RAT RACE The Pontypridd Roadents Magazine April/May/June 2020
Inside: Our Virtual World Pete Jacksonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Spartathlon Venice Marathon San Domenico More Event Reviews
N W O D K C LO E U S IS www.pontypriddroadentsac.org.uk
Welcome! Yes it’s your official LOCKDOWN issue of RAT RACE and though we haven’t exactly been able to meet or run as a club with so many organised events being postponed, I’m sure that what you are about to read will brighten you day.
The Committee Andy Davies Club President
Jo Gwynne Vice Chairperson
Nick Pounder Treasurer Sam Richards Club Championship Secretary Darren Bishop Kit Officer Billy Hayton Road Race Captain Fiona Davies Road Race Vice Captain Neil Brooke-Smith Club Welfare Officer Mair Johnson Club Welfare Officer/ Child Safeguarding Officer
Paul Graham Club Chairperson
Mike Gwynne Club Secretary
Fiona Campbell Membership Secretary Mark Douglas PR Officer
Rob Parker Website Editor Bretti Paxton Off Road Captain Daniel Thrift Off-Road Vice Captain Darren Griffiths-Warner Magazine Editor Rhodri Evans Race Director
Nick Denny Club Welfare Officer
Charlie Smith Club Welfare Officer David Mather, Juan Delgado, Ben Butler-Madden, Paul Harris General Committee
EDITORIAL ‘Another Planet’
You know when madness really takes a hold of you. It’s that moment when you press enter on the computer while looking at a faceless website that has the words Ultra Marathon staring back at you. The ease of sitting in a warm house, a simple no-money-visible credit card action and a move of the mouse across the screen. ‘Yes, I’ve done it, entered and there is no turning back’… or so I thought. A 52-mile route with 3860m of ascent starting at midnight in the market town of Hay On Wye and heading across the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons before finally crossing the finish line in Hirwaun. It’s a high level run, crossing the mountain tops of South Wales on fairly unforgiving trails with 20 hours to do it in. Still, compulsion got the better of me as I stared at that screen and even though I’m not the fastest kid on the block I’m probably the most insane and so press the button I did! I tell myself that I’m ready for this, it’s the next step and I’ve done so many mountain ultras and runs now that I should be able to cope. But I know that it will be hard, very hard because there is no fooling myself. I’ve been there, on top of mountains, freezing cold, hypothermia setting in, forcing my legs to move forward, taking every bit of that stupid bloody will power to get to that finish line and collect that all-important medal. It would be easier to sit down, grab a beer and watch a movie or something and say, you’ve done enough, but I can’t. I’m addicted to the buzz of at least trying and looking at people around me as they sink from middle to old age scares me more than any bloomin’ mountain… What actually makes this more insane is that the previous day, I did exactly the same when looking at the Brecon To Cardiff 50 mile High Level Ultra Marathon, so I had two Ultras to look forward to. My swan song, so to speak as these runs were to be my final Ultras as I decided to drop down to running mainly Half-Marathon with my wife Gail, with maybe the odd 26.2 thrown in on rare occasions. Of course I pressed that button before BoJo pressed the stop button on all the events due to the Covid-19 virus. Running over lonely mountain tops may not actually spread the disease but we must all play our part and it’s only fair that all organized runs should comply. Still, that doesn’t account for the sense of loss I felt. Like doing a spell of ‘Cold Turkey’, the withdrawal symptoms I was feeling were quite acute and difficult to adjust to. And, as expected, the emails for all my booked races came in saying race cancelled, postpond or turning virtual including my two ultras, both disappearing to moved dates or offers of other races that clashed or didn’t fit my already hectic schdule. I was devastated that my final year of Ultras was, well, already over. I felt ‘loss’. Though, as the country turned into a silent peopleless place, I found myself running our local hills around Pontypridd, searching out those untrodden tracks and routes I’d never considered before and found a new solice in my running. It was a joy of discovery as each day, either on my own or with Gail, I hit the empty trails that wound through leafy woodlands, over high mountain peaks or alongside streams and rivers. Virtual Running then became the thing. I had dabbled a bit with this style of organised running in the past, following my progress along Route 66 was a thrill in itself, but this was a different form of excitement. Kicking off with the Newport Marathon which had changed its date to inconveniently clash with our planned trip to the Valencia Half-Marathon. Due to its lack of refund policy or deferment until 2021, the only option was to run it vitually before 26th April. I did this by running a circular route around Pontypridd, hitting all four of the opposing valleys high points, twice, while still being within a couple of miles from home. I could count the people I saw on one hand, one of them being Simon Pritchard going for a very early morning walk. After this I set myself challenges like running and taking a photo of myself at all the local Triangulation Points or doing enough hill runs that the accumulated elevation added up to the height of Mount Everest or running the full length of the River Severn. I also searched out cheap Virtual Runs with medals attached to give Gail and myself those extra challenges during our alloted exercise sessions while supporting those smaller running organisations that were suffering due to the cancellation of their races. Running and staying fit during lockdown became my obsession, giving me something to look forward to, in between standing in a queue with a mask over my face to go into Tesco or sitting in front of a computer screen trying to virtually teach a group of uninterested students who found it difficult to get out of their non-virtual beds. Of course, it isn’t that I made light of the uniquely grave situation that the world was facing, where the nightly news reports told us of the horrendous death tole that was destroying so many families’ lives, but I had to find my own way through it while keeping my social distance and keeping my own family healthy. So my challenges have became part of my daily life. And of course it continues on with the Welsh Assembly Government’s current stance (at time of publication) keeping contact to a minimum. It’s a strange time we currently live in but I think running, even if done solitary, can be one form of solice that aleviates that feeling of suffocation and should be medically prescribed for this current climate.
