Monday, 24 January 2011

Anglesey Coastal Trail Series Marathon 22nd January 2011

  Having managed to negotiate the Christmas and New Year break with a surprising (for me) amount of discipline with regard to diet and my training, this race was preceded by a week of thoroughly enjoyable, yet non-specific, Arctic Survival training skills with the boys in Norway.

I had been feeling fairly strong the week before that running consistently having come off a few days down in Exmoor with Lotte staying at the Blue Ball Inn (I cannot recommend this place enough – if you are looking for accom for the Exmoor race – this is the place, on the course and incredibly hospitable, great food and great atmosphere). Our time had been spent on long walks and runs on the trails that make up and surround the Exmoor marathon course, so my holiday training in that respect couldn’t have been better - it’s a real shame I won’t be around for Exmoor this year – it’s a fantastically challenging and beautiful course, I guess I’ll have to settle for the bleak Arctic tundra ;-)

After the week of training in Norway however, I’d felt somewhat sluggish on my runs, and so little was left to do but to hope that I’d find some semblance of form come the race.

With Oli deciding to recover fully from his injury at Gower (very sensible) it was down to Jay and I to fly the Team Arktix flag in Anglesey. We set off lunchtime on Friday for the long drive up, and camped about 10 minutes from the race start. We caught up with Jack Wilkinson, a member of Team Pole Position, (also racing to the North Pole this April) and went for some food in a nearby pub.  After a glass of whisky in the tent before bed we all camped down for the night.    Despite a decent frost on the car Saturday morning, we had been more than a little toasty in our nanok sleeping bags and tent.   Our gear, whilst perfect for Arctic conditions, and good practice in terms of personal admin to keep using, can only be described as overkill for Anglesey on a balmy January evening.

With ruthless efficiency we pulled pole, and drove over to the race start.  Jay set off in the early wave leaving Jack and I to pass time in the car before the main start (unfortunately, we had finished all the whisky the night before).

It was good to see a couple of familiar faces from the Transalpine on the start line, and after the usual safety briefing, without delay, we were off.

I set off at a relatively decent pace, wanting to get a little ahead of the game before the course broke off into more technical trails.  Up to the first checkpoint the course was fantastic – slippery rock and uneven winding paths – just my kind of trail! I normally set off fast, settle down and then push towards the end, and so was not surprised to see 4 or 5 pass me over the next 10 or so miles.

A picturesque run that hugs the coastline for the first 15 or so miles before an inland loop, I would have preferred slightly hillier terrain but was feeling relatively comfortable.

Just after half way I caught up with Jay on about 2 hours.  He had had a fall, but judging by how long it had taken me to catch him, I knew he must have been going well.  He seemed in high spirits and so I moved on, just as Iona (to her surprise leading the women’s field by about 30seconds or so) came alongside.

We chatted for a while and I managed to hang with her for about 30 or so minutes.  Her pace was fractionally too much for me (not to my surprise), and so she pulled away.

I had focused quite intently on getting my food in during this race, normally only taking on a handful of jelly beans and a biscuit at each aid station and a gel towards the end, I had meticulously been taking on a gel every 40-45 minutes.  Despite the increased energy levels, the flatter terrain in the midsection had taken its toll and I was beginning to tighten up.   Time passed quickly and before I knew it ,I was approaching the end facing a steep and prolonged climb inside the last mile.

Great! Finally some of the hills I’d been hoping for!  I knew it was just a short descent to the finish, and was looking forward to using my descending ability to good effect and pick off a couple of places in the final half mile.  I pushed on up the hill, but started to feel uncharacteristically tight in my calves.  I’ve never suffered from full on cramping in my calves and so just kind of hoped it wouldn’t happen.   Over the top, and Wham! It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my legs.  I actually started to laugh, thinking how ridiculous I must have looked, hobbling along, not making it more than a couple of paces at a time before they ceased up again.  I tried to curb my laughter as there were some actually quite precarious sections on the descent, and didn’t want to turn this disappointing finish into a DNF!  Down the flatter last section that I’d normally fly down I continued to hobble and lost yet another place, getting some quite patronising yet well intentioned encouragement from a runner of the half I’d overtaken on the ascent!

With little more to do than limp home and hope that I didn’t lose any more places I finished in 21st place and 4 hours 21.   Well done to Jay who ran sub 6 for the first time on a CTS course, a fantastic effort.  To Jack, a superb first marathon, only 19 and finishing strong not far behind me! Of course congrats to Iona for winning the ladies and Gareth for 3rd in a competitive men’s field!

Despite small set backs in consistency, my running is continually improving and as ever I look forward to the next CTS race and catching up with you all again! South Devon Ultra next up, see you there!