I’m Running How Far?

If all goes to plan a new milestone will be reached before the end of the year.  Although specific training for it hasn’t actually started, I have started trying to work out how it’s going to work – especially as I would like my wife and kids to still recognise me when it’s all done.

Back tracking slightly.  Last year was my first soiree into the somewhat daunting world of ultra-marathons.  It started with a 24 hour race a few months after running Boston (UK) Marathon, and rounded my racing year out with the Gower Ultra 50.  This year I hope to go a bit bigger – and it’s bloody terrifying just writing it – but hopefully a 100 mile ultra will be ticked off.  ‘Ticked off’ makes it sound so easy; not a 30 hour sleep deprived, quad destroying grind.rpt

I don’t have – nor do I plan to get – a coach, and you can’t seem to get generic training plans in the same way you can for a marathon; so it’s time to research.  My Christmas book haul was comprised entirely of running books ranging from autobiographical (Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, and Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard (which, while not entirely a running book it is well worth a read)) to more ultra-running manual type books (Byron Powell’s Relentless Forward Progress and Jason Robillard’s Never Wipe Your Ass With Screenshot_20190201_210933A Squirrel).  I am hoping that I can use these books to freelance my way into shape to run a 100 mile ultra. 

In addition to being inspirational, Scott Jurek’s book offered up a few pearls of training advice, but more importantly he offers a huge amount of nutritional advice including a whole host of recipes for trail food which I am looking forward to trying while the training ramps up.  To be honest you would hope to gleam some tips from the best ultra-runner of his (or any) generation.

Relentless forward progress has a training plan for a 100 mile ultra in it which will be great to use as a template – one thing I have learnt from using generic marathon plans is that if you don’t tailor them to the race you’re training for you will suffer for it.  On top of this there is also a load of bits on things that I hadn’t even considered.  One of the things I noticed while thumbing though was the section on aid stations, and specifically how not to lose a bucket load of time at them.  I have no concrete way of knowing – as I didn’t pause my Garmin – but I think Tom and I probably lost over an hour and a half at the checkpoints and aid stations on the Gower Ultra 50 (and there were only 7 of them), at that rate we could lose over 10% of the time limit stood around at aid stations.  

Never Wipe Your Ass With A Squirrel also covers aspects of ultra-running that I hadn’t considered, suchScreenshot_20190201_211046 as whether to shave my balls or not – I really didn’t think that needed consideration.   As well as how to get rid of an annoying training partner – which I don’t think I will need, but it’s always good to have a game plan.  While this book seams a little more tongue in cheek at times, I still think it will offer a myriad of helpful advice and its format – almost like a reference book – means I can use it to supplement anything I read elsewhere.

So, I hopefully have all the information I need at my fingertips. All I need to do now is do a little reading, take a few notes, and do some running. When I say some running, I mean a lot of running.

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Operation PW

It’s a wonderful feeling when you are on the start line of a race knowing all your training has gone as well as you can realistically hope, you’re in great nick and you feel confident that you can hit your targets – if you don’t ruin it by doing something stupid.

This was nothing like that, not even close. This was fear, worry and trepidation. My training had been thin on the ground to begin with, but four weeks before the Gloucester Half – just as I began to feel like I was getting somewhere – I pulled my left calf. The mdecouple of weeks before I had felt like I was beginning to see some improvements, not giant leaps in performance but green shoots non the less. The week before Christmas I had managed both a lovely trail run and a less lovely interval session. Once back at my parent’s house, I decide to round out the week with a run along the canal with my dad. All is great with the world as we chat in the morning winter sun as the early kilometres tick by. Then I notice a tightening in my calf, I hope that it will ease but before long it’s gone from ‘a bit tight’ to being stabbed in the leg by an invisible stabby thing. With a jolt, I pull up and try to stretch it out; but that doesn’t appear to help. I tell my dad to carry on, as I turn and begin to trudge back the way we came. After a couple of minutes of walking I try to run again in the hope that running at my own pace might ease it – it doesn’t so I revert to walking again. With running off the cards I try to keep myself ticking over on the bike until race day. As the days count down towards race day, I feel the anxiety and trepidation build up. To add the calf worries, the death cold which had been passed around my family finally made its way to me on the Friday before the race. As the cold takes hold, a cough develops, and lakes of snot begin to be produced.

