If you’re looking for the finish line in a trail marathon, you won’t find it at 26.2 miles! Certainly not at the fabulous Dorset Invader. We’ve tackled many White Star Running events and you’re never short changed on distance. More muck for your buck, as it were. I whole heartily approve, we’d soon be moaning if it was short!
In a break from tradition, our wingman, Martin, was chauffer for the day, his new stead a step up in size from our mini. We settled into the Volvo luxury and headed east. Yet again, it was destination Dorset for #TeamBonfield and our sugar fetishist running chum.
As the main man at White Star pointed out in response to a couple of social media grumblings, these wonderful country routes which trail events companies map out for us depend on the good will of the people who own the land we have the pleasure of skipping through.
With farmland being at the mercy of climate and delicate crops needing to be avoided, routes will be varied and negotiated on a race by race basis. This year’s Invader route being quite different to the one we ran two years ago. A clever quirk of this year’s route was the loop which was repeated, the way it was set up, it never felt as if we were running laps.
With the forthcoming storms holding off until after we’d finished, there was only a wild wind to contend with. So much of this gorgeous route was on trails through woodland and alongside tall hedgerows that we were only intermittently exposed to the howling breeze.
“Are you two going to do ANY running?” Martin briefly turned to ask. The three of us started together, Martin speeding off as we, at best, sauntered up the first field. There’s plenty of time, we assured him, fully intending to use it.
A big centurion, and indeed a little centurion, both on horseback, ceremoniously set us on our way for this Roman themed event.
About 250 runners were soon spread out as the course picked its way through the fields and tracks of the host farm. After a couple of miles (bearing in mind, my memory is rarely chronological and certainly not detailed) we reached the one road crossing in the event. It was expertly and safely manned by a team of marshals, with clear and precise instructions as to how and when to cross.
Oh, and some 6 hours later, when we were on our way to the finish, the same crew were still there, still cheerful and still as attentive. A massive thank you to them and all of the fabulous volunteers, marshals and aid station crews on the day. Above and beyond as ever.
After the road crossing, we started to make progress as we warmed to the task. Nicky is a serial start-at-the-backer, much to Martin’s chagrin. His argument is that if you start behind somebody who is going to run at exactly the same pace as you throughout the event, you will end up behind them by the amount of head start you gave them. My argument is: SO?
Nicky’s thinking is a tad more considered. If she starts too far forward in the pack, then runners covering the ground quickly will be scuttling past. Potentially demoralising.
We always say, as runners disappear away from us early in the race, if they are that much quicker than us, then we won’t see them again and good luck to them. If they are a similar pace to us then they may be setting off too quickly and we’ll catch them later on anyway.
BUT, we won’t have had a stream of faster runners whizzing past us.
It didn’t do us any harm, despite starting with a saunter up the hill, behind everyone, there were over 100 behind us 28 miles later. Actually, it didn’t do Martin any harm either, he finished an hour in front of us and third in his age category. And we ALL got stonking great medals at the end, regardless of where we finished.
There was a quite flat and runnable 2 mile section along the old Somerset and Dorset Railway which is quite unusual for a White Star event and some of this featured twice. A cracking section to tick a few miles off and fascinating to run through what used to be stations.
If you enjoy running on corn fields, gravel tracks, wooded trails, quiet lanes, old railway lines, farmyards, bridleways and like a good few hills, then this is definitely for you.
We took the whole thing VERY seriously….
Well, we’re off to Cornwall for my favourite ever event in just over a week. The R.A.T. festival of coastal trail running (read all about last year HERE). With this in mind, completing a lovely long trail marathon has given us both a confidence boost about our fitness as we start to, er, ‘taper’……..
You can check out our Dorset Invader performance on Strava HERE.
So much to say, so little time…. stay tuned and keep on keeping on folks…..
Well, an email plopped into my inbox. “THREE WEEKS TO GO!” Blimey, it’s here already. The (in)famous lime green vest will be handed to me at some point in the evening of Friday 11th August.
