Thursday, 7 April 2022

Nant Yr Arian Silver trail


        At the start of the year 2020, I wanted to enter a few races in Wales as I would be moving from Southampton in Hampshire to the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales. One of those races was called the “Nant Yr Arian Silver trail half marathon”. All I knew with my basic Welsh is that “Nant” translates as “Stream”. Before I parted which my Arian (My Dad tells me this means “Money” in Welsh) , I wanted to find out about the course. I felt this was a bit of a weird thing to email the race director but I went ahead with it feeling a bit stupid anyway…

 “Dear race director, I just wanted to enquire about the course. Are there any sheer drops or cliffs on the course, as I am terrified of heights?”.

It went something like that anyway. I tried to find my original email but must have deleted it. He (Ian) replied with the nicest thing, saying that he had a similar fear and that I would be absolutely fine. I don’t know if he was just saying this for my race entry money, but it worked! We shared a few emails and I was happy enough until…

       On March 16th 2020, it was announced that the race wouldn’t go ahead due to this thing called the Corona virus. I think I had just moved or was moving to the Gower and within two days we were in lockdown. I spent the next 5 months in isolation not knowing anyone.

   I had entered the race and talked my friend Carl into entering too. We had the choice of doing the race as a “Virtual race”. Despite living on the Gower, I couldn’t find the 2000ft of elevation over 13 miles even if I ran the route up and over Cefn Bryn. My friend Carl on the other hand, lived on Bodmin Moor and did the virtual race. Anyway, let’s fast forward to 2022…

         I wasn’t sure if I was going to do the race. I was back in Southampton and it was 200 miles away and I don’t drive a car. The plan would be to get a train to Aberyswyth and try and cover the 10 or so miles from there to my hotel in Ponterwyd. I had previously booked the George Burrow hotel and had to cancel it in 2020.

     My Dad offered to drive me and said we could visit the family in Carmarthen the day after. Make a long weekend of it. So I booked a couple of days off work and we travelled the 200 miles to Ceredigion.

       I booked a hotel room with a nice mountain view and the hotel did Vegan meals and a good vegan breakfast too. Did I mention that I’m Vegan? The hotel didn’t open until 5pm and there was nothing else around so we drove the 2 miles from the hotel to Nant-Yr-Arian. It’s like this big bike trail place with a cafĂ© and a Red Kite feeding station. There was a couple of lakes too. It was stunning and both me and my Dad noticed that our ears were popping and painful from the altitude. Remember, we live in super flat Hampshire now.

 I did a mile of jogging in my jeans and hoody around the lake. I noticed that I was starting this race at 1100ft. Nice!

I had hoped that they had oxygen tanks as well as water stations on the course.

         I must admit that I got a little bit put off by the email before the race. You must carry something to hold your own water, a hat and gloves, a space blanket and a coat. I had planned to run and race with nothing but when you do this race it definitely makes sense, although I think I may have overdid it with how much stuff I took but then, if you get injured out there, you will be very cold and a bit isolated for a while.

     Are you going to write about this race or not Dean? The morning of the race, it was minus 3 degrees and it was snowing whilst I ate a huge Vegan breakfast in the hotel next to the warmth of a radiator.

Ok, running tights, long sleeve base layer, gloves, hat, coat etc.. Get it all on. Backpack, running gels, cereal bar, spare gloves, space blanket, water bottle, another long sleeved running top. Damn, I forgot safety pins and my animal cruelty free petroleum jelly.(Please don’t use Vaseline folks!)

      Luckily they had safety pins at the registration tent (Some races don’t supply them any more). I picked up my number and noticed there were still “Entries on the day”. Something very common in races a decade ago but not nowadays with the boom of runners in recent years.

Somehow I lost one of my gloves just going to collect my race number. I looked ages for it in different bags and checked and rechecked pockets. Oh well, lucky I brought two pairs along.

       We listened to the race briefing at 10.15 and walked uphill to the start line. I was already getting warm walking to the start. It was time to ditch the coat and hat and put them in my backpack. I took a selfie and a fellow runner offered to take a much better photo of me. He took the photo and we got chatting on the climb to the start. He was local and had run the race before. Said he’d cycled around here a lot. I couldn’t imagine trying to cycle around these hills. They were massive.

