29 March 2010

Treacherous and Greasy

Those were the words that stood out the most during my pre-race brief on Saturday. Treacherous and greasy. “What had I gotten myself into?” I asked myself for not the first nor the last time that day.

Kathleen and I had arrived in the quaint seaside town of Little Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales at about 7:30 in the morning. We were there for the Pembrokeshire Coastal Trail Marathon that I had been training the past few months for. The town itself was very small and was tucked in between two huge outcroppings of cliffs. Since we had arrived early, they allowed us to drive down and park in the town. The moment we parked and saw some of the competitors, I knew I was in for it. These were MEN and WOMEN. The caps are meant to denote just how fit and athletic looking they were. Most of the calf muscles we saw seemed to be the size of my waist. They were all decked out in the latest ‘adventure running’ gear and most were setting off or coming back from warm-up runs on the beach. As Kathleen turned and asked if I wanted help putting on the band-aids to protect my oh-so-sensitive nipples, I felt like a kid being sent off to my first day of indoor winter swim practice (sorry Mom, but that was awful). In short, I wanted to cry, turn around, and run home. However, not unlike those indoor winter swim sessions as a kid, I apparently wanted to do this. So we affixed the ‘nipple-aids’ and drummed up the courage to go off and register. By this point, we were both laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. Therefore, after registering, I placed myself front and center to practice my most intimidating stretches:

It was after that, when we realized that the start of the course did not follow the path with the slight incline to it. It was actually straight out onto the beach through the water:

So having my confidence shot right back down, I entered into the aforementioned pre-race brief:

As I said, I got real stuck on the words treacherous and greasy. Treacherous surprised me because I am not so sure I had ever done anything treacherous. I mean isn’t that word used to describe warfare and eat-the-person-next-to-you survival situations? Surely he must be exaggerating. And greasy. I mean greasy? What does that mean? I thought of greasy hair and greasy hamburgers (greasiest burgers ever), but a greasy course? Anyhow as I was left pondering these he went on to describe the other hallmarks of the course: large cows, rabbit holes, sprightly horses and ponies, sheep, cliffs, multiple fences to climb over, etc. He then also went on to remind us of everything we were supposed to be carrying: our own water, food, a hat, windproof jacket, first aid kit, an emergency blanket, mobile phone, emergency whistle… wait, whistle? “That was not on the list” someone yelled. “Oh… sorry about that,” he said. “OK so if you need help ASAP, just yell really really loud and hopefully someone will hear you.”

So with that, I quickly checked everything I had, gave Kathleen a kiss and a few furtive glances, and headed out:

Immediately, everyone’s feet were soaked despite the acrobatics in attempts of affecting a different outcome:

Here I am at mile six, one of the few paved parts of the course:

My quote to Kathleen here was “The one training scenario I forgot was through shin-deep cow shit.” Yep, somewhere around mile 3 we hit one of multiple farms and were shin deep in it all. Some people fell. Others, including me, attempted to climb a slight spine to avoid as much of it as we could. Regardless, we all got it some way or another.

Here are some shots of the trail:

I fell twice and stumbled often. The first time I went down I immediately understood how appropriate the adjective ‘greasy’ actually was for the type of mud encountered. I think I ran most of this race with my arms out to attempt to balance myself. If you have ever mountain biked on single track trails, the majority of the run was like a very wet single track ride, but with a 300 foot drop on one side and usually a barbed wire fence on the other. I constantly envisioned myself falling over the cliffs or impaling myself on the wire as a slipped and slid through the course. Some of the other obstacles encountered were the gates, fences, and cow grates. The trails ran through many different farms and through people’s fields. The gates were not bad and people were all very friendly in holding them open. I was thinking how very polite the Brits are but then I found myself doing the same - it was a great way to get a few seconds rest during the race! The fences that had no gates however needed to be climbed. The first few were ok, the fences were small, and there was ample room to get a foot hold. However by mile 15, things were getting more difficult. By mile 20 it was just silly how slowly these were climbed over. I felt like I was an old man lifting my leg 12” over the top rungs of the fence. The cow grates were just absolutely impossible and were just as funny as everyone slowed to a halt to gingerly walk across them mid race.

Here are a few more pics:

So, with all of that, I managed to run 26.2 miles on trails in 5 hours and 14 mins and came in 71st out of 119 runners. I was happy with that. Once again, Kathleen helped get me through this race. She was there at the start to calm my nerves and reassure me. She made it out to mile 6 and provided some much needed laughter. She trekked out along the coastal path to meet at mile 22 (and waited a few hours there!) because she remembered me once saying this where I liked to see people the most. She was there to buy me a hot meal and a large Guinness at the end of the race. And to top it all off, she had booked us a stay at a spa over the weekend so were able to hit that up when the race was finished. She asked me multiple times what I thought of the race. I started out immediately saying it was ok, but I was not sure if it was fun and trail running was not for me. That moved on to me saying I had a pretty good time and that there were some highlights. It has eventually become, in retrospect, an amazing experience and one I think I would like to do again (although not in the next few months).

Oh, and the other piece I forgot to mention: this course was riddled with a surfable coastline. At times the waves were small, but around mile 17 I came out on a bluff looking over a group of 3 surfers getting barrelled in what seemed to be about head and a half high super clean surf. I was so jealous. That being said, in 3 days time I will be in Bali and will hopefully be getting some well-deserved waves as well.


  1. Nice work Mark!

    Send an update from Bali.


  2. Wowser... you are a mad man! Very impressive though!

  3. You rock, Mark! That looked like an awesome race! Glad to hear you didn't fall off of any cliffs

  4. Glad you made it through that cow shit Mark...THAT was a close one....