Ahhh so thats why they call it a beast

So yesterday was my second ever race. The Preseli Beast Mawr (little beast) – How hard can 11 miles be?

SAM_2652.JPG

I was up with the lark as I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there, those west Walian roads can be small and twisty. As it turns out it was a simple enough 2 hour drive in the trailmobile.

Yes thats right yesterday was also the unveiling of the trailmobile. no not a new car but a ad hoc conversion. The back of my battered old mondeo is now converted to a pre race nervecentre and also post race sleeping accomodation. This could be a fun summer!

SAM_2651.JPG
Note the carpet underlay with multiple sleeping bags. Also the stylish homemade curtains to block out sunlight. Also note the kit strewn everywhere and bottle of cider front right

So I was an hour or so early and just chilled out in the Trailmobile (now capitalised) and got ready while chatting with some friendly guys from Swansea who were next to me.

I had 3 main worries, the race started at 12.30 and it was getting hot and I don’t particularly like the heat, I was woefully undertrained having hardly run for two months due to my major concern my foot injury. Still nothing I could do now but give it a go!

The race started from the centre of Maenclochog with a quick prerace briefing from the organiser Caz the Hat and we all had to hug people around us in a pre race show of solidarity. When you run alone these things can be awkward but luckily I was stood next to some pretty ladies.

And we were off! I take my hat off to the locals from the village who cheered and clapped us and even banged drums and rattled tambourines. After a few hundred metres of road we hit a gravelled farm track which led us to a wonderful marshy forest with single track wooden bridges throughout it. I spent most of the time just enjoying being out and praying the foot would be ok which it seemed to be, there was a slight ache but I could cope with that despite forgetting to take painkillers before setting off.

Out of the forest and the first hill, all good feeling fine. Nothing to it! Then down through a farm and through an old slate quarry. This was a lovely technical section with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs. I’d love to run this alone at my own pace when fit but was content just to be sensible and hold pace with those around me. A nice touch around here was Caz the Hat who had obviously taken a sneaky shortcut waiting to greet, encourage and fist pump every single runner going over a stile. This man has class!

Then another hill and this is where things started getting tricky as I suddenly felt awful, this was only a few miles in but I think the lack of training was starting to show itself. The gradient wasnt really enough to force a walk but it felt like there was nothing in the legs and the heat was getting to me.

I slowed and unleashed my secret weapon – My homemade chia, flax, date and raisin energy bars! (see this post for details)  I admit I found it hard to swallow the first one – mainly because like an idiot I crammed it all in my gob at once and then found I had to chew it for about 300 yards – Well it took my mind off things!

After a while I started to feel better in myself and spied another serendipitous opportunity – a fresh mountain stream. Much to the surprise of the runners around me I leaped from the track straight into it up to my calves in lovely cool water. It was worth a few seconds to drench myself.

Invigorated I reached the top of the climb and then we sailed across a beautiful mountainside towards the aid station at mile 5.

beast-bach-reccie-7
The views at this point were simply breathtaking (If I’d had breath to take) – As I didn’t have a camera I’m borrowing this photo from the Preseli Beast website so photo credit goes to them – I’m sure Caz won’t mind)

Aaaaaand this is where the foot went …. running down and sideways on this path meant I was unbalanced with my bad foot on the uphill side and running at an angle hurt it. By the time I reached mile 5 the pain was getting bad and I was now favouring the other foot and the limp had begun.  Well I guess this is trail running, it’s going to hurt and no turning back now.

The next stage was across the moorland in the photo above in a steady climb until we hit the Beasts Back.

beast-bach-reccie-13
Again no camera so photo taken from the Preseli Beast website – to give an idea of the climb

This hill/mountain/evil incline of ultimate pain seemed neverending. Much of it we walked, some of it I could run by staying on my toes to reduce the pain but climb it we did and what views from the top!

beast-bach-reccie-23
Last stolen photo I promise – credit to Preseli beast website

Annoyingly my legs had come back to life and my breathing felt as good as it could be considering but the pain in my foot was now crippling me. It was time to simply dog it out for the last four or five miles or so. There’s a saying that kept running through my head at this point – It’s not the size of the dog in the fight its the size of the fight in the dog. Does anyone else get random mantras stuck in their head while running? I was telling myself that despite the fact that physically I was undertrained, injured and in a lot of pain I still had my head going for me. Time for fight in the dog to show up. I’d rather forget the downhills from that mountain. Normally I’d fly them, savour them and enjoy them but I couldnt impact the foot at all and so had to brake all the way down meaning my toes were being slammed into the toebox of my trainers causing more grief – It never rains but it pours!

