Back in the annals of history (last year) I ran this race…
I stayed in a shitty hotel. The pub closed early. I didn’t eat at all for most of the time. JK, Clare and I got lost, as did Whiffers, Tori gave people a lift, poor Sarah got sick, I drank Parma Violet gin cocktails, JK nearly died in a pizza delivery drive-by, Lewis got a Japanese flag, and taught us a valuable lesson about double dipping Vaseline and everyone got on. We even wrote a magazine article together about our experience, but they used someone else’s photos and the less said about that the better.
Roll on a year and 90% of the crew are heading back to Burry Port hoping that the things that went wrong last time (bar undermanned and closing early, chippy closing early, hotel not serving food, Wales closing early, people getting sick, and people getting lost) didn’t happen this year.
For me, I had spent enough time indulging in my self-defeat, and so I had this plan to do better. A better hotel, right by the chippy. And a race game plan, no stopping, taking all I needed from the off and not getting lost (GPX loaded onto OS Maps app). It worked for GMU, where I beat the 2018 time by 32 minutes and, with us rolling into the Yacht Club in 9:54 in 2018, I am hoping to knock a chunk of time off that sucker.
Ok, it did not start well, I had a nutritional disaster from the off as Lew picked me up at Enfield Chase my eating went absolutely tits. It was a theme that seemed to continue for much of the next 3 days.
Saturday – The Lack of Fuel
- Prime bar in the van that ended up being out of date.
- 4 fruit pastilles to mask the taste of the aforementioned beef bar.
- 3 pints of Coors as soon as we checked in and went to the Hope and Anchor.
- Jumbo battered sausage and chips (left most of the chips) when the 3 pints hit me like a 2 by 4.
- Cup of tea when home.
- One slice of pizza which was nasty.
- 2 bottles of beer with pizza.
- Breakfast was supposed to be a FEB (Full English Breakfast) by I ended up eating part of one hashbrown and some beans, and then a bite of jam on toast.
- Half a peanut butter and banana bagel around the half way mark when talking to Dave.
- One slice of chocolate Swiss Roll at the last CP.
- Butt load of coke (Rola Cola) or squash with lemonade.
Post Race – Recovery?
- 2 pints of Carling. Not ideal.
- Half a doner kebab, no sauce, no salad, no weird elongated pepper/chilli thing
- 2 pints of Coors. Not ideal.
- Cup of tea.
- Proper FEB, OJ, tea, and it was fucking glorious.
- Bottle of Smurf Piss from Madrid and then Chinese when I got in the door.
It could have been a recipe for disaster, or would it be a recipe for success? I guess we shall have to put faith in my cast iron guts and see.
This plan seemed to work at GMU. Minimal time at the CPs, run more, kick off the 8/2 jeffing from about 10K, walk the ups, run the downs, run the flats. And so that is the plan I took into St Wales 2, although I planned on not stopping at all for the first 2 CPs as I had large bottles in my Scott vest. I also had the Leki poles (cheating sticks) that I planned to use on the big ups, and the GPX loaded onto my OS Maps app, again like GMU, and again to stop me getting lost. At GMU the first time around I got lost and spent too much time at CPs. At St Wales 1 I did the same. And so, with a 32 minute PB in Bristol this year, I hoped for more here.
How I did
After the nightmare of the Ashburnham last year I had decided to stay much closer to the start, meaning a nice and easy walk in was on the cards. Something that was a bit of a welcome surprise was being effectively upgraded. I had booked a twin room at Caulfields, a pub/B&B in town. A week before I travelled I received a call from the landlady stating that the pub would be noisy as it is a bank holiday and asking if I would like the flat at the back. I said yes, it was supposed to have a small kitchen area. I was more than pleased with the outcome. If you go next year, it has 3 beds, and a whirlpool spa bath, a kitchen, Sky TV, parking, and is right by the kebab shop, chippy and convenience store.
