Paul’s Blog – The Ultra Trail Wales

This blog covers 6 days of my life, you read it at your own risk of not having anything better to do.

I’ve been a bit quiet since getting back from the Alps a little over two weeks ago, there’s been a reason for this but no need to go there. The Alps was a great trip & I will go there (in blog terms) soon but first I must pay tribute to the above event last Saturday & to all those involved for keeping it on/off track despite both the forecast & conditions on the day itself, so here goes:-

Wednesday before the race – Weather forecasters talking up a storm, the dreaded e-mail received from race organisers ‘race route can’t go ahead, we are seeking an alternative & will update you by late Thursday’.

Late Thursday – e-mail received ‘we have a route, 3 x 18 mile loops’ joy of joys not quite my first impression.

Friday PM – At race registration I read a sign, no kit bag, no registration. This means I’ll have to go home & get the bag (at least it’s already packed) but first lets have a look at the route because I’m not feeling totally committed despite wanting to honour both Ashley’s & Matt’s hard work. The loop is not what I expected, it looks interesting but does go past my house twice on the outward leg as well as the return leg. ‘I’ll do it though!’ & set off home to collect my bag only to find an ominous omen, a tree down across my driveway & the winds haven’t even blown yet! Soon I was back at registration, signed up & saying ‘I’ve bet you’ve had a bit of a week’ to Matt Ward, the sigh said it all & I was glad I’d committed. Of course by now I have also realised that I’ll have two chances to bail at race HQ & SIX as I pass my house!!

Friday evening – two hours physical battle to remove the fallen tree including a mass of heavy laurels which were hanging ominously with a look of ‘we’ll be across the driveway before dawn’. I was knackered & without either the chance to beat last years time or the controlling arms of team Rowlands I consoled/congratulated myself with copious amounts of a rather good vintage of red & having a long chat making very little sense to Dorina who was as attentive as ever & steered me to bed just before mid-night (apparently). All my tapering best efforts shot down in flames, why am I not surprised?

Saturday morning – Alarm at 4:00, jump out of bed obliviously of my self destructive evening I’m down stairs in a flash to start cooking my usual big pre-race breakfast with Dorina following a little later to take control whilst I dress & sink coffee & fluids etc. etc. By 5:00 (a bit later than ideal) I’m off, two minutes later ‘where’s my bag’ car turned around, bag collected, ‘it wouldn’t have happened if team Rowlands….’

Arriving at race HQ I’ve missed the start of Matt’s race briefing & miss the end as I head for a final visit to the toilet, for no apparent reason it is at this very private time that I think ‘I’ve left my timing tag at home’. Now clearly I’m having a bad time, instead of going to Adrain of Fabian 4 & asking is it possible to set up a new one I phone Dorina & say can you look for it (she finds it) & ask her to meet me in first one & then another very obvious lay-byes. Dorina does her best to forget either of them exist & is found waiting in a lay-bye immediately below our house saving me approximately 1 minute & 3 seconds.

Back at Dolgellau I see the runners are off before I’ve even parked, a long walk to the start, find Adrian to start the timer I eventually started a little over 7 minutes behind everyone else, it’s raining, it’s half light, I try to focus & not chase too hard (finally I got something right), the day ahead is going to be long & often lonely.

Things soon pick up, someone at race HQ has radioed ahead to the sweeper (Ieuan)  to wait for me at Llanltyd so I soon have company for the first climb, that made a big difference. I find out there are 60 ahead & some not too far. That said my stop watch is reading well over 30 minutes before the first target comes into view, a couple of minutes later I am no longer last & give the Ieuan my sincerest thanks before leaving him to look after his new backmarker.

As I run on I begin to realise what an excellent job Ashley & Matt have done on finding lovely paths leading towards my village (several sections totally new to me). Passing my house the first time I realise that a group of runners I’ve just passed decide to speed up & hang on to my heels. Of course they have no idea I started late, I feel like saying don’t speed up guys but decide that it could sound cocky so hope they simply figure out their safe pace. By Lap one half way at the CyB centre after approx. 1 hour 45 minutes I have passed exactly 30 runners but ahead are another 30 many of which were literally running away from me at significant speed.

The return leg saw an easy start soon come to an end with a laughing marshall saying ‘you’re going straight up that!’ It was a mighty climb both allowing me to shake off two guys I passed soon after leaving the centre & overtake two more at the top. A wonderful descent then led to another brutal climb before another descent led to the final steep climb up to the beautiful precipice walk. Today the beautiful precipice walk was brutally un-pleasant, driving rain straight into your face, un-avoidable puddles everywhere, cold, had taken my cap off to avoid the wind doing it for me (should I put my waterproof top on, yes I wasn’t wearing it & didn’t all day), am I really capable of facing this two more times. At the race briefing Matt had said anyone doing two laps will get a finishers souvenir, nice sentiment Matt but hardly helped us hang in there for a third.

Back at Dolgellau I did the sensible thing & headed for race HQ for a proper feed, drink & re-fuel the bag. Here I chatted to Dylan Evans heading for his 2nd lap, he looked better than I felt.

Back out for leg two I cramped as my right foot landed on an awkward stone just 10 minutes in, moments later a smiling marshall tried to distract my concerns by proffering Jelly Babies, thank you. Just after the start of the first climb two more marshalls warned me that I’d soon be passed by the first of the re-lay runners who were doing just one loop & had started 4 hours after we had. Clearly they had been briefed well by Matt with nearly all the 15 or so who passed me on the outward leg offering praise at what I was doing, all these things help. The rain was now easing but it was amazing just how much more water was pouring of the hillsides than on lap one, Southern Snowdonia was in speight & we were in the middle of it.

