Lon Las Cymru 2017
(a copy of my on-the-train-there facebook post so spare yourself the time if you've read it already!)
In the back of my mind there is a room. There was a lock on the door for a while but it broke and I never got round to replacing it. I keep all sorts of things in there, and during some long races I get chance to go in and have a rummage around. I occasionally tidy up in there but not that often. In the room there is a shelf, its a bit wonky as I put it up myself on a previous attempt to tidy up, and on the shelf lives a metal tin (battered old style metal tea caddy if you are interested). That's where I keep my silliest ideas. The ideas get restless and the tin jumps around on the shelf quiet a lot, and occasionally falls off letting them loose.
Last time this happened I signed up for the Lon Las Ultra. It's long, its road, its just over 20 days after King Offa's Dyke, its Wales. There were many reasons not to be interested, but it clawed away at me. Good Spine Training I told myself - my go-to excuse for most nonsense activities I put myself through. I spent a fortnight trying to find the right time and right approach to discuss it with Harriet. She was, as ever, supportive in between saying I was an idiot, which we both knew anyway. I sat uncomfortably on the Fence Of Indecision, until Mark Cockbain, the race RD, came along and pushed me off by saying it would be impossible to do the 250 mile Lon Las Ultra hot on the heels of the 180 mile King Offa's Dyke Race.
So wind the clock forwards, with a successful (if intestinally challenged) King Offa's Dyke race in the bag, I sit here on a train to Holyhead. The race starts 7am tomorrow and winds its way by cycle route down through Wales to finish 250 miles later in the Dr Who district of downtown Cardiff Bay. 89 hours to do it in (because 90 would have been silly) so a finish by the witching hour on Sunday night. Checkpoints with water only at marathon increments, and a drop bag at 50, 100, 150 and 200, no support, but I can visit shops along the way. Its going to be hard, its going to be fun (afterwards), and its well outside my comfort zone (in fact I'm not sure I can see my comfort zone from here). Finally, a note about pacing: for me this is all about the finish and if that takes me 88 hours 59 minutes that's just fine. I'm not fully recovered from Offa's and so do not expect to see me anywhere other than the back, and if I am otherwise, give me a call and tell me I'm going too fast. With the exception of yours truly, there are some superb athletes amongst the 29 hardy souls that look to be on the start line and it will be hard fought at the front. And make good watching for me from my vantage point at the back!
Mark was right of course. King Offas Dyke race was a tough race in itself and it was naive to think that I would be recovered in time for Lon Las. But, confidence is a funny thing – even if deep down inside you know there to be a significant risk of it not working out, you have to consistently project an external unwavering expectation of success. You have to hear yourself talking the talk even if there are contradictory voices inside your head. To a certain extent Offa’s was non-negotiable after last year’s injury driven dnf, and Lon Las was an opportunity to redefine my boundaries. The timings were indeed unfortunate but they were not in my control and having committed to both races I had to give them 100%.
So I got to work planning the campaign. The proximity of the two races was a significant factor and so I agreed with myself to minimise what each race would take out of me through sustainable pacing, solid nutrition, and maximising sleep. On the whole it came together for Offa’s, aside from the whole irate (it was way past irritable!) bowel thing. Part 1 done, I was injury free aside from a couple of blisters, and I did little training in-between the two races other than walking and gentle running.
Other aspects of Lon Las planning were more textbook; what pacing would be needed to make cut-offs, what checkpoints were there and what were they like, what other facilities fell on route, where were the gnarly bits of the route and so on. Mark’s "no-frills" race model helped in this, in so far as he provided little support, and provided it infrequently. I could look forward to seeing my drop bag every 50 miles, and receiving uncapped amounts of cold water every 25 miles. This raised the ante on what was to be carried in two ways, nutrition, and clothing choices. Potential worst case access to water was 25 miles and if the weather was warm (as the forecast increasingly indicated) that meant I needed to carry enough water between checkpoints to cover a marathon distance. Same for food, though having switched to a low carb diet, and running well within my comfort zone meant that I would be significantly fat burning and thus only needed to carry snacks to boost energy levels and enthusiasm rather than fuel the entire leg of the race. I also opted to take a Mountain Fuel recovery shake for each of the four drop bag stops, my jetboil stove to magically turn the cold water provided into hot water for noodles, porridge and coffee, and a small flask to carry on a couple of legs which involved long unsupported overnight sections.
