Written by John McBurney - http://www.marathontraining.org.uk
Day 1: 32miles (approx. 1200m of ascent)
Hilly and coastal, mid section is flatter/undulating then you pass Wylfa nuclear power station and it then goes a bit silly hilly, coastal up and down, up and down with steep descents/ascents with steps. Good fun and enjoyable but tough on the legs, heart, breathing apparatus. Fantastic views the whole way!
Day 2: 64miles (approx. 1500m of ascent)
It starts off hilly (coastal) where Day 1 finished and then the course becomes flatter / undulating but with the occasional biggish hill or long drag thrown in every now and then. The 64 miles are a complete mix of everything. Sand (dunes, beach, some soft, some hard – the harder sand can be found near the edge of the sea plus this provides the shortest route across a curved beach) gravel tracks, tarmac tracks, tarmac roads, pavement, concrete walls, marshland, boggy farm land, nice grassy fields, short grass, long grass, uneven country footpaths, beaches – some sand, some pebbles, some rocky, some covered in sea weed. I suppose the mixed varied course was my favourite aspect of the race.
Day 3: 35miles (approx. 1100m of ascent)
No idea what it is like as I didn’t do it! I imagine it was probably similar to Day 1, mixed bag and hilly, but not as hilly.
You can you use OS Landranger 1:50000 or use the 31 PDF maps provided by the organiser on the website. I used the PDF maps. These are great and contain more detail than the OS map. The only problem with the PDF maps is that footpaths and bridleways are highlighted in red, which is exactly the same colour as some of the roads and hence this caused some confusion at times, especially if you opted not to wear your glasses. It is also worth noting that the scale differs slightly between each of the individual map pages.
Because it is costal the views are amazing!
2 nights stay in village halls. The first night (Amlych) is the larger hall, 2nd night (Abberfraw) was smaller, but half the field had dropped out so space was not an issue. I was always conscious that I needed to finish each day as early as possible so that I could get a ‘good’ spot in the village hall. This obviously contributed to me ‘going off too fast’. I was the only competitor with a double inflatable bed.
Plan – I did a fair bit of training for this race including a couple of 42 mile round trip commutes to work and 3 weeks out I did the 54mile Herts Stroller. I tapered quite well, perhaps a little too much. My plan was to race day 1 then see what happened on day 2 and on day 3 my aim was to hang on in there / walk all the way to the finish if need be.
On day 1 (32 miles) I was hoping for 5h30. At mile 8 I caught up with an Italian chap (Riccardo) who I met on the train. We ran together for the rest of the day, finishing 6th and 7th in 5h48. We didn’t overtake anyone but occasionally we had a few competitors catch up but we seemed to speed up on the flats to keep a descent distance. With hindsight, ‘racing’ on day 1 to stay a couple of minutes ahead of someone was pretty pointless. A small gap on day 1 could be easily swallowed up on Day 3. When we got to checkpoint 4 (just after Wylfa power station) I calculated that a 5h finish could be on the cards. But the course then got a bit silly hilly with 3 very big coastal hills with lots of steps. This section was hard work and I then began to regret the pace we had been doing. With the hills my 5h finish was way out the window. I got to the finish relieved but feeling fairly good. A bit tired, but not too tired. I then faffed, washed, faffed, ate, faffed, rested. There were no showers, but this wasn’t a problem. A wet flannel and a good scrub down refreshes almost just as well. The atmosphere in the village hall was very relaxed. No loud noise and I managed to get a good night’s rest, not the best sleep, but a good rest all the same. Start time for Day 2 was 6am. The low background noise of pre-race faffing probably started at around 4:40am. I got up at 5am.
Oh crumbs! What have I done? The prospect of running 64miles was now slightly worrying. I tried not to think about it. We set off, and most people ran off, I started to walk. Running didn’t seem like an option, so I fast walked. I did this for about 2 miles, and then on a nice grassy section I decided to try running. It felt good. I persevered and kept at it. Next thing you know I am running and enjoying it. This is great stuff. Game on.
Just before the first checkpoint a group of about 10 runners join the course from a road. I spent the last 5 miles overtaking them. They go the wrong way and then take a road (short cut) to get back on track. This was a bit annoying. I saw ‘red’ and decided to run faster to reclaim my lost position.
