The town of Beddgelert, sitting at mile 13, was where my Nain went to school and as I ran past the building I felt more of my dwindling strength leech effortlessly. I wasn’t walking anymore, I was stumbling forward in a decrepit daze.
Just outside of the town my crew was waiting for me. As I got near my uncle made a joke about how slow I was going and the fact that I had no witty retort and all I could muster was my middle finger showed him that something was really wrong long before they could see my face. Apparently, at that stage my face was a ghostly white and my eyes were cloudy and glazed. The very mild hypothermia that disorientated my mind was now visible upon my skin. I had only two choices, pull out now before reaching Nain’s house which was unfathomable or find a way around the barrier before it floored me. I told them that I’d need a complete change of clothes when I saw them next in three miles time. I pushed on knowing full well that not only was the next three miles going to be hard it could be a dangerous and foolhardy idea.
I greedily swallowed down a gel and pushed onwards with what was left of my determination. I wish I could retell a story of strength in those miles, of fortitude in-spite of everything but in reality I remember none of the next miles. Not because of the months that have past since but due to the hyperthermia, which had put my body into survival mode.
The next thing I remember was seeing my aunt and uncle’s house in the distance and knowing that there lied a reprieve; friendly faces, new clothes and a warm drink. I peeled off the sodden clothes, giving no care to who saw, threw on the new layers and sipped on some pipping hot coffee. The warm and utterly delicious drink gave me goosebumps as I felt its warmth seep through me, I felt warm for the first time since the start. It would be a massive overstatement to say I was a new man, I was still battered and knackered but I was smiling and that felt like a win. As I lumbered back onto the course I knew now that I would make it to Nain’s house at mile 21 and if I could make it there I could make it to the finish. It wouldn’t be pretty, especially as I was stood half naked in a driveway but I’d get it done.
Having shaken off some of the delirium I turned to leave and now realised the surroundings I was now in. To the left of me lay the foot of Elephant Mountain and I was immediately struck by a swirling mix of emotions. For the first mile in its shadow I ran with memories of Nain’s life; her unwavering kindness and generosity, of her pineapple pudding and the powerful national pride in being Welsh she instilled in me. Positivity swarmed around me as the sun teased it’s way through the clouds for a few glorious minutes. The silver shimmer from Llyn Cwellyn, the lake at the base of the mountain, threw my distant mind and suddenly I was in that dimly lit room saying goodbye to a shadow of her former glory. Through sweat soaked tears I felt a powerful surge of emotions that stopped me in my tracks and I just stood there and stared at the sleeping giant.
I have to keep going, I told myself, now was not the time for motionless mourning. I turned my face away from the mountain, shook off the invisible gloom and staring down at the road to focus on the mundane I pushed onwards. Until finally I was in the village that Nain used to live.
The hill up to her house seemed steeper then it once was. My lungs began to burn with exhaustive sorrow as time seemed to warp and slow until finally her house came into view. Luckily I wasn’t going through this tough moment of sweat soaked grief alone. My fiancée and uncle were stood just outside the house, as they had done for every Snowdonia Marathon I’d run. Except time had clawed away in sorrowful thievery the face I longed to see waving through the window. The door now locked, a cup of coffee no longer waiting and the soft voice of calm now silent.
The hollowed out home was just a house now so I turned to look back at her view Elephant Mountain and in my silent moment of reflection my partner passed me a cup of coffee and I turned to the house and raised it in caffeinated tribute. She understands I am a creature of tradition and this simple act of memorial, in continuing the tradition of having a coffee with Nain even without her, meant more to me than I can put into words. I vowed in that moment to do this every time I raced this marathon. A timeless, wordless tribute to an incomparable woman.
I walked downing the remaining dregs of the coffee and just before I turned the corner I looked back longing Mynydd Mawr and smiled. From that corner it is a steep slog upwards for four miles. Your body is running on fumes alone and yet you must now perform hill-start after hill-start, crawling up the mountain side. But, fuelled by caffeine and joyful remembrance, I had a new found strength which surged me up the steep elevation.
The final mile is down a cruelly steep decent and it is usually one of my favourite parts of the race and for the first time this race it still was. I hurtled down the hill with wild abandonment, smiling the whole way to the finish line.
The medal is made from the slate this land is shaped by and emblazoned with it’s mountains. The same mountains that saw my Nain born, saw her grow, marry, raise children, watch her visit her husbands grave for 50 years, missed her when she left and gratefully received her when she returned to live out her final years. They mourned her death but even though she may have gone the mountains remain. They’ll watch on as her family carries on her memories. I hope one day my grandchildren and I will stand in the shadow of Mynydd Mawr and I’ll tell them the same story: Of a sleeping elephant and the great woman who told me it’s tale.
Wonderful story and tribute to the lady who means so much to you. Amazing account of perseverance through extreme adversity. Well done!