Running from 2014

As the year changed Facebook got full of my year in review posts. I hope most peoples lives are more full than their social media feed! As this is mainly a running blog, looking back I can’t do justice to all the experiences that running has given me in 2014. Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Wye one Way and OMM all taught me lots of different lessons. Critically they’ve left me with a lot of friends and memories that will last far in to my life.

Looking forward this year, running wise I am entered for Winter Trail Wales, Hope 24, Trail Marathon Wales and Ring o Fire . Whilst not entered yet, I’m sure the OMM will make an appearance too. Personal targets rather than podiums are the aim, though I’m already planning something special for 2016.

For those interested in statistics, Strava produce a little summary video that highlights some of the numbers. However, numbers don’t tell the story of 2014, certainly don’t describe some of the feelings and experiences I’ve had and those things that will motivate me for 2015.

As with every year, I wish I’d taken more pictures, but here are some of my favourites from 2014.

Have a great 2015, see you on the trail!

Wye One Way 50 mile (Might Contain Nuts)

Finishers medal
Finishers medal

Time for a write up of an event. This one comes in a roundabout way. Mainly because I got to the start line with so many doubts and feeling more pressure than I had before. It’s an ultra right up, so you might want to grab some hydration (tea should work).

I was heading to the start line to support Sandra Williams in her first 50 mile run, and to help her raise money for the Welsh Air Ambulance – please consider donating here

Sandra and I have run long runs together over the last little while, and her company in long runs whilst training for MdS made some long weeks bearable.

The original aim was for the South Down Way 50 in April, but events meant that Sandra deferred to the Wye One Way Ultra, run by Might Contain Nuts. I can’t really remember when she asked whether I would run it with her, but I said yes, and booked my place.

The route is quite special, first it is linear, it starts in Llangurig and roughly follows the Afon Gwy (River Wye) to Glasbury. When I say follow, it sort of meanders up off over hills, meaning that the 50 miles roller coasters up and down 2200m.

Why the pressure? Well, I managed to roll my ankle the weekend before the run, and it was a little achey. Plus I felt that I hadn’t really managed to put as many back-to-back miles in as I would have liked. I also really wanted to make Sandra’s run as easy as possible. Running that distance is mainly mental. It is going to hurt. It is about managing everything to get to the finish. The last thing I wanted to be was another thing that Sandra needed to manage to get her to the finish. 

Splits record stuck to my water bottle
Splits record stuck to my water bottle

I found it quite challenging planning in my head. Trying to visualise how I would go at different points. I am fairly detailed in how I plan. And the unknown, being there to be invisible became more and more of an issue as my ankle got more sore. I’m so used to running my own race, this was a new challenge for me.

Sandra messaged me to say “Start together, finish together” which worried me. The doubts I had meant that I needed to know, if I was truly broken, she would carry on. We were fortunate that Rhys, Sandra’s husband was going to be following us down the route and be at checkpoints (CP) so I knew I could bale if I really had to. Though I really didn’t want to, I doubted my ankle would take the battering.

Food haul
Food haul

I got all the food together that I needed. This time I was going to take most of my calories from TORQ gel and TORQ energy, I had two Pepperami Wideboys, some NutriGrain breakfast bars and some ’emergency’ Jelly Babies. Because we had Rhys following us, I also had some flat Coca-Cola, just to lift me at CP’s. Along with the madatory kit my pack was 3.5kg, plus a litre of water, made 4.5kg.

I packaged it all down, and was comfortable with the set up. One chest bottle, and one bottle in reserve, just in case it was hot on the longest leg, that also had some large climbs on it.

I also decided that I would use tried and tested shoes; the Inov8 Roclite 315, just for a mixture of grip and cushioning. My last job was to get the CP’s onto a Movescount Route, this would mean I would have some leg by leg navigation. Because the route is marked it should be a case of just following the markers, but it’s nice to have a ready reference. 

We arrived in Llangurig at 7:15, registered in the village car park. Made use of the portaloo’s and controlled start nerves. The bus load of other runners, who were being shuttled up from Glasbury, arrived, The quiet car park became a lively chatter of 40 ish runners. A couple of dogs were running. We all wandered onto the little lane for the race briefing. Because it had been dry the cattle were still on some of the fields we were running through. As always leave gates shut. And other than that it was a case of “have a good one”. 

