Well this took a while to write, not sure if it’s due to the pain of the race or the sheer disbelief that it’s done. I even penned the title and placed into draft over a week ago.
The build up to this race couldn’t have been better. I was confident that I had some speed in the legs and strength to maintain it for a large proportion of the race. What that would mean in the actual race is no idea. Thursday before the Saturday race I did a final kit check. Weather was supposed to be quite decent but I was concerned about rubbing from my vest so had bought myself a Bridgend AC t-shirt. I still wanted people to know who I ran for. The last trading session was the Thursday before. Given I was running so many miles in the race I guessed it would be fine to train but at a lower intensity than normal. This meant alternating reps of 800 & 900 at a pace between 7:45 & 8:00 minute miling. I was doing this by feel. No attention to the watch. This all felt comfortable and left me feeling good but nervous.
The day before there were lots of social media chat about the race. Lots of people I knew would be running and thoughts and weather forecasts were shared. Cool but dry morning expected. The usual meatballs and spaghetti for tea and an early night. Alarm was set for 5:30 with race to start at 8. I was conscious that reg closed by 7:30 and usually there are delays at these things when I’ve been to larger races.
Waking up on the day and the ground was wet. Looked like it had been raining most of the night. This wasn’t what was planned. I thought about changing shoes from my soloman ultra daps to something with more grip however, it had been quite dry lately and these had some grip. I stuck with the plan. In training I’d filled one flask with water and the other with electrolyte. Given water was to be at every station and I’d assumed cramp to be a huge risk in a race like this, I thought this was a wise choice. I also attached 6 gels to my SIS gel belt and put a pack of shot blocks in my bag. I’d not raced with these but thought better to have too much than not enough. I assumed a gel an hour with one spare, the target always had been 5 hours. The usual 4 rounds of peanut butter on toast. Standard for any race over 10 miles and headed off for the registration. On arriving at penarth it was still raining and looking dark. My nerves were building at this point but I headed in to kit check and reg. This was super swift, a clockwise movement around the room had me with checked, registered and back out in what seemed like minutes. 2 numbers, a map and a punch card. Given I’d be wearing a race vest I put big number on the outside of that and little number on my shirts. Even if I changed top. I’d still have the hydration vest on so made sense. I worried about when to hit the toilets as always, given numbers were low and the pier had some I’d wait. I saw others I knew at reg and headed to start. There was a welcoming bunch at the start. Everyone looked in good spirits despite the weather and lots of chatter.
When the race started I realised I had left my map in the car, but luckily it was parked at start so could easily grab. I knew I wouldn’t have aclue what to do with it, but as it had emergency numbers on it I Couldn’t risk leaving it behind. Over the first mile or two I chatted to people I knew and and tried to make a conscious effort not to go too fast. However I settled into a pace just over 8MM. I knew that was faster than planned. But it felt comfortable and in my head that was key. At the first aid station I put waterproof in bag, gloves off and had a quick drink. It seemed every bit of advice I had ever had and read all came into my head during this run. Not like I want out there long enough to think was it. The markings through Barry and the early stages were clear and the marshals great. I felt fine and made sure I sipped fluids often and took a gel on the hour. I gad my watch set to HR and didn’t bother with times. Aslong as I could see effort that was fine. The race flowed quite well in the first half. I tried sweets and even a Jaffa cake. I constantly had “if it’s feels too fast it probably is” and “if your hungry/thirsty it’s too late” these helped me to be sensible and frequently drink. As soon as the tarmac disappeared I was regretting my shoe choice. Not only was a wetter under foot it was a mud bath in places. I’m not sure any shoes other than maybe my fells would have been suitable but they would have hated the Tarmac. A few people had planned to swap shoes at Barry, in hindsight a great idea and one is consider in future. As the miles ticked by is lowly caught and passed people. At the halfway stage I felt good. This was actually the 18.5 mile start place. Not half way, but in my head it felt it. I often questioned and changed my effort on the uphills not just cos I was skating but I’d read a few times that you walk the up and run the downs, unless your racing. Was I racing? If no real idea how many were in front of me. But as I had past a female runner is known to have done a few ultras and be quite nippy, I thought I must be doing ok. My plastic fold up cup was a saver at the aid stations without cups and a great tip to have had in advance. At each aid station I was more adventurous or greedy or hungr, not really sure which. I took more sweets and ate them all. Having never run longer than 20 miles s knew I’d hit the pain zone at some point. But when was a mystery. It actually came about 24 miles in. Id had enough of no grip and sliding everywhere even on flat surfaces. I love mud and wet, but in the wrong shoes, in a race. It’s not fun and worked against my usual buoyant manner when running. As the terrain got more undulating the the grip seemed to be less and less. There were times I wasn’t even sure it was safe to run the paths, so tiptoed and ran when I could. From 24-30 I really felt it. Questioning why I was there, was this the stupidest thing I’d done and why was I letting people pass me. After 2 people had flown past, I’d realised the 18.5 runners had a diff colour number. This helped to lift my mood. Not all that were passing were racing me. I was trying to focus on the positives. I now had complete marathon distance in a respectable time, 4:05. This helped me to push on and I was aware the ideal target of 5 hours had gone. I was lucky that the 3rd placed runner of the shorter race passed me and was a from a local club. That was just what I needed, a target, a focus. I lifted my feet and tried to stay with him, chatting a bit but pushing on. I knew I had to run hard to stay in front and was pleased I could. Every mile felt like it must have been the last but the path seemed endless. Eventually I could see the line and even managed a sprint of sorts. Pride was back and crossing the line was amazing. 5:25 on the watch and all my rivals (friendly) were still out there. For someone who feels at home doing a 200 this felt an enormous achievement. After a few cups of water and a chat to a few finishers I heard home. Changing at the car was challenging, but also fun. Official results had me in 16th position with a time of 5:25:31, not bad for my first attempt at 20+ miles (32.8 on strava) and great practice for the next. When the wheels fell off I must have been about 10th, these little positives will be great for my mental games in Brecon to Cardiff.
Although it’s a 42 mile race so 10 longer than the vale, In some ways it will be easier. More shelter and much easier terrain. But there is a further 10 miles to consider.
Strava for the vale below