NEWS & VIEWS Life In Lockdown With this LOCKDOWN period of restricted movement lasting three months (at time of publication), it must seem to members that our running club has almost ceased to exist especially as The Loop Race has been cancelled like many others around us. But of course we haven’t disappeared completely. Every month the committee has been meeting via ZOOM to talk about all the things that matter to us - things like postponement of races due to COVID-19 and our future green policy have all been under discussion, amongst many other topics. And there has also been a number of other ways to keep you interested or feeling part of the Roadents Community. Fiona Davies has been keeping everyone up to date with the Virtual goings-on of the Welsh Athletics Association, with a number of our club members submitting to their different races. Andy Davies organised the first of our Virtual Handicap Races, while Paul Graham has been uploading weekly training sessions to our Facebook Sites. Mark Douglas has also been keeping us informed with his very successful ‘Meet The Members’ posts, interesting insights to both new and old members of our club that you might have only seen (in my case running past me) on the Beddau track. And of course, David Mather has been entertaining us with his Roadents Virtual Run Around The World, an excellent idea that keeps us guessing what direction we may be heading next. All Roadents are very welcome to join in and post on Facebook your own achievements during LOCKDOWN! So please, come along ‘Virtually’ so to speak, and post your own contributions...
EVENT REVIEWS SPARTATHLON Sunday 27th September 2019
As I crossed the finish line of the Thames Path 100 in 2018, Centurion Race Director James Elson,congratulated me on achieving a Spartathlon auto-qualifier. It was 03.13am, I had just completed 100miles and all I could really think about was shower, food and bed, not another race. I had never heard of the event before but my own “Road to Sparta” began that moment as he planted a seed that would grow into my 2019 target A-race. For those like me who have never heard of this event … SPARTATHLON is a historic ultra-distance foot race that takes place in September of every year in Greece. It is one of the most difficult and satisfying ultra-distance races in the world because of its unique history and background. Boring history bit: The Spartathlon revives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long-distance runner, who in 490 BC, before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens. It’s widely billed as one of the toughest foot races on earth (a title it only competes for with Badwater 135). Starting at dawn under the Acropolis, participants have to battle the heat of late-Greek summer, punishing cut-off times at 75 checkpoints along the way (especially the earlier ones), a maximum time limit of 36 hours, the idiosyncrasies of some Greek drivers, and a 1,000m ascent of a mountain path sometime in the middle of the (cold) night. It’s such a harsh and unique set of conditions that often only 50 percent of starters get to kiss the foot of King Leonidas, the notional end of the race in Sparta itself. In 2019, 377 runners started and 197 finished within the 36 hour cut off.
Build Up My build up consisted of a number mountainous recce runs for the South Wales 100 with Mike Gwynne and competing the June 2019 race itself supported by my wife, Jo and Mike with Fiona and Nick Pounder. I also spent a lot the summer running the streets of Bristol in four layers, much to the amusement of my fellow runners; this was my effort to replicate the heat training and acclimatise. I flew with my wife Sandy and daughter Gwyneira into Athens on Wednesday 25th September, which is when most of the British contingent arrived before the Friday morning start. We went through the pre-race routine of registering, shopping for last-minute bits and handing over drop bags. Plenty of time for team panicking and bonding, as well as a little wandering along the sea front and some sea swimming. The evening before the race you have to attend the race briefing and you get to mingle with the other teams. This year Team USA had the likes of ultra-running legends Dean Karnazes and Zach Bitter (although both eventually DNF’d). 27th September - The Race After an early rise and a simple breakfast it was time to board the bus to Athens from the hotel. Atmosphere on the bus was full of nervous chatter and the swapping of race plans. Sandy met me briefly at the start for some photos before heading out to the first crew checkpoint to give herself plenty of time and to beat the rush; she and Gwyneira were going to crew me along the route and had a hire car packed full of spare kit and food. The race started at 7am and headed through central Athens. A lot of the early miles were spent chatting with fellow Brits. As we made our way out of Athens there was an incredible backdrop of blaring horns as police specially closed off roads and motorways to allow the runners through. These road closures made driving interesting, but Sandy found a Polish motorhome to follow that was crewing another runner and she used them as a guide in the early part. Most of the first 30 miles went without drama as I made my way along the coastal road around the gulf of Elefsina where there was little shade from the sun. For a small section of this I was literally running on the hard shoulder of the busy motorway with nothing between me and speeding Greek lorries than some traffic cones! Much of this early part of the route was uninspiring industrial zones followed by some gradual climbs and descents close to the sea. The only highlight being the Mediterranean Sky Passenger shipwreck and a pit-stop for a wild-poo. The temperature quickly climbed towards the predicted mid 30s and I could feel the heat sweltering down on me. Early on I revised my race plan which had been not stop at every check point and took every opportunity to grab some ice and soak my hat and buff. Greeks are incredibly proud of their history and love the fact that there is a race celebrating it, so it was wonderful to see so many school children out supporting giving you high-fives as you passed. The first crew meeting point was at Mecara (26.4 miles). I had made good time (+3:29) and I think I caught Sandy by surprise, so I didn’t spend long there. From here the route became more rolling with beautiful views across the beautiful Megara Gulf to distract me. After almost another marathon and just after Isthmia I crossed the footbridge across the stunning Corinth Canal, trying to dodge tourists and take in the view. After a further 2 miles you reach the second crew point - a “very picturesque” can factory. This is a major control point and as a result it was heaving with crew, supporters and volunteers. I arrived here at [+7:11], well ahead of my race plan but still feeling reasonably good. From here the course veered into the countryside and the Peloponnese, continuing through citrus orchards and beginning the ascent of the hills that divide Ancient Nemea from the sea. With a few more hours of heat to endure (dodging the odd snake sunbathing on the path) and just after the third crew checkpoint at Zevgolatio (63.7 miles) things slowed down. The route turned into winding country roads and the terrain became far hillier. Despite the light fading I was desperate to make it beyond Halkion (mile 70.6) before I had to collect my head torch. I reached the next checkpoint with crew access at Ancient Nemea (77.1 miles) after 12 hours (and nearly missed the timing mat because my legs wouldn’t change direction). Not long after this I began the long, slow, undulating road-climb from Malandreni (mile 87.4), through Lyrkia, which was overflowing with partying townsfolk, and up towards the Mountain Base checkpoint at 99.7 miles. Here my stomach rebelled but Sandy gave me a little food and after changing into a long-sleeved woollen top I felt ready to go again. Climbing up the mountain in the pitch-black was not as bad as I had anticipated, despite spending most my time concentrating on foot placement on the rocky/stony steep 1.5-mile narrow path. Every so often I would get spooked out by random people popping up along the way (I don’t think I was hallucinating!). Once I quickly caught my breath and had some sips of hot sweet tea at the gazebo atop the mountain I began heading back down. Incredibly, it was 00:45am but there were still people on the mountain along the descent cheering us on.