After a restless night, I follow the usual race morning routine; bowl of porridge, poo, get img-20190120-wa0000dressed. For a change I manage to get to race HQ with plenty of time to spare. After sampling the local portaloos I take a couple of cold tablets. I don’t normally like doing that, but I really didn’t think running with snot stalactites forming in my beard was a look I want to go for. Once the tablets have begun to take effect I warm up and make my way to the start line. After a final pep talk from my loving wife – this consisted of mainly “Don’t be a dick. If your calf hurts, stop!” – I join the pack near the back. I’m not sure if there was a race brief, but after a while of waiting near the start line, we start walking forwards then, crossing the start line I begin to run.

I spend the early part of the race mentally checking I am ok and not running too fast. While I felt I needed to do this to ensure that I didn’t anger my calf, it did mean that I couldn’t get out of my own head and enjoy the course. The early parts of the course take us through housing estates and industrial estates before we are out into the countryside. At this point I am still firmly stuck in my head – worrying about my calf and my pace. By the time I get about 7km in I settle down and become a bit more confident with the condition of my left calf. As I become more confident my pace begins to increase, but I still try to hold back. Although my calf feels ok, I still haven’t trained properly so go too hard now and I’ll detonate long before the finish. I try to hold this effort for the remainder of the first of two loops.

At the end of the lap I am running comfortably, and more importantly no longer obsessing about how my calf is feeling. Mentally I feel more relaxed and that means I begin to take in my surroundings a little more. The route is a lollipop with two laps of the loop. Being a Devon boy, I would call the route flat – with the only noticeable climbs the motorway flyovers. The route is really nice, with no really hard turns but I can only imagine how bleak it could be in more wintery conditions with no real shelter from the img-20190120-wa0001conditions. Given the conditions this year, I genuinely think if you turn up in good shape you can get a good time on this course.

By the time I reach the half way on the second loop I am running with another guy. We run well together, but before too long I begin to worry about making the end, so I back off a little. My companion appears to do the same. With only a few kilometres left I try to keep the effort (not necessarily the pace) at about threshold and just try to grit it out as the lack of training begins to bite. Somewhere along here I lose my companion. Before long the route retraces back to the start and it’s the final dig to the finish.
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I cross the finish line unimaginably relieved that the only source of soreness is from my peach-like feet rather than my calf. Before starting I would honestly have taken finishing with a PW (Personal worst). Not only did I manage to finish inside that, but also managed to run each 5km quicker than the previous one (again quicker, never quick) – which I have never managed before. More importantly I haven’t ruined my entire season by being a ‘dick’.

Popping Out

There are a number of things that make running joyous.  One of my personal favourite running perks is the lunchtime run, or the RUNch.  It’s a fantastic way of getting a run in when it’s not possible before and/or after work.  It also feels like you’re getting one over on ‘the man’ – although I can’t actually work out how.  It is however a beast with two heads.

Summertime RUNch;

Picture the scene, it’s the height of summer, it’s getting close to lunchtime and the sun is davup high with a backdrop as blue as a very blue thing, but as your colleagues settle back a their desk with a limp sandwich you – like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat – produce your running kit from your bag and do an impression of Superman (getting changed quickly in a small space).  Out the office and into the warm afternoon sun with a hop and a skip.  Within a matter of moments, the stresses and strains of the working morning ebb away.  The sun rays warm your face, the bird song lifts your heart and the freedom ­– even less than an hour of it – is great for your mood.  You return to the office safe in the knowledge that something has been accomplished in that hour, even if you can’t stop sweating.