Once back on level ground it was back through the forest again and into the village. And what a greeting, I was dead on my feet by this phase and just wanted to walk to alleviate the foot pain but I couldn’t give up with these people watching. It was like the whole village were in their gardens and on the road clapping and cheering. At that point it meant a lot – the whole run the marshalls and supporters had been fantastic and I tried to thank every one in passing. I limped over the line and what a relief to collapse on the grass! Now I know why they call it The Beast -even fit and uninjured that would have been a challenge.

Afterwards I waited around chatting and relaxing until the presentations. There was tea, cake, cawl all dished up by some fantastic volunteers.  In fact I have to say the whole village should be proud of the day they put on for the runners. It really felt like a close community showing their warmth to a load of strangers who pitch up to run around in their beautiful countryside.

The organisation was top notch. I take my metaphorical hat off to Caz the Hat who clearly loves the area, running and his event. He’s created something special there and I would heartily recommend it for anyone with an interest in trail running. There were of course the full beast (24 miles I think) and a 32 mile ultrabeast too. If i’m fit I’d love to try the full beast next year.

The gory details

Image1
Slow and painful – But on the bright side I forgot to stop my watch at the finish so I can knock a few minutes off that!

Oh and the goodies – I nearly forgot the goodies – an awesome tshirt and a fantastic slate coaster! So appropriate, I’ll never forget that quarry – I’m coming back one day at speed!

SAM_2661.JPG

SAM_2662.JPG

Despite the personal pain I really had a day to remember. You don’t get to say that very often. Beasted but not bested!

Hoka Trail Half (ish) completed!

I now know the meaning of bittersweet. It’s been a bittersweet kind of weekend. Around an hour or so after I posted yesterday, my eldest cat Spoon had his food and then a short while later lay down and simply passed away. He was 18 so a good run, I guess old age finally got him. At least he died peacefully and with me here with him.  This didn’t really put me in any mood to run, I get so attached to my animals I’m heartbroken but I figured as with everything in life it’s the setbacks that make you stronger when you overcome them.

So this morning I buried him and then laced up and got ready to run my first event – The Hoka Trail half marathon at Margam park.  The weather was still atrocious with gusting winds, cold and miserable drizzle. I got there about 45 minutes before the start not knowing what to expect and there didn’t seem to be much direction to anything so I just sort of hung around and kept warm. There were still large queues of people registering as we got close to the start time of 10 and the time hanging around dragged but I didn’t feel nervy.  Hey after burying your cat first thing in the morning a trail half is easy :p

In fact we got going pretty much on time although no-one could really hear the tannoy announcements (unless you were at the line I guess) everything seemed to be done by general consensus of the crowd following each other like sheep. Once we were underway though I felt fine. I didnt know really what to expect from the course or myself so I decided to keep it fairly easy and just ran the pace I normally would by myself.  After a few miles I was still at 10 min per mile pace which was fine by me. I knew i wasn’t pushing too hard. Then the hills started, though the first was a single track with hardly any opportunity to pass, as it was still early in the race and I’m used to hills I wanted to run it but knew I couldn’t waste the energy slowing and stopping continously to pass people, without my usual even hill climbing stride I figured I’d screw myself so I just walked it with the others.

After that the track widened and I really started to enjoy myself. I won’t bore you with details of the whole thing but I felt fine and under control all the way, in fact the more painful parts were me were the downhills which caused me some knee pain because of the impacts. I did enjoy flying the downhills though …. until what’s this?  The leaders coming past going uphill!  At this point the realisation that I was going to have to come back up the hill I was currently enjoying was a sobering moment.

In fact the long slog back up wasn’t so bad, I picked a lady in front of me who seemed to be doing the same metronomic pace and stride as myself and simply followed her up. Apologies to the lady in question, I just needed a pacer at that point to keep the legs turning over.

Once we were back on the downhills I knew there were around 3 miles to go and opened up the legs to see what I could do. I was pleasantly surprised at myself. I hadn’t been out of breath at any point and the legs felt fine so at this point I felt like I was flying and could run all day …. but to my surprise we appeared to be reaching the end of the race early. Someone on the side called outonly 400 yards to go and I figured they were trying to give us a boost … but it really was 400 yards.  Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone it seemed the course had been shortened by almost 2 miles (I’m presuming due to the weather conditions at the top (The mist meant visibility was down to 10 metres or so in places)

So with plenty left in the tank I motored on in for a time of 1.49.21 which meant a dead on pace of 10 minutes a mile which i’m really pleased with!  I’m obviously disappointed by the short course but I do know that i had loads left to give and would have easily finished in a good time.

