Sunday, 8 November 2015

"It's OK, my watch will lead me".....starting up on them trails, and the Gower 50.

As with most occasions when I race, the general feeling on completion, is to record the process for later years.

I've done just that over the years, but have faultered recently, and not recorded the past half dozen events, for whatever reason.

I then decided that 2015 was to be a 'run focused' year, with a complete sabbatical away from the quite wonderful sport that is triathlon.

The year began by cementing some new, run based friendships, and joining Chippenham Harrriers in March. This certainly aided my passion for running, whilst also taking some great advice/chit chat from some very experienced club runners.
It's a great club, for all abilities. Website here > ChipHarriers

This also (typically) led me to not being quite satisfied with taking a decent half marathon PB at Swansea in June, coupled with an average marathon PB at NYC last Autumn.
It left me realising I wanted newer, bigger/longer challenges, and as Harriers Mark & Adam were entering the Marlborough Downs Challenge, I signed up too.
It's  a 33 mile race up over the Downs, through some beautiful Wiltshire countryside.

It was a great introduction to running a little longer, on some rather mixed terrain.
A finish time of 5hrs32mins was, I thought, a fairly decent first effort.
After coming through that finish tape, for the next 45 minutes, I had quickly decided there and then, that I wasn't going to attempt a long run like that again, as I felt pretty horrible.

However, after several more trail based runs, and some conversations with ultra guru Jamie, I started turning my thoughts slowly towards a race that was around and about my old hunting ground.

The Gower 50, on paper, looked rather a too romantic choice for me to take on my first 50 mile effort, what with the memories I had from my childhood, - living close to, and experiencing this beautiful part of the world for many years.

In the end, I actually entered just 9 days before race day, though all through the summer, I'd had it firmly in my sights.
My training was then strictly tailored to suit, consisting mainly of several mornings on the quite fantastic 15.5 mile loop that starts, and finishes at Castle Combe.
It takes in over 2k of climbing, on very mixed terrain. A solo 31 mile double loop in August, being the grimmest, yet most valuable soirĂ©e over that very useful training regime.

After a very useful 20 mile reccy of the back end of the actual Gower 50 route with Stacey & Michelle of a very early Saturday morning, I was set fair for October 10th.

up over Rhossili on our reccy

A 7.30 start for this one, and all roads led to Llanmadoc after an overnight stay at Mum's.
Ange drove me down with plenty of time for the briefing , and waved us all off bang on time.
A most beautiful deep orange glow of a sunset set the tone for what was to be a great days racing.

red sky at morning...
#svr crew +1 rogue

My main, and very clear goal for this race, was to take on the first 30 miles in a very sensible way (slowly), with only one main rule - walk ALL the hills.
Kit on board was Jamies's 12l Salomon race pack, x2 500ml bottles, gel/number belt with x6 PowerBar gels, x8 SIS bars, & the mandatory kit list.

The first 60% of this day was always likely to be the harder part of the day, and so it turned out to be.

I was lucky enough to run a large chunk of this first section in the varying company of Marc, Nick, Ian & Nic, all members of the legendary Swansea Vale Runners - Stacey & Michelle
were also present, but were both off like hares, and I wouldn't see them again until the finish line, after they both smashed out very impressive, quick times.

On departure, the first highlight of the day was finding ourselves quickly on the lengthy 5k strip of pure beach that lead us up to Rhosilli, and CP 1 (5.5 miles). Pace to this point was averaging a comfortable 10.5 minutes per mile, though it seemed to take no time to arrive there.
Still running with the SVR lads, we left Rhosilli, after a brief stop where I took on a couple of biscuits, squash & some nuts, hit the cliff path and headed east towards Port Eynon point, and the first click point.
At registration, we were all issued with a small click point punch card, and instructions to visit 5 locations along the route, and punch said card as we went.
Interestingly, I was to actually drop mine shortly after the the second location at Oxwich Point, but luckily, a runner not far behind us, picked it up, and was offering it up as lost. I checked, and it was mine.
Phew!....that said however, at the finish, no click point cards were actually checked. Go figure.

