Whilst Martin Cliffe was smashing my pb for our Siabod Challenge I was focused on final prep for last Saturday’s race which would be my first ever Ultra race. This included my Pasta Carbonara pre-race day meal taken at 8:45 am, no more food until breakfast two hours before race start at 6:00 am. Next, organise all fuel & kit options into their boxes for my support team who duly arrived in the form of the Rowlands’ just after midday.
The afternoon consisted of registration & kit bag check (no corners cut as safety should something go wrong is more important than anything else) before I drove Kean & Sandra around the various parts of the course where I felt support would be best placed. This was very useful as we tinkered the plan here & there to ensure they could reach each position without possible congestion on the day getting in the way.
Back at the ranch more calculations to focus the timings at each support station but clearly on the day flexibility of thought would be key.
The evening was spent watching Kean, Sandra & Dorina enjoy the Carbonara I had cooked for my ‘breakfast’ followed by Kean watching me fill & refill my wine glass with increasing alarm. I of course was having a little toy with him & upon emptying the final dregs into my glass showed him the bottle, a very pleasant Italian Moscato at just 5.5%. Bed beckoned, sleep was scarse so after only catching an hour & a half of it among lots of tossing & turning I rose at 2:00 am & read instead.
Dorina cooked at 4:00, a specially large breakfast of 4 Poached Eggs, two pieces of toast & a shoval full of Baked Beans, before I waved goodbye & was driven to the start by Kean & Sandra. Race briefing was lively, there was a buzz in the air, I felt more calm & relaxed than I normally would, I’d planned, I’d recced, I’d trained, I had a support team & a ‘sound’ race plan, what could go wrong, hours later I could reflect… well very little actually.
Approx. 90 of us lined up, I was near the back as there would be plenty of time to settle in, the race started on time as dawn’s early light arrived.
We were soon on the first Tarmac hill, think I was the first to move from run to walk, ‘that’s the plan Paul stick to it’, soon others followed suit. There was time to chat to acquaintances & friends.
Breaking onto the open mountain a look behind, not for other runners but for weather, heavy shower marching across the Mawdach estuary, extra layer put on in time! This would stay on for most of the mountain stages as showers came & went in the stiff breeze.
As we climbed my walk pace was clearly good & I slowly moved through the field, I would later find out my placing at each check point but for this report will convey that as the race progressed. By first CP my position was a respectable 28th. Navigation now became key, the next three runners in front were rarely visable in the clag, take it easy & get to Cader’s summit with no wrong turns, job done. Coming off the summit the three ahead began to go left, ‘no guys it’s this way I called’, it might be a race but the conditions did not permit gaining any advantage, they soon corrected & followed.
Kean was waiting at the Bwlch, ‘what do you want Paul’, ‘Banana & Gels’, ‘you’ve got a pack of 6 chasing you’ ‘yes I know, I took 3 of them coming off the summit’. As I refuelled they closed the gap & as I began walking the next incline 7 runners ran past ‘stick to the plan Paul’. On steeper ground my walk did it’s job & I’d regained all 7 places albeit one guy did re-take me on our descent to Feeding Station 1 which I reached in a surprisingly brisk 3:11:56 in 25th place. I gained places here by only taking on Electrolite, my feed station was across the estuary where Kean & Sandra plied me upon request with Yogurt & Crisps & stocked me up with fluids & Gels.
Leg 2 started well, a friendly chat with Amy who was ascending better than me but had the wrong shoes for the descents allowed me to warn her about coming off Dyfwss, only for both me & a guy in front to do 360 degree pirouette’s, think he won on the severity & style marks, Amy loss ground but got down safely.
Now down in the safety of the forest Kean said ‘think you are top 20’ indeed at CP 5 I was in 19th place. Mat Fenwick passed me as I refueled ‘Mat what am I doing ahead of you?’, a very pleasant surprise. We had been on the go for well over 5 hours, still had over a Marathon to run, but the race now seriously began.
It was tough, the hills came & came again but pre-race knowledge & three more refuels helped to sustain me. By CP 7 (2nd Main Feed Station) I was 16th but again only a swig of Electrolite saw me exit it in 12th.
There now followed isolation for 6 or so Kilometres before I gained & temporarily lost a place whilst Kean fitted me with road shoes which I’d requested he pick up from home after our last meeting. Put simply the forest trails were killing my feet & I needed a change.
This stop also allowed Mat & Amy to get me in their sights again. Was it the extra re-fuel & new shoes or was it my cunning to walk the hills whilst in their sight & then run a quick burst when going briefly out of sight round bends before allowing them to see me ‘still’ walking as they too came around the bends. Probably both, I had soon regained the lost place & more importantly was out of sight & in isolation once again.
Dilemma, to pee or not to pee, do I have time, before or after the next drinks station, I need one but will they get me back in their sights & make me their hare. The pee won but a trickle of dark straw cost unnecessary time but did teach me to ‘drink Paul!’
The final hard climb was rewarded by a fabulous run across the lofty & splendid Panorama Walk before a gentle descent into Dolgellau. By now I was running on empty, cow bells rung at check point 11 were welcomed & then feared as they were rung for Mat soon afterwards, final fears, ‘run, run’ I did & crossed the line in 11th to Matt Ward’s flattering commentary on how I had carved through the field. Kean & Sandra were there, mutual respect for a job we had done well, put simply I would not have placed that well without you.
My time was 10:45:58 well ahead of my predicted 12/14 Hours but well behind race winner Charlie Sharp, a cafe regular, who recorded 8:43:20 despite admitting that he had taken the first half easy due to the conditions (these had been poor in the mountains but pleasant in the afternoon around the forest).
I must thank Ashley & Matt for another fabulous race, there were more than 100 volunteers helping get us around safely in one way or another (that’s more than one per runner), many of them out on the course for several hours. Of course the other runners all deserve credit for taking it on & doing so with time to talk & encourage each other, you are too many to name but the three immediately behind me, Mat, Amy & Emma, thank you for your cameraderie & pushing this hare on & on.
Also thank you to team Siabod, Fraser & anyone else who tracked my progress as the day wore on.
Finally a massive thanks to Kean & Sandra but be warned an Ultra Runner has been born, the Paddy looms, you will be required so stay fit & healthy & off the vino, as you can see it’s not good for you!
A long race, a long blog, no apologies you should know me by now.
Pride came before a fall but that’s a story for another day.