Arc of Attrition 2019 – Revenge

Friday 1st February 2019

Last year I failed to complete this race. (Arc of Attrition – DNF 9th Feb 2018).

I was gutted! I had trained hard for 6 months, doing big mileage weeks and I felt good. However the Arc is no normal race, not even a normal 100 miler. Mudcrew designed this race to be hard, really hard! Its about more than distance and elevation. There are just 4 CP’s along the route rougly 20 miles apart. 20 miles is 4 hours right? Not on this course, the distance between the CP’s can take 7/8 hours + to cover. Its really technical in places and rarely simple to make forward progress.

Last year I got to Zennor point before DNF’ing but this year I knew I had to do something different to ensure history didn’t repeat itself. The arc is a race that having previous experience of is a huge benefit. I learnt so much about the route, the kit, the mental approach necessary to succeed and I made sure this year that all of that was part of my thinking in preparing to take my revenge.

Training: After falling short in 2018 I knew physically I was capable but mentally I wasn’t there. So I knew I had a difficult 100 finish in me. Within a few weeks of getting back from Cornwall I had signed up for a nasty 100 around the Brecon Beacons – SW100 which you can read about here (SW100. Is it over already…?.).

I finished and finished strongly which gave me huge confidence about moving for 30hours + and mentally staying in the game. Cornwall was going to be totally opposite conditions but I knew what to expect and could plan for it.

As for SW100, I concentrated on hill work and strength for my Arc training. I did a few 60 mile plus weeks but mostly hovered around 35 miles a week with a number of hill repeat sessions thrown in. Including regularly using my long run (only once over 15 miles) to be via a hill repeat. I think 23 repeats was the most I did, managing 13.1 miles and 2500ft or and another 8 miler with 3000ft.

I always run too much in my usual 3 week taper so picking up a cold and being busy in work was worrying me, but perhaps was a blessing in disguise and I only ran twice a week totalling 12 miles during each of the 3 weeks prior to race day. I actually hadn’t run for over a week come the start.

Kit:
After a glorious Friday, last years Arc was really wet on the Saturday. I made mistakes with not changing to dry kit especially at Lands End where I had my drop bag, but I knew my waterproof wasn’t strong enough to cope with those conditions properly again. I also knew my head torch could no longer hold decent power for more than a few hours. Both needed a visit from Santa and he obliged.

I went for a heavier jacket, knowing I would likely not take it off and so the ability to pack it small wasn’t necessary. A Montane Ultra Tour – it wasn’t cheap at £220 but I managed to find one at Go Outdoors for a bargain of £112! I was so impressed with it. It allowed me to regulate my heat in a variety of ways and when I got cold, hood up, zip up and just breath into the jacket for a few minutes and I was warm again.
I went for a Silva Ultra Trail Runner 4 on the head-torch front. It was so light compared to my LED Lensor. Being the Ultra it has a rechargeable pack as well as the ability to take aaa batteries. I had the LED Lensor as my second torch and 3 spare sets of batteries. The main pack lasted from just outside Porthleven CP (430pm ish) until the Minack Theatre (2am ish) – so 9.5hours. It didn’t run out but I was paranoid about it dying in the middle of nowhere so I changed the batteries anyway. The aaa’s lasted me from 2am to dawn and then 5pm until 1030pm when I finished – so again around 10 hours. It is so lightweight and has the red flashing light you can wear on the band – perfect. I cant recommend it enough.

Travelling to Cornwall:
Let be clear I got stuck in some snow. It was annoying. It was not however, anything close to what others went through.

I left Cardiff at 11am and hit heavy snow on Bodmin Moor around 2pm. However it hadn’t settled properly at that time. When I got close to Perranporth, the traffic slowed and eventually stopped, with nothing moving for an hour. I had been watching cars turning around and heading down a back road. After some investigating on google maps and the sat nav, I thought I’d give it a go. 20 mins later I was greeted with blue sky, bright sunshine and a full rainbow. I arrived at the Eco Park at 330pm basically before anyone else, except Jane Stephens from Mudcrew. I offered to help out but everything was in hand. It was then we started to realise the chaos unfolding back up the a30. There were people who hadn’t moved from north of Truro for the last few hours.

I was due to meet up with my Friday night Arc 2018 buddy, Harry Macalinden and go for dinner at the Victory Inn. Harry eventually arrived around 2am so I definitely made the right decision to head to Hayle and my hotel room, for a shower, food and a warm bed. I say my hotel room but I was crashing with another friend (Paul Wootten) who was also stranded, luckily in his camper van with gas stove, bed, etc.. By now people were facing the prospect of spending a cold night in cars/vans on the a30 and getting little to no sleep prior to a huge race like this. I was lucky, really lucky.

The roads back to the Eco Park the following morning were OK if a little icy in places.

The race itself:
Last year we had a bag-piper. This year was drummers. Coverack was as gorgeous as I remember, the sun had come out and things looked good. I was really hoping that the -10 degrees with windchill over night wouldn’t come true, but I was prepared and ready for it if it did.

12pm on the dot through the smoking flares we ran. Some faster than others. I forgot how bottle necked the first mile or so gets and whilst I was far from the back this year, there was still some natural stoppages in places. Its hard to remember in the moment, that those 30 second delays are meaningless and probably a good thing, ensuring you don’t go off too quickly and letting the heart rate increase slowly.

On the Tuesday night I had made a lovely ground Almond, Blueberry and Banana loaf. I had some with me and more in my drop bag. 5 miles in and I thought it was time for a snack. You forget that you have breakfast around 7am, then the race starts at lunchtime, when you are hungry, so its best to eat on the coach and shortly after the start. I had some of my cake and it was difficult to eat, but eat it I did. 10 mins later and I felt like crap. For the next 30 mins I was looking for somewhere to drop out! ‘I haven’t trained enough’. ‘My taper was too extreme’. ‘I cant do this, this is the easy bit’. This was as bad I could have imagined after just 6/7 miles. Then I threw up, 10 mins later I threw up again. 10 mins later I felt good. Another 10 mins later and I was feeling really good. Note to self throw away all my cake in Portleven!

I had chosen my Hoka Speedgoat 2’s as a leaving present from work back in September, with this race in mind. I now know how narrow they are, but at this stage the blisters hadn’t arrived, although I was sliding around all over the place. I went down 4 times in this section. Frustrating and worrying for later but no damage done apart from some muddy waterproof trousers and gloves.

I rolled into Porthleven and was met but one of the valets who made my day by saying I looked strong as some people had come in hobbling up the hill to the CP. I ordered 2 portions of beans and cheese on toast, knowing this worked for me last year. Last year however, I just didn’t eat enough of it. Bottles sorted, cake disposed of and ready to go.

The next section is Porthleven to Penzance. You know on paper its only 15 miles or so, so that sounds really simple and a good place to get ahead of the cut offs a bit more. I recall I guy laughing about how he planned to do it in less than 3 hours and he would be well ahead of cut offs. I asked and sure enough it was his first time on the SWCP. I gently warned him to lower his expectations in terms of the time for this.

Despite not being the most difficult section of the course, it wasn’t going to make for easy and fast running. The more I was running the more and more of the course I was recognising from the previous year. I knew that somewhere up ahead was a 90 degree left hand turn and that I missed it last year. Sure enough whilst chatting to someone I nearly missed it again, but spotted it just a few metres behind me. The rest of the section into Penzance is fairly steady going, albeit you never get into a great rhythm and being 35 miles in its far from quick progress.

My feet were starting to hurt now and it would have been lovely to have had a support crew and swap shoes for my Clifton 4’s on the long drag into Penzance. You can see Penzance off in the distance from a long way out and it teases you with how close it looks. You want to run, but its difficult, 40 miles in and 60 to go you know that if you do push too hard you will pay for it later. I adopted a tactic I’ve used many times on long straight drags, run/walk – this time 2 mins run and 1 min walk. I was catching the couple in front me despite them running it all, I didn’t manage to catch them as I got into the CP but I was happy with my progress.

I was looking forward to beans on toast with cheese again so I was fairly disappointed that it wasn’t on the menu this time. Don’t get me wrong there was lots of food available but I know the wet beans and carbs of the bread go down nicely. I was able to get a few portions of soup, 3 cups of tea and a bit of fruit. I also had my feet looked at for the first time. It wasn’t too bad, just one blister forming on the little toe on the left foot. One of the Omega Medics did a brilliant job on taping it up and I hoped that would be the last of the foot issues. Oh how wrong I was. I didn’t have any other shoes with me or in my drop bag and with no crew, I knew I had to make do to the end.

I kept seeing Harry Macalinden at CP’s. Harry and I ran through the night on the Friday last year, from I cant recall where, to just after Lands End where unfortunately Harry’s race ended shortly after in Sennan Cove. He was looking strong though this year and being ahead of me, and confident that I would get through, I hoped Harry and I would both make it this year. (Unfortunately he didnt make St Ives in time, but he’ll be back and he will get that buckle next year!)

I sorted out some kit, had a change of base layer – a mistake I made last year in not doing so which ultimately got me cold and wanting it all to be over. Time for the off.

There is just as long a road section out of Penzance as there is going in, although more undulating as you head to Mousehole and I was making steady but good progress along the lit promenade and then the roads into Mousehole. One vivid memory about last years race was looking up at the stars as I went through Mousehole. I did the same again and whilst it was a cloudier night, there were still more stars out than I ever get to see back home.

I don’t recall much until I arrived in the region of Porthcurno. It is strange that you can constantly hear the ocean crashing the rocks around this section but its so dark you just cant tell how close you are and how extreme the cliff edge is. Shortly after Porthcurno you start heading towards the Minack Theatre. I so wish I could go during the day one year and see it in something other than pictures and videos from the start of this years 50 and the other Mudcrew race, Tempest. I remember the climb to Minack last year and how horrible it was but somehow this year I overshot the turn. I could see head torches off to my left but for some reason I was following road signs. Somehow I had ended up on the road to the car park and I just hoped beyond hope that I would get through OK. I remembered the car park so I was fairly confident I wouldn’t end up having to double back on myself. I didn’t and I came out on the opposite end of the car park. I was in a bad way here. I was worrying about my head torch which had had a good 9 hours of burn so far and being a new one, I didn’t know from experience how long it would last. I needed water, food and a change of top again. Not having a crew I asked someone elses if they minded if I sat in their car for 5 mins but they told me the Medic was here and so I made my way to them and jumped in their car.

I was at my lowest point so far here. I quickly got another top on and tried to get warm. The medic filled my bottles for me, I ate and drank and changed the batteries in my torch. I couldn’t get them working though. I had taped the three aaa batteries together so I could just pop them straight in without faffing around with each individual battery, a brilliant tip I read on a Nici Griffin FB post recently. But every time I shut the battery enclosure it stopped working, it was driving me mad. I was shaking as well, a lot. I couldn’t stop shaking. I started to think the medic was getting worried and might think I wasn’t ok. I was, thankfully he knew this too. We had been having a normal conversation and he explained it was likely just the adrenaline of my urgency to get to the car park. He kindly sorted out my batteries by splitting them out from the tape I had put them in, and it worked fine. I decided to put all my gloves on, 3 pairs, merino liners, Sealskikz and Trespass mitts just to make sure I warmed up as quickly as possible.

I had spent 20 mins in the car and this was far too long. I was ok on the cuts offs but I didn’t have a lot to spare and I needed to make good progress again. After giving much appreciation to the medic, who promised to look me up in Lands End, and he did, I left and it was then I spotted a friend, Geoff Partridge in his support crews van. Geoff is a great runner, a 4 time arc racer and multiple Comrades finisher, in both directions! Geoff has a gold buckle from previous years, but has been trying to run through a long standing hip injury, which unfortunately was affecting his race this year too. We stuck together from here and decided that the company through the night to Lands End and beyond would be helpful, both from a sanity perspective, passing the time perspective, but also the all important navigation.

Those that have run the race will know that about 1 mile before you get to the Lands End CP, there is a building on the corner of a path before you drop down the hill side and head up again to the CP. I made a huge mistake here last year and had to drag myself and Harry through thick gorse whilst we spotted head torches pulling away whilst on walking, as a result of being on the right path. To my horror and embarrassment, as I was the one navigating off my Fenix 3, I had done it again. You know the right thing to do is re-trace your steps and find the path, but of course that’s the one thing you never do, and we didn’t. It was very slow going and Geoff’s niggles were making it trickier for him too. We lost maybe 10 minutes here but finally were relived to be back on the path and a short walk into the CP. I was looking forward to this, my drop bag. It was huge, lots of food, both for the CP and my race vest for the last half of the race. Also a MSR water filter.

I dropped last year at Zennor point as I ran out of water and knowing there were limited places to steal water off kind support crews, I had the water filter, borrowed from a friend, to take water from the streams. There was bound to be plenty with all the snow fall on the hill sides.

This year the Lands End CP was in the hotel rather than the Ice Cream parlour. There was so much space it was great, as last year it all felt a bit crowded and manic. I asked for my drop bag but went to find it myself as they were all laid out nice and easy to find. Except mine. Mine wasn’t there! They’ve lost my drop bag! “Mmm Hi, I cant find my drop bag?” Their faces! They were panicking. There must have been 5 of them hunting for my drop bag, including the medic who helped me out at the Minack.

I was trying to eat and not panic too much, ‘they’ll find it’. I got my feet sorted out, which were showing further signs of deterioration. After 10 minutes, one of the angels approached me and built up the courage to tell me that it was in Porthtowan. In short, it was my fault. I had left my drop bag with the finishers bags at the Eco Park. My heart sank. I recall thinking, assuming, that the pile of bags by the tracker fitting, were the drop bags and so put mine with them. I didn’t check with anyone and this was the result. I was panicking now – a lot! Kit, food and mainly water. The angels were great, they managed to find me 2 x 500ml water bottles, the kind you get with a meal deal at M&S or Boots. I borrowed a pair of socks of Geoff, and a couple of gels/food bars.

Harry had arrived, I rambled out my news and asked on the off chance if him or his friend had a spare base layer they weren’t going to need. To my amazement and absolute relief, they did. I was reluctant to take it as I knew that spare kit is a runners safety net in this race, especially on the next section to Zennor and St Ives, but Harry insisted. Life saver!! Somehow though, I had lost one of my Raidlight 750ml water bottles. I was worried about water, didn’t have the filter I was relying on, but then lost one of my water bottles. This was madness. There is no way it could have bounced out of my pack, it wasn’t on the table, rolling around on the floor and the angels have confirmed since that it wasn’t found when the CP was closed down. It remains a mystery! I still needed more water though. I ended up carrying a 1.5l squash bottle full of water on the side mesh pockets of my Salomon pack. I was now carrying 3.25 litres of water and whilst I could feel the weight, I was much happier with this than going lighter and worrying about what lay ahead and a repeat of last year.

