On Saturday morning I awoke early with mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement. This was the day of the ‘Preseli Beast’ Marathon and I had over £2,200 of Sponsorship to go and run for.
The usual mind games ensued, twinges from tendons and the uncertainty as to how many layers to wear, what to eat – or not eat. The waiting is the worst part.
I am stood at the start line with a couple of hundred slightly insane runners. We race off to the impromptu symphony of drums, flutes, horns and the cheers of well-wishers. Smiles all around as the runners head out through the village – hero’s all. Lifted by the noise and encouragement.
Then into the forest and complete silence. The sounds of wheezing, coughing and spitting as the runners try to sort themselves out for the long day ahead. I decided to make an early break for it and jinked my way over tree roots to catch the front pack. Against all better judgement – I decided to see how long I could hang on to them.
The first climb sorted the pack out. The numbers dropping away as we tip toed up and up, weaving through sheep and rocks. Then on up to Rosebush quarry, the sun lighting up our faces as the first marshals came into sight, ringing bells and shouting encouragement.
I inhaled a bag of crisps – as we climbed up out of the quarry and onto the Preseli’s. I find I constantly eat on these things.
Then down to the first water point to see my daughter and her friends jumping up and down. Cheers of ‘come on Superman’ meet me and I remember why I wore this daft outfit. We are just 5.5 miles in and I could quite happily stop.
Climbing out towards the Gwaun valley, I lock in with the two front runners, determined to hold on. They are better than me and I know that one of them won the thing last year.
The stubborn side of me overrules common sense as we literally sprint down into the valley. Feet piercing the bogs and reeds. Reckless in our descent.
Pushing on to the next water station, I grab a banana and prepare for the climb back out. This is where I know I will be found out. Once again, I lock in behind the other two runners as they transition from one climb to the next effortlessly. You really can grow to dislike some people! Gradually a small gap opens between us, as I desperately keep pumping my legs to try and stay within range of them.
Finally, we hit the top and start to descend again, a panoramic view of Newport coastline opens up before me – and all exhaustion is temporarily blotted out. I can still see the back of the second runner in the distance, I am fearful of getting lost so I push harder on the descent this time. Feet flying and stumbling in equal parts. I catch them at Newport.
Newport is like an oasis. Katy has come with her daughter Rae to encourage me. I am on mile 11.5. More bananas, more water and a few jelly babies.
‘I bet you only do it for the jelly babies’ shouts someone. I am too tired to shout a retort, I just grin inanely and launch off after those two elusive runners. There is absolutely no one behind us now, I have to hang on or seriously risk getting lost.
I know what is coming next.
Carn Ingli in all its glory towers above our heads as we puff up the ‘steps of doom’ to do battle with this rocky outcrop. A well placed sign says ‘don’t look up!’ but it’s too late. Old Ingli has you now. It’s time to really dig in.
Astoundingly, the two front runners decide to try and run up it. I tab in behind them, humming a hymn to the rhythm and trying to ignore the cramp that has begun in my right calf muscle.
Despite my best efforts, they pull away from me, but I content myself with keeping them in sight. Walking this is not an option.
As I hit the rocky top part, I lurch at gorse bushes, managing a crazed style of stumble/dragging myself up with gloved hands.
Eventually I hit the top, to be greeted by more serious faced marshals who know the damage this climb will have done to my body. Both calves are cramping now. ‘You ok mate?’ asks one of them. I laugh slightly manically and say ‘Never better – where next?’
‘Head for that cairn and follow those two runners’ he shouts.
I limber down on to the grass and start to run, only to find that someone has stolen my legs! Cramp is now enjoying alternating between my quads and calves. Time for a cheese sandwich which I half eat and half choke upon as I strain every sinew to keep the leaders in sight.
I am about half way.
Down across fields, sometimes spotting a bobbing head, sometimes just guessing, I finally get onto a track and start to make up some time. It’s paracetamol time now to try and combat the cramp, along with gels and as much fluid as I can take on.
I am really on my own now, and there is much left to get through.
Climbing back out of the valley was probably the hardest part for me. The cumulative effect of the punishment had taken its toll and I felt my feet dragging to a walk as I tried to tell myself how blessed I am to be doing this.
My visit to PATCH comes to mind as I think of the wonderful clients and friends who have sponsored us. There’s stuff in the basement and I begin to run determinedly once again – although deep down I know I am slowing slightly.
A little fuzzy, I come up to a gate where a marshal tells me to head straight ‘on up’. For some reason my brain tells me to head straight ‘on’. Half a mile later I realise there are no markings and I am on the wrong track. I start to head up a steep climb to my left, telling myself it won’t matter. As I hit the top I can see that two other runners have now passed me on the correct route. I shrug, gulp some more fluids and trudge onwards – ever up. On and on.
A huge Welsh flag greets me on a rocky cairn and marshals point me back down towards Bynberian. I can see the road and what awaits me beyond that….
When I finally hit the 18 mile check point, I see my daughter and friends with ‘go superman signs’. My spirits lift and it’s more bananas and time to face the real monster of the day.
The beasts back.
This is the longest and harshest climb of the day and I have repeatedly trained this part. My weary legs seem to remember this route and I work my way ever upwards confidently. I am reeling in one of the early leaders who is now struggling at a fast walk. The wind whips about my head as I focus on making the top before him.
Breaking the top dead level with him, I start to accelerate, only to be greeted by new cramp in both Achilles. I’m just four miles from the finish now and I have to give myself a good talking to. Pick that pace up – now!
Reeling and wobbling down the path back to Rosebush I laugh at myself and what I must look like. Less Superman and more Stupid-man! Nonetheless, I have found a rhythm and the thought of the finish keeps me pushing.
Back into the forest, desperately watching out for those tree roots which could end all this hard work in one lack of concentration.
Back on to a gravel path. I can hear the drums now. I look at my watch. I have been 10-minute mile averaging. I have 7 minutes to cover the last mile if I want to break four hours.
I lift my eyes and pray a wheezing, crippled prayer. Staving off cramp in every direction I push down the road into Maenclochog to see Lisa and Carys shouting for me. The burners of sheer pride come on and I finish at a sprint, crashing into the finish terminal with nothing left but sheer exhaustion and happiness.
4th place, a good PB of 3 hours 58 minutes and some £2,200 raised for a very worthwhile charity.
I’m a bit stiff today, but it was worth it! Thank you all for sponsoring me.