1 Out Of 3 Ain’t Bad

Like half of a Meatloaf song.

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I have no idea what Nicky means when she says I’m not organised

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.

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Pre-race nervous smile

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).

Using a specialist http://www.eatinghousesonthewaytothegowerwheredogsarewelcome.com type website, we had pre arranged our meal for the journey.

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.

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I’ve ran in better weather

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.

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I was remarkably sociable!

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…….

OWWWW!!!!

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…….

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Gorgeous beaches as the weather started to improve

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.

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Even managed to meet my old friend Jo

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……

Goal 2?

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……

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Nicky managed to take so many lovely pictures, and inevitably my grins got that bit wider every time I saw her

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.

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Charlie does love a beach!

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.

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Smiling all the way!

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.

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Charlie joined me for, admittedly small, sections of the run
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The Three Amigos

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…..

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That’d be why it hurt so much then!

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).

20171008_092015.jpgI 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

That’s 3 YEEESSSSSSS’s

If we 100% KNEW we would succeed, well, it wouldn’t be a challenge…..

Prior to this weekend just gone, my proudest ‘Team Bonfield’ moment had been when we crossed the finish line of the Dartmoor Discovery 50k Ultra just inside the time limit.

 

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Nicky eating up the early climbs

The Snowdonia Trail Marathon topped that, in so many ways. WOW. Too many breathtaking views to take in. WOWs  by the sack full.

 

AND 3, count ’em, THREE ‘YEEESSSSSS!’ moments.

Ahhh, the dreaded cut-offs. Only one here, after the climb up to Pen Y Pass. About 19 miles in. From there it’s up the mountain proper on the Pyg Track.

As we left the starting pen in Llanberris, nothing was certain. Nearly 700 runners, some strutting, some staring, some nervously pacing or muttering (‘madness’ whispered one guy as he fidgeted and fussed), listened to the race briefing.

Yes we can hear you at the back. Yes we can clearly hear that it is VERY important not to veer from the route and DEFINITELY not climb any gates or fences. More on that later…..

 

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Everybody listening??

We had dined with my brother and his wife, who live in Kimnel Bay, a feast on the eve of this epic adventure. Regular Snowdonia hikers, they were eager to share their local knowledge and we pored over the route to get ‘beat the cut off’ tactics in place.

 

9am. A brief road section through the crowds of spectators and Half and 10k runners awaiting their turn. Then up.

And up.

 

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Top of the first climb. WOW the views!

Nicky pushed hard here, brisk hiking the steepest bits, easy paced running where possible. When we reached the top of this climb, the 3.5 miles had taken us about 15 minutes less than my loose plan. Result.

 

Some moor like terrain, downhill and flat and we were feerrrlying…… oh hang on….

A queue. When I say a queue, probably about 200 people waiting to negotiate a stile. Hhhmmmm.

Some, whose race was obviously more important than ours, decided climbing a padlocked gate followed by a wire fence would mean they didn’t have to wait like everyone else.

Mildly annoying after 5 minutes.

Annoying after 10 minutes.

Absolutely infuriating when, after 15 minutes, the marshall charged with the unfortunate task of policing this area shouted to the approaching runners at the back of the field to take this alternative route…….

Nicky had worked so hard to get this far in this time, yet, now I was contemplating the cut off again whilst participants who had taken considerably longer on the climb didn’t even pause as they disappeared off ahead of us.

Potentially, a scenario where some of those runners who hadn’t had to wait at all, but took 15+ minutes longer than us over the first 4 miles, narrowly made the cut off whilst we narrowly missed it, was starting to play out in my head.

We were cross.

2017-07-23 09.32.08Once we were over the stile, and then through the next couple of miles and occasional further stiles, we made great progress on the rough terrain. Unfortunately the field of runners was out of sync now and we were constantly trying to weave through those who had been behind us until the stile incident. Or stilegate, as it shall be known.

Once we’d reached mile 6 we had found some space to run in and easier terrain for a while. A familiar face, Kevin (a regular face at events we have enjoyed in Dorset), greeted us at this point which was a real boost as well. We settled in to rattling off some miles as we ran through forests, around lakes, alongside miniature railways. All to the spectacular backdrop of the mountains around us.

Progress was good. I started to fear the cut off less and less and more and more enjoy absolute joy of running in this incredible place with this incredible woman.

I made a pact with myself to take no pictures until we reached that cut off. After negotiating a runner-jam in a single track section through the woods at the bottom of Pen Y Pass, we freed ourselves from the pack and marched the 2 mile climb to reach the cut off with about 40 minutes to spare.

 

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Cut off smashed??? We’ll drink to that….

YEEESSSS!!!

 

 

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Up

Now the hard climbing started. Please forgive us a smug moment here! We are rather proud to be running grandparents knowing our grandchildren can point at a map of Snowdon and say ‘Nanny and Grandad’ did that!

 

It’s a great leveller, a mountain and we were amongst runners of all ages as an unspoken comradery developed.

Nicky, strong as an ox. The climb is about 5km long from that point and is pretty relentless. It scrambles and winds and teases then punishes and it does go on and on. All to the incredible backdrop of the peaks and ridges all around.

My sister, Karen, who regular readers will know, was taken from us just so tragically early, would have loved to see us doing this. She would have revelled in the happiness I have found with Nicky and would have been championing us in all our adventures. I wore my ‘Karen Ribbon’ for this run, and definitely felt a gentle extra push as we reached for the top of the climb.

Talking of which, it turned out my brother, mother and uncle were all glued to the tracker and shared in our ‘YEEESSS!’ moments ‘live’!

Suddenly, through the descending mist (which was quite welcome as the heat was starting to build), a high-viz vest in the distance, still way up above us, but a welcome sight.

 

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Top of the Pyg Track – glad we didn’t go DOWN that way!

YEEESSSS!!

 

2017-07-23 15.18.32Exiting the other worldly atmosphere of the Pyg Track as the tourist trail becomes the Miner’s Track, with the train passing too, was completely bizarre and quite magical.

Knowing it was quite literally all down hill from here, we high-fived and then set about the descent…….

 

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DOWN!

Unfortunately, almost immediately, Nicky had a sharp and immobilising pain in the back of her knee. This stopped us in our steep and gravelly tracks, on this, er, steep gravelly track.

 

A fistful of vitamin I (Ibruprofen), gently and gingerly building up speed, we soon got up to ‘Ahhhweeeeeee’ velocity as we tumbled down and down and down.

2017-07-23 15.29.52Llanberris was soon coming into view, as we went further down and down and down. The very bottom of the descent was sooooo steep as it turned to tarmac before a naughty loop through a park and we could clearly hear the announcer calling the runners in.

“….. and coming in now, holding hands, in a cracking time of 7 hours and 24 minutes, it’s KEVIN BONFIELD and AMY SOMETHING…………..

…….. oh No it’s not it’s Kevin and NICKY BONFIELD!!!”

YEEEESSSSS!!!

 

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Sooooo proud…. I think there may be something in my eye…..

We truly felt (still feel) we had achieved something extraordinary.

 

 

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Down in one, down in one….

A fabulous, brutal, beautiful event. It’s big, probably 2000 runners across the 3 distances, yet it was so welcoming, brilliantly marked and marshalled (I think stilegate is a glitch, it needs addressing, but certainly the only real blip) and the event base in Lanberris has the cosy feel of a much smaller event.

 

 

2017-07-23 17.59.01-1It wasn’t necessarily on our bucket list, but it has given us a wonderful glow……..

 

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Howard and Hilda enjoyed Pen y Pass so much, they went back the following day!

 

Next up, the Cornish coast beckons in the R.A.T. ……..