It’s been a couple of days since I completed the Pegasus Ultra Running ultra so I’ve had a little time to reflect on the race and what we achieved. Ok… and to nap and look at my Garmin in disgust as it berates me for not moving or completing my steps for the past two days. To be frank it can bog off given I covered 40 miles on Saturday!
But what a day race day was!
It was an early start after a bad night’s sleep. If anyone knows of a magic trick that helps you sleep before race day I’d love to know. It’s something I always struggle with, whether I’m running a 10k or an ultra it appears. I think it’s the mix of excitement and nerves that just make it hard for me to drift off.
A group of us She Runs: Cardiff runner’s travelled down to Porthcawl together, which couldn’t have been a better way to start race day. It helped melt away some of the nerves. After queuing to register and pick up our numbers and say hello to some friendly faces it was time to have our packs checked to make sure that we were carrying the mandatory coat, foil blanket and litre of water.
The race ended up starting a little later than planned due to a bit of an issue with the toilet situation (there was only one working toilet for all the runners). It meant that my first snack disappeared before we even walked down to the beach where the start line was.
I’ve never started a race on a beach before and what a view we had at the start as the sun was still rising in the sky. We looked across from Coney Island to see some of the route. Forty odd minutes later than planned we’d had our race announcements it was time to start.
The first seven miles were totally new to me. When we did the FAUX-GUM we’d moved the run seven miles in so that we could finish in Cardiff. I’ve never run on sand and it’s a hard way to start a long race but the views were beautiful. We soon found our way through the sand and picked out where it was easier to run and where it was more efficient to walk and save energy. Sand saps your energy and given we’d have another 39 miles to go there was no point in pushing too hard too soon.
Once we were off the sand we had a lovely road to run on. It’s funny how bouncy a road feels in trail shoes and when you’ve been running on sand. Beth pointed out that we’d actually been running quite fast so we slowed down and as we passed a a camp site had some cheers from the people camping there.
Then disaster struck, my sunglasses broke! It turns out that south Wales was one of the sunniest places in the UK on bank holiday Saturday so this was far from ideal. I figured we weren’t that far from the first check point so I’d have a go at fixing them there.
We reached the iconic stepping stones across the river by Ogmore castle and it was a careful trip across. No one wants to be the one to go in! Before we knew it we’d reached the first check point, just under 8 miles into the run.
At this point I’d like to say a massive thank you to the volunteers at each of the check points. They were fabulous. They couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful to every single runner coming through. They’d given up their spare time to support the race in what turned out to be boiling weather. Drinks – they had them sorted with lots of water on tap as well as squash, fizzy drinks and even tea. The food was fab too, fruit, crisps (always a winner), peanuts, chocolate and cake. When people say that ultras are just runs between picnics they aren’t wrong.
On from check point one, having de-sanded our shoes, and it was onwards through more sand and up some massive hills towards check point two. It’s funny how your memory can make things fade. I’d totally forgotten how brutal some of the hills felt, going both up and down. The views though definitely make up for it. As did the company.
I spent the day with my friends from She Runs: Cardiff and they were absolutely amazing. I’m fairly chatty most of the time but I often find on long runs, particularly at some points, that I like to sit back and listen to others chatting. Not an issue with these guys. There was always someone to chat to if you needed to but by the same token if you wanted to just put one foot in front of the other and be quite then that was ok too.
Cathryn’s family were tracking across through the route and popping up to say hi at various places. She’d offered me her spare sunglasses a couple of times. By the time we reached St Brides I was really in need so I very happily accepted them. I’m so glad I did as I think I’d have really struggled later in the day if I’d not had them.
Rosie came along to Southern Down to say hi and offer us some sweets, it was lovely to see her there. We then pushed on to Nash Point Light house, which was the next big marker on the route.
We soon made it to Nash Point lighthouse, which was just as well as I’d totally run out of all my drinks. I’d not thought to check my bladder (the one I was carrying my Tailwind in – not my actual bladder!) to see how much drink I had left in it at the check point. I’d refilled my small bottle with water but assumed that I’d not drunk that much of my Tailwind. At Nash Point there’s a tap you can drink from fortunately so a quick re-fill and we were on our way. Rosie was there along with Cathryn’s family.
The drink kept me topped up until we reached check point two at Llantwit Major beach. It was here that we met Genevieve, who I overheard chatting on the phone about how she was struggling as she had injured herself a couple of weeks back and the injury was causing her a few issues. We also found out that the front runner was just leaving check point four! He was running twice as fast as we were, which is just bonkers. In awe we set off for check point three.
Check point three was a special one for us as it was the one being manned (or more specifically womanned) by our She Runs: Cardiff friends. Knowing that they were our next stop was definitely uplifting. Genevieve joined us just a couple of miles after check point two and stayed with us for the rest of the race. This section of the race is also very hilly and again there were more beautiful views along with lots of steps. You only get the best views from high up right? Also this section has a couple of really tricky sections over some beaches which are basically boulders that you have to walk over (gingerly in my case). You also run past Aberthaw Power station, not the prettiest but much easier underfoot having run along the trails for the past few miles. A big shout out to the family who were offering our their spare Caplipo’s, it was just what I needed in the heat of the day.
Eight miles later and we reached the check point and our drop bags. Time for a refill of all our bottles some food, thanks girls for finding me some Salt and Vinegar crisps and the melon slices. We changed out of our trail shoes and into road shoes. Thank you to Beth for the talc to get rid of the last of the sand on my feet, a very neat trick. Bethan decided at this point that her ankle was too sore to carry on so stopped at the check point.
On from check point three to check point four. Now this section is the least technical but also the least pretty section of the race. Once you pass through Porthkerry park and up the steps (which seemed so much harder than last time!) you head onto Cold Knap, or pebbley beach as the locals call it. You don’t run on the beach itself fortunately. On from the Knap and it’s across to Barry Island, which as expected was super busy given the nice weather and the fact that it was a bank holiday weekend. It was at this point that I really started struggling. I’d hit the wall. Each time we walked I found it harder to start running again. plus my watch decided that it was low on battery so I needed to charge my watch on the run.
The Barry section of the race feels like it lasts forever as you run through the town and alongside the relief road. If I’d have been on my own I’d have struggled beyond belief by this point. Thank goodness for running friends. I’d turned into a moaning Minnie by this point. Fortunately, Elaine was there to save the day and suggested that we Jeffed, which was exactly what I needed. For those unfamiliar with Jeffing, it’s when you run for a set period of time and then walk for a bit and then repeat. We didn’t have a timer so we used lamp posts instead. It meant that we kept moving and we had our walking breaks as well but they weren’t too long, Finally, check point four was in sight. A quick stop for a refill and an orange and we were on our way Jeffing out of Barry and towards Penarth and the finish line.
Eight long miles later along a mix of road and trail and another stony section past some of the most amazing houses and the finish line was finally in sight. After 11 hours and 4 minutes we crossed the finish line together as a team!
Whilst I struggled at points, I really enjoyed the experience of running an ultra race. It was totally different to last time we ran, as I was expecting it to be. I’m glad it was a different experience too. It makes both runs special in their own way.
Would I run another ultra again…yes, but maybe not right now. I would like to give another one a go, I felt under trained second time round, so I’d like to see what I can do fully fit. That said for now I’m looking forward to giving something back. I’m hoping to return the favour paid by the volunteers at the VOGUM and volunteer at a check point in a few weeks time at the south CANUM run also organised by Pegasus Ultra Running. That’s what makes the running community so special, everyone is willing to give back and support others.