What is this nonsense of which you speak? I hear you gasp. Well, those of you that are regular consumers of this world of wonky wittering may well be aware that I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) festival of trail running on the fabulous Roseland Peninsular in Cornwall.
Having ran the 32 mile Black Rat for the last 3 years with Nicky (who also ran the Red Rat, 20 miles, 4 years ago), I have taken the plunge and am tackling The Plague, an out and back version of the Black Rat. Yup, starting at 5 minutes past midnight on Saturday 12th August, a couple of hundred of us will step into the Cornish darkness and attempt to get to St Anthony’s Head and then back to Porthpean before they bring the curtain down on this fabulous event.
The furthest I’ve ever been in one go was The Gower 50 (Read all about that HERE – be warned, may feature fooked ankle pictures!) and I’ve not ran through the night before. I may not have done all of the miles I’d hoped for in this build up and I may not be the weight I’d hoped to get down to, blah, blah, blah, sandbagging, woe is me, blah, blah…
Here’s the thing guys and girls, I’m going to pull that lime green vest on and set off and give it everything I’ve got. And THAT will be enough for me to be proud, proud to be on the start line and proud to be taking on a CHALLENGE. If it was guaranteed I could ‘complete’ it, it wouldn’t be a challenge.
So, the mojo socks are being readied and they’ll be pulled RIGHT UP, I’ve oiled the zip of my mansuit so that too will be TO THE TOP……….
I’m going to run the runny bits, walk the hills and steps and try and enjoy every single moment of it.
Nicky will be getting off the coach at the St Anthony’s Head Black Rat start line and setting off at 8.30am. If my night has gone well I’ll have already turned by then and be heading East again. I have until 9am to make that turn, but if I’m close to that at halfway, I could well be struggling to make the following cut offs. And if that’s the case then so be it.
Check out the route HERE. There are A LOT of steps. And I’ll doing the all up and down (hopefully). See last year’s blog for how Nicky told everyone who’d listen that this was her last year on these steps…….
Mudcrew also stage the epic Arc Of Attrition on a bleak winter’s weekend every year. Nicky and I witnessed some of this incredible event when we were in Cornwall on holiday when this blog was in its early days – I mentioned how I’d never considered running 100 miles on a coast path, in winter. Nor indeed tow a caravan – Check out that bizarre wordery HERE.
You’re not going to believe this, BUT anyone who successfully completes all 100 quad busting kilometers of The Plague gets presented with a scroll inviting them to take up a guaranteed place in the following year’s Arc Of Attrition………..
Anyway, I ran 4 miles on the coast path with Charlie this morning, so I’d say I’m pretty much ready!
With about 400 meters to go (of the 56km Two Oceans Marathon) my shuffling gait had finally brought me into the ‘stadium’. After 35 miles surviving the hills and heat of Cape Town, the finish line was nearly in sight, there was what I can only describe as a roar, a joyous releasing of congratulatory happiness tunnelled into a 10 meter wide stretch of grass with (and I don’t exaggerate) thousands of people hanging over the barriers and in the temporary grandstands willing the competitors towards the line.
“Kevin! KEVIN!! KEEEVVVIIIIN!!!” amongst the thousands of voices…. the one I was desperate to hear….. my incredible lady wife, Nicky…. her voice transcended the cacophony and I managed to spot her in the crowd! I rushed over to the barrier, elated, and stole a most precious kiss, which brought a great cheer from the surrounding crowd.
“go Go GO!!” yelled the relentlessly enthusiastic water station crew about 2 kilometres previously, “you’re going to get a bronze!”. As I turned from that kiss in the stadium, a renewed buoyance in my step, I noticed the clock on the finish gantry …5h57m and became part of the jubilation around me as I pieced it all together, competitors achieving under 6 hours receive a ‘bronze’ medal. Those between 6 hours and the final cut off at 7 hours apparently receive a ‘blue’ medal. For the record, should you run under 5 hours it’s the Sainsbury medal, under 4 hours (!) it’s a silver and the top ten only receive a gold medal.
