Snowdonia Marathon – Helen’s story

15 weeks ago it occurred to me that I only had just about enough time to put in some training for Snowdonia Marathon. Most training plans are based on 16 weeks so it was just about doable; as long as I didn’t get ill, or injured.

Two weeks into the plan I decided that a niggling injury was getting worse and I needed to get it treated and rest up. Diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, I knew that this was not going to be a quick fix.
Fast forward 15 weeks and I am stood on the start line in the absolute pouring rain, of one of the toughest marathons in the country knowing that there was almost 1000m of ascent. However, I had a strategy; run the flat parts and the downhills and walk the hills. Seemed straight forward enough. Except I have ran marathon distance before and I know how much it hurts. Hell, it’s a marathon it’s supposed to hurt!

To this point my training had consisted of 2 x 10 mile runs and 1 x half marathon. I thought that at the end of this marathon I would be writing a very different blog saying DO NOT RUN A MARATHON ON SO LITTLE TRAINING. IT HURTS. IT IS STUPID. But my experience at Snowdonia was very different to that and for that reason I am so glad I decided to run.
With my strategy sorted, my lack of training also meant that I had absolutely no pressure on myself. I had not spent weeks training for something that could all go wrong on the day. There was an 18 mile cut off and I was going to try and make it. After that, I know I could walk the last eight miles if I had to.

Cue a load (and shed load) of rain and we were off. The first hill came at around four miles up through Pen Y Pas to the Youth Hostel at the top. As soon as the ascent started I began a fast walk. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I had overtaken runners and walkers, so this felt good, and had also seen a number of runners I knew from different events. It was ace chatting as we went up and up and up. The next part was my favourite of the whole run. A glorious swooping descent that went on for at least three miles, I think at 8:32 mile came up on my Garmin! The second part of the descent was trail and you could immediately tell who the hard-core fell runners were! Some were just leaping down like gazelles; it was a joy to see whilst I was watching every step!

By mile nine I had broken down the run into chunks; 10 miles, Half Distance, 16 Miles (around metric marathon distance), 18 mile cut off, 20 miles and the last 10km. At this stage I still felt good and was holding myself back to make sure I didn’t crumble at the end.

Half distance was here! Hooray! Now over halfway I could count down the miles, and get the next hill out the way. This one felt a bit harder. It seemed to go on forever, but I stuck to my strategy and walked the whole thing. At the top of the hill, it all felt a bit desolate. Here I changed into a woolly hat and gloves, the wind was biting, it had stopped raining but I was still soaked through and the walk had meant I was getting cold. With still 10 miles to go some time dilly dallying to stay safe was more important than the time it was going to take me to finish.

The top of the hill was just over 16 miles into the marathon, so I knew the cut off was in the bag and getting there meant another milestone was also in the bag. I had warmed up and I had caught up with Lina so we ran together to 20 miles. Here we treated ourselves to a small walk and a drink to prep for the next two miles and the final hill. By now we were both hurting. I was trying to blank it out and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Lina was happy walking for a little longer so we agreed to meet up at the end, and, worried about getting cold, again I carried on to the next hill at 22 miles.

NOTHING could have prepped me for the last four miles of that run. I knew it was 2 up and 2 down to the finish, but what I didn’t realise was how far two miles was on an extremely steep descent or trail. I power walked up that hill as fast as I could and just kept picking people off on the way up, runners or walkers. This felt great and the end was getting closer and closer, as was the ascent to the finish. The top was muddy, slippy, wet and very cold. The path was narrow with runners trying to negotiate the puddles, rocks and mud. By now my feet were soaked through, but still anticipating the ascent kept me focused. And here was the peak and WHHHAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! Looking over the top was more of the same, muddy, slippy, rocky and very steep for as far as I could see not the sweeping down I had been anticipating! Determined not to waste a downhill I was running this regardless! My feet were sopping. Sliding all over the place in my shoes it was really hurting my toes. This was NOT a job for road shoes!

So close now we ran into the town to the cheers of the locals and supporters. Incidentally the majority of the support was in Welsh, which was fantastic. Around the last corner I began to well up. I had run 26.2 (finished at 26.33) against the odds and against my better judgement. Everything was hurting so much. The emotion was overwhelming. A huge hug from Jodie at the end set me right! (Thanks so much Jodie, that hug meant the world.)

So yes, it hurt and it probably was stupid. Very stupid. But I now have an appreciation of my body that I never had before. I was amazed that I had done it. I was amazed that my legs kept going, one foot in front of the other the whole time it was hurting. I was amazed that I was not going to give into those hills and probably walked up them quicker than I could have run anyway! Amazing. What we have is ours and is bigger than us. My untrained legs kept going despite the hills and despite the pain. Well done legs. Thanks body, I will never under estimate your strength again. But next year, I will be kinder on you.

Well done. Da iawn.

Snowdonia Marathon 24th October 2015

(Lina, I hope you’re joining me!)


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