Posted on: 29 May 2017

Cadair Idris. 

Idris' Chair. 

It peaks at 893m (2,930ft) high, and I've raced to its summit and back on 2 occasions before. 

First attempt in 2012 involved a near death experience, when trying to dodge the chaos of all the runners and walkers dodging each-other in the little gulley scramble near the top, I skipped round to the right of a great slab of rock, thinking I'd done a smart thing. A walker very suddenly appeared coming up the other way, I couldn't dodge, could only grab her, and came within an inch of plunging both of us over the cliff and down into the icy waters of Llyn-y-Gader some 600ft below.

2nd attempt in 2015 was better, I was fitter, and stronger, more experienced now at running those testing downhills, but Cadair is more testing than most, and when I hit the marshes at the bottom, all the strength was gone and my legs couldn't react when an unseen rock caught my toe, and my left knee still bears the scar from the rock that it crashed into.

I'd have been nervous about Ras Y Gader (the Cadair Idris Race) even if I was in the best of shape. In the best of shape I certainly am not. 

My fitness is pretty good at the moment, my technique, well practiced, I can control to a degree the strain on my injured joints, but a year of being injured, a whole entire year, has stripped the muscle from my legs and sapped the strength out of my core. The confidence I had downhill is gone, the skill to place my feet over rough terrain, vanished through lack of practice, proprioception gone. The pain and limitation I've endured for this last year has filled my head with fear, can't do another year like that again. In a nutshell I am not the runner that I was, and I knew it for sure from Dinas Bran.

Cadair not only had me nervous, it had me almost running scared. In the car on the way there, my fear was rising to a peak. "Nervous" was the answer when Clair asked how I was feeling, the deeper truth was more like 'terrified', but when she'd been good enough to come out and support me, I really didn't want to worry her.

Dolgellau has always turned up a brilliant atmosphere for this race, so when we arrived and there were no drums beating, I was really disappointed. I'd told Clair all about how great it was, and it wasn't measuring up. Went to pick up my race number, and suddenly everything picked up 😊.

Now 13 is a number most associate with bad luck. I'm not one of those people who goes in for claptrap like that myself. Whether or not Judas was the 13th disciple has something to do with the "unlucky for some" debate - but I think the key word is the last one - "some" - which surely makes it no different to any other number? In ancient Egypt 13 was considered a lucky number, so why suddenly has "unlucky for some" morphed into "unlucky for all"? Calm down people, calm down.

I don't know if it's lucky or not, but the number 26 certainly recurs a lot in life for me. I was born on the 26th, add up everything I've ever done and I've had 26 different jobs, had my daughter when I was 26.....

Wonder if that's why, of all the sports I could have chosen, and distances within it, it's the marathon which I gravitate towards?

13, likewise, recurs repeatedly for Clair. For her though, it is a symbol of good luck, and her reasons for it are many. It put a right big smile on my face when I picked up my race number - 13 - and a right big smile on hers 😊. The 13th was the date of the 40th birthday party at which we met. 13 years have passed since we've been given this great 2nd chance that we've got. Her birthday is on the 13th. Her dad's, who she loved dearly, was on the 13th..... The list goes on and on......

We had a brief meet with Charles, Linda, Alan and Mel, my fellow clubmates in the race, then it was back to the car to get changed into my running gear. My nervousness had calmed down, I was going up that mountain now whatever - and then I lost my socks ☹️.

PANIC 😬😨😱!!!

Thank goodness I had Clair with me - one of us needed to be bright enough to see that I was sat on them 😂😂😂.

The time had ticked away, the race was due to start, I had to leg it to the toilet - disaster struck again 😩 (did I say there's nowt to worry about when you've got number 13?) - as soon as I started running I got a sharp and sudden pain in my ankle on the left. The ankle locked up, the pain was of the sort that actually knocks you sick. I hadn't even started, and my race, it seemed, was done 😫.

Clair was a tower of strength to me just then. She didn't know how much she was helping. She took my mind completely off the race, just made me feel loved and valued. It was almost like no one else was there. I became totally relaxed, my head became a space where I was doing nothing more demanding than heading off for a gentle stroll, and the only thing that mattered now was getting back to her in one piece.

Kit check done, and off we went, 300 spritely fell runners surging powerfully up the hill out of the Dolgellau, oh yeah, and one bloke at the back, causing havoc with all the parents getting asked "Mum, why isn't that one running?" Most of the answers were polite, at least whilst they knew that I could hear them. 

"Everyone has their own way of doing things Thomas"

"Not everyone in the race is as fit as everyone else son"

The ankle wasn't easing. How cruel the twist of fate that I should be injured so long with one thing, and just as it's starting to feel like full recovery is in my grasp, I'm struck by something else. 

Well if I have to walk I will do, I'm not all that far behind them, might even catch them on the steep stuff. Well if I'm going to carry on anyway, may aswell have a little go at a run. Hmmm. Not liking it, walk again it is.

I run / walk up the tarmac, those occasional bursts of running put me in amongst the runners. Say hello to Mel. One woman passes comment that I'm walking faster than she can run. It is on pretty steep tarmac, and I'm not convinced it's true. Ankle still not happy.

