Mawddach Marathon 2019

Mawddach Paddlesports Festival

It was my third year competing in the Mawddach Marathon at the weekend and yet again it was a good day out. The 20km paddle marathon is part of the Mawddach Paddlesports Festival run by the Merioneth Yacht Club in Barmouth. As well as the ‘race’ which in itself is a fairly low key event there are all sorts of other things going on. There are guided kayak paddles, open canoe paddles, guided SUP paddles and lessons. There are have a go sessions in Celtic Rowing Boats and raft races. It’s a weekend of fun on the water and once again this year fun in the sun too.

The proceeds of the Festival go to the Hope House Children’s Hospice in North Wales, so as well as having a good time on the water you know that you are helping a good cause too.

Barmouth isn’t too far for me so this is my local race. This means there is no need for an overnight stay or even an early start so I can take my time and take a leisurely drive to Barmouth on Sunday morning. Registration was between 9:30 and 11:00. Typically for me I arrived at around 8:30am so had plenty of time to stroll along the prom, have a coffee in the camper and get a bacon bap.

Barmouth was in fine form this morning. The sun was shining and there was a carnival atmosphere in the air.

Barmouth in the Sunshine
Barmouth in the Sunshine

The road along the seafront is closed for the festivals and there are various stalls set up along it. The cafés remain open and do a good trade as people pass by to see what is going on. On the beach a group of kite fliers had been asked to attend and their huge ornate kites fluttered overhead in the light breeze.

Kites on Barmouth Beach
Kites on Barmouth Beach

There was music playing over the PA system and occasional announcements from the organisers. As the excitement grew the local Samba Band, “Batala Bermo,” in their funky red and black outfits fired up and brought the place alive. It was time to assemble on the beach ready for the start.

Mawddach Marathon

As usual, there weren’t many people signed up for the race. Most people tend to do the guided paddles rather than the race and this year it also clashed with another race at Hilbre Island so some of those who might normally race were at that instead. A shame really as it would be nice to see more people take part but I guess West Wales is a long way for most people to travel to.

Mawddach Paddlesports Festival
Mawddach Paddlesports Festival

The guided paddlers set off before we did. Most of them go one way to The George III at Penmaenpool, a distance of 10km aided by the incoming tide. Those of us who were racing set off a little later and paddle there and back. The sun was shining, there was a light westerly breeze and the waters were fairly calm as we set off from a relaxed start line. The Samba band started up once again as we set off, beating out a fast rhythm for us to maintain.

Steven was next to me off the line but I soon picked up the pace a little and pulled out a lead. Under Barmouth Bridge the water was swirling and the incoming tide was helping us on our way. The mountains of Snowdonia were bathed in sunlight and shadows as fluffy white clouds scuttled across the sky. The water sparkled and turned from greens to dark indigo as the clouds passed overhead. There were lighter sandy coloured areas of shallow water over the sandbanks but it was never too shallow even for my surf ski with it’s large rudder. I headed across to the southern side of the estuary to follow the deeper channels.

The longer faster way or the shorter slower route?

It’s always a bit of a decision as to whether I should follow the faster flowing waters in the channels or take a more direct route over the tops of the sandbanks. The former means faster speeds but a longer distance. The latter is slower as you don’t have so much help from the tide and the shallow water slows you down too. It is a shorter, more direct route though. Last year I took the more direct route at times and did make up ground on those ahead of me but this year I was enjoying the speed of the channels too much so stayed with them.

Lap Times
Lap Times

I have my watch set to beep at me every 0.25 miles. At an average pace for a longish paddle such as this I’d expect it to beep at me every 2½ minutes. In a shorter, faster paced race then anything around 2:15 is pretty good. Today I was flying, aided mainly by the tide and wind but also by the fact that I was feeling pretty good. 2:05 for the first 1/4 mile split and from there it just got faster.

