Like half of a Meatloaf song.
I informed Nicky (for new readers, Nicky is my extraordinary, beautiful, inspirational and flippin’ HOT lady wife!), on the morning of the GOWER 50 ULTRA, I had three goals for the event……
One of which I accomplished……
The important one, I guess.
I wouldn’t say that Nicky and I are traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ but I do tend to be the driver on these adventures. But, on this occasion, Nicky was determined to protect my aging legs as much as possible. Including travelling to and from Gower and all the incredibly intrepid driving around to meet me at so many points during the run, she amassed over 400 miles during the weekend.
I didn’t work Friday and we headed off to Wales mid afternoon. I don’t think I’ve been this nervous since the day of our first date. I wish I’d thought of that comparison on Friday,….. because that didn’t turn out so badly……
Charlie (for new readers, Charlie is the highly strung Border Terrier) came along for the weekend too. Our bargain Travelodge in Llanelli only charged a mere £20 extra to house the hound (although we had to take his own bed).
Using a specialist http://www.eatinghousesonthewaytothegowerwheredogsarewelcome.com type website, we had pre arranged our meal for the journey.
We made good time on the journey and arrived for our meal, near the M4 with great reviews and a cracking website, I was confident we’d chosen well……
I’m sure I was imagining it, but the pub went VERY quiet as we took our reserved seats underneath the enormous television showing Wales’ latest football glory. We ate our rather disappointing fare and scarpered, convinced one of the well oiled, rather vocal Friday tea-timers was building up to a ‘what’s your problem?’ moment.
I’ve always been a runner, not a fighter……. Even Charlie never came out from underneath the chair.
The hotel was standard fare, toasty warm. Gasping for air warm. Charlie waking up every 30 minutes to rattle his collar against his bowl while he drank yet more water, warm.
Before we knew it, the 5am alarm was going off…….
Proper nerves were setting in now. And bizarrely emotional.
We’d been to the event HQ on Friday to register, so it was just a case of donning most of the essential kit (the weather was appalling), enjoying a pre-match coffee and lining up with the rest of the 200 or so participants and awaiting the 7.30am kick off.
Based in the St Madoc Centre the facilities were being used as a bunk house and the kitchen facilities providing hearty fare and welcome hot drinks. Charlie fluttered his doe-eyes at one competitor, busy preparing her sandwiches, and was rewarded with a tasty lump of cheese. He’s such a tart…
Nicky made her way into the starting area for a very welcome bonus kiss and to wish me good luck and with little ceremony we were off. I’ve learned such a valuable skill from my wonderful wife, for these endurance tests, start well back in the field thus avoiding getting involved with the pace of those at the front. If people are going that quick because they are THAT QUICK, then trying to run with them will only eat into my energy stores for later. If they themselves are going too fast at the start, I’ll probably be seeing them later anyway.
So, the race. Regular readers will know, this is often where my rambling race write ups become confused. I never seem to have a chronological, nor accurate, memory of a race.
Off the first headland we landed onto the sinking sand and uneven rocks and pebbles of Rhossili Bay. With the rain lashing down and the howling wind, the line of multi coloured waterproofed troopers trudged in silence as the end of the beach seemed to get no nearer.
I was determined to keep telling myself to not let my heart rate rise, but to run whenever I could, and accept walking on the ups. Walking the up from this stretch to the first checkpoint I felt strong and easy, I’ve done a lot of coastal miles this year and really felt that this was my terrain.
Another boost here, Nicky and Charlie were waiting just beyond the checkpoint, loyal supporters in the utterly foul weather. I skipped from there onto the stunning coast path. I managed to collect my first ever orienteering clip (being used to ensure we all took the same route) and felt like I was cruising…….
My foot went down a rabbit hole and my ankle bent right over. SHUT THE BACK DOOR!!! Blimey that hurt. I mean really hurt. I mean REALLY hurt. I took a moment on a rock to decide whether I was actually capable of carrying on. Another runner, who later in the day became one of the three amigos (read on….), Rebecca, stopped and very kindly handed me some painkillers.
A healthy golf ball sized lump had appeared on my ankle and I still had 42 miles to go! Onwards…….
I battled on for the next 4 or 5 miles, trying to focus on the fact that this was my favourite terrain. Some of it very much like the Roseland Peninsula (see my blog from The Rat), other sections reminded me of The Grizzly, even the final few miles of Conisiton Trail Marathon (blogged about here) through the woods. During this section I again ran with Rebecca and the other Amigo, Callum. The three of us were like magnets, as the day unfolded, we were separated but always seemed to end up running together.
During the day I ran with, and briefly chatted to several people, some of whom saw me at rather low points, I’m rubbish at remembering names but it was a pleasure to share the experience with so many wonderful chaps and chappesses.
A very, very old friend, Jo, had been in touch having seen that we were coming to the Gower. She lives almost on the route and had running club mates also competing. As I came out of the woods at Port Eynon, there she was! It was lovely to catch up with someone who I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing in 14 years! We had known each other in rather darker times in both of our lives, so it was wonderful to meet in these great circumstances.
It was also wonderful, as Nicky and Charlie were also on the beach, to be able to show off my beautiful wife as the 4 of us shared a stroll along the sand and ummed and ahhhed about my ankle.
