I have never taken a marathon seriously (see 2009 Snowdonia, 2012 London and 2014 Isle of Wight for examples of the sort of drunken fiasco my marathon efforts usually degenerate into) although some have only had a beer stop hosted by hashers to interrupt the flow (2006 Tucson M., 3h 19m) or a pub crawl till 4am ahead of an 8am starting gun (2006 Whiskey Row M., 3h 47 minutes but it was slow due to starting at 1 mile elevation and with 2 tough, continuous climbs of 1720 feet and 1400 feet while stinking of bourbon the entire race).
Spotted after Manorbier: Of COURSE I love my liver. Why do you think I give it so much to do?
But, I intended to BQ this year (not for the sake of a Boston entry, but to have it as an option next year) and I wanted to do it on a hilly course so, despite a good selection of pubs on the course, I trained intending to at least try to treat the Wales Marathon with respect. Busy at work and preparing to move house and a million aches and pains and every other excuse you’ve ever heard or said, this plan blew away like so much sand on the Coastal Path.
I mean, I ran the prescribed mileage (the blue trace on the chart shows my 7 day rolling sum back to the start of May with the planned training in red); but, I did very little of the ‘extras’ like stretching, speed work, proper nutrition. And, those extras are especially important for us ancients. I reckoned I should be happy to even finish this one as I found my place in the crowd at the start in Tenby.
My marathon hotel was a B&B in the seaside village of Amroth, a hilly 6½ miles northeast of Tenby along the Welsh Coastal Path. With no prospect of Sunday morning public transport, I had to jog to the start so at least I was limber and had a jump on sweating out the alcohol from the Coach and Horses (Tenby), the Royal Oak and the Old Chemist (Saundersfoot), and the New Inn and the Amroth Arms (Amroth) the night previous. Sunrise was around 4:30 am so I missed daybreak; and, the tide, while noticeably rising during the trot, was still about midway between low and high. Hard to complain, though.
Pembroke Castle ahead and near enough to the King’s Arms.
I ran the race in less clothing than I trained in (or, indeed, that I have run in since the trip to Bristol Tennessee, last September because, for a boy from the Deep South, it is still fucking cold here); the idea was not so much to decrease my load on the run but to encourage shorter pub breaks — I had to down the bevvies fast to beat the chill. So to overcome the seaside shivers at the start, I wore an over layer of disposable sweats including this old favourite from a visit to the Gypsies In The Palace Hash (roughly in 2006, may 2007…goodbye, old, warm friend; the Kucinich 2004 shirt would join it at race end).
The race route at the start was too circuitous but not as bunched up as I feared (there were only 887 of us and a substantial number of those were just hoping to get all the way around). The wind was howling and it was pissing down rain for the first hour and a half, but the route was protected by a high hedgerow on both sides of the road along the Ridgeway. This obscured what was almost certainly a spectacular view but at least we were protected (somewhat).
I didn’t carry any nutrition on this one because every other of the frequent water stations was also a banana and Snickers bar stop. And, of course, I would be packing in liquid carbs and B vitamins at the pubs, as soon as they were open as I passed.
I only made it to one pub in Pembroke because most were not open till 12 (I had planned on two but the King’s Arms was my only refuge). There were some close to the Half Marathon start but I didn’t think it prudent to leave the course with so many officials there; instead, at the turn toward Freshwater, I jogged up to one of the docents and asked if the pub nearby was open, yet. He glanced at his watch then pointed off the wrong direction and said, “yes, but it’s….” Not letting him finish, I started running down the wrong road which I realised when three or four spectators pointed and yelled, “no, over there.” On my return from the Lamphey Hall Hotel, the crowd parted for me as I rejoined the pack.
We reached the coastline just after my stop in the Freshwater Arms but the hills were starting to take their toll on a lot of us. I chatted with one guy I had passed a few times already and I think I diagnosed an IT band problem for him. I offered to buy him a regenerative beverage at the Castle Inn in Manorbier, but eventually just passed him again sometime soon after. It was good to see him finish shortly after I changed into my travel clothes.
So, it was a disappointing effort, in some ways. About 4h 8m worth of disappointment, in fact, and I only came in slightly ahead of a guy who had been obviously suffering for at least 23 miles of the route. Again, I could make excuses about going ¼ mile out of my way for the 2nd pub or starting the morning with a heavy-backpack-laden 10K after an afternoon of bar hopping the day before but none of that is especially unusual (I think the real excuse should just be that I’m old). But, I ticked off another one and drowned my sorrows by returning to the Three Mariners (which had sent me away dry at 9:30 in the morning since their license locks their taps till 10).
“Is the bar serving yet?” I asked with a sweeping hand gesture past the beer taps in the Three Mariners (which opens for breakfast).
“Of course,” replied the young barman, then, “just let me ask to make sure.” Shit, I thought.
