The Main Event

The North Wales Half Marathon

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - The 2017 North Wales Half Marathon is on July 29. Visit run­wales.com

I know it’s a mas­sive cliché to have the Char­i­ots of Fire sound­track rat­tling around your brain when you go run­ning, but when it came to this gor­geous multi-ter­rain race, I felt cir­cum­stances gen­uinely mer­ited it. With the tide out, the sandy shore­line of the beach at Conwy is re­vealed – and a more beau­ti­ful open­ing mile you could scarcely hope to find. The North Wales Half Marathon be­gins in style.

I’d hoped to re­sem­ble a mod­ern-day Eric Lid­dell or Harold Abra­hams, but as my shoes sank deeper into the wet sand and I sidestepped the nu­mer­ous jel­ly­fish ly­ing stranded in my path, I re­alised this wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. I prob­a­bly looked more like Mr Bean in the spoof ver­sion of that scene, screened at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2012 Olympics.

The mag­nif­i­cent beach sec­tion (we’d fin­ish the race on it, too) cer­tainly helped make this among the more mem­o­rable half marathons I’ve done. But it wasn’t the only rea­son – for a start, the views were glo­ri­ous. I could see the Great Orme at Llan­dudno, the mighty head­land that for gen­er­a­tions has drawn vis­i­tors up it. Fur­ther out in the wa­ter, on my right, I spot­ted Puf­fin Is­land – the un­in­hab­ited, slightly flat­tened rocky dome that’s a haven for sea birds – as well as the tip of the is­land of An­gle­sey.

Once off the beach, I was soon on much firmer ground, pick­ing up pace on the cy­cle path that took me four miles along the coast to

Pen­maen­mawr. This vil­lage on the fringes of the vast Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park orig­i­nally sprang up around its gran­ite quarry. His­tory buffs might know it as the place where 19th-cen­tury prime min­is­ter Wil­liam Gladstone of­ten chose to re­lax on hol­i­day (if stern­look­ing Vic­to­ri­ans en­gaged in such friv­o­lous ac­tiv­i­ties as re­lax­ing); for us run­ners, though, it marked the point where we turned our backs on the sea and headed in­land. It was also the half­way mark and the start of the ap­proach up to Conwy Moun­tain, the race’s cen­tre­piece.

As we made our way through Dwygy­fylchi vil­lage, the road in front of me rose sharply and the gra­di­ent sud­denly be­came hor­ri­bly steep. I dug in and as I climbed ever higher, the land to my left on the other side of the stone wall at the road­side fell away dra­mat­i­cally in a mag­nif­i­cent long sweep back to­wards the sea. At one point I ap­peared to be sur­rounded on all sides by rugged moun­tain slopes.

But it was the sight way above me that my eyes be­came fixed on. ‘Oh, blimey, we’re go­ing up there, aren’t we!’ a run­ner be­side me ex­claimed. She’d read my mind. High on the ridge far above us (244m, in fact), a line of tiny run­ners was al­ready ap­proach­ing the moun­tain’s peak. I wished I was one of them.

One mile and con­sid­er­able ef­fort later I had also con­quered the rocky 15 per cent gra­di­ent and stood for a mo­ment on the top, shak­ing my legs out and get­ting my puff back. Look­ing around, I could see why this van­tage point ap­pealed to our Iron Age ances­tors, who built a hill fort here.

I re­ally en­joyed the next two miles up here as I fol­lowed the nar­row, stony paths that snaked through the abun­dance of pur­ple heather, all the while snatch­ing glances down over Conwy, its com­mand­ing 13th-cen­tury cas­tle re­splen­dent in the sun­light; my at­ten­tion was torn be­tween this grand struc­ture and the equally strik­ing 19th-cen­tury sus­pen­sion bridge in front of it, a fine ex­am­ple of civil en­gi­neer­ing mae­stro Thomas Telford’s hand­i­work.

But there was work still to do, so I cur­tailed my sight­see­ing; if go­ing up the moun­tain was all about zon­ing out while mak­ing slow but steady progress, com­ing down re­quired sig­nif­i­cantly more con­cen­tra­tion. With pro­trud­ing roots and loose stones lit­ter­ing the rut­ted path, hurtling down at full pelt was some­thing I was more than happy to leave to the fell run­ners at the front of the pack.

Back on the flat, we en­joyed a stel­lar fi­nal three miles, tak­ing in first a large sec­tion of Conwy’s im­pres­sive me­dieval town walls, then skirt­ing past the boats moored in the pretty marina close to where the River Conwy opens out into the sea. From there, we headed back to the beach, where it had all be­gun. And yes, there was that tune again.

For many run­ners, see­ing the fin­ish­ing arch gave them the per­fect ex­cuse to slip off their socks and run­ning shoes and run that last 500m bare­foot be­fore head­ing straight into the sea for some in­stant hy­drother­apy. I pre­ferred to sim­ply gaze back up at Conwy Moun­tain and re­flect on how glad I was that I had made the trip to come and dis­cover this lit­tle nugget of gold in the Welsh race scene.

SOFT LAND­ING Looks like a day at the beach but there are also some se­ri­ous hills to tackle.

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