      A big uphill start. A nice gravel trail. It reminded me of the start of Queen Elizabeth Country park parkrun. We climbed and then we descended and it wasn’t too long before I stopped, trying to work out which direction to run in. I waited for a group of runners behind me. “Right or left here guys?” I shouted. Right they said. It had made sense as the Yellow/Black arrow board was facing the other way and could only be viewed from the other way, if that makes sense? Probably not..

      Anyway, on we ran, lots of undulations and more marshals than I was expecting to be honest. They were all very friendly, smiling and encouraging. I was running with the 1st lady for a while (Livvy Jones). This is how I knew that I had gone out too hard! We were a bit unsure of the direction again but it became apparent. We ran left and then there was this big unavoidable puddle. I say puddle but it was more of a muddy watered trench. No-one mentioned this I thought. Run through it Dean! My feet were now soaked and cold after 2 miles but it didn’t matter. I was loving this.

        Now, some of these written events may not be in order as I am middle-aged and quite forgetful.. We got to a field with a big sign saying “Bull in Field”. The race directing lady had told us we would come to this moment. She told us that there was never a bull in that field and never had been, but was it going to stop me from scanning the field quickly before I climbed over the stile? I ran quite fast across that field I think. 1st lady was almost out sight now. I had definitely gone out too quickly and at mile 3 I was walking, sweating and taking off my base layer. I didn’t want to waste too much time. I drank some water, took the layer off but had pinned my race number to both my t-shirt and base layer. I had no time for this nonsense, so I just ripped them apart. I had now ruined two of my safety pins in my haste. My number was fine with two pins though. I did a similar thing at the Beaujolais marathon when a Frenchman only had one safety pin holding his number on and I somehow had three safety pins, so gave him one of mine so we had two each.

      Anyway, the easy gravel tracks were gone. I had just walked up a very steep hill in some lovely woods. We had rutted fields and flint to avoid on some of the down hills, made even harder with water filled eyes. I constantly wiped the water away from my eyes and I concentrated on each footfall. Hey look everyone, I’m a trail runner! I did think at this point that I really should have done some hill training in flat old Hampshire, or some trail runs at least.

The views were incredible. I decided to stop and take a few photos on my phone. The weather had been kind and the visibility was great. We did have some gentle rain which was actually quite nice, later it would become hailstones and then a bit of sleet. It all added to the drama of the surroundings. I wanted to show these views to the world but they would just be in my head. I knew the photos would not do them justice and you couldn’t recapture this excitement in a photo.

     I was running forwards but sideways across a field, following these little red flags in the ground. Talk about extreme camber. The sheep happily grazed away, what seemed to be miles below. There were no sheer cliff edges though and I wasn’t scared. Ok, I got a little bit scared on one of them but just focused ahead and ran until it felt safer. It wasn’t impassible though and at no point did I deem it too dangerous or want to turn back, which was my initial fear when I emailed Ian.

       About 6 miles in, I chat to another local runner who passes me after a while. I’m still in about 7th place though I think and I thought then that I’d just be happy with a top ten finish. The time doesn’t matter, just don’t let any more people pass you. If there’s no one behind you or catching you up, take that selfie or drink some water. We came to another lake and I noticed a couple of runners ahead briefly slowing down. I discovered that it was a cattle grid we had to walk over. Despite walking slowly, my foot still slipped as it was wet. My foot almost went into the grid. I didn’t lose my foot though.

        The ground was now very uneven as we passed some ramblers. There were about 30 of them. “I hope we’re not ruining your walk today” I said cheerily. “Not at all, you’re adding to our adventure” one said. “You’re an inspiration” another said. They were lovely people. It was nice to have the brief interaction. The only other people out here were the occasional marshals. Seeing a smiley marshal was always a welcome sight.

