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‘Race the Train’, Tywyn, 16 August 2008

This race was billed by Ian Kennedy as another one of his ‘best races ever’, however, this time he was right and ‘Race the Train’ lived up to all the hype.

For those that don’t know, Race the Train is an off-road race from the small coastal town of Tywyn in Mid-Wales. As far as practicable the race takes place alongside the route taken by the Talyllyn Railway on its journey to Abergynolwyn and back over a muddy and hilly 14-mile course. The aim as the name suggests is to beat the train back to the start in approx 1 hr 48mins …. sounds easy(ish) – until you see the terrain! Last year only 65 of the 700 starters beat the train, although this was over a slightly longer course.

Tywyn Wharf station and the train that
we were trying to race.

Ready for the off, left to right, Ian, Craig,
Claire, Tim, Kim and Andrew.

Ian, Tim, Claire, Kim and myself met up on the Friday night at the campsite which had just the basic facilities – but what can you expect for £5 a night. It was typical Welsh weather so we got a damp night’s sleep and woke early for a Tim Box breakfast in the rain under a tree.  We headed into Tywyn for the 2 o’clock start and met up with Andrew (Ian’s brother) who was also pulling on the mighty red and black vest of Wimborne AC. Over 800 runners lined up for the start, and whilst waiting we bumped into some fellow Wimbornians on holiday who took our photo and promised to send us a copy (Ian, never missing a trick, also tried to persuade them to come along on a Thursday).  As I joined the start I looked around to see vests from all over the country and even as far a field as Holland.  The race started and all 800 runners, plus one train with many spectators on board started off. 

The first mile was on road and I knew if I was to beat the train I would need to make good time on the road section. I went off like a train (sorry!) and soon hit the paths through the fields alongside the railway track. I didn’t see the train again until the halfway point where it stops to take on coal and water and then turn around. Unlike the train, I could drink on the go and the excellent marshals provided lots of isotonic drinks and support which kept me going. I had been warned that the second half of the race was tougher than the first, and just after the turning point we climbed/crawled up the mountainside onto a slippery single track. There was no way of overtaking unless you were feeling particularly suicidal as the rain had started to pour, and one slip would have sent you down a long way. There was a second train that had set off 15 minutes after the race train and on board was Kim’s partner, Dave, with his children, and various Kennedys. I tried to look and wave as it went by me but nearly lost my footing so decided to ignore the train and tried instead to stay on my feet.

The race relief train at Abergynolwyn which conveyed our vocal supporters.

I could soon hear the race train behind me whistling its departure from Abergynolwyn station (the halfway point).  Once off the single lane tracks I was able to pass people and began to think about pushing on. I did take time to take in the beautiful Dolgoch Falls at around 9 miles.

Tim was so in the zone he failed to spot Dolgoch Falls on the return leg.

I kept pushing on and was seeing people slipping and falling all over the place. The course was getting progressively worse as the rain and runners created bogs of mud, and constantly running on a slope made it difficult under foot for those with road shoes. Ian had taken the sensible approach of wearing cross-country studs.  With three miles to go I could hear the train coming up closer behind me. If you ever need motivation to get running quicker, then download onto your i-pod the sounds of a steam train coming up behind you, trust me it works better than words from any coach. I thought, ‘I haven’t driven for five hours and camped in the rain to be beaten by chuffin’ Thomas the Tank’ so I picked up the pace.

With one mile to go I hit the road and looked behind me to see the train within 100m of me and steam being pumped skywards.  I parted company with the train as it carried along the tracks and I ran through the brilliant crowds in the town towards the finish still not knowing if I had beaten it. A marshal soon told me and others that we had done it and there were handshakes, cheers and relief all round. I hadn’t realised, but when I parted from the train with a mile to go it still had one more station stop to make. It eventually reached Tywyn five minutes after I had made the normal kinds of excuses about lack of training etc! 

Next in was Ian in an excellent 2hrs 10 mins followed by Tim and Kim shortly after that.  Claire came next with a big smile on her face and Andrew was not far behind her. Everyone agreed it had been a great race and a goody bag containing a T-shirt, medal and food completed the event just before the rain started again. 

Very wet and muddy, we all headed back to the campsite for a shower before going to the pub for the evening. The pub landlord was very welcoming and when he mentioned he had rooms to rent the chances of me returning next year were much improved as Claire’s eyes lit up at the prospect of not camping again (ever). 

At the danger of sounding like Ian, I have to say that this is one of my favourite races and, given some half decent Welsh weather (i.e. wet and warm as opposed to wet and cold), it would be a great Wimborne weekend away next year. Thanks to Ian, Kim, Tim and Claire for a great weekend!

See www.racethetrain.com for more details.


134 – Craig Dixon – 1:43:18
509 – Ian Kennedy – 2:10:31
626 – Tim Box – 2:20:56
685 – Kim Jolliffe – 2:28:11
754 – Claire Newby – 2:39:20
760 – Andrew Kennedy – 2:41:08


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