Then we find a gateway, and turn off onto a stony path. I've not long since seen Linda, and Charles is just going through the gate. Suddenly my legs spring into life, ankle pain forgotten, there is dancing now to do. Into the woods and all the tree roots, I follow patiently behind one guy with a big long lolloping stride, even though I stay back a bit it makes it hard to read the ground. It takes so long between landing and take off it's like his trainers are taking root! Everything I try to look at, I can't see because of his leg. Eventually I nip past him, the next guy has really nimble light and quick steps, that makes all the difference, I can see now where to put mine 😊.

It's really boggy by the stiles, and the field where I fell last time is really marshy and wet. These are the last moments of relative comfort, for once we cross the road and have crossed over the stream, we climb, and from here on, we climb steep. Really steep. The pony path zig zags its way up Cadair's side for what feels like a ridiculously long time. 300 runners, all forced to a walk by the sharpness of the climb, make that thin path a pretty crowded place. 

I'm walking well, what I did whilst I couldn't run is starting to pay off. I look for every tiny advantage I can get over the other runners around me. I'm reading the ground, spotting the best routes up the steps - I'll not reveal the secret of what I'm looking for - but it definitely does the trick, I'm overtaking quite a few. There's one guy from Meirionnydd who has really got the knack of finding the best path. I'm walking way faster than he is, yet we remain locked together neck and neck, he's a proper mountain man this one.

Through the checkpoint at the gate and steep grind gives over to a wider path climbing more gently to the top. I'd forgotten how rocky it is up here, forgotten about the bands of boulders to be hopped that cut across the path. Ive forgotten how to get swiftly across these, they are nervous steps I take.

At the summit, the final bit of climbing is up a short narrow gulley. There aren't many folks getting through here without putting their hands on rock. Its incredibly steep, and technical, and out of what turned into a glorious day we are suddenly in cloud. Dash up to touch the summit, and now the scary bit, coming down 😬.

Immediately I can feel that my ankle's none too pleased. I'm going to have to go gentle, but that's no problem, it's been so long since I've run on a proper mountain I just can't spot where to put my feet. It's like information overload and my brain is turning all the jagged rocks into a big grey blurry fluff. Something's happening I'm not used to, loads of people are overtaking me as we head off down the hill.

Previously I've come hurtling down the pony path, feeling utterly alive and without any fear at all. Today I'm slowing to a walk to get across those pesky boulder fields. I thought coming down with the brakes on would wreak havoc on my knee, but it's actually not too bad, and the ankle is happy for not being pushed.

Meirionnydd draws level with me and I compliment his route picking on the way up.

"I've a couple of good 'uns for you on the way down if you want to follow me" he says smiling. Not a chance of keeping up with him, but I already know it's the suicide drop down through the heather that he wants to show me - and I'm willing to try. He doesn't need to know I've been this way before.

I think that drop down through Cadair's heather is the steepest bit of descending I've done in any fell race ever. Of course I wanted to test my knee out properly 😱. Scary, yes, but ever so exciting 😁😁. I couldn't run down it, it was almost too steep to walk, but I think I still managed to benefit. The less kamikaze runners who stuck to the defined path lost a bit of ground to me even though I walked.

By the time I hit the marshes, I was feeling surprisingly ok. Usually this boggy section saps every ounce of energy from your legs. After such a brutal descent, to have your feet growing heavier with every single stride is a demoralising grind. A girl came absolutely flying past me, running really strong, then had to stop and tie her shoe lace. I let her past at the next stile, having to stop to tie a shoe lace should not be the reason I get to finish in front of her, she ran the mountain better than I could, and so deserves the finish place. 

Once we hit the tarmac, something I didn't expect. My legs are feeling quite fresh, I can relax on the way down and I start overtaking people again. Now my knee begins to hurt. I'm blaming it on the tarmac. Only a mile or so of it to cope with, I can grit my teeth for that long.

Besides, when I turn that final corner in Dolgellau, my baby will be waiting, somewhere near that finish line, Clair is looking out for me, and I want to make her proud. I want to turn that corner looking strong, like I could do it all over again, no matter how it feels inside.

The knee hurts more and more, but I'm just relaxing, letting gravity do the work. Slowly I'm catching up again to Meirionnydd, but as we get into the town he puts on a bit of a sprint and I am catching him no more. 

I turn the final corner looking out for Clair, can't see her ☹️, I glance up at the clock and see 2:07:??. Really pleased with that 😊. I know the first time I did this race it was done in 2:09. I hear my name called out over the tannoy, and salute it with a customary 'aeroplane'. One high 5 from the crowd, and then I cross the line.

Clair appears immediately with a beautiful smile and massive hug. There's a special stunning sparkle in her eyes and she tells me she's so proud of me. It is a lovely moment for me. 

There's quite a lot I've done with my running of which I'm personally quite proud. I don't need to list those things right now, but I know there's been plenty of times where I have defied the limitations of this body of mine and the injuries I carry. I've never had a loved one meet me on the finish line and tell me I've made them proud. She makes me a very happy man 😊. In that one moment, every step I've ever run, just became totally worthwhile.

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