This race is an incredible event, with over 12,000 people coming to compete or spectate throughout the weekend. It’s set in a sunny field that sits between a beautiful abbey and serene canal, which serves as the finish line/ festival area. A big screen shows the race unfolding, loads for kids to do while their parents are out running, an outside bar, and people are having a great time drinking and eating sausisse et baguette.
I have to say I struggle to think of a running event as well organised and as successful as this in the UK. The atmosphere is brilliant and the people are so welcoming and friendly (except for a few over-zealous traffic controllers). The hospitality the Welsh team received was impeccable; our own house, with fresh croissants and brioche brought to us every morning.
The race is 26km trail around the lake Guerledan. I decide to take the bull by the horns, and I am leading and feeling good for the first few miles. Then we hit the first real hill, I struggle immediately and am all of a sudden down in 4th place. I am hanging on to a French guy and feeling pretty good on the flat, through the fields. I can see teammates Andy Davies and Dan Bodman up ahead.
As we enter into the woods I have to stop quickly for the toilet, out of routine with mealtimes has led to this unfortunate necessity, but it doesn’t cost me too much time. I catch back up with the French guy but have had to dig a little to get there. Every up hill he gets away from me, every down hill I catch him again. This goes on until I can’t catch him any more and he pulls further away. At this point there is still around 5 miles to run and it is very thick woods and tricky trails. I am often completely alone, cannot see anyone infront or behind, and it is hard to remember I am in a race. I try to keep the pace up by saying to myself ‘get to that tree as fast as you can’.
I finish in 2hrs 4min. Dan has been overtaken by the French guy and at the award ceremony the presenter takes great pleasure in pointing out that when this happened Dan stopped and walked. But he still did great in his first outing for Wales, and Andy won in a course record of 1.56. Rich Roberts completed the team behind me in 5th so we won the team prize very convincingly.
We stayed to enjoy the festivities on the Sunday and then traveled home by ferry on the Monday. I was dropped off at Welshpool at around 1am to drive back home. Usually a 90min drive it takes me nearly 3 hours. The weather is so horrific my poor little car is crawling along at 20mph for much of it. The cloud is a thick black and I can’t see anything, the rain is hammering and the wind is howling, I am being blown all around the road. I see 2 crews out cutting trees off the road. Branches are falling, big pools of water are forming. I get within 3 miles of home when the road is so flooded the car conks out. There I am at 3.30am on a Monday morning, soaked through, pushing my car up the road to drier ground. The glamour of being an international athlete!
I finally stumble in the door completely exhausted. We had departed the lovely house in France at 10am that morning, so 16hrs of travelling. I am up for work the following morning, but don’t manage many runs in the week, I don’t mind telling you. Have absorbed it all now and it was a wonderful and inspiring experience. Hopefully back in the swing of things this week as things settle down abit.