Event 27 - Winter Race to the castle ultra-marathon

I am 100% in love with Wales. Having spent my university years on the West Coast of Wales I somehow feel like I am returning home on each visit. I therefore didn’t resent the 5 hour drive through the valleys, over the Mountains, through the town of Machynlleth to the tiny little village of Corris. We (Husand and I) hired a tiny little ex-mining cottage to stay in for the weekend, it was only 15mins from the race start line in Aberdovey. We reached the cottage in the dark and it was obviously pouring it down and the wind was at hurricane strength.

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We managed to batten down the hatches, make a high carb meal and get set for the following day. My plan to stay close to the start was completed useless when we discovered that the trains back from the finish at Harlech were cancelled. This meant an extremely early morning to walk the dog, eat porridge and drive to the end of the race to get on a train to the start at Aberdovey!

The train arrived in Aberdovey full of other Ultra-runners. Everyone looked sleepy and wrapped up against the elements. All of the runners seemed to be very experienced and were either local or had run a good few Ultras before. I mean who else would run a 42miles ultra-marathon along the West coast of Wales in December!? The trains late arrival gave us 15minutes to register and then start the race. With only about 80 runners (half of which were running the marathon distant) in total, there seemed to be plenty of time. A very low-key and short race briefing in the sand dunes and we were off!

Foam Party!

Foam Party!

The first few miles heading towards Tywyn were along the beach. This is hard going as a warm up and the sidewind made running tough. As soon as possible all runners headed over the dunes to try and get some shelter from the wind. This however meant we were off track and were self navigating. The runners seemed to spread out quickly, there were some very speedy individuals in the pack. We got slightly lost within the the first few miles but so did many others, we all muddled through and just headed back to the direction of the sea and onto Tywyn beach front. It looked like we were running though snow but it was just mass’s of foam from the sea. No-one told me there would be a foam party, I would have dressed more appropriately in some neon rave gear!

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Originally the race seemed to be quite easy on the route description. Keep the sea on your left and head North up the coast following the Wales Coast Path. However, there were many diversions in place. The race organisers had put yellow correx arrows and spray painted arrows on the ground, but when they were really needed they seemed to be few and far between. I am very glad that we carried maps and can navigate! From Tywyn we headed inland and up onto the hills. Again this wasn’t really described in the race description. The hills were extremely muddy due to the torrential rain and the visibility was little to zero. The going was pretty tough but I was enjoying all of the variations of terrain. It was already clear to me that it wasn’t going to be fast course, the weather was terrible, it was muddy and slippy and to be honest my legs and body are now feeling pretty sluggish. Most probably due to the other 26 endurance events I have done previously this year!

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The hill section defiantly made miles 10-22 go quickly but were tough on the legs and on the mind. There had also only been 1 rest stop by this point that provided any food, the quality of the food was appalling, a bowl of onion ring crisps and a packet of chocolate digestives is not really the standard I am use to. Luckily I was carrying quite a lot of my own food so I could fuel myself.

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I was pretty cold on the hills and soaked through even running with full waterproofs on. I was glad to start descending through the the woods and in the direction of Barmouth Bridge. The bridge was stunning but a tough run. The end of Barmouth promenade marked the marathon point where a large majority of the runners were stopping and receiving their marathon medals, many ultra runners also decided to stop at that point due to the weather. It is hard to carry on when everyone is stopping. At the marathon point there was a big bucket of cheese and onion rolls; I think I must of inhaled about 10 rolls!

Only 16miles to push at this point. The following 3miles were mainly flat and along a road. This gave us chance to get into a rhythm and tick off some miles before hitting the 4mile beach section. It is a stunning section of running and it had stopped raining, yay. However, the headwind was so strong. We were intermittently power walking and running as it didn’t seem to change our average speed. It was a real struggle but we managed to finish the beach section just before it got dark and we had to put head torches on. The last 6miles took some navigation; it was dark, no signs or arrows could be found and bogs had to be crossed. It made it all very slow going. We eventually hit the main road in Harlech and could see the famous castle which marked the finish line. Well I say marked the finish line, the actually finish line was about 2oom passed the castle in an abandoned carpark with a guy giving us medals out the back of his van. Not quite the finish you want when having just run 42miles.

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This event was tough, not only because of the physical and mental endurance but because the race was a big let down. The Welsh coast path is absolutely stunning ad I would go back and walk/run the route in a heartbeat but it cost £135 for Will and I to enter the race and I felt like I didn’t get anything for that money. We had to navigate ourselves, I was glad to have carried my own food else I don’t think I would have made it with the nutrition they provided, there was absolutely no atmosphere and most people because they were local runners didn’t actually run the ultra-marathon route, instead they headed to Harlech castle the shortest way possible cutting off about 10miles! The race director at the finish told me that it was fine people made their own route to the end! Disappointing. What I will give them credit for however is the medals, they are pretty great.

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