Geoff and I left Lands End together, still confident that we would make sufficient progress to make the next cut off, a new and challenging one at Pendeen Watch. Geoff and I came up to one of his good friends (Laura Millward), whose house he was staying at in Cornwall and he wanted to stay with her, so I pushed on hoping to make good time.

I ran like the wind last year through Sennan Cove, so much so I inadvertently dropped Harry and then felt guilty about it for the next 24 hours. Progress this time was slower but I was slightly ahead of time compared to last year and better prepared for what lay ahead. The first part of this section isn’t too bad, but then you head towards Lamorna Cove. Things get knarly here for a while. Lots of technical and slow moving terrain, some big stones to get through, lots of mud, small brooks/streams, more mud and narrow tracks, still in the dark. There are lots of opportunities to loose your footing and go down. It seemed to last for ever but I made it through without going down and was relieved to be heading to Cape Cornwall, somewhere I remember from last year being really exposed if the weather wasn’t good and funnily enough this is where the hail storms started.

As I said earlier I had bought a Montane Ultra Tour and it didn’t half do what I wanted it too. It was awesome in the weather. I pulled my hood up and tight, zipped up, had my mitts on over my sealskinz and aside from the noise of the hail on my jacket and head, it didn’t bother me at all.

I headed down to Cape Cornwall with a group of 3 guys who I managed to trot past as the hail came down again, sideways. Ive read several people refer to these as being the size of marbles coming horizontally into your face. Personally, I think that’s entirely accurate. There were 5 hailstorms, (I think) in total over the next few hours, but this one was a fairly big shock. Support crews were running for cover as I entered the cap park hoping to find someone to help.

There arent many support crew access points between Lands End and St Ives, so there was a good number of crews at Cape Cornwall. I was very conscious of water, despite still having a lot with me, but also a lack of food. I cant remember what, but I needed to get something out of by dry bag in my race vest and so despite the hail coming down, I found a guy who looked like he might be willing to help me and asked if I could jump in his van for a few minutes to sort some kit out. He rushed around me like a pit stop and helped me sort out whatever it was I was doing and offered me some bits of food, again I cant recall what. He was waiting for his runner to come through (Sarah Whittaker) and was relaxed about her progress until I asked if they were confident she would make the cut off and Pendeen Watch. They were shocked, they thought the next cut off was St Ives. I got out the map/cut off guide and showed them. They were surprised but still confident she would make it through. I found out today from Carl Champion (who was the guy who helped me and her support crew) that Sarah did make it to Pendeen, but unfortunately when she got to St Ives she was feeling the full affects of this brutal race and her slight illness prior to the race was in full effect and she called it a day at St Ives.

Whilst I was relived to have made Pendeen and navigated my way through the mines section, especially given the hail storms, I knew the worst was still ahead of me. The dreaded technical and remote section up to Zennor point, the scene of last years failure! I had met up with Harry again around here and was partially conscious of trying to stay with him and his mate, but at the same time I had my race to run and being concerned about the cut offs I kept to my own pace and after a short while and a few looks back, I had started to drop Harry and was out on my own again. I was over taken by two guys who were moving a lot quicker than me around here and I remember being very jealous of their speed over such difficult terrain.

Every turn and rise felt familiar and I was adamant that those horrid steps and the metal handrail up to Zennor point were just around the corner, every time I was disappointed. It went on for another 2 hours like this, I’m close now, but it never came. Then I could see the drop down and the steps up the other side, there was a crew at the top waiting for someone. This felt great. I took the steps up steadily not to push too hard with excitement and batter my legs unnecessarily.

I chatted briefly to the two guys here and they gave me some coke and dried mango – which I didn’t expect to be nice but was amazing. Must remember that for next time. They explained that there were 7 more miles to St Ives but I had over 3 hours to do it, no problem they said. I knew this was true but at the same time I didn’t want to hang about, I knew I could take advantage of a longer stop in St Ives if I got there quicker and needing to eat well, I made this a mission to give myself nearly an hour at the CP.

The path becomes less demanding from here to St Ives but I was aware of the standing stones section that I had heard so much about but never seen. I was dreading this bit, but when I got there I kept looking past it trying to see how far they stretched on for. I was relived to see that it literally was just what you could see and then it was done. I chose not to bring my poles with me due to this section and now I was really regretting that decision, knowing that any help my arms could have given my legs at the end would have been great.

I caught a number of runners on the flat drag into St Ives and I got chatting to a guy about how we were feeling. I explained about my drop bag and asked if he had a crew, which he did. In my state of desperation and knowing that my feet were going to be in a bad way when I got the medics to tape me up, and knowing I didn’t have any dry socks, I cheekily asked if he had any spares. I was beyond grateful when he said he would check with his crew but he thought he did. Next thing I know his Dad is running off into the distance to their car and ran back to me and handed me a pair of socks! Awesome. I promised to find them at the CP and get their address but the runner later refused and said to keep them as a memento of the race. If your reading this, thank you! My feet were an absolute mess but without those clean and dry socks they would have been even worse at the end.

I recall the St Ives CP from last year but only being dropped off at the door by Andy James’ support crew after they rescued me from Zennor. The streets are lovely but it all looked the same and so I thought the CP was just round the corner. So much so one guy asked me how far it was, or so I thought, so I said “30 seconds”. He actually asked me how long we had to get there, so for a moment he went into sheer panic and started running, before I realised I must have mis-heard him. 2 mins later and we were in.

It is generally accepted that bar any major issues, get out of St Ives on time and you can walk it in. Here I was, 45 minutes up on cut off, time to sort my feet out, eat, mentally reset and get out without being rushed.

I relaxed a little, chatted to a few people including Paul Maskell who was going to be sweeping the route. Ate, got taped up, a lot, by the medics and started to get my bits together. A few of us were all heading out within a few minutes of each other now, just 5 minutes ahead of CP closure time at 2:20pm. One of these people was asking around if anyone wanted company. This was massively appealing. I genuinely believe that one of the reasons I DNF last years Arc was due to spending so much time on my own and not having any company/distraction during those long hours between Lands End and Zennor. I jumped at the chance to walk with someone.

Carl and I got chatting and within 20 minutes I realised I knew of this guy from Cockbain events. I was somewhat confused though why, given his running CV, he was at the back with me. All became apparent. He had finished the Winter Viking Way 7 days before, running 152 miles one weekend then doing the Arc the next! The guy was a machine. So experienced and I had the huge benefit of his company to mentally help get me through the final stages of this epic race.

We walked the entire 23 miles. We chatted a lot but at the same time there was a lot of silence. So much so I felt guilty at times as Carl was moving like he was walking to the shops whereas my gait was terrible, I had pains in the balls of my feet from trench foot on both feet, horrible pains around my heels on both feet so any hills, but specifically steps down were agony. It hurt when I kicked stones, had uneven ground, which lets face it there is a lot of, but the steps were the worst. I was on my hands and knees at times easing myself down. Through the whole thing, Carl was incredible. He knew we had time on our side and he wasn’t worried about our pace, he was just happy to stay together and keep moving forward.

I was moving quickly (for a walk) through Hayle and prior to the Dunes of Doom on the tarmac but everything else on this section was slow progress. From just outside St Ives we also joined up with Wiebke Lammers, a Dutch lady who knew the area and the Mudcrew team really well. We chatted the miles away through the afternoon and started to talk about the Dunes. We quickly realised that she has recce’d the dunes a few times recently and we agreed that we would stick together and basically follow her through the best route on the dunes. She was confident we would make it through in daylight. This confused me, how bloody long are these dunes. 4 miles! Bloody hell! I hate sand, this wasn’t what I was hoping for. However we walked it all, and even picked up another 2 guys so 5 of us were following this amazing women like sheep through the dunes. She was faultless with every step!

We were all conscious of getting to Godrevy before the cut off but we knew we had time to spare. The 5 of us came through the dunes and all immediately heaped praise on her. The other 3 had crews and so they met up with them at Godrevy. Carl and I were unsupported but given the time we had spent together over the last few hours, we didn’t want to push on without the others. We stood around for maybe 10 minutes but I was getting cold so I suggested to Carl we push on slowly and let them catch us up. Carl kept turning round for the first few miles waiting and expecting the others to catch us but they never did.

I was hating this now. My feet were screaming at me every step. The ground was becoming really stony and uneven and every few minutes I was swearing and screaming. I wasn’t doing much talking now either. I was really feeling the lack of food I had with me. It turns out I had some Clif bars and a Chia flapjack on me but didn’t realise! Carl, as he had for the last 5 hours already, kept just in front or just behind me, putting no pressure on me to move any faster.

I cant recall one mile from the next on this final stretch before arriving in Porthtowan but I do recall all the 50 runners coming past us, more and more regularly as the hours went by. Every single one of them was asking how we were and saying how brutal they were finding the 50 and how they couldn’t comprehend doing the 100. This was a lovely feeling but I just couldn’t use it to move any faster, but we were still good for time, I thought. We were, but those seeds of doubt started to sneak into my mind, and I checked a few times with Carl if we were still OK for time as I was conscious that a mile was now taking around 25 mins and this was surely eating into the buffer. I recall at one point the ETA on my Fenix 3 saying 9:05pm and thinking this is great, but a while later it was saying 10:15, 10:20. I wasn’t panicking exactly but I was getting worried.

It was a huge relief to get that horrible double dip done as I was on my hands at times easing myself down, praying for the road hill up to the eco park. We dropped down off the hill side and down to the bus stop where there were loads of people waiting and cheering us and the 50 runners through. Surely we are close now. I turned off the navigation on my watch to save battery but as a result I had no idea how far we had left. The steep hill up from the bus stop went on forever and then a Mudcrew angel told us we had to turn off the road. What, this hill isn’t the hill? As you all will now know, it wasn’t and we still had a good mile or so to go. We continued at our steady pace, now knowing for sure this was done but personally I was still dreading this horrid hill that Ferg went on about. Up ahead we spotted the next Mudcrew Angel and knew this was it. Over the wooden bridge and up the hill. My god what a hill. The glow sticks lit the way but it was steeper than anything on the previous 105 miles of the course. Talk about sting in the tail. We plodded on, letting a few 50 runners through and eventually it flattened off and the top was in sight. Into the field and there in front of us was the blue inflatable finish. Carl tried to convince me to run but I was having none of it.

DONE. I couldn’t believe it. I had beaten the Arc of Attrition. This one had been so long in the making that I thought I might cry like I did when I finished my first 100 over 2 years ago. However, much like when I finished SW100 in June last year, I was just relieved and tired. Within seconds Geoff Partridge who I ran to and from Lands End with was there to see me over the line. He called it a day at Pendeen knowing he wasn’t going to make St Ives in time.

I was given my buckle and a hug from Jane and we got our finishers photos taken. I decided to pull a silly face in one of the shots and obviously that wasn’t a stupid thing to do.

There is more of a story about the next 24 hours, but really that revolves around the horrific state of my feet at the end, the medics telling me not to burst the blood blisters until it was clean and sterile, me having to put the same shoes back on to go to the van, sleeping briefly, driving to Carl’s hotel room, hobbling to the hotel room which was the furthest distance from the lift, sleeping on a bed with no sheets/duvet using my down jacket and a towel to keep me warm.

I bought Carl breakfast the next morning as a thank you for letting me crash in his hotel room. We both ordered a huge cooked breakfast but we both enjoyed the granola, fruit and milk the most. It was wet and tasty in a way that none of the food over the last 40 hours had been.

The hotel breakfast room was full of Arc runners in various states of abandon, but most with the shared tiredness that can only come from having spent 40+ hours of being awake and maybe 5 hours of sleep. No wonder then I had to pull over on Bodmin moor and have another sleep in the van. This time minus the snow!

11 days on, my feet have almost recovered. Ive been on a course of antibiotics for a toe nail and potentially cellulites. I ran to work this morning. It was OK but I wouldn’t have been able to push any pace. The run home was much harder work though and a clear sign that Im not yet fully recovered. How Stephen Cousins was able to jump on a treadmill the next day and run is beyond me.

Ive already bought some new trail shoes and if anyone wants to buy a pair of Speedgoat 2’s (UK 10.5) then let me know. 😉

I always said that I was never going to go back to the Arc, irrespective of whether I got my buckle this year or not. But within, 48 hours, I was already thinking 34:32 in that pain, in the wrong shoes, without my poles, I reckon I could do sub 30 if it all went well. Funny how quickly we forget the pain!

What did I learn from the Arc 2019?
– Quality training is better than quantity. I did lots of hills and gym work, rather than lots of high mileage weeks.
– The course is brutal and having a crew is massively helpful – so many people have said they didn’t think they would have finished if it had not been for their crew.
– The right kit it essential. I made this mistake in 2018 and paid for it. I was more organised with layers, gloves, changing socks this year.
– A quality jacket in these conditions was my best purchase of kit – ever! I know the conditions were brutal at times, but I genuinely wasn’t bothered by the weather once. Hail nor the wind. If I got cold I zipped up, hood up, breathed out it my jacket and was warm again within a minute.
– I can cope with the unexpected. Not having my drop bag at Lands End could have been a game changer, but thanks to remaining positive, the kindness of friends but also strangers, I was able to keep positive and get the job done.

Next up for me is a very different challenge. 60 hours on a 1.1 mile loop at Enduroman in May. Turns out Carl has the course record of 202 miles! Small world!

Well done everyone who took part in the Arc 2019. To those of you that made it, congratulations – I know how good it feels to have got it done.

To those who fell short this year, you will be back, you will have learnt loads from this years experience and you will beat the Arc. I was lucky I only had to come back once, but Im sure we have all read about the guy who after 5 attempts has finally beaten the Arc.

Until next year!

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SW100. Is it over already…?

Midnight on June 4th 2016, I had just finished the inaugural SW50 in second place. I had a brilliant 13 ½ hours in the sunny Welsh countryside. This was a major part of my training for an attempt at my first 100 a few months later.

October 2016 – Autumn 100 – 23:38 – this broke me for weeks.

SW50 was brutal but my 100 was relatively flat (which I now think is harder but I didn’t then), so after finishing my 100 all I could think about was how on earth can people run 100 miles all on terrain like SW50. I hoped that one day I too would be able to do that.

