Saturday 2nd April
The Vale Coastal Ultra was a new event in 2015 which I was unable to do but being right on my doorstep and along the beautiful Wales Coastal Path in the Vale of Glamorgan, from Penarth to Ogmore by Sea, I made sure I wasn’t going to miss it again this year.
I have big plans for 2016 (for me anyway), leading up to my first 100 in October (a100 Centurion Running). I naturally planned my years events to lead up nicely to the 100. I have SW50 in June – a very hilly 50 in the Brecon Beacons also with Run Walk Crawl. In preparation for the 50, I have upped my mileage in recent weeks maxing out at 85 then 90 miles a week 2 weeks prior to this race. This meant that I was in a pretty good place at the moment in my training and as such I was quietly hoping for a decent performance.
Whilst I am a local to this event, I have only ever been on the first few miles of the coastal path. Two weeks before the race I used my last long run to recce The Knap to Llantwit Major, meaning I would know the first 25 miles of the route. I never expected to have to overcome potential navigational issues, it’s not that hard to keep the sea on the left, but I did want to know what to expect on race day.
A busy week in work meant I had no time to prepare so I just made sure my race kit was clean and everything else had to wait until Friday night. I didn’t even know how I was going to get home afterwards, but that could figure that out afterwards.
Friday night was another not so great nights sleep thanks to our little man who had a cough and a cold but at least being up at 5am meant I could finish preparing.
I learned in a previous race in November (Likeys – see my previous race report) that using my Salomon bladder in a race was a faff at CPs and wasted a fair amount of time. However at just 34 miles I figured I can get round on 1 full bladder and not have to stop at any CP – except to grab Jaffa Cakes!
After a 2 mile walk/jog in the rain to the race HQ at the Kymin Centre followed by the mandatory kit check and sorting out my drop bag for the end, I headed down to the start at the pier before the bus from Ogmore arrived and the HQ became chaotic. I killed time chatting to fellow runners a few of which were doing the event as their first ultra. I was able to impart some local knowledge which amounted to no more than ‘it’s not too hilly but expect mud’.
A last minute catch up with a few friends (arch enemies for the day) who are by far and away in another league of ability to me, then we huddled at the end of the pier for the short race brief from Joe the RD – then we were off.
I knew that after the first mile along the cliff tops that the trail down to Lavernock Point gets narrow and would be muddy in places, so after a quick chat to a new FB friend Paul Gander who was also using the race as his first ultra, Rhys Jenkins (arch enemy no 1) and I decided to put a spurt on to get past as many people as possible. This goes against everything I normally do in a race but it made sense in the circumstances.
After Lavernock Point there is a short road section followed by left turn onto the muddy fields leading down to the coast in Sully. The view of the houses along this stretch of coast is to die for, but today it would be a little different with around 250 people plodding past their back gardens. A couple of miles of this turns into a few more miles of road and pavement as we headed towards Barry town. Here I got chatting to Dai, an experienced ultra runner who had just come back 2 weeks previously from Transgrancanaria. Thanks to the number of race reports I’ve read and podcasts Ive listened to, I was able to talk knowledgeably about a race I have never done and pass some more time. We rounded the headland and joined in with the Barry Island park run for a few minutes. Every one of their volunteers clapped us through which was great. A short stint on the beach which was horrible underfoot (note to self – take MdS off the bucket list) and we headed out onto the headland for the second of the 2 mandatory clip points to ensure no cheating.
Next stop was The Knap and the short but horrible climb towards the entrance to Porthkerry Park. I decided this was a good place to take off my jacket which I successfully achieved without losing any time and I then realised that I was competing not just completing – mmm a dangerous thought. I know Porthkerry well and I flew past Dai and another runner on one of the descents thanks to my choice in footwear (Scott Kinabalu).
Approaching the second CP I knew I needed nothing so I shouted out my race number and went straight through. Shit a camera damn, thankfully a second photo was taken and I managed a smile.
It got quite boggy followed by muddy as we headed across to the coast again and up through the woodland so a short walk and a check of the watch showed I hit 13.5 miles in 1:54. I was quietly confident I may have a good day. I just needed to not blow up or make any stupid mistakes.
The path goes through a caravan park next which is a bit weird bit it soon picks up the coast again and a few steady inclines, but nothing too serious and a fair bit of mud, but nothing too drastic takes you out to Rhoose point at around halfway. There is a lovely power station to contend with next whose tall wire fence stretches on for what seems like an eternity, but the flat concrete path does allow you to steadily make some progress and as long as you keep looking left at the coastal panorama, it’s not too bad a view.
