Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

6th October: Relentless

Dear God, that was the singularly most challenging physical act I have undertaken in my whole sorry-arsed life: The Coastal Trail Series Pembrokeshire Marathon.

In preparation I had been out on a few long runs and as blogged before, covered the marathon distance off-road in anticipation, but nothing could have prepared me for what was in store.

After a day of doing some rewiring on a house nearby to me I packed everything into the trusty old motor ready to head west to Wales in the pissing rain. After a decent dinner I said goodbye to LSS a little later than planned and hit the road at 10:30. The rain hammered down the whole journey and I witnessed a casualty of the treacherous driving conditions when passing Swindon: a taxi had spun in the middle lane of the opposite carriageway of the motorway. It had only just happened and I hope everyone driving eastwards managed to avoid the car stranded facing the wrong-way in the road.

After 4 hours of sodden tedium, I pulled in to the car park in Broad Haven, the muster-point for the run. I clambered on to the back seat and setting the alarm for 7am curled-up under a duvet for some shut-eye.

With the weather getting colder, the duvet was not as effective as I would have hoped and I awoke before my alarm feeling a bit chilly so I got up to stretch my legs and had this wonderful view from the bottom of the car-park. You'd hardly think that there'd been 36 hours of continuous rain preceding this morning.

View Right
View Left
Spirits lifted I clambered back in to the car and changed in to my running gear. Seeing as the event was organised by Endurancelife, I decided to sport my shirt from their Real Relay in which I participated. I also wore a long-sleeved base-layer, support shorts and a knee support for my right knee as on my long runs I have been feeling a twinge from it so I figured prevention is better than cure. All greased-up around my vitals to avoid the demon chaffing and the possible knitting of butt-hair as sagely warned of by Smithy after his London Marathon experience, I chowed-down to a spot of brekkie of chocolate flapjacks and a few mouthfuls of supermarket own-brand energy drink, the stuff that wants to be Red Bull but costs the same for 1L of it as does a can of the Toro Rosso… And when you drink it you know exactly why it is so cheap by comparison! I packed into my back-pack my running belt that holds my camera and some gels, and my Vango 2L hydration system - already filled with High5 Zero Extreme berry flavour and all available space stuffed to capacity with gels and breakfast bars, off I traipsed to Little Haven

A pleasant walk of about 10 minutes along the undulating coastal road, past the delightfully graffiti'd place-name sign brought me on to the edge of the village and down a 1 in 4 gradient hill to the start which was still being constructed.

Those running the Ultra marathon had already been briefed and were warming-up ready for their off whereas all us marathon runners who had opted not to go for the early start tried to keep warm in the chilled morning air before heading to the village hall to register.

 After registration, still trying to keep warm, we all traipsed back to the start for the safety briefing. The nature of the courses on the Coastal Trail Series and the fact that they are run through the winter season means safety is taken very seriously by the organisers. You can only run it if you take along some survival gear in the form of first-aid kit, foil blanket, emergency whistle, phone, food for energy, an hydration system, and be suitably attired as well. This is before the briefing about the hazards of the particular course you are running on the day… And in this it's always cheering to be told of someone dying the previous year whilst on the course. Fortunately in our case it was not a runner, but a walker who was attempting to cross one of the numerous stiles along the cliff-top path, had stumbled and gone arse-over-tit ending-up a soggy red mess on the rocks below.

Chastened by the safety briefing making it clear that we really are out on a limb doing a run such like this - there is little support other than the 3 check-points, we awaited the off… And the race was upon us.

Remember that hill I mentioned we walked down to get in to the village, well as we left the start line backwards, we realised this was the first of the day's challenges and set the tone for the rest of the race. Everybody put a brave face on this fiendish climb and made doughty efforts to climb it at a jog, but near the summit only the truly keen and super fit were running, and off the snaked in to the distance leaving us envious lesser mortals to our own personal races and finishing in one piece.