The start in Llangurig
The start in Llangurig

We all agreed the start could be brought forward a minute, and then a hoot of a horn and we all started shuffling forward. It was immediately nice to be running. The nerves gone, the focus on the job all that was important.

Sandra and I were running together, just finding our way through the runners to our easy pace. With a race this long, the start is never rushed, warming up as you go.

The route slowly turned uphill, then off tarmac and onto farmland. Not fighting the hills was key; just enjoy the views. I was aware of Sandra breathing hard, and we both slowed to a walk together. Up a big grassy hill, lovely views to the west towards Pumlumon. The group of runners already spread out, and finding their own pace. Plenty of gates, and that was a theme that carried on.

Of course, running down the Wye, if you climb, you descend. That first descent was probably the steepest of the course. It would be lovely on a shorter run, but on this distance taking it steady was essential. We come out on to a little road, and the pace picks up naturally as we are on easy terrain. Quickly, it seemed, we arrive at CP1. We’re quickly through, no need for anything after 5 miles. We join a runner, Nick Lindley, who is having a big year of Ultra’s and we chat about all sorts of stuff. He’s off to do a marathon assault course next weekend. Sandra and I are both impressed!

Coming to the Afon Elan with Nick
Coming to the Afon Elan with Nick

We climb steeply over Cefn Bach, with Nick pulling ahead before a lovely descent. Sandra and I catch Nick at the Afon Elan crossing. Because of the low water, it really is only a splash, but getting wet feet in the first 10 miles isn’t ideal. We join tarmac and as three runners round a very low Craig Goch Reservoir. Just before crossing the dam, Rhys is roadside. Sandra ditches a bit of her kit that she is finding too heavy. CP2 is on the other side of the dam. The marshalls, in their camper, had a lovely smell of sausages wafting out, I joked with them about having no brown sauce. Great to get some friendly banter whilst filling up on water. There are toilets here and we avail ourself. We chat with a runner who is on the way on, who has run the event before. he wans us there aren’t toilets for a long time yet.

CP2 to CP3, is on the face of it simple, alongside Penygarreg Resevoir, then down Garreg Ddu Resevoir to the dam and CP3. At the end of the Penygarreg Resevoir, we catch the runner in front who was trying to work out which fork to take on an unmarked junction. Quickly checking my watch, I can see it’s right and we run passed. The next bit of reservoir is stunning – inky water, slate blue rock and fresh green grass that has grown on the low level fringes of the foreshore. We pass a big group of walkers who shout “runner” to alert the others. I explain jokily that we’re shufflers. It’s very friendly. We arrive at CP3, Sandra takes a layer off, we refill water, have a  chat to the marshals about how bad Diet Coke is. Rhys points out we’re moving quite quickly. We both agree we should back off a bit; we’re going to need to.

We’re both avoiding the fact that this leg is long, and with a big climb. The other runner sets off in front of us and we grind up past the Church. We’re chatting about future events – Snowdon Marathon for Sandra. We’re steadily contouring round above the western end of the Caban Goch dam. We talk work on the descent back to tarmac. Again it would be a lovely quick descent on a different day.

We turn from travelling SW to just North of East as we climb back along the other side of Caban Goch. As we climb, we concertina closer and further away from the runner in front, depending on whether we are climbing or descending. On the long pull up Gro hill we pass the walkers again. Whilst they’re still bantering, we’re a little more subdued this time. A couple of mountain bikers zip down, it really is great riding in the Elan valley.

We’re descending here when Sandra pulls up with a really sharp pain in her knee. Obviously in a lot of pain, we talk through that it has happened before, and that it’ll pass. This is probably my most negative point of the run. My ankle is sore, and if Sandra needs to finish the desire to stop is massive. Sandra runs it out, and we climb again to Carn Gafallt. Sandra’s knee tweaks again on the descent into Llanwthrwl. But it quickly subsides and we descend to the CP. The runner in front is sat on a chair by the village hall. I take some pain killers that Sandra has brought. I can’t quite feel happy on my ankle. A good shot of Coca Cola too. Sandra has some coffee and we’re off ahead of the runner still sat. The Marathon distance run has started at this CP, and so there is more evidence of runners, suddenly. Grass shows the passage of people. This is reassuring for route finding.