‘You are accompanied by children running in with you to the finish – you feel like a rock star!’
It was at the next major checkpoint at Nestani (mile 107.2) that I acquired a taste for Gaviscon and rice pudding â&#x20AC;&#x201C; nothing else seemed to settle and I desperately needed real food as my intake had cratered. From here the route also became incredibly flat and for this entire section there was a thick mist covering the landscape, which was not particularly inspiring or uplifting. My mental state took a further blow when, not long after Tegea (mile 122), the plains gave way to a long climb followed by seemingly endless undulating hills and a fast-rising air temperature. My tiredness and the lack of fuel alongside having to hike was really taking its toll; I was sleeping on my feet and having to pinch myself to stay awake. At 140 miles the route eventually descended into the Evrotas valley towards Sparta, although by this time my quads were too trashed to take advantage. In retrospect it was the section from Tegea that I struggled with the most. With just over 10k to go I met up with Sandy and Gwyneira at the last crew checkpoint at Voutianoi. After a quick rinse down with baby wipes, I brushed my teeth, changed into my British team t-shirt and was ready to go again. By this time I was shuffling and on auto. I remember the last 2miles after the Evrotas River bridge snaking through the streets into Sparta and feeling like it was taking forever. The whole race-route itself is incredibly well sign-posted (mostly with permanent paint markings on the road); however, at this point there were no obvious directional signs so it was with great relief that I was accompanied in by local school children on bikes. The final 500 metre run is the most extraordinary experience I have ever had at a race. The whole town is out cheering you on from cafes and street corners and you are accompanied by children running in with you to
the finish – you feel like a rock star! With the statue of King Leonidas in front of me, I grabbed the Union Jack flag handed to me by Sandy as well as Gwyneira’s hand so that she could run with me as I took the final steps up to kiss the foot just before midday, in a total time of 28 hours and 59 mins: 16th overall and 3rd Brit. Not bad for a 51-year-old novice. Thankfully as there were no other runners immediately behind me, I had plenty of time to bask in the glory and have plenty of photos taken with Gwyneira and Sandy. After being given my olive wreath and taking a traditional drink of Evrotas water from a goblet I was directed to the medical tent for my mandatory medical and an incredibly welcome foot wash. Once the staff were content I was safe to leave (and with beds starting to fill with a number of IV drip-fed and sickly-looking runners), I was poured into a taxi to our team hotel for a shower and change. After an overnight stay and a superb hotel breakfast buffet, early the next day we had the traditional “Spartan mile” on the local 400m track behind Leonidas’ statue for all finishers. Over the last few years this has turned into a challenge which must be competed in your underpants and, usually, bare-footed - I don’t think I had any more miles left in my Nikes anyway! As crazy as it sounds, it was really well attended by all countries and, for me, I am sure it helped loosen up the legs a little. Well it certainly was an eye-opener for Gwyneira! After the mile it was check-out followed by an official lunch at the Leonidas Palace hosted by the mayor of Sparta. Here we received a few more goodies before heading back to Athens. With a few leg-stretch and photo stops on the way back we had some uninspiring hotel food before retiring for an early night. Next day having returned the hire car we ventured down to the beach for a swim/paddle followed by a slow wander into Glyfada for a fast-food top-up. That evening we attended the official post-race reception, meal and the medal ceremony. So Finally… Whilst maybe sounding like torture - if you ever qualify and have the chance to be part of the British team to take part in the world’s toughest 153mile race (albeit there is lots of walking) - do it. The challenge, the people, the history, the culture, the things you learn about yourself and the enormous feeling of satisfaction are things that will live with you forever. The British team is really well supported, friendly and incredibly well organised leaving you able to concentrate on panicking about the race. Despite the incredible lows you may even want to go back again for more…? PETE JACKSON
VENICE MARATHON Sunday 27th October 2019
When I signed up for the Venice Marathon the image in my mind was of runners wading through the water during the previous year’s event when parts of the island flooded. This image appealed to my sense of humour but, having arrived to glorious sunshine, I was glad there was no repeat of last year’s washout. The course starts on the mainland in Stra by the picturesque Villa Pisani and follows the Riviera del Brenta through the countryside taking in some impressive villas. The course is pretty much flat with a few lumps thrown in which makes it a fast course for those looking to achieve a PB. When arriving at the start it’s clear this is a big deal to the Italian people with the race being shown live on TV and the event having a Bronze Label certificated by IAAF.