So, as the chap who finished alongside me grabbed me, tears in his eyes and screamed “YES!! after 5 attempts I got my bronze!”, there must have been something in my eye….
I greedily took my medal, an ice cold can of full fat, full sugar Coke and eagerly shuffled through the packed crowds in search of Nicky.
Regular readers (HELLO Regular Readers!) will already know that Nicky and I just love to share an adventure or ten. You will also know that injury curtailed her ambitions for this 56km Cape Town challenge. You will also know that the lovely people on the international desk at the Expo managed to arrange a Half Marathon place for Nicky at very late notice, in response to her plight.
So Nicky had experienced the finish line looooooong before me and stood on that barrier for HOURS waiting to cheer me in. Whilst she is pleased to have been a runner as well as the most vocal and enthusiastic spectator, the half course, hilly and challenging though it is, didn’t have the impact of those ocean views. She also found it absolutely rammed with runners from start to finish and witnessed a few nasty falls in the crowds.
But she did get to witness, at close quarters, the pain of the finish line closing (they literally run across and block the runners with a rope) after 3h10m for the Half Marathon competitors, I think she found it heart-breaking and surreal as runners, literally yards from the line just stop where they are.
After spending a while sat on the steps of the grandstand with my head between my knees trying to recover, we then shared the experience watching the same happen after 7 hours of the Ultra Marathon. Oh the noise, the pain, the emotion, the joy, the despair….
I couldn’t find much on the internet, but here’s a clip from a couple of years ago…
We ended up in South Africa after one of those “What’s your dream race?” type of conversations. Well, when I first took up running, aged 39 years and 11 months, some 16000 miles of running ago, I read about this iconic race, in this vibrant city and always imagined it was for ‘other’ people…… Since Nicky and I have been on this whirlwind of adventure, she has taught me that, well, why shouldn’t people like ‘US’ go on epic adventures.
So, we hit the plastic hard and headed for Cape Town….
With so much to report from this incredible trip, I think there’ll be a few blogs worth of material. As I sit here at the kitchen table, reflecting on the most exhilarating 10 days away, I still can’t quite believe we’ve been. We packed every minute, so our books came back barely touched and my notebook sparse, to say the least.
So look forward to more tales of mountains, beaches, sharks, buses, Ubers, reverse snobbery, penguins, buskers, rainy sunsets, townships and not a lot of reading or writing…
There’s history here. You can feel it. There’s also rain here. You can feel that too!
The worst draught Cape Town has had in living memory means the city is trying everything to save water. The stuff has been falling out of the sky in abundance since we arrived…..
At least that meant we’ve had the pick of the seats on our open top bus tours.
Regular blog spotters will be pleased to know that the amazing lady on the international desk was able to arrange a place in The Two Oceans Half Marathon for Nicky. This despite there being about a million people to deal with at the expo!!
For those who don’t know – Nicky’s training was abruptly halted 6 weeks ago when her calf muscle gave out. Intensive physio, rest and rehab has got her running again but she’d missed the major training runs.
We were both gutted. We’re still a bit sad not to be toeing the same start line but at least we will (hopefully) both experience the iconic finish at the end of our respective races.
And Cape Town is AMAZING.
I’m a lucky boy to be here in this wonderful place with the most amazing woman on earth…..
This is my 77th blog post…… Collectively they have been read over 11,000 times and I’m really quite humbled by that fact.
I imagine all of us bloggers are doing our ‘…of the year’ thingy right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me. So if you’re rather full of these lists then maybe you should look away now……….
MOST POPULAR BLOG POST OF THE YEAR
Inspired by some of the naïve errors I made back in my first ever marathon, I wrote this tongue in cheek BLOG POST about ten rookie errors guaranteed to make your marathon experience miserable.
TOP TEN BLOG-VISITING COUNTRIES OF THE YEAR
Aside from the UK, my rather humble wittering has been perused in 70 different countries – most prolifically in The United States, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, Germany, Finland, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland & India. There’s even been a visit from somebody in Cambodia.