The section from Rhosilli to Port Eynon (7.5 miles), is quite a beautiful place to run, with varying cliff terrain, awesome sea views, finishing with our second beach run to the car park at Port Eynon, and CP2.
The pace had slowed to an average of  13 minutes per mile, through this section, with any hill of note walked, as planned.
Another fairly brief stop to refill bottles, and again I went for the biscuits, nuts & a couple of sweets.
I was also taking a PowerBar gel every 45 mins or so.

I was feeling at 85% at this stage, and began wondering whether to step it up from this CP.
A 20 second chat with myself realised that with 37 miles to go, it would be a risk.

The next section over to Southgate was 9 miles, and would take in yet more breathtaking landscape, including the quite yucky, and very steep & slippery up & down of  Oxwich steps, with a drop down through the woods to another long beach section along the whole length of Oxwich Bay.

This was the first time I had a chance to catch up with Ange, Mum & the boys. It always gives me a massive boost to see their smiling, concerned, yet encouraging faces.

I lost the SVR lads at the start of the beach, whilst catching up with the family, so I then put on a steady, but consistent pace along the whole length of the bay.

The dune at the end was very steep, with dry sand. I had caught up with a couple of other runners, and it's here where I learned how to 'dune draft' off the guy 12 inches in front of me....wherever his foot took off from, mine landed, and it worked a treat, seemingly giving me firmer sand to launch off from.
Around the cliffs again, and we passed by the beautiful Three Cliffs Bay, (with the 3rd clip point at Pwll-Du Head), across the stepping stones, and up and even steeper dune.....cue 'dune drafting' episode 2!

CP3 was at Southgate, in amongst all the 'Grand Designesque' cliff top houses, and the pace from CP2 to here, was now approaching 14 minutes per mile.
My plan of being sensible early on, still well in place, and working just fine. I would say I was still feeling at 75% at this point, with no feet issues, but a tweaked right knee, taken on one on the quite rocky, loose descents.
This is one of the huge delights of this race,  - the terrain can change inside a third of a mile, from loose stones, to wet sand, to dry sand, to soft trail, to deep wet grass and back again. A real bonus to keep the mind focussed!

views to die for
cuddle up!

My stop at CP3 was, again not too long. Coke was taken here for the first time, and I continued with the salted nuts & biscuits, that were going down a treat. I left with the SVR crew, and we started off maintaining a sensible pace.

CP4 at Mumbles Head was 7 miles around the coast, and it was there that I had planned to meet Ange & crew to change shoes, & re-stock with different foods. Though I rate the Salomon Speedcross 3 on the soft, slippery stuff, they are certainly not the comfiest shoe for going past 25ish miles, and at this point, what with all the sand in my socks, I was glad to pop the Asics racers on. I figured this may be a risk, as I knew there was still off road sections towards the end.

Pace on the last section was now at roughly 15.5 mins per mile, again the sensible approach had been maintained through that part of the course. At the final beach section at Caswell, I had lost the SVR lads, so tabbed along alone for a couple miles, before catching up with another couple of lads at Langland Bay, and we chatted, and stayed together for the run into CP4.

This checkpoint was my longest stop, after changing shoes & socks, and eating as much as I could muster, (which was quite a lot), given they had CANAPES on offer - Amazing!!
Hugs were exchanged , and then it was tarmac all the way through Mumbles, & up the onto the cycle path to CP 5 at Dunvant.

At this point, I met up with Nigel, who had surprised me, and cycled down to ride alongside me for a while. And a bit further on, I also met up with Jon, who was out on a planned training run, who decided to tag along for the tarmac stretch up to Penclawdd & CP 6.
Thanks for the support (again) dudes.