And with that level of comfort the walk to the yacht club was more of a strut. If you get the option, I recommend it highly.
At the club I started seeing all the familiar faces in one of two queues, one for bibs, and one to sign the medical waiver. People were confused for a bit. A woman got quite snippy. But all in all, it was a pretty seamless sign in process.
Outside the traditional #racecheck photo took place, with the banners flapping in the wind. The weather was not as good as last year, not as hot (good thing) and with dark, menacing clouds on the horizon (not a good thing). Nathan then did the talk, explained that there would be more signs, and an electric fence, and more cows and that last year, when he ran the course to take down the tape, he did not find a single piece of litter from the race. Go us! I saw Cat to say hi before running into Brett, chatting with Ali, and Dave Adams, and a whole galaxy of stars before taking my place 3/4 of the way back so I didn’t get caught up in the melee and go off too fast.
Up to CP1 is about 7K of flatness. You run from the yacht club away from Burry Port, along a dingy canal that looks like algae soup before turning through some bungalows, over a bridge after crossing the road at some lights, and then down and through a nature reserve then farmland. Across a rail crossing you then have Nathan ushering you safely across a main road before a country lane up to the start of the climbs. I slowed at the start of the incline and Jeanette asked if I was okay. I replied that I was, and that I just knew what was coming next.
What comes next is the steps up through the bluebells. A great photo op, and a quad and lung buster if you take it too fast. I did not and met photographers Robert and Paul as they snapped people at the first test of the day.
The second test was not getting lost where I did last year. There were two main delays, one just after the descent from CP1, you turn and climb to a lamppost betwixt two roads, one going up and one down. We incorrectly took the left path up last year, and wasted some time umming and arrrring about what to do. This year, no such mistake was made and I ran right, which was right. A few hundreds yards further along there was a junction I did not remember, a wooded path to the right, and a road to the left. I started along the left path but couldn’t find any red and white tape showing us the way so I opened up the OS Maps app for the first time as I walked to the junction. A guy was running toward me and looked like he didn’t know which way to go. I was still waiting for the app to come up and and gestured to the the right path with a quizzical expression. He was then gone without waiting, straight down the path as finally the app started and the route map zoomed in. It was then that more runners appeared and pointed up the left path. The guy had sprinted off down the wrong way and I felt terrible, so much so that I ran along the path a little way to see if I could see him before joining the others and shouting down to where his path would be as we went left.
My no stopping service continued as I ran atop the crest of the valley, before descending down the chute (no photos of that because I look like… well, I don’t know what I look like, but I am not publishing them), and then we ran, for the first of many times, into Proper Angry Cows. And they were everywhere.
Coos! So many coos! I don’t remember any coos last year, just angry horses. This year we had several fields of coos and bullocks. In one field they were particularly feisty and ran at the runners (probably expecting to be fed). They can be quite intimidating. Me? I was just cautious and tried my hardest to blend in. #rainbowninja
Oh yes, the rainbow. I sported a top I bought in Hanover last month promoting LGBT rights. A few people wore it at the marathon, but I saved it for Illtyd’s. Wise move? Maybe not. Vertical stripes are supposed to be thinning, I was led to believe, but the rainbow colours make me look like a family sized bag of Starburst.
It was pretty much here, as I was running behind Jeanette Beer, that we looked down at the ground and spotted a pair of blue headphones. Without slowing I bent down, scooped them up and sealed them in a pocket of my vest, with the aim of handing them in at the end. We turned and then ran up a country lane. It was here that I saw Young Keith Miller fiddling with his backpack. I stopped and asked if he was ok. He explained his bag had opened en route and he had lost his headphones. Blue? I asked. And the rest was history.
CP2 after the chute and I sprinted by Kat, Becs, Caroline and the #racecheck support team. No stopping for me and I would meet them again on the way to CP3. I had gotten lost here last year, just after CP2, taking the long road to Furnace rather than the field to the right, and then a hilly path. This year I did it right. No getting lost for me, no stopping, the plan was working.
