As much as I enjoy writing these, I couldn’t seem to find the time with moving house and race prep. So the following is what I had wrote but didn’t finish. 2 weeks today it will be over. 50 miles will either be my furthest race yet or a challenge I failed. It still seems such a long way to run. But what’s the worst that can happen. To be honest, a lot.
I’m not a fan of sand, it’s just sapping and uncomfortable to run on, this has loads. I’m not very good at navigation, this race needs a bit more self navigating. Add those to the different training and lack of long runs and you’ve got yourself a concerned entrant. But then fear is useful and good. It helps you focus and respect the task in hand.
Three weeks ago I started to worry about this race. Moving house has added extra items into the todo list and made running often a bit more noticeable and harder to just fit in. Before Brecon I had a couple of 20’s in my pocket and a 33 miler. That all felt good. I turned up for my 23 miler late and that ended up being about 16. I had the Roman run which was tough and worth a few extra miles, but I still did 11 the next day to work on conditioning. Although it can be good to get a few long ones in the tank, I’m not sure they are essential. Ultimately you need to keep going when your tired. The long runs push back when tired will hit, but lots of medium ones make you more used to running tired and therefore mean you can cope better. As with other ultras I included one heavy block of running. This time was to be at least 10 miles a day for 7 days. I managed 83 miles which was wrapped in my normal running so gave me a sequence of about 10 days.
That short blurt pretty much sums up my thinking in the lead up to the Gower. I had no idea what to expect and honestly could just remember how much the vale hurt for the last 10 miles. This was going to be potentially 26 miles of pain if that happened again.
I’ve a poor lack of geographic perspective and therefore sign up for races assuming I can just jump in car and be there in no time. This was the same. A pre race start recce found it was a good 90 minutes away. I’m not a fan of super early starts and thought the day would be long enough so opted to camp the night before. I know others do that, so it must be workable. The weather had been bad in the days leading up to the race and was expected to be horrendous overnight and during the race. So a last minute change of heart and it was a 4am alarm.
The drive was very straight forward and it was still dark on arrival. Rain was coming down in heavy blasts but I was expecting snow awful day of weather. As always sign up was straight forward and painless. I scanned the additional instructions to accompany the map and began to panic. Too my choices to misinterpret, shall I sack off racing and just stay with a group and get around. Head all over the place I lined up at the start. I knew there were some speedy people around so made sure I started well within myself. Last thing you want is to blew up early. Far better to have a fast last 5 miles than the first.
Previously running to HR had worked and this was my choice again, I’d love to do sub 10, but impossible to really pace these distances. We made are way across to the first of a few beaches and the group was already stringing out. The pace felt tough in the early parts and HR wouldn’t drop, but I continued, trying to relax into it and consciously slowing when I could see it rise. Hydration and food were to follow the same plan as last race also. Sip alternating drinks and gel every hour on the hour. I constantly tell myself that I need to eat before I need it and nutrients need fluid to travel. Often if you feel you need something, then it’s already too late. Walking the steeper of the uphills I used those to eat on these intervals and also drink. The route was quite undulating. The first time I saw familiar faces was about 15 miles in and I was feeling very comfortable now. A quick update said I was in 27th place. The first 10 had felt tough, but I was warming into it. The weather had subsided and coat was back in the bag. I plodded along and chatted to people as I caught up with them. After a wrong turn that most took, a decent bundle of people had formed and were all in sight of each other. Luckily each beach was compact in the most part and not too draining . At 30 miles I swapped to light trail and fresh socks. There was a fair bit of road to come now but also some sections of trail. I’d prefer some grip over all out comfort. First refill of the bottles and away again. I’ve quite a light hearted approach to the aid stations. I stop, chat, snack and then go. No rushing and just being polite and greatful to the energetic people who give up their day to stand in the middle of no where to look after us.
If bumped into a runner who had finished just behind me at Brecon. We seemed to be going similar pace and started to chat and run together. Missing the turning off the coast path and having to go back was the 2nd wrong turn of the day. I had the route on my phone as a backup. It’s accuracy really helped and will be a permanent fixture for future races. As we went along the cycle track we started to pick up other runners of similar pace and a small grouped formed. Whenever unsure of the route, someone near by would should out. In gowerton the phone was to help the whole group as it wasn’t clear from the instructions if the mile of bogland was corect and most wanted to go back. We all held faith in the phone and it paid off. We started to have the odd walking break now. Very welcoming and handy to keep the body ticking over. The stretch to around 41 miles seemed to drag. My iPod was now in my one ear, but constant stop starting it chat. I found the music helps. I save it for as late as I can and it’s generally when race mode starts. Time to zone out and focus.
After the checkpoint the group of four pushed on. We all seemed to be running and walking at the same times. Subconsciously agreeing to run together the path through the fields was long, flat and never ending. Eventually we were caught by another 3 runners and we all chatted and made our way through the fields. As we ran, myself and Danny seemed to pull away a bit then regroup near the gates. I was a bit uncomfortable now about the size of the group and always want to finish as high as I can. As we ran through more fields the last checkpoint was due. I told Danny that I wasn’t going to stop longer than to swig a drink and then go again. He agreed. We flew in to the station and out with no sign of anyone else. We pushed hard now knowing there was less than 3 miles to go. The route was very uneven with rocks in the mud, almost cobbled type parking. Then switching to boggy marshland. We missed coastal path diversion by about half a mile and immediately thought all our hard work would be undone. Again we pushed hard through the forest. The finish was now getting close, had to be around one of these corners. I’d beaten Dan by 2 places in our previous race and wondered if that was in his mind or just mine. We chatted and I told him of my intention to sprint at the end, he seemed keen to race it out. As we approached the final stretch a huge sandy hill appeared, this was the time. I dug in and just kept turning the legs, I was getting the exciting finishing buzz I always get at the end of races. Bit of a cold shiver and start to smile. Glanced over my shoulder and the gap was huge. That sand dune had taken his legs. I pushed hard to the top, rounded the corner and opened the gate for the 50m sprint to the finish. I ran as fast as I good and was pleased to see how well the legs were. Great support from Cwm Ogwr at the line and someone thrust a beer in my hand.
Before the race I wanted a sub 10hr time. My watch had died after 8 and half hours, so I had no idea what time I was on for. A chat with the finish marshals suggested around 10:10 and 14th place. Over the moon to hear that. Official times confirmed 10:12. Looking at my moving time that was 45 minutes quicker based before watch died. That was easily the toughest run I’ve done. Physically the first 15 were hard on the body. I followed the same approach of walking all significant uphill sections and trying not to let HR get too high. In a race it’s difficult to know yet if HR is high as racing or if it’s even ok at that rate and I can sustain it for long periods of time. 160 was just a number that seemed sensible. The majority of Gower seemed to be closer to 170. The gels every hour worked good and the refill of both bottles at half way was a well timed. Although on a hotter day, I may have needed 3.
Having finished and looked back, I definitely could have pushed harder at times and I wasn’t completely destroyed afterwards. The Vale still holds that honour of breaking me. Now to focus on Snowdonia Marathon, my 1st and probably the distance I most apprehensive about.