Winter RUNch

Winter lunchtime runs are a much harder sell, there’s wind, rain maybe even snow – if fptbtyyou’re lucky.  Rather than limp sandwiches, your colleagues are settling into warm soups and mugs of hot chocolate.  The actual running is fine, it’s better than fine its running which is always good but stepping out the office into the blizzard takes a moment to dig deep.  The tricky bit is when you get back to work that it is a bit of a faff, particularly if you need to defrost. If you’re not lucky enough to have a shower at work it’s as simple as; have a shower, get dressed. If you don’t it’s a delightful combination of towel to dry off and wet wipes to refresh.

Post RUNch

Once you’re back into more appropriate work attire the fun doesn’t stop.  On your return the office is always too hot in the summer (where you can conceivably keep sweating for the rest of the working day) and too cold in the winter yet you emit a warm glow – which probably means your face is a fetching shade of beetroot.  Post run, I always find I struggle to stay awake for about half an hour to an hour from about 3.  I begin to feel my eyes glazing and my concentration wain, but don’t tell the boss – RUNch sessions make up the bulk of my midweek training.  The mid-afternoon struggles are combatted by a cup of coffee, or three, and a change of scenery for a while.  Once the caffiene has done its job, its back at it in the satisfaction that while others wasted their lunch hour mine was both mentally rewarding and phyically productive.

 

A Runners’ Dictionary (for the non-runner)

Blowing – not as fun as it sounds. When your respiration rate is far higher than it should be for the speed you are running.

Chicked – when a male runner is passed/beaten by a female – probable running far more comfortably while doing it (chauvinistic). For the record, the last group run/race I did I was the first man back – but was still chicked by three women.

Condom Jacket – a packable waterproof jacket with little to no breathability – keeping the rain out, but your fluids (sweat) in.

Detonate – usually in a race, but not exclusively, where you push hard for a target time and cant hold it until the end, resulting in a catastrophic loss of pace. Can also be caused by naively running too fast at the start.

DNF (Did Not Finish) – think of it as DFA (Don’t Fucking Ask)

DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – soreness to major muscle groups hours after the event, usually just before you want to go to bed. Usual tell tail sign is the sufferer will emit a noise similar to that of a badger with its testicles caught in a gin trap.

Doubling Up – running twice in one day.

Dropping The Hammer – running faster over a tougher part of the race, or near the end, to gain an advantage. Can also be done on a training run to put the hurt on your running buddy.

DQ’d (Disqualified) – think of it as SDFA (Seriously Don’t Fucking Ask)

Fartlek – from the Swedish for ‘speed play’, basically it’s a series of random speed intervals in a run. Think of it like trying to do a food shop with a toddler with a sugar habit – it’s either glacial pace or quicker than a stabbed rat.

Fasted Run – usually an early morning run before breakfast. Basically, running while hungry.

Garmin – data is the new religion of the modern runner, and Garmin is the go to collector of data. May also be used as a watch.

LSR (Long Slow Run) – exactly what is says on the tin, a long, slow run. A staple of endurance training.

Lung Buster – a long or steep (or even both) climb that puts you into physical difficulty.

Micro Litter – when dirty bastard runners just drop their gel wrappers on the trail. If you are that runner, stop. If you know a runner like that, have a word.

Naked Running – the atheist of the running community. No it’s not running with your giblets out (mores the pity) but running without the means to collect data. Not for me thank you very much.

Negative Splits – not actually a negative at all. Where you manage to run the second half of a run quicker than the first; usually as the result of a favourable wind or a downhill finish.

Oh, just a 10k this morning – really means “That was grim, it was all I had, but I used to be able to run much further”.

Pacing – using a faster runner (usually running within themselves) to eek out a personal best over a set distance. It’s a bit like winning the local pub quiz on a team with Stephen Fry and Prof. Brian Cox, you may have contributed but it wasn’t all your own work. For the record I have used pacers in races.

Quad Buster – a long or steep (or both) descent that destroys your legs. Arguably worse than a lung buster.

Race Bling – big, cheap and shiny ‘medal’ used to make the eye wateringly expensive race entry appear more reasonable. Runners all know this to be true but love their race bling anyway.

