Stop Chatting, You’re Wasting Time! The Gower 50 Ultra 2015

Michelle Maxwell Racing, Running, Ultra Marathon

What do you when you narrowly avoid being hit by a car, end up in hospital with your knee cut wide open, with a 16 week lay-off? Enter an ultra of course 🙂

The year started badly…The return of my childhood asthma side lined me for most of January and February, I had to pull out of The Grizzly while they tried different steroids. Finally come March I seemed to be coming back to form in time for the London Marathon…until, whilst out running, a car decided to change my plans :(. Verges, broken up tarmac and knees don’t mix. A huge gash, 8cm wide and 2cm deep, which then got infected, changed my whole year and left me with a horrible scar.

…Verges, broken up tarmac and knees don’t mix….

So…I pulled out of London, the Fleet Endurance Life ultra and the Race to the Stones ultra…and recuperated.

My come back race was leg 1 of the Cotswold Way relay for the Harriers, after just two weeks of training, I came 5th. 3 weeks later, in mid-July, I had a great run for 2nd place at the White Star off road Dorset Invader marathon, securing my come back. IMG_3614With another 2nd place in August at the brutal off road Cheddar Gorge marathon…I was back! Time to enter an ultra to try to claw back some of the year…Gower 50, with a coastal path route around the entire Gower peninsula, this fitted the bill 🙂

Training went to plan with some good long off road runs around Castle Combe, Slaughterford and my favourite place to run in the UK, the coast path in Pembrokeshire. I practised with my pack, fuelling and tested out my new innov8 270 ultra shoes and innov8 ultra socks which are just perfect for my running style and build. I was ready…

After an awful journey with queuing traffic the whole way down to the Gower, we finally arrived. My hip flexor was giving me grief, Sam from Active Potential Therapy had treated and strapped it, but this played heavily on my mind.  A greasy lasagne with chips at the pub was a perfect pre-race meal, followed by the obligatory kit check, orienteering clip point demonstration (we would get 20 minute penalties for any we missed of the 5!) and number collection at registration. It was starting to sink in…50 MILES! I didn’t sleep very well!

…we headed to the start line with the sun just coming up over the sea, it was a beautiful place to be….

Race day – Finally after hours of tossing, turning and checking the alarm on my phone it was 6am. Breakfast was a porridge pot with Chia Charge seeds and almond butter, and a large cup of tea. I couldn’t eat anything else, nerves were rampant! Woke the kids and got in the car, halfway to the start at Llanmadoc I realised I’d left my Garmin in the caravan. With me deep breathing, trying not to have a tantrum, Chris came up with a plan, he was going to meet me on Rhossili beach anyway, so he would give me the GPS there ready to go with the course loaded. IMG_3986Meanwhile I would wear his stopwatch to record the time for the first 4.5 miles. Happy with this plan, I met up with Jason a fellow Chippenham Harrier and some of the Swansea Vale Runners and we headed to the start line with the sun just coming up over the sea, it was a beautiful place to be.

The first 4 miles to Rhossili beach were probably a bit fast, but given I had no GPS I was blissfully unaware, so just went with it. As usual, lots of men went off ahead, but I knew I would catch them later, so just hung back and enjoyed the stunning scenery. 12094891_10153504357265804_1625096894223445502_oThe first miles took us on a little jaunt across the beach at Broughton Bay, up the steep cliff, then down the sand dunes onto Rhossili beach. Rhossili beach is 5km long, so time to just relax, enjoy the sea and look out for Chris and the kids. About halfway along the beach just before Rhossili down they appeared from the sand dunes, quick silly photo and watch exchange, 37 mins gone for the approx. 4.5 miles. Yes a bit quick! But Chris reckoned I was in about 40th place here.

The next leg from Worms Head to Port-Eynon was simply stunning, high cliffs, pretty severe terrain in places, but just amazing. Good pace though and great conversation with other runners, I was happy with the progress. We had a good little group including Stacey from Swansea Vale Running club, whom I’d met during a recce of the last part of the course a few weeks before. Stacey and I seemed to be moving a bit faster so pushed on towards the first clip point at Port-Eynon. The third beach was a bit rougher, with rocks and seaweed to avoid, we had to exit the beach at a nasty dune, then the welcome sight of the CP2, around 13 miles in 2 hours. I refilled my bottles but didn’t take any food here. My niggling hip was not bothering me at all; I find it amazing how your body gives up on you whilst tapering and yet is fine in the race!

