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Enjoyment key to success for Snowdonia Marathon winner

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ANY fun runner in need of inspiration need look no further than Anna Bracegirdle.

The Anglesey athlete defends her title in this month's Snowdonia Marathon (October 26) but still insists she will be doing no more than having a good time.

Bracegirdle describes herself as not a competitive person, doesn't have a coach, and is not even a member of an athletics club. When the 26-year-old full-time radiographer in Liverpool "goes out for a run" - she doesn't call it training - then she usually does so when the mood takes her, rather than as part of a regime.

But, incredibly, that still doesn't stop her being an elite end marathon runner - with a personal best of well under three hours - and who stormed to victory last year in one of the very toughest marathons in the UK.

After chatting with fellow runners for most of the way round, Bracegirdle came surging through the field in the final two miles to win the women's race, following Russell Bentley who had taken the men's title.

It was like a fun runners' fantasy - enter an elite race and cross the line first - and she admits: "I'm very chilled as a runner.

"I don't follow a plan or anything. I train on my own and just run when I feel like it."

In fact, before outlasting better known club athletes Emma Wookey (2nd) and Andrea Rowland (3rd), Bracegirdle had entered last year's Snowdonia Marathon - with its steep climbs around Llanberis - as a way of catching up with some old mates, rather than winning a race that is televised by S4C.

"I'm normally a very competitive person, but it just felt like brilliant fun. I had chatted with people most of the way around and made lots of friends on the course, who I'm going to see again this year.

"I was running with my sister's boyfriend for a good few miles, which was helpful. Towards the end, I was running on my own a bit more and it became a bit harder to motivate myself to speed up.

"I knew I must have been fairly high up in the women's race, but I didn't actually know what position I was in.

"It was only in the last climb, when I passed a few other girls, that I felt quite strong and realised where I was. I'd rather not know where I am in the race, to be honest.

"People were shouting that I was in the lead, but it gets so noisy and you're feeling so tired, that you tend to zone everything out and just concentrate on trying to run to the finish.

"But it was an amazing feeling at the end of the race to know that I'd won it."

It was only the second marathon she had run, but Bracegirdle has since run further competitive races in Manchester and Liverpool and now has a personal best of 2:52:39, run at the Greater Manchester Marathon in April.

She will be back to defend her title this year and her advice for any first-time runners at the distance is to pay more attention to the scenery than to their watches.

"My advice to new runners would be soak in the atmosphere, look at the views, and just enjoy it.

"It's not the fastest marathon, but it's the one I've most enjoyed. Winning helps, but it's the scenery and atmosphere that makes it.

"I don't know about my chances of winning this time. I don't know which of the girls who finished in the top five last year are back.

"My main aim is just to enjoy it. Anything above that is a bonus. Everything has to align on the day."

Nor would another shock victory mean she would sacrifice her laid-back approach for a more structured training format. She may join an athletics club, but, the fun must still be there in the run.

"My boss at work is a member of a running club in Liverpool and suggested I go and join, but I went to Liverpool Harriers once and it just wasn't my kind of thing.

"I might consider it in the future, because I think I've got to the stage where my marathon running might now hit a bit of a plateau. I might need something extra to be able to improve again.

"But I just prefer getting out there on my own - either early in the morning or late at night. I'd love to do an ultra-run, but it's picking the right one.

"I'm more of a plodder, so the longer the race the better for me. I've always been a longer distance runner, but it's just getting the time to train for one of those ultra races.

"Maybe, one day - we'll see."

For more information, on running in Wales, visit here. 

For information on the Snowdonia Marathon, click here.