October 2017 – After a good block of training I had my first ever DNF at Gower 50 due to a tendon injury which didn’t go away for a few months. This really worried me as I was training for the Arc of Attrition in the February.

Arc – I recovered from the injury and threw myself into 70-110 miles a week for the next few months. I was feeling confident and I was running well on race day – comfortably inside the cut offs despite the nasty diversion and small time allowance that was given as a result. However, the Arc is brutal; the distance between the CPs, the lack of food (not at the CP’s but just because there are so few CPs) and water and the general conditions underfoot got to me and at 80 miles and in just under 24hrs my mind and body admitted defeat.

I knew I had it in me to finish a nasty 100 and I like summer and I do well in the heat, unlike others I know who are stronger than me but can struggle in the heat. I had learnt a lot about running 100 miles from both my success and my failure and of course I knew half of the SW100 route. So for 2 months the thought of SW100 as a revenge race for my failure at the Arc bubbled away in my mind. I finally took the plunge in late March and entered, not huge time to prepare (12 weeks) but I was coming off the back of good Arc training and had recovered well, much quicker than from Autumn 100. I had 10 weeks training and 2 weeks on holiday for taper – trying not to get too fat.

I ran good weekly mileage of at least 50, but often 65 and when really wanting big weeks I managed a few 90-110 mile weeks. The difference here though was I knew I needed to drop my obsession with mileage and focus on elevation instead. I live by the sea in the Vale of Glamorgan and the highest point in town is only about 200ft, and the biggest hill climb is only 150ft. I work in Bristol City centre with a similar issue. I run 3 times a day when in peak training, usually all on the flat, but this time I was doing hills regularly, twice a week to start with and in the end 5 days a week at lunchtime, 700 – 1000ft. Towards the end I was doing my long runs, which were short for a 100 miler, of about 12-15 miles on hill repeats, sometimes doing 30 reps and managing 3500ft in the process. You do get funny looks from tourists at the seaside when you run up and down the same hill 30 times whilst they are having ice-cream in the sun.

I was feeling strong before holidays, but now was danger time, 2 weeks in Majorca, don’t get fat! I knew I wouldn’t do lots of running as it was during my taper, but I thought a few medium sized runs in the heat would be good preparation as last time in ran this route (SW50) it was sweltering. A few hill sessions on a treadmill in a non-AC gym were also good practice. As well as this I did a short heavy weight leg session in the gym each day, which I still think was of major benefit. I always wonder about building strength training into my plan, but like most ultra-runners, fall back on the false belief that time not running is wasted.

I came back from holiday feeling great and in the final few days before the race did some really quick runs (for me that is), which felt quite easy. I was now feeling confident.

A lack of planning for the Arc found me out, too little water, food, clothes at the right time. I wasn’t going to make this mistake again. The CPs were much closer together on SW100 than the Arc but 11 miles over the Brecon Beacons across the middle of the day is still a long way.

There were 2 drop bags allowed for the 100, 1 at 45 miles and another at 71. I thought very carefully about what I had to carry from the start, what I didn’t need until DB1 and what I may want at DB2. For example, all mandatory kit from the stat and a decent amount of food and tailwind powder. Powerbank, watch charger, suncream and more food at DB1. Road Hoka’s at DB2, and more food and tailwind powder. A full change of clothes was also in both DB’s, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

I knew the Runwalkcrawl CPs would regularly have my favourite snack, cold rice pudding and jam, so I knew I could access that at least every 15 miles or so at every other CP. I added a Pot Noodle and a pot of Porridge to each DB also. The DB routine was planned out well in advance. Arrive and bag off. CP marshals to fill both bottles and add tailwind whilst I got hot water for both Pot Noodle and Porridge. Let it cook for 2 mins, then add cold water. Drink/eat them quickly, grab anything else I wanted to eat. Change of clothes/socks as necessary, final grab of food for small plastic food bag to carry and eat whilst Pot Noodle and Porridge were settling in my stomach. I didn’t want to bring them straight back up again! It worked perfectly!

I arrived early for registration, got the kit check done, tracker fitted, then went for a walk with the Etrex to ensure I knew how to use it. Then it was just a matter of waiting it out and being ready for the start – apprehension builds naturally.

I had a quick chat with Emma Williams from RWC fame who commented on my cool race vest. An Innov8 race ultra with front fitting pack. I thought it was great, but I had never raced with it. Off we go streamiling live on FB. FUCK – end FB live.

Literally my first step over the line saw the front pack disconnect from the main pack. I had to try to tie it on – but it didn’t work. The ‘No Limits Photography’ video of the start shows me being the final person out fiddling with it trying to bodge it together.

What a start! I had to basically run to the first CP at 10 miles, holding my poles in one hand, which also wouldn’t sit in their holder properly (again hadn’t run with that before – I know I know!), holding part of my bag with the other. This means I didn’t have a third hand to hold the Etrex. This meant I had to run to keep up with people to ensure I didn’t get lost, meaning a quicker start than planned. What a disaster. 36 hour race and all this happened in the first 30 seconds. When I arrived at the Llantrisant CP I managed to find a way to drop a load of non-mandatory kit and somehow stuff the other bits into the 5l race vest which I didn’t think was possible. Just shows how much you can actually get in.

I thought I was pretty much last and I was trying to calm myself down, ‘don’t get angry, there is a very long way to go’…’you’re only racing yourself’. However, CP1 is where it all started to go right. I was running well, enjoying myself, taking it easy and ticking off the miles.

I forget where, but a few hours before darkness fell I started to run with Anthony Howells, we made good conversation and helped each other through the first night. We took a bit of a detour through the bogs around the wind turbines – my god they are massive – and I had to pull Anthony out a few times as his legs disappeared to his knees, but we were in good spirits. We left the final CP before Drop Bag 1 (Hirwain) just behind 2 other runners, maybe 10 mins. Before leaving the CP, Ben Morris, RD, said to me that this next section to Ystradfellte was gorgeous and very runnable especially the first bit to Penderyn and so ‘make the most of it’. I didn’t mean to leave Anthony but a few minutes later I started running and just didn’t stop. I soon caught the 2 guys who left the CP 10 mins before us, as well as someone else about 20 minutes later – I left them all and despite looking back I couldn’t see any of them.

I could now hear the waterfall at Ystradfellt. I had been waiting for this for 2 years since hearing stories from the 100 runners in 2016 when I ran the 50. I saw John, a walker I knew from other RWC events and stopped for a quick chat with him. He looked in a fairly bad way and I gave him some paracetamol and wished him well for the day ahead. Unfortunately I later found out that John DNF’d. My phone had died for some reason just after the start so I had no battery to take a photo of the waterfall which after waiting 2 years to see it was rather frustrating. (Below is a stock photo just so you can see how amazing it is). As I walked behind the waterfall I didn’t really know what to do as I couldn’t take a photo so I just stopped and shouted at the top of my voice. I had to do something to mark the occasion. I felt amazing and I ran all I could to the next CP and Drop Bag 1 where my DB routine worked brilliantly and I was leaving as Anthony was coming in about 15 minutes later.

It was all a bit of a blur really from there until Storey Arms, apart from I recall putting sun cream on before leaving DB1 CP and then sweating instantly and trying to wipe sun cream out from my eyes for the next 4 hours. Oh well I suppose it was a distraction of sorts and helped pass the time! This photo was taken somewhere in this section – I think!

The section from Storey Arms to Talybont Resevoir was the make or break part of the run. 11.5 miles, lots of elevation gain and no shelter from the now sweltering heat and strong sun. I made sure I ate a lot at the CP just before Storey Arms, 3 bowls of rice pudding, 2 bowls of soup and bread and was sure to make sure I had all my bottles full and the spare 500ml bottle was full too. Whilst only 11.5 miles it was going to take over 4 hours. Did I mention the heat?

The SF (Special Forces) Experience was out in force on Pen-Y-Fan, much like the rest of the world when the sun shines in the Brecon Beacons. I was moving fairly slowly but these people had 40lb ruck sacks on and were hardly moving at all. They also had SF people shouting and swearing at them to ‘move it’…’keep going’. One guy was half way up PYF, but he hadn’t moved in minutes, he was totally gone. When I got level with him they had almost given up on him and were now asking him if he had any food…protein bars. He replied feebly with ‘its in my car’ which was met with ‘what the f**k is it doing there’ in raised voices to say the least. I felt so sorry for him I gave him one of my Clif Bars. He tried not to accept it but I showed him how much food I was carrying and I made him take it. He actually hugged me! Very strange experience. I moved on and didn’t look back.

Corn Du – done. Pen Y Fan – done. Fan Y Big – done.

I still felt good and ran when I could. Rounding the headland just before you first see Talybont reservoir I had a short chat with Barry Griffiths who had caught up with me from the 50 starters, his final prep before LL100 attempt in mid-July. I also managed to stop for a call of nature when no one was around, it all rots away in the end!

The view of Talybont Resevoir is gorgeous, but lingering in the background is the dreaded Tor y Foel. Personally, I think its worse than anything else on the route. I hate Tor y Foel. Head down and get it done. It was slow progress but I still felt strong. Its almost the place where you can say Im going to do this. There is still a very long way to go, but the back is definitely broken.

My feet however were starting to hurt now. Not blistered just painful from unsupportive trail shoes with less support than I am used to (Road Hoka’s). I did another FB live as I had charged my phone. This was partly to break up the boredom of the now walk off the fire road into Trefil CP and DB2. My ankle was on fire as well. I said some hello’s to people and thanked them for messages of support but I stated that with over 20 hours to do 30 miles (was actually 35) I was going to walk it in and not risk running and my ankle getting worse and causing a DNF.

The routine for the DB worked well again with lots of food being consumed. Imagine an all you can eat buffet approach, plates and bowls of food all around me, whilst I got out of the sun for a bit.

The pivotal moment of my race now happened. I asked RD Ben if he thought I could get away with my road shoes. He said ‘Hoka’s, put them on’. I bounced out of the CP. I was running and running well. There was a group of 4 of us now, three 50 mile runners and myself. We stayed together until New Tredegar where I immediately headed for the shop and bought a 2l bottle of water, a white magnum ice-cream (which I had been dreaming about for 10 hours) and a mars chocolate drink.

I was walking out of New Tredegar and enjoying my ice cream thinking the other 3 had gone a good 15 minutes up the road, when one of them appeared out of Tir Phil train station, Michelle McCully. Michelle’s friend started the 50 knowing she wasn’t well or fit and very quickly decided to drop, which meant Michelle had herself a support crew for the rest of her race. We walked out of town and onto the slopes and overgrown path that led back up. The ‘No Limits Photography’ people jumped out of the bushes and caught this shot of me here too.

Michelle kept saying she was going to drop at some point and was not sure she could make it to the next CP. It was her first ultra and so I knew her self-doubt was a bigger issue than her fitness. She was strong and moving well so I made it my mission to make sure she didn’t drop – hoping she would thank me in the end.

My Garmin had buzzed once for low battery and it did it again now which got me in a bit of a panic as if I’m going to run a 100 miles I want it on my Strava! This wouldn’t usually be an issue, I would just charge it on my powerbank, but I left my phone charging longer than I should and now the powerbank was dead (its old and only holds half charge – I definitely need a new one). It was at this time that Kelly Felstead, a FB friend and fellow 100 mile runner, had been messaging me, just with encouragement and trying to get me to run quicker to catch people a few kms ahead. A few km’s really!

She had offered to meet me somewhere with a bag of goodies and alike, which was amazing but unnecessary so I declined. However not having the run on Strava called for desperate measures. I asked Kelly if she had a charged powerbank I could borrow. She said yes but then said she had had a drink and couldn’t drive. I was deflated, but only momentarily as her amazing husband and ultra-runner in the making, Dewi, had agreed to meet me instead. Now I thought this was a short 2 mins up the road for him as we agreed to meet at the Bargoed CP. However it turns out he drove, on a Saturday night, 15 minutes from home and sat waiting for me for another 15 minutes at the CP. Oh and he did bring a back of goodies as Kelly made him. The guy is a legend. I offered to post the powerbank back on the Monday and put a fiver in for a few beers.

Dewi also joked that Kelly said she would come and run with us for a bit too. I said but she’s had a drink, which Dewi simply laughed off saying, and. Michelle and I left Bargoed CP in good spirits, with Michelle again making plans with her friend to potentially meet somewhere before the next CP in Caerphilly if she wanted to drop and me jokingly saying that was never going to happen. About 10 minutes after leaving the CP and at a set of traffic lights in Bargoed town, a car pulls up, the door is flung open and out jumps a blonde woman in running kit and race vest. Yes, Kelly decided to tag along anyway – her poor husband!

Kelly knew the area well so I was able to put the Etrex away for a few hours which meant I could switch off for a bit. We chatted, ran, walked and took photos of a gorgeous sunset as we made our way to Caerphilly.

Kelly headed home and we were now approaching Caerphilly and were running on what was a lovely sloping road into the town centre. We ran it all in the middle of the road like we owned it. Why not? It was nice to get some flow going for a change.
We headed around the castle wondering where the CP was and when finally finding it and heading in we were greeted with Pizza and chips. Heaven. The chips didn’t agree with me, but the pizza, oh man!

We headed out renewed of energy and Michelle was now feeling confident she was going to get this done. This was the final section where the only real climb was Crag y Alt. We were back to the 4 of us again and despite being the only 1 on the 100 I was keen to really push on but we held it back slightly and found the compulsory clip on Caerphilly mountain after circling the top once and missing the very unobvious path to the summit. From here it was on to Crag Y Aly which wasn’t as bad as I had feared and heard about. We dropped onto the Taff Trail which allowed for some easy running but the group wanted to walk again which I did find frustrating at times.

However I was quite grateful as the climb up Castel Coch was much longer than I expected. We had a great pace on for the walk with the poles but it just went on and on. At 2am and with a narrow head torch view you can’t see or recognise anything so it is the same step after step until it’s over. Michelle was amazing on the nav around here as she used to live locally and knew the area well.

We were dreading the descent down Castel Coch driveway as it is very steep, just what the quads don’t want. We heard a scuttling noise and the next second we were confronted with 2 badgers who were heading up the driveway. The 4 of us and the badgers all stopped in our tracks. They turned around and we gone as quickly as they appeared.

My Garmin was now showing around 104 miles but I knew from previous CP supposed mileage points vs actuals that we still had about 2 miles to go. I got slightly confused as to where we were as I thought we were coming out by the Motorway bridge but there was still a mile to go on the Taff Trail first.

