Narberth Nobbler Marathon

Beth had signed up for the half marathon version of the Nobbler and suggested we camp in Narberth and make a weekend of it. I saw that there was a marathon option with lots of interesting looking trails, a decent bit of elevation change and a even river crossing – I was sold.

Our friends from running club, Andy and Jenny, signed up too and between us we covered all 3 distances from the 10k to the marathon.

The race starts and finishes in Narberth itself and is run on a mixture of country lanes, forestry fire road, single track and farmland. I looked at the map and decided I wasn’t going to attempt to memorise any of it. It is easily one of the most wiggly routes I’ve ever seen. In hindsight, a .gpx on my watch would have been helpful.

The most wiggly race route of all time?

I’d been out of sorts all week before the race. Miserable, lazy and hardly running. Maybe a bit of fatigue, maybe just fed up of work, but I got to Narberth with an apathetic attitude towards the race. It was always going to be a training run for me. I didn’t intend to race and have to recover from it. My focus is entirely on the Humani’trail 56k in the Swiss Alps in September.

The weather forecast was for heavy rain before and throughout the race, which turned out to be entirely accurate. I have never woken up on the morning of a race and cared so little about what I was about to do. I don’t know if it was complacency or just denial, but it was strange.

Pre race enthusiasm.

The start area was in a tent behind the start/finish arch. There were only around 30 runners for the marathon which was set off before the half marathon, with the 10k starting a little later. Runners were quietly chatting about kit and so on and Beth, Jenny and Andy had come to see me off. After the short briefing in the tent, the race director handed over to an Elvis impersonator, who sang “Blue Suede (running) Shoes”. I couldn’t help but laugh at the surreal scene and suddenly I was looking forward to running through the rain for hours.

The race started and I focused on settling into an easy rhythm over the first couple of miles. I’d forgotten my chest heart-rate monitor and figured I wouldn’t be able to rely on accuracy the wrist one so just ran by feel. (As it happened, the wrist monitor seemed to be fairly accurate for once).

The first part of the race was downhill on a gravel path, then uphill on country lanes to the highest point on the course at about 3 miles. After that we were into some fun forestry single track. The organisers had said that the trails get extremely muddy when it rains and they weren’t wrong! The mud was sticky, there was loads of standing water and the the climbs and descents, of which there were many, were basically streams.

A race pic that another runner posted on Facebook. This was by no means the only puddle we encountered.

Shoe-wise I opted for my Hoka Speedgoat 2. They’re not the grippiest in thick mud and I’ve run over 500miles in them so the lugs aren’t what they were, but I know they don’t give me blisters when completely saturated with water and they’re really comfortable on the road too. There were definitely a few hairy sections where I’d have liked a bit more traction though!

I stopped to pee in a bush 5 miles in and let the runner who’d been on my heels for 2 miles go past. It was a relief (on both counts), I could run on my own and manage my effort without distraction. As the marathon field was small, it was fairly strung out by then.

I emerged from the woods onto a section of fire road the first two half marathon runners flew past. I checked my watch: 5.5miles down, 8:24mile average pace. The half was meant to start 15 mins after the marathon…so had they just been smashing out sub 6min miles through ankle deep mud? Crazy pace indeed, but none of my business – I cracked on at my easy pace.

A little further on I saw some orange smoke at the end of the fire road, which I assumed was the way to go. As I got there I found a guy dressed head to toe in black, wearing a skull mask, a flare in one hand and menacingly brandishing a large stick in the other. I hoped it was part of the race. I thought it was a bit early in the day to be hallucinating so it must’ve been real, which is what I told him as I passed. Luckily the guy laughed and didn’t chase me with the massive stick. With a lungful of orange smoke I pressed on.

So convoluted was the route, I’d completely lost my bearings early on and was surprised to see half marathon runners coming towards me at about 8 miles. I then realised that Beth and Andy were among them and we waved and shouted hello to one another just before I turned off down another muddy trail. I was pleased that they seemed to be in good spirits, especially as Beth, as she had recently taken some time off training after twisting her ankle a few weeks earlier.

