For I have never run in Wales and had only been there once before, to the Dr Who Experience in, I wanna say, Cardiff.
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
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.
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 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.
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?
Is pretty huge and well earned.
From Chris at Red Squirrel is superb and shall be worn.
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 Scores on the Doors