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Trail Marathon Wales by James MacKeddie

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Trail Marathon Wales by James MacKeddie

After shooting a day of Run Coed Y Brenin with Anna Frost last year, I really wanted to explore more of the trails in a race environment. I'd run the half marathon course in-between shoots, so logically decided to sign up to the marathon in June.

Trail Marathon Wales is set in the forests of Coed Y Brenin, the original mountain bike trail centre, which has evolved into a focus point for all things off road. With mtb, run and walking trails, it's an inclusive area devoid of cars. You can feel like you're remote, without ever being too far from the visitor centre.... well, unless you tackle the beast or take on the 2nd half of the marathon course ;)

At 26.2 miles, 1200 meters of ascent and technical sections, the course was relatively fast, with some stings thrown in.

This was the first race under Paul Giblin's (Pyllon) direction and it was part of a training block, easy pace. A race, easy pace?

I found myself on the start line, in the middle of the recent heatwave on June 17 th, with aching legs from some hard training sessions and a temperature I wouldn’t normally do anything in. I’m sure my Scottish heritage freaks out anytime it goes above 17 degrees!

Setting off, the single track was narrow, as a sea of competitors weaved up the zig zags on the way to the first fire road climb. Having put myself at the back of the pack in most races, I took the advice of staying at the front, let people pass you rather than fight your way to the front (of course, if you are expecting to come in the mid to rear end of the race, position appropriately). The heat was intense, as I wore my race vest to give myself the option of drinking throughout the race, not only at aid stations, as well as eat my home made Mountain Fuel pancakes as and when required.

As the lead guys pushed on, the pace in the small pack I found myself in was pretty fast at 8.20 min/mile on the ups and down to 6.45 min/mile on the descents. With long sections of fire roads, twisting technical trails and trees as far as the eye could see, the course provided a lot of variety.

I could feel my body heating up and avoided looking at my watch as much as possible. I run better on feel, especially when the environment throws a curved ball and average metrics can be as much as a hindrance as a help. Stare at it long enough and your mind will play games.

Around mile 10 I was catching some of the runners who’d pushed out ahead. The heat was claiming victims and the option of dropping out at mile 13 was tempting, even more so when you had to pass the half marathon finish to start the second half of the course. Fumbling around at an aid station, trying to get my nutrition sorted cost me some time, which led me to push hard to catch up with lot places… it’s really not worth the effort with the distance left to cover.

The second half was far more technical in design. The climbs required rock hoping and many started to walk early on. With the heat, reactions were slowing down and temperature regulation was key. By this time, those around me had been so for the majority of the distance and we began to chat to pass the miles. Aid stations were a quick swig of water and electrolyte, before a kicking back into gear.

In stark contrast to the first half, the second’s fire roads were exposed, with limited tree canopies. The heat cranked up a notch as the sun moved overhead, given it was now midday.

Despite feeling drained, my mile splits remained relatively consistent and I pushed on past the monumental 20 mile mark and the final miles couldn’t come quick enough. The final 6 had a few final ups, though were predominantly downhill, pounding fire roads, while the sound of the finish line PA boomed across the valley. It was visible, but there was plenty of miles of running ahead.

As I kicked for the final 500 meters, my entire body fizzed. I was cooking and my throat was dry. My body wanted to stop and rehydrate, shade beckoned. Crossing the line, I could see 4hrs, 11 mins 55 seconds looking at me. Prior to the race, I’d checked times and knew 4 hours would get me 40 th or so the year before. It was to much surprise I discovered I was 25th overall!

Adapting to the conditions, managing my hydration and running to the line had paid off. You never know what lies ahead or what other competitors will do, run your own race and the results will come.

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