The next leg is all alongside the Wye, and is beautiful running. I hadn’t quite plotted the CP in the right place, so I need to “skip” this on the navigation of my watch. Not having done it before, I stop the watch trying to get into a menu. Doh!! I start my watch again. So here is the first section the watch recorded.

We pass a mountain biker, who I’m briefly jealous of. I’d like to come back and ride this section. Having paddled it, and now run it, it seems like a good target to have.

We pass a very impressive house that I’ve never seen before, I think this is Doldowlod. It’s hard to imagine anyone investing that kind of money in such a development these days. Very impressive.

CP 5 itself is a bit of a blur, it’s on the side of a quick back road. I chat to a marshal who ran at Trail Marathon Wales, and was very pleased to hear that Run. Coed y Brenin has now got such an extensive range of demo trail shoes. I treat myself to a Pepperami and a slug of Cola here. There is a very uncomfortable looking runner, who is cramping badly. I offer him some Pepperami as he’s lacking salt and electrolytes and isn’t carrying any/ It’s 6 miles to CP6 and he is being encouraged to consider his choices carefully. 

As we run out through woodland, I’m burping Pepperami and Cola, stay classy Ash! Sandra, understandably, wants to stay clear of the smell if she can. She’s feeling a little peaky! We have a quick navigation moment, as we cross into a field we can’t quite see where the path goes, we add a few hundred metres on, going to an opposite corner before we spot a yellow sign and regain the track. This leg runs right alongside the river, some fantastic swimming spots and at low water the lovely rock shelves are visible. We pass a really impressive chalet style building, Dolyrerw Farm. Sandra and I are both smitten! We pass under the railway, and then pass Builth Rocks, there used to be a very popular canoe slalom held here, but not at these levels.

We can see the Royal Welsh Showground on the other bank, Builth Wells is close. We run alongside the Rugby pitch, Builth are playing Gwemyfyd and are winning 27-0 (they want on to win 49-0, well done!) and there is a great atmosphere. Sandra is trying to work out what to eat, if anything, as she’s feeling a bit queasy. I make use of the toilets, scarf a Nutrigain, some JellyBabies and some Coke. This next leg is the last big climb, and so we’re preparing ourselves mentally.

Out of Builth and we turn uphill, on tarmac, there are lots of midges here and it is a little unpleasant. We climb about 70m and then on the crest of the hill, Sandra spots a little hedge lined lane on the other side of the valley. We both know we’re heading up there. We descend to the small Duhonw river before climbing up what feels like an old drover road. It’s pretty, but hard. We climb to about 400m on the side of Banc y Celyn before contouring. We lose a little height and join a track, before a small climb to CP7. 

It’s under a half marathon left, in fact the 10 mile trail race starts here. We travel along “Twmpath” which is a beautiful mound of grass, quite high above the Wye. This is easy running, and I was lulled into  false sense of security. Just above Erwood we drop in to a little wood. There are lots of brambles, and a nadgery little trail it’s only 500m or so long, but this is the most uncomfortable, technical section of trail yet. We finally clear this, and have about a kilometre to CP8. Sandra is hobbling, and has a very sore heel. We stop, and she gets a plaster on the blister. “Should have listened to Rhys”, she says, as he’d offered that advice earlier. Nothing ever gets better on an ultra!

We run into Trericket Mill, this CP is my final water fill up. I gobble a couple more Jelly Babies. We cross the A470 and follow the Wye Valley Walk alongside the river. There is a path, a hard path, I whoop in relief! The terrain is a little easier. Rhys toots his horn as he leaves us to get to CP 9.

We tick down this leg pretty quickly. The running is pretty simple, the route finding easy, and the light is still pretty good. Llangoed Hall is impressive and well lit, before we pass the Llyswen Water Treatment works and get back on tarmac. I know we’ll both finish now.

CP9 is quick, Rhys has noticed we picked up the pace, and confirms that if we do the same again we’ll finish under 12 hours. The light is fading so we put head torches on and run through woodland and farmland before picking up a firm trail leading towards Glasbury. At the road, we turn left and run to Woodlands OEC, where the finish waits for us.