The other big factor race design impacted was clothing – a lot can change in 50 miles (the distance between drop bag access) and so I needed to cover the possible requirements from t-shirt and shorts weather to what I could expect from a nasty spell of autumn weather in the Welsh mountains. In addition to the basics on the surprisingly short mandatory kit list, I had two additional base layers, a micro fleece, a silnylon poncho (as well as my waterproof jacket), waterproof over-trousers (not the ones I stole from Allan when he wasn't looking on the Spine, a different pair), full running tights, two hats, two sets of liner gloves, two buffs, and waterproof over-gloves! Overkill surely, but I remembered how cold I’d been on parts of Offa’s when I was badly dehydrated as a result of the diarrhoea and it was better safe than sorry. My concession was to split out a lot of the cold weather clothing into a separate “grab bag” to collect from my drop bag at 50 miles, which would be teatime Thursday and as the forecast for Thursday was lovely I could see little risk in travelling light for the first 50.
I google-reccied as much as I could from street view and noted shops, pubs and garages on route, ringing a few to check on opening times. It quickly became clear that “it depends” was going to be the answer to many questions. Relying on particular shop in a particular location meant that it needed to be open, and being ahead or behind a notional schedule could throw that off. I could rely on the CP’s but other than them, the only nailed on service point was the MacDonalds south of Merthyr Tydfil which was open 24 hours but that was at the 225 mile point. So I settled on putting together a broad plan breaking the whole race up into smaller segments with various facilities like shops, pubs, garages, cafes or race cp’s at the end of each. The plan had me in by 9:30pm Sunday with 2.5 hours of contingency over the cut off, and in time for last orders. Crucially it included continuing straight through the night Thursday, but had three important sleeps in it at the 100, 150 and 200 mile indoor checkpoints, which I was expecting to arrive at 10am Friday, 4am Saturday, and 1am Sunday. For me personally getting some sleep is vital – I don’t need much but I need to reboot at some stage. Had I the choice I would have got an hour in the first night as I did successfully in Offa’s but the race design didn’t facilitate that so I put more time and reliance into the later three opportunities.
I was booked into the Travelodge the night before, took the train over in the afternoon and caught up with other racers in a local pub in downtown Holyhead. I was careful with my food choices, very careful, but treated myself to a pre-match Guinness to calm the nerves. Purely medicinal mind. Once I was in possession of my tracker I escaped back to my room for some final sorting and an early night. Kick off was 7am next morning from a undisclosed location “just opposite the port near the Travelodge”.
And so, 7am, 25 of the 27 expected starters stood listening to probably the most depressing race briefing in the history of race briefings. ..... the roads you will run on are all deadly.... vehicles will mow you down without a second thought leaving you for dead.... don't expect support if you are dead as this is a no frills race. This race will likely lead to your death or permanent injury..... well that's cheery ..... oh and by the way, CP4 at 100 miles is very small, but on the plus side there is an inside toilet.... I wouldn't plan to sleep there, best press on to CP6 at 150 miles where there is lots of room.... wait what... anyway remember high viz on at all times now 3, 2, 1 go. With the exception of Mike Raffan who was off like a squirrel, there was a decidedly pedestrian pace to the start, with everyone ambling along to the pedestrian crossing 30 meters up the street to cross the main port access road which by now was heaving with traffic. You are all going to die echoed around my head.
|What do you call a gathering of soon to die ultra runners? |
Team photo with the exception of Owen and David who had opted to have an extra 15 minutes in bed.
My first stop was Llangaffo general store just under 21 miles in. The weather was perfect, the roads quiet and flat, and there was a clear view out to the mountains of Snowdonia in the far distance. Be seeing them up close and personal later on. I ran comfortably (if a little faster than planned!) with Ronnie Staton, coach and running guru extraordinaire who was on his comeback race. Ronnie coached Hardmoors legend Jerome McCulla to a spectacular win in the Hardmoors 160, and wunderkind Ryan Wood to an awesome Spine Race finish, and I'd loved watching his video blogs on both as he supported his Padawan's to victory. The time flew by.