So three goals for the day….
Firstly, using my mantra which I’ve developed as I’ve really got into my trail running this year….. NO LAZY STEPS…. yes, goal 1 was to not fall over or get injured……
Don’t get lost……….
So as check point 2 took our numbers, the other 2 amigos and a couple of others whom I had been running close to all dived for the toilets, whilst I trudged on ahead. The coast path here briefly goes inland…….
Not so briefly in my case, after about 30 minutes I came up behind the same people whom I had left behind at the checkpoint. So that was goals 1 & 2 out the window……
Just the main goal left…. TO FINISH
Poor Nicky got stuck behind the triathlon which was taking place and didn’t make the next point where we had hoped to meet. After a brief phone call, I reassured her I would stop if I truly felt my ankle was too bad. Whilst I was moving and topping up the painkillers it seemed manageable, so I battled on through the sand dunes and mud reaching checkpoint, where I saw Jo again as she was supporting other runners she knew.
All of the checkpoints were fabulous, so, so encouraging, supportive, helpful and a welcome lift. I was gulping down the Happy Shopper Coke – pure nectar! The event is officially self navigating, and , as I proved, you need to have your wits about you, but it is so well planned and organised, the maps and route book are spot on.
The next section was right up my street, out and out coast path, mud, rocks, steps, beautiful views opening up around every corner. Good progress here.
Now, Charlie, the Border Terrier. When he gets it in his head to play with other dogs, particularly on beaches, he charges around in circles with a rather high pitched yap…… it can be quite embarrassing, although he’s having so much fun.
As I was running through the woods approaching Caswell Bay, I couldn’t see the beach, but I could HEAR Charlie, which meant Nicky was waiting for me there. What a wonderful boost half way through the race, such an amazing lift. And she had coffee!!!
We shared a beautiful moment there and I headed off with a real boost to my energy.
Checkpoint 4 then. More amazing people, warning us of the next stretch… the dreaded roads! Here the route was signed as we cut off the corner of the peninsular and headed north.
This section felt hard work but, I’ve definitely discovered something about myself in this event – I CAN!
Through a very muddy marshy section, which was hard but I really enjoyed it, then joining the actual cycle route all the way to mile 35 at the checkpoint at Dunvant where Nicky and Charlie appeared yet again. With Maltesers. And pain killers. I was tired, naturally,, but felt strong. My ankle felt less tight and I pushed on again. Swapping places with the other 2 amigos several times and running together for much of this long tarmac section.
It’s amazing how, prior to discovering love, my wonderful love, I never ‘loved’ running. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed challenging myself and pushing hard and was forever in search of flat, road events to try and push my pace and beat my times.
The road section between about 37 and 45 miles was just that. Flat, fast tarmac. It wasn’t horrible, as I was just loving the adventure, but after an hour or so, the monotony of it seemed to be darkening my mood and I started to focus on the pain rather than the pleasure…..
Incredibly, Nicky caught up with me another 4 times during this section, and again as we emerged from a rocky road section alongside the marshes of the estuary, informing me that dinner was at 6 so I had better get a move on!
I ran for a while with Mr Motivator, a guy called Sam who was great company. The other 2 amigos had got away by this point but over those muddy fields, marshy paths, rutted woodlands and, finally, sand dunes, we ended up all back together for the run in to the finish.
As we came out of the trails and looked up that final cliff, there was Nicky, silhouetted up on the gloomy horizon, and my heart was just fluttering, I could feel the tears welling up and the three of us hauled our tired bodies up that climb.
Suddenly we were through the gate and heading for the line…..
I’m not normally a ‘sickly’ person, but the ankle has enforced my to have a couple of days off, so I’m sat on the couch, feet up, writing this blog, which I’m acutely aware is faaaaaar too long, grinning like an idiot because I’m just so, so, pleased to have achieved my first 50 miler…………….
Watch this space for what’s next…..
For those who like a stat or too, check out the run HERE
I managed to finish 30th out of 147 in 11h06m (another 62 didn’t make it, I’m gutted for them and so grateful I managed to get to the end).
I can’t thank enough people nearly enough for their part in this journey, the organisers RUN WALK CRAWL, they just GET IT! ALL the other participants, what a great supportive atmosphere. Special mentions for the other 2 amigos, Rebecca and Callum for being alongside in the dark and light moments. Sam, who’s vibrancy towards the end was such good fun. And Jo, such a lovely friend of old, now a lovely friend of new, for being there, not only for me, but for Nicky too.
And, of course, Nicky…… I’m welling up just wondering how I’m going to word this…….. You drive me, Nicky… and this weekend, you literally drove me, and fed me, and cheered me, and willed me, and inspired me (like you always do). You trusted me to make good decisions, you cajoled me, encouraged me, hugged me, kissed me, let Charlie charge across the beaches to greet me. You navigated yourself to every nook and cranny of the Gower Peninsular, you kept my parents informed, which can be a challenge in itself!
You were, Nicky, AWESOME….. My world……
So maybe, just maybe, I DO really believe that ‘people like me’ CAN…..
Oh, and I seem to have written a poem about the run HERE