Unfortunately not everyone is as easy going as me it seems as many of the more serious runners were annoyed by the short course and it’s taken no time for the complaints to start on the internet – why they can’t just talk to the organisers I don’t know.

I must admit there were a few things apart from the short course that bothered me. There were no facilities to change whatsoever and no bag drop so I had to leave everything at risk (we all did to be fair) and the organisation overall at the start left a little to be desired.

On the flip side this was a first trail event of this scale for the organisers and they did well to get it going at all in these weather conditions. The people I spoke to on the course seemed to be enjoying it and I did thoroughly and can’t wait to do another. I’ve already dropped a quick email to the organisers thanking them for their time and efforts, i’m sure as with everything it’s a learning curve for them and teething problems can be remedied.

So yeah it’s been a strange weekend, veering between sadness and exhilaration. I’m proud I have this event under my belt and look forward to the next.

Image1

DSC_0017
Pretty much my only photo – I went back out to support the runners still coming in after I finished – It was cold but seemed the right thing to do!

Free Stuff! Not for you … for me!

Registered today for the Hoka Trail Half so I can have an extra half hour in bed tomorrow. It’s only a half hour drive so no rush anyway but it settled a few nerves anyway. By now you’ll know (as I’ve been banging on about it forever it seems) it’s my first event of any description so now it’s real.

The bad news is the utterly atrocious Welsh weather – What, did we think we would get away with a trail half marathon in Wales in February without getting wet? it’s not only raining it’s positively evil out there a solid wall of drizzle and gusting winds too.

I signed my name on the dotted line (I exaggerate – the guy crossed me off his list with a highlighter pen) picked up my goodie bag and strolled back off into the rain. Inside my bag was a t-shirt and sun visor! Yes indeed they will come in handy tomorrow!  Nah only joking, I didn’t expect anything at all so it’s a nice touch by Hoka.

DSC_0010(1)
Yay for free stuff!

The event itself is at Margam Park which I haven’t been to for many years (maybe since our sixth form party ended in a riot over 20 years ago) so it was nice to have a quick look around.

DSC_0009
Margam Castle itself is quite pretty (But not what i’d call a castle to be honest – Where’s the battlements, arrow slits and murder holes?)  Spot the mist hanging above it …

 

DSC_0004
That mist is hiding the forested hills of the park itself which i’m going to be going up and over tomorrow!

Oh and of course I nearly forgot my bib number!  So if you happen to be freezing to death at Margam park tomorrow and see number 656 then give me some encouragement – I think i’ll need it!

DSC_0011(1)

Will catch you on the flipside tomorrow for celebrations (I hope)

 

Back to the trails!

After a few days break – work and weather enforced it was great to get back out running. Managed to fit in an hours run on the beach after work. Felt good today and pushed it a bit harder on the way back for an even split which isn’t bad considering its always uphill on the way home!

Todays route

I was glad to feel good today as yesterday I bumped into a teacher in work who I didn’t know runs and after telling her about what I was up to she told me about this trail half marathon virtually on my doorstep!  The hoka half at Margam Park

I’ve already got an event planned for that date in Avon and that was to be my first but thats only (I say only, I wouldn’t have said that few months ago) 12k not a half marathon  and having considered it for a day I’ve signed up for the half and will drop out of the 12k. I wasn’t planning to run a half until later in the year when I felt I would have the confidence to do it but having run the distance twice in the last few weeks over probably harder terrain than the event its something that I really want to do. I’m not worried about times but I am worried about finishing of course. But I believe that with just under a month to go I can do this! Time to put what i’ve been learning into practice. And i’m excited already!

Other things of note today – it appears that horses don’t suffer from vertigo judging by this lot happily grazing a few feet from a cliff edge with a couple of hundred foot drop right next to them! After taking the photo (poor quality im afraid, the camera hates long distance and ducky gloom it seems) I literally couldn’t watch them as I ran past. I’ve seen sheep doing this before and that was bad enough but the thought of a plummeting horse kept my heart in my mouth. I’m a complete animal lover and this scared me half to death. I’m sure it doesn’t concern them though and I’m glad I was on the beach not on the cliffs as it would break my heart if I was to startle one off the edge.

SAM_1944
Death defying stunt horses on Nash cliffs

Also of note were the first molehills. A sure sign of spring approaching as the earth has warmed up enough for our subterranean friends to start stirring. I can’t wait for spring. Winter running has taught me a lot and I’ve enjoyed running through the changing seasons but a little warmth would go down a treat around now

SAM_1950
First molehills of Spring!