Michelle and I wanted to finish strong and we started to run again, somehow getting under 10mm pace – speedy stuff for 32.5 hours in. We dropped the other 3 people that were now with us, walked for 30 seconds before agreeing to run in all the way across the line. My head torch died the moment we entered the field and the finishing funnel but it was done.

31 hour and 56 minutes. 105.7 miles. 19,416ft.

After picking up our medals and having the obligatory finish line photo, we picked up our drop bags and hobbled up the stairs to sit down and let it all sink in. Michelle’s friend Hannah had promised us a can of beer if we got to the end which she duly handed over. It was very refreshing but it quickly did its work and half a can later I was feely very sleepy – not a huge surprise.

I eventually picked up all of my stuff and headed down to sleep in the car for a few hours. I tried to unlock the car but nothing happened. I slowly realised that the car battery had died. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why (turns out I had left the lights on) but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. So I just stood there….pressing the key fob and watching nothing happen. This went on for at least 3 minutes! I went inside and asked Joe (RD) for some jump leads. Don’t know why as I wouldn’t have been able to get in the car anyway to open the bonnet. There were some jump leads going to be available in the morning but what use would they be anyway. I went back to the car and just stood there pressing the fob again.

Remember now that my head torch had died so it was completely dark. It took a few more minutes before I remembered that you can open cars with keys! Boy did I feel stupid, but ultra brain fog was at work. I tried to open the back door to sleep across the back seats but it wasn’t having it and I couldn’t be bothered, nor did I have the physical manoeuvrability, to climb into the back so I just slept in the drivers seat. I couldn’t even get my sleeping bag open properly so I just lay it over me and went to sleep. I managed an hours sleep before the cold woke me up and I made myself get into the sleeping bag properly. I managed another 2 hours sleep and woke up just in time to see another group of 100 runners finish including the guys I ran with Friday night. I’d somehow managed to gain nearly 4 hours over them.

I loitered around for a short while, got the car started with the help of Pete from the RWC team and headed home for a proper sleep and feed.

This race had been in my mind for over 2 years. For most of that time it had been in my mind as unachievable or certainly a major step outside my comfort zone. The reality of the race is that I loved every second of it and I didn’t want it to end. I could have happily turned around and headed back to Brecon at least. Easy to say, far less easy to do.

Joe from RWC did offer in the following days to support me back to Brecon next year for an unofficial 150 (which I reckon would be 160) and whilst I am tempted by this, I have other plans for similar distances next year – namely Canalslam if I get in GUCR via the ballot.

I also have enough points now for CCC 2019 so I may enter the ballot for that too. Choices choices. There is something about this route though that the SW150 or even SW200 appeals.

What the hell is wrong with me!
Thanks for reading.

Arc of Attrition – DNF 9th Feb 2018

Arc
noun:
a part of a curve, especially a part of the circumference of a circle.
That makes sense.

Attrition
noun:
the process of reducing something’s strength or effectiveness through sustained attack or pressure.

That absolutely makes sense!

There is a short version of this race report and a long version. The short one is as follows:
– This is a brutal race
– 30 minutes extra for a 2 mile (4-5 mile) diversion made for more challenging cut offs than in previous years
– I did well for 23 hours and 15 minutes.
– I didn’t eat enough at CP’s
– I didn’t change my clothes, socks or shoes at any point
– I should have (I think)
– When borrowing someone else’s Garmin Etrex make sure you know how it use it properly when really tired and cold
– Lands End to St Ives to truly brutal!
– I could have done this.
– Next year I will do this!

If you want to read the long version then I apologise in advance as its fairly long.

Ive know about the Arc for a few years and always thought of it as beyond my capabilities. I decided in early in 2016 to tackle a 100 later in the year. This scared me but I took it on and succeed. I trained hard for 6 months, had a few smaller races leading up to it and got a sub 24 finish at Autumn 100 in the October.

I’d always planned a quiet 2017 and to re-balance family life a little. I ran a local 18.5 mile coastal trail race finishing 4th. I then became convinced I needed a new challenge and after watching Stephen Cousins’ filmmyrun video of the 2017 Arc I knew that was it. The emotion and pain of him battling through (albeit for a sub 30 finish) and talking to a few other people I knew who had Arc buckles, made me realise why I entered Autumn 100 – because it scared me. That’s what I wanted and therefore the Arc of Attrition was the perfect race!

I hadn’t run a big race in a long time, so I entered the Gower 50 which is in October. Training had been going well for 5 months out from the Arc with 50-60 miles a week and decent hills (considering I run in City Centre locations). I’ve never enjoyed running on sand so I don’t know why I entered Gower, but knowing the RD’s and running their events before I knew it would be well organised and very scenic.
However the sand did its work on me and the Gower didn’t go well. My first ever DNF. The tendons in my ankle didn’t like the sand and lack of resistance and I struggled with pain from 5 miles until 23 miles when I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. This was when the self-belief and my physical ability to be on the start line for the 2018 Arc became a major concern.

Over the course of the next few weeks I saw various physio’s who all said the same thing. You have a mis-alignment in the ankle and an inflamed tendon. Neither of them said something could be done about it. This made sense, but I’m no medic so I presumed the mis-alignment was something that I had always had but never noticed.

However, like most runners, I know my body and whilst it wasn’t stopping me doing big weeks (60-75 miles a week) it didn’t feel right so I booked to see a physio that sorted me out when my ITB went after Thames Trot in 2011 and he got me through VLM a few weeks later. I didn’t go to him straight away as I had moved from Bristol to Cardiff and so it wasn’t easy to get to him, but desperate times.

The previous physio’s didn’t treat it, they looked at it and said ‘oh yes its mis-aligned’ whilst lightening my wallet in the process. Upon visiting Dave Adler at Portland Therapy Centre in Bristol, I said I know I have a mis-alignment but bones don’t move so I must have always had it. He simply replied, this one does. He proceeded to manipulate and then push and click my Navicular bone back into place. It felt immediately more flexible and normal. With a clear instruction from him that I could run on it straight away, my confidence about being on the start line with a half decent level of fitness was restored.

Game on!

I took 2 days off work around Christmas (one either side of) specifically to go running. Once to do 6 repeats on Pen Y Fan (22 miles and 10000ft) but more importantly to practice with my new poles. Second to get a long run in as that day on Pen Y Fan was my longest run in over a year alongside my Gower DNF. A Welsh coastal path 50k in horrid conditions which I thought would be great mental preparation for the likely weather at the Arc.

Work got in the way of a few lunchtime runs (at peak training I usually run 3 time a day Monday-Friday 4.5 miles AM, 4-6 miles at lunch and 4.5 miles PM) just after Christmas but I managed two big weeks pre taper of 80 and then 108 miles – now I felt confident.

So begins the taper. The usual things happened, I carried on eating lots despite not running lots. My legs felt heavy and I lost any desire to run. Then one lunch time at work I made myself go and do repeats on a local 25% hill. Only 4 miles (2 miles of that is to get to and back from the hill) but 1500ft and came back with my mojo again.

Game on (again!)

I had arranged to stay in a little campervan (don’t think T5 it wasn’t that nice) via Airbnb for £15 a night. I didn’t really want to pay £60 a night when I was planning on not being there Friday night nor much of Saturday night even. Not the best idea in hindsight. It was cold and whilst close to Porthtowan in Redruth, not the comfiest of stays. However, I was settled in early on Thursday afternoon and so headed down to the Blue Bar for Race HQ around 5pm to register and meet up with some new FB friends – Lee Scott and Paul Wootten from Bristol. I also met the amazing Dawn Gardner and Arc veteran Geoff Partridge and tried to remember snippets of advice Geoff was imparting.

Once registered I went food shopping, picked up a beer, fed myself after unpacking and repacking kit several times over, tried to get an early night. It wasn’t a great nights sleep, like any pre race sleep, but it wasn’t helped by having 8 inches of headroom in the bed above the drivers seats and having to climb a small ladder to get up there. There was no way I was going to manage that at 2am on Sunday morning.

First thing on Friday morning, after a last minute decision to cram my down jacket into my race bag, I got the other bed out which avoided any small, metal framed ladder and contortionist routines.

I’m used to carb loading before marathons and 50k but there is any point for a 100 mile and 36 hour race so I just had a normal breakfast of porridge and headed off.
Race HQ was a hive of activity with people I recognised all over the place, including Stephen Cousins and Paul Ali – who later told me at St Ives he had the flu but decided to run anyway – well it was £150 entry I suppose!

The race briefing was happening but at the back we couldn’t hear a word of it aside from hearing that there would be Arc Angels (the amazing volunteers) at any diversion to ensure we knew where to go.

On to the buses and we headed off to the start line. Some people slept, some people relaxed, some people just chatted. I just needed the loo so I was very pleased when we arrived, but so was everyone else by the look of the queue for the gents when I found it.

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It was a beautiful morning and I prayed it would stay that way. We had a minutes silence for a two time Arc racer, Mark from the IOM who was due to be back in 2018 but was killed whilst cycling a few months ago. Mudcrew are sending his family an Arc buckle and I knew that there are a few people associated with Mark returning in 2019 as well to crew his friends from IOM who want to run the race in his memory.
At the end of the minutes silence the hooter sounded and that was it, no time to panic about what lay ahead, just get on with it.

This is the exact point I made my first mistake, right at the bloody start. I was almost the last person across the line after getting out of the way for a local bus I think. How I didn’t see the successful marriage proposal that took place Ill never know, but within a few hundred yards there was a bottle neck and single track trail for the next few miles with very limited places to pass. I think I lost a fair amount of time here, but at the same time it did help me not go off too quick which maybe explains why I was still about to run 23 hours later – not something I was able to do at the end of a100 18 month previous.

It was also hear that one of my new poles broke at around 3 miles, which I then carried all the way to Penzance CP. Very annoying, but it did mean I could carry the GPS unit in one hand and check it regularly rather than leave it in my bag and likely only get it out when it was too late.

This section was fairly uneventful. My introduction to the SWCP wasn’t as brutal as I had expected, undulating, lots of mud but a beautiful day and some lovely scenery. Oh for this to continue for the next 33 hours. I even managed to snap a few photos. What turned out to be the only ones during the whole race.

It was during this first section to Porthleven CP where all the diversions were. They were excellently marshalled by the Arc Angels and there was never any danger of getting lost as a result of the diversion. However, they had given an extra 30 mins for this supposed 2 mile diversion. We soon realised that not only did it record as somewhere between 4-5 miles for most of the people I was with at this time, but most of it was entirely un-runnable. The farmers fields of mud and silage where horrible to move through and personally I feel to be fair to previous versions of the event the diversion should have given us around an hour additional time.

CP1 was up in Porthleven town and we were met by an Arc Angel who accompanied us up the hill and into the CP. He commented that he had done a good nights training already as it was the 12th time he had done that hill repeat. My visit to the CP came and went without any real issues although I did want to get some paracetamol off the medic as I had packed ibuprofen instead – what idiot does that for a 100 mile ultra? This was taking too long as someone else was in more need that me, so I grabbed some off Dawn Gardener instead. The feet felt good and dry, which was a surprise considering the mud I decided not to check them as I didn’t want to interfere with something that wasn’t broken.

I recall having 2 scones with cream and jam and a quick chat with Geoff Partridge whose hip was causing him some trouble and so he had decided to call it a day here at CP1. I headed out and got a little confused heading back into town and then through the harbour and up to the SWCP again.

The next few hours passed easily and as a group of us had made it through town, which I think was Marazion, I recall looking up at the night sky and seeing the stars in half of the sky, without the clouds. Aside from my honeymoon in the Maldives I’d never seen this many stars before and I found myself looking up every few minutes, even turning off the head torch a few times to make the most of it.

It was around here that I joined forces with Harry Mcalinden, a Scottish guy who had lived in Jersey for 40 years. Harry and I chatted through the night about races and his previous attempt at the Arc in 2017. We worked well as a team and I was leading using the Etrex to navigate and in the main, doing an OK job. We got lost for a minute or two on occasion, going too far along the beach at Marazion, and later picking the wrong path a few miles before the Minack Theatre and then trying to (unsuccessfully) wade across deep prickly gorse, before simply doubling back and taking the right path – idiot! (I picked over 60 splinters out of my legs and hands over the next 2 weeks.)
I was very conscious of time due to the diversion and being stuck behind a load of people earlier in the race and this meant that I was a little behind where I wanted to be at this stage. We pushed on with a continuous (slow) run into the Penzance CP arriving sometime around 11pm. I had this on my Garmin at a touch over 42 miles and again I was keen to get out as quickly as possible. I changed the batteries in my head torches not wanting to be stuck in the dark somewhere swapping them over later during the night. I got my bottles filled and reloaded with Tailwind. I was so keen to get out again that after filling my water bottles and not eating(!), I went to the loo and agreed to meet Harry outside. 2 minutes later and there he was with my water bottles. I’m sure I would have noticed before leaving – I think!

We pushed on some more and continued through the night past Porthcurno and the Minack Theatre, which from photos taken during the day looks amazing but you cant see a bloody thing in the middle of the night.

I have no particular memory of anything after this prior to arriving at Lands End CP. I was hoping to see the Lands End sign and have a photo and aside from being pitch black aside from the CP lights, we had time pressures, big time.

Lands End was bustling with runners, crew and Angels. An Angel offered me the menu which Beans on Toast and cheese seemed like it would go down nicely, which it did. The bottles were filled, and additional food taken from the drop bag. Batteries were swapped again for both head torches, but I made what turned out to be the vital mistake of the race. For some reason I hadn’t thought it important to pay any attention to the weather forecast despite doing this every day for the week leading up to the race itself. I didn’t change clothes, although as it hadn’t rained until this point I am still comfortable with this decision. I did however take out of my bag additional kit which I didn’t think I would need. Harry and I agreed to be out of the CP by 520am knowing the hardest section lay ahead and that we would push on and run any section we could.

I was sat next to a guy who had decided to drop but who had run the race a few times before and he was suggesting if we really wanted to make St Ives we had better get a move on. I left with a renewed vigour – I was going to have this!

I felt great, possibly due to the food and probably due to a lighter bag, mainly from not carrying the down jacket as we had got through the coldest part of the night and I would be finished before the coldest part of Saturday night so it wasn’t needed.

I pushed hard through Sennan Cove and before I knew it I had somehow lost Harry. I stopped a few times to try to spot his head torch but he was gone. There were a few other people around me but after deciding that Harry was too far behind to wait for, I soon left them behind too, running in a way that I hadn’t since early between the start and CP1. I felt guilty about leaving Harry for a few hours, but I later found out that he was struggling with dehydration and dropped shortly after.

