Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Monday, 18 November 2013

17th November: Gower

Not David the languid free-flowing arguably most technically gifted batsmen produced by England in the latter half of the 20th century, but the peninsular in South West Wales just beyond Swansea and setting for the latest round in the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series.

Following my normal pattern, I left late on Friday evening killing the time of the drive by listening to the commentary of England losing 2-0 in an abject performance in an international friendly to Chile. A few hours later and having travelled through a village that sounds like some veterinarian ailment suffered by sheep: Scurlage, I pulled-up at the Worm's Head car park around midnight before hunkering down for the night... It turns out the etymology of 'worm's head' is a corruption of the Viking word for Dragon: 'wurme'.

This was the first time I'd taken the van to an overnight trip and it was great to have the extra space in the back in which to stretch out. With the walls, floor and roof of the van insulated the temperature was fine, not that it was too chilly outside in the first-place.

I awoke the next morning and had the delights of this view from behind the van, looking down the cliff to Rhossili beach below.

Breakfasting on flapjack and coffee and keeping an eye on the time I decided to saunter off to register for the event. There was no early start offered for the marathoners so running-out with the ultra's was not an option (although with my times improving I don't really need to be doing this now) so it meant the slight luxury of a 45 minute later start.

The walk to the event base of the Rhossili Bunk House only took around 10 minutes so it was an easy trek not expending too much energy. Upon leaving the Worm's Head car park looking at the beach you could see the huge hills overlooking and the ominous dawning realisation that these were most likely to be ascended on the course pretty-much immediately!

Hmm might we be scaling these?
Back in the van after registering I changed in the back and read a little as I psyched myself up for the journey ahead. With the temperature predicted to be around 10 to 12C all day and little wind to speak of I decided not to bother with a jacket and instead just had my long-sleeved base-layer with my CTS 7x shirt on top for the run. Walking back to the Bunk-House again for the safety briefing I watched a sheep-dog practicing by itself; herding half a dozen ponies whilst the farmer tended to some cows in the shed next to the paddock, whilst the pack of ultra-runners could be sighted haring off in to the distance behind the field.

No warnings of deaths en-route this time!
As we milled around for the safety briefing a couple of people had a chat with me about the shirt, asking what ones I had run before and if I had done this one. One gent has thrown himself in for the 7x challenge this year and today was his first steps to the goal, so naturally I wished him all the best as if my portly frame can make it then he certainly can!

And then we were off in to the morning sea air, jogging down towards the coastal path before turning right and the path around the Worm's Head headland back towards Rhossili. Jogging past the car park and my van, countless supporters were gathered waving on their family members and loved-ones as the car park swelled with those arriving for the half marathon, 10k events and day trippers. Rhossili and the surrounding area is also a surfing hot-spot, so there were a few day-vans, mostly converted VW Transporters parking-up with their occupant's decks lashed to their roofs.
Nearly at the top!

My earlier hunch about the hill by the beach was as correct as it was unsurprising and we had to scale this to the cliff top as we traversed the undulations northwards. I had the chance of a chat with a couple of people along the way, one gent is starting-out marathon running and this was his third, having just run the Bournemouth and Eden marathons. He has decided to do them mostly as XC to save the wear and tear on his body and enjoy the scenery.

Running atop the hills.
Looking back to Worm's Head.
Wending our way along the cliff top we passed the remnants of a WWII radar station facing out in to the Atlantic. All that remains are the concrete foundations for the steel masts and the buildings, the only man-made structure to be seen for a few miles before and after!

The former radar station.
The good thing is that for every climb there is a descent… And boy was this descent fun! It was probably the most exhilarating piece of running I have had the pleasure of doing! We went from cliff top to sea level, 500ft to 0ft over a quarter mile - that works out as a 1 in 2 gradient. Being a fat-bloke I carry a bit more weight out front than others, so when I lean forward momentum takes over and the speed quickens. I found myself bounding down the hill-side like a hyperactive mountain goat, overtaking people gingerly side-stepping or baby-stepping downwards. A bit of a killer on the big-toe nails with them slamming in to the toes of the trainers it may have been, but one hell of a rush! and at the caravan park at the foot of the hill was the first check-point of the day.

Starting the descent.
The beach below.
Looking back... You can just see the little figures on the crest and descending the green strip in the middle.
Emerging from the checkpoint we headed on to the beach and the first of the 2 extended beach runs. Each of these 2 sections is a mile of flat unremitting sand, with a third half miler thrown in for good measure after these two! The hardest part of the beach run is working your way through the ankle deep loose sand from the dunes, on to the beach top and then finding your way down to a point close to the water's edge where the sand is at its hardest and easiest to run on, and continuing along this section in as straight a line as you can to get to the other end of the sand. This stretch had me reaching for the headphones and listening to something to counteract the unremitting slog across the flat featureless terrain.

The mile of sand.
The end of the beach was the furthest north that we reached on the course and we headed in an easterly direction back on to the cliffs with the bay formed by the estuary of the River Loughor to our left. Ascending on to the cliffs I spotted a Stonechat - a striking coloured red and dark brown finch-like bird in one of the gorse thickets.

Running along here admiring the scenery, I made the fatal mistake of not paying enough attention to where I was putting my feet and tripped on a rock jutting out of the ground and turned ankle. Not fighting to keep balance as the terrain was soft slightly muddy grass I just fell on to my knees, picked myself up and hobbled-on hoping to not have knacked my ankle too seriously. After a minute or so of taking it easy, no pain had started to shoot forth, so I figured I had dodged the bullet this time. Nonetheless I necked a couple of anti-inflammatories as a precaution can carried on regardless and soon we wound our way down to the second of the two caravan parks and the second checkpoint not far beyond that.

