I did it! I finished the Trailffest half marathon!
Goodness me, it was a tough one, but oh so beautiful! The Trailffest team describe this half marathon as “one of the most scenic you could hope to run, with dramatic changes of scenery and terrain the whole way to the finish line” and they aren’t wrong. Starting at the foot of the Moelwyn mountain range I ran up mountain paths, through forests, by huge lakes and waterfalls, on slate covered paths and down to the sea. It was truly stunning.
The race starts at Tanygrisiau and I think this may be the only race where you are taken to the start line by steam train. The climb up to the top took an hour and the carriage was packed with runners, so packed that we almost didn’t get a seat! From the window we saw some magnificent views, including looking down at a kestrel gliding over the forest. I didn’t see all the views as I had my dog with me and he wasn’t too keen on being in such a packed carriage or having to share it with another dog so I was rather distracted trying to keep him calm. But what I did see made me a bit nervous. This was, after all, where I was going to be running and it looked very, very hilly.
Once we got to Tanygrisiau we had the option of carrying on to the final stop of Blaenau Ffestiniog before getting back on the train for the return journey. I decided to get out at Tanygrisiau with my dog and boyfriend whilst my parents went to Blaenau for a quick look around.
I took the opportunity to try to warm up a bit and take a few photos. The race was supposed to start at 12.20 but as the steam train was so packed some runners couldn’t get on it and had to wait for the next one. I didn’t realise this at first so had anxiously sent everyone back on the train and waited at the start line on my own. We actually started at the race at 12.50, once the second train had arrived.
I have to say that the steam train is really a star attraction of Trailffest. Not only are you taken to the start of the race by steam train, the train’s whistle also starts the race! So if you know any runners who are also train enthusiasts I would really recommend this race to them.
So on to the race itself. Well, it’s a tough start, a third of a mile uphill before reaching a single person width bridge. It then levels out slightly with the first mile or so on open mountain paths, it then moves to narrower paths through the forests and your first big descent. I have to say I found the downhill sections just as hard as the uphill sections. A lot of the tracks are only wide enough for one person with scary looking drops to the side of you so you really didn’t want to lose your footing and take a tumble. I was probably more cautious than I would have been had the path been wider.
With the single width paths at times I felt I was being slowed down by the runners in front, there really isn’t a way to pass people. At other times I felt I was the person slowing everyone down, especially when we reached an uphill part that was so steep it had massive steps cut into the side! This is one race where it is even more essential to get the right start position otherwise you will either get frustrated at being stuck behind someone slower or get worried about slowing people down.
For part of the race you are running on paths by the train tracks which means you are followed by the steam train packed with race supporters. It was great having my own mini support team shouting encouragement every time I got near the train. It also means I have some action shots of me running!
There were only 150 people running Trailffest this year, so it is quite a small race. I found it very friendly and chatted to more people going round the course than I usually do. Probably something to do with having to slow down going up some of the hills and actually stopping at the feed stations for a breather! I ran with a woman from Darwen for at least 4 miles and it turned out it was her first half marathon. She also leads start to run classes with her running club so we had a bit of a chat about how great it is helping people to start running.
The last part of the course was very flat and it was at this point I managed to fall down! After the final water station at mile 11 we ran through a field of long grass and my foot managed to get tangled under the grass and boof! I fell. Luckily I didn’t really hurt myself and got up straight away.
The final part of the race is on tarmac with the final mile on The Cob, a very straight path that runs by the side of the railway tracks. On one side of the path you have the sea, and the other is the marshy estuary. It’s all very flat and exposed and after the hills, rocks and forests I can see that this might be the toughest part of the race for some as you can see the finish line but it just doesn’t seem to get any closer! However, I didn’t find it that hard. I managed to pick up some speed and just focused on finishing. The finish is on the Porthmadog Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland railway platform and it was lined by cheering supporters and bemused passengers who had just come off a train.
My finishing time was 3:00:25, which I was very pleased with. Even though I wasn’t running for a time I had thought I might be able to finish in 2:45 based on my training runs but I realised once I reached the first feed station at 4.5 miles in just over an hour that I would be lucky to finish under 3 hours. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.
So, would I run Trailffest again? It is a resounding yes! I heartily recommend this race. The combination of hills and narrow footpaths make this a very challenging race but the beauty of the scenery makes it very worth while.
If I do run it again I will adapt my training though. The combination of hilly routes and strength work I did certainly put me in good shape for this race. However, I think trying to do more loops of shorter routes that encompass a lot of up and down hill paths and trying to find steep and narrow paths to run down will definitely improve my stamina. And if I do it again I would definitely want to improve on my time and try to get down to 2:45.
So, it’s a maybe see you at the start line in 2016!