Marathon #6: Gower EnduranceLife CTS (Pt 1)

Firstly, a quick announcement about the winner from my Scholl giveaway.  The winner was Sharon David and I shall be in touch later today.  Well done Sharon!

Next, onto the adventure that I had over the weekend…!

Gower Marathon

A fortnight ago I was offered a free marathon place at the EnduranceLife Gower marathon, (part of the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series) when another running club member had to pull out.  There were twenty-two runners going from my club and a whole weekend of fun was promised.  With three little cottages shared between us, accommodation came to just £45 each for the weekend.  How could I turn it down?!

Last Thursday was spent madly packing my bag and bulk buying breakfast items for the weekend as I had agreed to cook breakfast for our house on the Sunday.  The bell at the end of the school day on Friday could not come quick enough and I shot out of the door as soon as it went.  Once home, Gary, one of the other runners was waiting outside and I threw my bags of running gear and food into the boot of his car before we began what became a five hour drive over to South Wales to start our weekend off.

I was shattered by the time we arrived having been up since 5:30am that morning and not arriving until 8:45pm.  All but one of the members of our house had headed over to the pub but we were welcomed in and presented with some chili that had been kept warm on top of the stove.  Everyone but Gary and I had taken the Friday off work so they had all arrived in the early afternoon and already unpacked.

We headed to bed by 11pm as the others returned back from the pub.  It was an early start the following morning with registration for the ultra runners beginning at 7:30am.  Luckily the race start was literally across the road from the cottages we stayed in, – less than three minutes walk away.  In fact, the following morning we graced the start line in a variety of pyjamas, cosy coats and hair in various states of being brushed.  I’m pretty sure we stood out from the rest of the hall which was filled with serious ultra/marathon competitors who were all already in their gear, and with their bags loaded on their backs!  The registration line was very organised and we spotted our race number up on the wall which was then written on our hand in ink.  We moved a little further round and were given our timing dibber for our wrists, then also our number.  A little further along the line we collected our t-shirts and then some safety pins before escaping back to the cottages to get changed and load up our bags ready to go.

Gower marathon crew

There were three of the club running the ultra (34 miles), six of us running the marathon (28 miles), four running the half marathon and two running the 10k option.  Everyone else staying with us was a partner or injured runner, or both!

We saw the ultra lot off and then after a quick briefing we had our photo taken on the start line just before we began at 9am.  The quickest runner of the six of us planned to run ahead on his own but the rest of us planned to run together for as long as we were able.Gower marathon crew

The course started as it meant to go on.  Through a muddy field and there was a brief bottleneck at the gate before heading down along a rocky track.  The scenery was spectacular right from the very beginning and the company of the other club runners was as great as ever.  We also had our first couple of pretty steep climbs very early on into the race.

Gower marathon elevation

Although I was very much the slowest runner of the five of us (with the other runners either in the group above or two groups above me at running club) powering up hills is where I excel and although over long stretches of running I would find myself at the back of the group, there was enough technical trail and uphill climbs that I could put myself back with the others during those sections.

Gower marathon runners

As we came back down off of the first big hill we were almost sliding down trying our best to miss the bigger of the rocks littering the side of the hill.  There was a stream that seemed to appear from the top and run along the grass, making our feet squelch as we navigated the best route down.  At the bottom though was our first checkpoint and we dibbed our timing chips, grabbed some salty crisps and continued down onto the beach.

Gower marathon runners

This was the first bit where we had really been able to pick up any speed and the first point I thought I might have to break away from the group.  We had a good 0.8miles on the beach and it gave the rest of the group a chance to really stretch their legs out and cover some ground before the trail got technical again.  Which it did!

The course was marked out fantastically with red arrows placed on a white board at every possible turning.  Our little group had no problems with navigation, although one of our ultrarunners ended up running an extra two miles when one of the arrows had been removed earlier on in the day.Gower marathon crewThe photographer took some great action shots of our little group with the scenery in the background.

To get to the second checkpoint (at about 10.5 miles) we headed through several very boggy fields.  One of the guys ripped his shorts getting over the stile and I copied one of the girls to shimmy along the bottom rung of the gate/fence when things got really boggy!  We stopped a little longer at the second checkpoint and topped up our water supplies and grabbed several of the gummi bears on offer.

The next section was where we had turned away from the coastline and really came up some high ground again.  Everywhere was so open and the wind hit us hard in several parts, although the temperature was actually perfect for running on the day.  There were lots of wild ponies around, grazing with cattle and sheep and we even came across a random guy in a top hat with a camera set up on a tripod!Gower marathon runners

I’m sure he also thought we were pretty weird out there running across the hills!  Several people stopped and asked us how far we were going and where we had come from.  It was nice to see so many people so interested.

One of the other runners, Kev, really began to struggle here.  He is a much stronger runner than me but wasn’t having a very good race.  We talked about letting the others go off ahead, and when I was up with the faster group I also mentioned it to them, although we seemed to still stay relatively together even though Kev was finding it much tougher than expected.

We hit the third checkpoint at mile 16 pretty much together and stopped for another top up.  The sign on the front of the table said that the next checkpoint was just four miles away.  Hardly any distance!  So off we began again.  We were heading back down through the dunes and onto the sand again here and running across the sand dunes really took it out of us!  Within minutes the other three had pulled away and I did nothing to stop them, choosing to stay back with Kev.  I really wasn’t fussed about time.  The race was more about enjoyment for me and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it if I ended up pushing too hard anyway.

…I’m very aware I’ve already written quite a lot so will split this recap into two (as usual!…perhaps maybe I should run more 10ks…my recaps wouldn’t take be long!)  I shall hopefully have the next installment of Gower ready for tomorrow!