Jonathan Bryant Reports:
‘Sometimes we become so focused on the finish line, that we fail to find joy in the journey’ – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I love the journey of a run, that feeling of travelling from one place to another powered only by my two legs, the views along the way, the people you meet and the things you would miss if you moved in any other way.
That’s why I found myself standing on Aberdovey beach at 08:55 on a wet and blustery Saturday morning in August. The Met Office had predicted gales with 60mph gusts and rain was forecast all day. Still, I had made the start line for my first ultra, and that according to the race organiser was the hardest bit! Just the 42 miles to Harlech castle to go then!
The rain held off as the race started and we turned down a narrow walkway to the beach before turning right to head northwards up the coast. I didn’t really have any splits in mind to run, I wasn’t even sure if I would finish, but I found myself with a small group of experienced ultra runners as we skipped over the stones and hugged the top of the beach trying to avoid the tide that was being whipped in by the wind. As we arrived in Tywyn we tracked the promenade along the sea front desperately trying to avoid the waves that were crashing over our heads – I’m not sure sprinting 5km into an ultra is the norm but it was in an attempt to avoid an early soaking; it failed. Fortunately, Denzil was a few hundred meters ahead and waved us inland to follow the river to the first checkpoint and feed station.
After a brief pause to put on some layers I found myself alone as I headed along the road back to the coast. The route was well signed posted with arrows and tape from the organisers, and hundreds of Welsh coastal path signs. I turned off the road, through some muddy fields and headed around the headland following the trail as it climbed towards Llanglynin. Here I caught another runner and we had a good chat as we descended to the second checkpoint at the 16-mile mark.
I overloaded on Jaffa Cakes and sweets, and headed off to the highest point of the course just south of Fairbourne. I gained a few places, before losing them along the ridge but managed to hold my position as I descended back to the coast. The next stretch was tough. I hugged the shore as I ran through the village and turned east to begin a large anti clockwise turn towards Barmouth bridge. After what seemed an eternity I crossed the river and entered Barmouth. We had been warned not to get too close to the waves so I stayed firmly on the dry side of town and headed along the esplanade to the third checkpoint at around 26 miles.
I was in new territory here and I came so close to quitting. The lure of the train and warm clothes was nearly irresistible but I am so thankful to the marshals at the food station who persuaded me the worst was behind me and that I only had 17 miles to go! Fuelled on cola and homemade ginger cake I carried on and left Barmouth and headed up the road.
I endured another lonely half hour before catching Leanne who was ahead of my, while at the same time being caught by Andre who was behind me. This was to be a highlight of the race as the journey was far better when shared and the next 4-5 miles to the final checkpoint practically flew by as we chatted and found the route together. We even traversed a field with bulls in, and another containing some feisty looking llamas – after 30 miles I wasn’t looking for a detour.
We left the final checkpoint together buoyed by the fact that we had less than 10 miles to go as we hit a beautiful stretch of beach on our way around the coast up to Llanbedr. The sand seemed to go on forever, but the rain had held off and the sea looked majestic and soon enough we were heading back inland for the final few turns that would see us onto Harlech beach. Leanne left us on the final hill – I had no hill running left in me, and Andre and I stepped onto the beach together agreeing that we would finish at the same time. We ran bits, we walked bits and finally caught a glimpse of the sign that turned us towards the castle which meant we only had a few hundred meters to go. We raised our walk to a jog and finished side by side in joint 15th place. The 42 miles had taken me 9 hours and 1 minute, but this is one of those races where I genuinely don’t begrudge that minute. The experience was in the journey, it was in the scenery and it was definitely with the people I ran with along the way. Without them it wouldn’t have been half as much fun and I would have struggled to finish as well as I did. This was my first ultra and what an experience – brutally tough but highly recommended.
A massive thank you to Denzil and all at ‘how hard can it be’ events for their planning, organisation, food stations and encouragement – it was exceptional. And another massive thank you to Andre and everyone I ran with, it made all the difference.