Once we are underway, the atmosphere is what you expect for a large event with plenty of excitement and nervous energy. I was running ahead of a large group of charity runners who were singing and chanting along the first few miles, which set the tone for the whole run which was one of noise and plenty of humour. Whilst I don’t understand a word of Italian, it was clear runners and spectators were intending on enjoying themselves - at least until the pain kicked in. For the first few miles we followed the river through a number of picturesque towns. Here the locals came out in their numbers, which brought a welcome lift between the quieter sections of the course. Live music was also popular in the towns, with sometimes two or three bands playing. Rock and Thrash Metal seemed to be the most popular genres of music and it was so tempting to stop at a bar and enjoy the music. Once we had left the countryside we entered a more industrialised section of the course. Here, there was less support and less relief from the midday sun. It was also very noticeable the numbers of runners needing medical attention at this stage or transport back to the start. The numbers of medical staff along the route was impressive, although at one point an ambulance was following me for about 2 miles! It was at this stage that we passed the halfway point and then we started to enter the suburbs of Mestre. This is a large town which you pass before you enter Venice, which gives the feeling you are getting close to the end even though you’ve only just passed the halfway stage. Here the course takes various detours through the streets to the point where you lose all sense of direction or when you’ll see the welcome sight of Venice in the distance. Like the support we received in the countryside, the locals were very generous with their encouragement and fellow runners were supportive with those of us who were starting to struggle. I was also pleased to hear the Rock and Thrash Metal entertainment was continuing and it was even more tempting to stop and listen with a cold beer. Once we had left Mestre we entered the Parco San Giuliano. This is where the expo is located and where the family run was held the day before. The park is very flat (surprise, surprise) and reminded me of a perfect place to have a Parkrun. It was also the location of the ‘cramp point’, situated at 30km where a team of physios would offer a welcome massage to struggling runners. As you can imagine this was a popular attraction for those who were willing to wait. There was also a welcome feed station at this point and it is worth mentioning how good the feed station/ water stops were. They were at regular intervals along the route and in addition to the welcome fluids there was fruit and some kind of Italian fig roll on offer. Each runner was also given a sponge and along the course there were frequent water stops where you could cool yourself off. With the temperatures approaching 23 degrees these were always a welcome sight. Once we had left Parco San Giuliano we then approached the main route into Venice. This is a perfectly straight road which seems to last forever. In the distance Venice is partly hidden by massive cruise ships, which is a shame given that it’s now so close but you are unable to see it. This is probably the most difficult part of the course as there is little relief from the sun and the road seems never ending. The route is flanked by a railway line on one side and a road on the other side. Trains and cars continuously sounded their horns in encouragement as if they could sense how deep we were having to dig in. Once we had reached Venice there was a rush of adrenaline knowing this was going to be a very special experience. Having run through the port where the giant cruise ships were lined up, we fuelled up at the last feed station and turned the corner to be welcomed by the welcome sight of Venice. The course runs along the perimeter of the island with a number of bridges to climb along the way. Thankfully, ramps are built over the bridges and despite my legs feeling empty at this stage it brought a welcome relief to have a change in gradient. As we passed a number of cafes and restaurants ,we approached a temporary gangway which is erected for the marathon and takes us across the water at the entrance to the Grand Canal. For those runners not too worried about their time this is an opportunity to look back and take a photo from a unique viewpoint. Once we had reached land it was a short run to St Mark’s Square where the course takes us for a lap of honour in front of the cheering crowds. This is a perfect place to see family and friends, as well as those important photo opportunities. It was also thrilling to hear shouts of encouragement from British supporters and I even heard “c’mon Roadents” from someone in the crowd. As we left St Mark’s Square we turned left, passed the Doges Palace and went over the bridge next to the Bridge of Sighs. At this point the smile was wide across my face and with the finishing line in the distance the pain that I had gone through was all worth it. It is at this stage of the course that saw the highest concentration of bridges, with 14 bridges to climb in total. As for my own race, my goal was to run 4 hours 30 mins, which was going well until mile 16 when my legs started to stiffen up and I eventually had cramp. Looking back, I was a little ambitious but I can’t be too disappointed and will put it down to experience. It was a fantastic weekend away in a city I’ve always wanted to visit and would definitely do it again. STUART WILLIAMS
EVENT REVIEWS THE GLOUCESTER FISSION 20:20 Saturday 14th March 2020
The 20 mile race starts from an unused power station on the outskirts of Gloucester. The event was originally a training run for London Marathon but on the eve of the event came the dreaded news that London along with Manchester (and Newport to follow) was postponed due to the infamous Covid19. Thankfully the organisers provided plenty of hand sanitisers and all wore latex gloves in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. The race turned from being a nice training run into possibly the last race for quite a while. Lots of talk amongst the runners were of disappointment of various runs being cancelled, little did we know of the impending madness and chaos we were about to enter! The course is flat and scenic, sending runners around 2 laps of country lanes passing through picturesque villages. There is also the option of running a 20k race. Free tea and coffee along with a selection of cakes were provided at the end of the race. Stephen and myself enjoyed the run and we finished in 2.33 and 2.37. We then spent the rest of the day in Cheltenham having a much deserved drink for our morningâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s effort! LIZ MAY
Photographs Courtsey of Gloucester 20/20 Fission