My book reviews are the least ‘viewed’ posts, but as I’ve always maintained, I absolutely love writing them, therefore every single person that might get a moment’s pleasure from reading is an honour and a bonus.
On this note (and I know they’ll be reading), a big “Hi” to Pieter & Samira from The Hague. They made a point of finding us at the Reggae Marathon to let us know they loved the blog – Happy New Year to all in The Netherlands x
PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR
A close run thing here – finishing the (32 mile – black) R.A.T. in a fantastic time (blogged about HERE) was a truly magical ‘Team Bonfield’ moment. Successfully completing The Gower 50 Mile Ultra in a time I was chuffed with, despite the rabbit hole incident! Yes, I was so, SO proud to have completed my first ‘solo’ ultra and first 50 miler – read all about it HERE.
BUT – I reckon there hasn’t been a better moment than when Nicky and I pitched up in Snowdonia for the absolutely FABULOUS trail marathon nervous about the 19 mile cut -off. Well, we arrived at that check point, the gateway to the main climb of the day with about 3/4 hour to spare. I waxed lyrical about that fabulous day HERE.
PROUDEST HUSBAND MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The transition master
As ever, the year was jam packed with moments of inspiration, adventure and achievement, as my beautiful, amazing, truly inspirational lady wife, yet again amazed me over and over again. Every single day I feel more and more blessed to have this incredible lady in my life.
So, she smashed her marathon PB at the North Dorset Villages Marathon (read all about it HERE), came so, so close to breaking 2 hours at the Bideford Half Marathon (chatted about HERE), yes it’s been a year of fizzing along. As I’ve said above, she achieved some amazing results in some epic trail events and combined an increasingly absorbing work life and a challenging, at times, domestic life with training for multiple endurance disciplines.
Yes, Nicky also completed her first triathlon and you can read all about that fabulous day HERE.
Also, there were some amazing proud moments as Alisa, Nicky’s eldest daughter completed her first events, alongside her Mum, as she continued her journey to fitness and on her health drive.
BUT, amongst this year of hectic, wonderful, adventurous and fun weekend challenges, my proudest coat-holding moment was the River Dart 10k swim. WOW – having completed this event last year, she set about attempting to break 3 hours this time. You’ll have guessed by now that yes, indeed, she did!
So amongst a forest of proud moments – read about my most bursting day – HERE.
MY FAVOURITE TEN EVENTS OF THE YEAR
Well, apologies to all the other event organisers but, for the best that trail running gives to me, it has to be the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) from Mudcrew. There are point to point 11 mile, 20 mile and 32 mile options. We have completed the 32 miles in each of the last three years. But – I can’t resist it any longer and the ‘out and back’ 64 miler is on my calendar for 2018! Check out the blog from this year’s event HERE.
For quirkiness, brilliant concept, route design, friendliness (I could go on), the Race The Tide from Pure Trail was also a fabulous trail event. (blog, naturally, HERE). As was the already discussed Snowdonia Trail Marathon.
We did some cracking half marathons (including a couple that were supposed to be marathons!), particularly enjoying the great atmosphere at The Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service Half down in Bodmin. My first race as a Vet 50 – scribblings HERE.
The previously discussed North Dorset Villages Marathon is probably my favourite road marathon and this was our second year there. Back on the trails, we also returned to The Larmer Tree from White Star Running for a second year. Yet another race with a superb atmosphere – varied and challenging off road route through the Dorset countryside. White Star offer something a little different to the trail running scene, and provide a lovely balance of true endurance challenges and hearty laughter. Guess what – there were words…. HERE.
Also from White Star, was the East Farm Frolic, it barely got a mention in the Blog as we were having a particularly ‘time poor’ period at home around that time. Basically, do as many laps (about 4.5 miles) of an undulating, rural, trail route, on a farm in Dorset, as you either can or want to, for 12 hours. A great, inclusive, fun event with a family atmosphere and camping
After managing to navigate my limping body around the 50 miles of The Gower Ultra – and what a gorgeous place it is – this was always going to feature in this list. With around 200 competitors and seemingly double that working on the fabulous checkpoints, it truly was a breakthrough for me, in so many ways.
