18 months ago, I signed up for the Lake Vyrnwy half marathon: Something in Wales was calling me… why the hell did I want to go to Wales? It was freaking me out, so I decided to put my demons to bed and run the race. Unfortunately I was ill, and had to bail on my mates who ran the race and both had a great time. I consequently entered the 2012 race with a heightened sense of anticipation.
Some time later it was August 2012. There I was, sat in a cottage outside Woolacombe, Devon, casually drinking wicked strength scrumpy from a plastic container, when Mrs M asks “When’s that Welsh half marathon you’re supposed to be doing?”. It’s in three weeks!!!! Panic set in… then went away as I sank the last of the apple based poison. Hey ho, training would start when I got home.
Three weeks is not a long time to train for a half, and it was with more than a small sense of trepidation that I climbed into the car on that bright Sunday morning and began the 2 hour+ journey to deepest, darkest Welsh land. Lake Vyrnwy is in Powys, surrounded by hills, accessible only by narrow lanes. The organisers had helpfully provided entrants with a postcode for the Satnav, and we were well on our way when we realised there was a significant lag on the signal out there, and we were consequently lost. We were forced to revert to following road signs. However, we still arrived an hour and a half before the start, and set about exploring the area.
For those of you who have are familiar with Tittensor… imagine the same kind of place, only comprising about a tenth of the houses and considerably more sheep. That’s it. The village hall was the base, where they were selling commemorative T-shirts. At £15 a pop, I thought I would give it a miss, and I’m glad I did… More about that later. The tea and coffee were more reasonable. 50p for a brew and 50p for a fairy cake. Lovely.
After establishing beyond doubt that there was nothing to do, we retired to the car for a picnic on the grass. The last half I did (Stafford) I got hunger pangs at about 10 miles, and hit the wall at 11… I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I had eaten a good breakfast, and followed this up with a ham and tomato bun, a cereal bar and plenty of fluid. It was a warm day.
About half an hour before the start I ventured up the hill to my allocated start pen (a spray painted line on the road), and began to warm up and chat to the locals. Word had it that there had been a crash up the lane, and the traffic was backing up to parts known as ‘civilisation’. There was much talk about the start being delayed, but come 1pm, the hooter sounded and that was it. We were off! I engaged my GPS and started the slow shuffle to the start line.
Of course, a downhill start means an uphill finish. I decided to put this to the back of my head, and attempted to settle into a pace I thought I could maintain. After 400m or so downhill, we began to climb, and did so for about a mile. On fresh legs this was no problem. After about half a mile we got a shock as a fellow runner made their way back to the start, clutching a head wound and bleeding heavily from the forehead. That kind of thing makes you blood run cold, but he was walking wounded. We hoped he was OK and ploughed on.
After a mile or so, we turned left onto the dam that holds the lake at bay, and got my first chance to observe the lake our route would hug all the way round. It was serene, very pretty, and bloody huge! There were a few crowds at the turn onto the lakeside road to bid us good luck, and from then on, it was just trees, water and runners.
Some people don’t like this route, because they find it boring. However I found myself running along merrily, looking at the trees, and I became lost in my own little happy space. It was just me, the road and the scenery. I was feeling great. People would have a chat to me as I overtook… Still doing that ten-miler at Trentham are you? Asked one lady… we sure are, I answered, and why didn’t you enter this year!!! Another asked me if I had any problems getting here… we lamented the narrow roads, lack of mobile signal and the illegible road signs, wished each-other good luck and parted company. It was all cheerful and friendly.
At mile six, the man with the head wound overtook us at pace. He was on a mission, and it was good to see. His shoulders were also gashed, presumably form tumbling down the road, but it was not slowing him down. I was impressed and pleased at the same time. The route has a curious quality, in that it appeared to be downhill all of the time. This did not add up. At mile eight I overtook a Shropshire Shuffler who asked “Is it me, or has it been uphill for the past four miles!” Strange, I thought it had been downhill! I answered that the brain does strange things to you, depending on your state of mind, and left it at that. I was enjoying my run.
At mile 10, we heard the sound of sirens. They got louder until we realised that, being four light-years from anywhere, the vehicle making the noise must be on our road. As we approached a narrow stone bridge a St Johns Ambulance (the 50 year old Leyland DAF type) came careering up behind us at a speed I described as ‘mental’. “Watch out on the bridge” I yelled, and people dove out of the way. It flashed past, and 5 minutes later, we happened upon the ambulance helping a tired but upright runner into the back. At least he was OK, that’s the main thing.
By Mile 12 we started to run downhill. My pace increased accordingly and I was loving the feeling… I had not stopped once (usually at a water station for a breather), as I had managed my pace. This was a major personal success in itself. By then there were plenty of walkers and I tried to offer encouragement. Come on, nearly there Telford! I ushered… Batman! ½ a mile to go! come on buddy! I don’t know how many people I passed in that last mile, but it was a lot. The road was starting to become lined with spectators and several people called out personal encouragement. My man-boobs were bleeding (the Vaseline treatment just doesn’t work with me), my legs were tired but I was there, the end was in sight. That last 100m or so were indeed uphill, but I was motoring and my sprint finish was forthcoming. I found myself in an approximately 100m stretch of empty road space. The finish line megaphone guy saw me coming, announced my name and the name of the club, and a road full of people roared me across the line!
I had resolved to enjoy this race. I wasn’t interested in my time from the outset, I just wanted to enjoy the experience and that I had done. However, I crossed the line in a gun time that equalled my PB set at Stafford. This matched my GPS time almost exactly, as I set it as the hooter went. I don’t know how long it took my to cross the start line, but I resolved to make the necessary adjustments and claim my new PB. Runkeeper tells me my average pace was 9:18 per mile. At 13.1094 miles that equals 2 hours, 1 min and 55 seconds. A full two minute improvement on my previous PB, and I’m claiming that!
Beyond the finish, the scouts where handing out medals… and organisers where handing out t-shirts! Brilliant! There was no mention of this at the start, so I am doubly pleased I didn’t buy one. This was a friendly, quiet and scenic event. It is very popular, and well organised. If you’re tempted, be prepared for a long drive, and to get lost. You also may want to take a sleeping bag, a tent and arm yourself with a crossbow. This is Wales, after all. The Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon is a flat, scenic and shady course that lends itself to PB’s, and was everything I had hoped for and expected. GNR or Birmingham Half, this is not. Village friendliness, warm reception and enthusiastic locals is most definitely is. I will visit this one again for sure.