Coming to the Finish of the Wye Valley One Way
Coming to the Finish of the Wye Valley One Way

Sandra spots that we’re just inside 12 hours, and whilst we’d been vaguely aware that Sandra was running well, here at the finish line it’s confirmed; she is the first lady home What an achievement – I’m so chuffed to be along for the run with her. The emotions of finishing smash home for Sandra, and a little lip wobble are sorted by a hug from a massively proud Rhys. If you’ve read this far, you’ll recognise the amazing achievement – donate here!

I’ve learned a lot, again, about myself. I’m pleased to have made it down the Wye. It’s very satisfying personally, but I’ve got far more pleasure considering Sandra’s achievement. Da iawn San!


Likeys Beacons Ultra

My big fear for MdS 2014 is the “big” day of 80 odd km. I needed a challenge to put the mental bit to bed. So back in March I decided I wanted to race an Ultra of about that length. Racing to me means crossing the finishing line with not much gas left in the tank, this’ll be different in the Sahara, maybe.

I settled on the Likeys Beacons Ultra because it’s local(ish) to me, has lots of big rocks, has one steep hill and one runnable climb and is two laps. I liked the idea of being self sufficient and this clip on youtube had so many people smiling it must be a good un!

My preparation hadn’t been exactly what I wanted it to be; stresses in other parts of my life has been taking a lead and making training really hard.

In the few days leading into the race I was starting to feel a little doubtful, niggles, not trusting my training and a general feeling of being tired. But, I figured that dealing with these things were important in the bigger picture of a multi day stage race where things are not likely to be too smooth the whole way.

Friday night I arrived in Brecon, headed to the Likeys new shop to register. I had a bit of a gaze around the shiny bits of kit and picked up my race number.

Next stop was Morrisons for those last minute bits that I needed (breakfast and wet wipes) and then out to the campsite at Talybont. In to bed at about 10pm was about right as I had my alarm set for 0430 for some breakfast.

The race starting at 0730 means that breakfast needs a little bit of time in the system so that digestion doesn’t grind you down.

It was a cool night but I didn’t notice it, the alarm woke me up for breakfast before I dozed off for another hour straight after.

Dressing was a little bit rushed, but I got over to Henderson Hall, the race HQ, with a few minutes to spare before the briefing from Martin Like. The race attracts a wide range of people including the current World Trail Running Champion, Lee Kemp who was making a return after an injury.

As soon as the briefing was done, it’s a 2 minute walk to the canal edge and the start line. The off road running scene is a friendly one and the Ultra one no different. Lots of jokes, greetings and “fare thee wells”.

And then, suddenly we seem to start, it’s a narrow tow path and I immediately tried to stick to my race plan and not get sucked along by everyone else. My realistic aim was to finish before dark, my stretch was to finish under 8 hours. 46 ish miles translates to 10ish minute miles to achieve under 8 hours, so that was what I wanted to average.

The normal jostling for position wasn’t quite so obvious, there were a few keen people heading passed, but also a lot of people taking it nice and steady. At the end of the canal section there is a small bridge over the canal and into some woodland, everything runnable. Out of the woods and up to the right Tor y Foel is visible. On a shorter day it would be runnable, but I elected to run walk this, walking where it is steep. The number of false summits (three I think) was annoying, and one I clocked for lap two. I was making my usual effort of being friendly to the marshalls, and one photographer with spotty boots was nice and chatty (and I later found out to be the daughter of the organiser-what a team!), right near the top. I ran through the top and into the small, steep descent with Talybont reservoir beneath us.

Image from
Image from

Onto an unsurfaced road that has CP 1 at the end of it with more friendly marshalls, telling us to turn left-I had to point out that it was their left, but our right. This little track was the first of some rocky nastiness, good fun, but a bit of care needed with not slipping or twisting an ankle. At the bottom of this descent the course joins a fire trail. I was in a goup of four others. Neal, bouncing along in an effortless way was the first chat I had. It turns out he too was on his first Ultra, and he too is heading to MdS 2014. We talked about various things, sponsorship, expectations and his friend who had persuaded him that the MdS was a good thing to do. This forest trail gains height, slowly and steadily, before getting a little steeper, climbing up to some tarmac. I was comfortable running this and for a few minutes the group of five split up. Neal came zipping passed again on a short descent and stretched out a lead as we turned of into Taf Fechan forest. More marshalls, some friendly mountain bikers and a few army vans here.