The first section of the course was the route that those doing the 10k race later-on would be traversing. Heading north along the muddy puddled cliffs once through Broad Haven on a fairly easy undulation until we reached Druidston before heading inland and our first sight of the energy sapping glutinous slick mud that would characterise most of the course! The fields through which we were traversing had been well trampled and churned-up by cattle and so sodden were they with the rain that you were ankle-deep most of the time and struggled to make headway greater than a walking-pace with the risk of turning ankles and inflicting injury so early-on in the race.

A tarmac section offered some respite as we ran about a mile till we diverted back on to the footpaths. It was here I had my first fall. Descending a short hill, I was looking ahead paying too much attention to the hairpin right turn at the bottom which meant I lost my footing on the slick surface and found myself sliding downwards to the end of a 15ft drop in to a gorge and some rocks. Fortunately I was able to arrest my slide in time, but it made me see that the course and conditions certainly demand respect at all times.

We headed back in to Broad Haven, running through the car park that was filling nicely with those awaiting the 10k - all looking at us runners festooned in mud with some trepidation as they realised what they had let themselves in for. Across to Little Haven and past the start/ finish line and off we climbed back up on to the coastal path, and the start of the spectacular scenery, and the more spectacular mud. The path was so churned-up in places it was impossible to run as there was simply no traction to be had. It was hard enough trying to get up the hills at a walk the grip was so poor, that I had changed tactic from running 10k's and resting 10 minutes at the water stations to walking up the hills as I found it impossible and running the flats and descents. A lot of the time you are sliding around there is a mere hedge between you and the sea a couple of hundred feet below.

Some shots of the scenery can be seen below. It truly was a pleasure to be out running in this kind of surrounding. The sun was out to around 15 degrees but feeling hotter as there was no shelter from the glare. Not a wave to be seen down below, just you and the birds. It was pretty much just me by myself for the rest of the race as I was well and truly towards the back of the race, not that I was racing anyone other than myself.

My initial goal of beating my previous time for the marathon was on-track until the half-way mark, but the cloying mud had taken a big toll on my physically and I found I was walking more than running at times as I struggled with the terrain.

By the time the furthest point was reached, Gateholm Island (pictured below) my mind was turning to survival and merely completing the race. All thoughts of a time had blown away on the coastal breeze. As an aside, Gateholm Island featured on Time Team in its first episode of the 2012 series, digging-up what was a monastery on the far-end of it. From heading past it you can understand why it was chosen for its offer of solitude by the fact that it is only accessible by a tidal causeway.

 I managed to keep myself going by looking forward to my recovery shakes and an ice-bath once I had finished… The last leg seemed to last an eternity, although the ever changing views aground the cliff-tops certainly offered something to take the mind off the pain. Within a couple of miles of the finish my body had reached the point of exhaustion and the inner voice was telling me to stop and sit down and take a rest - the voice I know not to listen to and just fight on through it. Soon enough I was at the finish line, managing a steady jog for the last half mile or so and the tape was broken in a running time of 6h18m - Unerringly accurate a prediction when the organisers on their website tell you that you take your time for running a marathon and add an hour to it which will be the time you will roughly finish a CTS Marathon!

After crossing the finish line I collected my bag and wandered, or should that be hobbled, down the beach and stripped-off my mud splattered trainers, knee brace and support bandages. Bernard had not given me any real problems which was a relief, although he did not appreciate running on large loose stones. To give myself a good recovery I waded out in to nature's own ice-bath drinking my recovery shake and munching on a flap-jack. I stood in the very cold water for 10 minutes, bracing myself for the first agonising brush of a freezing wave on my ball-bag which soon happened!.. Once that was out the way I was able to relax and drink my shake with ease!

You never get this on a road race :)
Having successfully warmed-down it was time to go home... The problem was the car was over in Broad Haven, and I was still in Little Haven... With that big hill in the way. I really did not fancy another trek up that hill again along the road to the car park, so a bit of lateral thinking here, I'm wet, the sand is soft and flat - okay there's a small rocky headland that may need climbing over, but this route was certainly the most appealing method of trudging back to the car.

The flat walk to the car-park!

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