I seemed to be averaging around 1:48 per 1/4 mile most of the way up the estuary, At times it dropped into the 1:30’s and there was even a 1:29 at one point. It just felt too fast to be true and I couldn’t get enough of it. There would be no skipping over the sandbanks to take a shorter route for me today, I was going to stick with the deeper channels, stay in the faster flow and enjoy the ride.

Estuary Similarities

The Mawddach Estuary is almost a carbon copy of the Dyfi Estuary which is on my doorstep. Once again today I was struck by the similarities. The paddle we were doing today from Barmouth to Penmaenpool is almost exactly the same as the paddle from Aberdyfi to Glandyfi. The estuary looks and feels the same, the sandbanks are very similar, the main channels meander in the same way, The rocky promontories on the northern banks of the two estuaries are similar and the main bend at the head of the estuary as it becomes more of a river, sweep around to the right in exactly the same fashion.

At Penmanepool we turn around a buoy in front of the George III hotel just before the bridge across the river. The people who had done the guided paddle were all congregated in a little cove just before the hotel. At Glandyfi in the Dyfi Estuary there is a buoy moored in a similar little cover just beyond the Ynyshir RSPB Reserve before the railway bridge across the river. There is a pub in Glandyfi too. The route up these estuaries look almost the same on a map but when you are in them the similarities are even more obvious.

Estuary Similarities
Estuary Similarities

Admittedly in the images above I paddled from home at Ynyslas rather than from Aberdovey in the Dyfi Estuary but had I started in Aberdovey it would be almost the same. The distance are the same too. Maybe I should try to get someone to organise a similar race in the Dyfi Estuary as part of a series of West Wales Estuary races. We could always do another in the Dwyryd Estuary further to the North. If we went from Borth y Gest to the bridge at Penrhyndeudraeth it would again would be fairly similar. I’ve never paddled there though so I don’t know how feasible that would be. I feel some exploring coming on.

Back to Barmouth

I turned around the buoy and started heading back. It felt as though the tide was still coming in and I was now paddling against the wind as well so my splits soon dropped. A couple beeped at 2:30 ish and then as I entered the main estuary and had a full on headwind they were down to 3 minutes. It was going to be a hard slog back to Barmouth. I was in the lead though and had quite a gap over Steven in 2nd place. Hopefully the tide would turn soon and would help me out somewhat. I didn’t feel much benefit from the tide for quite some time though. In fact I didn’t really notice it until I was almost back in Barmouth. My splits were improving throughout though and soon hovered around the 2:30 mark for much of the way back. This reduced to 2:15 as I approached Barmouth and the final split was back under the 2 minute mark as I paddled into the beach and stopped my watch.

I’d gone pretty hard at times and was pretty pleased with that. All that was left to do now was pack up, eat a burger, wait for the others to finish and collect my winners trophy and winners ‘paddle’. It has to be said that the ‘winners paddle’ looks more like a wooden spoon! This was accompanied by a four pack of beer for the winner as well… A good day at the office! All followed by a leisurely drive home.

Mawddach Marathon Trophies
Mawddach Marathon Trophies

Now that I’ve done this race 3 times it’s good to compare my times and see how I’m improving. Conditions have been fairly similar for all three so it’s good to see that things have been moving in the right direction.

YearTime (hr:min)Distance (miles)Avg Speed (mph)
20171:5611.25.8
20181:4311.46.6
20191:3611.27.0

I think the improvements might be a little more difficult to come by now though. Is a sub 1hr 30min time possible for me? We’ll see.

1 Response

  1. Peter Howard says:

    I loved my day out in Barmouth last Sunday. Got there at 9am, travelling from Birmingham and parked up on the Promenade car park. Enjoyed a nice big breakfast on arrival and then walked it off up to the Panorama view point, which was well signposted. Walked back down to view the paddle sports regatta and then relaxed on the stunning main beach and dunes to watch the kite festival. The sand was so nice to walk on. A lovely day out on the coast on a beautiful sunny day. I’ll definitely be going back to Barmouth.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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