Full Blog Wanker Race Review – St Illtyd’s Ultramarathon

To have “st illtyds ultra elevation profile” appear in my internet browser all I need to do is type the letter S. That is how often I have looked at the damned thing over the past few months, meaning this search has finally replaced Shire Singles – Hobbit Dating as the auto-fill value for that letter. 
Come and get them, ladies
And, to be fair, the result of that search is a tad too chunky monkey for my liking and would certainly not be in the category “fast, flat, PB course”  that I have dreamed of since Amersham Ultra 6 weeks ago. That and racing there would also involve running in another country.
It’s lumpy, lumpy, very, very lumpy, it’s very lumpy

For I have never run in Wales and had only been there once before, to the Dr Who Experience in, I wanna say, Cardiff.

Dr Huw

So St Wales, as it became known, a 50K/100K ultra was now on my radar, and had been since last year as quite of few people I follow on social media (Jane, Lou, Stu, Ant, Lauren etc) had completed it and rated the inaugural event.

Now, if you think about it, I was supposed to have completed TGC (tick) and Green Man 45 (postponed until September) by now. So I should have been going into St Wales confident that I could handle 4000 feet of elevation over 50K, but I was not remotely comfortable. I would be relying on the people going to get me through, and that is exactly what happened.

Cast of 1000s

This would be a very very sunny weekend in Wales, with a cast of 1000s.  Those I have met before like Sarah, who was part of the Bacchus Unicorns, Allie I knew from Herts Half and making JK’s birthday cake, Cazza from Yorkshire, Sarah G and I ran the RAF Race together in Colindale, as did Ellie, JK, Clare, Crazy Baz, Lew, Helen B, Whiffers I see everywhere, Rach I had just gotten drunk with (with JK – surprise, surprise), but this would be a race with a HUGE group of good people and many many faces from Twitter that I hadn’t met before like Del and Michele, James B, Garry, Stuart, Bri and Rach, Ant, Ali, Josh, Gareth, Dr Ben, G, Si Gilbert, Helen, Stu, Sam, Toozle, Luke, Chris, Chris, Mike, Cat, Kat, Jeanette and many, many more.
Just some of the awesome, noisy, supportive, drunken, cake eating, rough n tough rabble who stayed to the end to cheer everyone over the line
And this would be a weekend where the camaraderie and the kinship of friends and strangers alike came to the fore. Starting from the outset…
The tracks look fine, but let’s ruin their weekend anyhow

The Travel Ballache

The utter ballache of getting to Wales has meant that I haven’t raced there.  I was going to run the Welsh half in Tenby that is part of a triathlon weekend, but the number of trains and the cost made it too much of a problem. For a half? No, sir. This weekend, with the wonderful deregulated train services of this country reminding us all why we hate them, trainline first suggested a route that would have taken 7 and a half hours and then just told me not to bother. And so, plan B, and the wonderful Allie drove me from Oxford, with her superb baked goods (the cheese and chipotle biscuits were to die for. After tasting the Rocky Road people thought they actually had died and gone to heaven) and a decent driving playlist all the way to Burry Port and the Ashburnham Hotel.

The Ashburnham

No. No, no, no, no. Just no. This was the hotel a large group made base camp. I won’t go into it but:

  • No hot water for anyone post race to bath or shower
  • Bar closed at 10. Only to then be opened later sensing a riot
  • Electricity in room blew out. Meaning no lights until 10pm
  • Breakfast 7-9 on a Bank Holiday. No sleeping in? Despite the restaurant doing an “all day breakfast”
  • No food served Sunday pm. After the race? We needed to order from a dodgy kebab shop in the end, where JK nearly suffered a drive by
  • Very noisy
  • Very hot
  • Terrible cooking smells in the room

Other than that it was fine. Honest. If I do go back, someone please remind me to not book there again.

The Day and The Route

This was a packet pickup on the day, down at the start/finish at a yacht club kinda shindig and it was great to meet the crew who had been chatting for what seems like forever in a DM group. Names were put to faces. Handshakes. Hugs. And then to the business end of the day. But first former Team GB athlete Nathan, the RD, gave the pre-race talk in a hut that was not built for that many ultra runners.

56 runners last year including the incredible Lou McWilliams running the 100K, this year? I want to say 150? I will let you know when the results are out. Word of mouth made this race triple in size in one year. This is amazing. And we were all there to find out why as the race briefing took us through the highlights.

I didn’t look at the route. I knew it was a there and back for the 50K, and was surprised and alarmed that it was a there and back there and back for the 100K. That was just too much, especially with over 4000 feet of elevation for just the 50.