This felt good. I was enjoying putting my foot down. I now had the wind in my sails and was cruising along quite nicely. Soon enough I was on my own with no one in front and no one behind. I liked it like this. I could concentrate on the map and the waymarks, keeping a steady pace and the miles seemed to fly by. And slowly but surely I began catching people up.
Sometimes the Anglesey Coastal path would split into two. An inland alternative route could be taken during hide tide. Sometimes the route map would indicate when an alternative could be used. Sometimes it didn’t. And on some occasions there wasn’t actually an alternative coastal path, so if the tide was in you had to invent your own route using roads or public footpaths. After Checkpoint 3 (Red Wharf Bay) there was an alternative coastal path. The low tide route looked like it went through marshlands. (I was a bit fed up of marshlands at this point – wearing roadies instead of trail shoes) so I opted for the inland route which looked slightly longer. The inland route turned out to be the wrong choice as it was by far the hillier option. This section took a fair bit out of me and when I re-joined the low tide path I felt fatigued. I didn’t lose any places during my inland detour and re-joined in the exact same place. We now had a fantastic long section with marsh land on the left and right but the path was good quality and sometimes boarded. We then hit a concrete wall. It was wide, 8ft drop on one side and 6ft drop on the other and we ran on the top of it. This was obviously some sort of sea defence, but it was so long. It must have been about a mile. I loved this section. I enjoyed the short spell running on a hard surface but also enjoyed the effort I had to put in to concentrate on not falling off the wall. I caught up with another runner and we ran together for a while and then we both got lost. It wasn’t our fault. About a mile before Bwrdd Arthur Fort one of the official coastal path waymarks pointed down and left instead of up and right. We followed it and next thing you know we are in amongst sheep in farmer’s fields. Two more runners joined us, obviously making the same mistake. We lost about 5mins and about 6 runners went ahead of us. But this was OK, no problem. Now, there seemed to be a small spread out group of about 10 evenly paced runners doing a decent pace. I was hoping that this group would drag me along.
We reached Checkpoint 4, the most easterly tip of Anglesey, with fantastic views of Puffin Island. The ‘group’ was still intact. I had a very quick checkpoint and forged ahead. I was trying to keep ahead of the group knowing that they would inevitably catch me up. I remained ahead of them and reached the next check point at Beaumaris. Food and drink consumed and quick sort out of trainers/feet. No blisters, but soles of feet feeling sore.
Straight after this checkpoint we had a long steep road section for about a mile. This was hard work. Most of the ‘group’ went past me. After reaching the top, walking became so much more appealing. We then had a 2-3 mile section on country roads. Felt like 3 miles but was probably only 2. I enjoyed the tarmac as it allowed me to do some consistent running and keep walking to a minimal.
We reached Menai Bridge and ran under the suspension bridge, which was nice. Two runners soon caught me up and I decided to try and keep hold of them. I was walking whenever I could at this point. The two runners seemed to be running slowly but consistently running. We stayed together and soon encountered a tricky section where the route diverted to avoid a busy main road. This diversion was horrible – very muddy, un-trodden public footpaths across farmer’s fields. We were glad we did this section in daylight and not in the darkness when it would have been much more difficult to navigate.
We hit further road section and me and one other chaps (Justin) decided to press on with some running. Good progress made, although feet progressively getting more sore. I’m verbally ‘Ooooooing’ and ‘Owwwwwing’.
We reach another section where we have the option of the low or high tide route. We opt for the high tide (inland) route. Good choice. It’s flat and not boggy albeit slightly longer. Good decision. Good progress made. That is what it is all about at this stage, making decent progress.
The coastal path then headed inland and looking at the map I could sense we were getting closer to the finish. We soon get to a beautiful part of the course – Newborough Forest / Warren with fantastic sand dunes on our left and lovely forest on our right. We take a right turn and hit the beach for a 2km stretch of sand at Llanddwyn Bay. It’s simply beautiful. We attempt to find the hard sand and run on that. In the distance we can see Llanddwyn island (which is actually a small peninsula). We need to get there, run to Westerley Tower, take a photo of ourselves with a disposable camera and rip a page out of a book. This is to prove that we have been there and not cut any corners. The book turned out to be Fifty Shades of Grey. I smirked and decided to rip out page ‘69’ – hilarious! Well it made me laugh anyway.
