Updated: Jan 28, 2021
To Wales for Nathan Flear and Tori Robinson's St Illtyds Trail 100k, held on the scorching hot Bank Holiday weekend. The Boneman and I hot-footed it down the M4 on Saturday afternoon, managing to limit ourselves to just the one beer in the afternoon sun down in Llanelli whilst the locals lived it up. A great dinner with Nath and Tori reminiscing last year's lows and highs and dreaming up new dreams set us up nicely for the early morning start down at Burry Port Yacht Club. The 100k race was starting at 6am with a relatively small field of around 15 runners. The 50k version had a much bigger field of around 200 runners and they'd be setting off at 9am. Many of the 50k runners were making a big step up in distance from 10k / half marathon to ultra, which was really great to see.
All that Italian food and great chat must have gone to our heads, because we set off at what can only be described as "lunatic" (for a 100k) pace.
The first few kilometres were flat and fast, away from the yacht club and heading ominously towards the hills. Following the well marked trail (Nath had been up at all hours marking the course with red and white tape) we enjoyed getting the legs going and chatting away, and by the time we started going uphill we were out in front on our own with no one else around.
This was a brand new situation for us, actually in the lead in an ultra-marathon (well, one with a field bigger than 5 people!), and true to form we managed to mess it up in spectacular fashion. Hiking our way up through some stunning bluebell woods we were pleased to reach the top to be able to start running again. Over a stile and into a field and looking for red/white tape..... left, right, straight ahead.... check them all again, nope, no tape!! Oh dear, well not to worry there will be a bunch of runners coming up here in a minute and we can all get lost together. Except, no one came because they had been observant enough to spot the well marked trail down below!! By the time we realised our error and after a couple of frantic phone calls to Tori (sorry Tori if we stressed you out) we had managed to turn first into last!! What. A. Pair. Of. Numpties.
We set to work getting ourselves back in touch with the field, working hard to catch-up. In hindsight this was piling error upon error.... we should have just relaxed and taken our time to get back to them, but we'd both gotten a bit stressed by the navigation error and I think the adrenaline levels must have been up. On the other hand, it was great to meet everyone again and engage in some banter, or should I say people taking the mickey out of us!
The bulk of the race was on the very beautiful "St Illtyds Way", which is a mixed terrain trail taking in some stunning sections of woodland and fantastic views over Burry Port and the bay. The course is in sections of 25k.... out from the yacht club to a reservoir is one section, back to the yacht club is the other. 50k runners do one out-and-back, 100k runners two. There are three aid stations on the route, meaning you are never too far from assistance. The aid stations were really well stocked and the volunteers and supporters at the stations were simply fantastic. So so encouraging and friendly.
By the time we had reached CP2 (18k) on the way out we had started to pass some of the other 100k runners. We ran for a bit with Deepak who'd also made the trip from London, and gradually worked our way through the field. By the time we reached the reservoir turn around CP3 we thought there must only be a couple left in front, so were surprised when the checkpoint team told us we were first there.
Not by much though - we had chasers Thom and Laura right on our tails. Chatting with them was a good distraction; it was really inspiring to hear fellow Scot Laura's story of running an ultra each month in memory of her Dad and to raise funds for the Piper Alpha charity "Pound for Piper". Laura's fundraising page is here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/laura-kearney3
On the return to the yacht club our group stretched to and fro like elastic. It was clear that Laura and Thom were stronger trail runners than David and I, whilst we had just a touch more speed on the road and flat. It was also quite difficult to decide whether to actually try to race or be social and run together. It was a race after all and I think everyone wanted to do as well as they could, and we soon settled on just getting our heads down, doing our best and seeing what happened.
Into the 50k turnaround point and Thom, David and I were together with Laura a few minutes back. It was really hot by this stage (around noon) and we were all suffering in the heat. Even David, never normally one to back out of any kind of pace, was saying he wanted to zen out for a bit. We mustered our way out to face the second half and I have to say it was a real struggle getting going again, leaving the comfort of the yacht club.
Now it's just David and I, working our way back out to the reservoir, again receiving lots of encouragement from the 50k runners. We didn't see Thom or Laura at all on the outbound leg, and I was interested to see what kind of gap we'd built. Answer - none at all! A minute or two after we'd arrived at the reservoir CP and were stocking up our bottles etc, Thom arrived, then immediately Laura.
It was a long old drag to get home, and I was really suffering in the heat by this stage. David was feeling better and I briefly tried to encourage him to crack on for the win. But like a true legend and friend he stuck with me. Not for the first time and hopefully not the last! Thom caught up to us with about 15k to go, and it was clear he was feeling really strong.... he stuck with us for a bit but we encouraged him to go on for glory which he duly did, taking half an hour out of us in very short order! Laura was not far behind and we could see her chasing through the trees.... we just about had enough left on the flat final 5k to keep our noses in for 2nd place but wow, what a competitor Laura was and I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings for her.
We finished in a time of 13:37. Not all that fast for 100k but given the terrain and the heat I was really pleased to just get this one in the bag. It was the furthest run David and I had done since Spartathlon and followed fairly shortly after some semi decent marathon and half marathon showings in the early spring. The plan was to use this as a training run for the upcoming Centurion SDW100, which is a big event on the 9th of June and one of my main ones of the year. So mission accomplished and onwards to the summer.
Well done to all competitors and special kudos to folks who were challenging themselves for the first time in an ultra. Whether you finished or not it takes bravery to stand on the start line and give these things a try. You will always learn lots of things by challenging yourself and even if things don't work out you'll come back stronger next time. Well done to you all.
Massive thanks to Nathan and Tori and all the volunteers for putting on such an excellent, friendly event. It was such a lovely welcoming vibe, you really do have a brilliant community feel there and it's one i'd love to come back and do again. Xx.