I was recently asked to talk to a freelance journalist working on an article for Women’s Running magazine about my experience as a US participant in last years Race the Train….yeah we are just going to pretend that things like that happen ALL THE TIME! 😉 Anyway, thinking about the race, the training and the adventure brought back all the fun memories and reminded me that I needed to post about it here!
Starting from the beginning, we were travelling to the UK for the Olympics – yeah, let’s just pretend that happens everyday too! – and then doing a little travelling around the country…so like any runner would, I started looking for a race to enter along the way! I checked out a few half marathons and then stumbled across Race the Train. The more I read about this tough, must do race through the Welsh hillsides….with mud and rain and a train to race against…the more I wanted to do it! Somehow I convinced my Mum that Wales was definitely “on the way home” from Scotland, and I set about trying to get as many family members involved as possible!
There wasn’t much to be found out about this race…no fancy course maps with elevation profiles, since the course is run across private farmland the race organizers don’t publish the route to discourage people from trying to train on the route, and just a few blog posts about people’s racing experiences…including this one about the year it was very wet and muddy. I got to know the race director, George Watson via Facebook and let him know how much we were looking forward to the race. He was very friendly and supportive and told us to be in touch once we arrived in Tywyn.
So, I trained to the best of my abilities, not really knowing what I was in for….except toughness. I was about halfway through Chicago marathon training by the time the race rolled around and we rolled into the tiny town of Tywyn. And tiny it was! We were travelling in my parents camper van – spacious by European standards – so we had booked into Pall Mall camping site – it turns out this was where most of the race participants were staying since there were only two hotels in town! After setting up camp we made our way to the school to pick up our packets since we were “International” racers (local residents had there packets mailed to them)! We met George in person, and got my Dad lined up for his marshaling duties for the following day. My parents and Todd had decided to run in the 5 mile race in the morning, and then the out and back 14 mile race would be in the afternoon and I had volunteered my Dad for marshaling duties!
For the morning races (the 5 mile and 10k, which it turns out is the most competitive among the locals) the runners ride out on the train to the end of the line and run back, racing against the train. Since we had become fast friends with George he asked us to ride out in the train carriage with the TV crew working with a British comedienne/actress recording a series on activities within the UK National parks. They were trying to get all kinds of footage before racing off to go dolphin watching for the afternoon!
Riding on the train for the morning races gave me an opportunity to check out the terrain, and also talk to some local experts. Richard was also in “the TV carriage” and he was a local who has run the race every year – including the year when the course was changed to mostly along the road because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. He had run the full race many times and now had switched to the 10k. He gave me some advice to “take it easy for the first half of the race” because the second half was much tougher, he also shared with me that when he beat the train, his road half marathon time was 1:25. I had already figured out that with the train expected back after 1:45…I probably wasn’t beating it. This information just confirmed that! We also found out that the train and railway was the inspiration for the Thomas the Tank engine books. Pretty cool.
We cheered from the train as the 5 mile and 10k runners set off. That is the best part of this race – travelling spectators and cheer squad! The 5 mile race pretty much ran the first half of the 14 mile race backwards, and the 10k ran the second half…the tough part with the slippery slate uphill and treacherous sheep tracks!
Since the camera crew and Caroline Quentin the presenter were pretty taken with Todd they interviewed him at the end of the race and had him “rerun” his finish to make sure they had it properly captured!
Pretty soon it was time to warm up and line up for the “Rotary Challenge” 14 mile run. I warmed up and inserted myself midpack. There was plenty of nervous chatter and camaraderie as we waited for the train to sound it’s whistle to start the race! The guy next to me gave me some last minute advice…”drink the isotonic, it tastes like cabbage water” and then the train blew its whistle and left the station and we were off. Heading on the road, down the through the village towards the hills! I was conscious of not going out to fast, and Richard’s words were ringing in my head “save yourself for the second half!”
The course headed out of the village and across the fields. The race is really well organized and marshaled with farmers stationed near to the most boggy parts letting you know to stick to the outside – I still saw a guy lose his shoe. Due to the course and the mandatory train stops the train is behind you for the first half of the race and you hear it whistling periodically from behind. As I approached the halfway turnaround, I saw the train for the first time. The best part about seeing the train is hearing all the spectators on the train cheering for you! This is surely one of the only races where you get to bring your fans along! But I didn’t have much time to look up! As we neared the turn the terrain got tougher….just as Richard had warned me! Up a hill and suddenly onto slippery, very narrow sheep tracks. I got caught in some congestion at this point, and there was basically no opportunity to pass so I took the opportunity to get some recovery in. Then it was down a particularly slippery slope, through a few bogs and by a waterfall on the way back to the village. I saw the train pulling away on its way back, and then the second train (also full of cheering spectators). As we went through the ford (water crossing) I asked a fellow runner if we had just one more field to cross before hitting the road again, and he huffed “yes, and that boggy bit” I felt strong so I put the burners on! As I came back onto the road I saw my Mum (who wasn’t on the train due to being on dog duty) and I unceremoniously threw some things at her that I didn’t want to carry any more! I rounded the last corner where my Dad was marshaling he said something encouraging and I gave it my all into the finish.
The train took 1h 46mins….I finish in 2h 11mins. The train, obviously won!
After the finish we headed back to the campsite for a shower, and once I summoned the energy to walk to the shower it was well worth it! We had heard about the evening “party” and decided to go see what was going on. We needed milk for the morning, so stopped at the convenience store on the way…just as they were closing…so, yes, we showed up to a party in a tent in a school field with milk! And a PARTY it was…complete with DJ, Lasers, a dance floor….and a group of guys dressed as the spice girls! This is a destination race and these guys had obviously had their outfits planned!!!
So now I know what I need to do to beat the train…….and I’ll be back! Wanna come along?