My first pit stop arrived from nowhere and I picked up some peanuts, a Yorkie, fresh orange juice and water. I sat outside, shoes off, feet up, and took a few minutes to chill and admire the scenery. There was a long long way to go and sustainable pacing meant making the rest stops work for me, as well as I worked for the running sections. I was ahead of schedule due to Ronnie's bad influence ;-) so I played around with my mental schedule; a slightly longer stop here, avoid the temptations of Waitrose near the Menai Bridge, fly through cold-water-only-CP1, then have a longer stop at the cafe at Caernarfon Morrison's at 38 miles. From there push on to CP2 at Criccieth at 59 miles to rendezvous with my drop bag, it's industrial supply of coffee and my extra layers. 20 mile ish segments were mentally and physically manageable, and I focused on each rather than the whole. Refueled and in good spirits I got back on the road and steadily made my way to the magnificent Menai suspension bridge, and its less than magnificent CP1 bedecked with broken glass and a distinct sense that when it wasn't on checkpoint duties, it was used for late night public urination for revellers leaving the nearby pub.
|CP1 in all its glory. All courtesy of Karen Webber.|
With Anglesey behind me the route turned South West and followed the Menai Strait towards Caernarfon and its all important Morrison's cafe. Run-eat-repeat was a key element of strategy at this stage. Helpfully, on leaving the checkpoint there are two Cycle Route 8's resulting in a split in the field as runners voted with their feet.
This turned up a few times on route and was particular to cycle routes it seems. As they are road users they have to follow one way systems, either actual on road controls, or as part of general traffic management to minimise accidents. The race issued GPX file was based on a South To North track and thus was different to our direction of travel. So on a few occasions the GPX said left, the sign said right, and the map said both! Another cycle route signage thing that Ronnie kindly tipped me off about was that the junction signs are not at junctions. As a trail runner I like my sign to be at a junction, pointing the direction I should leave the junction at. For cyclists its before the junction advising where to go when they get there. Getting my head around this took a while and often resulted in my staring at a farm track where the road sign was pointing wondering if that was the way, when 100 yards up the street was a perfectly obvious road choice.
|The Routes Eight... toss a coin|
I was criss-crossing with Matt and Colin at this time, all on different but similar run-walk patterns. Turned out that all three of us were Yukon veterans, so all three familiar with long races. The roads gave way to pleasant re-purposed disused railway line and gradually the increasing proportion of dog walkers indicated the approach of civilisation. Morrison's was conveniently located a few meters off route so I scooted across the car park and set about scaring the cafe staff.
|Mandatory selfie and social media checking with Matt.|
Colin opted for the flying refuel, grabbing a few things from the counter and heading straight off. Me and Matt opted for the far more civilised all day breakfast option, downed a couple of strong coffee's, and refilled on water and snacks ahead of the relatively empty 21 mile section to the first dropbag CP at Criccieth. Back on the road the disused railway line track continues for miles, pleasant enough apart from a single section where locals had clearly been hard at work re-pointing the cycle path signs causing some confusion and a slight detour. As the light started to fade the railway line finally gave way to country lanes again and I cruised into CP2 just before 7pm, an hour and a half ahead of schedule. More importantly the extra hour and a half hadn't been at any material cost, I'd ran comfortably, well under my sweat point and inside my majority fat burning range, I'd taken two stops of about 30 minutes and was relaxed and comfortable. Leg one in the bag, 58 miles down, a fair few still to go.
|CP2 by daylight. Just the bench mind, what was through the door wasn't for us.|
|Layering up for my pitstop|
I'd scheduled up to 2 hours downtime at CP2 though wanted to be away sooner if I got through my checklist sooner. I got some warm layers on and cracked on with the job list. Feet were first priority and thankfully all was well. Wiped down, talc'd and i stuck my flip flops on to give them some space to breath while I was at the CP. While I was filling my water bottles David, who had run in shortly after me declared himself on route to the nearby chip-shop and I cheekily asked if he would pick me a fish up, half expecting a (quite reasonable) negative response. It was a race after all! To his credit he brought me back a portion of fish and chips which I demolished, alongside the noodles and coffee I'd just made with water heated in my stove. Crucially, the flask was filled. Old school it maybe, but the night was long, the rain was starting and a couple of hot drink stops to break up the night with their caffeine and calories boost were just the job.
An hour after arrival, all jobs were complete and I had no more excuses to put off a departure. I set off at 8pm, rain in my face, but relaxed and enjoying myself. A mile up the street a passing car stopped to ask me what was happening. After he was up to speed he told me he'd seen two racers on the road well past the right turn we needed to take, and promptly decided he would turn around and go back to tell them. I saw this a lot from people during the race; once they knew what mischief we were up to they were amazed and falling over themselves to help if they could.
