Sunday, 14 November 2010

Gower - Coastal Trail Series - Race Report

With a week of extreme weather - torrential rain, floods and wind that would knock you off your feet, I was expecting the worst driving to Wales on Saturday. Gower CTS is essentially a coastal run along sandy beaches and cliff edges in extremely exposed areas on the Welsh peninsula. Poor weather would seem extreme in this area making any kind of long distance run a real challenge. Thankfully, the morning turned out beautifully and it was not long before the sun was up and runners were ready to go. I could not have asked for better weather!

Standing at the start line I was wearing my Inov-8 talons (first time I had worn Talons for this kind of distance / terrain) a new Salomon XT Wings 5 running pack (I had only managed to get in 10 training miles wearing this) and 2 packs of Blocks (a bit like gels but more solid, edible and less sickly). I would be the first to say never try something new on race day, however all three worked out perfectly for me.

With a short briefing, a cup of tea and a quick laugh at the chap who decided to turn up wearing road trainers, we were off. The event was organised with ultra and slower marathon runners leaving first thing in the morning followed by the marathon runners, 1/2 marathon and finally 10k at various intervals (in the hope that we all turn up at the same time ish). As soon as I dabbed my dabber (an electronic device to provide more accurate timing) I decided to push off reasonably hard at just over 6 minute miles for the first few miles. Not really knowing the terrain or properly reviewing the elevation this can always be a risky move.

The Gower CTS course provides a good challenge for the trail runner with a variety of terrain to tackle. One minute I am running on slippery trail of mud and wet leaves, next on a sandy beach, followed by wet grassy fields, bogs, marsh, road, woodland, rock and anything else you can find on the Welsh coast. The ultra route takes the standard marathon course around the National Trust coastal trail (c. 27+ miles) with an added 7 or so miles at the end forming part of the 10k and half marathon route. For those of you that know the area, the CPs require you to run through:

1.     CP1 Hillend
2.     CP2 Cheriston Wood
3.     CP3 Nicholaston
4.     CP4 Horton
5.     CP5 Seatown
6.     CP6 Middleton Rhosilli (start and finish)

It was kind for the organisers to mention that the ultra runners had the option of calling it a day at 27 miles and completing the marathon instead. It was probably a very tempting compromise for most runners on the day with the “finish” sign pointing towards home and the “ultra” sign leading them around the route for another 7+ miles of mixed terrain. Great stuff and good for moral fibre!

Remaining upright was a challenge and I ended up on my arse and face several times along the course. At one point coming down an extremely large hill, I fell on my backside and slid down uncontrollable until I hit a large clump only to stand up and do it again. That said, I can't complain, I got down the hill a lot quicker and was neatly delivered to CP1 with a smiley volunteer handing out water and food.

With the organisers only providing 'estimated' mileage (the marathon is about 27+ miles) I was not sure whether I was going to be running 33 or 37 miles. This always proves to be a mental challenge when running the last few miles. I wanted to keep my running bag light so kept to the minimum compulsory kit (first aid kit, space blanket, waterproof jacket, whistle, hat, phone, water and food) and using my new Salomon 3D water bottle I filled half a bottle with water and the other with a Nuun tablet diluted in water. I made sure that each bottle was half full at each CP and made the most of the nutrition that was available - usually sugary sweets, Blocks or cookies.

Despite taking in electrolytes and using the Nuun tablets I managed to get cramp in my left hamstring from about 16 miles and it lasted all the way to the finish line. I managed to prevent the cramp from turning the run into a living nightmare by static stretches each time I had a couple of seconds to open a gate or actively stretching it by lengthening my stride on the down hills. But you can’t complain too much when you have such stunning scenery to take in and extremely difficult terrain to focus on.

I was feeling quite strong to about 27 miles passing the marathon route “finish” sign at about 3.32ish (in fact the sign is about 5 minutes away from the finish line). My pace had dropped a little with the cramp now in both hamstrings (I was having a little difficulty with my hamstrings in training) but decided not to take the easier option and push on with the ultra course. It is at this stage its very easy to forget about hydration and nutrition when you think you are so close to the end, but with 7+ miles to go its vital that you maintain the discipline to follow my 30 minute top-up routine.

Disaster struck when I was about half a mile before the penultimate checkpoint (which was originally CP 1 during the beginning of the ultra and as we loop back around would also serve as a CP for the later stages). The signage pointed the 10k runners to the path leading off to the right and the ultra and marathon runners to continue straight ahead. I stood there staring at the sign for some time, I knew that we were to join the 10k route at some point but was this it? If I took the ultra sign could I actually be doing the original route again and end up doing another 27 miles? I was confused. In the end I decided to take the 10k route and charged down a large hill to a watering station. It wasn’t long before I found out that I needed to dab my dabber in what was CP 1 again. SHIT! Due to my own stupidity in not following the clearly marked signage properly I had added a reasonable large hill into my run which worked out to be an additional 7 to 8 minutes on to my final finish time! I must stress that this was due to me trying to be clever and thinking too much rather than following the sign which clearly said” ultra”. I have learnt my lesson the hard way.

After running down another large hill (the one which I uncontrollably slid/rolled/dived down a couple of hours earlier) I looped back round to catch the 10k and half marathon runners finishing the last few miles of their run. This was a welcome sight as I used these runners to pick up my pace always trying to catch up with the next person in front. Ultras can be lonely affairs because of their distance and it was nice to see people again! I must point out that one guy was carrying his compulsory kit in a record / messenger bag which is a first for me! He did look a little awkward / uncomfortable though.  

With a short road section through a local village I pushed up a large hill not too far from Worms Head watching the half marathon runners and 10k runners feeling the pain of getting up this large hill – little did they know that this would be the second time the ultra runners would run up this hill in one day! Running through an extremely muddy field towards Rhossili the sound of local support nearby indicated I was close. With one final push and the thought of a cup of tea I let rip with one final burst of energy to take me past the finish line. Job done.

In the end, the route for me (with my own added mileage) turned out to be just over 36 miles with the results as follows:

1st Daniel Doherty 5hr 01min
2nd Oliver Sinclair 5hr 38 mins
3rd Neil Bryant 5hr 56 mins

Although it does appear that Oliver is running an ultra nearly every weekend. Not sure how he does that!

The CTS is a really well organised event with some dedicated runners organising each of the events which form part of the series. Like most ultra trail running events you really wouldn’t get around to seeing some of the county’s most beautiful spots unless you entered. If you ever wondered why ultra runners run these kind of events you only really need experience the routes and atmosphere at events like this one to get your answer. Check out the upcoming events in the series here.

1 comment:

  1. I am doing the marathon as my first this year. This is a great write up and gives me insperation. Thank you