The tale of the Royal Welsh Trail…..

When Run Wales ask you if you’ll take part in a race and blog about it, you reply with a ‘hell yeah!’… Then perhaps if I had done a little bit more research on the race before saying yes, I’d realised I’d signed myself up for a half marathon trail run……….

I’m a road runner by nature, not a trail runner, I’ve never run on trails, so this was going to be a challenge.  My brain then tries to justify it……

‘It’ll be an experience’

‘It’s a great opportunity’

‘If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t have to do another one’

‘How hard can it really be?’

So I decided to embrace it. Let’s be positive Johnson!  It’s a beautiful part of the country smack bang in the middle of Builth Wells, so it’ll be a nice scenic run.

Even got myself some trail running shoes….. The bird with all the gear and no idea!

Race Day was warm and muggy and with the race not starting until gone midday, I knew it would be more than a little challenging. There were only two pens for this race, so I was in the second large pen at the back of it with a lot of the 10k runners too…… brain switches into race / panic mode….. ‘I need to get out of this pen and onto the trail and QUICK!’. I did look at the course route beforehand but wasn’t prepared for how small the running space was for all the runners going out at the same time….

I shot off, out of the showground and round the first bend to be greeted with a small winding hilly track.  Two tyre tracks and a lot of grass verge….. How on earth do I overtake on this? No chance.

First hill done, then second, then third……you get the gist? Have I mentioned yet that the route is pretty much 8k of hills (for the 10k route and 16k for the half as you run the same route twice), then you get some flat trail? Luckily, being a run leader in Blackwood, we hill train a lot!  We can’t get away without doing one run where there’s a massive hill involved.

The good thing about all those hills was that you got to run back down them when you reached the top, allowing some time to get your breath back and get ready for the next one…….

That is until the hill at 6k…. which was the ultimate in hills. Mudsville…..Thick squelchy stuff, that flicked up off the back of the trainers from the runners in front of you, which proceeded to fling itself up the front of your body as it came off their trainers! Never have I tried to get up a hill so fast in my life!  There was a bit of walking going on at this point by a lot of runners, purely down to the fact your trainers were stuck in the mud and you couldn’t pick your feet up to run.  I’m sure the organisers must have gone down that hill with a hosepipe as the rest of the trail was dry as a bone.

When I finally saw the 10k sign, I was happy to throw the towel in and turn off as the first round was so hard. The steward at the turn point, then shouted ‘you’re doing the half love, you need to go this way’ and pointed me towards the road to the right rather than the turning point to the left….. Oh well, no giving up now, crack on with round two Johnson!

At this point, my head is frantically trying to remember the route the first time round, to remind myself what I had coming.

Hills. Cow pats. Hills. Cow pats on hills. Mudsville! Arrrrrrrrrgh! The reminder of the first round of the mud filled hill is now all I can concentrate on.  How on earth do I get up that again? Luckily there were only just over 300 of us doing the half marathon so the course had emptied considerably after round one.  The fields seemed to open up and that second run round was much more enjoyable.  Yes, enjoyable! Mudsville crept up very quickly and as I started my second ascent, the first round of runners had churned the mud up so much the air was now filled with what I can only describe as ‘odour du cess pit’. Trying to hold your breath to mask the smell and run up a hill is not one of my finest ideas…..

The second run of the route flew by and before I knew it, I was running down the hill towards the turning point to enter the showground again.  I could see the finish…. Relief! Covered in mud, beetroot red and with a broken trail running shoe, I could hear Diva Claire shouting ‘come on bird!’ (Everyone calls me bird). Finished in a respectable 1:54 the course was slightly short (not that I’m complaining) and I received my first bit of wooden bling!

I’m now looking for another trail race…. Even though that was the hardest race I’ve done to date, I’m a glutton for punishment, love a good challenge and if I don’t keep pushing myself to work harder, who will?