Gower Ultra

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After last year’s Race To The Stones I thought that I had scratched my Ultra Marathon itch. That one was the event that first got me excited about doing an Ultra. Now that I had done 2 I was happy that I didn’t need to do more. That feeling lasted 6 weeks until I saw an ad for the Gower Ultra. It had my name all over it. I signed up straight away, 1 year before the race.

A year later and I was still excited. My usual support crew, Timi and Mum, were there. We drove down the night before, staying half a mile from the start. The plan was the same: I would run the first 20 or so miles on my own while they have a leisurely breakfast and we would meet around lunchtime.

The start was great, along sandy dunes leading down to Rhosilli Bay. The tide was half out but slowly coming inwards. Through much of the beach section there was an equal mix of stones and sand. The sand was easier to run on so I kept on it, only moving onto the stones every few minutes when the tide came in further. That worked well ... until it didn’t, with a sleepy lack of concentration resulting in a major soaking from a wave. I was only 3 miles into a 50 mile run and my feet were already drenched.

I was exactly on plan by Port Eynon where I met up with Timi and Mum for the first time. Mobile signal was poor and my texts calling for new socks hadn’t got through. I decided to carry on a get re-socked at the next meeting point at Oxwich Bay. By the time I got there I was already 30 minutes behind, not having factored the cliffs, mud and beach into the plan.

Having learnt from Race To The Stones I had increased my minutes-per-mile on my plan. I reckoned on 13 minutes-per-mile for the first 15 miles with an extra minute per mile for further 10 mile blocks. That seemed pretty realistic when sitting in from of my computer at home. The reality was that this was a tough course and the wettest weather in the event’s history.

By 20 miles the plan had gone out the window. At Langland, where the route leaves the coast, I was 2 hours behind. With a 16.5 hour cut-off I had enough time to take it slow. From here, it was only about finishing.

The inland section began with a marshy common, drenching me again. I had no more dry socks so I had to carry on. I even decided not to look at my feet at the checkpoints. I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant and seeing them wouldn’t help my motivation.

By the time I reached the north coast it was dark. Something in my trainer popped painfully. Probably a blister, possibly a toe. I was still 15 miles off and now hobbling at a 23-minute-mile pace. Timi and Mum were now stopping every 2 miles, also directing other runners who were wandering off-route in the dark.

The trickiest part was at mile 40 where the route follows a tidal road. The instructions were clear that there was a higher ground alternative. It had been over 12 hours since anyone had read that and, after all, how bad could it be? Pretty bad as it turned out. The tide was coming in pretty fast and was already covering the road. I got to a point where it was up to my knees but decided to carry on as I could see the other side only a few metres away.

A couple of miles further on Timi and Mum were waiting at a junction. They had driven further but had to return as the water was now really deep. They were directing us half a mile up a small lane to the main road on higher ground. We heard later that one girl had attempted the tidal road and had water up to her chest.

The final few miles were a slow muddy slog. My head torch had run out of battery and all the spare batteries so I was using the light on my phone. Cars were roaming around the country lanes at the end looking for lost runners.

After a final steep cliff, I closed the 50 mile loop and crossed he finish line in 15.5 hours. It was by far the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever done.

Back at the hotel we examined my feet. The burst blister was actually a burst toe and there were deep prune grooves all over. I’ve not posted the photos of them here. You’d not eat for days if you saw them. Needless to say Timi wasn’t impressed. Maybe I’ll leave it a few weeks before signing up for my next one ....

Richard gowerComment