Following the solo AGMU I was one race shy of 20 lifetime ultras, so it felt a shame not to squeeze a last one in for the year, and where better than with the lovely folks at Run, Walk, Crawl on the Celtic Trails?
This ultra (marathon and half marathon variants also available) is a 55k loop around the Dare Valley Country Park with 1,500m of climb along rolling Welsh hills topped with ancient forests, views out over the lakes and hillsides dotted with windmills.
After signing up, one of last year's entrants Paul Bennett-Davies told me that towards the end he felt "this is just about survival now" which didn't bode well 😂. They did have snowfall and very cold weather that time though.
Gear & Nutrition
Using Active Root again as my drinks mix, it treated me well in the last ultra and didn't give me any gut bombs. Combined this with a mixture of gels and clif bars, along with whatever I fancied at each checkpoint.
Lots of layers packed to comply with the required kit list.
Wearing the Merrell Agility Peak 5s which have been doing well for me. Have used these for a 50k and a 76k this year and like the confidence they give me on slippy ground, along with the cushioning I get on harder surfaces. My main worry was bashing on the medial side of my big toes, a constant issue with me due to overpronation.
Favourite new piece of gear at the moment is the Montane Prism mitts, as recommended by Jon Hares. Super comfy warming water and windproof gloves that are working well for my Raynaud's addled hands in the winter.
Arrived early to get my number, faff with my shoes then hang out in a socially awkward manner around the HQ. It was a good set up they had here, plenty of indoor space if it got too cold, with a cafe and outdoor seating that would be handy after finishing.
Bumped into Sarah doing her second ultra, her first being the Pegasus RIDUM back in September. We had a great chat whilst waiting for the start, massive shout out to Sarah for completing the Celtic Trails, as we find out later it was a hardcore course!
A briefing from the race director and we were off up a long climb from the HQ to the hills.
Stage 1: Roadie
Big old long climb here, which I can safely say I pushed too hard on. I'd promised myself my race strategy was to just enjoy the day, not go for a hard time. So of course that flew out the window immediately as I ran up hills every other ultra runner would walk up 🙈
We went on up this ascent for a while, snaking along muddy trails into the woods, then out and down onto a road leading through some gorgeous terrain.
For the first half we were mostly on these forest access roads, hard underfoot and faster going, undulating up and down the hills as we passed windmill after windmill.
The views were often stunning, mist coated tops falling away to lakes below, the eerie beauty of the windmills cutting through the fog.
I had set a HR alert at 158 to try and keep my pace down and stay within Zone 2. This was starting to get real annoying as it disagreed constantly with how I felt. When I was going slowly it was buzzing at me, when I was going fast it was telling me my HR was low.
I ended up turning it off, it was both frustrating and getting in the way of the main reason I do these things, to enjoy being in nature. I was being obsessed with my watch, not the sights.
Definitely pushed too much over the hard surfaces after this though, the fatigue in my legs from the roads was real before we hit the halfway point.
Bit of a chat at this aid station; apparently no-one ever takes the Love Hearts! So that was my next snack of course.
The weather on course was moody: it was a misty drizzle throughout with some wind picking up in places, not too cold but we did get soaked through and it was constant enough that my gloves were sodden inside and out by the end.
Towards the end of this stage we left the road for a gnarly descent through the woods that seemed to come out of nowhere. Flooded mucky paths leading to another forest road below.
This whole first stretch led me to a false sense of security, I was starting to think this was a road marathon with the odd trail thrown in. I would be proven wrong shortly.
Stage 2: Stones Be Damned
Reached the midway aid station to Metallica blaring out from a marshals car. Hells...yes.
My shoes had been pinching across the top of my foot so wanted to relace here. I couldn't get enough lace to tie a good heel lock and ended up faffing too much with adding gaps, losing a bit of time needlessly here. Still stopping to sort pain points early is important, rather lose time half way than get tendon damage by the end.
The checkpoint was down in the valley after a long descent, which mean more climbing was ahead of us. Thankfully things were starting to get more traily now.
Zig zagged through another waterlogged section with streams running down the hillside.
These stones can do one. A long climb over big loose rock that felt like it went on forever. Lots of ankle rolling and slips here.
At the top we returned to another forest road stretch which continued until we reached the next aid station.
Stage 3: Real Trails Now
At the penultimate aid station I faffed around for far too long. Had to get my 2 water bottles refuelled for the last big push, and get some grub in me.
It was here we joined the half marathon course, and the time I'd reached it was the same as a fair few half runners, which meant the last 15k was spent running alongside them, chatting with a few.
The last 15k was also BRUTAL. Respect to anyone who made this their first half marathon as it was a doozy! Lots of flooded paths, muddy mucky sections, climbs over trees, around puddles then leading to a long hilly stretch as we approached the end.
Managed to keep running throughout, taking fewer walking breaks than normal, pretty happy with that, though at the time I was being quite harsh on myself for not being a little faster.
Rounding the corner there was a long technical descent back towards the finish with views opening up over the valley that took your breath away.
When we got back to the road it was a quick sprint to the finish at Race HQ where volunteers clapped us over the line, handed us a medal and a mince pie.
After Action Report
55k done with 1,553m of vert in 06:11:47 chip time. 30th out of 160 runners, heck yea I'll take that. (Strava link)
Got changed immediately after (have learned previously what happens if you don't put on warm clothes quickly!) then sat down with a Coke and ate my mince pie. Chatted with Rich Breakspear a little who came in with a cracking sub 6 hour time, then got in the car with the heating on full to get me home.
Had some lovely pics from the photographers, I usually look like a raging psychopath in race snaps so this was a nice surprise. Definitely check out Daz who is a frequent photographer at South Wales events and both takes great shots and has good banter with the runners.
The Agility Peaks performed well, especially on the technical terrain and hard ground, but I did have to faff with the lacing a lot. They were either too tight across the metatarsals, or my toes were bashing, or not enough lace to heel lock. Need to nail this down for 2024 as I'm still considering them for the Epona (though the more this happens the more the Altras are looking appealing)
I opted to carry 2 bottles (1 litre, roughly 2 hours worth) instead of a full bladder. This did mean having to stop and refill the water a lot which ate into my time more than I'd like. As I don't usually compete this isn't an issue, but in this instance where I was pushing a little I was kicking myself for not being more self sufficient.
Nutrition wise I hadn't brought enough. I'd told myself I'd use the aid stations, but then was trying to get out them as quickly as I could and didn't eat enough. Clif bars also didn't go down well here, too hard and gravel like by the end (the cold didn't help).
The HR alert at 158 bmp which I'd had success with during the Green Man didn't work for me this time. Often it didn't match how I was feeling and ended up distracting me from enjoying the run. For the future I think I'll stop using HR alerts and instead just keep an eye on the watch when I feel the pace creeping too high.
Nothing really, bit cold at the finish and a cut across my toe from one of the stones but that's it.
Legs were proper sore, the hard surfaces made it feel more like a road marathon than a trail ultra in the aftermath.
A big thank you to RWC for running the event; well organised as always with some tasty aid stations, warming marshals, good signposting & a lovely field of runners.
I've managed to catch COVID which means this week has been isolating to my bedroom with forced rest, only had 1 recovery run before taking the test and now itching to be anywhere that isn't inside tbh.
Will have a rest over Christmas, running for enjoyment instead of to a plan, before jumping on the 6 month training plan for the Epona 100.