But in a nutshell it was a lot of up and downs across open fields, through bluebell woods, along a midge infested canal path, through town (but only a little bit), mulchy and stony at times, Whiffers did point out some of the very sharp descents were similar to Ultraks and she was right. This race definitely had the Ultraks intensity, just with a rural Welsh feel instead of the Swiss mountains. It was as tough, for sure.

How I did?

In a word, I was a bit of a shambles. But we shall come to that.

As many of us are aware, time aspirations can go whistle on races like this. A tough, hilly 50K on a hot day should be respected. Our “walk the ups, run the downs” mantra for such races will work until the legs go, or the mind goes, so buddy up, and your buddy will get you through. And that is what we did, all of us, if not most of us doubled up, or created a small group, a team is probably the correct term, as it needed a team effort to get through. I was probably only by myself for 5K of the whole thing, else I was with JK and Clare, Cazza, Allie and Whiffers, and the random Welsh lady, and later 2 others including the one with the compass when we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Furnace, Del and Michelle at one point, others came and went. But very rarely was I left alone.

The Blurb

The St Illtyds Ultra Marathon is to become the best Ultra Wales has to offer! A 50KM race across multi terrain and spectacular scenery including canals, woodlands, hills and rivers, taking in scenery such as waterfalls, Bluebell encrusted gems, old ruins and crossing canals and rivers. Great for a first ultra whilst also offering a true challenge for seasoned ultra runners with amazing support from 5 fully stocked aid stations, more like picnic feasts than aid stations! Fully marked course making navigation as easy as it can be. This is an amazing route that really showcases rural wales at its best.

Ahhh, you see it was 3 cps that were roughly 7 miles, 12 miles, and 16 miles from the start. But then, at the turn, the first two become cps at 20 and 24 miles respectively. It all made sense now.  Still in blistering, tomato tan heat, I was still not sure I was happy about even that level of support. You can only carry so much water, and that it was hot, hot, hot. How hot? Well, these 2 photos was taken atop probably the first hill.

How I did?

I did not shower myself in a thick golden stream of glory, as I said, Mr President. But then, on a day as hot as that I am surprised that anything came out, no matter how many liquids I took on at the checkpoints. But here is how it went for me.

The route had some stunningly beautiful aspects once you left town and escaped the midge covered canal. You ascended blue bell hills in the shade of ancient forest trees before arriving at the brow of a high hill overlooking the valley below. The Gower did someone say? Maybe. It’s all cricket to me.
The downs could be mulchy. I caught up with Cazza, Whiffers, Allie, Clare and JK singing Tom Jones on one descent. JK dived into the muddy pool at the bottom of another.
Allie, Cazza, Clare and JK, I had to get the band back together again for this tour. Dynamic pose optional
 Checkpoints were a time for pondering what had come before and what lay ahead. There would be roads, that I really did not like. You were not on paths, there were no paths, and the road was a good mile, and you had to run it twice. Single file only, and hope you don’t get clipped.
Pondering what I have gotten myself into
The country lanes were peaceful and quiet. The occasional shout of “car” would go up and you would let it pass, before continuing a climb, or chatting in your mini team.
And then Kat said smile. I showed my teeth, Cazza grimaced, Michele pulled her patented RBF (Resting Bitch Face) and the rest was history

And you would get lost. And lost again. Other than a JK detour, a bluebell hill excursion to the top of a very pretty hill at a ridiculous angle, losing time in fields at the top thinking “this doesn’t look familiar”, we, or I, got lost 4 times. Whiffers added an extra six miles getting lost, I think.

Rach and Graham also got lost because some little shits had pulled down the tape. Everyone got lost at one point or another. Del, Michele, JK, Clare and I got lost at this tricky pole. You tell us which way to go?

  
You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be lost before theeeee
Two Asian runners, despite looking like they were having a whale of a time, got pretty lost by the look of it. Others had to be picked up by Tori as well, I heard. So all in all, the route markings may need to be looked at by Nathan and Tori. The red and white tape just was taken down, or wasn’t spotted. At one point a whole gaggle of us missed a turn into a cow field, and ended running all the way to Furnace. We sat at a bench at a street corner as people checked their phones to see if they could find Nathan’s number. I took this opportunity to go into a shop and buy an ice cold Dr Pepper. OH MY GOD!!! IT WAS AMAZING!!!! And by my return two more lost ladies had joined us, including one with a map and compass who helped us climb the hill and meet up with Racecheck Kat and Josh’s better half at the final stretch of the route before the turn.
Look at those crazy animals, said the horses
I think it was this bit I enjoyed the most. The run through the woods, in the cool and by this wonderful Swiss Valley Reservoir, then up and to the 3rd cp, and the turnaround. It was here that we met up again with Garry, G, Del and Michelle, Whiffers, Cazza, Allie but also a sad sight with Sarah G not being well at all and being taken away in an ambulance.
I have met Sarah several times and she is great. It was sad to see her feeling so unwell. But the heat was crazy.  I certainly felt it at times. Other too, had wobbles in their legs from time to time.
 