And, I was right. After a quick consultation with the landlord he returned shaking his head. “Sorry, 10 o’clock.” I had to be in the starting corral for the Marathon at 9:45 so I left with nowt but the apple leftover from breakfast.
After the run, I was still thirsty (of course — it takes it out of you, don’t you know), so I popped back in to find the place still relatively unpolluted by runners despite the close proximity to the finish. Very depressing this thing that has become of my lifelong hobby. [Note: I quite correctly typed ‘lifelong hobble’ but, as I intended to type ‘hobby,’ I made the change.]
Quite a friendly lot at this bar including a very nice off-duty barmaid as well as the original bearer-of-bad-news; they kept me entertained with a bit of goofy chat for as long as it took to de-cider my glass. Properly marinated, I bid the Three Mariners and Tenby farewell.
There’s nothing better than a seaside chippy. Actually, there’s SUPPOSED to be nothing better than a seaside chippy but someone needs to tell the folks in Tenby that.
After a bland piece of fish the day before I reckoned on something delicious on my second effort and the Park Road Chippy was busy enough to recommend it and I was starved after the Marathon but nooooooooooo…despite asking specifically if I wanted salt and vinegar (to which my answer which she wrote down was, “yes”) there was none at all; the oil was obviously not hot enough to seal the flavourless batter before the fish started steaming within (and without) it; and, the chips may have been cooked to order like it says in the window but that order must have been placed on Tuesday by someone other than me.
Everyone at the bars, today, seemed surprised by my visits; however, none more so than at the Castle. The barmaid seemed flabbergasted and the landlord seemed concerned for my well-being and sanity.
Okay, fair play on that last one.
My own thoughts on arrival in the village went something like, “Manorbier…man, or beer…difficult question that: more than once I’ve been more beer than man.”
I lingered a bit, as I had invited an ailing runner to join me but I eventually passed him again once I returned to the fray. In the meantime, the owner tried to suggest CAMRA membership (which I have had since a few days after we moved here in January 2009). “Then, you should be drinking real ales, shouldn’t you?”
“I would do, but…,” and I theatrically gestured at the taps of fizzy beer and cider. He turned, just as theatrically, and pointed to the two gravity taps at the back.
“Shit!” I cocked my head at the two, dusty vessels. “When did THOSE arrive?” But, the lager was fine and did what I hoped it would do and all was well and the bar would be here when next I visit. Toorah!
The Freshwater Inn gets screwed by the Wales Marathon. During the event, the road it is on is inaccessible to all but foot traffic (so, mostly the denizens of this tiny village, most of whom were hiding out until the hordes passed). When I entered, the staff appeared to be enjoying a chin wag at the kitchen’s serving window and were oblivious to my presence.
“Hiya,” I interrupted. The young barman, startled, rushed over apologetically and served me up as his boss came over to chat. Turns out, he’s done the Marathon before and was sympathetic to my nutritional needs (giving me a hefty, one-off discount on the pint).
Hopefully, the trade picked up later in the day.
I left the Marathon course to travel an unknown distance down a road I hadn’t even Google scouted to reach a pub I hadn’t planned on visiting and wasn’t entirely sure was open. It turned out to be the Lamphey Hall Hotel and I was pleased to find the door open and a staffer toting linens into the lift.
“Pardon me…is the bar open?” I asked.
“Certainly,” she answered pointing. “Just go straight through.
I breezed past reception and some well attired other staff that, once they caught up (as they all converged on me at the bar) seemed relieved if bemused that I was just a thirsty runner from the event a quarter-mile away. There were only two customers at this early hour, a friendly couple who offered to snap my photo for this note.
This place is VERY nice (too nice for the likes of me even when I clean up and behave myself) but they were much more friendly than cordial and though I am sure they were glad my stay was brief they all made me feel as if it was a highlight of the pre-lunch rush.
And, the beer was lovely.
The Marathon had gone well enough through Pembroke and I trundled up to the first pub I saw. Grabbing the door handle I found it locked…bugger. Up the hill to the High Street, I scanned the store fronts but my glasses were smeared and fogged over and completely useless so the first place I spotted that appeared to be serving was the King’s Arms.
Inside, I found a small arc of a bar populated by 5 or 6 older gents bitching about the runners and road closures but I still am not sure whether it was directed at me or if somehow it is normal for damp, fragrant Americans in skimpy shorts to turn up before noon on Sundays and start photographing the house whilst waiting for their beer to settle.
I ordered a Cwrw after looking twice at each of the taps available (a daunting selection, indeed). The barman seemed pleased that I pronounced it correctly and the attendees smiled at either my enthusiastic downing of the mellow brew or at the brevity of my visit.
“Out of my way, losers!” I shouted at the stream of runners as I exited the building. A couple of spectators turned and smiled; the bloke asked, “did you just stop for a pint?”
“Of course. It has to start somewhere.”
“Good man,” he yelled as I dashed off.
My glasses, on the bar near the pint and the Cwrw tap, wouldn’t have helped me focus this shot.