I like to think of myself as an adventurous world citizen but I have to admit, sometimes small and local is best. Especially when it comes to cake shops, brunch venues and my local pub The Blue Blazer (pictured above)
There's a comfort in knowing that they know that you like your pancakes with butterscotch sauce instead of maple syrup and your bacon on the side, that the waitress asks you how many miles you've run today or the landlord invites you to his birthday party. (Casino themed it was awesome!)
Over the last month I've been reminded why wee local races are just as amazing. They may have less race bling, smaller goodie bags, fewer supporters and require you to carry your own water. But they more than make up for this with style, unique touches and heartfelt enthusiasm which will bring a tear to your eye......or make me sob!
I thought I'd name my top 5 for you guys in case you fancied any of them. I think you'll fall in love with them just as I have. (Plus I can share some silly pics of me posing for the camera when the endorphins kick in-enjoy)
Full disclosure, for the perfectionists amongst you, it's not quite a marathon, but 21-24 miles up and down the Welsh hills. If you're quick you can learn more about it in the first part of this BBC series. The route is confirmed on race day and depends on weather and access being granted by local farmers!
I first encountered it when friends were running it in a couple of relay teams, last year I was back to run in the relay myself (the long, last, GLORY leg). This year I've lost my grip on reality and am doing the full thing.......gulp!
Cool fact: one of my friends has done "The Triple", on a horse, in a relay and solo!
We make a weekend of it and camp (in the rain) in the delightful town of Llanwrtyd Wells. The organisers are super friendly, very amusing and help in any way they can. The finish line is famed for a buffet put on by the locals and includes their speciality "jam and cheese sandwiches". An experiment a few years back which has turned into a delicacy!
Cake. Sandwiches. Horses.....definitely worth a few (a fair few) hills.
It does exactly what it say on the tin. You run up 7 local hills, stamping your race number as you go, and finish where you started at the top of the 7th (as you have to climb it to start you really do 8 hills, so prepare those legs)
I adored the simplicity of this race. No prescribed route, no big name sponsors, just a way to run all over my delightful Edinburgh in a challenging way with great company. Plus squash and jelly babies at every check point!
For folk like me there's the "Challenge" and for speedy peeps wanting to win there's the "Race". The challengers leave first so that they get overtaken by the racers in the first hour. I enjoyed the thrill of watching them all speed past!
Top tips: You can get by following the pack if, like me, you're rubbish at navigating as you run. But be aware of your options. I tried to clamber up a bare muddy slope and ended up clinging to a tree branch hyperventilating until a passing racer pulled me up to safety. I did yell "THANKS" to him as he sped away, but I'm not sure he heard. I found out afterward that there's a slower but easier path that loops the slope and doesn't induce vertigo!
So I signed up for the deliciously named Poets Path Potter. Held in the village of Dymock you start in the local primary school and run the famed Poets Path 1, Poets Path 2 or the Daffodil Way. You can run 8,8, or 10 miles or combine then to run 16 miles or a marathon. I plumped for 16.
As I have found with lots of wee races, information online was minimal and online sign up didn't work. But an email to the organisers had a place reserved within a few hours.
On the day you start the race with a poetry reading by a local poet. The poems are specially written about running and really ring true. She famously offended a vicar's wife with "The hill that is better than sex" (although I'm not sure I've ever found a hill THAT good)
It's fair to say that this is not a fast race, it involves tonnes of stiles and navigating. ( I got lost one and RAN UP AN EXTRA HILL BY MISTAKE) But its charm lies in its relaxed attitude. I have a new eating PB of a flapjack, custard cream and 3 milk tray chocolates at the halfway point! It really wasn't a gel kinda race.
Being so close to home my darling Mother and Godmother came along to cheer me on. It was the kind of race where they ended up hanging out in the hall drinking coffee and chatting to the organisers, rather than trying to push through the crowds to catch a glimpse of me. Fun for all the family!
I thought all ultra runners were slim, training obsessed,super food eaters made entirely from muscle. They ran marathons at sub 8 minute miles and planned to run on every continent in their cutting edge race gear.
For many reasons this was not me. When I looked at ultra marathons they all looked so slick and scary, and involved high end navigation through difficult terrain. Then I discovered the D33 Deeside Way Ultra. You run along the river, turn around and come back......even I couldn't get lost doing that!
But it what finally swung it, was seeing that last year's medal was a jam jar lid! How scary could people possibly be if they ran to recieve a jam jar lid medal? I had found my people, down to earth, crafty people!
And I wasn't wrong, they couldn't have been nicer. Full race review here.
Lots of my Father's cousins live in Belderrig on the west coast and pictures cannot do it justice. The rolling sea, the majestic cliffs, the unblemished beauty of nature and ACTUALLY HAVING TO STOP FOR SHEEP ON THE ROAD. The community spirit is strong here are they hold an annual mini sea triathlon here called The Belderrig Bronze Man. 100m sea swim, 4km bike ride and 4km run. The whole town turns out. There's a barbecue and ice cream and LOTS of cheering.
I was so excited about doing it that Dad bought me a new bicycle for Christmas and we schlepped it over on the ferry in a special bike box (yep, I'm a bit spoilt). 2 of my cousins took part in the race too and it was really lovely to race alongside them.....I BEAT THEM TOO (I never beat anyone so I was very excited)
But the best bit of all was that in order to collect your medal you had to go to the presentation ceremony in the community centre. They played a video of photos from the day and called you up by name to collect your medal. The closest I'll get to being Mo Farah.......maybe Zo Farah?
So. Yes. I love local races.
To weekend with friends or family.
To rediscover my home town or new city.
To learn about where my family come from.
To see if I can complete a new challenge.
To have my heart lifted by kind people, places and traditions.
All without the pressure of cut of times and road closures and needing to be fast or spend a huge amount to enter.
Sometimes perfection lies in the imperfections. You find a place where you can be comfortable, just like your local pub.
Run Cat Girl Run x x x