I settled into a steady pace, knowing that this climb was the one up the “gap road” reaching the col under Fan y Big. Here I got talking to Katie, one of the other group of 5. Another Ultra first timer, with an easy gait (later I heard it described as a metronome, and she really is a rhythmic runner). Katie was running for charity, and had completed her first marathon a month or so earlier. In testament to her modesty, it took me a while to find out she’d earned a silver medal there. We talked about the environment, her job co-ordinating learning outside the classroom with Plymouth Uni. We ran together up the gap with streams of very tired looking military guys coming down with full bergans and rifles. Over the top and a little rock hopping dash saw Katie and I pass Neal and a few others before stretching our legs on a long steady descent to CP 2. Some of this track has grapefruit sized boulders, and needed quick feet, some times finding dirt, but mainly on rock. Katie led into some single track and I had to ask her whether her odd socks were a superstitious thing. “No” came the answer “they’re a chaotic life thing”. The humour was welcome!

Image from
Image from

Back onto the tarmac and aware that I was starting to run a bit harder than I wanted to, I let Katie pick up pace and dash off. I started talking to a chap who had been on the OMM and we started talking bottoms, pains and all sorts. After a bit of  pleasant running round some fields we were back on tarmac, and meeting spotty booted camera lady again, Neal was back along side. We ran down to “Simon’s Bridge” greeted by a tail swinging purple dragon. Simon’s Bridge is named after Simon Robinson who was there with X Bionic’s. A quick right hand turn onto the canal tow path for a run into the half way point and CP 3. I was pleased with my lap 1 time of 3hrs 44 and a position of 30th. I refilled my water bottle, grabbed some gel and chatted again to some friendly marshalls. Neal ran on, whilst I walked for a few minutes whilst getting some fluids and gels down me, Then back to running the same route.

My guts were cramping mildly on the canal. I passed Neal again who was having a quick meal and then turned up hill to Tor y Foel again. Ready for the false summits I tried to control my stomach and keep a good pace going. This was definitely less pleasant this time round. Back on the track again and I took on more fluids. I had planned to mix some TORQ fuel at the next checkpoint ready for the run up to the gap again. CP 4 arrived, or I at it, and I topped off my water and enjoyed a little run down through the broken path in the woods. On the flat section I took the chance to add some powder to my bottle. The mix tasted strong and as I turned into Taf Fechan Forest for the second time, my stomach started to rebel. About a third of the way up to the top, I couldn’t get my body to accept food and I just had no power left in my legs – my stomach was really uncomfortable. This time, being slower, I took the chance to have a good look at Neuadd Resevoirs. Over the high point, and my world was definitely a bit smaller this time round-in my own little bubble. Still managing to run the descent was good and I had my eye on a few runners ahead of me. This bit was really lonely, I just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At CP5 I ditched the mix out of my water bottle and took on some water only. A gel and some water and my stomach began to feel a bit better. Back to Simon’s Bridge, the man himself was there handing out Jelly Babies to give runners a lift-I rambled something incoherent about Cookeen.

Image from
Image from

Now the run back into the finish along the tow path. It was a bit longer than I was expecting, I’d been nattering to Neal the last time and hadn’t paid attention. A group of three runners caught me in the last 200m, I couldn’t get back passed the first two, but managed to hold the third off and under the finishing arch.

Katie had finished her first ultra in third place, Neal came in just a few minutes after me. A few chats with faces I knew and then a quick shower at the campsite before heading back home.

A great Ultra for me, I’m happy with the results, and what I learnt. A little disappointed not to sneak in under 8 hours, but there is always next year. The Beacons Ultra is a super friendly race that taught me lots-as one very experienced trail runner said to me its an ideal entry level ultra. I’d agree, but the racing at the top end of the field is pretty clear that it’s just a great Ultra!

I’d added another 20km to my longest training run and 35km to longest race-happily this was good for my brain training!

My final finishing time was 8hr 12 mins and 23 seconds, and despite the provisional results having me down as 27th, I definitely finished ahead of Patrick, so I’m taking 26th. I’m happy enough with that for a first Ultra.

That’s one more demon down on the way into April 2014!

A massive thank you to all at Likeys and especially the volunteers who were standing around in the cold making the race so friendly!