First Ultra Marathon
For some manic reason, I decided to sign up for my first ultra marathon after having said I would never do another “normal” length marathon again.
This was the Brecon to Cardiff Ultra organised by Run Walk Crawl and would take place in February 2017. I had just over 5 months to train.
I found a training plan on a Google search which looked do able. Even week 16 where it said to do 62 miles, including 28 miles on Saturday followed by a short 12 miles on Sunday didn’t put me off.
Training commenced and went well until a calf injury (falling over a hidden log in some mud) put me out for a few weeks, lots of physio & acupuncture and I was fixed, and back following the plan.
I ran everywhere, and trained 7 days a week either running/gym/spin, I ran Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (combined total 26 miles), I would run from Llantrisant to Pontypridd, do the parkrun and then run home (18 miles), I would run home from work in Cardiff (11 miles), even if I had a day off I’d catch a train and run back, had a lift to Merthyr and ran back from there too. I also ran trying to keep to a low HR of below 150 (easier said than done), this would allow me to run further and not get burned out too soon. For the last few weeks of training, I ran with my trail vest containing my full kit, to get used to the weight I’d have to carry for a few (ok a lot of) hours!
Then came the tapering, I hated this, what would I do with all my free time now? Continue eating cake it would appear.
The main day came… February 19th 2017, I’d been studying the weather all week, would there be snow, rain, freak heatwave? Forecast gave cloudy with a bit of drizzle. This was ok with me. My waterproofs were packed on top for easy access should they be needed (they weren’t) . Kit checked for the 20th time, food packed, water bottles filled, I was as ready as I’d ever be. Buses were laid on at Nantgarw ( the fiinish) and we were driven to the start in Brecon Town. Registration was in a college and the hall was filled with a few hundred runners, all eagerly ready to get going. I handed my trainers and clean socks that I would need for the 2nd half of the run as trail shoes would be required for the first half, these were then bagged with my race number and bussed back to a checkpoint in Merthyr – hopefully they wouldn’t get lost. Speaking of getting lost, we were given a copy of a map just in case we did! How can you get lost, it’s just heading south isn’t it… more of that later. I queued for the loo with all the other women – unfortunately there was only one that the college opened (organisers later apologised for this mistake), back to the hall for a briefing then a 5 minute walk to the start. I needed another pee (sorry) but the queue for the one loo was still long and I didn’t want to miss the start that had already been delayed by 30 minutes. OMG that would mean I would need to go alfresco at some stage!
Around 300 runners were gathered in a holding pen alongside the Brecon canal, I recognised a few familiar faces from other races and different clubs, a few cursory nods and hi’s and we were off. The first few miles were lovely and flat, the sun was out and it was warm!!! As anyone knows I hate the heat, and thought just my luck, I’m dressed in layers for the cold and it’s bloody boiling! I make a decision to change out of my long sleeved top and just wear my t shirt, but at the first check point someone had a box of sweets and all thoughts about changing disappeared as I chewed on some jelly beans and saw my first hill. I had planned not to run faster than 9:30-9:45 mm, however the first 7 miles I was running a bit quicker, only a few seconds but felt comfortable so kept at that pace, as most ultra runners will tell you “walk the hills, run the downs and eat on the way up”. I was eating a little nibble of something every time my watch beeped a mile, this gave me something to look forward to and made the time/distance not seem too bad. The next 7 miles were a steady climb through the Beacons, the trail shoes came in handy as the mud was deep and slippery, the drizzle had also started, so I was glad I kept my long sleeved top on, not enough for me to get my coat on though! I was still busting for a loo and there are not many of those to be found on the Beacons, so I thought the next time I pass a big bush I’d duck out of sight, easier said than done. Eventually I found a good spot, had a whizz and all was right with the world. I’d made it to the second check point, helped myself to a few crisps and biscuits and noticed a runner had collapsed and was covered in his foil blanket (they are essential). He looked like a “proper” runner, like the ones who know what they are doing, I left the checkpoint with the word’s “your wife is on the way to get you”, Oh God, we were only on mile 14 and one had already not made it, what would happen to me!? The next 8 miles to Merthyr were more ups and downs (hills that is) I was enjoying it, had my music on, and hadn’t got lost …. yet! At the checkpoint in Merthyr (a church hall) I found my bag containing my socks and trainers…. ahh bliss, clean dry socks and my pair of Hoka’s (look like Spice Girls platforms) but are soooo cushioned and comfy, for the first few steps felt like I was on pillows! Trail shoes and wet socks back in the bag and these would be then bussed back to Nantgarw. Another runner was busy lancing a blister that looked like the size of my fist – rank!
I filled my water bottles and grabbed a bag of crisps and some more biscuits (note to self – don’t pack so much food next time) rely on the handouts.
My CDF teammates had asked if they could come out and cheer me in, I said no at first as I didn’t know how long I’d take and didn’t want them to be hanging around, possibly in the dark, but they were persistent, so I said I would message them at a certain checkpoint and they would come from Cardiff and wait at Nantgarw. I had tried to work a time out, going by many factors: what I thought I could do; a friend who had done it the year before and had completed it in just over 7 hours and was a good runner. I would be happy with 11:59 (12 hours cut off time) but anything under 10 would be great.
At the next checkpoint at Abercynon I saw fellow PRR Kathryn and her husband Rob, it was so lovely to see them, Kathryn ran with me for a bit and we were so busy chatting we missed the arrow and ended up around the back of Abercynon train station and had lost the route and other runners, a bit of a panic on my side and thought Id have to run back the way we came, but we saw some spectators and they put me back on the correct path, I was on my way again. I was well over half way and still felt good. At the next check point (a pub in Trallwn) I popped in for a pint (only joking) a chip butty and more flat coke, on the way out I messaged CDF “put the kettle on boys, I’m coming home”, they assembled the team and I would see them shortly (well 6 miles away) I ran through Pontypridd Park, past the Crematorium, and followed the path behind Nantgarw cinema. Mile 43 I felt a pain in my trainer and knew that my toe nail had been ripped off, I had a mile and bit to go, this wasn’t going to stop me now. There was one runner I could see in the distance and for the first time I looked behind me and there were two runners behind me. I caught up with the runner in front of me, we ran together over the bridge and I fiddle with my i pod and put Sia – The Greatest on, bit corny but the lyrics ring home what I have done. I over take the runner next to me and leg it around the roundabout cross over the road and I can see the finish and my team mates, they are all cheering and waving banners and balloons but I can only see the finish, I cross the line and get my medal and tshirt.. Neil Jones another fellow PRR offers me a bottle of lager! Lol thanks but no thanks Neil. I stop my watch and I’ve done it in 7hours 43 mins ( I spend less time in work) actual moving time 7:30. I came 48th out of 223 that completed it (295 original participants)and 7th woman.
Next time I wont spend so long at checkpoints, just grab and go, no stopping in pubs (well maybe not – that chip butty was to die for) Next time…. oh yes there will be a next time. Loved every step of it! 🙂