Passing my house for the 3rd time I was passed by the last of the re-lay runners who was to catch me, this was Juliet Edwards my local GP, we congratulated each other & I just avoided the question ‘how do I get a scan on my injured hand?’

After leaving the CyB centre I caught a relay runner & we chatted for a while before he dropped me again on the first of the hills where I slowly chewed on a torq energy bar as if my life depended on it. Finally I got it down & as had happened weeks before on the Carneddau it was worth every bloody chew. Soon I was descending like a demon & overtaking both the relay runner & a woman in my race, I could almost sense their envy at my technique (very rare that I can say that so I’m saying it). Next climb, ‘is that Dylan’, another descent, ‘yes it is’, soon we have both stopped with two other runners at a feed station, great work you smiling girls, & have a chat about my not being at the start. Friendly pat on the backs & I’m off, ‘will Dylan hang on to me?’. I’m going well now & this continues up the precipice climb. The wind is picking up this has the advantage of drying (slightly) some of the precipice puddles but it literally knocks the stuffing out of me, my decline was rapid, I half walk the flat return to the Lake where thankfully more Marshalls await including Jude Evans (Dylan’s wife). ‘I’m feeling light headed & having a bad time’ I bleat, ‘have some Coke’ Jude replies, it’s a small cup, I almost beg another but realise that’d be un-fair to others in need. I run on but this small gesture & cup of sugar help me get back to Dolgellau where a friend calls me madman for the 2nd lap running.

At the start/finish line someone asked me if I’m going again, I respond with a less than convincing ‘I think so’ but in truth I know the reality is that I really don’t want to so of course I did. But first back to HQ, sod the loss time, I must eat, Yoghurt & plenty of it, a banana (why didn’t I take time to finish it) & stuffed my bag with more ‘treats’ that were turning my stomach into a gas chamber.

I ran out for the 3rd time just trying not to think very far ahead, at Llanltyd the friendly Lady marshall said she couldn’t believe how many were sticking it out for a 3rd lap, this begged the question ‘how many’ ’13 to 15, I think’ she replied ‘would you like some jelly babies’ ‘no I’m fine’ I lied.

In truth I managed the 3rd lap pretty well walking most of the early climbs to save whatever I had left for the return. However soon after passing my house for the 5th time I looked back to see a runner in the distance ‘is that Dylan?’. It could have been just as it could have been a walker joining from another path or a phantom of my imagination. Whatever it was it stirred me to try harder, run on & run on.

At CyB centre I took on a full coke (quick on the up-take of my earlier lesson) & wished a fellow runner (she was taking a longer re-fuel stop) all the best. My running on seemed to re-motivate her as she soon followed, I didn’t look back again & without knowing it soon pulled away. The mind is a funny old thing, now I knew I was going to complete, I ran steady & strong hitting the right pace as if it was all so natural, yes there’s 3 hills, there’s the precipice, the long run in but you know they are there, they will come but they will go, for the first time in over 10 hours I was actually enjoying all of it.

Near the top of the precipice climb I saw a runner in green ahead who had just completed the climb but walking, he looked back, saw me & started running, could I catch him, no focus on the precipice & what will be will be. By now the wind was howling, shortly before I was under swaying oaks thinking don’t hang around here so on the precipice, high & exposed it battered us as never before. Now however with three more cokes downed the wind didn’t un-do me, returning to the lake I passed the guy saying to him ‘that was a bit brutal’ but in truth I had enjoyed reeling him in.

A final coke at the lake before the long run in to Dolgellau was rewarded by cheering marshalls at the finish, my race was run & I had avoided arguably my closest shave (certainly the longest one, 55 miles with 3,000 metres of ascent) with a DNF in over 9 years of racing.

Ashley looking guilty congratulated me & asked me the obvious ‘how was it’, I answered sincerely ‘beautiful course, but 3 laps was unbelievably brutal’ before moving slowly back to race HQ for food, liquid & a sit down on the floor for reflection.

Soon I heard Matt giving prizes next door so stole myself away from my introspection & went to join the other finishers, Matt handed me my souvenir & asked ‘what did I think of the course compared to last year, again I answered honestly ‘better, but 3 laps……’

I officially finished 13th out of 35, with a further 25 calling it a day after either 1 or 2 laps, no one could or should blame them, they turned up & supported Ashley, Matt & their wonderful team. Officially I was 3rd O.50 in a time of 11 Hours 51 Minutes & a number of seconds but of course there is my version of events. I ran the 10th fastest time (by my watch) completing in 11 Hours 44 Minutes & 1 Second placing me 10th overall & 2nd O.50. however as it was all my fault there is no thought of an appeal (well not much). This decision is all the more easy as it avoids displacing a good friend both out of the top ten & 2nd O.50 spot. He had more troubles of his own running the entire last lap with feet like hell (this from a guy who once cycled home after an accident with a broken leg who only found out it was broken 3 days later having operated his B & B over a busy weekend). We were both very, very glad we’d seen it through to the end!

Leaving race HQ I saw Dylan & Jude so got back out of my car to shake his hand, he’d had a bad last lap & now looked like I felt, we have much to catch up on.

The next day I was extremely tired, cleared tables at the café as best I could & ate anything I could catch before the chefs locked the fridges & banned me from the kitchen. By Monday I was back working in the garden & saying ‘Dorina, shall we go for a run?’ We didn’t but I could have & that felt a tad good.

I do apologise for going on but it was a very emotional day & I need to record it to reflect for my own benefit what I went through, I can only hope you found it interesting.

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