Run Camp – like a holiday but less rum cocktails and more run intervals.

Runhole – someone who only seems to talk about running, and will drop their family and friends in an instance for a race, or even just a run. Probably writes a running blog too.

Runners Trots – the sudden and uncontrollable loosening of ones bowels while out running. If you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted you will need to cease running and plunge your rear end in a wheelie bin promptly.

Running Buddy – someone who you run with, a runner will probably spend more time alone, in the dark and out of breathe with their running buddy than anyone else.

Sandbagging – the art of belittling you training and/or kit before absolutely smashing a race and/or your running buddies. This is not to be confused with being modest.

Singlet – it’s just a vest to run in.

Strava – if data is the new religion, then Strava is the New Testament. Think of it as runners Facebook, but rather than your friends’ pictures of cats its maps of where people have been, and they’re usually in a hurry.

Streaking – not nudity related.  Running for a number of consecutive days.

Taper – the period of restless grumpiness when the training eases before a big race.

Threshold Run – also known as a tempo run. It’s a horrible mistress, running at a speed that feels comfortably hard. I’m still not sure what comfortably hard is (insert any number of innuendos here), but it should be quick enough that you can’t talk easily, but not so fast that you can’t finish.

But Why?

Since telling friends and family I had entered an ultra I’ve been asked the same few questions – over and over in some cases – and it’s was getting tedious. So, here are the questions I keep getting asked, and the answers – as honestly as I can.

• But Why?
Because I can; because it’s there; why not? These are my go to, if slightly flippant, responses to the why question.  While that is the bare bones of it, it’s not just that. There is more. It’s about finding where the limits are in the distances I can cover – both physically and mentally. I still like to run fast (a relative term) and I would still love to run a sub 90 minute half marathon, but at the moment I think I am more interested in far Screenshot_20181112_215334rather than fast. I may live to regret that decision when fast is no longer an option. Even if fast is a relative term.

• Isn’t it just a form of sadomasochism?
Well, yes I guess it is; just without the inconvenience of needing whips, ball gags and a sex dungeon. I know it sounds weird, but there is a cleansing from the suffering. It resets the stresses and tensions of modern life – whatever modern life is, it’s just life isn’t it? I honestly feel like I’m a better person, but more specifically a better parent and husband, when I run on a regular basis. So I really feel for my wife and kids when I’m injured, I must be a nightmare to live with – even more than usual.

• You must run a lot!
Well I should, but I don’t. Not really. Not compared to proper runners. I ran much further while training for Boston Marathon (still not that Boston Marathon). This is mainly because for the marathon I had a ‘proper’ target to aim for, where as for the Gower 50 and Hope24 it was all about the distance rather than time. However when I return to the distance, and I am sure I will, I guess the time might become more important. Might? Will

• You ran 50 miles?

Yes! Well no; sort of. I ran some, maybe even most of it, but I certainly didn’t run all of it. But even the guy who won it must have walked some of it. Well I bloody hope so anyway.

• Didn’t it hurt?
Well, yes it did. At times it was grim, but all races are grim at times. I maintain that 5km is the most disgusting distance to race, it’s essentially 2km at full gas then 3km of just clinging on hoping for it to finish before you see your breakfast again. It might only last 20 minutes or so, but its bloody horrible.  The Gower 50 might have been grim at times, but there were also huge swathes of enjoyment. Running at a comfortable pace, taking in the vistas, chatting and eating. What’s not to like?

• So, what next?
I don’t know actually (other than a couple of shorter races before the end of the year), but I think I want to race ultras again. In fact I know I want to. On the Monday night after Gower 50, Tom and I were sending links to 100 milers to each other like naughty schoolboys passing pornos around at the back of the bus. Hope24 is on the radar for next year too, but this year I can see a distance target being laid down to gun for (100km, 80 miles, something like that). If it fits in to the grand scheme I would love to finally run the full Man Vs Horse route, but it’s the week before Hope24.
So what’s next? *subject to approval*
o Spring Marathon/shorter ultra (30ish miles)
o Man Vs Horse
o Hope24
o 100 miler

• Have you always been a runner?
Hell no. I don’t really consider myself to be a runner now. I run, but I’m not necessarily a runner.

