In an incentive to get some decent running training done, Simon and I entered the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Marathon at Anglesey last year. One thing and another happened and our marathon training ended up being an intensive week between Christmas and New Year where we crammed as much running into a short amount of time as possible, followed by a week of ‘normal’ running, a week of rest and then race day. Not an advisable training regime, but it was better than nothing.
Race day started early. Luckily it was a short drive from our Holyhead hotel to the start at a country park north east of Holyhead itself and close to the coast. Due to the delightful British weather the race HQ tent and surroundings already resembled a swamp when we arrived in the early glimmers of morning light. Marathon and ultra runners were milling around after collecting their numbers, timing ‘dibbers’, t-shirt and assorted energy snacks before their respective pre-race announcements. The ultra (33 mile) runners headed off into the gloom sometime around 8am. Our announcements were at 08:30, which gave us enough time to munch on some pre-race chocolate and to consider which coats to wear. By this point the rain had started and I opted for my ‘proper’ coat, complete with hood, as opposed to my hoodless lightweight running coat.
The announcements were largely unnecessary and consisted mostly of a description of the route, which I had forgotten about 2 minutes after each section was described. Suddenly 9am arrived and we were assembled in a narrow lane getting wet and waiting for the starting horn to sound. The first mad dash (at a relatively sedate pace as we all knew there was a seriously tough course waiting for us) followed the lane for a short distance before joining the road we had driven in on. In the middle of the lane was the first of many puddles. In true XC style I dived straight into the puddle (which was freezing cold and more than ankle deep) knowing that there was no point staying dry, as we would all be soaked soon enough. With numb feet we joined the road and the faster runners pulled ahead. Nervous of running out of energy I constantly checked my Garmin watch to make sure I didn’t exceed 9 minute miles.
It wasn’t long before we turned off the road and headed for the coast. The first stretch was fantastic, or at least it would have been if it wasn’t raining and I could actually see out of my glasses. We joined a rough cut stone block pathway climbing the side of the ‘mountain’ with a steep drop to the sea on our right. This first serious climb took us from almost sea level to 500 feet in less than a mile and slowed everyone I could see to a brisk walk. The long downhill which followed was great fun, involving carefully placed feet on the slippery rocks and steep muddy sections. We dropped down to sea level and followed the coast line until the half way point. Most of this was on a mixture of open ‘fell’ and muddy trails. My shoes were soaked through and I had mud up to my knees within the first few miles, but, despite the rain, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face!
At about mile 9 we joined a long and undulating road along the coast. This was one of the hardest parts as the constant pounding of my feet on the tarmac was more painful than squelching in the mud. The road felt like it went on forever, but around mile 12 we rejoined paths again. Sometime around mile 14 the sun began peeking through the clouds. Beginning to feel tired and finding myself on my own I might have let out a slightly delirious laugh at this point as I enjoyed the sensation of being slightly dry…
We turned inland around mile 16 along more undulating footpaths and more swampy mud. A few miles further on and (shock horror) I actually began to overtake people. My tactic of starting steady and never running too fast for the first half was paying off, and those who had underestimated the mud and hills were beginning to struggle. Or maybe it was the jelly babies I had been munching on. At mile 17 I thought I was going mad as I heard a strange grunting sound from my left. Too my surprise I wiped rain off my glasses and spotted an enormous pig snuffling around a muddy field. It’s the little things that keep you going during a mad endurance race!
We rejoined the road at mile 18 and I overtook a couple more people. Feeling hungry I refuelled with Kendal mint cake, which turns out to be an excellent race snack as it’s easy to eat and full of energy (I should probably test race foods before the race itself, but that would involve being far too organised). We followed the same road we had run out on until mile 20 and another turn back inland. Mile 20 actually made me smile: only 7 more miles to go and I was feeling great! By this point I had run just over 4 hours, and not wanting to think too much about times, there was the faint hope in the back of my mind that I would beat my target time of 6 hours (based on last year’s results and finishing somewhere about half way down the pack). Between 20 and 23 miles we climbed steadily uphill and my pace slowed as I forced my legs to keep on running slowly rather than walking on every steep part. Strange muscles I never knew I had were now aching and my lack of training was playing at the back of my mind.
Mile 25 and we were back at the bottom of the mountain once more in the rain. To finish us off the race organisers decided that instead of going around the mountain, we should go straight over it. The path was near vertical. The only way to get up was to put my hands on my knees and force a semi-brisk walk. I overtook some more people, including some half mararthoners who started an hour after us and had joined up with our route by now (this is a 15 mile ‘half’ marathon after all…). At the top of the windswept and rainy mountain were the lovely mountain rescue people in stylish fluorescent yellow waterproofs offering encouraging words such as “be careful, it’s a bit of scramble now”. “Scramble?! Eek!” was my immediate thought. From the top (700 feet) we had a near vertical plunge down to the race finish. My thighs were screaming by this point, but my watch showed 26 miles, which was by now, my longest run ever. Better still, I was on just over 5 and a half hours and the chances of finishing in under 6 hours seemed possible!
There at the bottom of the hill after a slow and painful plod down (the damage limitation method) I spotted the finishing flags waving in the breeze. Nearly there! I put on a quick spurt of speed thinking it would be straight and easy to the finish, but was greeted by a lady directing the ultra runners off on their extra 10km route. She pointed me off to the right to finish. Feeling exhausted I forced my legs to keep going along a twisting path through trees. My watch was getting closer to 27 miles, but the finish was nowhere in sight! A short flight of steps nearly drove me to exhausted tears, but I struggled up them. Then I caught sight of the flags again and forced myself to pick up speed. I crossed the line with the biggest grin on my face, feeling exhausted, hungry, wet, muddy, but absolutely ecstatic at not only running the longest (distance and time) race of my life, but also surviving the deepest mud and the steepest hills.
The winner completed the marathon in a heroic 03:57:07
Simon Goodwin came 13th (out of 107 finishers) in 04:54:02
Leonie Clitherow came 57th (12th female) in 05:52:59
Link to my Garmin page showing the race profile etc: http://connect.garmin.com/jsPlayer/432770846