Dan Bodman coming first place in the San Domenico 20 Mile Race
SAN DOMENICO 10/20 MILE RACES Sunday 15th March 2020
Well it seems such a long time ago now but on 15th March 2020 San Domenico Running Club ran their 10/20 miler race. I was really looking forward to it as it’s a nice run and had done the 10 Mile option in 2019 and really enjoyed the course. This was my first attempt at 20 Miles in a race and my preparation wasn’t helped by London Marathon postponing 2 days before the race. Set on the Taff Trail it is 2 laps of a 10 Mile course and this year it was well attended by Roadents. Seven out of the first 10 in the 20 Miler were Rats, and Roadents won both the 20 Miler (Dan Bodman) and the 10 Miler (Simon Lewis). The pre-run catch-up was muted as everyone was aware this could be the last run for a while, but there was still a very good atmosphere. The marshalls were all extremely helpful and enthusiastic and this is definitely a run I would advise people to do - if you feel you wouldn’t want to do 20 miles then give the 10 miler a go. I had trained well with my Marathon plan, but I was still a bit apprehensive as hadn’t run further than a half since Newport Marathon the year before and training for London had been a lot more stressful with the constant worry of raising the £2000 on my mind. To date, I am still not there despite tremendous support and giving by my friends in the running community. The run itself went a lot better than I expected as I was aiming at a sub 4 hour finish. I had great support from other runners (on the way back) keeping me going despite not feeling the best with the knowledge that London wasn’t happening until at least October. The first 10 miles went well as I managed to stick with a group of people ,but lost them at about 12 miles so the last 8 were a bit lonely. I managed to finish in 3 hours 51 minutes and 37 seconds or 3 hours 51 minutes and 2 seconds on the Chip - and whatever they say those 35 seconds do matter! I have also never been so happy to see a finish in my life. MARK DOUGLAS
EVENT REVIEWS Simon Lewis winning the San Domenico 10 Mile Race San Dom Photographs: Johnny Lam
LLANELLI HALF-MARATHON Sunday 8th March 2020
Llanelli was my first half marathon and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The route was fantastic with only a few hills along the way and plenty of gel and water stops. OK it was a little stressful with the traffic being congested just before you parked but, once that was dealt with, no other problems. Llanelli is a race I would encourage anyone to take part in. I had a great morning! It was well organised and such a fabulous atmosphere all the way along the beautiful Coastal Route with itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fantastic view out to sea. My favourite run of 2020 so far and already likely to be my favourite of the year. I just loved this run! Thank you to all the organisers, the race makers and supporters - and lastly a big thank you to the marshalls. This is an experience I will never forget. Loved it! Love the medal and t-shirt. Definitely recommend! CAROL ROUGHLEY
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THE ULTRA TOUR DE CYMRU Sunday 15th March 2020
The Ultra Tour De Cymru (was SW100) is billed as a 100-mile ultra-trail footrace starting and finishing in Cardiff, crossing the South Wales Mountains and Valleys and the Brecon Beacons. It is a test of endurance over varied and challenging terrain, suitable for the committed and competent ultra-trail runner. The route has approximately 6000 metres of ascent and is over 90% on trails. It was a UTMB qualifying race eligible for 6 UTMB points (note: new regime in place from 2021). The race certainly lived up to its description. I had recce’d all of the route under the experienced guidance of Mike and Jo Gwynne. The 1900h start on the Friday meant that my usual pre-race routine had to be adapted slightly, but I travelled over from Bristol in the morning with the kit I needed for the first half of the race; Sandy travelled later having collected Gwyneira from school. I managed to get some rest at my mother-in-law’s house before Jo and Mike took me to the start at Cardiff Harlequins RFC. I wasn’t sure whether this evening start would be good or bad, but it did mean that I was ‘fresh’ for the night navigation across some tough, high ground. The weather was set to be good which removed one potential complication. Checkpoints were spaced approximately every 6-10 miles and there were a number of compulsory clips located on the course (for example, the top of Cribyn) to stop people cutting corners. Jo and Mike crewed me for the night section of the race and then Sandy took over from Tal-y-Bont reservoir. I never rely on the check points completely during races but these seemed fairly well stocked even if a little late setting up in the later stages; it was the one thing that Jo, Mike and Sandy commented on was that they would often arrive at CPs to find them either setting up or not there yet! The Route In 2019 the route started in Cardiff and headed out of the city along the Taff trail and crossing the River Taff before heading west along the waymarked ‘Ridgeway Route’. After chatting with the race leader in the first few miles up to Taffs Well, he then shot off at some pace up the Garth; having run a few 100 milers I had my own race plan and settled into an easier pace. After approximately 15 miles along the ridgeway route having passed through Llantrisant, the many wind farms along the section and up Mynydd Y Gaer, we turned north to Glynogwr and through Ogmore Forest and its flooded paths, before reaching open fell to the top of the Bwlch. With night falling head torches were needed as the route followed the Maindy Trail down and across the valleys of Treorchy, over Maerdy Mountain and Mynydd Bwllfa and down towards Hirwaun. It was just after leaving Treorchy I began to see the leader’s head-torch ahead of me which started a game of cat and mouse. After Hirwaun the route took me past Penderyn, out into ‘Waterfall Country’ and the Brecon Beacons National Park. The ‘Four Waterfalls Walk’ route is a highlight of the route as you pass under the waterfall ‘Sgwd yr Eira’ by moonlight. It was just before Ystradfellte Village that I finally managed to catchup and pass the early leader and it was great to see another friendly face with Sean O’Connor and his son, Tom, running the CP offering encouragement. As the sun began to rise it was time to cross the more exposed summits of Fan Llia, Dringarth and Fan Frynych. The ground underfoot was really boggy and difficult to traverse quickly. It was with great relief that I eventually dropped down through the Graig Cerrig Gleisiad (Nature Reserve) to the lay-by in time for a brief stop and breakfast at the CP. With beautiful clear skies above and the temperature rising, the route then took me to the top of