Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Friday, 9 May 2014

3rd May: Slaying my Welsh dragon

Marathon number 23 saw me journey down to the south west of Wales for the penultimate leg of the 2013/14 Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series in Pembrokeshire. This was a return to the scene of my first organised trail marathon back in October ’12. As my first, running this stretch of coast around Little Haven will forever make it special to me and having finished last time completely exhausted, it made me realise what running a trail marathon was all about. Yes, you could say the course gave me a schooling in what to expected in a trail marathon and how to deal with it, and it damned near broke me through my not being well enough prepared for the challenge mentally as much as physically, but whilst it may have left a large mark on my psyche, I prevailed over it… Well today I was back to slay my dragons from before.

Last time round I was sorely hampered through not having the right trainers. There had been plenty of rain in the lead-up to the event and the coastal path was a glorified slip ’n slide and I was not sporting adequate grip to deal with it, so this time round I had my Cheviot’s to cut through even the worst that could be thrown at me by the course.

I was determined that in this race I would not be last, with the 'lantern rouge' being the dubious honour for someone else. I was also looking forward to being able to run the section south of Little Haven on the coastal path (the section that had the beating of me last time through the footwear issue) and to taking off as much time from last year’s as I possibly could to show the course what I am more realistically capable of.

With the duff weather so far this year there were to be changes to the course from before. Gone was the 10k loop through Broad Haven to the north (and mercifully the hill that separates the Little and Broad Havens) with the extra distance being put on the southerly section of the course: The ultra runners doing two laps of the Dale peninsular to the mere one for us marathoners. The half marathon was to loop back on itself from just over 10k south of Little Haven along the route of the marathon course, with the 10k runners being bussed to their start point on the coastal path and all running home.

On the Friday night after dining on the food of champions: a large doner kebab with chillies, I made the drive westwards to the location, paying my 'Taff tax' on the bridge in to Wales (to enter Wales you must pay, but to escape it is free) and parked-up in Broad Haven to kip for the night in the same car park as last year.

Facing a good mile's walk to the event base in the next village up and over a large hill, as soon as I woke I left to register, munching some pre-race fuel of flapjack on the way. As I climbed the hill I could see signs for ‘event parking’ with marshals directing cars in to a field on the crest… Making a mental note I carried on down to the village hall and signed-in before making the return trek to the van and driving back up to the top once more to park, breakfast and change.

Not a bad view for a car park.
Walking down the hill once more I gathered with my fellow marathoners on the harbour wall for the safety briefing. It was pretty obvious that there was easily threefold the number from the season opening race of 2012's Coastal Trail Series and we all listened to the essential info, which did not tell of previous deaths on the path this year!

Being briefed.
Whilst listening and seeing how everyone else was dressed, I made the decision to go without my jacket and just run in a T-shirt over my base layer - I figured that it was warm enough to be worth the risk as there was little to no rain forecast and the wind was pretty non existent. Dumping my bag I bumped in to Luke who had been forced to drop-out of the rest of the CTS season after Sussex through his injury, although he was present to act as support crew for his wife in the half distance, repaying her for all the times when the trail shoe has been on the other foot.

James doing an 'I'm a little teapot' impersonation during his countdown.
Follow the leader.
Soon we had the count down from 10 and we were off, traipsing up the hill southwards out of Little Haven. At the top of the hill we ground to a halt as we had to queue to get through a kissing gate on to the coastal path.

The queue...
For the chance to run this!
By this point I was already feeling pain in the instep of both my feet from rubbing - Not carrying anything to remedy the problem I decided to ignore it and necked a couple of pain killers, as if I was feeling it now, I would be feeling it all the more in 27 miles time!

Some trail porn.
The section on the coastal path fell 1/4 to 1/2 way through the course last year and how wet the trail was under foot combined with my rubbish choice in footwear, I was unable to run barely more than a few steps, whereas now it was rock hard so I was able to properly run the undulations and savour the views of the rugged coast.

Looking back at those yet to overtake me.
Eventually the cliffs fell away and we found ourselves in the inlet of St. Brides, where as we scrambled over the rocks and shingle of the natural harbour a gaggle of scuba divers were gathering ready to go out exploring wrecks under the waves.

Having gone through the first checkpoint by St. Bride's churchyard and heading south across fields and farmland I was aware of the distinct lack of sheep around - there were plenty of signs of sheep having been there, but it seems they'd all been squirrelled away by the locals fearing the invasion of interlopers from outside, after all these cliff-top dwelling sheep are highly prized and sought after as they know from being close to the cliff edges how to dig their hooves in and push backwards.

The fields and paths gave way to the abandoned and derelict WWII airfield RAF Dale, with us running down its westerly edge then across the south, continually buffeted by the winds off the sea as we headed off on to the main difference from last year: the circuit of the Dale peninsular.

Approaching Dale.
Descending from the plateau of the airfield through the second checkpoint you could see the brightly coloured rows of houses stretching inland along the valley from the old port with Milford Haven looming on the horizon across the other side of the bay.

Watwick Point Beacon looming large.
Milford Haven on the horizon.
Through Dale we climbed back up on to the cliff-top path and journeyed past the Watwick Point Beacon which is used by shipping to judge where they are in relation to the safe channel of entry in to Milford Haven… Something that the Sea Empress failed to manage back in 1996, running aground not far from Watwick Bay and spilling 73,000 tonnes of crude oil in a huge ecological disaster.

The Blockhouse.
Past Watwick Bay saw us skirt around the coastal fortification of West Blockhouse that was built to protect the port of Milford Haven and its anchorages from attack by the Spanish and French.

