (which went on FOREVER as person after person passed me), then feeling more comfortable I set off again, now a lot nearer the back than when I started.
The first 4 miles went with no problems, an easy uphill followed by a nice long downhill. However something was becoming apparent, I was being eaten alive by midges. The little bugs were swarming over anyone who had exposed skin and had neglected to (as I had) use repellent. This was a minor annoyance which I just had to get used to and fortunately there was plenty to keep me occupied, with the stunning views all around me.
The downhill lead to the inevitable uphill, which reduced me to a brisk walk, some respite was found in the short downhill at mile 6 but this was countered with another sharp uphill. My training had involved getting on the North Downs and tackling some of the steeper climbs around there so I was prepared for the hills, but there were a few which really took it out of me. Following the half marathon route for the first 11 miles I tackled the off camber section, which despite being downhill slowed me down due to the muddy, slippery terrain. It was here that the first of the half marathon runners started to pass, powering down the track at a frightening pace (how they do it I don’t know!) and not wanting to cost anyone there race I moved to the side to allow them to pass. Also on the half marathon route was a section labelled as “technical” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t remember exactly what distance it occurred, but it was around the 8-10 mile mark (and later around 16-18) I think and was a nice section of proper trail which was through the forest, undulating uphill and downhill but overall downhill. Without thinking my pace quickened, I tend to really enjoy these types of trail as I loose myself in the flow. It was funny as it reminded me of being on my BMX back when I was a lot younger, flowing on the half pipe just letting myself feel the flow rather than thinking about it. Even though I was starting to feel tired this moment of forgetting everything and just enjoying the run was a great boost to my motivation, it was a shame that it didn’t continue longer.
At mile 11 the half marathon course and marathon course split and I continued onwards, and unfortunately upwards for one of the more depressing sections (in my mind anyway) which was a long hard packed gravel road on a gentle uphill. This section seemed to go on forever, in reality it was only about 3 miles, mentally it was quite draining given the previous sections I had encountered. I found myself thinking “when will I get on the trail again” over and over again. It did end, with a very muddy path leading into a field where the gradient increased and the going got slower, feeling mentally drained by the time I hit the aid station at 16 miles.
Things improved as the next section, about 2 miles, was a downhill which then re-joined the half marathon course. The previous uphill’s and downhill’s returned (along with the technical section) up until I ended up at the same split at mile 11, however this time turning left to complete the rest of the half marathon course. This was at mile 25 and I was thinking that it would all soon be over, my body was starting to really protest and every step was an effort, the race organisers had different ideas.
What I saw in front of me made my heart sink, a “sting in the tail” was ahead with a sharp ascent of about 110 meters over about a mile and a half. This was like a kick in the stomach and it sapped every ounce of energy I had left, but I got to the top and despite the protests of my legs started to run again. In the distance I saw a figure with a camera shouting smile, which I did. I then realised it was Gareth who shouted that I was nearly there, and started to run alongside me. Realising that it was nearly over I picked up the pace, repeating the words “finish strong” in my head.
Crossing the line in 05:19:00 I had completed my first marathon race, I was passed a coaster and water bottle and I stood and waited for Gareth (who had stopped running as his legs were not happy after cooling down from the half marathon)
And to put into perspective on the toughness of this marathon, the London Marathon has a total climb of approximately 157 meters, the TMW came up as around 1022 meters (or 1234 meters depending on “smoothing” being set to Default or None respectively)
Would I do it again?
Oh yes!! In fact as soon as I see the email go out saying entries are open I will be signing myself up for it. It is a fantastic event, for the first ever event the organisation was superb and even with the course change the route markers were clear with only a couple causing any confusion and there were Marshalls at these anyway. If you have the opportunity to add another Marathon into your race calendar, then make sure it’s the Trail Marathon Wales 2013, a big thanks to Matt, the marshall’s and the rest of his team who put together such an amazing event.
I would also like to add that the support from the general public was amazing, people who were watching were shouting positive things, kids who were out watching were supportive (which was great to see). Walkers and mountain bikers who were doing there own thing would shout encouragements, overall it was a great environment to be in
Lastly a top tip, book your accommodation early, it will go fast! We stayed at Heulwen Guest House (http://www.heulwen.co.uk/), a lovely place to stay at a great price.
To read my post on Race Nutrition for the Marathon click: Nutrition Trail Marathon Wales