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Letter from The Great Welsh Marathon

17 Mar 2024 7 minute read
Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

Medi Ashton

Today is the day I run my first marathon.

In fact, if you are reading this on the day of publication – Sunday March 17th – then you’ll be reading along with me as I run. It’s a comforting thought.

            Word-step, word-step,

                        Word-step-breath, word-step-breath,

                                    Word-step-breath, word-step-breath…

That meditative rhythm where thought dissolves and you’re no longer aware of who or what is propelling your legs forward one after the other, over and over to the point where it would take more effort to think how to stop than to just keep going as you are.

In this age of ever more extreme feats of adrenaline and endurance, running 26.2 miles along Carmarthenshire’s level Millennium Coastal Path with 2,000 other runners may seem pedestrian, especially starting in the “mass” pen with my orange bib, which denotes a predicted time of an amateur 5 hours or more.

Far from record breaking. And yet this is very much something to write home about. Because a marathon is never just 26.2 miles. A marathon is merely a snapshot during a much longer journey.

Gwydyr Forest. Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

The start

This marathon started several years ago when I was out for a walk with my kids in the Gwydyr Forest. We came up a steep hill, past the beautiful Rheadr y Parc Mawr, through a gate and out onto the Llanrychwyn lane. I stopped to catch my breath.

We could hear shouts and cheers and then a runner, red faced, sweaty and beaming came struggling past exclaiming thank you, thank you marshal. And then another, and another.

Each time a runner passed the marshal she would cheer and encourage with the same amount of energy and enthusiasm as the last.

I didn’t know how far they’d ran but I was transfixed by them, their effort seemed beautiful and heroic and it was as if a light was shining out of each one.

When we got home I searched up what the event was and found out it was the Snowdonia Half Marathon.

I was amazed that this long-running event had existed on my doorstep without me ever having known about it, and when I found the map, even more amazed that people could run that route. I wanted to know how. And why.

Tentatively, I started running. I found the only flat bit of ground around here – Gower’s path between Llanrwst and Trefriw, and I plodded and puffed, and walk-stumbled along.

All the while fretting about my knees and pelvic floor. Could a person who’d let life nudge them into a rut really take up a new sport?

Because I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want this to be a casual keep-fit activity for me.

I wanted what those runners in the forest had, the smiles on their faces which were completely at odds with their clearly exhausted bodies. And I knew I had a long way to go to get there.

False starts

It took a few false starts but by 2021 I was running short distances regularly. We returned to watch the Snowdonia Half Marathon, purposefully this time, and knowing a little bit more about what a challenge it is.

Every single runner crossed the finish line like a winner. Something had happened out there for them, on their journey out and back, that was about much more than being first or fast or best, they were returning a champion of something I couldn’t see.

That was May 15th, by the 20th I’d entered the event for the following year. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was one of the biggest gifts running has given me; that desire to commit to a goal first and then work backwards to achieve it, rather than waiting to be ready for it – if I had waited to be ready I wouldn’t have taken part in any of the eleven events since, and I certainly wouldn’t be running a marathon right now.

Suffocating circumference

I gradually started running further distances and into the hills. Because of practical and psychological restrictions, over the past decade my roaming ground had shrunk to a suffocating circumference; a fish bowl in place of an ocean.

Now training runs and events were taking me out of myself, and my house and my town to places where I could see how all three fit into a bigger picture. And they’re taking me to areas of Wales new to me too.

Like here – the Millennial Coastal Path, traveling from Pembrey Country Park to the National Wetlands Centre and back, with views out across the Gower Peninsular.

Expanding my horizons as I push against an invisible comfort zone trying to hold me back.

Medi Ashton. Photo by Bethan Russell


Running events are about making space. The painstaking organisation, the plotted route, the road closures, the barriers, the well-stocked feed and watering stations, St John’s Ambulance or the local Mountain Rescue Team on standby, the absolutely amazing volunteer stewards, the well-communicated instructions and words of encouragement in the run up to salve your nerves.

It all serves to create a space in which we can challenge and test ourselves. We make this space all the time for children because we know it helps them grow.

Yet as adults we can find ourselves shrinking into that circle of familiarity or expertise – things we know we’re good at or that make us look good, that we can do with minimal discomfort and minimal risk of failure.


And now my favourite part of the race – the outermost point before the return. Running can be self-indulgent, selfish even at times.

I often feel when I set off on a run that I’m running away. But at that outer point, self-designated or part of a race, I’m making the choice to return.

And in doing so I am re-choosing my life over and over again; with every training run and every race I’m running back to my life. And I always run back with more conviction than I run away.

Especially when I know my children are at the finish line. From the outside it can seem an insular activity, yet it’s profoundly connective.

To your body, to your mind, to the landscape around you. To your fellow runners, the brief but meaningful conversation you have along the way, and the volunteers who have given up their time to marshal and to the supporters, known and unknown.

And to the charity you are running in the name of, and the meaning behind that choice for you.

Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

I’ve never yet cried when crossing a finish line, but I’ve always cried somewhere after the midpoint.

All that searching and digging deep during the training period – for this race that was twelve weeks through the darkness of winter, often on a treadmill staring at a wall after a day at work, but also blessed by unexpectedly sublime days running in the blue sky above a cloud inversion or into a peaceful frozen landscape at dawn, to answer the question ‘Where have I misplaced that important piece of myself?’.

And now the finish line is in sight. What does it mean? To have run what is, let’s face it, an arbitrary distance based on a Greek Legend from 490BC.

When finishing a run of any distance – 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, you not only stop fearing failure – you’ve done it! – but you also stop fearing success.

Because if you have succeeded in this, what else can you succeed in just by setting a goal and working towards it.

And suddenly the finish line begins looking like a start line and you find yourself focusing on the distance beyond that.

To find out if I finished the marathon and if you’d like to sponsor my Three Marathon Challenge on behalf of Hosbis Dewi Sant please follow the link. 

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