I refilled my bottles at CP3 (the turn), having high fived a fellow runner on the way up. On the way back I saw the lovely Ellie, resplendent in her Racecheck cycle outfit, and she repaid the 5. And then I was across the road, over the hills, through yet another cow field and CP4 before starting up the chute alone. It was at CP4 that we enjoyed a dancing Darth Vader. This year? A dancing Captain Jack Sparrow.
I had seen Lew, Baz and Si much earlier too. And, checking my watch as I met up with Jeanette and Auds, discovered that I was 3 hours ahead of the finish time from 2018. Just one CP to go and then the downhill and flat. I just needed to avoid the field JK, Clare and I got lost in for too long last year.
At CP 5 I took on more liquids, had a slice of Swiss Roll and observed, of all things, a jar of silver skin pickled onions, but no pickle fork, so no one had started on them. How can they expect us to eat pickled onions on a race without a pickle fork? We aren’t savages.
I followed Auds and Jeanette for the rest of the way, or until they got ahead at the last major road crossing. I had them in sight as we went through the farmland and then, in the far distance as I reached the nature reserve.
Once they were out of sight, I followed an old guy. My watch died, the vibrating stopped, the HR monitor stopped, and so I used the old guy in orange with cheating sticks as a jeffing prompt. When he ran I ran, when he walked I walked, and he walked more than ran and so I had plenty in the tank when we hit the yacht club, but, rather than bursting by, he did say I could, I said no and I ran alongside him to the finish – arriving to applause from the masses, and proud of how much better I had done.
I think those of us who wanted to recreate the joy of last year, whilst beating our times and making amends for race issues, got what we wanted. Grace, Rick, Dave, Keith and those who wanted the St Wales experience got it and more. The signs helped the race. More marshals. So there was less of a chance of getting lost (you just needed to not ask me directions). There was a much larger cheer squad with Becs and Caroline, Toozle etc joining Kat, Cazza, Stu, Ellie and Ben and it was always good to see them on the way.
The Bling and Tee
Yes that is the elevation profile on the top, yes that is the route and, if you weren’t before you are an ultra runner now. Medal 200 in my running life, 100MC number 36 in 44 months. Bosh.
Some ran it for the first time and loved it. For many, like Rick and Kyla, it was their first ultra, and what an ultra to pick for a debut. Almost all those who ran it before beat last years time, some by half hour, some by an hour, some by two, and me? 7 places better and…. 2 hours and 8 mins faster. BOSH! ‘Ave it! And a 50K PB by 15 minutes to boot.
My second running of the St Illtyd’s ultra will be my last. I got what I wanted from it. I put the demons to rest, redeemed myself somewhat and had a much lower key weekend than some. It is one for the crowd but at times I was happy to just chill. Grand plans of drunkard Cards Against Humanity never came to fruition. But I am glad I went. I am proud of how everyone did on the course. Those who were new to it discovered the “joys” of the South Wales bluebell hills, and angry cows. Those who ran before knew where to go, didn’t get lost and all came home to cheering from the beer crowd at the yacht club. The memories of reaching the highest points and seeing the sea and valleys, thundering down the chute, the Swiss Valley reservoir and the bluebells will be long in the memory.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE ST ILLTYDS ULTRA? Absolutely. It is tough, in my opinion it is not the “toughest 50K” as Nathan says in his pre-race spiel, but it is certainly tough.
WOULD I RUN THE ST ILLTYDS ULTRA AGAIN? I know some, like Lew, are already planning a return. I am not though. I ran it two years in a row to beat my previous year’s time, much like GMU30. I achieved that in spades so am now done with it.
LONDON TRAILS MARATHON
The 200 Club
This race awarded me my 200th medal in just under 7 years of running (3 weeks short of 7). It has been a fun journey but now I want to focus on hitting targets rather than racing for the sake of it. So, the PBs and the big targets. But for the magpies out there, here is what 200 medals look like.