On the 2nd of April 2016 I decided to take on my toughest challenge yet; an ultra marathon race 32 miles across the Welsh coastal path starting on Penarth Pier and finishing4 at Ogmore beach (This is essentially running from Barry to Bridgend or the non-local residents reading todays blog). The Vale of Glamorgan is a place I’ve grown up and so it was only right to do my first ultra marathon on my own doorstep.
Firstly, a massive thank you to everybody who donated – You have helped raise around £600 for the Alzheimer’s Society which is absolutely incredible and you cannot be thanked enough. The 2nd of April is a special day for me, my Nan would have been 85 and sadly we lost her last year after battling against Alzheimer’s/dementia for some time. Your donations will go towards helping other families and i know just how much that will be appreciated.
It is always important for me to do my bit and give back to people. It may sound cheesy but knowing you get to help people every day is an awesome feeling and knowing i had a chance to help people suffering with such a horrible illness was extremely motivating. I am committed to doing charity work and a year on from raising £1000 for the Go Felix charity, this was the next challenge.
Unfortunately in the two weeks building up to the race I suffered (as everybody in Cardiff seemed to) from a virus/flu and this actually meant i missed most of my training races (I had planned to run a 13 mile cross country race and a 20 mile road race in preparation). Because of this I entered a last minute 16 mile self-navigation cross country race in Gloucester exactly 7 days before the Ultra. Not my smartest move you may be thinking but after 2 weeks of nothing, i wanted to get some miles in (plus the furthest i have ever ran before is 13 miles) and although technically a fun-run and not a “race” I managed to come back in joint first place.
For weeks i had been absolutely buzzing for the ultra but the lack of planned preparation meant i woke up on the day feeling pretty sick with nerves. The thing is, I knew i would make it to the end. There is no way I would have quit. You would have had to drag me off the course or I would have had to suffer an injury that would force me to drop out.
The race began in horrible, wet and windy conditions but deep down i actually enjoy this weather. There’s something about running in the rain that is quite relaxing. No music, just the sound of other people struggling, breathing and for a lot of the run, just peace and quiet (I can ignore my horrible panting quite well). I always look at other runners and think that if I’m in pain, they must be to and then i try to pick them off one by one. Of course that doesn’t always work when they’re better than you but on this day it seemed to go very well.
In the first half of the race I had been motivated by bumping into old work colleagues at each checkpoint (the first gym i worked at organised the race) and i was especially motivated just before half way when i knew i would pass my Nan and Grandads houses. My 85 year old Grandfather had been sat in his car overlooking one of the fields waiting for me to pass. I recognised his car out of the corner of my eye and legged it over to give him a quick hug before getting back on course and into the race. He’s too old to drive to the end of the race and wait hours for me there but that feeling was amazing and knowing my mum would be at the end was all i needed now for the next 16 miles.
I knew i would be fairly strong for the first half of the race and a little to my surprise I actually came into the 16-18 mile mark in 15th place. I remembered what some friends who are more experienced in this has told me: whatever happens the second half is going to be hell. And it was. My hips got sore from the awful ground conditions where a weeks worth of rain had literally washed away a lot of the path. A mixture of pebble beaches, cliff paths, sand, waterlogged fields and clay didn’t sit well with an already knackered bloke who has never ran past 16 miles (never past 13 until a week before) in his life. I knew i was going to have to battle the remaining half of the race out and just not quit. I remembered the words of Kris King who had wrote on my Facebook that wall in the morning just before we started that said “Don’t be shit”. Deep down I wanted to know how well I could do, I had already assumed i would finish. I “joked” with my fiancé in the weeks before the race that I wanted to be in the top 25. When the race began, I actually meant this. Pretty bold to feel like that considering it would be 19 miles further than ever ran before.
Let’s just say the next 16 miles were a bit of a blur. I took quite a few falls from being so fatigued in the muddy fields where i just had no energy to stay upright. At one point i was rolling around in the clay near Llantwit major lighthouse with a pulled hamstring after a fall but luckily nobody else had caught me by that point to laugh! Slowly but surely people did start to overtake me and I was barely jogging when i reached the marathon mark. The course got harder and harder towards the end and anybody who knows southern down and Ogmore will know how steep the cliffs are. This after 30 miles was…. challenging.
For the first half of the race I was on to get a 4:40 finish, but now i just wanted to get under 6 hours. My fiancé had started her 18.5 mile version of the race by now and at the rate i was slowing down (and how fast she would be running) i had a feeling she would catch me up. She got to me with 2 miles to go and basically kept me awake to the finish. Let’s just say i’m glad she got to me, i’m glad my nutrition and hydration and gym work were spot on to prepare me and that the organisers had very good checkpoint feed stations for you to refuel on. I stocked up on pick n mix and jelly babies that i carried in my backpack, hydration tablets in my water (it’s important to know what to drink and not just drink loads), took any jaffa cakes and flapjacks that were on offer at the check points and guzzled down a fair bit of Coke as well. I ran in Innov-8 ultra marathon trainers and used the Salamon Ultra running pack for anybody that is interested in what kit i used.
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The last mile felt like an eternity and thinking back i don’t remember all that much of it. I guess it was a bit of mixed emotions really. I couldn’t quite believe i’d made it although i knew i’d never quit, i was almost feeling deflated that it was over and the reality that although i’d done my bit for charity my Nan wouldn’t ever see me finish this race – it’s all just a big bag of emotion when you finish something you want so badly. As the picture below will tell you, i was in no state for smiling for the camera as we approached the finish line, i didn’t know what i was feeling! I ended the race in 30th place out of a field of 200+ runners. Not too bad.
Seeing my Mother at the end was incredible and being able to ring my family and tell them i’d done it was sensational. Sometimes it takes a few days to sink in what you’ve really achieved but that was a good moment.
Ok I smiled for this one.
I’m so proud of Amy for her 18.5 mile run, the furthest she’s ever run before. And I’m extremely proud of Alan King who works at the same gym I do. At 59 years of age he completed the 32 mile course. That is simply amazing! Well done again to the both of you.
And well done again to all of you who donated. You have raised a lot of money that will go towards helping families and people who suffer from this awful disease. I’m so happy you donated and gave me the extra motivation to complete the race. Here’s to you all and on to the next challenge…
And here’s to you Nan, this one was for you!