50 f**king miles!

Some races you enter with great expectations on your performance, and you build up your training over the preceding weeks and months building up to the event. Other races – although still important – you never really get going and its race day before you even settle into training. This was one of those races, except it wasn’t it was a 50-mile ultra-marathon.

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We (as in Tom and myself – the way things are going this blog may need to be renamed “Ross and Tom do increasingly stupid shit”) arrived at Gower Cricket Club at half five, and I am so undercooked I am barely even defrosted. After a few nervous poos and a last-minute bag repack its time for the race brief – which barely registers – and time to get going. We leave the warmth of the clubhouse and enter the cold, wet darkness. As the rain teems down we are sent on our merry way out into the inky unknown. Almost as soon as we start the nerves dissipate and my bowels feel a little more secure. I promise this will be the last reference to my bowels/movements. Definitely, maybe.

The route is split into two distinctive sections. The first is mainly on tarmac, and the second mainly trail – and conveniently there is a bag drop at the checkpoint between the two sections.

The race starts with 500 metres of meandering single track before hitting a made path along the coast, after a short distance we cut off down a path and down a series of steps and behind a block of garages before coming out on to the main road through Mumbles. As we make our way through the Mumbles the lights from the shops and bars dances off the wet surfaces and puddles, its almost beautiful. Actually, it is beautiful; but I am slightly preoccupied by what is in store.

After about 6km, we turn off the road and join a cycle route that will take us up to the northern side of the Gower. As we gently climb we begin to try and incorporate a few walking breaks as we try to manage our early efforts. At this point I try to eat one of my breakfast burritos (which consist of banana, Nutella and peanut butter – it seemed like a good idea while I was making them), but after one bite I had to put it away again; it just wouldn’t go down, even after excessive chewing. Over the next few km I try to finish the burrito one bite at a time. I don’t even entertain the second one.

After an hour or so of tree lined cycle path – in the rain – we come out into a housing estate to find a group of runners waiting for checkpoint 1 to open, and after a short wait we give our number over to a marshal and make our way along the road. By this time the sun has begun to push away the gloom and we are treated to the kind of wonderful glow that you can only really appreciate when you get up disgustingly early in the morning – it is however still raining!Once out of the housing estate (think new build rather than Trainspotting) we spend a bit of time running along what I imagine what might be a main road at a more civilized time of day. I won’t lie, I found this section far tougher than I thought I would. Having not managed to eat much – neither before starting nor while running to this point – and knowing there was still 60km to go didn’t really help that matter. Most of the remaining stretch to checkpoint 2 is a montage of snippets. Quiet village here, another tree lined cycle path somewhere else and a long coastal road somewhere near the end.

I am relieved to reach checkpoint 2, if you ignore the hike-a-hill to get to it. Not only are my (well broken in – at that perfect balance between done miles but have miles left in them) trail shoes waiting for me, but also food. After changing shoes and socks I pack all the new food and grab a few Jaffa cakes and a fist full of frazzles on my way out. Once out of the checkpoint and onto the trails I feel much better. I’m still not sure what was the cause of the improvements. Shoes, terrain, the recently erupting sunshine or the frazzles; or just rose-tinted glasses. However, from where I’m sitting now this is the point where I begin to feel like I’m comfortable with what I’ve let myself in for. After a short stretch of wonderful single track and a bit of country lane we start to climb through some woods, before taking a spur into an open grassy field. Once across we go through a gate into a second field. This one seems to have been churned up by a battalion of cattle on special manoeuvres. It’s along here I brave my fist savory burrito, and I can’t relay how relieved I was that it went down like a dream. Happy days. We continue to pass fields and thickets before coming out on a lane. We climb along the lane before dropping down to the salt marshes alongside the estuary.

