"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Man vs. Machine

"The Rotary Challenge" is the longest race in a series of four which all take place on the same day in Tywyn, Mid Wales. Of the four races three of them are against a train, but it is the Rotary Challenge which is the main event; the longest and most gruelling race where train passengers & runners start, and finish, their journey at the same point, but their paths are very different!

The runners face a 14 mile run through Welsh farmland, trails, and other cross country conditions. This 'course' runs parallel to the coal powered locomotive on which family & friends of runners can watch and shout words of encouragement to the runners.

Sounds lovely doesn't it?! Well for the train passengers it certainly is...

It took two and a half hours to get from Liverpool to Tywyn, but, with the race start time being a fairly late 2:05pm, the plan was to head down on the day, run the race in less than 1 hour 47 minutes, thereby beating the train, and heading back home. The first and last bits worked out quite well; the middle bit - hmm

I'd managed to get train tickets for my parents and so my legs where saved the ordeal of guiding the car down the long and winding roads of Wales as my dad drove there and back.

We arrived at 11:30 and collected our train tickets before scoping out the area and getting some lunch.

It was soon time to get changed and head to the starting line – I was happy to see 3 running club mates who I chatted and had a few laughs with before the start as we lined up to go. It was at this time, with 15 minutes to go, when the sun decided to come out and share some heat. With all the bodies packed at the start line it was stifling, I had hoped that once we got running it would cool down and we may even be treated to a few cooling rain drops.

As the 10 second countdown started I said good luck to my club runners and off we went. My aim was to go out hard to try and complete the first 7 miles quickly – the easier half, to allow more time for the latter 7 miles. Ideally I was looking for a 50 minute first half so I could have a 57 minute second half, it made perfect sense in my head!

The first mile and a bit were on roads around the town centre and a couple of small country lanes to get the runners on to the farm land that ran parallel to the train track. Thanks to this I managed to get in a first sub 7 minute mile without too much bother –although the heat was making me work harder than I normally would.

On to the first stretch of farm land there was an incline to get on to the peak of the land but this soon levelled out. The pace slowed for this and the thighs felt it, but pace was good considering the heat. Fortunately there were 2 drinks stations coming up were I took on water and isotonic drinks.

Between the first and second drinks stations there was the first ‘proper’ ascent, it was quite horrible, but compared to what was to come it could be considered a fun little climb! The course carried on through farmland with the hardest parts getting through very muddy gate ways, as well as land which wasn’t quite flat meaning a lot of concentration was needed to stay upright.

I must confess, on my way to the 7 mile point I slipped on a cow pat, but managed to stay upright – my poor little Brooks were taking a battering; they were going to be a very different colour to the green they started off as! Recovering from my cow pat slip it was soon (and ‘soon’ is a relative term here!) the 7 mile mark. My time was 53 minutes, so, in terms of beating the train, I was 30 seconds ahead of schedule (but 3 minutes down on my plan), but I knew I had a very difficult half to come and the likelihood was, I wasn’t going to beat the train.

It was a bit demoralising, but I carried on – it’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings and all that!

I had heard the whistling of the train behind me a few times over the first half, and shortly in to the second half I saw it go past me – but in the opposite direction; this meant it hadn’t reached the half-way point, which was encouraging (just to counter my feeling of despair, and give me a little bit of hope). I waved at the train and was able to hear my mother’s shriek of ‘come on David’ over the choo-choo of the train, all the other passengers, and my own ragged breath…

I was now ‘above’ the train – at the half way mark the course had veered right and a series of climbs followed, and here the terrain changed drastically; where there was farm land it was now more like woodland, with some slated pathways. This was the most technical part of the course with dips, climbs, twists and turns. I’ve shown below the aerial view and route for one of the most technical parts; no ‘easy’ farmland here!

This carried on until an enormous climb up some rocky steps took everyone to the highest point of the course – about 9 miles in. Pace here had slowed right down to a near crawl, and as the course was now quite tight it was down to single file. This suited me fine as it meant I could get my breath back – although at this point it was heavy breathing all the way.

You would think that after a big climb there would be a descent; well, there was, but there was no chance of catching a breath as it was a treacherous downhill return to flatter land (someone actually fell and dislocated their shoulder at this point of the course!). Things did get a little easier as the course opened up a bit, and though it was still predominantly single file I could stretch my legs where possible as I didn’t have to watch where my feet were landing. It was approaching 10 miles and I had lost a lot of time, though the train had not yet passed me.

Shortly after 10 miles the course dropped back down and took everyone back on to the farmland we had all headed out on. The going was a lot easier here but the fatigue in my legs meant that on steeper climbs I was forced to walk before resuming a plod on the flats.

Several things seemed to happen all at once just before 12 miles; first off, the train passed me; this signalled the end of my challenge of beating it – my hope now was to come in before 2 hours as I was really struggling – the sun was still out so I didn’t want to be out for long; I was concerned about dehydration and sun stroke.

After the train passed a club runner turned up alongside me; he really tried his best to raise my spirits; he told me there was one last climb, then we’d be back on roads – “we’ll batter them on the roads” he said… I wasn’t feeling his optimism!

After about half a mile of trying (valiantly) I couldn’t keep up with him any longer and off he plodded ahead of me. Then came the one last climb of the course – I couldn’t handle it, I walked to the peak of it. However I had now covered 12 miles and with a mere 2 miles to go I trudged on and was soon onto country lanes which felt much better on the legs. My pace was very slow, but I was at least carrying on.

Soon I was on the main road in to town and I could feel (though not quite see) the finish line! I turned a couple of corners and the crowd started to thicken and rapturous applause carried me over the final stretch. My name was read over the tannoy as I crossed the line… I had finished! My overwhelming feeling was relief – glancing at my Garmin I saw 1 hour 58 minutes and I was somewhat astonished as it felt I had been out there a lifetime!


 My mum and dad had made their way to the finish line so I was able to see them straight away. I thanked my fellow club runner for his encouragement before collecting my goody bag, medal and t shirt. I then had a well-earned shower and something to eat.

Over the course of the race I wanted to stop running several times, but as Winston Churchill said “When you’re going through hell, keep going” – and I most certainly did! The heat was at times unbearable, as race organisers later said this was the first time it hadn’t rained on race day, and it was the hottest day of the year on location!

On the way home I was feeling the effects of the run on my legs, but it was my stomach which capitulated; a quick lay-by stop was required so I could throw up in to the flower bed of a bespoke kitchen designer’s shop… Classy!


The race was tough, very tough, but that’s because I pushed myself and went out hard in order to try and beat the train. If you want something you have to try for it, and even though I failed at least I can say I failed having a go. If I had completed the race at an even pace knowing my finish time I think I would have enjoyed it more… Will I try again next year? I don’t know – I need to wait for the aching in my legs to ease first, but I would like to one day say I beat a train in a race…

Final Stats

Total distance: 14 miles
Total time: -1:58:07
Position: 240/839

A very well organised and original race, with plenty of drinks stations with a very challenging course. Excellent for a fun jog round, or to pit your legs against metal and coal! Excellent and novel medal, (see below) nice t-shirt and decent goody bag! Highly recommended.


 “If you don't invest very much, then defeat doesn't hurt very much and winning is not very exciting” - Dick Vermeil

1 comment:

  1. Cracking race, superb effort, was blazing hot so you did really well to keep going! ;)