Thursday, 8 November 2012

Land of My Fathers

Friday 2 November - Day 1 Marathon 1 of the Pembroke Coast Challenge
Bussed out from HQ at St David's City Hall to Dale, around 80 hardy souls started out on the Pembroke Coastal Path. The weather was glorious, underfoot conditions ranging from hard path to energy sapping thick glutinous mud, terrain from undulating to steep, even rough hewn stepped ascents and descents.
We were also warned about high risk areas - in other words where the path ran unprotected no more than a foot away from sheer 100 foot drops onto the rocks below. And told that there had been at least 5 deaths in recent years!
I felt pretty good throughout the day although long stretches of mud towards the end were somewhat miserable. I was surprised it had taken me 6 hours. Little did I know what was to come!

Saturday 3 November - Day 2 Marathon 2
You start each day where you finished the previous day - Newgale Sands in this case. Day 2 started with a long steep climb but was easy running along grassy paths for quite a while.Until suddenly it wasn't! Again mud became the enemy combined with a series of steep descents and ascents. And at about half way the weather turned - bellowing thunder and crackling lightening made you feel rather exposed on the cliff tops - particularly high up along quite a rocky section.
Each day was split into four sections - but the 3 on course checkpoints could only be located where there was vehicular access so they weren't evenly spread at all. And from checkpoint 2 to 3 was at least 18k, leaving only 3 k until the end. 18k in those conditions is a long long way without extra fuel, a nice hot drink etc. And I certainly began hallucinating the checkpoint!
But end it did - this time in 6 hrs 40 mins. Little did I know what was to come!

Sunday 4 November - Day 3 Marathon 3
I don't run with gps systems but most people do these days. By common consent and taking a low figure from those reported the days  are actually more in the region of 28 miles each. Apparently the organisers calculate the distance from a map - which given the extreme nature of the course in terms of ups and downs, twists and turns, will always underestimate actual running distance.
The forecast was dire for today - many runners set off in the earlier walkers group to beat some of the weather and to get an earlier journey home. I didn't.
Amazingly, although a little achey the old legs were quite happy to run from the start. The only problem was a twisted left knee from falling off the end of a stile - happily not down a cliff! But although I felt strong throughout the day and could push on at all times, the conditions really slowed me down. It was mud virtually all the way, there was a mountain with full on rock scrambling thrown in - all in pouring cold rain and wind. Plenty of achingly cold hands unable to open  ruck-sacks and that sort of thing.
I also went the wrong way once which lost me about 8 minutes. And although I felt physically okay it did get to the stage where frankly I just wanted it to finish. And it did. In 7 hrs 18 mins.
This last day saw quite a high attrition rate - I was passing people who set off an hour earlier as soon as the 7th or 8th mile. They simply will not have had time to finish before dark if nothing else.

Overall - it really was a challenge. The hardest three days I've ever done. Some of it magnificent and spectacular - some of it (to be honest slightly too much of it) just another muddy path. To put this into context I was running with a guy on day 3 who'd done it 2 years ago. His day 3 time then was nearly 2 hours faster - and in fact would have been faster than the winner's day 3 time this year. So I think we got stuck with some extreme conditions.

I was pleased with my condition. I felt fine during and after, the usual niggles and sorenesses to be expected. But at no time did I run out of steam. That's the peak for this phase of training - just easing down a bit now before I lift it back up again for an other intense period early in the New Year.

Video - of course!! I'll link you here to day 3. But the other days are also on my YouTube Channel.


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