That 12 mile section from Mumbles to Penclawdd, is largely un-inspirational, flat, & quite boring, especially after the quite beautiful first 30 miles or so.
It did, however, include a slight detour off the main road just past Gowerton through Alt-Wen Woods to tick off clip-point 4, and of course, CP5 at Dunvant.

I was still feeling at least 45-50%, so I decided to push it along a bit at this point.
I just zoned out, and tried to maintain a decent pace on the cycle path. I stopped literally for 60 seconds at CP5, grabbed a handful of something, and just zoned out again, back into the pace that had got me there.
That 12 mile section was at an average pace of roughly 9 mins 25, and I was happy to be able to hold and maintain that pace, especially as I was now into un-chartered territory with regards to length of the run.

On arriving at CP6 at Penclawdd, I was still feeling strong, so again, I maintained the pace on through Crofty, picking up the final clip point, and heading out onto the marsh road, and towards home.

I again picked off another 4 or 5 runners through this section, but it was here on the seemingly endless marsh road, that it became a mental game. I succumbed to a bit of run a mile, wait for the watch to beep, then walk for 2 minutes. This worked, and eventually the road came to an end, and the most surreal part of my day unfolded.
I was still alone at this point, just approaching the village at Llanrhidian, when a runner came running towards me, insistent on there being a bull blocking the road up ahead, and he had been 'turned back' to divert around that part of the village via the marsh.

Long story short - by this point Mike Tate and his group had caught up with me, and all 5 of us ended up taking the unofficial 'diversion'. It quickly became apparent that this would involve jumping into a dyke filled with nearly 3 feet of water, and scaling a barbed wire fence.
15 minutes least!

I've since thought long and hard about this episode, and I think I made the wrong decision in listening to a stranger, and should've gone with my instinct to investigate the 'bull' for myself.
You learn, huh!

After this debacle, I got my angry head on, and legged it out of the village, leaving the other 4 in my wake. Apologies to Mike and his crew if I helped us all make the wrong decision.

Due to my haste, CP7 was quickly upon us at Llandimore, and it was here that I felt quite dreadful for the first time that day. Looking back, with the upped pace over the previous 15 miles or so, I had not really upped my food/fluid intake accordingly, and even though I got to CP7 knowing there was only a mere 3 miles to the finish, I was properly knocking.

Twas a case of 'sh*t or bust' here, so I crammed about 3 biscuits in my mouth, eat them quickly, swilled down a whole cup of coke, followed by more biscuits, and a handful of nuts to run off with.
It took about 10 minutes, but luckily I got it going again, and it was just the numbers on the watch ticking down that got me home.

Surprisingly, I caught up another group of 3, and passed them with my newly found vigour.
Rounding the last tarmac paved corner just at the firing range, I was faced with the most amazing surprise - Jacob & Charlie were at the bottom of the huge last very steep climb up to the finish chute.

That pretty much made my day, and all three of us scrambled up the bank to the cheers and warm welcome of quite a crowd, silouhetted up on the cliff top, -  including Ange, Mum, Stacey, Michelle & Chris (thanks for the support & pics pal!)

After crossing the line, J &C either side of me, I was genuinely surprised how OK I felt.
Then realising I had clocked 10hrs 32mins with a finishing position of 26th of 142, the day was complete.
my heroes

This race is a must for anyone who appreciates a long, beautiful run, through one of the best places on earth.
VERY well organised, second to none marshalling, a t-shirt, medal & hot meal to boot.
Run, Walk & Crawl Events - my hat is off to you.

It was a pleasure to spend time with the SVR crew on the day, amazing to Stacey nail his day with a 9hr 40min time, and see my fellow Chippenham Harrier Michelle nail 2nd female & 8th place overall!

Huge thanks to Jamie & Adam for lending me some essential kit, and as always, and most importantly, I'm simply unable to train for, or attempt these events without the unquestioning support from my darling (now runner) wife Ange, and my 2 little heroes J & C.xx

JC - November2015