Race Report – Dysynni Trail Fest 15K, Tywyn, Wales

13 June 2015

I started running when I entered the Glasgow Movember 5K in Autumn 2013 with a vague idea I should try to be healthier. I joined the club in October 2014, when I moved back to Leeds. Over the winter, I did my first 10K events – the Abbey Dash and the Harewood 10K.

Last summer my partner Steven and I ran in the Race the Train event in Tywyn, Wales, so we were emailed about a new trail festival being held in the town. After finishing at Harewood House, I signed us up for the 15K, as I wanted to build upon my success in these runs and continue increasing my distance.

I have nerve damage in my right leg and drop-foot, so I have often lacked confidence in running. Earlier this year, I attended an appointment with an orthotist to be fitted for an ankle-foot orthosis. When the orthotist went through my neurology notes, I found out that I had been diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth, which I hadn’t been told about until then.

Like most people, I had barely heard of Charcot Marie Tooth despite it being fairly common (1 in 2500 people). CMT is caused by a genetic mutation in the nerve cells, which is usually inherited, and mainly affects mobility, coordination, balance and strength in the lower limbs, feet and hands. The symptoms can range from mild to very severe, although it is not life-threatening and progresses slowly.

I have had a lot of emotional support from Steven and my parents. The charity CMT UK have provided a lot of information and practical advice. I also found a lot of inspiration from a book “Running for my Life, Winning for CMT” by Chris Wodke, who wrote candidly about completing the Boston Marathon in the para division after her CMT diagnosis. As the majority of people with CMT cannot run (some struggle to walk), there is not much advice on running with this condition, so this book was invaluable.

For the 15K run, I roughly followed a 12 week beginner’s 10 mile training programme. The plan was based around running 3 times a week: a medium distance run (which I did at Roundhay or substituted for interval night), a long run at the weekend (which increased each time) and a short recovery run. I found that running and socialising could take my mind off things, but sometimes bad runs or my hands going numb whilst running made me more anxious.

During the training programme, I have continued to see an orthotist at Seacroft hospital, who has taken an interest in my running. I have been trying out different orthotic devices. I got bad blisters at one point from one. Over time my right calf has weakened and shortened, I’ve been told the orthotics will help lengthen it again. During the training programme, I had to take a week off running because of a tendon pain, but luckily this healed quickly.

One week before the event, I went to Roundhay Parkrun and took 30 seconds off my PB there, which gave me the boost in confidence I really needed.

The forecast for the day of the race was heavy storms and high wind. We stayed just up the coast in Barmouth and were pleased to see most of the rain had passed overnight, and it was cool and cloudy. The race was due to start at 12.00 so we were able to eat a B&B breakfast.

After a drive over a toll bridge and down the coast, we managed to find the start of the race, the Ynysymaengwyn Caravan Park, without having to ask for directions. The 1.45K, 5K, 10K and 15K races all set off from a walled garden of an old manor house in a wood.

After a short delay (this was the inaugural event after all), the race started. There were 70 participants in the 15K, mostly club runners and a few very excited dogs with their runner-owners. Steven had agreed to run with me as long as I didn’t walk. He told me to set a sustainable pace for us and not get swept away in the rush at the start.

The first 5K was along the banks of the River Dysynni estuary and was very flat on ground with lots of rabbit holes and little bushes. The 10K runners were running back in the opposite direction, so I mainly concentrated on settling into my stride and avoiding the hazards.

RR 2Plodding on the flat grass was starting to make my legs ache, so I was glad to get to the 5K water station and the footbridge over the river. There was a choice of normal or isotonic water, handed out by cheery volunteers. I also took some jelly babies in my pocket to eat on the way. I’d been experimenting with different energy sources in training and found these worked best for me. After the flat grass, I enjoyed running up and down the undulating roads of the Welsh countryside and looking at the sheep and cows in the fields. However, in this section, a Red Cross Landrover was back marking to stop cars entering onto the course. As we were the last runners, the car was directly behind us and hearing it grind along in first gear encouraged me to keep up the pace.

There was a second water station where the course left the road. The final third of the race was on farm tracks and footpaths back beside the river and crossed a couple of stiles. By this time, I was starting to tire, especially through sections of long grass, but the marshals and volunteers were all really friendly and encouraging. At 12K, the course crossed a stream, which was about ankle to knee deep – there was a rope and marshals to help. My feet were made heavy after this by my wet trainers and socks, but the end, back in the wood where we had started, was now in sight.

The last kilometre wound round the wood several times and eventually we approached the finish line. My time was 1:41:37. The course was between 13 and 14K in the end, but I’m told this is usual for trail runs. It was the furthest I had ever run, so I was pleased to have finished strongly and kept my pace throughout.

At the end there was orange segments, more water and people giving out the medals. There was an award ceremony for the fastest runners and age category winners, where they received prizes donated by local businesses. Overall, the event was well run with lots of local character and great volunteers. I would recommend The Dysynni Trail and Race the Train to anyone looking for an event with a difference.

What’s next for me? I am seeing a neurologist in August and am on the waiting list for genetic testing, so I should be able to be diagnosed with a CMT sub-type and get a prognosis. I am getting more used to walking and running with orthotics and I may be able to get physio on the NHS. I don’t have any events lined up but I’m aiming to keep my training ticking over. Next year, I would like to attempt a half marathon.

Thank you to Roundhay Runners. Your fantastic support has enabled me to develop as a runner. I know many of us are battling our running demons and you are an inspiration.

RR 3