The Beauty and the Beastly
I'm famous again? Or rather not. You, could tell it was my ugly mug (at a distance) on BBC Wales. Able to find myself just because of the vivid red waterproof top. You could still tell it was my beastly features at a distance plodding through one of the most beautiful places on the planet, enjoying taking part in the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri.
I've always loved visiting Wales, the land of my forefathers and foremothers (I think, really should check my family tree, give it a shake and see what falls), it is for me a stunning part of the world. The folk are (like the other Celtic nations), proud, honourable, hardy, honest and humorous and (I always think) have a great sense of national pride, something that I believe the English can't seem to quite establish. After all what does it mean to be English? I could detail all the things that the English seem to be renowned for around the world but only a few of the characteristics seem to be complimentary, that's unfair. So I'll embrace my 'British-ness' which I am much more proud of; a never say die spirit, a mug of tea to put things right, a love of the monarch and the ability to talk loudly to foreigners, to ensure that I am better understood.
Standing at the beginning of the marathon with all of the other 3000 odd runners, there's a great sense of anticipation. Perhaps more so than some of the other events I've been lucky enough to take part in. A palpable trepidation of some of the climbs ahead. There's a light rain but it is not unpleasant. Within five miles of the start the drizzle has lifted, the temperature is perfect and it's all downhill from here, except it's not, as there's still a few lumpy bits to get over.
The starter announces over the loud-speakers, 'please recognise and respect the beauty of Snowdonia, please don't litter, we are rightly proud of our environment and it's natural beauty all around us.' Looking upwards ahead , behind or to the sides, there is nothing but awe-inspiring, rugged countryside.
It was great to spend the first hour before the marathon with a very friendly face in the guise of Marie Williamson (2019 - Brathay 10in10 finisher). I think Marie always wears a smile, that is, I'm yet to see her without one, so whatever she's eating I'd like a portion. Soon after, more friendly familiar faces, Gary Wade, Sonja 'Sonic' Farrish, and separated from his regular running partner (Dianne Morris) with some newly devised surgical procedure, Graham Dewar; I never see Graham or Dianne complete an event without the other in tow. They are unstoppable, as their recent exploits in the ultras they've defeated this year are testament to.
Running with Graham towards Pen-y-pass was a very pleasant start and would be to any event. He's amusing, a real conversationalist, a connoisseur of tea and I'm sure could speak on any topic with authority, plus he's bloody hilarious. Just as we start the rise and climb towards the Youth Hostel at the top, we are joined by a surprise visitor, Brathay 2018 roomie Mark Haynes. Donning a daft, but cool (I wish I had the confidence to pull it off) hippy hat; looking like he'd just come from a spiritual commune in the foothills of the Himalayas, it was so good to see him, looking so fit and well. This was nothing, because he was looking even fitter and healthier at the end, smashing his Snowdonia time from last year and skipping 'Eliud-like' down the high street of Llanberis towards the 26.2 mile finish.
Us runners (can't believe what I've just written there, 'us runners', like I'm classing myself as a runner) are funny folk. Generally there is a screw loose somewhere - it can be in the form of unhinged ambition, beating the demons away or simply punishing oneself for the past or perhaps even running towards a brighter future - we are not quite the full ticket. Or perhaps we are? Perhaps we've embraced who we are and through running manage to make ourselves more wholesome, more healthy and more appreciative of ourselves? Each of us is an individual, so who knows?
More thoughts about the marathon itself, remember, beautiful part of the world, sense of pride, sense of purpose and achievement (each of us, is, after all, running a marathon). Something in my running doesn't feel quite right, I'm concerned about my calves which seem a little tender for some strange reason. Not to worry, today is about getting round, taking in the beauty, the atmosphere, just simply enjoying the day. And I am, thoroughly, unreservedly enjoying it. Trundling through the romantic and legendary village of Bedgellert, the crowds have gathered, and there's a real joyful atmosphere, I feel encouraged, well supported and cheered on, even though my adult interpretation of that childhood favourite of a red 'pack-a-mac' is concealing my race number and name.
At around mile 15 to 20, there's a comfortable rhythm to my plodding. Although I can also feel my strength sapped, probably because I'm sweating profusely under the plastic clingfilm that is meant to protect me from the elements. I'm sweating so much the water is pouring out of my sleeves whenever I shake the tiredness from my arms. Even though I spent almost three fortunate years in the Lake District I never tire of taking in the natural vista this green and pleasant land that is Britain. However, it is shattered by the irresponsible, selfish and thoughtless actions of a fellow marathon runner. He deliberately discards his gel wrapper. It doesn't fall from his hand or his grip. He hungrily sucks on the aluminium plasticised wrapper and then tosses it. How dare he? Without a second glance, not even a second thought, he tosses it into this countryside. After all that was said at the start. After taking in for the last 16 or 17 miles the stunning, barren, ageless majesty of everything nature's has sculpted for us, he decides that the 'rules', the guidelines, the simple care and consideration for others and for nature doesn't apply to him. He's running for a charity. A fellow marathoner, is visibly annoyed, catches up to him with a little spurt and wags a finger. His excuse, 'I couldn't carry it'. Really a wrapper weighing 2g or 3g? No excuse! I echo the sentiments of the previous runner. It irks me. Why, despite the comments at the start, where if you are carrying rubbish you can hand it to a marshall or drop it at the next feed station (there's more than adequate), does a grown, responsible adult decide that those comments, help, advice, suggestions even stipulations don't apply (the threat was disqualification). I think about the 'state' of the world, the rubbish by the roadside, the obesity epidemic, the weather, and realise that at this moment in time, we are not responsible enough. I haven't been either, perhaps still don't take enough responsibility, a sorry is not enough, but trying each day to make a difference hopefully will do something? For all of the advances in knowledge, awareness, science, psychology and understanding we are woefully short of responsibility, compassion, tolerance and love. The offer was there, appreciate and love Snowdonia. The offer was there, disrespect and risk disqualification. My opinion, the reason why, our friendly -blue-wigged MND charity runner was free to discard his wrapper was that he knew he wouldn't have to face any consequences. I didn't pick the wrapper up either. Why not? I was too busy plodding a marathon. I'm culpable, he's responsible.
Well done to all of those people who did respect the area, though, I hope you enjoyed the area and marathon as much as I. One last note, it wasn't the only High 5 discarded gel wrapper I spotted. I know of not one disqualification. No outcome, no responsibility.
Regardless of how much I revere (once again) the outstanding glorious Snowdonia massif in all it's beauty, I'll (unfortunately) remember too, the beastly nature of (this) man's selfishness.
The last mile of the marathon was an opportunity to unleash my inner child. Downhill into Llanberis could have been scary. The hillside glossy from the heavy rains of the days prior and the mud peaking through just to make the descent that little bit more awkward. I remember the words of Andy Harvey who I played football with, for Miners Welfare back in the 1990s, 'he who dares does it', as he would hoof a clearance towards the opposition's half. I dared to run downhill, fool-hardy definitely, but hopefully I didn't come across to other runners as cocky (although I probably did, sorry). My thinking was if I'm going to come a cropper I may as well make it a spectacle. What transpired was a swift, (luckily) sure-footed and carefree leg-it into Llanberis, relief as I trundled down the high street.
If you aim to run one marathon next year, try and make it Snowdonia. Although with a ballot entry system, I hope your luck is in.