So that’s 9 of my favourite events. We’ve done about 30 this year, so picking 10 (in no particular order) was hard. No ‘of the year’ list, though could possibly be complete without Mudcrew’s The Scrooge the ever popular trail running fancy dress romp through the Lost Gardens Of Heligan. See the blog HERE, Yet again, we took it VERY seriously…….
MY FAVOURITE RUNNING ‘THINGS’
My Karen ribbon. My sister was taken from us aged a mere 44 years and a week (9 years ago). On her last night, I ended up with an item of her clothing, which I cut into ribbons. My brother and I both tie them to our wrists for races and she’ll forever be at the side of the road yelling “arms, Kevin, ARMS!” as she expertly analysed my terrifying running style. Will be missed forever.
Fetcheveryone.comstill my favourite website. Brilliantly evolved under the loving gaze of founder and bloke-in-chief, Ian Williams, there still isn’t an online running community to match it. I would never have got anywhere near where I have with my own running without it.
To hear the man himself talk us through his world, check out his fabulous interview on another of my favourite running things Marathon Talk. This is a weekly podcast presented by Martin Yelling and Tom Williams, I’ve listened to every single one of the 400+ episodes and, as with Fetch, it very much has been part of my journey.
Other podcasts I heartily recommend….. Talk Ultra normally fortnightly, presented by the thoroughly engaging Ian Corless who really humanises the sport of Ultra running and manages to gather interviewees from every country, every distance and every ability.
Another podcast I’ve not missed an episode of is Running Commentary. On a weekly basis the two comedians and avid runners, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson don head-sets and record their quirky, irreverent, poignant, witty and downright entertaining banter as they run along. These three podcasts make my working week feel just that little bit shorter.
Another interviewee on Marathon Talk (he’s appeared on three separate occasions) is the infectious Colin McCourt. From an elite international 1500m runner to a rather portly, sedentary chap, he started this year with a challenge to return to his former speedy self. He charted this progress on his Instagram account and has become one of the best running stories of the year. He set out to lose a shed load of weight and attempt to break 16 minutes for 5km. Check out his Instagram and relive his incredible 2017. I won’t give any spoilers……
Oh, and although I’m not into plugging brands (check out my lack of sponsorship HERE) I can’t sum the year up without mentioning my Inov8 trail shoes – I bought them at the Coniston Marathon (BLOG HERE) after the shoe company lent us shoes to run the marathon in! They are, genuinely, gert lush (translation: very good indeed).
Obviously Faith’s (my energetic and LOUD grandaughter) Silver Wellies have stolen the show in any running shoe debate – she smashed her mile fun run at the Templar Ten in them – blogged about (naturally) HERE.
RUNNING BUDDY OF THE YEAR
Probably no surprises here……..
The most beautiful, amazing, inspirational, funny, charming, adventurous and DAMNED HOT person I’ve ever met – she truly is my world and as long as we’re together then “don’t worry, ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing, gonna be alright”
Obviously, Charlie, the intrepid Border Terrier, is a close second!
Now, this being a happy place, there’s no room for negativity, bitterness, moaning, backstabbing or bitching. 2017 has been a challenging year, in many ways, for Nicky and myself, we’ve had to adapt and survive changes and developments in our world and work around the challenges. We’ve been (without bigging us up!) strong and determined, and ‘made it happen’ when ‘it’ didn’t look very likely on many occasions and we have those closest to us to thank for helping us absorb the impact of life.
Riddles, I know, but it’s hard to flamboyantly describe the slow down in the world of someone we love.
So, I’m proud of, and have loved, every minute of our journey together. Yet another year becomes ‘the best yet’ in this world I’ve been blessed to live in. And, yes, I’m proud of my achievements both in running and in life.