Once alongside the estuary the route seems to flatten out for a while, with a series of paths running alongside each other with the odd path spurring off towards the estuary. It’s along this section that we are passed by the first of the late starters – making an hour and a half in 30-35 km. it’s easy to tell that they are the quicker runners from behind rather than someone from our start time having a good few minutes. It’s the way they glide, as smooth as butter hardly looking like they are having to work. Its sickening, they could at least pretend to be trying. I was feeling good (read not dying) at this point, but Tom later tells me he really struggled with this section.

Its not long before we reach picture postcard Gower, as we come to the end of the marshes we take a hard right through a gate (with the help of a rambler who has watched several runners pass it and come back) and up a climb steep enough to make

your eyelids fill with lactic acid. We top out and pass through another gate – where there is a miscommunication with a runner behind us and he nearly poleaxes himself by running straight into it. After a little plateau we climb again, coming out at the coffee shop in Llanmadoc. It takes a large amount of will power to run past the coffee shop -and associated cakes – and on to checkpoint 3 a few corners away. This checkpoint stop is probably our quickest; Electronic dib, top up drinks, bit of coke, handful of Frazzles and off we pop down the hill and off to the land of imposing sea cliffs and surf beaches.

This is the Gower’s money shot. We start running along a glorious stretch of single track atop of the cliffs. By now the rain has stopped and the sun is beginning to win the

weather war. As we come around the headland Rhossili beach comes into view, but there is still quite a bit of running before we even start running down towards the beach – never mind running along it. The descent down is so much fun, a few tight corners and switchbacks without being too technical. When we finally make contact with the sand we walk across the soft dry stuff in search of something a bit more compact. Once we find it we begin to run again.

This section is tough going mentally. As beautiful as this stretch of coastline is, the lack of features to act as distance markers took its toll. After a while it began to feel like the start of the beach was getting further away

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but the end wasn’t getting any closer – like a bloody mirage in the desert. Finally, the end of the beach is upon us and we begin the climb up the other side. Rather than the wonderous switchbacks on the way down, the way up is a trudge straight up on a man-made path before tacking along the contours of the cliff to the top. Once topped out it’s a short run to checkpoint 4.

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While at checkpoint 4 I finally take off my waterproof coat – having been using it solely as a wind shirt for hours (probably not actually hours). Once my coat is repacked and Frazzles are eaten we head off and carry on along the cliff top towards Worms Head

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Watch Station, and as we turn to face the south coast proper the views are incredible. Cliffs, coves and golden beaches; people spend a fortune going abroad in search of places like this – calling it paradise. And here it is. Just outside Swansea of all places. We spend the next 10 km or so running along the rolling cliff top paths. This whole stretch is a real joy as the sun shines and the views seem to go on forever. That’s not to say its not tough because it is, but it managed to be both physically tough while mentally joyous.

While enjoying the flowing paths and the wonderful views there is a little nagging doubt. The first compulsory clip is coming up. I have been nervous about missing this unmanned check points since signing up for the race. As we get closer, we become more careful with our navigation – double checking our route choices. In reality the clip point is fairly easy to find. Maps carefully clipped, we make our way down a rocky path towards Port Eynon and checkpoint 5.

Before we get to the checkpoint there is a wonderful surprise waiting for us by the beach, the WAKs (that’s wives and kids) are waiting for us. The psychological boost from a quick kiss and a cuddle can’t be overestimated. After a quick chat Tom and I make our way to the checkpoint. This is the one we’d been looking forward to for a while (or I had at least), it was the hotdog checkpoint. We got our chips dibbed and made our food and drinks orders as the WAKs walked in. We probably stayed longer than we would have otherwise done – partly for the food but mostly the company. But there comes a point where we have to drag ourselves away.

Once we get going it’s a short stretch of rough road before we are running along a boardwalk through the sand dunes. The boards aren’t the nicest to run along, but they are certainly better than the dry soft sand. Before long the dunes end and the road is back. But then; the pretty is back. This section of the path is very reminiscent of the coastal path back home (between Plymouth and Wembury). Tom is obviously feeling pretty good along here and I just have to let him take the lead and try to hold his pace. This whole section seems to go by fairly quickly. It seems to go quickly anyway, but that could be due to a combination of amazing views and staring at the back of Tom’s shoes. Before we really realise we are close we come across two runners at the second compulsory clip stamping their maps.