Pen Y Fan (via Corn Du) and across the stunning Brecon Beacons mountain range of Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big before a long descent to Talybont reservoir. From here the steepest climb of the route is Tor Y Foel - the crux of the route - and mentally for me the most difficult of all the climbs. At this stage everything hurt. Heading south through Trefil it was next onto the Rhymney Vale, the mountain peaks of Rhymney Hill, Mynydd Bedwellte, New Tredegar, Cefn y Brithdir, Gelligaer (picking up Mike) and then Caerphilly Castle. I had hoped to make up some time in this section, but my legs had different ideas despite, Mike’s best efforts to chivvy me along. Skirting around Caerphilly Castle, it was onto the final push through the Warren and over Caerphilly Mountain (Mike being stopped to be asked about the bus timetable?!) and Crag yr Alt, before heading back to Cardiff via Castle Coch. Pros: It is on the doorstep, so many of the trails on the route are familiar and for those that aren’t, carrying out recces are straight forward. The sights and scenery are amazing: the waterfalls such as Sgwd yr Eira are truly breath-taking, as is the Brecon Beacons mountain range of Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big. Cons: The course is signposted except for the Brecon Beacon section which is done at night in the dark. I was lucky the weather was good but in bad weather the conditions on the tops of the mountains would be difficult. Just when you think that you’ve done with climbing, after the long descent to Talybont reservoir, there is the steepest climb of the route, Tor Y Foel. Memorable: Running through Treorchy streets at pub closing (I thought all Welsh men could sing or at least hold a tune!); the sound of windmills in the dark; the sunrise over the Beacons/Tal-y-Bont. Not So Memorable: The last few miles running from Caerphilly Castle along the Taff Trail. Having not consumed
anywhere near enough real calories since the Beacons it felt like this section went on forever and all I could think was “When is this going to f@*$ing end?” I have to thank Mike for accompanying me in and Jo for crewing through this last section and keeping me moving. The finish was both memorable and something of an anti-climax. I had finished first for the SW100 and Fiona (Pounder) and Gwyneira made enough cheering and bell ringing to wake the dead, but the race team were so busy setting up the finish for the SW50 and the main body of SW100 that they forgot to award me my medal. They had set the finish meal and photo backdrop upstairs in the rugby club – a flight of stairs too far after 100+ miles. Jo tracked down my medal and the two finishers from the SW50 congratulated me. I received my award a few days later but this was the 1st Male Veteran trophy; the 1st Place Overall award arrived only after a gentle reminder. Recommendation: This is a well-attended race organised by a reputable company and is an excellent race especially if you like going up and down mountains in variable Welsh weather! They have excellent medical back-up but the GPS is erratic and I was “lost” to both the tracking system and my crew for quite considerable sections. The main gripe for me was the “last minute”-ness of setting up the later aid stations. PETE JACKSON
MY YEAR OF RUNNING FOR CANCER RESEARCH WALES (Part 3) by DARREN GRIFFITHS-WARNER
Race courses are strange places to hold a run in my mind, vast open areas where speed is the main focus but devoid of any real ambience, unless there is a meet going on I suppose. The Cheltenham Challenge (Sunday 16th June 2019) start/finish lines were based more in the car park than the actual race course itself, so really had little to do with the classic Gold Cup course than one may have expected. Like many stadium finishes that are advertised attached to many races, one never really gets to touch the hallowed ground that other sports play upon. So when the Half-Marathon run started we found ourselves being twisted and turned around the car parks and out-lying areas of the classic race course to make up the distance, rather than a circuit of the track before being lead out the gate and off to the distant hills. This was a race of two halves, first part boring, the second part amazing, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the amazing part that drew me to leave Wales again to complete this run. After a trek around the streets, the route became exciting as we were taken up a steep, long, stoney track that resembled a cascading river due to the recent heavy rains before arriving at the top of Cleeve Common
and the section of the run along the Cotswolds Way. You could see in every direction from this vantage point and the surface was so runnable, I found myself able to pick up speed while still stopping to capture the odd selfie on my phone. Another top of the world moment as we reach Cleeve Hill before heading back down to the race course that was visible from the high downs. The descent was slippery, very slippery, proven when some speedy young lady in road not trail shoes came flying past me before careering head over hills into a nearby bush. I stopped to help her as her friends caught up before leaving her shaken but not damaged to make her way at a slightly slower pace to the bottom of the path. Reporting the accident victim coming behind me to the next marshall, I moved on again through a mixture of paths and track before reaching the fencing outlying the race course. We skirted around this, the finish gantry visible across the open grassland, before reaching an entry gate and heading back to the car park finish line. The run was interesting and I must not be overly critical of the course as all the profits for this run went to the Caring For Communities & People Charity, so I’m glad I ran this race but would have liked to have spent more time on the Cotswold Way up on the high downs. The SSAFA 5k (Wednesday 19th June 2019) a simple 5k race around Bute Park on behalf of the Armed Forces Charity. A very fast event that left me crawling towards the back of the crowds, even though I still put in one of my fastest 5ks in quite a while! I always enjoy running around these park areas of Cardiff and the lift of the well organized but simple event seemed to drive me on. And I got a free pen!! Another of the fast races on the Welsh running club calendar is the Swansea Half-Marathon (Sunday 23rd June 2019). Following a mainly flat course from the County Hall into the town then out to the Mumbles via the long drag of the coastal road, it gives the runners an opportunity to push themselves without ever really having to experience any inclines of note. The route does a switch back and before long you find yourself running along the coastal cycle path between the land and the seashore back towards the town, that appears to never get any closer. Reaching the far end you skirt