       As I took my own water, I didn’t need to stop at the stations but thanked them anyway. I took a gel halfway around, making sure I didn’t litter of course. My legs were a little achy now I noticed and I was getting clumsy. I would kick my own calf or ankle and stumble a bit on uneven grassy mounds. Then there was a road. I am very much a road runner really. I picked up the pace and passed a guy who I think was looking more tired than me. I tried to interact a bit but I don’t think he was in the mood. I pushed on. Top ten finish, baby!

      I got to around mile 9. We had just passed another water station and were now climbing on a gravel track. It continued to climb and climb. I ran/walked but felt like I was pushing hard still. No-one behind for a while. The guy in front was out of sight. I didn’t have any hope of catching him as he looked pretty strong. I then got a feeling of brief panic. I had then realised that I hadn’t seen any of the course Red flags for a while. Did I miss a turn off? I was now descending thinking to myself. How long do I run this way until I turn back? Maybe I am running the wrong way? The race director did say “If you don’t see a red flag, arrow or a marshal after 100 metres, you have probably gone the wrong way”. Maybe they didn’t bother with flags on this part as it seems like quite a main route on the gravel track?

But then, my fears were confirmed. There was a guy running towards me with a race number on. “It’s a dead end down there” he said. We jogged back uphill and tried to find this missing turn off while we chatted. We both knew we had lost our top ten places. I had easily done an extra mile or possibly two. He probably did a mile on top of mine. He was at Uni in Aberyswyth. Nice guy.

       We found the turn off and also shouted to another runner who didn’t see the turn off arrow and flags. I think the tree may have been covering in partially but it was visible. I think I may have switched off a bit and went on auto pilot. Probably thinking about what I was going to have for lunch or if I had done my washing back home. That sort of stuff you think about when you’re running.

      Back on track and we both knew we wouldn’t make those places up. He flew off pretty quick and I tried to follow. I think I only caught and passed four runners up for the remainder of the race and I didn’t know what distance this half marathon now was. I was still loving it though and it really didn’t matter. I had already decided that this was now the best race I had ever done. A big claim I know. Fort William marathon had held the top spot for about six years now. It was great to know that I didn’t have to travel as far to do such an amazing race.

       I had bad stitch at mile 11 (Probably mile 9). I kept pushing though. I didn’t think I would catch anyone else up. I stopped to do my wet shoe lace up and took a few more photos. I got to a marshal and I thought I was near the finish. “15 minutes to go” he shouted. Surely it can’t be that far? Was he really that good at guessing my average pace as well? Haha. It seemed a strange thing to say but I loved it. It kept me thinking about the distance and my pace.

Back into the woods and walking up another steep hill, I spoke to a lady runner and then pushed on again. That would be the last person I overtook. We were on some bike trails and they went up and down, up and down about 30 times. It was brutal but the views were incredible and the Red Kites were hovering really close by. Definitely my favourite race. I’m coming back for that top ten finish. Don’t tell anyone though or you won’t get that top ten. It’ll be like that time I did parkrun and invited two faster friends. They came 1st and 2nd at Fareham parkrun and I came 3rd!

        Anyway, my race number only had one safety pin left holding it on and was dangling. I took my race number off and carried it with me. So close to the end now. Keep pushing Dean.

        A downhill finish. There I was being greeted and cheered in by the spectators. I was grinning away and holding my race number to my chest. After all this running, I wanted to make sure I got a time. Over the chip mat with a time of 2hrs 10 mins and some change. I had done 15 miles.

I spoke to the race director lady (Sorry, I didn't get her name) who asked me how it was. I praised it and she thanked me and gave me a medal. I also got a lovely red t-shirt. I ate some fruit and stumbled to my Dad’s car which was right there in sight.

     Not knowing what the course was like, I told my Dad I would be about 2hrs. Even though I ran a 1hr 32 at Weymouth half 2 weeks ago, I knew this one would be tough.

I wasn’t far off. I did pass 13.1 miles in 1hr 54 though. I’ll have to return to get that official sub 2hrs I guess. I came in 20th place. Such a fantastic race, great enthusiastic marshals and a stunning course. There were only 73 runners in the half. I couldn’t believe it! There was also a kids race too.  

See you next year, Silver money stream trail half marathon race. Thanks for having me. Thanks for a very memorable race.