I managed to get around the logistics of the point-to-point route by getting down to Harlech the night before, staying in a little hotel near the finish with Adam T. At 0700 Saturday morning we parked up at the finish and got the first train to Aberdovey with about 40 other runners which was pretty cool. Matt S, Dave B, Nick C, Rich W and a few other familiar faces were all there so it was a fun trip, all along the coastal trail we’d be running back along later.
Right on cue, straight after the race briefing it started raining, and then without too much ado we were off. I had a bit of a fiddly start, first going the wrong way around a bunch of rocks and having to splash through a rock pool, and then having to mess about with my pack for ages. I was using an old pack I’ve used loads, but not recently, and was all over the place trying to find things and getting my bladder hose kinked all the time. I stopped after a few miles to sort it out, and just as I finished faffing about, Nick and Rich W passed me and we started running together.
We were all going the same pace and in no major rush, and spent the next few miles happily sharing and reinforcing all of our misunderstandings about the race, mainly that it would be flat (we’d all heard that from different people), and that it’d be about 40 miles long (it was neither).
We’d been a bit worried about the navigation beforehand, but for the most part it wasn’t too tricky. There were LOADS of spray painted red arrows on the ground to follow which were really helpful, especially early on, and for 30 miles or so we were having a great time, walking the hills, running the rest, and just chatting away. CP 1 was right on the road and unmissable, and CP 2 was a pub car park with big race flags which you also couldn’t miss. The only downside was that it turns out Cadburys make jaffa cakes. Fucking awful jaffa cakes. Jaffa cakes that straight from a brand new packet taste like they’ve been down the back of the sofa for a month. Needless to say, I was very disappointed.
After a flattish start, the middle section had some big climbs to deal with, although it was cool to be able to see so much of where we’d be running next, especially looking down to the bridge running across to Barmouth. We also started saying “cheers Denzil” (the race director) every time we had a particularly horrible hill/stile/bog to get through which was fun.
Eventually we got to Barmouth which smelled of chips, and I still wish I’d stopped for some. We ran a mile or two through the tourists having run a marathon (ish) in 4:30, and hit CP3 where we stopped for a few minutes so Nick could patch up a blister on his foot. We were pretty happy at that point, thinking that the way we were going, even with a bit of slowdown we should be done in somewhere around 7:30.
Then we all started to tire a bit, Nick was having problems with his ankle, and I was having problems with my brain – mostly trying to work out how far we’d gone and what we had left, given my watch was in kilometres, the route map had no scale on it, and none of us could remember exactly what distance the last checkpoint was supposed to be at.
As we approached CP4 we were in ok spirits, and ready for one last push. We’d run 52km, so we reckoned we had about 12km to go but just as we were about to leave the CP someone said there were actually 12 miles left. Which sucked. I filled my bladder (which I wasn’t going to when I thought we were nearly done), choked down a gel, and we trudged off, all a bit more cheesed off than we’d been on the way into the CP.
Then, after a long stretch of beach we managed to miss the point where we should have turned off to Shell Island. We found ourselves in a campsite, and from the map it looked like we’d overshot the trail we should have been on. We dithered about a bit, and then spotted the airfield that the trail we should have been on ran alongside. We headed in that direction, and eventually got back on track. I don’t think the detour cost us much distance, maybe an extra mile, but it probably cost us about twenty minutes and what was left of our good cheer.
From that point, we pretty much just moaned our way back. Nick’s ankle was giving him plenty of grief, and I was just out of energy and complaining about everything like a big baby. Fortunately Rich was in great shape, powering on and pulling us along while me and Nick concocted a plan to set up a 77 marathon club so that the three of us could just call it a day and find a pub.
Finally we made it to the last bit of beach, and after tottering down the steps to the sand like little old ladies, we dug in for the home stretch. Fortunately we could see a couple of runners ahead of us about a mile further up the beach , so when they disappeared off to the right we knew we were close to the end, and before we knew it we were off the sand, onto the road, and back at the school where we started. We finished together having run 44.5 miles in 8:47 which is a good hour and a half longer than I thought it would take, although that estimate was based on it being mainly flat and about 40 miles long, so I guess I wasn’t too far out.
We got our medals, I inhaled a couple of bags of crisps, and then Nick and Rich realised that Julie had Rich’s car keys, and she was a couple of towns down the coast in Dave’s caravan with no signal so they couldn’t call her. Nick and I whizzed back up to get her (and the keys), and once I’d dropped them back at the finish (resisting the urge to get out for more crisps) I set off for home – into the mother of all thunderstorms. The 40 miles or so of twisty, flooded welsh lanes were tougher going than the 40-odd miles we’d just run, and the constant flashes of lightning were pretty distracting, but fortunately I had the agony of having to brake and/or change gear every five seconds to keep me alert.
The race itself was pretty cool, the route was amazing even in the pouring rain, and was well worth the added logistical faff of it being a point to point. If I was being fussy another checkpoint between CP4 and the finish would have been nice, but I’d love to have another go at it in decent shape (and knowing the route) and see what I can do. The only thing stopping me from immediately entering it again for next year (assuming Denzil gets himself a new Jaffa Cake supplier) is that I’m very tentatively planning on doing the Liverpool-Leeds Canal Race next August.
That was marathon/ultra number 89, so only 11 to go now – and I’m glad beyond belief that the next one is flat. It feels like a VERY long time since I ran anywhere flat…