…I must admit to losing control, just a little, when I realised she was now ahead of me….

An interesting leg around Oxwich Point and Oxwich beach, with some controversial moments! IMG_3998The path around the point was surprisingly low to the sea, not up on the cliffs, pretty tough in places though, with some rocky sections and sheer drops. We found the next clip point and headed up some very nasty steps into the woods and then down again onto the Oxwich beach. The wind was totally head on, which made this part very hard going, we then followed the route at the end of the beach up the worst sand dune hill ever, down again then up another dune to the cliff. This was where Stace and I saw some runners still down on the beach, as in avoiding the dunes, one of them the 3rd lady whom I’d left behind at Port-Eynon.IMG_4000 I must admit to losing control, just a little, when I realised she was now ahead of me. The poor volunteers at CP3 (22 miles), just after Three Cliffs, got my rage! Still, in a positive way this just fired me on, I was on a mission. I left Stace behind, he was cramping a bit after running into a dog, and after a few miles I’d caught her again. I did mutter something along the lines of good running, but just ploughed on past, and kept pushing on. The next leg was not as nice or pretty, or maybe I was getting tired of rocks and sand dunes, but another clip point at Pwlldu Head found and I accidently head butt a gorse bush, ouch! Hitting the marathon distance in about 4h30, not bad for the terrain, whilst running with a chap who didn’t seem very happy to be running with a woman, as he kept trying to shake me off! A last push along Caswell Bay beach and around Langland and I was running solo having left that poor chap dashing for the loo in Langland. This path was well trodden with plenty of folk around, so I pushed on past Limeslade Bay and onto Mumbles Head. With 7 miles between the checkpoints I’d run out of electrolyte and was getting very thirsty and bit distraught by CP4 (29 miles). Guzzled loads of liquid, refilled and noshed on fruit kebabs. Quite a few were changing foot wear here, but I decided my feet were quite happy. Ate half my cliff bar and pushed on with another friendly chap who was struggling a bit and looked very rough. Such delight at meeting Chris and my gorgeous kids along the Mumbles front. I hugged them all, and posed for pictures. What Harry, one of our twin boys, said then will stay with me forever; “Mummy go, go! You’re wasting time!”

…“Mummy go, go! You’re wasting time!”….

So I did go… and I overtook the whole of the last 20 miles. The Clyne Valley cycle track as expected was pretty tough mentally, but great for just getting into a running pace. Clocking 8.30s-9s along here made all the difference to my time and my confidence to finish. CP5 (35 miles) at Dunvant was just amazing! I probably stayed too long scoffing peanuts and drinking flat cola (I hate cola normally, but in an ultra it just hits the spot), it was sooo nice to see friendly faces, I wanted to hug them all.12075083_10153504827545804_5413670909348110430_n But I had to leave and pushed on to Gowerton. The section from Gowerton through Alt-wen woods was a low point, I felt very wobbly and underfoot was extremely boggy mud, with roots and rocks. I walked a lot just terrified of falling over. I found the 4th clip point, and jogged on back to the main road. We then had a long stretch of road to Pen-clawdd, good for consistent pace, but soooo mentally draining. Another fabulous group of volunteers at CP6, so amazing you do just want to sit and chat. They gave me the low down on who was ahead, couple of blokes walking, I was 8th. Wow! One clip point to go after the Crofty industrial site. Found it, big whoop whoop to myself, I hope no one saw!! No penalties for me 🙂

Seeing my family again on the coast road in the marshlands was such a high point, with 10k to go it was just the boost I needed. Sophie scooted next to me for half a mile, bliss J. At this point I was on for about 8h45, but I knew what was ahead from the recce we’d done and I knew I would be lucky to run the terrain in an hour given how tired I was. Fields, woods and bogs were my sole company for 2 miles, until I caught up with two blokes who seemed a bit lost. IMG_4013I knew the route so we ran together to the finish. Again CP7 was fabulous! I couldn’t eat by this point, but I now knew, with just 3 miles to go I’d definitely finish, so just necked a few cups of cola. More fields and bog and finally the last enormous sand dune hill to the finish at Llanmadoc loomed. The two runners I was with decided to race each other for 6th and 7th, oh well I thought and didn’t chase them, just too tired. Meeting my kids at the top with the finish downhill to go and Sophie running towards me, oh my gosh the tears flooded! Finish time 9:09, 2nd lady, 8th overall, only 36 minutes behind the winner! Happy days 🙂

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