Running the Trails in Wales

When you’re obligated to carry a list of items including a whistle, foil blanket, windproof jacket and first aid kit on a half marathon you know you could be in for a tough run…

One of my favourite Chasers, Cat, absolutely loves a trail run or 5.  Over the last year she has single handedly driven our running clubs participation in trail running from casual Sunday jaunts along the North Downs Way (if you can count 18 miles of tough running in the rain casual…) to organised events across the country.  One of these events is the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series (CTS) which, in their own words, promise the most amazing trail runs in the UK, bar none.

No lie – View of the beach at the top of (one of many) hills

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I’ve done a few trail runs but I was generally of the mindset that trail running really wasn’t for me.   You have to run slower, concentrate on what you’re doing, have some kind of technical running ability and the risk of spraining an ankle for a clumsy fool (like me) is pretty high.

Last year, groups of Chasers went on weekends away to pretty much all of the 10 locations on offer and I was more than a little jealous of all the fun they seemed to be having….

So, with Cat and Frankie’s bullying support and encouragement I found myself signing up for CTS Gower this year.  I was sold into a weekend in Wales with all my favourite things – friends, running, stunning views, fresh air, the beach, wine and an after party.  Sounded perfect.

A 6 hour road trip on Friday afternoon left us all pretty tired but, as Sainsburys failed to deliver the food shop (apparently the driver couldn’t be arsed to read a map leaving 16 hungry runners with no dinner or breakfast stuff), we had to head out again to the pub for dinner.

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The CTS offers 4 distances.  10k, Half, Marathon & Ultra but they don’t conform to road distances so all come up on the long side.  I went for the half but a fair few did the Marathon and Cat & Adam (both completely nuts when it comes to running) went for the Ultra (34 miles if you didn’t get lost…)

It was cold and sunny when we got to race HQ, very lucky considering the incessant rain that had hit us all week, and even the night before, and we collected our race numbers before the pre-race briefing.

Each event is graded from 1-5 in terms of difficulty with 5 being ‘extreme’.  Gower is graded 3 (strenuous) with 2,337ft of accent over the 14.4 mile half route so I was expecting some pretty steep hills, technical descents and tricky paths to navigate…

As soon as we started it was clear the course would be muddy and I was expecting the worst.  The route took us along a mix of cliff edges, up and down hills and along sandy beaches, with the recent rain creating some waterlogged areas in places.  A lot of areas were exposed to the wind but with the beautiful weather it actually got quite warm at times.

 

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Starting at the Rhossili Village Hall we ran along the rocky coastline overlooking the sea and started to climb some pretty steep hills, it wasn’t long before everyone slowed to a walk as all you could see was up, up, upness.  Eventually we came to a steep decent of grass, rocks and water from the heavy rain.  I carefully picked my way through the terrain but it was a bit like running through a stream, a slip & slide affair! I was glad to reach the bottom where there was the 1st checkpoint to dib our timing chip and grab some go-faster gummy bears.

We were then taken onto some soft sand that led down to the beach, the sand was much firmer here and it was nice to run a mile or so on the flat by the sea.  The beach was pretty empty, apart from the runners and some surfers, and with the sun shining brightly I think this was my favourite bit and definitely my quickest mile!

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Of course that had to come to an end and we proceeded to climb up and up and up more hills, there may have also been downs but I’m struggling to remember them…

There was mud, wet grass and rocks to navigate and each mile seemed to be getting slower.  We ran past sheep, horses, cows, a sheep’s skull(?!) but not so many other humans, luckily the course was well marked with red chevrons so I wasn’t worried about getting lost.  Unfortunately some wrong-uns took down some arrows on the marathon & ultra course which resulted in extra miles for some but I don’t think it’s a common problem.

I was surprised to see the ‘1 mile to go!’ sign at about 12.2 miles as I thought the course was going to be longer but I was happy to see it!  Through some fields, over some stiles, down a hill and then there was a flat road!  A fair few people were around at this point so I knew we were close to the finish.  I turned back into the field we started in and heard people shouting my name.  Finish line, whhhaaahoooo!

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There were some awesome performances from the team including Hamish winning the marathon and Pete coming 2nd in the half, there were also a lot of top 10 finishes across all distances.  Adam came 11th in the ultra despite adding on 2-3 miles after a wrong turn and Cat finished as 7th female.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for ultra runners but trail ultra runners?  An absolute inspiration!

It’s fair to say the Clapham Chasers dominated in Gower.

As for me?  Well I just about finished in one piece with a smile which is as much as I could of hoped for!

Post race dinner in the local…it went downhill from here

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There are more differences between trail and road running than I gave it credit for – not only is it really, really tough but it uses different muscle groups and skills as well as different etiquette. For me, road running is about speed and chasing PBs, trail running is more about running in the moment and enjoying where you are.  It’s perfectly acceptable to walk and take in the scenery and with views like this how could you not?

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I’m massively grateful to Cat for giving me the confidence and support to give trail running a proper shot as well as teaching me that, it’s not just OK, it’s expected to walk the tough hills!  She’s also promised lung busting trail running will give me gains on the road too and I have no doubt she’s right.

CTS Gower, you may not be for the faint hearted but you more than delivered on all your promises.  Next one?  Game on!

 

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