I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon, with the rain pouring down outside. On Saturday, I’m scheduled to be running my 24th marathon: Trail Marathon Wales (TMW).
Started in 2012 to help promote Coed y Brenin (the King’s Forest) near Dolgellau, North Wales, as a running centre, TMW is a 26-mile course over mixed terrain, with some 4,000 feet of ascent (for comparison, the London Marathon has a total climb of less than 600 feet).
That ‘mixed terrain’ covers some 9,000 acres of mostly hilly woodland and some open moorland, with runners using access (fire) roads – which in dry weather can be hard on the feet – and narrow paths, with a number of steep ascents and descents. There are some sections which are soft even in dry conditions; after rain, you can sink into them almost to your knees!
Until TMW was launched, Coed y Brenin was largely unknown as somewhere for people to run – although it has long been established as a biking venue, with well-known routes including the Black Bull (Tarw Du in Welsh; the first purpose-built mountain bike trail in the UK).
Now, however, there is a vibrant running centre with its very own website: runcoedybrenin.com
Last man standing
I was sitting on the toilet when the starting gun went
This will be my eighth time at TMW, which means that I’ll have done them all. I’m hoping that, if I can only keep on turning up and finishing the race, then I’ll eventually get a prize for being the last man standing, so to speak.
I’m certainly not going to win anything for my running performances – the best I’ve managed in my seven previous attempts has been third place in the male 60 plus category (which is not as much of an achievement as it perhaps sounds, as there were only 12 in the group – and the winner was about an hour quicker than me!).
My diary shows that the first TMW saw some 224 finishers, with me at 126. Not bad, considering that I was sitting on the toilet when the starting gun went, which meant I started six minutes after the pack. (I’ve since learned to arrive in plenty of time, as there are always queues for the loos.)
That first TMW took me just under five hours (4.57.31 to be precise), so my 2018 time of 4.37.27 wasn’t too bad at all – especially as I ran just five months after knee surgery.
2018 was wet, says my diary. And chilly. And hard. I was placed 114 of 317 finishers (there were apparently seven who started but didn’t finish – DNF as the results record; one of my nightmares is getting a DNF against my name for any of the races I start).
Best start training
And so, with TMW8 almost upon me, my mind has been turning to my marathon preparations.
I don’t mean that I’ve suddenly thought ‘I’m running 26 miles on Saturday, best get some training in’.
Rather, as happens before every race (don’t be too easily impressed: I usually only do three a year – two marathons and the Snowdon Race) I look back over my training schedule, comparing the number and quality of this year’s outings to those of last year (and sometimes further back). That’s where the diary comes in handy. It’s not full of chit chat or observations about the neighbours; instead, it’s a record of runs, dog walks and other activities (including the occasional wildcamp).
Despite having had knee surgery in January 2018, I did a surprising amount of running in the weeks before last year’s TMW. Although I thought I’d done more training this year, the diary says there’s little difference.
But no matter. I am where I am. My last training run has been done. This week, exercise will be limited to dog walks as I save my energy for the marathon. Experience has convinced me this is the best way for me to prepare (for me; that’s important – other runners will have their own approaches).
Pasta, pasta …
The aim is to arrive at the forest car park on marathon morning with my body desperate for exercise. Not, as has sometimes been the case, desperate to rest.
Pre-race preparations also involve eating properly. For me, this now means that for the week before the race, I eat pasta twice a day! Lunchtime is a cup of packet pasta; teatime is ‘proper’ pasta, usually with plenty of protein thrown in.
Since I started this regime a few years ago, I haven’t suffered the emptiness that I used to – the lack of energy that sees runners hit ‘the wall’ after 20-22 miles. All that carbohydrate swilling around my system is stored, as I understand it, in the form of glycogen – an easily absorbed supply of energy.
It might sound odd, but it works for me, whereas the odd plate of pasta an evening or two before running 26.2 just doesn’t.
Anyway, I’ve done all my pre-race running (this year’s longest run was 15.4 miles; highest weekly total was 30.06; my dodgy knees won’t take much more) and am now focusing on my dietary needs. So far, so good.
Kit, of course. I did my last run wearing the clothes and shoes I intend to use on race day: a Welsh dragon buff, short-sleeved tee shirt sporting my very own DoodlyDog logo, knee-length compression tights, my wonderful Hoka One One Mafate Speed 2 shoes (super-cushioned to help protect my knees) – and Darn Tough socks in a lovely blue-orange colourway to match the Hokas!
The advice is never to wear anything on race day that isn’t tried and tested. Advice that I usually follow, but have occasionally strayed from when a nice shiny pair of socks appears in the race goody bag (in truth, the socks that year were just a new pair of a style I’d worn, so I thought they’d be okay, which they were).
One item that will definitely be going into the race day pack will be a tin of Vaseline. Wearing a sodden running top for between four and five hours invariably means nipple trouble; many is the time I’ve finished a race to find one or both nipples sore and bleeding. Not nice.
It can also be used to stop chafing in other areas – but as this is a family-oriented blog, it’s probably best to gloss over just exactly where it should be applied.
For some reason that I haven’t yet fathomed, I have a tendency to refer to ibuprofen as an anti-depressant instead of an anti-inflammatory. As soon as I’ve said or thought it, I correct myself, but it’s a bit weird.
Anyway, in a similar way to taking lots of carbohydrate (pasta) on board ahead of the marathon, I’ve found it useful to load up with anti-inflammatories too.
Their prophylactic effect helps keep the pain in my knees at bay for most of the time I’m running and by also taking them for a couple of days after the race, the ibuprofen helps limit post-race pain as well.
It was my physio who recommended upping the dose from the occasional post-race anti-inflammatory; the drug apparently has a cumulative effect and so needs to build up in my system to give me maximum impact. As with the carbs, experience shows that it works.
Of course, the whole running experience is one great anti-depressant! Getting outdoors, away from the virtual world of the computer into the real world of mud, wind and rain (and even occasionally sun) does both body and soul the world of good.
Please don’t let it rain
So I’m all sorted. Apart from the weather. The forecast is for rain in the coming days (the postman told me today that the posties have been warned there could be a month’s rain in a few hours on Wednesday; I wonder if their forecasts are more accurate than the ones the rest of us get?).
I don’t like running in the rain. There’s nothing much of me (race weight is about nine stone six) and I chill easily. A bit of drizzle is okay, but please don’t send me out for 26 miles in heavy, proper Welsh rain.
Perhaps I should pack waterproof socks? It’s not really a joke: after very heavy rain one year, the race was re-routed the day before so as, my imagination told me, to avoid the potential for short runners disappearing from view in the worst of the boggy areas.
Indeed, in the first four years there were three different routes, making TMW an interesting proposition, though not one with great potential for a personal best (PB) time, as it was hard to compare like with like.
Who knows what this year will bring? There’s nothing I can do about the weather. And I have to finish the race if I’m to stand any chance of being the last man standing – the only person to have done all TMWs. If not this year, then maybe next …
Trail running mecca
From small beginnings, race organiser Matt Ward has grown Coed y Brenin into a really impressive running venue. There are trails of varying lengths and difficulty and even a shop – at which you can hire a pair of Salomon shoes to test on the trails.
With a series of events staged throughout the year (I did the Winter Trail Half in January) Matt has done a great job in developing not only interest in the area as a place to run, but also in encouraging people from all over the UK and elsewhere, to try trail running and/or to take on the challenge of a marathon.
Just imagine what that’s done for the local economy!
Cheers, Matt – it’s been great. Just hope I’m up to it again on Saturday …