BUT, it’s Nicky that fills my heart and soul to bursting point with pride and more love than I could ever have imagined existed in the world……..
Yes, this lady has, in 2017, defied her crazy and demanding job, her crazy and demanding domestic life and her crazy and demanding, er, husband, and constantly, over and over again, pushed her boundaries, gone (literally) higher and faster, conquered new skills and generally been awesome in all of her fabulous endurance challenges…..
For example, she was (wo)man enough to admit that a half was enough at the Portland Coastal Marathon back in February, came back strong to complete cracking half marathons in Bodmin and Bideford, then matched our previous years time at The Larmer Tree Marathon. Another brilliant half at the Tavy 13 (blog HERE – I fell over!), the quirky and hilly Devonshire Dumpling Marathon (blog HERE)and then a blistering time at The Yeovil Easter Bunny 10k (HERE) before absolutely smashing her marathon PB at The North Dorset Villages Marathon (already talked about up there^^).
Then she beat challenging time limitations with (relative) ease at Race The Tide, Coniston Trail Marathon, Snowdonia Trail Marathon, The RAT etc etc……
Nicky blitzed her first ever triathlon, swam four tough open water events, The Swoosh, The Dart 5k, The Great North Swim and The River Dart 10k (breaking the 3 hour barrier).
This is a far from conclusive list, but I think I’ve explained just WHY, I think this lady is extraordinary in every way.
Apologies for this, but feel I need to include the one event that DOESN’T think Nicky is good enough. Think 5h30m time limit for a hilly trail marathon (12m35s per mile) yet has a cut off of 1h30m at 8 miles (11m15s per mile). Only it’s not ACTUALLY at 8 miles… etc etc. Yup THIS BLOG POST curled a few toes!
I informed Nicky (for new readers, Nicky is my extraordinary, beautiful, inspirational and flippin’ HOT lady wife!), on the morning of the GOWER 50 ULTRA, I had three goals for the event……
One of which I accomplished……
The important one, I guess.
I wouldn’t say that Nicky and I are traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ but I do tend to be the driver on these adventures. But, on this occasion, Nicky was determined to protect my aging legs as much as possible. Including travelling to and from Gower and all the incredibly intrepid driving around to meet me at so many points during the run, she amassed over 400 miles during the weekend.
I didn’t work Friday and we headed off to Wales mid afternoon. I don’t think I’ve been this nervous since the day of our first date. I wish I’d thought of that comparison on Friday,….. because that didn’t turn out so badly……
Charlie (for new readers, Charlie is the highly strung Border Terrier) came along for the weekend too. Our bargain Travelodge in Llanelli only charged a mere £20 extra to house the hound (although we had to take his own bed).
We made good time on the journey and arrived for our meal, near the M4 with great reviews and a cracking website, I was confident we’d chosen well……
I’m sure I was imagining it, but the pub went VERY quiet as we took our reserved seats underneath the enormous television showing Wales’ latest football glory. We ate our rather disappointing fare and scarpered, convinced one of the well oiled, rather vocal Friday tea-timers was building up to a ‘what’s your problem?’ moment.
I’ve always been a runner, not a fighter……. Even Charlie never came out from underneath the chair.
The hotel was standard fare, toasty warm. Gasping for air warm. Charlie waking up every 30 minutes to rattle his collar against his bowl while he drank yet more water, warm.
Before we knew it, the 5am alarm was going off…….
Proper nerves were setting in now. And bizarrely emotional.
We’d been to the event HQ on Friday to register, so it was just a case of donning most of the essential kit (the weather was appalling), enjoying a pre-match coffee and lining up with the rest of the 200 or so participants and awaiting the 7.30am kick off.