After a walking warm up, and after the worst of the uphill pull from the coast was over, I managed to get myself back to some running. Doing a bit of mental arithmetic I realised that my being ahead of schedule, and reduced stop at CP2 opened up an opportunity. The next pit-stop potential on my plan was at the handily-titled-when-you-are-tired Penrhyndeudraeth. the Spar there was open 7:30am to 11pm and it had been written out of the equation in the core plan as I would have arrived around 1am. All of a sudden there was the potential to catch it before closing time at 11pm. It was a 12 mile leg and in truth it didn't matter if I didn't catch it as I was carrying sufficient food to get me to breakfast and water for the marathon distance to the next race CP..... but it would be a treat if I did get there as I could reward myself with whatever I fancied at that moment. I got a wiggle on. Thundering through the last mile or so I arrived at the Spar at 10:55pm feeling victorious like I'd just finished the race. The gathering of local youth looked on incredulously as I high viz'ed, head-torched, and red flashing rear lighted my way around the corner and straight into Spar. I left 5 minutes later armed with a bar of chocolate, a banana, an apple, a chocolate milk and a smug grin.
Other than a water stop at CP3, manned and womanned by Lindley and Maxine respectively, it was now dead-o'clock and there were no more eating distractions before hitting the 100 mile CP at Dolgellau. The rain continued to pour down and the wind was robust and seemingly perpetually in my face. The railway bridge crossing at Barmouth was exposed and very cold and I deployed my poncho to keep the worst off. A curious garment, and a curious look, it served me well on a few occasions in addition to my waterproof jacket as an extra barrier layer.
|All the rage in Paris, Milan and Barmouth....|
After the railway bridge the route turned North East and finally, the wind was behind us for a stretch. Tiredness was starting to kick in now and I struggled to maintain attention and my pace started to slip. Normally I would have banged on some music to get me going but there was a strict headphones ban for safety reasons so it wasn't to be. (As an aside, this was pretty annoying. I understand the need to advise caution and even ban headphones on any road sections, but here I was on a 6 mile long no vehicular access tourist track at 3am at night, and I think I could have been set free to use a little common sense judgement as to my own safety. But race rules are race rules, so headphone free I stayed). As first light started to show itself so did Dolgellau, and CP4 the rugby club and drop bag access had arrived. It was 7am, I was 24 hours and 99 miles in, and currently two and a half hours ahead of schedule. this was the first indoor checkpoint and I had planned to stop, shower and get a bit of sleep here, though Mark's race briefing caveat was now ringing in my ears. I had no idea what to expect.
|The "compact and bijou" facilities of CP4|
|Smiling. On the outside.|
I wasn't good news. On arrival I found myself in a small changing room, with every square inch of space filled with either drop bags or other racers, many of whom had retired from the race. I stood there for a moment, my tired brain trying to process the situation. I could see my dropbag, but getting to it would require some careful footwork, and once I got there what could I do with it. A retired racer took pity on me and helped me clear a little space. I pressed on with personal admin but it was clear that Plan A at this checkpoint was not to be. I heard that other racers and retirees were on route to the CP as well and realised the situation wasn't going to improve. I took my stove outside and heated water for porridge and coffee and took stock of the situation. With the light now returned I felt better but I knew the quid-pro-quo would be when dusk came later that night, and it was 52 miles to the next indoor CP at Rhayader. I had scheduled maximum stop time of 4 hours but that wasn't looking like it would be efficient quality downtime so the best bet was to press on. Ninety minutes later I was out the door, internally arguing with myself about whether it was helpful being cross about the situation. I always say to people that one of the things you can always expect to happen on an ultra is something going wrong. They are generally too long to ever have that perfect race. It's how you deal with the problems that underpins your success or otherwise. That morning I managed to successfully lock up my demons and recognised that this was simply a blip on the smooth proceedings of my race so far that needed to be worked with. I knew I could manage sleep deprivation with some power napping so there was solution.
There is a reasonable climb straight out of Dolgellau, and then a steady drop back down again into Machynlleth. Simply huh. Well the rain, which had now being going for 12 hours straight was now turning it up another notch. Rainwater was flowing down the paths and puddles turned 3-4 inch deep stretching across the entire track. One of the positives of tarmac is that you know there is firm footing under the water, one of the negatives is its non porous and water just sits there looking at you. The only way was forwards and I ploughed through the rainwater accumulations as quickly as I could. The trail continued to climb, the rain continued to fall, but at least progress was being made. After crossing the A487 farm track took me up to the high point at about 250 meters the wind blasting me as I crested the summit. After this it was a 10 mile long descent down into Machynlleth through managed forest and through little hamlets. I saw no-one. Anyone with any sense was indoors hiding from the weather. I finally managed to speak to Harriet on the phone and she kindly listened as I moaned and groaned about the weather and previous checkpoint for a bit. It wasn't mentally helpful to do so, but I was glad of the company for a few minutes.