I made a few small navigational errors around the large stones through this next section which meant I had to keep catching and passing a pair of ladies who were moving really well, as they overtook me a few times due to their knowledge of the route.

It was a big relief when daylight broke and the large stones were behind me and I was confident of making St Ives. Whilst I was hopefully that the large boulders between LE and St Ives were behind me, deep down I knew the stories I had heard meant that this wasn’t the case and somewhere ahead laid the real challenge of this section.

It was around here where the weather changed and the rain came down. It wasn’t torrential but it was constant and being exposed around Cape Cornwall and Pendeen Watch, things did start to get cold. At some point prior to Cape Cornwall I got chatting to a runner called Andy (James), whose support crew would later have a very important role in my race. Andy and I dropped into Cape Cornwall and Andy’s crew offered some support; banana, water and getting some food out of my bag for me. I pushed on whilst Andy had a slightly longer stop and I entered what would turn out to be my final section of the race.

The rain continued, the mud was now everywhere and there were very limited opportunities to run. Every person I encountered (and overtook) I was asking if they had run the race before and if they were confident that we would make the St Ives cut off. Everyone said the same thing. “Comfortably”.

It was around this point however where I became aware of how little water I was now carrying, around 300ml and knowing that I had around 10 miles to go until the St Ives CP which was easily 3 hours away, my mind starting to work against me. I tried to eat, but I needed to drink to get it down, so I spat it out. This wasn’t good. It also dawned on me that I was fast approaching the longest amount of time that I had spent on the go, being the previous 100 miler and just under 24 hours.

Looking back on it, not eating and drinking was worrying me, becoming tired all of sudden when I realised that I had been going for nearly 24 hours was worrying me; I was concerned of the time pressure to get to St Ives and the knowledge that getting there meant a much improved likelihood of a finish, and finally the known, unknown of the brutality of the final section into St Ives; this was all bubbling away in my mind. Far from being a distraction, this was causing anxiety.

BANG.

Whilst running next to a lady (who went on to finish) through an area of rocks in a very boggy and muddy stretch of the path, my left foot landed on a large flat but slightly angled to the left, rock. My shoes were caked in mud and the rocks were wet and I had had a number of small slips in the last few hours, but as soon as my foot touched this rock, it was gone from underneath me. The rock was secured in the ground around 6” in height from the path. My foot fell to the left and banged against another rock next to it. My chest landed horizontally on the rock I slipped on and as I had moved my arms to try to balance, I strained my right shoulder when I landed. The lady with me stopped to check I was OK and I tried to get up and brush it off but the shoulder was hurting. I didn’t even think of the ankle. I was moving again within 20 seconds but something had changed. My mind went there and then in that moment.

The woman I had been close to and gaining on for 2 hours pulled away from me within a minute. We came across some steps (there are so many steps on this path!) up a big hill (context – nothing is big it’s just big compared to most hills on this path – the highest point is around 300ft which I believe was this exact hill!). I recall a metal rail on the right hand side of the steps, which I was using to pull myself up, but I was slow, really slow. All I knew was that I was about 6 miles and maybe 2-2.5 hours away from St Ives (that’s at the pre fall pace) and here I was struggling to move up a hill, losing time quickly over others.

As I was pulling myself up the steps, I had to stop. I became dizzy and light headed. I grabbed for the rail and missed it a few times – I knew this wasn’t good. Fuck! I’m 6 miles from St Ives. What the hell, I can’t make it up this hill! I have to admit, for 30 seconds I was actually contemplating getting in the body bag and phoning for help. Somehow though whilst these thoughts were going on, I did manage to carry on a few steps. Then the steps stopped and I lifted my head in relief.

Saviour. There in front of me were people. I can’t remember how many but I think 2 or 3 support crews. Andy’s support crew. They knew I wasn’t in a good place. I think I recall saying something along the lines of ‘thank god you’re here’. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone until St Ives so this was (almost) literally a life saver. I think her name was Karen, she got me out of the wind and sat down and offered me chocolate. I remember saying thanks but I have some of my own, “ooh a Twirl, yes please”.

I know I said “I’m done” a number of times. Like any good and experienced support crew they knew runners often said this but could live to regret it, so Karen was loath to let me admit defeat. She tried to get me to just sit down for a while, eat and think about what I was doing. I was cold though, I started to shiver uncontrollably and I was adamant that I was done. I was surprisingly OK with it. I think because I was so far gone in the mind that I knew what was left was unachievable for me, so it was easy to accept.

We waited for Andy to arrive at this crew access point (Zennor) and we all headed back to the T5 they had a short walk away. This wasn’t a short walk it was about an hour – well 5 minutes but I had seized up a bit and was cold and I couldn’t get there quickly enough.

Karen, and I think Mark, were brilliant. Despite supporting Andy to get on his way again, they got me in the front of the van, gave me a monster blanket, got the engine on and the heaters going and even offered me dry kit in the feint hope that I would get out again and push on. I started to warm up and feel better within minutes but I was done. I mind had given in. I knew I had time, but I also knew I would get cold again as soon as I went back out. If I had a full kit to change into, I like to think I would have given it a go, but that’s easy to say with hindsight. I rationalised it in my mind that I had run 78 miles in 23 hours and 23 minutes (anyway I had stopped my Garmin so obviously I wasn’t allowed to carry on anyway!) and covered 14000ft in the process across some horrible terrain.

I knew that lots of people hadn’t made it this far and I let this convince me that there was no shame in dropping at this point. I was wrong, But again, its really easy to think back on this with a rested, non-tired, uninjured body. None of us can really recall the feelings and emptiness at those moments before making these decisions and for me this was my first conscious decision to DNF so it was a new experience.

Andy took loads of my banana malt loaf bars, with him and pushed on. He looked full of confidence and determination and as I sit here writing it, if I had been able to go out with him, I wonder if I could have made it.

Karen and Mark drove me back to St Ives and once we got phone signal I called through to race HQ and announced my retirement from the race. I hobbled out of the van and instantly started to shiver uncontrollably again, clear evidence that despite thinking I was in a better place because of a Twirl, it wouldn’t have last long without a kit change.

Once in the CP at St Ives I was forcibly dumped on the medics bed and wrapped in about 10 blankets. I didn’t have any kit with me, my drop bag was at Lands End, and likely by then on its way to Porthtowan and my other bag was waiting for me at the end as well. I got my shoes and socks off and on the radiator and eventually realised I needed to do the same with one of the two layers of kit I did have on so at least they would dry before I left and I could then change into some dry (if smelly) kit.

Beans on Toast with extra cheese went down very well again, along with lots of coffee. The Arc Angel volunteers, as well as the medical team were extremely caring and helpful and someone was checking on me every 10 mins if not less. My feet were fine but were like prunes and I couldn’t help but think if only I had changed socks earlier. But it wouldn’t have made any difference my feet were fine in Lands End as the rain hadn’t come, it was irrelevant.

My feet dried out and I got warm(er) and I was very comfy. I did the obligatory FB update and finally had time to check messages, and comments and was astounded by the amount of people who had been following the tracker and sending support to me – I am still truly grateful to you all for this. I called my wife before posting the FB update as I thought that might be best!

My mum had been following the tracker and had called as she spotted my retirement. She had got well into it, who had finished already, who else was where. She managed to tell me where other people I knew had got to, Lee Scott, Paul Wootten, Dawn and my partner throughout the night, Harry Mcalinden, who she confirmed had dropped somewhere around Sennan Cove where I lost him.

I felt very content and calm, which was rudely interrupted by someone who needed the medical bed more than I did. He looked pretty much like I did when I came in and I found a very comfy seat next to the radiator. There were others, another Scottish guy who had made it to St Ives but had decided his day was done as well. He managed to get warm whilst wrapped in a sleeping bag which he somehow managed to fall asleep whilst sat at a table in an assembly style hard plastic chair. We chatted later on the way back to Porthtowan about races we had planned and the year ahead as well as out various tales of the last 24 hours. He was kind enough to let me have a shower in his lovely little flat overlooking the beach, which was a much better option that trying to achieve this in the cramped campervan shower cubicle.

As we got to the finish, lots of people were already there and others were arriving every now and again. I saw Stephen Cousins (filmmyrun.com fame) arrive who whilst had achieved a second sub 30 hour finish in two years, was a little disappointed as he had hoped for sub 26 hours (hence he was without the camera). I don’t think many people who finished, achieved what they had expected and I am still in awe of how the leading two managed to go sub24 hours with the additional mileage and the mud through those early stages.

I was later told that the winners had run together for a large section of the race but in the home straight it was agreed that one of them would take the win and so crossed the line 20 seconds ahead of the other. I don’t know the full story about why, but how many races outside of the ultra-running community would you see that happen? None.

I gathered my kit, had a shower and headed back to the van. Stopping en-route to buy food and beer at Aldi in Redruth. I bought 4 bottles of beer. I’m not sure why I thought I might be able to drink 4 bottles of beer but I did anyway. I got the heater on in the van, made some tea, emptied all my bags and tried to do what I could to get ready to leave early the next morning. Boy was I glad I didn’t have to climb the ladder to the bed that was never going to happen.

I opened a beer and it went down very well. I had been texting my wife and I think had commented that I would likely be asleep by 815pm as I was getting tired. I opened a second beer, but I never finished it. I think I made it to about ten past eight and I was gone. I slept really well, although I did have a pain in the left ankle (where I had fallen earlier) as I slept on my left side.

I woke up fairly early, had breakfast and got my stuff ready to go. I then went to fetch the car so I could load up and leave. I got outside and thought, OK where’s the car. Shit. I have no idea. I recall using google maps to find the van the night before and parking only 180 yards from the van and a few turns of a corner, but I couldn’t find the bloody thing. I walked around in the rain for 40 mins, and even had to go back to the van to charge my phone as I was using the maps again to try to remember which turns I had made and where it could be. I clocked up 5000 steps in the process! It loosened the legs I suppose.

I had even texted my Airbnb host and explained, asking her to drive me around to find the car and I would give her money. It was early and she hadn’t text me back so I went out again after realising that Waze (the Sat Nav app) had marked the location of where I parked, I just didn’t realise it did it. I instantly found the car about a 2 minute walk away. I know I must have walked past it two or three times though earlier that morning. It just shows how ineffective the brain is when it’s tired, I never even thought to check/mark where I was parked – it’s not even as if I knew the area. So stupid!

I loaded the car and headed home. The journey was uneventful and I made it home to near Cardiff in decent time. My wife and kids were out so I had time to unload, put a wash on, have a bath etc.. I was walking up and down the stairs like a normal person. It was very strange and unexpected.

Later that night I put my feet up to watch some telly. Took off my compression socks and out of nowhere I had a huge swollen ankle. My feet were swollen, I knew this and expected it, but the ankle was bad and only on the left leg. Clearly a result of the fall. It hadn’t hurt though until I took the sock off, I was walking fine, up and down the stairs, but all of sudden it hurt and really affected my ability to walk.

I went for x-rays on the Tuesday to check nothing was broken – complete overreaction and all was fine. The feet swelling was gone by Friday but still now (2 weeks on) I have a small swelling just above the left ankle, which feels different to fluid retention. It is getting better but slowly and I haven’t run on it as yet, not that I feel like I’ve wanted to so far, but I will do a gentle few miles later today and see what happens.

So what’s next?

I have a short ultra (33.5 miles) in 6 weeks on the Welsh Coastal path, a race I have done a few times and enjoy. I’m undecided yet if I will trundle around with friends or race it and target a top 5 finish.

However, as a result of knowing I was physically in a good place and as I want to get the DNF monkey off my back, I’m planning a challenging 100 miler in the Brecon Beacons in June – subject to the ankle being ok. SW100 from runwalkcrawl. I did the 50 a few years ago and it remains my best ever event, from the route, to my fitness, to my performance. I’ve wanted to do the 100 version ever since.

As for the Arc. I know what went wrong. I learnt lessons about this race, myself and my preparation for a challenge of this kind. Everyone I have spoken to who DNF the Arc this year has said they are going back next year. No wonder this race has grown the reputation it has in the limited time it’s been going.

Since the race, the ITRA have notified Mudcrew that the race only now deserves 5 UTMB points on their formulae of feet/km. I think we would all agree that such a simple formula for determining the number of UTMB points is unfair for this race; especially as they charge what I am sure won’t be an insignificant sum of money for the privilege of being awarded UTMB points.

Mudcrew created the Arc to be challenging in a number of ways; many are far more subtle than simple elevation gain. The time of year, the distance between the checkpoints and the cut offs, specifically at St Ives. I know some people are drawn to races by UTMB points but I think for most people, the challenge of the Arc is more than enough to draw them to it/back to it.

I know it is for me. See you next year Cornwall. I will get that buckle and I don’t care if it is Silver. I will have my vengeance!

Finally a huge thank you to Mudrcew for an exceptional race, the 150 or so Arc Angels for their support during the race, Andy Persson (andyontherun FB fame) for lending me his Etrex, Joe Timmins from runwalkcrawl for pre-race advice, Lee Scott for finally talking me into entering in the first place, Harry Mcalinden for conversation and distraction through the Friday night.

Most importantly though to my wife and children who allow me to train for and go away a few times a year to do these little adventures. Hannah is amazing, who whilst working full time, due to my 3 hour a day commute, also does all the pick-up and drop off of the children each day. Luckily for me, she runs too and so she gets it. She knows how much being able to undertake these races/challenges means to me and supports me 100%.

 

 

Autumn 100 – Centurion Running

Since I decided to get back into the world of ultra again just over 12 months ago, there at the back of my mind was the burning desire to run my first 100. More specifically 100 in 24 hrs. It’s a bit of a magic number for ultra runners and one I wanted for myself.
I thought until entering the 100 (within 2 minutes of the entry opening as they sell out really quickly) that my 50 miler in the Brecon Beacons would be my ‘how the hell am I going to do this’ challenge for 2016. I truly didn’t know if I could finish the 100 when I entered it, let alone within 24 hrs which was more of a long term career goal rather than a 2016 one (initially at least).
However, once I have a goal and I figure out how in my busy life (work, 3 hr commute, 2 young kids and a wife who works full-time) I will be able to train for it, I become pretty single minded that I will do it. I have never DNF’d a race and part of my enjoying the challenge of ultra’s is to find my personal limit of physical and mental capability is.
Following my 2nd place at SW50 in June I had 2 weeks of recovery and slowing built the miles back up again. I managed to stay somewhere between 65 – 90 miles a week, usually 75/80 from July to late September. I was becoming quicker over shorter runs as my usual training run was only 4.5 miles (although it was 3 times a day), but I was worried that I had only run over 20 miles twice since June and the longest of those was only 26 miles.
I tapered for 3 weeks but within 2 days of starting the taper I picked up a cold (always happens to me) and felt really rough until just 7 days out from the race. I was a little worried that 15 miles a week for 3 weeks was too much of a taper against the planned 50:30:10) but deep down I know I don’t do tapers very well and still run too much – who doesn’t?