Based in the St Madoc Centre the facilities were being used as a bunk house and the kitchen facilities providing hearty fare and welcome hot drinks. Charlie fluttered his doe-eyes at one competitor, busy preparing her sandwiches, and was rewarded with a tasty lump of cheese. He’s such a tart…
Nicky made her way into the starting area for a very welcome bonus kiss and to wish me good luck and with little ceremony we were off. I’ve learned such a valuable skill from my wonderful wife, for these endurance tests, start well back in the field thus avoiding getting involved with the pace of those at the front. If people are going that quick because they are THAT QUICK, then trying to run with them will only eat into my energy stores for later. If they themselves are going too fast at the start, I’ll probably be seeing them later anyway.
So, the race. Regular readers will know, this is often where my rambling race write ups become confused. I never seem to have a chronological, nor accurate, memory of a race.
Off the first headland we landed onto the sinking sand and uneven rocks and pebbles of Rhossili Bay. With the rain lashing down and the howling wind, the line of multi coloured waterproofed troopers trudged in silence as the end of the beach seemed to get no nearer.
I was determined to keep telling myself to not let my heart rate rise, but to run whenever I could, and accept walking on the ups. Walking the up from this stretch to the first checkpoint I felt strong and easy, I’ve done a lot of coastal miles this year and really felt that this was my terrain.
Another boost here, Nicky and Charlie were waiting just beyond the checkpoint, loyal supporters in the utterly foul weather. I skipped from there onto the stunning coast path. I managed to collect my first ever orienteering clip (being used to ensure we all took the same route) and felt like I was cruising…….
My foot went down a rabbit hole and my ankle bent right over. SHUT THE BACK DOOR!!! Blimey that hurt. I mean really hurt. I mean REALLY hurt. I took a moment on a rock to decide whether I was actually capable of carrying on. Another runner, who later in the day became one of the three amigos (read on….), Rebecca, stopped and very kindly handed me some painkillers.
A healthy golf ball sized lump had appeared on my ankle and I still had 42 miles to go! Onwards…….
I battled on for the next 4 or 5 miles, trying to focus on the fact that this was my favourite terrain. Some of it very much like the Roseland Peninsula (see my blog from The Rat), other sections reminded me of The Grizzly, even the final few miles of Conisiton Trail Marathon (blogged about here) through the woods. During this section I again ran with Rebecca and the other Amigo, Callum. The three of us were like magnets, as the day unfolded, we were separated but always seemed to end up running together.
During the day I ran with, and briefly chatted to several people, some of whom saw me at rather low points, I’m rubbish at remembering names but it was a pleasure to share the experience with so many wonderful chaps and chappesses.
A very, very old friend, Jo, had been in touch having seen that we were coming to the Gower. She lives almost on the route and had running club mates also competing. As I came out of the woods at Port Eynon, there she was! It was lovely to catch up with someone who I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing in 14 years! We had known each other in rather darker times in both of our lives, so it was wonderful to meet in these great circumstances.
It was also wonderful, as Nicky and Charlie were also on the beach, to be able to show off my beautiful wife as the 4 of us shared a stroll along the sand and ummed and ahhhed about my ankle.
So three goals for the day….
Firstly, using my mantra which I’ve developed as I’ve really got into my trail running this year….. NO LAZY STEPS…. yes, goal 1 was to not fall over or get injured……
Don’t get lost……….
So as check point 2 took our numbers, the other 2 amigos and a couple of others whom I had been running close to all dived for the toilets, whilst I trudged on ahead. The coast path here briefly goes inland…….
Not so briefly in my case, after about 30 minutes I came up behind the same people whom I had left behind at the checkpoint. So that was goals 1 & 2 out the window……
Just the main goal left…. TO FINISH
Poor Nicky got stuck behind the triathlon which was taking place and didn’t make the next point where we had hoped to meet. After a brief phone call, I reassured her I would stop if I truly felt my ankle was too bad. Whilst I was moving and topping up the painkillers it seemed manageable, so I battled on through the sand dunes and mud reaching checkpoint, where I saw Jo again as she was supporting other runners she knew.
All of the checkpoints were fabulous, so, so encouraging, supportive, helpful and a welcome lift. I was gulping down the Happy Shopper Coke – pure nectar! The event is officially self navigating, and , as I proved, you need to have your wits about you, but it is so well planned and organised, the maps and route book are spot on.