On the final approach to Machynlleth the route detours riverside to avoid the main road. I wished it hadn't as I was soon ankle deep in flood water again but I took the view that my feet couldn't be any wetter so it mattered little. I reached the village at about 1pm, now 5 hours ahead of schedule due to my heavily cut short stop at CP4. The leg itself had taken me 30 minutes more than I'd planned mainly due to the weather but I was conscious that it was the first leg I had under-performed on against plan and made a mental note to keep an eye on things more closely. But first, lunch. I took half an hour at the Quarry Cafe on the high street and got through 4 scrambled eggs, a tin of beans and a stuffed jacket potato, washed down with two mugs of coffee. "Things" were better and I stepped out into the rain once more.
|Peter's vantage point half a mile off the summit. Doesn't do the 40 mph wind and machine gun rain justice.|
Descending from the summit I did a quick fly through at CP5 to refill water and then pressed on to bite into the 17 mile section to the pub at Llangurig. This was another stop I had written off on baseline timings but while I was still ahead of schedule it was possible I'd make last orders! The leg was long and pretty featureless through Hafren Forest with mile after mile of forestry road. I recall at some stage I caught up with Colin who was on the phone and not looking too happy. I checked he was ok and got waved on, but I was concerned he was potentially another retiree to add to the now lengthening list. (I needn't have worried!!)
As darkness fell my head started to go. I'm a big fan of sleep and while I had only missed one full night so far, and have done two full nights previously, there is a big difference between getting through the night, and getting through it efficiently and at some semblance of a reasonable speed. Even though I knew from the GPS that Llangurig was only a mile or so away I could see nothing at all, no lights, no glow of any sort of civilisation. My brain and legs were becoming heavy. Magically I turned a corner and there was a building, then another, then a high street and the Bluebell Inn. I entered the pub and the metaphorical piano player stopped playing and all eyes turned to the alien looking bedraggled, ponchoed, high-viz glowing figure bedecked with flashing lights. Evening! The locals established I was (mostly) human and the metaphorical piano started up again. Food service had finished but at least I could get an orange juice and a coke. I was approached by a man (eventually established to be Byron's dad, another competitor), who kindly bought me a drink and checked on my welfare. His son was still a fair few miles back and he was killing time in the pub as sometime supporters must! I took stock. It was just 10 miles to Rhyader and pretty much flat all the way. The plan said done and dusted in two and a half hours and I could finally get some sleep. It had even stopped raining.
After feet were sorted, I got some food underway helped by the fact a kettle was available and permitted. A spacious indoor CP, with a kettle and a separate darkened sleeping area..... I had apparently arrived in Heaven. I had 4 hours max stop scheduled here, so jobs done I got my head down for some much needed rest.
Once up and breakfasted, coffee and porridge by the bucket load, I was out the door just before dawn at 6am. I'd slipped another 30 minutes by overstaying my welcome at the CP but needs must and it was time well invested as I had got some sleep (though not as much as I'd like having gone from too hot to too cold in a short period of time), ate well, sorted feet and changed some kit. A decent reboot to start Day 3. I made good time on the 10 mile leg to Newbridge on Wye and with the inevitability of Mark regretting how generous he'd made the time cut-offs, I recorded a video.
I got into Newbridge on Wye about 8:30am, back to 3 hours ahead of schedule after putting in a solid 10 miles of running and fast walking on the set of fresh legs I'd had in my drop bag. The little general store was open and busy with locals popping in for their paper and milk. I picked up chocolate milk, two pork pies, and a bar of dairy milk as the checkpoint breakfasts now seemed a distant memory. Just a few minutes later, munching on pork pie as I went I was on route to Builth Wells, another 8 miles further, and where I had designs on my third breakfast. Dynamic route planning was increasingly based on pace estimations and an assessment of all possible eating options on route. I was entering a phase in my plan where I had feared that any time slippage would put me chasing closing times of cafes, fish and chip shops and pubs, but my current position 3 hours ahead made all these possible again! Oh yes.
