Friday, 18 March 2011

Perspective in Pembrokeshire

It's very easy to get lost in the training, racing, and recovering that comes with running.  In fact, that's often the reason why I do it.  I can put the mundane stresses of the day into "the grand scheme of things" and regain a bit of perspective on life.  Running can be the tool to regain a sense of my place in the world.  During the past weekend's marathon activities, though, running itself was put in its place.

I work for a Japanese company.  I have some fabulous friends and colleagues in Japan.  So to hear and see the news from Japan on March 11th as I was preparing for my latest race took me out of my bubble and reminded me that although my place in the world can be quite nicely unobtrusive, every day life can be anything but "every day".  I watched, unable to help, as did most of us, as a wonderful nation was rocked to the core.  Not really sure what else to do, and thinking of my Japanese friends, who are some of the most resilient people I know, I lined up for the Pembrokeshire marathon.  I remembered the phrase that constantly keeps us going through the working week:  "Ganbatte o kudasai".  It's a phrase with myriad uses - usually encouraging, occasionally chastising, always exhorting more effort, more perseverance.  This phrase regularly pops into my head when I'd rather go home than finish something that must be done, or when I am 23 miles in with an unknown distance to go.  On Saturday, it got me to eat breakfast, get dressed, and get to the starting line.  If my friends could get through the hell of their island moving ten feet in a few minutes, I could certainly go out and run hard on my stationary patch of coastline.  With my little challenge in its proper perspective, I went out to do my best while trying to capture some of the beauty of the day to share.

We start from the harbour and head up to get a great view.

The race started in the seaside village of Little Haven, Pembrokeshire.  We snaked our way from the tiny harbour-front up onto the clifftops overlooking St. Brides Bay.  From the outset, the views were spectacular.  Each turn brought a new magical, rugged rockface running down into the deep blue water.
Climbing gently to the top of the cliffs
The course winds off in the distance.
For the most part, the hills were short and sharp, with long stretches of gentle trails in between.  The weather was cool but fine, so we encountered quite a few ramblers whose Saturday walks were continuously interrupted by mad people running past.  While we exchanged pleasantries, I imagined that the constant trickle of people passing on the occasionally narrow trails would become irritating by the time the half marathoners came past.  I could only hope the walkers had made it to the pub by the time the 10k race started a couple of hours later.

Walkers enjoy the paths and visits to the local historic sites.

This course is rated as the least difficult of the series.  Without the steep ascents of the other courses, we were moving at much closer to road pace than usual.  I kept seeing mile times in the region of nine minutes and thinking, "I'm not used to running this fast on the trails!"  I kept an eye on my heart rate, which was fine, and wondered how long it would last.  

Flat, more or less, with nice views inland and out to sea.
The course led south along the peninsula, and eventually across to and then around St. Anne's Head.  The bonus of this route is that we spend 2/3 of the time on the coast, and then cross the peninsula to return to the start.  Although I was pretty sure that most of my attempts at photography were doomed to failure, I had miles and hours to keep trying to catch some good pictures. 

After 10 miles, I took the decision to ease back a bit.  I felt good, but I could also tell that I'd not yet recovered from the last race, so I didn't expect to get through the day with anything like the strength I had in Devon. 

Thankfully, we ran by, rather than down to, this lovely bay.
An extra 30-50 seconds per mile kept me comfortable until we headed inland at Dale, 18 miles into the run.  The hill up from Dale was long and steep, and my abdominal muscles and groin began to tighten.  During this climb, I walked at an easy pace and massaged the soreness away. 

Up at the old air field on top of the peninsula, I carried on, but fatigue began to set in properly.  My lungs were fine and my heart rate was OK, but my legs just didn't really feel like going any more.  A gel at 19 began to help re-energize the muscles.  I kept reminding myself that I was here not just for fun, but to push beyond my perceived limits.  "Ganbatte," I told myself, and carried on.  My pace started to drop back to the normal plod of 11-12 minute miling. 

Nothing hurt, but nothing was in the mood to move, either.  The final few miles passed by slowly, beautifully, and happily.  I knew that I could get through eventually.  I also knew that, somehow, I had managed to keep a fairly steady pace.  Even as I jogged along, I was heading for around 4:50 for the 28 miles.  When I saw the final ascent, I also picked out a pink dot moving up it.  Nic was running the half, which had started when I was about 9 miles in, and I'd been half hoping to keep going well enough to finish with her.  But, at that stage she was nearly a mile ahead, less than a mile from the finish, and I wasn't getting any faster.  I sent her a text to let her know I wasn't far from the finish, so she would wait for me, and carried on.  Sure enough, as I dropped back down to Little Haven, Nic was cheering me on, fresh from her 16 mile "half".  No wonder I nearly caught her!

Welsh Daffodils in the sun

This week's marathon was hard work, physically and mentally.  It was also consistently beautiful.  I felt tired from start to finish and I drew inspiration from the strength of those far away.  I hope the pictures and story of my day out can provide some welcome distraction and escape for them, in turn.