It’s two weeks since an epic and brutal Ultramarathon was held on a beautiful Isle! Unfortunately for me, it didn’t have the outcome I’d hoped for, but I’m going to tell you all about it from a clumsy dragon’s perspective!
For me, this was the race that I had been waiting patiently for. I’d first heard of it during Dragonrun1027, when I spotted a poster on my way round Anglesey. I’d already decided that I wanted to run Anglesey more than once! It’s no secret that it was my favourite section of the Dragonrun! So on my return to Cardiff, after a couple more weeks of mud, floods and sweat, I made signing up for the Ring O Fire top of my “To Do” list! (Actually it was the second thing, I’d been running for six weeks and was gagging for a pint!)
Anyway, I never made it to the start line in 2012, as just a couple of weeks before the race, and the day after doing a tv interview on Anglesey plugging the race, I fell on a training run breaking my ankle and just about every bit of useful anatomy around it. So, whilst feeling sorry for myself I signed up for this years race, and 7 months after the break, I was finally able to start running again and prepare for Ring O Fire 2013.
There was something extra special about the 2013 event. It was just the second time that the race had been held, but this year it was started by some VIP guests, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge/Prince William and Catherine/Will and Kate! I was lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the 5 runners to meet the Royal pair before the start, an experience that will stay with me forever (along with my epic fail – more on that later!).
So, from the beginning….Me and Andy, my long suffering man and Dragonrun support crew, arrived at Breakwater Country Park in good time to battle through the expected security, police, internal searches and weapon amnesty. As it happens, it wasn’t that bad, just a few police checking we were legit! A few runners and their families were milling around, but I soon found one of the only two people I knew before the race, Mark. We shared nervous energy and discussed Daioni Cows until the arrival of familiar face number two, Lowri, who was also to meet the HRH’s!
After the race briefing, Lowri and I were pulled to the side with 3 other lucky runners, and given a quick brief before our brush with Royalty. Eventually, what looked like an army of people started heading our way, two of which looked very familiar, 3D versions of the pictures that appear in the papers every day.
William and Kate stopped to talk to the people who were the real cogs in the race machine, the volunteers. They then headed towards us, and my first thought was “Ooh, they’re really tall!”. As Prince William was chatting to John who was stood next to me, I couldn’t help but notice he appeared to have really small feet! Suddenly, I panicked, my mouth tends to work faster than my brain, and I was worried that my first words to the future King would be “You’ve got really small feet! How do you stay upright?!”….
just as I was trying to get this thought out of my head, a Royal hand appeared in front of me! I was over the moon that Prince William had remembered the Dragonrun (I recieved a letter from the Palace soon after inviting William and Kate to run part of Anglesey with me! – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!), he asked about my support for the run and the charities, then turned to acknowledge Andy, who was standing behind the tape capturing the moment on camera. Both William and Kate were lovely, and really funny too. The final words from Prince William to all of us, were to be careful, because if we get stuck, it’ll be him that will have to come and whinch us off the cliffs!
I was the last person they spoke to, so as soon as we finished talking, they had to start the race, and I had to get my head in gear and run it!
I had a strategy for this race. My aim was to complete it within the allotted time. There were a few advantages that I had…
- I know the route – There were a few alterations to the Dragonrun route, but overall I was very familiar with it. I had been back to Anglesey several times for work, and taken the opportunity to train on some of the altered sections.
- I knew exactly what terrain and inclines we were facing, and importantly, when we would face them. I knew the maps inside out, I had cross referenced with pictures from Dragonrun to ensure that my memory was serving me correct, and had considered effects of weather and varying live contents of fields (cows, sheep, horses, penguins etc!)
- I knew how my body reacts to multiday running – I had had 40 days of back to back marathons on the exact and similar terrain to master this, and this was to form a major part of my strategy
So what was my master plan??! It was simple. I was going to run day 1 at the very back of the pack. I’d calculated checkpoint closure times and taken into account the steep terrain towards the end of day 1 along with daylight hours, time on feet and predicted rest time, and decided that if I could do this very slowly, I would be as fresh as possible for the 66 miles on day 2. Day 2 I was going to take on a checkpoint by checkpoint basis. Tricking my mind to believe that each section was a different run and a new challenge (This is how I got through Dragonrun). Day 3 was psychologically the homeward route and I would tackle it according to the damage that Day 2 had done to me!
Anyway, my masterplan ended up having a bit of a role in my demise. This is what happened….
The Royal bell was rung and we set off. Some people predictably set off very fast, but I was determined not to fall into that trap! The speed was short lived, as we had few kissing gates to encounter, but we were soon heading out through Holyhead. I was aware that I was currently middle of the pack…. not my plan! Gradually I headed backwards (not literally, that would be stupid!), and soon I was running with Team Canada! One of which was Jen, who had also met the Royals! We jogged along and I now have a mission to go running in Calgary! I was also told that they don’t see sheep in Canada, apart from in petting zoos! It must be the Welsh in me, but I can’t imagine life without a sheep or two crossing your path each day! I ran with Tom (from Team Canada) for a bit, and then dropped back to arrive at Checkpoint 1 to a smiling Andy, and buzzing for the rest of the day! After a slurp of water and a peanut butter fix, off I went. I was really enjoying it, the weather was perfect, and I was so happy to finally be running the race, whilst trying hard not to think of the pain that day 2 was going to bring! After some fields and tracks, I was soon on tarmac, jogging along…. then thud….. I was on the floor and a nice man who was coming out of a farm ran over to help me up. I got up, said thank you and muttered something about it always happening (it does!), then jogged on. Not far along, I fell again, only this time I fell head first into a stone wall. This time I was seeing stars, and a lady came and checked I was ok, offering me a cup of tea. I didn’t accept, I wasn’t even halfway through Day 1, it wasn’t tea time yet! I thanked her, there was no blood, so I assured her that I really was ok!