With Snowdonia firmly behind me the terrain was generally lowland with a few gentle hills until the big jump up over Taf Fechan Forest inside the last 50 miles. At 11am I cruised through the pleasant riverside park, made use of the handily located public loos, and jumped off trail onto the high street to find a cafe and breakfast. The Fountain Cafe and Pub fit the bill and I ordered two breakfast baps and two coffees. "Would you like me to keep the other one back until your friend arrives?". Ha!! A reasonable assumption under normal circumstances, "no they are both for me thanks!".
|Getting tucked in before "my friend" arrives|
The next leg turned out to be death on a stick bringing back the memories of Mark's Forecast of Fatality in the pre-race briefing. It was a fast A road with no verge, followed by an even fast B road with no verge. Cars seemed to be competing with each other to act more and more recklessly, coming round blind corners at break neck (mine) speed. It was rubbish, but at least it wasn't raining. In fact the sky was now blue, and the sun was even sighted once or twice behind the white clouds. This was a Good Thing. I quickly progressed through CP7 (holding to 2.5 hours ahead of schedule having put in a par to plan for the leg) and on to Glasbury where I knew there was a petrol station which, according to its own facebook page, made exceedingly good cakes. On route I spoke for a good while with Harriet who brought me up to speed with what was happening in the race. I was amazed there were so few people left in and I seemed to be rapidly approaching a ranking both high up the field and low down the field simultaneously. She also relayed a number of facebook posts and support I'd been receiving - they were such a pick me up and I remain hugely grateful for all the messages that were posted.
|CP8 at Llanfrynach waiting patiently for the 7 remaining competitors.|
Using some effort I ignored the welcoming sight of the pub at Felindre and covered the last few miles to Talgarth arriving bang on par for the segment. The pub was heaving with a harvest festival charity event, the chip shop queue out the door and round the corner. Scratch that then. It was only 13 miles to CP8 and I was getting impatient, so I back peddalled to the Co-op, bought a load of bits and bobs I fancied and ate on route out of town. There was supposed to be a decent climb out and indeed there was, it just seemed to keep coming. Near the top a woman out walking her dog asked me the inevitable what are you doing question, told me I was going the long way around to Brecon and I had a big hill to get over if I went that way. Great.
I entered downtown Brecon at 10pm, not a soul to be seen. The sleep monsters had been hard at work eating my soul again on the leg in and I'd lost an hour through poor pace and the need for a couple of short naps to keep moving. I knew I had slow pace expectations planned in for the last 50 and a fair bit of contingency but I hated to see my hard fought time cushion being frittered away at the hands (and claws) of sleep deprivation. Still, not long to the checkpoint and the opportunity for some proper rest. I picked up the canal path and was very pleased to be off it as it was becoming increasingly hard to keep my eyes open. I didn't fancy waking up 2 foot off the surface of the canal and heading for an unplanned swim. I finally pulled into the 200 mile CP at 11pm, back to 2 hours ahead of plan more due to bad planning than solid pacing. Karen welcomed me in and was superbly attentive as usual.
|Smiling with relief. Ready for a pit stop and sleep.|
I got a bit of sleep but was restless, so I cut back on the downtime, got my act together and got out the door at 2:30am. The forecast was to turn very warm and I wanted the big hill out the way and as much progress made as possible before it got hot. Things started well and I made good progress but the tiredness was lurking and I got slower and slower. As the mist rose over the reservoir I found myself in zero visibility tripping over my own feet as I fell asleep and thoroughly discombobulated about where I was and what I was doing. There was nowhere safe to rest and I just felt nauseous fighting off the tiredness. After what seemed like an eternity I stumbled upon the gate marking the extent to the Taf Fechan Forest Park - I was finally through the featureless forestry operations and into tourist land again and to celebrate with me the mist finally lifted and the dawn started to show its first signs. It had been a gruesome section and had taken a surprising amount out of me; 15 hard fought miles in just under 6 hours, painfully slow.
