Yesterday I did my first trail marathon and it was brilliant! I’ve wanted to do one for a while and a friend who lives in North Wales recommend the inaugural Pen Llyn Coastal Trail Marathon. This is part of a small race series (including a 10k and half marathon) organised by local running legend, Huw.
I signed up relatively last minute, about two months before. Due to this, and a couple of other reasons, my training wasn’t quite a solid as it could have been (to say the least). But I got some miles in and did all of my long runs on the trails in Epping Forest.
I was quite nervous in the days leading up to the race. My ankle had been playing up a little and the weather forecast was terrible. When I went to register, the day before, the woman at the desk joked that ‘someone’s actually turned up for the marathon!’ and told us that only 32 people had bought a place. I’m more used to running marathons in a field of about 32 thousand, and it occurred to me that there was a solid chance I could actually come last. Oh god.
I woke up on the morning of the race to grey skies and opened the door to confirm that yes, it is absolutely pissing it down with rain. I felt quite sorry for myself and was tempted to bail. But my friend – hardcore badass that she is – just laughed, gave me her waterproof jacket and told me that it was time to leave.
We drove down to the golf club where the race began. There were even fewer people than expected – a total of 27 had turned up! Everyone looked like they meant business, although the atmosphere was very friendly.
After a briefing we were led out to the start of the race. I set out at a pretty steady pace before having to stop to sort out my headphones and quickly finding myself in last place. Oh dear.
For the first few miles I followed the handful of people who were in front of me, and decided to mimic what they did, walking the uphills and softer parts of the sandy beaches. I chatted to some of the other runners, including Eileen, who was doing the race as training for an ultramarathon and a man who had run another marathon the day before. What is this crazy company that I now keep?
My friend Lucy, her partner Mark, baby Clover, and Kip the dog met me at the half marathon turning point. I stopped for hugs, a quick chat and some Haribo before continuing. I was really pleased to realise that I actually wanted to carry on!
The route then headed up and around the peninsula and it started to get really beautiful. The clouds were clearing and I could see a little of why it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
It was around this point that I realised I had more in my legs than I was giving myself credit for. I didn’t need to walk so many of the uphills and I could keep a bit more of a consistent pace. I overtook the women I’d been behind for a while and even said out loud to myself a few times ‘I can do this!’ Which felt as good as I’m sure it looked mental.
Coming back down to sea level the views started to get really beautiful and there were a few more people out on the route. I was cheered on by a family brandishing buckets and spades and many people wished me good luck. Or at least I think they did – it was all in Welsh!
I soon realised that I was coming up to the check point and was thrilled to realise that I’d made the race cut-off. I hadn’t been checking my distance at all and had been hoping I’d at least made it past the half way point, but there I was – 16 miles down.
My mini cheer squad were also there, joined by a friend of Lucy’s – Jen – and her little girl, Annie. It was so great to see them all again and I stopped for water, chat and banana bread. I think I stayed a little too long as one of the marshals joked that this was a actually race and did I want him to get me a pint from the pub?
The next few miles of the trail weren’t quite so scenic and much of it was spent on the road. I didn’t mind too much, though, as it was great to know that I’d soon be meeting back up with the route after that big loop and be on the home stretch.
However, I’d forgotten quite how much beach I had to run along. And on the way back the tide was in, so I was running on soft sand for most of the way. Man that is tough! And it was also quite odd to be running through family games of football and sand-castles.
I was really pleased to get back to Tin Man Hill and the final feed station. With only five miles to go I felt really happy, and was pleased to be heading back up and onto the trails and away from the sand. The view from the top of the hill was beautiful and I high fived the marshal – a lovely, chatty man awaiting runners in his deck chair – and got on my merry way.
I felt like I flew along for the next mile or two – it just felt great. Coming down the other side I was thrilled to see Lucy et al at the last cheer point and waved and smiled like a lunatic as I ran past. God knows what everyone on the beach thought.
As is the way with marathons, the last couple of miles felt like it may never end. But at the same time I actually felt pretty great and I even overtook a couple of other runners! I’d assumed that everyone else was miles ahead of me, so that came as nice a surprise.
The finish itself was such a cute anti climax – a couple of flags planted in the sand on the beach, with a handful of people clapping – but I loved it. The whole race had been so friendly, warm and unlike any other than I have done, so it felt quite apt.
I spent the rest of the day in thrilled disbelief that I’d actually managed a trail marathon. I even came 16th out of 27, and 5th woman (out of 11), which is most definitely not the last place I’d convinced myself I’d be in. Result!
I’ve been slowly rekindling my love of running over the last year or so, but after yesterday I know that my ‘never again’ vow after the New York Marathon has been well and truly broken.