Gower Ultra 50

The first edition of the Gower Ultra 50 was on Saturday 4th October 2014, starting at 7:30 from the St. Madog Centre just outside Llanmadog, on the Gower peninsula.

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I’d registered the evening before which was fast and efficient and we arrived a few minutes before 7:00am on the Saturday, parked, and gathered in a hall for the briefing with the other runners. I counted around 50 runners in the hall, although 57 actually started the race.

There was a mandatory kit list for the race. In addition to what I was wearing, I had my 2ltr CamelBak, waterproof trousers, compass, silver-foil blanket, hat, gloves, Nuun hydration tablets, peanuts and several breakfast bars.

The RunWalkCrawl organisers gave us a map of the course and some instructions that covered both the route for the competitors as well as spectating points and how to get there.

The briefing took a few minutes and went over the obvious stuff: follows the Wales Coastal Path, keep the sea on your right, etc. After that we went outside and lined up to start.

My strategy was to go at a comfortable pace for as long as I could. I didn’t know anyone else doing the race and didn’t recognize any competitors so was planning to run alone. With around 50 competitors for a 50 mile race, and with several walkers, I thought the field would string out pretty quickly. For food, I was planning to eat a cereal bar every 45mins until I didn’t fancy them anymore, have a few peanuts a few hours into the race and see what was available at the 7 checkpoints along the way. For hydration, I had my CamelBak filled with about 1 pint of water that I planned to refill at each checkpoint, trying to carry as little extra fluid as necessary. Once in a while, I intended to add a Nuun tablet to the CamelBak.

The weather had been wet and windy overnight (we’d been kept awake a little by the weather). However, as dawn broke the rain had stopped and we’d been greeted  by a windy and overcast morning.

RunWalkCrawl has erected and inflatable arch which we ran through on the off. We went out onto the headland towards the sea and turned left. I was overtaken by a few keen folks and was in the top third as we descended from the headland, through a few dunes onto Braughton beach. Low tide was at 9:00am so there was plenty of beach to run across.

At the briefing, they had said that we were not allowed to go through Llangenith Caravan Path up onto the headland, but had to go across the beach and up the cliff. As we went across the beach, a figure became visible up on the far cliff to point out the way up… which was quite useful.

Once up on the cliff we followed the path round and descended down onto Rhossilli beach and started the 3 mile run across the windswept sand with the Worm’s Head in the distance.

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The runners started to string out as we went across the beach; a small group stayed high up the beach whilst the majority went nearer to the water line to run the tangent along the curved beach. We passed the lone cottage and headed for the path up to the village at the end of the beach.

There was a photographer halfway up the path to snap a few photos. Most people were walking.

At the top we turned right and went to the first checkpoint in the carpark. We gave our number in and headed off, not stopping for anything else. We headed down the path towards the Lifeboat station on the cliff edge but followed the path round to the left before we got there.

The second stretch took us along the coast to Port Eynon. This is one of the more remote stretches of coastline as we went along the cliffs past Fall Bay, Mewslade and onto Overton. We went past an ancient burial cairn and climbed back up the cliffs to Port Eynon point, before descending down onto the beach.

We ran along the beach and up past the Coastguard station before looping back a bit for Checkpoint 2 in Port Eynon carpark. We stood around for a couple of minutes and had some snacks before setting off again along the coast past Horton and onto Oxwich.

The path deviates inland at Slade due to coastal erosion but then runs along the edge of the cliffs before arriving at Oxwich Point. From there we climbed through Oxwich Wood before descending the steps and coming out by the St Illiad’s Church and running down the lane towards The Oxwich Hotel. I’d caught up a couple of folks by the time we came out onto the beach and headed towards Three Cliffs Bay.

Oxwich Bay is about 2 ½ miles long and was fairly deserted as we ran over the sand. The weather was improving and blue sky had started to show through. I ran out of water on the beach. It was a silly mistake to forget to top up at the Port Eynon checkpoint. Fortunately, it wasn’t very hot and I knew that the next checkpoint was not too far away at Southgate so I just pushed on.

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I could see that the tide was on its way in and was wondering where I would come off the beach and climb the cliffs. The shortest route would be to get round from Tor Bay to Three Cliffs Bay and onto Pobbles Beach. The tide was in though and that would have involved a bit of wading, so I decided to come off the beach at Tor Bay. The path up the cliffs at Tor Bay is one of the easier ones and once at the top I continued around to the edge of Three Cliffs where I descended down towards the beach and ran along towards the stepping stones.

There were a few folks a bit confused by the route here and I’d caught up a small group of people. Across the stepping stones I headed over the shingle and up the cliff. Tough ascent here as its quite steep and all sand. A few folks started to follow.

At the top was a glorious view of Three Cliffs Bay in the sunlight.

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I followed the path down towards Pobbles and up onto Westcliff for the run towards Southgate.

Checkpoint 3 was located in the carpark at Southgate. I filled up with water and added a Nuun tablet to the bladder and had some snacks. As I was doing this a few other folks started to come into the checkpoint.

F was there and gave me my sunglasses. Should really have taken them along myself but it didn’t seem very likely at the start that they would be needed today.

Set off again fairly quickly and headed off towards Pwlldu. No other runners in sight at this point.