I cracked on not feeling the love. I was cold and my head was feeling decidedly fluffy. I rammed down more food to crank up the calories and reflected on what on earth I was thinking by NOT bringing my flask of coffee with me on this leg. Weight saving apparently. Muppet. Pressing on through the suburbs of Merthyr Tydfil I was coming to terms with a genuinely new experience, being excited about going to McDonalds, when Colin flew past me going like a rocket. He was clearly feeling like a new man and after a moment or two's pleasantries he was gone in the distance. Shortly after Mike turned up, which utterly confused me as MIke was definitely ahead of me, though it appears I walked straight past him sleeping roadside a few hours previously. He also had a dead squirrel with him. In my state this was of no surprise. Mike explained that the squirrel was Boris, he'd kept him company overnight, and then he (Mike) ran off after Colin (who if memory serves didn't have a squirrel). I'd have remembered if there was one on the kit list, right?
Yes - McDonald's ahead. It was 10:30 and I was still holding at 1 hour 30 ahead of plan despite being at a slow shivery plod. I needed fat, I needed sugar, I needed caffeine, I needed salt, and I needed lots of all of them; I was in the right place. Me and "my friend" ordered two double cheeseburgers, 2 coffees and 2 cokes and I washed down a couple of paracetamol with them too. I had to restart my metabolism and shed this lethargic funk I appeared to have slipped into. I was fine for time but I wanted to finish well, not death-march it in with half an hour to spare. Where your sense of occasion Shields? I was a marathon away from finishing the longest road race I'd ever done, and expedition style races aside, this was the longest running race I'd done since the Hardmoors 160. I wanted the finish, but I also wanted a good finish. I had strong words with myself and got out the door.
|Not yet feeling the love, but now on the right side of a carby, fatty, sugary, salty, caffeiny feast.|
|Transformed in a new man. The overnight mental and physical lull a distant memory.|
The track was easy going and mobile reception was good so I could check in on a few messages which lifted my now flying spirits further. I was going to finish this beast and I was going to finish it well. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and the parks and cycle routes through Cardiff were crowded with people. It was quite a shock after hours of solitude but it was motivating to be moving through them and people watching passed the time nicely. I spoke to Harriet who said that my son Tom, at Uni in Cardiff was thinking of joining me at the finish - that would make it extra special for me and I hoped he would. The last 10 miles I did at 12 minute mile pace - which astounded me at the time - and I suspected that there would be a price to pay when I came down from this physical and emotional high.
The last circuit of the park seemed to take forever but then as I approached the final pedestrianised bit I was faced with a throng of people out enjoying the early evening down at Cardiff Bay. Thankfully Riccardo, who had unfortunately dnf'd earlier, was there to meet me and see me into the final straight. It felt right, given that Harriet had seen him home on his amazing Hardmoors 200 finish earlier this year! I sprinted down the entry ramp an into the Celtic Ring marking the formal finish. 253 miles, 83 hours 45 minutes. Done. Tom was there to meet me too - the cherry on the top of my race.
So what do I think about all that. I set out to do a sort of unofficial Welsh double; to put to bed the King Offa's Dyke Ultra after last years dnf, going South to North through Wales; then go back North to South in Lon Las Ultra. KOD is now history, but it was a successful campaign that took it out of me however much I tried to take it steady to play the long game. That left Lon Las Ultra to do, and do when not fully recovered from KOD however much I tried to con myself that I was.
Lon Las Ultra is a tough TOUGH race. Mark likes them that way, and in my opinion he delivered with this. The tarmac punishes any physical weaknesses. The sheer distance punish teh under trained or under motivated. The clock punishes any dawdling. The checkpoint spacings seem to get longer and longer as the race progresses. The weather helped make it harder still, but it could have been much worse. Writing this blog has been more a diary for me of what I did and how, rather than an intended source of entertainment for others and I share it only because people ask me to. My strategy was to be sustainable on pace, efficient in rest, and strong in mental discipline, and on the whole I delivered. Sorry if that means the blog is more factual and not really a page-turner! I trained hard, I planned well, and I executed the plan efficiently. I told myself I could do this, I told others I could do this, but internally I was wracked with doubt. But if you don't try you will never know!
There were 27 starters, 6 finishers, and as somebody put on facebook, check out the quality of the DNF list. This was a high quality, experienced field and the race chewed them up and spat them out. I could so easily have been one of them, and I'm proud to be a finisher. But I'm finding it hard to accept it as an achievement to celebrate because I spent so long telling myself I would finish. Its as if I took the pleasure out of the finish. I struggled to put into words how I felt in the few days immediately afterwards. Physically I was/am exhausted, but mentally, it was like, "ahh so what?". I couldn't express it but then I saw Ronnie's final video that put it so much better, and with so much raw emotion, than my shielding would ever allow. So I'm letting Ronnie sign this off for me.