I was running with a friend, Leighton, doing only his 2nd ultra (first being SW50 in June) and I got a decent nights sleep at his on the Friday night after the numerous unpacking/repacking of my kit until bed time. An early start and decent breakfast was followed by a drive across Bristol to the infamous Andy Persson’s house who was kindly giving us a lift to Goring (and back). If anyone isn’t familiar with Andy’s exploits look him up on FB under the name ‘Andyontherun’. Andy also runs the Tri Shop on Bristol Harbourside and is always happy to offer advice and insights.

The journey down was thankfully very uneventful as was kit check. The board outside the village hall however did make me laugh and it was definitely worth a photo. They made it sound so easy.

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Time to unpack and repack the bag again, reposition my Tailwind powder in my bag, top up my bottles and get ready head over to the race briefing. I had hoped to meet up with a running friend from previous races James Bennett and true to form he turned up with the whole family 30 mins before the race briefing. We had planned to run together for leg 1 at least but James had other plans when it came to it and managed a sub 21hr finish in the end, looking great every time I saw him.

Centurion race briefings are renowned for several reasons. There are always a decent number of 100 mile virgins along with a similar sized number of Centurion Grand Slammers – Autumn 100 being the last of the 4 Centurion 100’s each year and I think in excess of 20 people in the running for a GS buckle that day.
We got the weather report from James Elson (RD) and we later realised he clearly had a second job or at least contacts at the Met Office as his comments were within minutes of being bang on.
Almost bang on 10am we were off. My watch decided to play silly buggers and froze. I had a little panic until the realisation hit me that that 200m of unrecorded data wasn’t really much to worry about consider the distance left to run. A really short and gentle jog from most people down the first gate was quickly followed by a bottleneck, quite amusing really.
The first leg is the flattest following the Thames Path for 12.5 miles until the turnaround point. I chatted with James for an hour or so and realised that I was already not sticking to my very defined strategy of 24 minute run and 6 minute walk. I let James go and for the next 30 minute block or two I kept catching him on my run section but only enough for a minute of conversation before I started to walk again. James waited for me at the turnaround point but again my run / walk approach soon saw him off into the distance and I would only ever see him again going in the opposite direction to me.

Despite eventually adopting my run/walk approach I still was too stupid to follow it properly and ended up doing 28/2 instead. However this really caught up with me at around mile 23 where I was feeling rough and I decided to walk in the remaining distance along the Thames, taking the opportunity to grab a few pictures as it was a gorgeous day with beautiful surroundings. I lost about 20 places in that 30 mins but I was definitely the right call. You can tell from this picture of me at Goring I had over cooked it a bit.
Goring at 25 miles. 4:03 and 92nd place.

A short catch up with James again and a few mouthfuls of his amazing homemade soup, followed by a quick check on my Tailwind powders and a plateful of a very strange mix of food, from Jelly Babies, Jam Sandwiches, cherry tomatoes and Porkpie – and I was off. I realised in the following days that I had clearly spent longer in the Village Hall each time than I had intended, not necessarily that much before leg 2 but more and more as the event went on.

I was looking forward to leg 2 the most. Its on the Ridgeway which I ran in full in 2010 on XNRG’s Druid Challenge and is much more undulating than the Thames Path which gave more opportunities for natural walking breaks rather than rely on my ill-disciple as on Leg 1. I was feeling great on this leg and after grabbing the first of my many coffees at the turn around point at Swyncombe Farm before the big climb back up the hill before the decent into Grims ditch – which everyone says they hate but to be honest its brilliant. Tree routes, proper woodland trail and the ever present danger of hammering your quads from having too much fun as I did on Druids Challenge and very nearly did again here.  It reminded me how much I loved the Ridgeway and I am definitely going to go back in the next 2 years to do the whole 86 miles in 1 day (TRA event) rather than the 3 days it takes on Druids.
It was towards the end of this leg that James Elson’s first prediction of rain came true and at the last aid station before returning to Goring I grabbed the usual strange mix of foods, along with a S-Cap and Gu. Ive never had Gu’s before until now, but I have to say they are great, although not the Peanut Butter one! I also got the aid station crew to get my headtorch out of my bag as whilst it wasn’t quite needed yet, it would before I got back to Goring. It was a short 4.5 miles return to the Village hall which passed smoothly and I was back in for more food, change of socks and put my Hoka’s on (turned out to be bad decision) and the now customary 25 mile photo and FB update.
Goring at 50 miles. 9:17 and 90th place.

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It was well and truly dark now around 7:30pm and again we were out on the Ridgeway but in the opposite direction ultimately towards Chain Hill before turning around and heading back to Goring again. The first section of this is road and a not insignificant steady gradient. It must have been the Porkpie but also the amazing feeling of new socks and now vey bouncy shoes. I ran most of the way back to the trail and made up a number of places. The undulation is nothing serious on the Ridgeway at any point really but after 11 hours and 55 miles enough to make most people, especially me, walk most of the inclines. It was at this point I got chatting to Michael Wiggins and we stayed together all the way back to Goring at 75 miles.

It was a full moon, heading towards the middle of nowhere and approaching the middle of the night. I have run at night before, but never through the night. I was worried about this before the race not knowing if I was going to be tired, exhausted, cold etc. but actually it was amazing. You find your own little bubble in the world and get a lovely sense of freedom and isolation knowing that almost everyone else is not experiencing anything close to what you are and how lucky you are to be doing so.
This picture, whilst not from the Ridgeway (Thames Path towards Reading) and not taken by me (credit to ……….) shows you how amazing it was that night.

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My feet started to hurt now. The blisters on my feet had gone into overdrive since putting my Hoka’s on. They don’t really fit me properly, ½ size too small, but I’ve never had any trouble with them over distances up to a marathon and I thought the cushioning would be perfect for the hard section of chalky Ridgeway. I only got them as I wasn’t sure if I would get on with them and so was reluctant to spend £60-80 on a paid and have to sell them straight away, so when a friend let me have an old paid for a tenner, I jumped at it despite being a bit small. Getting on well with them I should really have got a another pair that fitted!
Between Michael’s knee and my blisters we pretty much walked constantly for 15 or so miles of this leg, maybe a bit more. We picked up Michaels friend and pacer at Chain Hill aid station and turn around point.
Chain Hill has to be the best example of an aid station in any event, anywhere. It was a full on rave. Fluorescent lights, Drum and Bass music and little white capsules being dished out! Apparently the Police attended at one point thinking there was some kind of illegal rave going on. They then found out that the little white capsules were basically salt and also realised that they had run out of tea bags and so went back to the police station and came back with more supplies!
It was cold up there though and I was glad to get moving again, albeit walking. We managed the odd jog for a minute here and there but towards the end of leg 3 I was being left behind even at walking pace. This was a real bad patch for me mainly driven by the pain coming out of both feet with every step. I definitely needed to change shoes back again and Goring just couldn’t come soon enough. I also knew I had a secret weapon waiting for me. John Adams – a totally top bloke and someone I met on Druids Challenge in 2010 – had come all the way from London in the middle of the night to help me through the last and clearly hardest leg of the race. I called John whilst up on the Ridgeway and I also knew he had Compeed!!!!

Goring – 75 miles. 15:51 and 85th place. Given we walked so much of leg 3 not quite sure how that happened!

John was brilliant. I was suffering and as the picture below shows, I was tired. I didn’t feel tired but I certainly looked it!

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Ive never had a PA in work before, but if I ever did I could get used to it. John got me plates of Porkpie, handed back my drop bag, fetched me soup. I did think it was a step too far to ask him to put the Compeed on though.
I needed to drain the blisters as they were fairly big and juicy. Niki Griffen (RD) said the paramedics could do that so I hobbled off to be told no were not allowed. Fine, we all know medically you shouldn’t drain them, but we also all know if you need to run on them it’s a drain and tape job and worry about the after effects afterwards. I didn’t have anything to pierce them though. I knew I was tired as the paramedic looked at me so simply and suggested a safety pin. Of course I said as I got all excited. They then realised they shouldn’t have offered that nugget of common sense and tried to talk me out of it but I was off happy as a kid in a sweet shop.

I had a quick look around for Michael but failing to see him knew he had already headed out and so we were off. The change of shoes and socks again felt wonderful and I was actually running with an approximate 6/1 run/walk ratio. Albeit the run was somewhere around 11mm pace. We caught Michael within half an hour or so and pushed on, still feeling refreshed and somehow confident I could now do this.

Having a pacer is incredible. If you ever get the chance to have one, do it. More than anything they help distract you from everything else going on in your head. I genuinely believe that part of the reason I could run relatively well at this point was that John and I were just chatting and passing the time. Work, his travels, house renovation, my kids etc.. Before we knew it we were through the aid station and out on the long drag along the Thames towards Reading.

This however is the worst part. Partly as everyone (not just me) is running (or walking) on close to empty, but it’s the longest distance between the mid-way aid station and turn around point, which of course means it’s the same back to that final aid station at 96.5 miles. I was now entirely focused on making sub24hrs. I did have slightly more ambitious targets earlier in the day but that was my 100 mile naivety – sub24 however was firmly in sight. I was however worried that my slow pace was going to get slower and so I wanted to be on top of ensuring we did enough to get it. I can’t think of anything worse than getting things wrong and coming in a few minutes outside 24hrs. However simple mathematics at this point wasn’t even remotely possible. Again, credit to John he had this nailed from the moment I made it clear this was essential. I must have asked him 40 times if we were alright for time, but I could see John checking his Garmin regularly even when I hadn’t asked him, this was a great reassurance.

A wave of relief came over me as we saw the ‘Welcome to Reading’ sign. However it only took seconds to recall previous FB comments and previous a100 race reports that the sign and the aid station were not even close to each other – in fact it was about another hour away.

We still had a decent walking pace at this point. John’s calculations meant we were confident that sub24 was absolutely on barring any disaster and so rather than run what I could and struggle in for 23hrs and change, but with the risk of a late stage DNF, I wanted to walk almost all the remaining miles and just ensure a finish, most likely still a sub 24hr one.

That drag to the Reading turn around point went on forever. Every corner felt like it was the one and it was only when we started to see more and more people coming back the other way we knew it was close. Then there is was, relief is an understatement but steps up to the CP – really.

We loitered for maybe 10 minutes. A grabbed a few handfuls of whatever food they had and snatched another couple of Gu’s just in case I needed a desperate last shot of something to drag myself to the end and we were off. We knew what was needed, I still felt relatively OK to continue at that pace, but by now the prospect of running anything was well and truly gone.

We managed to catch a few people and walked with them as James’ second weather prediction came in bang on time, 7am – and the heavens opened. Well and truly hammering it down. We even saw someone whose name escapes me at the moment walking with a brolly. As she said afterwards “if I walk in the rain I have a brolly and clearly I was going to be walking from 75-100 miles.” Simple but brilliant and it certainly made everyone who saw it chuckle. We also passed Timu still determined as ever to finish her first 100 within the cut off. She looked so determined and I have to confess I wasn’t sure she would make it, but credit to her she did and everyone, myself included, was so proud of her. Her birthday too.

Given how exhausted I was and how much time it took to cover the 12 miles from the turn-around point to approximately the 1 mile to go point, not a lot really happened. Maybe I was too exhausted to take it all in. John kept an eye on the time whether I kept asking him or not, and I did. But then John announced we had a mile to go and about 40 minutes to do it. Out of nowhere I was beaten. I had nothing. I actually forgot I had a Gu left and I found it in my jacket pocket the next day, but to be honest I think I was past that point. I could hardly lift my feet off the ground. A really short but sharp up and down hill took ages and John actually sat on the fence at the top waiting for me!

But now we were back on the river by the fishermen. One guy in particular sticks in my mind, he just looked at us and said ‘well done’ and I knew at that point I had done it. That last mile took ages and I was now being overtaken by a good number of people, whose race reports I have read and they mentioned finding a last minute burst of energy to finish and passing a few people moving slowly –  that was me and John.

A strange thing happened now. I’d been looking out for Leighton and I hadn’t seen at any point on my way back on leg 4. I knew I could have missed him but it was light by now and I knew that was unlikely. I also knew this probably meant he had to DNF and I was gutted for him. We then had a short straight section where there was what turned out to be a small tree against a fence, but I had just accepted that Leighton had had to DNF and so this shape in the distance was obviously him waiting for me near the finish and he planned to walk in with me. 30 seconds later of course I was close enough to see it was a tree, but for a short while! It wasn’t a hallucination just a tired brain not recognising what it was looking at. Weird what the mind can do and it’s the first time I’ve had any kind of moment like that, but this was my first through the night run.

Finally though we came off the track onto the road up to the village hall and I could see the marshals and Centurion sign at the end. It was actually done. I turned to John, thanked him, shook his hand and cried – only a little but actual tears were definitely there. As I turned in front of the hall there was the usual applause from other finishers and friends and family of others and there were more tears.

I was so relieved I actually forgot to get my hug from Niki and even my buckle and photo.
Andy and Leighton were both there and Leighton unfortunately did DNF at 75 miles after being timed out, but he did confess he would have dropped anyway as he struggled to even walk at that point.

I sat down and seized up immediately but then realised I hadn’t had my photo taken. Standing up and almost losing my balance had everyone is stiches as they all thought I was practising some form of Tai Chi!

I had the monster camera of Stuart’s stuffed in my face and so there were of course more tears. The photo of me is such a good quality of image you can actually see the vague, tired, exhausted emotions behind the smile and a sense of distance in the eyes.

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I also got a photo with John as I honestly believe that without John I may not have finished, let alone got sub 24. I stupidly sat down on a chair in the last aid station with 3.5 miles to go and John gave me immediate and stern words and we were off again.

I was cold, shivering, hungry, tired, elated, emotional, and a whole load of other things as well. I called my wife and did facetime for the first time ever which was a bit confusing in my physical and mental state, but it was amazing to see my wife and children so happy to see me and for me.