Me and my running buddy seem destined to stick together until the end. We do a switch back to exit Llanddwyn island and encounter runners behind us, there are 6 of them obviously catching us up. But, more importantly where is checkpoint 8? We just don’t seem to be getting any closer to it. It’s got to the point where time and distance seems to take forever. It’s close to getting dark. Mentally and physically I am shutting down for the night. I just need to get to checkpoint 8 and then I can walk the last section (approx. 6-7 miles). This would be my night section. 6-7 miles in the dark seemed very do-able.
We soon hit another beach section. Again, it’s about 2km long. Not much hard sand, it all seems soft and energy sapping. My feet are sore. Where is this checkpoint? Seriously though, where is this damn checkpoint? I need it. I need it now. We get to a forest trail and the 6 runners who caught us up have gone off into the distance. Even Justin, my buddy has headed off. I’m on my own. It’s getting dark. I almost make a navigational error but I’m clever enough to turn back and re-trace my steps instead of my usual perserverance down ‘wrong alley’. Eventually I reach Checkpoint 8. This is complete relief, although I do feel a bit queezy. Food and drink will help. There is a competitor lying on the floor in a sleeping bag. Turns out he fainted at the checkpoint and bashed his head on the wooden picnic table. That’s his race over. Ouch! Suddenly I feel a bit faint myself. I concentrate hard on ‘not fainting’. Not sure how you do this, but I do it. I just seemed to concentrate on sorting out my feet prior to the last drag to the finish line. I was very happy that my running buddy had waited for me at the checkpoint. Nice! As it was now dark, I think he wanted to do the last section with someone. Me too. I’m scared of the dark, always have been. Safety in numbers is what I say.
I feel wrecked. I can’t even contemplate Day 3. I just want my inflatable bed. My feet are sore and worrying me. I am slightly paranoid of having some sort of deep tissue damage, if there is such a thing. I consume the most delicious cheese and pickle sarnie ever. This makes me feel good. We leave the checkpoint and head off into the dark.
I tell Justin that there is no way I am going to start day 3. He says sleep on it and make that decision in the morning. OK, no need to be rash, I’ll sleep on it.
The last section seemed to pass relatively quickly. Lots of walking, but we do manage some proper running on a road section. Our head torches are inadequate (tut tut) and we therefore get lost in a farmer’s field. We find ourselves at the edge of a field, next to a fence looking for a way out. No gate, no stile. Let’s follow the fence. The fence leads to the corner. OK then let’s follow the fence further, still no gate/stile. OK then, let’s climb over the fence. After wasting 20+ minutes faffing around in dark fields and scaling fences and walls we eventually get back on track. We have 3 miles to go. We fast walk it all the way to the village hall at Abberfraw. What a relief. Utter relief. Day 2 has taken its toll. Day 2 has taken 16h19.
Rather than collapse into my sleeping bag I methodically eat, drink, wash, eat drink some more. Prepare my bed for the night. Prepare my kit for the next day. I have a look around the hall, everyone else seems to be sleeping. I chill out for 20mins and scratch my head. My feet are really sore. They are bound to be. I attempt sleep at midnight, knowing I need to be up at 5am for a 6am start.
The morning arrives far too quickly and I can’t contemplate dragging myself through Day 3. I hobble to toilet and my feet are still very sore. I go and find Bing, one the race organisers. I tell him that I am throwing in the towel. That’s it for me, race over. I opt for the easy option.
Looking back now, I should have just started Day 3. I should have forced myself to do it and complete the goddam thing! I won’t dwell on it (too much). I just need to go back, treat the whole thing with more respect and generally just run slower.
I will be back in 2013. I have already entered. I want that finisher’s medal.
My favourite parts of the course were as follows:
- Wading through the Alaw Estuary, Day 1
- Wylfa power station, Day 1. It’s big and ugly, but it’s awesome!
- The coastal hilly section after checkpoint 4, Day 1 near Llanlleiana Head and Hell’s Mouth.
- Puffin Island, Day 2
- Giant Steeping Stones across the River Braint, Day 2.
- Menai Suspension Bridge, Day 2
- Llanddwyn Bay / Island, Day 2
- Newborough Warren/Forest, Day 2
Fastest Time = 4h30
My time = 5h48
Position = 7th / 63 starters
Fastest Time = 11h17
My time = 16h19
Position = 16th / 57 starters
Going into Day 3 I would have been in 13th position overall.