Yesterday, John and I completed the first of our two big races, the Excalibur half marathon, a 21 kilometre trail race in the Clwydian mountain range with over 900 metres of ascent. As a friend commented on my Facebook post, a gruelling route!
The evening before, we parked up and had tea in the car park at the bottom of the Jubilee footpath up Moel Famau, where the race would start. Our friend Dick joined us in his camper van as he was taking part in the Excalibur marathon as a walker. It rained all night and when we awoke in the morning the cloud was low and the day was grey, windy and damp. At least we wouldn’t be in danger of getting sunstroke!
We saw Dick off and registered, and our kit was checked. Because of the nature of the route we had to carry full waterproofs, a map and compass and some food and water. An hour after the walkers started, it was time for the runners to set off. The horn sounded, the heavens opened, and we set off, soon absolutely drenched!
John quickly left me behind, and I resisted the urge to go too fast, settling into a comfortable pace on the forest tracks around Moel Famau. The first hour went well and passed very quickly and I dared to think I might finish faster than I’d hoped, in 2 and a half hours.
After a long uphill drag from Cilcain to the foot of Moel Dwyll, we dropped down towards Llangynhafal. I’d been looking forward to this bit on lovely grassy paths but, unfortunately my trainers malfunctioned. I thought my socks were bunching up under my feet so I stopped to pull them up… strangely they felt ok. As I carried on, the pain increased so I stopped and removed my left trainer to find it was the insole of the shoe that had bunched up under the arch of my foot. I flattened it out, repeated the process with the other trainer and continued. However, it wasn’t long until they had rucked up again and the pain returned.
Shortly after this, I arrived at the bottom of the hill that I’d been dreading. 1.5 kilometres and 250 metres of steep ascent back up to the Offa’s Dyke footpath, from where the ascent becomes more undulating to the top of Moel Famau. Apart from the odd super fit marathon runner that came flying past, everyone was walking, breathing heavily, willing it to end. My calves were screaming at me to stop and I gave in a couple of times to stretch and shake them out, trying not to cry! This quarter of an hour was my lowest point in the race and, I have to admit, I did even think about quitting. However, knowing that would mean I was letting my sponsors down, I dug deep, found my inner strength and got on with it.
As we reached the plateau at the top, the marshal took my number and shouted ‘marathon runners left, half runners right’. ‘Thank God I’m doing the half!’, I thought. My spirits lifted as I remembered the next section was downhill and would give my calves a rest.
From here, I knew I’d finish. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t finish within 2 and a half hours but I just kept plodding, running the flatter bits and walking the steep hills. The Jubilee tower on the top of Moel Famau, which on the long, steep hill, had seemed so far away, gradually got nearer. I said this to a man who I’d been keeping pace with and we chatted a bit about the route and how difficult the race was. As the last steep hill came into view he let out an expletive and I reassured him, that once this one was done, it was pretty much all down hill to the finish.
Walking up that last big hill, the large stone steps at least seemed to be kinder to my calves than walking up a steep slope, but my heart was pounding and my breathing was heavy. Finally, I spotted the bench at the top, from where I knew the gradient would become kinder, and soon the summit tower appeared from the mist. I’d done it! I’d reached the top! I gave my number to the marshal at the checkpoint and ran off down the hill, looking at my watch. Maybe I’d make 2 hours 40 minutes, the time I’d originally said I’d be really pleased with.
My insoles had flattened back into place on the uphills but now they were bunched up under my feet again and every footstep was painful. ‘I’m not stopping now’, I thought. ‘Suck it up!’ I was really tired and my legs were aching but I was determined not to stop, knowing there were only a couple of kilometres to go. The runner in front walked the small uphills on the section but I refused to let myself. At last, I rounded the final corner and saw the car park, and shortly afterwards I heard John shouting and waving at me. I grinned, crossed the finish line and looked at my watch 2 hours 39 minutes 54 seconds! I’ll take that!
I collapsed onto a wall and for a few moments I was too exhausted to take my medal and goodie bag from the smiling marshals. The race was my toughest so far and I can’t say I enjoyed the second half. However, I’m pleased with my achievement and, all in all, it was a good day. It was well run and the marshals were all really friendly and helpful. I hope lots of money was raised for Claire House Hospice, the organisers of the race.
Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me. So far I have raised £175 for Claire House and £110 for Mountain Rescue. But it doesn’t end here. On 24th July, John and I are attempting the Snowdon trail half marathon. The ascent is huge and, pretty much, all in one go, making it much harder than Excalibur, as the 2 profiles in the picture show. Astonishingly, they are to the same scale. What am I doing!? If anyone would like to help me raise more money for these great causes and support my attempt to run up Snowdon, I’d really appreciate it.