After finally getting warm we tried to manoeuvre ourselves to Andy’s car for the drive home. I won’t bore you with the full details but needless to say it took a while and was I’m sure it was very funny for onlookers. I’m not quite sure how Andy looked so fresh following his run. I know he had finished 4 hours ahead of me, but I didn’t look like he did 4 hours after I finished I can assure you of that!

Leighton slept all the way back to Bristol and I dropped in and out of sleep for a short while. Again getting from Andy’s car to mine was laughable to anyone who would have seen it at Andy’s house. Once we were out of his car I could sense Andy considering what he should do. I suggested he go in his house rather than feel the need to see us off, as we were clearly going to take another 15 minutes to move the few yards necessary.

We stopped in via KFC en route to Leighton’s and I made some blatant bad decisions with regards to directions both getting to Leighton’s and then from his to the Motorway. I also had to pull in at Magor Services as I could feel myself getting tired and I slept in the car for an hour and a half.

Once home there were more silly antics of getting from the car to the front door, upstairs to bed and even into bed. Rather than get under the duvet I lay on top and had to build a nest of pillows around me to keep warm as I couldn’t get off and back on the bed again. I felt a bit better after a bath and some food and a relatively early night.

The following day I was thankfully off work and I just sat of the sofa all day watching box sets on Sky. My feet were much worse than I realised and it took until Thursday for the swelling to go down.

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3 weeks on and I am still kind of in shock at what I managed to achieve and I am still wearing my finishers t-shirt to dress down days at work on a Friday J.
What did I learn:
–    I can run (cover) 100 miles in 24 hours – awesome!!
–    It is however much harder than I expected!
–    I wasted too much time in aid stations, despite trying to ensure I didn’t.
–    Gu’s are brilliant.
–    Porkpie is even better.
–    Pacers are worth their weight in gold.
–    Centurion events are incredible in every way – including weather forecasts.
–    Perhaps GUCR or KACR in 2017 is a push too far (at the moment)
–    I really, really love running ultras and the whole ultra community.
–    I love the Ridgeway.
–    I don’t like the Thames Path.

Everyone should run a 100 miler even if just once.

 

Thanks for reading.

SW50 – Run, Walk, Crawl

I entered this race around 9 months ago and talked a triathlete friend, Leighton, into it for his first venture into the world of ultra.

I spent the first few months panicking ‘this is too much; I’ll get lost; I have no idea how Im going to be able to do this’. The next few weeks were spent thinking about the mandatory kit list and buying ever more kit. A few other events had come around and with training for those (Likeys Beacons Ultra November 2015; Might Contain Nuts Round 4 December 2015) meant I forgot about SW50 for a while.

Around Christmas I was conscious of having to get back into training. The Vale Coastal Ultra – Run Walk Crawl kept me motivated and being in early April it was a closer objective to aim for. January – March saw me running around 45-50 miles per week which gave me a decent performance at the Vale and the confidence that my training was being rewarded.

The difficulty was finding a way to squeeze the extra training in around my 3hr daily commute and young family. The solution was 3 runs a day Monday – Friday and a long run on Sunday. This meant 4-5 miles each run so 12-15 miles a day M-F. Jumping up to triples was a huge shock to the system. The first week I took the Wednesday as a rest day and on the second week I managed to get to the Thursday before needing the rest day. From week 3 though I was up to the 3 times a day 5 days. Because they were short, most of these runs were fast (for me) at around 7-7:40 per mile, so I found myself getting quicker in the coming weeks despite upping the mileage again slightly. The last 8 weeks before the event I was up to 75-95 miles a week, usually with a hill repeat session during a lunchtime in the week. It was impossible to replicate the Brecon Beacons in Bristol City Centre but I did what I could.

I usually don’t taper very well and run far too much in the week of the race but this time I was on half–term child care duties so that wasn’t an option. I did however keep eating like I was running 90 miles a week so I did put a few pounds on that I had managed to lose over the last few months.

I sorted out my race pack and drop bag before heading off to pick Leighton up from Cardiff Central on Friday night. We went for Pizza and Pasta in Cardiff Bay with a cheeky beer which was more to reassure Leighton this wasn’t like a marathon and he should forget mm splits and times and just enjoy the experience and not stress about it. I got a decent night’s sleep but we were up 5:10am and after silently getting dressed and having breakfast whilst trying to wake up the whole house we crept out and were on our way.

 

We arrived early and calmly got through kit check, ate some more food and managed to pitch the tent for our Saturday night’s sleep. I envisaged a finish time of around 10pm at the latest which would get me a decent night’s sleep and get me home in time to celebrate my daughters 5th birthday – not quite how things panned out in the end!

I’m rubbish at nav and this was most definitely going to be important today. I made sure I had the GPX on my watch but also that I learnt how to use it properly. A last minute top up of the battery on my watch (good job I did) saw it freeze. A few minutes of blind panic where I was frantically trying to remember how to do a soft reset, which worked and the route was still loaded as well – TFFT!

We hoped on the bus and headed up the A470 into the Valleys passing Castell Coch. A very welcome sight that would be 15 hrs later! Leighton commented a few times ‘were not going up anything like that are we’.

Our plan was to run to CP2 (16.5 miles) together before deciding if we would continue to run together. I knew I had done a lot more training than Leighton and I wanted to put it to good use so I was pretty confident of pushing on at CP2.

The start

The start of the race is a gentle trot from Storey Arms to the phone box before a right turn and a power hike up Pen y Fan. I put my head down and opened up a small gap over Leighton. I already felt a rub coming on my heel so I pulled over to sort it out and wait for him. When he caught me he sat down and asked if it was all going to be like this – a little wobble – I reassured him the best I could but I couldn’t exactly say the rest would be easy. I decided to ask how he would feel if I pushed on earlier than planned as just from that first 15 minutes I felt a top 5 position was possible but not if I lost too much time early on. Within minutes I had another gap on him and by the top of Pen y Fan I couldn’t see him behind me, time to go.

One guy shot off up Pen y Fan and I knew he would be way out of sight. When I stopped to sort out my heel another 10 or so people had gone past me. I continued on across to Corn du at a fairly quick pace and during the descent I just let it all go and was bouncing down the stoney path with some people moving to the side saying ‘someones flying through’. Going up the next climb I was now in 3rd with a group of lads who I did my best to drop by the top.  It was here I thought I need to hang on to this, top 3 is doable.

I pulled level with Chris who had shot up Pen y Fan just before the descent down into CP1 at Talybont Resevoir. We ran together for 30 minutes or so and I found out that Chris works for Centurion Running so I picked his brain about my 1st 100 in October (autumn 100).

As we trotted over the bridge to the CP I spotted a familiar face in the chair. Mark Buxton, a brilliant runner and friend who I met in November at Likey’s where we ran the last 20 miles together. Mark was in the 100 but had spent all week feeling shitty but started anyway. To make it past the 60 mile mark feeling like that, over terrain like that was amazing. I saw Mark again the following morning and he certainly didn’t look like he had run over 60 miles – he still sounded pretty shitty though!

Chris dropped back on the climb up Tor Y Foel, a bastard of a hill which I have done a number of times in the rain, although to be fair its just as much of a bastard in the sun as well! As Chris said, a 5000m week in the Lakes before the race will have an effect on people. I was now firmly in second with no real prospect of catching or even closing the gap on the guy in front, but I wasn’t going to let second go!

Only 36 people started the 50 and only 1 was ahead of me, with only 5 people ahead of me on the 100. With 40 miles still to run it was clearly going to be a lonely day.

I can’t recall anything in particular about the stretch between CP’s 1-2 apart from Tor Y Foel and catching Emma on the 100. She went on to be 1st Woman home. I met Emma on the recce from Storey Arms to New Tredegar back in September last year. We exchanged a quick hello and I tried to reassure her she was looking good. Somewhere before CP2, I also caught a guy called Ryan who was also on the 100. We chatted for a while and had a walk across some gently inclines until we started a jog and Ryan let me go. This said he looked really strong and I knew he would finish.

CP2 came at what I made 18 miles and I grabbed something to eat. I picked up my food in my drop bag and a spare bottle of water as the next few stretches were over 9 miles each and it was very warm and humid. I had a bite of a hotdog which really didn’t go down well followed by 2 bowls of fruit cocktail and rice pudding – Rocket fuel as I know from a charity event back in February this year (7.5 hrs on a treadmill). The 2nd and 3rd place guys on the 100 were just finishing up at the CP and got out a few minutes ahead of me. My bag was a fair bit heavier now with all my food and all my Tailwind powder also. I got ¼ mile up the trail before I realised I had left the extra bottle of water behind. I didn’t think 1L would be enough for 9 hilly miles in those conditions and after a short deliberation, I went back to get it. As it turned out that small bottle of water saved me from a horrible day as I needed all 1.5L between every CP from there until the finish. I would likely have DNF’d if it wasn’t for that 69p bottle of water!

1.5-2 hrs later I trotted down through the ferns into New Tredegar which is where my familiarity with the route ended. I joked with Joe before the race that being 9 months ago the recce would be near useless but he was right, so much of it came back to me. It was from here that I worried a bit more about the nav as I wanted to make sure I kept second. I think I had a decent lead on 3rd by now but I didn’t want to get complacent and there was still 25 miles to go which at this rate could take another 7 hours!

At the train station in New Tredegar, which for some reason is called Tir-phil, you pass right next to the train station as you climb up back towards the trails. At that exact moment a train to Penarth was pulling in. It was very tempting to home on and go home, and I thought about trying to get a photo but I decided the conductors may laugh as they would have had no idea why.

After picking up the trail again, I climbed up through a never ending zig zag of wild blue bells.

I felt great on the not too severe inclines and whilst I was walking it was fairly quickly, my HR wasn’t really that high.

After running into CP3 to the sound of cowbells there is a tiny stretch along the river before you have to cross it but I just couldn’t see how. I went up and down the trail for 10 minutes and whilst there was a bridge set back from the path I didn’t realise it was a foot bridge. There was however what I thought was probably a sewer or gas pipe which had about a 1 foot diameter. For about 30 secs I thought about trying to balance my way across. Perhaps I was a little irrational already. I thought I should at least check if the bridge was doable first and surprise surprise it was.

Again things are really hazy in my memory around this point. I do recall a fairly steep road where I kept going and missed the turn off back onto the trail. That was a fairly common situation, but the nav on my watch never let me get more than 200m or so off route before I realised and was able to retrace my steps and correct it. I was still feeling fairly strong and I amazed myself that I was able to run some of the more gentle inclines and get a decent pace up on the flat and especially on the road sections.

CP4 came and went in a village hall type room. The marshalls were overjoyed that I wanted some of their rice pudding and so they speedily obliged as well as efficiently sorting out all my water and TW.

It was obvious that the light was definitely going to become a factor as it was 7:45pm when I left CP4 and still with around 16-17 miles to go. The terrain and the amount of walking was making things take much longer than I had envisaged and so I knew the watch was going to start buzzing ‘battery low’ not too much further on. I was regretting the last minute decision to not bring my external battery pack and watch charger. I decided the best thing to do was to put my all into it and run as much as I could and from now on, only walking the steeper and longer inclines. Sure enough around halfway between CP4 and 5 the watch buzzed for the first time. Why I didn’t turn off the HR sensor a few hours before I have no idea as I hadn’t looked at it more than a few times all day. I started to panic a little now. I had put my map and road book in my waist pack about 8 hours ago (not in a plastic protector) when I decided to stupidly just rely on the watch. I took them out to try to find where I was, which had they been eligible would have been fairly easy, I swore very loudly in the middle of nowhere in the dark. They were wrecked. All the ink had rubbed off pretty much everything. Now I did panic. How much longer would the watch last with the nav running? I couldn’t turn the nav off as I would get lost within minutes. I knew it would be around 2 hours before it died but I didn’t know how far I was from CP5 and being able to get another roadbook and map, or even when I got there if I was going to be able to. I was tempted to check my distance but what would that achieve apart from draining more battery. It would run out when it would run out there was nothing I could do about it except get as far as possible before it did and hope that CP5 had at least another map if not roadbook.

I was so relieved to arrive at CP5 but it was short lived when I realised they had neither a roadbook nor map to give me. I explained but left in a hurry and mentally in a pretty bad way which probably explains what happened next. Instead of going up and over Caerphilly Mountain to the right, not knowing the mountain (hill) nor having recced that part of the route I didn’t realise that I hadn’t gone over the mountain (hill). I noticed I was off the line and headed back to it. I came to a main road thinking ‘why do they call that a mountain’ when a woman in the distance shouted to me ‘are you alright’. I replied yes just thinking she was a local concerned about the physical and mental wellbeing of a weirdo with a headtorch on at 10pm on a Saturday night. But then she said ‘you’ve come back. I saw you leave 15 minutes ago’. SHIT CP5 again! I could blame the battery on the watch but that didn’t affect the map or route it was just me reading it wrong. I explained my predicament and checked if she has a map or roadbook – which of course she didn’t (although she did have the route on her phone but I looked quickly and there was no way I was going to find my way through that by memory). I had to go again. The watch was obviously still losing power and I had no idea what percentage it was on by now. I didn’t even know what percentage the alert first went off on.

Somehow, I think by just being very conscious of what happened last time, I got over the mountain (hill) and found the Compulsory Clip. At this point I was as stressed as I had been for the last few hours. I was so close but it could still go so wrong. I knew the Taff Trail was close and if I could get there I could find my way in and the watch could die whenever it, liked it wouldn’t matter. However I also knew that if it died before I got there I would have no choice but to sit down, keep warm and wait for the next person to find me and then head in with them to the finish. I was sure that was what would happen so 2nd was gone.

I am still bemused by how I was able to run as quickly (relatively) as I did over that few miles to the Taff Trail. I ran everything, some bits slower than others, but I ran; pure adrenaline I guess.

The watch died as a minute or so after I spotted Castell Coch. I had done it. I made it to the Taff Trail without having to be rescued! I was so relieved I continued to run pretty quickly all the way down the Taff Trail, under the bridge, along the river, through the diversion until I saw the event signage again.

I realised then though that I didn’t know if I was still second. In that 15 mins (not) on Caerphilly Mountain (hill) the guy in 3rd could have gone past me. I forgot to ask. I was fairly confident the pace I had run since meant that if they had, I would have caught them again, but I couldn’t be sure. I slowed my run across the Rugby pitch and for some reason checked the tent was still there. Ran through the taped finishing channel and caught everyone by surprise. I was still 2nd and they recorded my number and time. Joe put the medal round my neck and shown a bloody great head torch in my face and took this photo – which is awful and makes me look possessed!