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The path around here is quite rocky and has a steep climb upto the gate and through a field before rejoining the road and dropping down to the beach. Round the back of the beech and up out onto the cliffs again as we headed over to Caswell Bay.

Rounded Smugglers Cove and came into Caswell. Dropped down onto the beach as the tide was still a fair way out and ran over the beach to the far side of the bay.

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I rejoined the coastal path and headed up hill again out onto the cliffs. Round to Langland Bay and kept a look out at the Langland Brasserie but did not recognize anybody so kept going.

There was a group of supporters along the promenade who gave me a cheer which is always good. Took a quick snap of Langland Bay and carried on. This was about the half way point.

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From Langland Bay its not too far round to Limeslade where there was a lookout from St John’s Ambulance to point out Checkpoint 4 in the car park at Bracelet Bay.

Got a good cheer there when I arrived. Stopped for a little while to fill up with water and have a slice of Angel Cake and a few other snacks before heading on. Another runner came in as I was there so after a few minutes I headed off. He carried on as well and came out of the car park ahead of me.

We headed along the road to Verdi’s and Mumbles and joined the Promenade. The other runner stopped a little way along here to chat with some friends so I carried on, saying “hello” as I passed.

Past someone I knew on a bike going the opposite way and met up with Paul and Geraint who had run down to meet, and run with me for a bit. By now the weather had warmed up a little bit.

As we ran along, we were caught by Natasha who was going a bit quicker at this point. She went past and Paul decided to run along with her for a bit whilst Geraint kept going with me.

We reached The Junction Café and crossed Mumbles Road to head up the cycle path to Gowerton. Surprising how the slight gradient up here made quite a bit of difference. Just over half way along the cycle path we came to Checkpoint 5 at Dunvant. The checkpoint was set back a bit off the path, in the car park.

Had a chat with the guys on the checkpoint who said I was in third position. Filled up with water and added another Nuun tablet. Didn’t have much to eat here and set off again fairly quickly.

From the checkpoint we continued up the cycle path to Gowerton. Geraint had some things to do in the afternoon so took a turn off the path and we said “goodbye”.

At Gowerton, I continued out on the North Gower Road towards Penclawdd, joining the North Gower path when I could. We went through Penclawdd and I was beginning to wonder where the checkpoint was when it became visible in a lay-by out towards Crofty.

Checkpoint 6 was very jovial. They topped up my CamelBak and told me I was looking good. I has a few jelly sweets; didn’t feel like eating anything else and set off again. Nobody else was in sight at this point. They said the chap in front was only a few minutes ahead but I wasn’t really sure about that comment.

I walked for a few minutes out of the checkpoint before setting off again. Negotiated my way through Crofty and joined the Marsh Road off to Llanrhydian. Going had slowed down a bit more by now. There isn’t a great deal to see along Marsh Road, except Llanrhydian marshes and the view over to Llanelli. I could see the Whiteford Sands Lighthouse in the distance and knew we wouldn’t be looped around there today as the course had been changed to avoid this loop.

The ground rises into Llanrhydian and I started walking at this point. Things were beginning to get quite tough. The next checkpoint was in Landimore. I wasn’t completely sure where it would be.

After Llanrhydian the path goes across fields. I wasn’t sure exactly where to go around Weobley Castle as the coast path goes up onto the cliff at one point. I’d done these fields in the reverse direction a few months ago, so decided to stay low, in the fields. Its quite tricky here to spot the field exits and ended up wasting a bit of time here.

Eventually I regained the road and down a hill Checkpoint 7 came into view. The chap took my number. I declined any water as there was only 3 miles to go at this point. I managed to take a chocolate biscuit and set off. Mainly walking at this point.

The path to Llanmadog is quite simple and goes round the marshland in a horseshoe. As I followed the path round one of the style’s was closed. I imagine that some of the path across the marshes further out was damaged, hence the changed route. Anyway, the diversion was through the woods into Cwm Ivy, which is a path I’ve not used before. Was keeping the walk / run going.

In Cwm Ivy I went through a gate onto National Trust land, that someone was trying to unpadlock to get his car out. Down a short path with the sea starting to become visible. I know that the finish was going to be on top of a hill to the left, and when I came round a corner to a crossroads in the paths, I could see people waving from the top of the hill.

The last hill was a nice steep, sandy one. Took a while to walk up. From the top it was a small distance to the finish which was on a short downhill stretch to encourage a running finish.

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So, clocked in at the end, where I was informed I came third, which was pretty good! Not many people about, but the winner had stayed around which was nice, although second place had disappeared.

The Winner took 8:55. Second place was 9:25 and I took 9:45. Joint 4 took 10:10.

Wandered back to the race HQ, and bought a coke. We weren’t staying for the evening meal so decided to go home at this point.

When I got back I realized I had lost 6lbs on the day.

Overall, it was an excellent race, so well don’t to RunWalkCrawl for organizing it.

Lessons Learned

  1. Peanuts seemed to work well. Will have these again.
  2. Think I should have had more electrolytes. Only used 2 Nuun tablets (plus some salt on the peanuts). Bit fiddly with water and tablets, etc. Winner used S-Caps, so might be worth giving those a try.
  3. Excellent result considering fitness levels (not many 20+ miles). The relatively modest pace worked well. Got to 42m with continual running, then was forced into Walk / Run. Eating a bit more may have helped a bit.

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