Shortly after the clip point we enter a glorious stretch of wooded single track, and this time it’s my turn to feel good. There is absolutely no reason why I should suddenly be feeling the stronger of the two of us, it’s not all that long ago I was being towed along by Tom and nothing has changed. Except, now we are in the woods and I love woodland trails. I don’t run them very often, but once I’ve got my eye in I feel really comfortable spotting roots and winding around trees. After an initial section of flat, we climb a huge block of uneven steps before the fun, flowing wooded descent really starts. The flowing descent continues until we reach another set of rugged steps – this time down. Once down we pass a beautiful church nestles between the sea and the woods. Now, I’m not really a church goer, but I could see myself there on a Sunday morning.

To our right is the vast expanse of Oxwich beach, which we have to make our way across. We drop down to sea level and into the beach carpark to see our very own support crew waiting for us. After more hugging I get rid of the breakfast burrito that I have been carrying since 6am, and rewrap a piece of Tom’s Choco Mocha Cake, and off across the beach we head. Once again we head down towards the sea in search of firmer sand, and

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once we do we’re off and running again. Unlike on Rhossili beach, we aren’t treated to hard sand all the way across, and before long it becomes a trudge along the beach. It begins to feel like the epic Trans-Saharan scenes from Ice cold in Alex. We cross a small bridge, about half way along, and continue our trudge through the sand. I think this is probably my lowest ebb of the whole day, as the going slows and the point we are aiming for doesn’t seem to be getting closer. We finally reach the point where we leave the beach and head into the dunes – missing a turning so we end up going further in than we should. What makes this worse is that there is a compulsory clip point in the dunes, which if we miss we will have to retrace back to the beach and start again. Luckily, after doing a large loop we end up at the clip point from a different direction. Major cock up averted, possibly due to luck rather than judgement. As we reach the point a group of 5 lads who we had been passing and been passed by for a good while reach the clip too – having come the right way. After chatting for a couple of minutes, one of the guys declares “I’m off for a piss or a shit, and at this point I don’t know which”. Much laughter and the low ebb of the beach and the sand dunes are behind me as we set off before discovering which option he went for. Once off the beach the path improves and we make our way to the 6th checkpoint. At the checkpoint we dab our chips and top up our water, and have a cup of the nicest cream of tomato soup I have ever had. After a bit of a chat with the 5 lads, who came in to the checkpoint shortly after us, we head of along a rough rocky trail and into another stretch of forest.

Before too long we come out of the forest, cross a stream before following it back towards the sea. It started off as a grassy meadow, but the sand pockets grew in size and frequency. We follow a sandy track, but turn off too early and end up having to cut across a golf course. Heavy of limb and slow of mind the risk of a golf ball to the head was probably reasonably high, but thankfully we traversed the pringle minefield in one piece.

We find the coastal path again and follow another boardwalk section through the sand dunes, until they stop at the bottom of what the north face of the Eiger would look like if it was made of sand. Up we trudge, the euphoria of the first beach sighting seems a very long time ago (mostly because it was a long time ago). With only 5 km between checkpoints 6 and 7, it’s not long after scaling the Eiger that we are at the final checkpoint.

The now time honoured protocol of dibbing my chip, then filling my face with Frazzles and Jaffa Cakes it followed by a cup, actually two cups, of coke. I don’t normally drink a lot of coke – or fizzy pop in general – so the surge from the sugar hit way pretty noticeable.