The next section was right up my street, out and out coast path, mud, rocks, steps, beautiful views opening up around every corner. Good progress here.
Now, Charlie, the Border Terrier. When he gets it in his head to play with other dogs, particularly on beaches, he charges around in circles with a rather high pitched yap…… it can be quite embarrassing, although he’s having so much fun.
As I was running through the woods approaching Caswell Bay, I couldn’t see the beach, but I could HEAR Charlie, which meant Nicky was waiting for me there. What a wonderful boost half way through the race, such an amazing lift. And she had coffee!!!
We shared a beautiful moment there and I headed off with a real boost to my energy.
Checkpoint 4 then. More amazing people, warning us of the next stretch… the dreaded roads! Here the route was signed as we cut off the corner of the peninsular and headed north.
This section felt hard work but, I’ve definitely discovered something about myself in this event – I CAN!
Through a very muddy marshy section, which was hard but I really enjoyed it, then joining the actual cycle route all the way to mile 35 at the checkpoint at Dunvant where Nicky and Charlie appeared yet again. With Maltesers. And pain killers. I was tired, naturally,, but felt strong. My ankle felt less tight and I pushed on again. Swapping places with the other 2 amigos several times and running together for much of this long tarmac section.
It’s amazing how, prior to discovering love, my wonderful love, I never ‘loved’ running. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed challenging myself and pushing hard and was forever in search of flat, road events to try and push my pace and beat my times.
The road section between about 37 and 45 miles was just that. Flat, fast tarmac. It wasn’t horrible, as I was just loving the adventure, but after an hour or so, the monotony of it seemed to be darkening my mood and I started to focus on the pain rather than the pleasure…..
Incredibly, Nicky caught up with me another 4 times during this section, and again as we emerged from a rocky road section alongside the marshes of the estuary, informing me that dinner was at 6 so I had better get a move on!
I ran for a while with Mr Motivator, a guy called Sam who was great company. The other 2 amigos had got away by this point but over those muddy fields, marshy paths, rutted woodlands and, finally, sand dunes, we ended up all back together for the run in to the finish.
As we came out of the trails and looked up that final cliff, there was Nicky, silhouetted up on the gloomy horizon, and my heart was just fluttering, I could feel the tears welling up and the three of us hauled our tired bodies up that climb.
Suddenly we were through the gate and heading for the line…..
I’m not normally a ‘sickly’ person, but the ankle has enforced my to have a couple of days off, so I’m sat on the couch, feet up, writing this blog, which I’m acutely aware is faaaaaar too long, grinning like an idiot because I’m just so, so, pleased to have achieved my first 50 miler…………….
Watch this space for what’s next…..
For those who like a stat or too, check out the run HERE
I managed to finish 30th out of 147 in 11h06m (another 62 didn’t make it, I’m gutted for them and so grateful I managed to get to the end).
I can’t thank enough people nearly enough for their part in this journey, the organisers RUN WALK CRAWL, they just GET IT! ALL the other participants, what a great supportive atmosphere. Special mentions for the other 2 amigos, Rebecca and Callum for being alongside in the dark and light moments. Sam, who’s vibrancy towards the end was such good fun. And Jo, such a lovely friend of old, now a lovely friend of new, for being there, not only for me, but for Nicky too.
And, of course, Nicky…… I’m welling up just wondering how I’m going to word this…….. You drive me, Nicky… and this weekend, you literally drove me, and fed me, and cheered me, and willed me, and inspired me (like you always do). You trusted me to make good decisions, you cajoled me, encouraged me, hugged me, kissed me, let Charlie charge across the beaches to greet me. You navigated yourself to every nook and cranny of the Gower Peninsular, you kept my parents informed, which can be a challenge in itself!
You were, Nicky, AWESOME….. My world……
So maybe, just maybe, I DO really believe that ‘people like me’ CAN…..
Oh, and I seem to have written a poem about the run HERE