Monday 18 June 2018

Trail Half Marathon Wales

I had originally entered the full Trail Marathon with the aim of it being a key event in my running year. However, an asthma flare up kind of put that out and I settled in to just doing the half. (see my blog on Global Therapies for more on my asthma) I was, to be honest, totally unprepared for even the half. In the previous month I'd only run once - a lung-hurting 10km on my local hills a fortnight earlier. A few weeks prior to that I'd done a run/walk of half marathon distance in about 3 hours, so mentally I knew I could do the distance, just very slowly. Quite frustrating when I really wanted to have a decent go at the marathon.

So it was with weeks of virtually no running that I lined up in the starting pack for a very steady run/walk half marathon in a very wet forest at Coed y Brenin, Wales.  I had been doing a lot more bike riding that normal, and outdoor swimming so my overall fitness wasn't totally gone.

Before we were even ready for the start - as I was taking a photo of me and a couple of other Glossopdale runners - the start gun sounded. Although we knew we were about to start it felt like we were still being walked round to the start area!!

Me, Charm and Jo at the start

The initial first uphill but was chocka with 600+ runners and we were soon into a pinch point so a mix of run-walk ensued. I was chatting with Jo and Charm and soon enough we were at a forest road and on our way past Lucy at the first marshal point. I urged Jo and Charm to push on, I didn't want the pressure of feeling like I needed to keep up, or worry that I'd be slowing them down. I just needed to run (or run-walk) my own race and enjoy the journey.

So the forest tracks and bits of single tracks came and went. A wobbly bridge was crossed over a ravine with water rushing on past. Marshal points were passed, and before long my sense of direction was totally screwed up. The race route took so many turns and switch-backs and ups and downs I felt like I was constantly running away from the event centre at Coed y Brenin.

I was glad for my watch and being able to know how long I'd been out as it was so disorientating. Even when the forest opened up and there was a view it was unknown to me so I could literally have been anywhere. However, being a trail race it was well signed and I was among other runners the whole time.

At 10km the first fuel station appeared. I only took a cup of water as I was carrying my own food. There were bananas and gels on offer but I prefer my own stuff so I know my guts will digest things well.
I think this was somewhere not long after the first fuel station

Not too long after this I started to feel quite tired. Kilometres 10 to 15 seemed to drag. Knowing the route would have helped but at every slight uphill gradient I found I needed to count in 10s to just keep myself moving, even slightly faster than walking. If I reached a count of 50 and couldn't see the top I would have a walk break. On and on the trail went....interspersed with bits of muddy single track full of tree roots set to trip if your concentration lapsed.

The next fuel station was at 16km. A quick drink and I was on my way. The trail seemed more runnable now, perhaps my lungs were working better or the run-walk strategy was helping. As is normal for me I started to try and work out my finish time based on pace run so far and distance to go. It felt like a sub 2:30 might be possible so I used this to spur me on just a few more paces when I really wanted to walk.

At around 18km is the infamous 'Sting in the Tail' - a very steep ascent covering nearly 1km and climbing around 150m. It sounds so tame typing those stats, but it was proper hands on knees and mental strength to just keep moving upwards. I even managed to overtake a couple of people as I really wanted to keep pushing a little. My 2:30 aim, set only minutes prior seemed to be slipping away. It took about 11 minutes to do that climb, leaving me only about 14 minutes to get to the end....and 2km to cover.

I pushed on. Whenever I started feeling like I needed to stop I'd just run a little more then walk 20 paces before trying to pick up the pace again. Even a slow run is a bit quicker than a fast walk I'd tell myself.

Really close to the end the lovely forest track that was easy to run on turned into a steep muddy descent. Argghhh! Time slipping. I did my best to run but I'm such a wuss on muddy steep descents. I overtake a guy as we rejoin the track. Nothing for watch is showing about 2:27 though I know I started it before I crossed the start line (thank goodness for chip timing). That extra minute was needed as I pushed as hard as I could - knowing full well the final 100m or so is up a steep final bit to the finish line. So cruel to put a little kicker at the end of a half marathon!!!

As I cross the finish line I have no idea if I managed sub 2:30 and I don't care. Numbers are just numbers - though without that incentive I reckon I would have been a good 10mins slower overall, maybe more.

Throughout the race the rain had come in heavy downpours and slight mist, big droplets falling off trees too so I was soaked through. I'd worn my waterproof for a good few kilometres then had it tied round my waist for the rest. I ate 3 shot blocs and a mini choc bar on the way round - sufficient fuel but at the end I was simply hungry so wolfed down a banana and rehydrated with several cups of water as I waited for Tim to finish the full marathon.

Finish line after a few minutes recovery

My official chip time is 2:29:34. I was 80th/216 female, 30th/80 in my category and 279th overall (507 ran).

So, given my asthma and lack of run specific training I am really pleased with how I ran. I was only about 1min20s behind Jo and Charm so that makes me feel really chuffed!! Now I just need my lung function to improve so I can get back to running the hills properly.