It was assistance from France rather than an invasion that is commemorated shortly after the Blockhouse on our run around the peninsular. The path overlooking Mill Bay carries a plaque noting the site of Henry VII and his landing from exile in France and the commencement of his march forth to defeat Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field.

The plaque in question.
Mill Bay ends at St. Ann’s Head where we ran past what is described as ‘the most remote street in Britain’: the terrace of 5 houses that line-up against the lighthouse and the helipad. At present these are for sale at a guide price of just under £1M - although they need complete refurbishment inside and out, and not forgetting the neighbouring light which might get on your nerves when its working!

You can rent out the control tower of the lighthouse for your holidays as the building has been converted into two cottages - with the tower commanding terrific views in clear weather.

The control tower.
The 'street' for sale.
From here we continued northwards to complete the loop, ‘dibbing-in’ at the checkpoint then heading back across the bottom of the airfield then inland to the point where the 10k runners had started from in their point-to-point journey.

As you passed the sign for the start of the 10k race, you could not fail to gain a psychological boost knowing you were closing in on the finish, entering in to the last quarter of the run. This final section run entirely on the cliff tops with the cracking views that this afforded. Ok it was pretty much the same route as we had run on our way out, but seeing it from this different perspective made it seem entirely new.

More trail porn.
As much as I was enjoying the run, my feet were really uncomfortable through the blistering, so it was a case of asserting mind over matter and trying to ignore the pain of each step, with painkillers having no effect now.

A bemused on-looker.
As the coastal path wound around, I could see Broad Haven in the distance getting closer so I knew the end was in sight and soon the coastal path led us in to the beautiful Bluebell woods that meant we were nearly back at the top of the hill at Little Haven.

The blooming bluebells.
Through the kissing gate again - this time without a queue and I was on to the road as it mercifully began its descent in to the village… Although there was one little twist in that the finish line was in the same place as last year, perched on the cliff above the harbour so soon there was another sign leading us back across to the left and over some fields. In front I could see another runner who had carried on past the turn, so I gave them a shout, which fortunately he heard and was able to get back at a cost of only about 100m extra journey.

It turned out he was an ultra runner - how gutting would that be to lose yourself completely after 35 miles and in sight of the finish?

Across the field and a few twists, turns, ups and downs and the finish line was in sight, with people lounging around on the grass soaking up some of the afternoon sun to applaud us tardy of finishers home - welcome sight and experience as always.

My legs felt pretty fresh, but my feet felt battered, the former probably because of the latter but taking a positive I'm hoping that's a good sign for coping with the extra distance of the Classic Quarter Ultra next month. I collected my bag from the drop and hobbled in to the sea like a fully clothed Reggie Perrin. The tide was out to its furthest extent as I waded in up to my knees to give my calves and feet a good soak as I figured an ice-cold saline bath might help to clean out any damaged areas.

Looking back on Little Haven from in the sea.
Having drunk my recovery shake I waded back to shore and suffered the inhumanity of the climb up what now felt like a mountain rather than a hill to the car park, where I rested, changed and inspected the damage before heading back to Hampshire to the remarkable sounds of Man Utd. losing to Sunderland at Old Trafford for the first time since 1967!

Upon arrival I attempted to upload the run from my Garmin, only to find it had corrupted so I had lost all my data :( I know my finish time and I also know that for mile 22 I put in a good low 11 minute time for that from looking at the Garmin as it ticked over, but everything else: nada! From looking up the problem on the Garmin site its a frequent glitch that people experience - an activity refuses to upload through corruption and the only way to cure is a master re-set. Of late I have had difficulty picking up satellite signals with it, so probably both are tied together.

I felt pretty strong in the latter stages of the race and that 22 mile time is a huge boost to my confidence and I am sure that without the continual pain from every step of the 27.9 miles I would have been quicker. That said, I owed this course a proper running to show what I am more capable of on the terrain. I may only have come in 74th of 97 finishers in 5:44:40, however I’m confident that I would easily have been 15 minutes faster without the feet problem which certainly held me back, and regardless I was over an hour faster than before - even if over a slightly different course and certainly a marked improvement on 3rd last - only beating 2 ladies who walked the whole route!

For the record, here's the lovely sight of my burst blistered insteps:

This race was not too sociable a one for me, only running for around a mile with one other entrant, and with the pain of every step I needed a distraction, so from hitting the runway of the airfield the iPod saw service from here till the end with a listen to Episode 300 pt1 of Kevin Smith & Scott Mosier’s ‘SMODcast’ with its true tale of the suicidal parrot (it has to be heard to be believed), followed by an episode of the BBC 5Live sporting panel show ‘Fighting Talk’.

On the eclectic shuffle I had the following accompany me home:

Weather Storm - Craig Armstrong
Dry County - The B-52’s
That Man - Caro Emerald
Vamos - The Pixies
Plastic Man - The Kinks
No Other Love - Blue Amazon
Why Won’t you Give me your Love - The Zutons
Strange News from Another Star - Blur
Darkside of the Moon - Ernesto & Bastian
When You’re in Love - The Proclaimers
Country Boys and City Girls - The Fratellis
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Skrillex
Nice Guys Finish Last - Green Day
Embarrassment - Madness
Never Wake Up - Sum 41
Je te Reve Encore - KYO
Echoes - Marco V
Walk in Love - Energy Orchard
Lonesome Tonight - New Order
Spectators of Suicide - Manic Street Preachers
Promises - Sugababes
Digital - Joy Division

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