I’d been waiting a long time for this one. I first entered on January 1st 2014. Unfortunately last year I had to give my place up due to a clash with the OCR World Championships. As soon as entry opened again on the same date this year I signed straight up and nothing was stopping me this time.
Renowned as the UK’s toughest marathon I was relishing the challenge. I’ve been running very well of late and although it was a rarity that I was going into a race with no specific time or placing target I was in confident mood.
It was an early start for the 3 and a half hour drive to North Wales and as soon as we crossed the border the heavens well and truly opened. Registration was at the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre which was packed full of runners trying to stay dry for as long as possible before heading off on the 10 minute walk to the start line.
I jogged this as a warm up wading my way through the near two thousand entrants to get towards the front. I wasn’t expecting to be one of the leaders by any means but didn’t wasn’t to get stuck in congestion.
It had a real big race feel to it with plenty of lead vehicles set to go and several camera crews and media in attendance.
A 10-1 countdown got the race under way and I was off. From viewing the course profile I knew there were three significant hills to get up and down. The first of which coming pretty early on so I knew I couldn’t go out too hard but wanted to get away from the crowds before settling down into my running.
I was feeling good and rather than the first hill being the steep climb I’d imagined it was a long gradual incline. I was fresh and didn’t find this a problem passing quite a few runners on my way to the top 370 meters above sea level.
What goes up must come down and a much steeper descent followed on testing stony terrain. I’m always cautious in such conditions, especially with the rain still lashing down. I managed to knock out two sub six minute miles but it seemed all of the runners I’d passed going up had retaken their places in front of me on the way down.
To my surprise a long section of flattish running followed and I was in my element. I gained several places registering plenty of sub 6:30 miles.
According to the live course tracker I reached the half way point in 1:24:12 and I’d just passed my Dad, who had travelled with me to support, as he nearly always does, who informed me that I was in 29th position. I was really happy with this but knew I had two more big hills to come, the next of which was immediately upon me.
This was another steady incline, it lasted for approximately two miles but ‘only’ climbed 200 meters above sea level. Just prior to this I’d managed to catch a group of runners so we all had a good battle, pushing each other all the way up as our positioning constantly changed.
When reaching the summit, for the first time, the weather began to get to me. It was still raining hard so my clothes were completely wet through. A cold breeze meant my temperature quickly decreased reducing my energy levels. Luckily this course was lined with fuel stations. You were never more than a couple of miles away from one and the next was in sight. I took in some water and an electrolyte drink as well as half of my packet of Shot Blocks I’d carried with me. Just down the road was another station, this one set up by some locals giving out orange slices. I took in one of those too and started to feel good again.
I knew from here only one more notable hill remained and it wasn’t until mile 22. I’d been doing the maths and I knew a sub 3 hour clocking was possible. I’d never expected this beforehand and really appreciated how much of an achievement that would be on this course.
My strong pace remained but the next 6 miles seemed to go on for an age. Physically I was feeling fine but the mental battle had begun. I was able to use that new found finish time target as motivation but found myself yearning for that final hill to arrive knowing once I was up that only a downhill mile and a half remained.
When that hill did finally make an appearance though I quickly began to regret those thoughts. It was a beast. This was the very reason why this race has such a reputation for being so hard. It was 2 and a half miles of pure incline up to 376 meters above the sea. There was no let up what so ever.
I continued to run (or shuffle) for as long as my legs could possibly take before being forced to adapt a walk/ run strategy. The only comfort I was able to take was that almost all others around me were doing the same. I’d pick anything distinguishing in front of me and set a target to run to it before taking a walk. This continued until the summit was at last in view. From there I pushed with everything I had to run but just when I thought things couldn’t get any more punishing they did.
The relentless rain fall had caused a stream of water to flow down the entire width of the path meaning an ankle deep wade was now the task to reach the top.
My sub 3 hour goal had all but vanished although I was still clinging onto the hope that I could make up some of the time I’d lost on the last downhill run to the finish. Upon reaching it though I soon realised my pace wasn’t going to increase at all. The grass track had collected a mass of the rain and was as slippery as an ice rink. Just staying on my feet was now a huge task within itself.
I was sliding all over the place with my every move. There were runners who it seemed were willing to take more risks than I was who flew past me. Each and every one hit the ground within seconds though, some several times. My legs had given their all and I knew any unnatural movements would almost certainly cause the onset of cramp and a fall on this steep terrain could make for a serious injury. All I wanted to do now was get to the finish line but I wanted to reach it in one piece.
The welcome sight on pavement eventually came but the sheer drop continued. My legs couldn’t take much more of it as I hobbled my way down. Within that final mile at least 10, maybe 15 runners passed me which is a rarity as I’m normally one of the ones finishing the strongest. I turned a corner and there it was, the finish. 100 meters of flat, smooth running was all that stood between me and the completion of the UK’s toughest marathon. I was even able to muster a laboured sprint to the line. I had made it. Soaked to the bone, I stopped the clock at 3:05:51.
It wasn’t the sub 3 hour time I thought could have been achievable during the race but it was a mark I was more than satisfied with for such a gruelling course. I left Wales happy having ticked off another epic event.