My head hurt, and I felt a bit dizzy, but was able to go on. On the way to Checkpoint 2 I fell over once more, and just swore at myself for my usual clumsiness. Church Bay was in sight, and I could see the checkpoint, Andy was there along with Fran and Nick Targett, who were accommodating Andy and helping wherever they could! (They’re great!). I trotted down there to the smiling faces of the Marshals too, and as soon as I saw Andy, tears started flowing, hello shock! I explained what had happened, was fed swiss roll by the smiling Ring O Fire crew, womaned up and carried on. I was looking forward to the next part, it’s beautiful, challenging terrain, but another world. The first set of steps cut into the land appeared, with a group of white horses standing on them (not sure of the “group” name for horses!). I wasn’t sure if they were real, or if I was imagining them, so I took a picture to check!
I like horses on one condition…. that there is a barrier between me and them! Thankfully I was on a mission today, so I made myself look like I meant business, and asked them politely to move. All of them moved apart from one who stood on the steps and turned its back to me. I asked again, and for some reason “mooed” at it (WTF?!), it moved, and I trotted up the steps and along the coastline, with the scenary as a welcome distraction to the dull ache in my head.
What happened next, I’m not too sure about, but I found myself on the floor in a field, with a sheep in close proximity. The sheep, I am 99% certain was not actively involved, but is an image that will stick with me, and further fueled my confusion. I stood myself up, and the world spun, so I sat back down again. I then got myself to a stile and uncharacteristically called Andy and just cried at him down the phone, finishing the call, with “I don’t know why I’m ringing you, I’m in a field”. I got myself over the stile and continued, but as I ran the world spun more, and I was unsteady on my feet. Using the one foot in front of the other mantra that I was saving for the later stages of the race, I got around Carmel Head and to my least favourite point on the map, Cemlyn Bay, where Andy, Fran and Nick appeared to check I was ok. Together we got across the sinky stones at Cemlyn Bay, and I was determined to carry onto the next checkpoint at Wylfa, although I was worrying now about my ability to continue. I still couldn’t run without losing my balance, but somehow managed to remember some of the finer points of navigation around Wylfa Powerstation (that’s a bit that many get lost on – I’ve done it twice in the past, and this was the first time I got it right!). It was at this checkpoint that the final decision was made. I was out of the race. Devastated, but I knew it was the right decision, as if anything was to happen on the final section of the day it would be difficult to find me as it was getting dark, and there was a very steep and remote bit ahead (steep, but again, a favourite bit of the Island). I was very aware of how selfish it would be to end up being the cause of a rescue on the first night!
So, that was the end of my Ring O Fire 2013, I’m still gutted, and I also know that had I not been back of pack it would have been safer for me to continue and at least get to the end of day 1, so I could have a shot at the rest of the race. This wouldn’t have been the most sensible of ideas, but since when has this kind of thing been sensible!
The next day, I woke up with a lump on my head and what can only be described as a hangover, unfortunately not alcohol fuelled. The tiny grazes on my knees had turned into big grazes and bruises, that looked far more impressive than the visual of my noggin! I had a choice now, I could mope around, feeling sorry for myself and throwing my toys out of my pram about the race, or, I could get my act together and try and be useful. So Andy and I headed to the halfway checkpoint hoping we were in time to catch Lowri and Mark arriving, and to see if I could be of any use. As soon as we got there, Lowri’s parents let me know that we’d missed her (she was flying!). I set to work with Hannah and Rachel, sorting out halfway bags, feeding the broken humans that were running/staggering into the checkpoint and giving directions for some of the trickier bits. (Who’d of thought after the Dragonrun, that I might be of any use giving directions! ha ha!). I also made it very clear that I was having a year off from all this milarky and coming back for the 2015 event.
Anyway, later that night we popped down to another checkpoint to support, and the next day we were there to cheer in the finishers (including Lowri, who was the 2nd woman! Yey!)
I’ve had a break to lick my wounds and reflect on the weekend. My year off idea, has kind of been forgotten, and I’ve signed up for next year! Andy however, is hanging up his support crew kit and crossing over to the dark side of Ultra….. he’s signed up too!!!!!! :o)
Next year, I’ll have a new strategy, and hopefully will have worked out why I fall over so bloomin’ often! It’s like there’s an invisiwire sniper out there, and I’m the target!
Thank you to all who still donated to my page, and supported me even after my epic fail! It means the world that people are still willing to support the causes that are so close to my heart. Just in case anyone has any spare cash in need of a worthy home, my donation page is http://www.justgiving.com/dragonrun1027
All that is left to say is a huge thank you to Q, Bing and Rich who created and organised the Ring O Fire race, and for choosing me as one of the runners to meet the Duke and Duchess! It was an experience that will stay with me forever! (hopefully with the experience of crossing the finish line in 2014 too!). Thank you also to all of the Marshalls whose smiling faces and endless support really made the race for everyone involved, and the Targetts for their hospitality, support and bananas and custard! :o)