Last updated: 20-Aug-18
By Dave Heeley
The night before the Gower Ultra 50 we pulled up at Llanmadoc to spend the night in Tony’s camper van by the start. As we went to bed the rain started to hammer down on the roof and when we woke up…. it was still going. Our waking thought of running 50 miles in that was Oh no! But then the Black Country grit shone through and we thought, let’s get on with it! To our surprise within 10 minutes of starting the race, the rain stopped. It’s the first time the race has been run and it follows the coastal path around the peninsula.
65 runners and some walkers started by going down into the sand dunes but I knew it was going to be one of those runs when the grass to the beach was dodge the rabbit holes. It was one of those bonding runs. 2 guides, 1 blind bloke and suddenly Rosemary chirps up Dave you’re on your own. Had the bonding broken down? After 2 miles have they had enough? I was only running on my own without a guide, along the sand. After the beach there’s suddenly a laugh from Tony and oh no from Rosemary and the rock climbing commenced, right up to the danger sign on the edge of the cliff.
The next 20 miles were a constant challenge with very rare times when we could actually run for a mile at a time, or even 200 feet! The paths were either very narrow, with boulders in random places or the terrain was like the picture above for a lot of the time. I was told the views were gorgeous; VIEWS! Do I want views? I was more concerned with stones. Big stones, little stones, rolling stones, all kinds of stones. We were grateful the sun had come out (and stayed out all day) but there were many new lessons to be learned.
Blind men can cross stepping-stones but they don’t like it; my little leg shot in and out and in and out as I thought about crossing the river on the stones, I was almost doing the Okey Cokey! We conga-ed up very narrow steep climbs, with my hands on Tony’s shoulders in front and Rosemary’s hands on my behind. Going up and down 200 stairs you cannot see in the woods, where tree roots complicate things, takes some time and energy and when you are running along a cliff edge with a 200 foot drop very close it concentrates the mind, particularly when erosion means the path is only 2 foot wide at points.
Thankfully I was only told about some of the drops the next day but I did wonder why my guides went quiet; especially Rosemary – that’s a bad sign!
Up on the cliffs, it was part of the adventure to encounter some animal life. At one point 50 sheep came running towards us on a narrow path with a steep drop to the sea. I was told the herd ran towards us where the path was only 3 foot wide and there wasn’t enough room for all of us. Where were we all to go?
A little further and an encounter with cows but then I finally got a phone signal to call Deb and Rosemary, bless her, thought the horse was going to move! It didn’t…. and I hit its rear end! On realising what I had hit, I exclaimed: I could have been kicked to the next checkpoint – I wish!
I was very grateful when at 24 miles the cliff path started to be paved – then our running really started.
We got to the 29 mile aid station in 9h 36m, the last in by 40 minutes. After this we were on the promenade and then turned inland along a tarmac cycle path for miles and by the next aid station were 5 minutes behind the last of the field. It was so nice to be able to run finally and we caught up with a few people, however before the end we had to go back onto the marshes and walk again as this time the dark / slippery mud and puddles bigger than the track slowed us up again.
By the last aid station we made a unanimous decision not to run the last 1.5 miles on the trail as the thought of climbing sand dunes in the dark and then back over the rabbit holed grass to the finish seemed like a recipe for a disaster. We told the crew our plans and they said we could just get back to the road an easy way by turning off the trail ahead and crossing a 200m field of grass and would be on the road. They seemed to forget the single file, rocky trail with big tree roots, and stiles that went on for a mile to get to the road! We ended up going a little further but enjoying the chance to run again (and a little walking, of course) came into the finish from the road, having moved up 11 places from our last place finish.
The Gower coastline turned into a great adventure as I completed my first 50 miler. With what was thrown at us, it was a fantastic achievement. Not knowing what the terrain consisted off added to tired legs, tired bodies and tired minds but the end result was important. We came through as a team after 15 hours and 33 minutes, joking from the start, joking at the end and know we could react well under pressure.
The prime reason for going was as a training exercise in preparation for Marathon de Sables in the Sahara Desert next April. It was a great psychological boost, making us realise if we can conquer the Gower we can give the Sahara our best shot.