From here we headed up on to the exposed moorland, traversing the ridge of the highest point of the peninsular as we worked our way notionally from westerly to easterly points of the course. Traversing this leg I had the chance to chat with another fellow runner in the form of Luke Carter who said he recognised me from a few of the races last year. He too was sporting his 7x tee under his jacket and like me he has the bug for these runs. He had run this race last year and was telling me that the difference between the two was immense, as last year it was a quagmire and that fun descent I mentioned before was so treacherous that a lot of people had decided it was safer to slide down slowly on their arse rather than attempt remaining upright! The conditions were so much better this year that he was already over an hour in front of the time it had taken him to get to this point in the previous running, and then he disappeared off in to the distance to finish around 10 minutes ahead of me by the race's finish.

Views from on the moor, left and right.
The end of the moorland section gave us a good downhill stretch to the next checkpoint and our second beach stage. After a section of running through the sand dunes we traversed a bridge over a stream and then the solid mile of sand.

Crossing the bridge
Soon after starting on this soulless stretch I found myself being joined by an overtaker who ran with me for the length of the beach. Since finishing uni in Swansea he has found himself in running as a hobby and lifestyle that defines him and he goes out for around 70 miles each week. This area of hills and beaches is one he loves to run having done it countless times, so with all of his practice in the area he was made-up to be running in a timed event on his training ground! It seems he has a few like minded friends who enjoy their distance running and doing things out of the ordinary. Earlier this year they completed what they describe as the 3-3-3 challenge: 3 marathons, 3,000 miles and 3 weeks. They flew out to Houston and ran the marathon there, then drove from Houston to Vegas where they based themselves whilst they ran the Red Rock Canyon Marathon, before getting back to their rooms at the MGM grand that night and chilling in the hot-tub with a few beers before heading off to the Bellagio for a buffet Kobe beef supper. Truly a once in a lifetime day! The last leg was a drive to LA and running the marathon there.

The LA marathon happened to be on St. Patrick's day and just for amusement's sake they decided to run it in super-hero costumes, namely Batman and Robin. It seems that those running the LA marathon are a bit too serious and po-faced as he cannot recall seeing anyone else running in fancy dress… Except for one man.

This one man was spray-painted green head to toe wearing only green shorts and trainers, so could only be described as a kind of leprechaun and was running whilst drinking beers with a maniacal glint in his eyes that could only mean he was high on something, be it life, liquor or lines of the white stuff!

At the far side of the beach saw for me the hardest part of the run; what seemed like an unending sheer staircase cut in to the side of the tree covered cliff. Each step was a foot in height so you were climbing plenty of elevation in not much forward travel. This just knocked the wind clean out of me in the same manner as the evil hill on the last CTS event I ran at Flete.

Around halfway I stopped for 30 seconds just to compose myself before slowly traversing onwards. to the top. As soon as the top was reached then it was gently undulating woodland path which brought with is another peril. With the autumnal shedding of leaves they were now lying over the path on the wooded floor, so were camouflaging the exposed roots and rocks, which made it an interesting section to traverse as I was reluctant to get up any speed with the risk of a plummet off the sheer cliff-side if you took a trip and a tumble! The woodlands eventually gave-way to more stunning cliff-top views out over the Atlantic as the final checkpoint loomed ahead about a mile away.

Lovely slope to a sheer drop onto rocks.
The final leg of the run started with a shorter beach section than the previous 2, this one only about half a mile, before heading up some steps onto a path behind some houses and then back up on to the cliff-tops with more undulations than we had come-across before. It was unrelenting changes of ascent to descent, some sharper than others, all of them reminding me of the Pembroke race and how far I have come since then just over a year ago.

Eventually I could see Rhossili once more and the flags of the finish line, although we just seemed to run parallel to it on our right not teasing us by not getting any closer until eventually the path took a right and finally we were approaching the finish flags and the end of the race.

Finishing this year there were no dog-tag as before, but a 2013 series medal with the race name stamped on it… Only another 6 to hopefully collect over as many forthcoming months :) Picking-up my bag I walked back to the car feeling surprisingly sprightly, most probably high on the endorphins from finishing the run, and feeling sorry for those whose races had taken a heavier toll on their bodies in far worse a shape as they limped and hobbled away. Whilst my time was not brilliant, I had finished around 2/3rds down the field, I was happy with how strong I had felt - especially in the latter stages of the race and immeasurably better an all-round showing than this time last year where I finished 3rd last in my first competitive run! It also put my performance in October's Clarendon into perspective where I did not perform to the level I thought I would have on a course far easier than this!

After my post-race protein shake (I can't wait to finish that foul stuff) and a couple of scotch eggs keeping warm in the back of the van, I changed and drove back stopping for a celebratory Whopper en-route knowing that part 2 of my weekend's activity was still to come. On the way back I passed Swansea airport, which is far more grandiose sounding than the reality - its about the same size as our local airstrip of Blackbushe (as recently featured in the film Rush doubling up as a 70's Grand Prix circuit), but there was a Hawker Hunter. in the RAE colours that we used to see flying out of Farnborough Airdrome when I was growing up, parked next to the runway, which I hope they get flying again one day.

This week I had been wearing new work boots which had been rubbing my little toes like crazy, blistering them in the process, so I knew my feet would not be good after the race before I had even started, but nothing was going to put me off the marathon! No matter how much vaseline I put on the toes before the run I knew it would not prevent the inevitable bursts and soreness, so this morning when I had to put on my football boots to play a full 90, as there were only 11 players available including me, it was truly agonising until about 10 minutes in to the game… It was one of those days where we turned-up with a scratch 11 fearing for the worst, only to find the opposition had just 10! So definitely worth putting in the extra shift to help-out and earn us a hard-won 3 points.

Needless to say after 90 minutes of solid stop-start running I was feeling the exertions of the last 36 hours!

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