over the river and back before hitting the finishing line and maybe a new PB. The first time I ran this race I had felt good. So good in fact I knocked 4 minutes off my previous half-marathon best and got below 1:45 hours. The day had taken me and from that point I produced a series of decent runs that culminated with a never-to-be-bettered time of 1:42 at the Silverstone Half-Marathon within the year. The following year I found I had a mix-up on my start pen position, someone thinking I was going to run the half-marathon in less than an hour, so found myself standing next to Dewi Griffiths and a number of other running greats. I was soon put into my righful place as half the field overtook me soon after the start gun went off! Slightly dispondent and before I really learned not to care, that race saw me give a 1:47 hours performance and from that point reality hit home as I got slower. So when I came over the finish line in 2019, I loved the fact that I enjoyed every step of my 1:51 journey because Swansea is a great friendly run with lots of waving from runners still on the road section of the course to those runners ahead of them running down the cycle path. Glad they have a chiptiming matt at the far end turn around otherwise we may have some cheating going on. The Blade Runner (Wednesday 26th June 2019) is the simple no thrills but quite exciting club race put on by Islwyn Runners, which takes you up then down a steep hill with a circuit around the small pretty village of Manmoel in between. Called The Blade Runner, due to the fact you start and finish near two wind turbines, the smell of Braces Bread cooking nearby waves over you as you start the run. A friendly affair where different club members can beat their chests against each other, before tackling the 6.8 mile distance and receiving a buff at the end for their efforts. Definitely an enjoyable run! I tackled what turned out to be the last Sosban 10k (Saturday 29th June 2019), with my wife Gail after running the Llanelli Coastal parkrun 5k two hours earlier. The route was pretty much the same as the parkrun, just starting a little further down the coast on the Millennium Coastal Path before hitting a turn around that took you back past the start/finish line to another turn around then back to the start. The undulating coastal path is a dream for road runners, slightly taxing in places but mainly just straight, passing by wetlands full of wild birds and following alongside the coastal railway route. I had run this path many times, including its entire length during the Brain Tumor 40 Mile Ultra Marathon earlier in the year so knew most of the lumps and bumps of the route. Shifnal ‘Steeplechase’ Half-Marathon (Sunday 30th June 2019) was another of my forays into England when no Welsh races suited my very hectic calendar. The race had the title ‘Steeplechase’ not because there were
jumps involved, which would have seen me flat on my face more than once, but because the half-marathon race route took you past four village churches - all of which had towers not steeples I noticed! Basically, it was a pleasant countryside run through lanes, villages and farmland tracks which wasn’t unique but simply beautiful. Nothing too hard or hilly or technical underfoot with plenty of opportunites to put my foot down and up my pace for a while. I knew nobody so enjoyed the fact that I’d be the first Roadent to cross the line, which I did in a time of 02:00:51. Not my fastest, but who cares! The following Wednesday found Gail and myself in Aberaron for the first of the Run4All Summer 5k Series (Wednesday 3rd July 2019). A simple, flat, fast run along the seafront with loads of support and a real friendly atmosphere. What made it even better was the ice cream after we finished the race! When The Trail Running Company announced the launch of their new run, The Black Mountains Challenge (Saturday 13th July 2019) I knew I couldn’t miss this inaugural race. With an Ultra, Marathon, Long Half (14.3 miles) and 10k available, I opted for the half on this occasion knowing there was going to be some hefty climbs
and I wanted to stay within the Cut-Offs. On the morning, it was good to see Callum Priest, who was also running the half distance (so I wasn’t the only lightweight) but this did mean I wouldn’t be the first Roadent in (which is often the case as I tend to be the only Roadent running these races). Feeling on form and having run the HOWUM Ultra Marathon (Saturday 6th July 2018) and the excellent Porthcawl 10k (Sunday 7th June) the weekend before (see July/August Issue of RAT RACE for reviews of both races), followed by the third Rose Inn 4 Mile Races (Tuesday 9th July 2019) on the Tuesday evening and the Cosmeston Relays (Wednesday 10th July 2019) on Wednesday, I was raring to go! The race started and the climb was immediate, steep and hard with a few styles to clamber over before we reached the top path. Here, us half’ers had to climb another hill circling around back to the same point to make up the distance before running along a very technical sheep (yes sheep!) track on the side of the valley. You found yourself crashing through the massive growth of ferns, their throngs slicing little cuts into your bare legs while watching the hidden ground beneath your feet and the runner ahead to glean a form of direction as he or she bodily disappeared into the high undergrowth. Then we broke free of the plantation as we rose before more ferns and across a babbling brook. Now the work really started, as we climbed up to the ridge and the long run across the highlands towards Waun Fach. Far below on the left I could see the village of Cwmdu and the A479, distant reminders that there was other life on this planet, I could also see a few runners in front of me and, miracle upon miracle, some behind me. Before we reached the highest peak we turned back down the valley and the long run towards home. More ferns and technical rock strewn paths before another sharp rise up and over a ridge. I climbed hard missing the correct path but luckily a friendly shout from fellow runner John Chandler, from the San Domenico Club in Cardiff, helped me realize my mistake and retrace my steps towards the finish line. I was sure the arrows were pointing upwards and later found out that some signs had been tampered with by a local who was unimpressed that others dared to enjoy the beauty of the Black Mountains, though he enjoyed a visit from the Local Constabulary later that day. A quick twist and turn and I crossed the finish line in 3:58:06, a time I was very happy with. Callum had completed it in 3:07:04 but had been another victim of Mr. I Hate Runners – Sign Remover and had gone off for a few miles’ additional trek. Another excellent run ,though I must admit for those more cautious but experienced trail runners amongst us. Not too many places to really build speed up. A very technical course.