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A few minutes later I sat down upstairs and took this photo which is even worse.

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I chatted with Michael, the winner of the 100 for 20 minutes or so, along with a beer each which Joe bought us and some food which was lovely but I really didn’t fancy it.

All that was left to do was get the caffeine out of my system, wait for Leighton and get a few hours sleep before getting home for my daughters birthday. Which it already was as I finished at 00:05. Ideally I wanted to be home before she woke up. I thought another pint of Guinness would tire me out, but it didn’t. Perhaps another would, no. In the end I stayed up until nearly 6am and had 5 pints of Guinness. It was only when I got a text from Leighton saying he had just left CP5 at 5:40am that I thought I need to sleep. I reckoned he still had another 2 hours at least to go, despite it being light again. There are only so many toasted marshmallows I could eat and despite lots of random chats with Joe, along with trying to keep the fire going, a bit of kip seemed sensible.

I was up by 7am and decided to get the tent packed up and everything else ready to go shortly after Leighton arrived. Mark came to collect his drop bags and he seemed more impressed by my 5 pints than my finishing 2nd.

Finishers were few and sporadic. 22 out of the 36 starters on the 50 in the end. 27 people started the 100 but only 6 finished. Leighton came in with another runner at 9am. Somehow after 22.5 hrs and this being his first ultra, he was in a good mood, relieved it was over but looking forward to autumn 100.

Whilst in a similar physical state to the rest of us, he was very conscious of the time and that I wanted to get home for Ffion’s birthday. So after a cup of tea, bacon roll and I’m sure a challenging but speedy change of clothes, we were off.

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The only way to sum up this event and route is simply calling it what it is ‘BRUTAL’. My watch died but according to Chris Mills’ Strava feed, 56 miles and 11600 ft. I’m sure given the personality of most ultra-runners, the brutality of the event will only encourage a much larger field next year.

Ben (RD) joked about me doing the 100 next year and I confidently stated that I was on holiday in early June 2017, to which his response was ‘its 2 weeks later next year’.  Mmm well in that case…

Thank you as always to all the volunteers, marshalls and Joe and Ben (RD’s). A brilliantly run 1st time event that is going to get better and bigger over the years.

What did I learn:

–          Lots of training miles pay off (for me at least)

–          Rice pudding is still awesome!

–          Carry an external battery pack and watch charger (on long hilly ultras in the future)

–          Learn how to navigate properly.

The rest of the day was lovely and whilst I wasn’t exactly able to run about with Ffion on her birthday, I did just about manage to stay awake!

Vale Coastal Ultra – Run Walk Crawl

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Likeys Beacons Ultra

Saturday 14th November

“I love Babybel”

I didn’t get to bed early on the Friday night and then I did the 130am feed with my youngest. It was 350am when my 5 month old son got me up again, but this was only 30 mins earlier than the alarm. Why am I getting up at this time on a day off to spend 9 hours in one of the remotest parts of Wales, on what could easily turn out to be the worst day of the year. Likey’s Beacons Ultra – my first ultra in 5 years.

During that time I never forgot why I loved ultra-running so much it was just more that life, especially kids came along. However, not experiencing it for so long I did question whether it was really worth the effort. Training had gone fairly well with no injury concerns and I’d recovered well from the Bristol to Bath marathon (dressed as Batman) three weeks earlier.
Getting up so early meant I left early and arrived early whilst the Likey’s team were still setting up the race HQ at Henderson Hall. I like being early, I didn’t register the night before so the last thing I wanted was to be all rushed and stressed and carry that into the race and set off too quickly.

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Pack checked, re-checked, jacket on, jacket off, relook at the route, like there was any point, the signage was excellent and there was never any question of needing to even look at the map, but it passed the time. A quick chat with a few people who had run some of the previous 8 events and I was relieved to find out that most of the route was hard pack trial so the copious amounts of rain over the last week wasn’t going to create mud all over the route. As it would turn out water creating mud wasn’t to be the main obstacle of the day, water itself was, sheer volume. I overheard two people talking about using the race as preparation for The Spine and that they had done The Spine before. My next thought was quite simply ‘what am I doing here?’ I haven’t run an ultra for 5 years, I’m going to try to run 46 miles with over 8000ft of elevation and I’m here with seasoned, experienced people – this could go wrong, very wrong. Oh well too late, the short race briefing from Martin the RD and we were off on the short walk to the canal and the start. Jacket on, jacket off, a quick glance around and I spotted a few nutters in shorts and t-shirt but most people had on jacket, hat and gloves – jacket on. Just before the start I took the only photos I’d get to manage all day as the weather wasn’t going to let me get the phone out again. Countdown from 10 and we were off.


The first few miles were along the canal from Talybont-on-Usk, a nice gentle start to a long day. I was trying to hop around the puddles on the tow path trying not to get wet feet – if only I knew what lay ahead. I did know that the flat wasn’t going to last long and before we knew it a right turn into the field and up Tor y Foel. I settled into a good hiking pace in the light rain with my Garmin buzzing at me every now and again to indicate another 250ft of ascent. I wasn’t really pushing that much and I was catching a few people and no one was gaining on me. The winds picked up a lot when we neared the top and a few of us agreed that if the weather stayed like this for the day, we’d take that. We knew once over the top and on the decent we’d get some shelter. To my surprise, right at the top was a small tent with a couple cheering everyone through. I had to ask to double check that it wasn’t the checkpoint – what were they doing up there in those conditions! What support – surely they wouldn’t be there on lap 2?
My right heel had started to get a hot spot on the way up and I knew that I had to sort this out at the checkpoint. I love descending, letting gravity do most of the work. Don’t get me wrong I’m not very good at it and I hammer my quads in the process, but it is fun. Naturally on the decent my heel wasn’t rubbing so, being an idiot I decided just to shout out my number and run straight through the CP. I’ve read enough race reports to know that everyone regrets spending too long in CPs so I wasn’t going to make that mistake. However, I quickly realised that not stopping to sort out my feet could have been disastrous so I decided that I would stop at the next opportunity I got, although that turned out to be 4-5 miles later. Bearing left after the descent brought us out onto the first stretch of road. I’ve read race reports and knew what most had said about this bit. However, I was looking forward to it. I’ve done a decent amount of road running and so I was confident I was going to enjoy finding some rhythm and pace and gaining some time. WRONG! It was slow, monotonous and ever so slightly uphill. Not enough to make you run/walk but just enough to sap the energy from you. It just didn’t want to end and I tried to not keep checking the distance off against my watch.
A funny thing happened here, two guys were just in front of me most of the way along the road. One of them dropped a Babybel which bounced in front of me a few times (a bit like the advert) and landed at my feet. I scooped down and picked it up. I shouted ahead to the guys but they didn’t hear me. I’ll put a spurt on and catch them. A few seconds later, mmm maybe not. I’ll pocket it and wait until when (if) I catch them. I eventually got level with them 2 miles later and after a quick chat we concluded that neither of them had packed any Babybel that morning!
Still on tarmac but off that stretch of road we came across Martin from Likey’s in the middle of road cheering us through. It was pretty wet by now and water was running down off the hillside creating streams wherever it could. After rounding the corner I spied Martins pickup truck, the perfect place to sort my feet out. I hopped into the back and put the worst plasters in the world onto wet feet – needless to say they fell off instantly. 7 minutes wasted and I’d lost about 10 places as well – very annoying. We had a gentle downhill on the road now before starting the second climb and I decided to put a spurt on and ran probably my fastest 1.5 miles of the race taking back 4 or 5 places. Slowing down and waving to a few volunteers safely tucked up in their car as I turned the corner to start the second climb, I hoped I wouldn’t come to regret that burst of energy.
The second climb felt a much gentler slope than Tor y Foel but the terrain was jagged and uneven stone and rock. It felt like a good time to walk and others near me were doing the same. I took on some food but I had probably left it a bit late and I was struggling to find some energy on the flatter sections to run again. The incline was long and took us up beyond 2000ft. I don’t remember much about the descent on either lap, apart from having to make a choice between some very slippy grass and the massively uneven and rocky ground. I opted for the grass and after a few near misses I decided to give the rocks ago on lap 2.
Somewhere before re-joining the canal for the last few miles of lap 1, was a narrow gully, about a foot wide with high hedgerow on both sides. Water had been running down the hillside for the last few hours but the rain was steady and minimal meaning there was a small stream over the rocks on a number of sections. It wasn’t to stay that way much longer. Back onto the canal and a slow plod along to CP3 and halfway for a Tailwind top up and Nuun tablet. I have a Salomon 14+3 race vest with 1.5l bladder but have the option of front bottles as well. I faffed around at the CP with the bladder and lost another 10 mins and 6 or 7 places.
Lap 2 – I wasn’t feeling particularly good after the CP. I may not have run an ultra for 5 years but you never forget that there are times when you just want to pack it in, but, you also know from experience that this doesn’t last. Eat, focus on moving and just keep going. My heel was still giving me grief and after a chat with an Irish guy from Limerick and a short discussion where I found out he didn’t know the only other person I know from Limerick, he did offer up a compeed. My saviour! A quick immediate stop was called for where I tried to put a damp compeed, on a soaked foot and pull back over wet socks and sodden trainers. Needless to say it was a pointless task and I lost another 5 minutes and 4 or 5 places. The climb up Tor y Foel on lap 2 is where things took a turn for the worse. The rain got heavier and colder, the wind stronger and colder, both were slamming into the side of my face for what felt like hours. It was without doubt the most unpleasant running experience I have had to date. Over the top and into some shelter on the decent. I did notice the tent had gone but I can’t say I blame them as things were very hairy up there by then. I ran straight though the CP again trying to make up for lost time. The rainwater was now gushing down the hillside in torrents and the rocks were under several inches of ice cold runoff water. No point trying to hop around it anymore, so straight through the middle it was. The uneven ground I knew was underneath was almost impossible to see so it was a bit hit and miss with every foot step. The water had a surprise in store for the rest of the race though, it did wonders for my heel as it numbed my foot and I couldn’t feel the pain any more.
Back to the road where I pictured the incident with the Babybel, no point carrying it to the end. This was a new one on me but it was very edible and is something I’ll definitely be doing again at my next event. I was feeling good again now, all thanks to the Babybel I’m sure, and I made good progress to the second climb. Shortly after starting the climb I settled into a natural pace and got chatting to Mark, also from Cardiff, who I ended up running to the end with. We chatted our way through the next 15 or so miles of up and down and debated the difficulties of training and racing with a young family and his experiences of 100 milers – my main objective for 2016. We ran the flat and descents and joked about walking anything around 2% incline, but this wasn’t too far from the truth in reality. I got knocked off my feet crossing the small but now not insignificant stream which was more like a small river with its makeshift logs for a bridge which on lap 1 were 6” above the water but were now 6” under.
We took the rocky route down the descent and whilst there were no near misses, progress was slow and we were passed by a couple who flew down the higher route which we didn’t know was there. Into the gully section for the second time which was now 9” underwater. Our progress can only be described as odd and a kind of leaping movement from one foot to the next, however it worked and a small section which could easily have resulted in a turned ankle at this late stage was successfully behind us. Out of the woods and with only a short hop back to the canal I remembered that whilst on my own on lap 1 at this point I went down after slipping on the mud. I was saying to Mark ‘it was just over…’ when all of a sudden, bang, down I went again. Quite funny at the time.
Only some country lanes to go before the canal where we were overtaken by Dan, one of Marks friends completing his first ultra. He looked fresh so after a 2 minute chat he was away and not to be seen again until the end. Back onto the canal and we realised that we would just about make it back to race HQ without having to get the head torches out. We were very appreciative of making it through the more technical stuff in the daylight and wondered about the effects the darkness would have on those behind us when they came to those sections. Despite being flat and easy by comparison, I just wanted it to be over now. We knew we weren’t going to catch Dan and that our positions were safe so we adopted a 3 minute run, 1 minute walk approach until the end. I was merely making grunting noises to signify each time check. I stole a slice of malt loaf from Mark for the final push just as my Tailwind ran out and we agreed to cross the line together.
The lights from race HQ were a welcome sight and the rain had even stopped. I laboured up the footpath off the canal turned the corner into the car park only to find out we had to run on the wet grass around the markers so we could come back to the line for a photo.

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Relief was the word of the moment, for me anyway. My Garmin recorded it as 47 miles, 8658ft and 9:31:31. Joint 27th out of 151 starters, but as I found out a few days later the conditions took their toll as only 106 made it to the end.
The atmosphere in the hall was brilliant. Soup, cup after cup of sugary team, jammie dodgers and plenty of banter stopped me getting changed straight away, but eventually I changed and got warm again and felt good, even if I was walking a bit funnily. The men’s winner Barden Davis managed to run an incredible 6:55:38, quite how in those conditions is beyond me and the first woman Clare Prosser 3rd overall, was only 80 seconds behind, with Mark Palmer only seconds ahead. What a finish that would have been to watch. I made it back for a race presentation for the first time ever and Mark Palmer summed things up perfectly. I forget his actual words but he basically said ‘a huge thank you to the Likey’s team, volunteers and marshals and massive respect to those still out there, they are the true heros’. As I was leaving I heard the Likey’s team continually phoning around different checkpoints checking in on all the runners still out on the course, ensuring they knew where everyone was and that they could account for everyone. It would have been a long night so I know they would have enjoyed some well-earned drinks and banter in the pub afterwards and another Welsh win at the pub quiz I hope!
I had an entirely uneventful journey home where the highlight was a McDonalds with strawberry milkshake which is fast becoming my recovery meal of choice. Home, shower, collapse on sofa – job done!

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Summary – Given it was my first ultra in 5 years and not a particularly short one at that; given the hills, I expected hills in the Brecon Beacons but I didn’t expect nearly 9000ft; given the conditions and given my blister coming on half way up the first climb that I couldn’t do anything about all day – I’m well chuffed. I can’t say it was fun at the time, but in hindsight the conditions made it even more of a challenge and therefore more satisfying in the end. However, I’d like a thin layer of standing snow and sunshine for Might Contain Nuts on 5th December please!
What did I learn?
– don’t wear new insoles for the first time in an ultra (not exactly ground breaking I know)
– Ice cold water does wonders for painful feet
– Use front loading bottles in races and the bladder in training
– I need a new waterproof with a hood (sorted that one already)
– I love running ultras!
– Babybel is brilliant

Thanks for reading. This was my first race report, and hopefully not my last.