Things got quite uneventful for me from now on where I walked a few of the steeper inclines but not all of them and I was still bounding through all the CPs. I had however been thinking for a good few miles, where’s Cronk (arch enemy no 2). Lawrence is a 1:25 half marathoner who is aiming for Kona qualification at IM Wales in September. I had no doubt he would catch me after warming up his Achilles, it only took 7 miles in our last race together (Might Contain Nuts Round 4 in December), but here I was 20 miles in and no Cronk in sight! He admitted after the race he feared he wouldn’t catch me but it was never not going to happen. A few rolling hills and we dropped down to the CP at Llantwit beach at 25 miles. I stopped for 30 seconds this time for some flat Coke, few Jaffa cakes and a few chunks of mars bar. This was quickly spat out as I realised it was Snickers – I hate peanuts!
I decided at this point it was time to open up my personal food supplies. Ella’s Kitchen Banana and Blueberry rice pudding. I never expected it to be particularly tasty and whilst it was thicker and tangier than I expected, it was palatable. I don’t know if it made any difference but in my mind it gave me a lift so that’s good enough for me.
It was at this point Cronk caught me. I had lasted 26 miles so he was most definitely not beating me by 90 minutes today. We had a quick chat and he shot off at a pace that I possibly managed in that first mile but that I was certainly not capable of anymore. He had sub 5hrs in mind – and Rhys to catch! Whilst checking how far I had managed to stay ahead of him I noticed my marathon time of 4:03. Not bad, don’t panic, keep going, your doing fine.
I plodded on further into unknown territory and from Nash Point things got much hillier. The following miles were simply up, down, mud, baby food, up, down, mud, baby food with a few Boulder sections thrown in and a rather picturesque lighthouse (Nash Point) and of course more hills and mud. I knew though that despite the hills and mud this was nothing compared to Likey’s in November and MCN in December so I could keep this pace up.
A friend who I ran the last 20 miles of Likey’s with, Mark Buxton, was running the 18.5 mile race which started from PortKerry Park (13.5 miles into our race) 2.5 hours after we started in Penarth. I had gone through Porthkerry about 35 minutes before they set off but I was very conscious that somewhere behind me was another person who would catch me very soon. ‘Steve’ – ‘shit I knew you’d catch me’. ‘Can’t stop I’m winning!’ And he stayed there too for his first ever race win, an amazing effort well done that man!
A few minutes later and an Italian guy in second came past me but he was clearly running on empty and although he got a few minutes ahead of me he never really got out of my sight until the last mile. Mark’s win was never in doubt!
The last two miles were on the grassy coastal but there was still one major short but sharp down then up but other than this we followed the stonewall in towards the end. It just seems to go on forever, or perhaps that’s just what it feels like after 33 miles and over 5 hours.
I had been looking over my shoulder for the last few miles to see if my position was under threat from some doing a last minute sprint. I was safe but I also knew I wasn’t going to catch anyone so a casual trot in was all that was called for. I did realise though that I came into the last half mile up on the hill rather than along the coast. Not quite sure what happened there so there was a moment of panic and a very quick drop down to the main path in the hope I didn’t lose too much time and give my position away in the last few hundred metres, but all was fine.
I saw a woman who I don’t know but had seen at various times on the route clearly looking out for someone in the race. She told me it was just round the corner. Normally during an ultra when someone tells you that it means another mile at least, but I rounded the corner and there is was, the Run Walk Crawl banners, the small gathering, the music, the medals, the end.
As usual the legs quickly started to seize up after the finish and I did spend most the next 24 hours walking in typical fashion. The usual conversations followed with friends (no longer arch enemies) especially to congratulate Mark on his comfortable win.
So the official results of people I know:
Lawrence Cronk 8th – 5:07:55
Rhys Jenkins 10th – 5:12:08
Me 12th – 5:17:21
Paul Gander – 7:59:15
A superb result in his first but definitely not last ultra – well done Paul.
As always a huge thank you to the marshals and volunteers who these races couldn’t happen without. I didn’t spend much time in any of the CPs but they were definitely brilliantly organised and supported. The only one I did really use at Llantwit CP5 someone sorted out my bottle whilst I stuffed Jaffa Cakes in my face.
This was my first Run Walk Crawl event and definitely not the last. It’s going to be hard, but if the Vale Coastal Ultra is anything to go by, it’s going to be brilliant.
What did I learn:
1) I definitely, absolutely hate peanuts.
2) The hydration bladder works really well over around 30 miles if not 50.
3) Baby food does work (I think). Definitely easy to carry, open, close, store, eat.
4) The right shoes make a HUGE difference.
5) Training lots pays off!
Back to it then, next stop Brecon on 3rd June!
Thanks for reading.