At 10miles the marathon and half marathon routes split. I headed off down a country road for a bit which felt quite nice after sliding around in the mud. After crossing a gushing ford the route headed up a narrow lane to Roberson Wathen which was basically a fast flowing stream.

Around 12 miles, followed by another runner, I took a wrong turn down a muddy gully, and ran through what I realised was a sheep’s skeleton, and came to a dead end. We retraced our steps back to the road and found the right route. I’d have been kicking myself if I’d been racing as I’d wasted 3-4 minutes. As it happened, things soon became more eventful and I lost yet more time.

After a flat grassy bit along a riverbank interspersed with boardwalks, the trail climbed into some woodland. At this point the bite valve came off one of the soft flasks on my race vest, squirting Tailwind everywhere, including into my left eye. I stopped moving to try and get the thing back on and stem the flow of precious nutrition. With wet hands I eventually got it back on, caked in mud after dropping it…another 2 mins wasted. I started running again and promptly slipped on a tree root and face planted. Much swearing ensued.

A couple on minutes later, I found that I suddenly needed a number 2. Despite the Imodium I’d taken, this would not wait. So off the course, checked no runner had followed me, squatted, couple of fistfuls of wet grass, job done. Another 2 mins wasted. Time to crack on (pun intended).

Next up was the river crossing. There was a steep mud bank down to the water which had to be abseiled down. I was already drenched so barely felt the water, which was up to the waistband of my shorts due to the heavy rain. I loved it! I felt like I was at Western States at the Rucky Chucky river crossing (maybe one day). I made sure I didn’t do a Jim Walmsley and let go of the rope.

The next 4 miles or so were very quiet. Quite a climb and descent from what I remember, and the only person I saw was a lady stood in the doorway of her farmhouse who shouted something I didn’t quite catch on my way past.

I was lucky to spot the aid station at the top of a climb at around 17 miles as it was hidden off the course. I was pretty much out of fluids by then and was glad of the top up and fistful of soggy jelly babies. The marshal said that a lot of the front runners had just headed straight on without stopping. I mentioned that it could have been that they didn’t see him, as it wasn’t obvious at all. He said he was going to move to a better spot.

On my way down a hill back toward the river the bite valve came off again. Another stop to fix it. At least I had plenty of Tailwind that would see me until the end. Then I missed a route marker and took a needless detour around a field. With good extra km or so added and some nettle stings for my troubles, I spotted some runners going the right way, chased them down and moved past them. Although I wasn’t really racing I worked on building a gap and they were out of sight by 19miles. I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Then a few miles of an easier mix of trail and road where I picked up the pace a bit and caught a few other runners which felt good. My legs were still nice and fresh. All the miles I’ve run this year must have paid off.

After a slightly confusing section, I found the point where the trail rejoined the half marathon route and knew there was only 3 miles or so to go. My watch read 24.5 miles, so I I was getting my entry fee’s worth.

A short muddy track that I’d run down on the way out was an absolute nightmare on the way back. I had to walk as I had no traction whatsoever and my shoes refilled with thick mud. After that it was all road and gravel path to the finish. More uphill than I’d remembered from the way out but after a mile or so the the finish arch was in sight…at the top of a steep grassy bank that hundreds of 10k and half marathoners had run up earlier. I pumped my arms, my legs followed. I made it up the steepest part, nearly slipped, regained my balance and spotted my cheer squad. Beth, Jenny and Andy had been joined by the Canns and my parents.

Across the line in 4hrs37mins and 11th place. Not too bad. A great medal, a bottle of local ale and a slice of flapjack and I was happy. Then it promptly stopped raining. Typical.

Done! And seemed to have grown a small foot out of my hip.

The Nobbler survivors!

Got to be one of the coolest race medals.

I’d highly recommend the Narberth Nobbler. I loved every minute of it. As did the others. With a great route and a range of distances there’s something for everyone. Go and run it!

I’d quite like to go back and run it in anger sometime. In drier conditions, with a better sense of direction and less stops sub 4 hours should be possible for me.

Next up: Humani’trail 56k in Switzerland!

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