South Wales 100Race Report
It’s eleven o’clock at night, and I’ve been on the go for 28 hours, but it being just past mid-summers day it’s still surprisingly light. I pause to admire an owl hovering over the next field, its flat face silhouetted in the dusk (or possibly moonlight) and marvel in the rarity of such an occurrence. Where else other than an overnight ultra race (or two nights in this case) would you ever see such a thing?
It’s past midnight on the second night, and my “I AM A MACHINE” mantra is starting to sound a little hollow. I don’t feel like a machine, I feel like a puny human who can barely keep his eyes open to stay awake, but I still have about 10 miles to go. I joke with the checkpoint volunteers that I’m going to call it a day here and pack it all in and just go to sleep. Clearly, as they don’t know me from Adam, they’re not sure if I’m joking or not and threaten to just push me out the door, but not to worry, there’s no way I’m quitting now – I got this!
But I’m getting ahead of myself – time to rewind....
Back in December just between xmas and new year I had a “fuck-it” moment and entered the race – 100 miles from Cardiff up into the Brecon Beacons and back in a continuous loop – my local area and involving my favourite mountains, it was calling out to me. I was going to just enter the recces and decide later, but couldn’t see the button on the payment page so just signed up for the lot – all 4 recces plus the race – this shit just got real, suppose I’d better start training!
Training went well up to a point, the recces were a godsend on the day, I was very glad to be able to recognise certain areas and mistakes that had been made on the recces and not make the same mistakes on the day. About 6 weeks before the event I was given a free place in Newport Marathon – flat as a pancake and on the road, the complete opposite of all my training but I went all out and smashed it in 3:28 (which for me is a great time!) – but here my problems started. My right hip decided not to work anymore and I was struggling to walk. I had entered a 50 miler as my last big training run the following week, and as I’m a tightwad I didn’t want to lose the place so went and did it anyway with a dodgy hip. I got round but it wasn’t pretty and it didn’t do my hip any favours. So after that race I did not train at all for the 5 weeks prior to SW100 other than a quick 7 mile tester with the fell running club during which I dragged my poor leg behind me and felt more and more disheartened.
Anyway, about 2 days before race day, my hip stopped hurting and I decided to go for it. The race starts at 7pm on the Friday night and I got to the HQ in good time so I could have a good relax and eat plenty of pasta before setting off. I dosed myself up with a couple of ibuprofen in order to mitigate any hip problems and met with a few familiar faces (both from the recces and previous races) and the atmosphere at race registration was relaxed and good natured. The weather was perfect, clear skies and sunshine forecast all weekend.
7pm on the dot, and off we go – around 40 people set off into the distance, I intended to start very slowly so as not to aggravate the hip and managed to maintain a comfortable trot for the first few miles.
I won’t go into vast detail with a blow by blow account as that would just be boring, but suffice to say I enjoyed (almost) every minute. I got chatting to a few other competitors and we stuck together for a few miles and then we’d split, and maybe meet up again later – it was very ebb and flow and natural, and we had a good chat with a few other guys who would join and leave the group over the next few hours, one particular subject I remember well was – “what’s in your drop bag?”. Oh how I was fantasising about my pot noodle waiting for me at Ystradfellte!
Coming down onto the A470 off Fan Frynach towards the halfway point I started to feel a pain like a bruising in my left foot, in the metatarsals and decided to take some more painkillers at the checkpoint. I washed down 2 naproxen with some soup and carried on, expecting the pain to reduce a bit, but to my surprise the pain vanished completely! My Garmin had died by this point and one of the guys (Pete) at the checkpoint very kindly offered to loan me his power pack. I thanked him but refused as I was comfortable with the route from here, and figured I would recharge at Trefil. Going up towards Pen Y Fan I left the guys I had been running with behind, expecting to maybe see them later but they never caught me back up and I spent the rest of the race by myself apart from at the checkpoints.
Pen Y Fan, Cribyn and then Fan Y Big were really tough – the sun was really beating down and I had to have a sit down at the top of Cribyn for 5 to try and recover. In my mind the next climb was the big test – If I could get over Tor Y Foel, then I would have cracked it. Pete was also at the next checkpoint at the foot of Tor Y Foel and this time I accepted the offer to loan the power pack – I figured I could get some charge into the Garmin in my backpack whilst I pushed on to Trefil and it would mean less time needed to charge at Trefil. I ended up spending about an hour at Trefil having a pot noodle and trying to get 40 winks whilst waiting for the Garmin to charge. Had a good chat with one of the organisers (Ben) who said – just lean forward and shuffle, 3 miles an hour for the next 10 hours – job done! He made it sound so easy! I took this advice to heart many times over the next 30 miles, and that really helped me through the night – cheers Ben!
And here we pick up with the owl....
Wildlife spotted en-route:
· An owl mid-hunt
· The biggest bull I’ve ever seen – he was HUUUGE!
· A coughing sheep (as well as countless other sheep)
· A frog/toad
Leaving the last checkpoint at Caerphilly was tough – I was half asleep and feeling a bit footsore – 2 guys who had just left the checkpoint before me shot off before I could leech onto them, and maintained a good speed so I couldn’t catch them. The final hill up to Craig yr Allt was ok, but the descent was horrible. My headtorch was fading and I kept almost tripping over and almost went over on my ankle a few times. Getting back to the Taff Trail was a big relief as I knew it was straightforward from there. I changed out my torch batteries (which I should have done much earlier but hey-ho) and trotted to the finish. I even managed a bit of a run to the finish line, where Joe awaited with my medal and a handshake – all very low key and for a minute I thought there was nobody there to see me finish!
But I’d done it! I’m really happy to have finished what is considered to be one of the toughest 100 mile races in the UK and in challenging conditions. I think I’ll get a tattoo :)
I just have to say a big THANK YOU to all the organisers and checkpoint volunteers who were brilliant throughout the event. The vegan sweets were much appreciated even though I only had a small handful at each CP.
Race time: 33:19:13
Position: 17th of 27 finishers. (10 DNF)