We leave the final checkpoint buoyed by how quickly we had got to that one, and set of in search of the final compulsory clip and the finish line. This final leg starts with some rolling commons, with swaths of gorse and paths fracturing off in every direction, luckily the main coastal path is obvious. As we get closer to the final clip we, once again, become very deliberate about our navigation. The clip points are strategically placed to prevent people from shaving the course – and I don’t want to shave the course especially not because of shit navigational decisions. There is only one place where we could have gone wrong, but with the daylight beginning to fail and our pace dropping we – definitely I – become unsure if we have missed it some way before we have reached it. After a few premature stops to double and triple check the map we find the last clip and mark our maps. With all the compulsory clips done, now it’s just the run in to the finish line.

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The daylight finally fails – or more accurately we finally accept we need to put on our head torches again – as we are running along a technical part of the coast line. Once we get them on we are back at the races, the sense of being close to the finish line has given us both a bit of a lift. We continue to make steady, if slow, progress along the cliffs as we reel in and pass the odd headlight we can see in the distance. It’s a funny thing the effect of a rabbit can have while running; I am under no illusion that had there not been lights ahead of us our progress through here would not have been as quick. This happened entirely subconsciously too, neither Tom nor I mentioned trying to chase people down we just began to up the pace a little and take our turn with our noses in the wind. Tom may well read this and point out that is total horse crap and it was all me – and that wouldn’t surprise me, I can be a competitive soul sometimes.

This continues until we reach Caswell Bay – the penultimate bay in the race. We follow the high tide route that goes up a crappy little path out to the road and around the bay the long way. As we plod along the road we see the head torches of other runners who have missed the turning and taken the low tide route, coming out just ahead of us.

The rest of the way to Langland Bay is a blur, as we begin to feel the effect of exuberantly chasing people down when we felt like we were almost home and hosed. The finish feels a way away now and as we push on through the darkness. Once passed the sea front at Langland Bay it’s a hardtop path most of the way back to the finish. Usually I would be running on the edges of the path to try to preserve the tread on my trail shoes, but not now. I seem to be feeling a bit better than Tom is at this point so I try to set a steady pace. We are both pretty much out on our feet and make ridiculous decisions – like running up the hills and walking down them. This section feels like it takes forever, it’s completely dark by now and we seem to be running the same bit over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day in trail shoes.

Eventually we reach the bit of single track that started the whole thing, and that was it. So, 500m or so of trail running to finish off the Gower 50 ultra-marathon all to the backdrop of pissed kids somewhere in the darkness. We get to the last corner to find the WAKs waiting for us, round the corner and into the finishing straight with my kids, crossing the line in 14 hours, 14 minutes and change.

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I’m not usually one of those happy clappy everyone’s a winner types. I like to see where I stack up in a race, and while I accept I am unlikely to ever, ever, win a race I think it’s good to see how you stack up. Not so much with this, I don’t care that I took nearly twice as long as the winner. Nor that it took over 2 hours longer than I had hoped. To be perfectly frank, with the amount of training I did in the run up I’m bloody ecstatic I got round under my own steam. Don’t get me wrong, if (when) I do another ultra I want to see some improvement, but at the moment I’m content. At the moment!

End Of The Road

There are some relationships that you hope will last forever – like the one with your best mate at school or your loving wife. There are some that last longer than you expected or even dared to hope, like the rebound from a nasty break up that you end up marrying. Then there are the relationships that you know from the start have a definite expiry date – when a greasy boy on a moped knocks on the door to take your daughter out.

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This week saw the end of one of those relationships, and even though I know it’s coming to an end and things are beginning to get painful, I will always have the memories. This loving partnership began as

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the long runs were beginning to build before the Boston Marathon. The relationship began in haste as I realised my old loves were beginning to fail on me, and we needed to bond before the big day in Lincolnshire. It didn’t take long to feel the connection, I had been running with your sister for a long time before you, but now we’ve run our course.
After 564.6 km we’ve run to the end of the road. Over time you have begun to let yourself go at the seams, you’ve become less forgiving, and above all else you’ve begun to give me blisters. This can’t go on. I don’t want this to sound like a bitter breakup because it isn’t; we have just gone as far as we can. We’ve had some rough runs; we’ve had some good runs. There has also had a few PBs along the way.
There is an upside to this tale of woe. The new love, the next journey, the next run.

dav