The turn was a great boost mentally though and, with a Katzenjammer trio of JK, Clare and Me we ran back and to the road with a spring in our step. We had a bit of a spurt, with JK, or Clare deciding FTS, and then start running, meaning the other two had to go with. And this worked, all the way to the busy road, but not until we had a nice sit down to enjoy the view.
Last of the Summer Wine – Ultra Edition (Credit Spence)
 It was brutal. There is no other way to describe how mentally and physically challenging this race was. Did I say it was brutal? Okay. At mile 23 my watch died a death. I turned off the GPS and just kept time. Clare’s watch died at 27 miles. I put mine on stopwatch. We knew we had about 4 miles to go and had just seen the boys pass us from the last CP and it was roughly here that JK decided to take us on a little excursion, but not until he had dived into a pool of muddy water.
Once we met the boys it all became familiar. A railway crossing. A nature reserve. A turn through some bungalows after a road bridge and back onto the canal. We knew we were close, and then… the Yacht club and the crowd, our crowd, clapping and cheering as we ran to the finish, just under the cut off. They had all stayed late to cheer every one in, and JK even  got a cheeky “what fuckin’ kept ya?” from Lewis and was well received in the spirit of the race as we finally crossed the line to cake and beer and congratulations from Team Filthyds.

The Bling…

Is pretty huge and well earned.

The Tee

From Chris at Red Squirrel is superb and shall be worn.

None of that City JP Morgan Challenge crap here. This is a proper tee from a proper race

The Summary

My thoughts in no particular order.

This was a very friendly race. The crowd at the end was epic. This was a weekend for the group, there were no massive egos, everyone was there for everyone else and that made it even more memorable. I know full well if I had run this race alone that I would be beating myself up over the time. But everyone there knows how hard it was. And getting through it was no mean feat. There were lots of first time ultra runners.

There were, in my opinion, not enough check points for the heat. Maybe a couple of smaller stops with just water, no food.  The last cp to home felt like forever.

I think everyone would say it was a good race and I’d tend to agree with them. With just a few niggles, nothing that can’t get ironed out for next year.

The marshals at the checkpoints were absolutely marvelous. Special credit to the lady who dressed as a dancing Darth Vader at CP 2/4. Actions do really speak louder than words, and made this race for me. Nathan, the RD, being out on the course to marshal at a road crossing, Tori picking people up in her car and dropping off bags, and everyone staying late to cheer people on. Those are the things that made this weekend special.

It needs to be publicised locally. It would give the Yacht club a heads up to put more bar staff on, the local hotels to maybe have their restaurants and bar stay open later, it would bring the locals out to cheer, and it may even stop the marker tape being pulled down and getting us lost. I would definitely consider mile markers and proper signs instead of tape. Something that looks official.

Personally I would have a portaloo at the turnaround point. I know it is an ultra and ultra runners are more than happy to shit where they stand, but when asked if this was their first ultra by Nathan at the start maybe a quarter of the room put their hand up. So maybe not everyone is as comfortable with the whole outdoor pooping thing.

The free photos were a great touch, Robert Gale (@awv) and Paul Stewart did a grand job on the course capturing the day. Although I do wish there had been a photo of the three of us going over the finishing line.

I think this race is only going to get bigger and better. I would expect half the runners from this year, maybe more, going back for more next year. Not me, though. After all, it is MK mara weekend.

Or am I?

And as well as the medal, and the tee, we all came away with our mementos. Michele ended up with a nasty horse fly bite. Sarah still has some of her vegan apple muffins left. Lew came away with a Japanese flag chafe and me?

The names Tan, Farmer Tan
This was 100 mara club number 24 (although it would be 25 if Vienna City Marathon were not incompetent) and one I am immensely proud of. It was tough, but we all know how hard it was out there. Finish was a badge of honour. 140 out of 146 finished. That is special.

The Scores on the Doors

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE ST ILLTYDS ULTRA? Absolutely.

 

WOULD I RUN THE ST ILLTYDS ULTRA AGAIN? With this crew? Try and stop me.

 

Phew. Writing that was about as tiring as the run… Hope you liked it.

 

2018

 

And so, with another race knocked off,  2018 looks a lot like this…

NEXT UP: LIVERPOOL ROCK

AND ROLL MARATHON WEEKEND

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One Comment Add yours

  1. thisvetruns says:

    This was a great review!! It sounds incredible and the pictures are stunning. I’m still not sure you’ve tempted me though.. SO far!!! 👏🏼

    Like

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