During the following week and after dropping my daughter off to work at the Latitude Festival on the Suffolk Coast near Southwold, I decided that a straight return to Wales wasn’t such a good idea, so I found a convenient 10k to have a go at. The Bungy Black Dog MT Race (Wednesday 17th July 2019) was a fairly flat run that found me treading over old ground. Déjà vu! I’d been here before, well part of it, in another life when running the Angles Way 100k Ultra back in May. I think Bungy might have been the 50k point and what it did was give me a little insight to a section of the route ahead. Basically the only real bumps came from a couple of humpback bridges which, to the uninitiated, can knock the wind out of your sails a bit (yatching reference as we were near the Norfolk Broads…these articles aren’t just thrown together…). I started off at a steady pace expecting to take it easy but suddenly got bouyed up as I found myself passing more and more people, so got a little excited and increased my speed. When we hit the bridges other runners were puffing, panting and complaining like crazy while I thought about the steep Welsh mountains I’d been running over the weekend before - and I remembered that there weren’t that many hills to train on round here. I stormed on, my pace rarely slowing, finding the paths and ground easy underfoot before finally being forced to ease off a little as we reached a single track path with no room for passing. With a kilometer to go this path finally opened up and I sped past more people than I thought possible, crossing the finish line with my third best ever 10k time. I don’t know what had got into me that evening, but I felt elated!
I had enjoyed the OTT (Off The Tarmac) Ultra Marathon in November 2018 (despite finishing last place – not a DNF though), so signing up for their Pen Y Fan Challenge (Saturday 21st July 2019) wasn’t a difficult decision. They gave you a choice of 5 or 13-mile runs. I opted for the 13 miler which included a double ascent/ descent of South Wale’s highest peak of 873 meters. Starting at Storey Arms the run put you straight into a climb as you tackled the ascent for the first time. My pace was slow to power walking, but the views were spectacular as you gained in elevation. All the more encouraging was seeing Ruth Cochran’s friendly face at the first marshalling point, handing out Jelly Babies to all the runners. Reaching the cloud-covered top seemed to come quicker than I expected, but there was no time for self congratulations, just a quick selfie before being guided to start our first descent across the top of Cefn Cwm Llwch. As I reached the steeper descent at Allt Ddu I passed an energetic Simon Lewis who was coming up towards me ascending for the second time. A quick shout hello and ‘we were sent the wrong way’, I had visual evidence of how far behind the lead runner I was. Basically he was doing the course backwards though the distance was the same. At the bottom by Cwmaynwyn Farm the route joined the Roman Road for the 599 metre climb up to Windy Gap, a valley between the two highest peaks in the Brecon Beacons. Here we then turned to climb back to the top via Jacob’s Ladder, a truly ferocious unforgivingly steep ascent that was extremely slippery when I’d run it (descending) in the rain during the OTT Ultra Marathon. Today though, the sun was shinning and the stones were dry so the only problem was the copious amounts of fluid I needed to get to the top. More photos at the top (showing the difficulty of the terrain), before I was able to descend for the last time via Corn Du. This path was more forgiving and I was able to pick up a decent tempo pace as I made my way to the bottom. It took me 3:58:28 of pure enjoyment to finish the run, loving every exhausting second of it. Simon Lewis finished in joint first position completing it in 2:14:27. Respect my friend!! Very well organized and an excellent run. Highly recommended.
A week passed before my next official run, the Tough Runner Afan Forest Trail Running Festival 10k (Saturday 27th July 2019) which boasted three races. A Marathon, which Fiona Davies and Callum Priest were running, a Half-Marathon, which Brenda Evans was tackling and a 10k, which lightweight ‘Me’ had decided to do. I was due to go on holiday the next day and didn’t want to over-exert myself beforehand but also didn’t want to miss out a weekend of running, especially when I was going to be away for two weeks. I’d more or less done most of this route when I tackled the Tough Runner Escape To Afan Duathlon the year before, a run/ride/run race that saw me sporting my finest £150 Halfords Mountain Bike against most people’s mega bikes that cost more than a car! Basically, you run up a hill, around a few windmills, then run down again…all set within a forestry scene. The route was well marshalled and the running was pretty hard in places but again my mojo felt good and I found the going suitable for the way my body was reacting at this moment in time. Shock! Was I starting to benefit from all these races I was doing. Bounding along like a new born puppy, I enjoyed every step of the journey, but really came into my own on the final downhill 3k section towards the finishing line, reaching a decent trail pace that had me passing more people than I’d ever hoped to imagine. The medal I received after I crossed the finish line was pretty cool too, so I felt the day’s effort was worth my time. Of course, all that training was going to go to pot, as I was off to lie on a sunbed in Portugal for the next two weeks! (Next Issue: Part 4 - Bad Weather Racing)
PROUD TO BE PONTY A selection of Images captured before LOCKDOWN
Severn Bridge Parkrun on International Women’s Day
Barry Island Parkrun
San Domenico 20/10 Mile Races
San Domenico 20/10 Mile Races Photographs by Johnny Lam