Monday, 2 May 2016

Pembrokeshire Coast Ultra

This was the weekend for the Highland Fling but as I think I've said before, I enjoyed the eight that I did but the whole affair has got a bit too big for my own tastes now, though the race itself goes from strength to strength with new records and lots of great performances this year. Then of course it was the Hardmoors weekend too, with both the 110 and the 160 being run, this year in the opposite direction to fit in with the Tour de Yorkshire bike race. John Kynaston was entered for the 160, but with the Northern Traverse just 4 weeks away even the 110 was much too big an undertaking for me.

So I contented myself with a more modest objective at the Endurancelife Pembroke Coastal Ultra, which I felt should be a nice outing at 35 miles and 3600ft of ascent. I'd had a few calf problems since the Manchester Marathon but after a week's rest and a couple of visits to the physio, coupled with a plan to take things easily and walk if it got sore, I was happy that things would probably be OK. I wouldn't break any records and would be happy with around 7 hours for the 35 miles.

A visit from daughter Julia turning into a fairly lengthy (but very enjoyable) Italian lunch was probably not the best way to start the trip down to Pembroke, which is around 175 non-motorway miles distant from Chester. I got away before 5pm but a one hour delay due to an accident on the brief bit of A5 encountered didn't help. After that though it was plain sailing down roads ideal for some Caterham fun and I arrived in Haverfordwest in time for something to eat and a beer watching the snooker before turning in.

The event was based at the small seaside village of Little Haven about 5 miles from Haverfordwest. Registration could be left until nearly 7.30am so no crack of dawn starts were required. It was a cloudless but still quite cool morning as we assembled first for the 8am briefing and then the 8.30am start. I thought of the Hardmoors 160 runners who had by now put in a solid and probably fairy chilly night shift.

I've walked most of the Pembrokeshire coast path over the years and it's all attractive, a bit like Cornwall but maybe not quite as severe, so I was looking forward to the day. There was a gentle onshore breeze as the day warmed up so conditions were pretty well perfect throughout. The first five miles took us down the coast path to the first checkpoint at the inlet below St Brides. Checkpoints on Endurancelife events turn up regularly at between 4 and 7 mile intervals; they all have water and a selection of biscuits and jelly babies so you don't have to carry much in the way of food and drink.

The next 4 miles followed a more inland route across clifftops and an old airfield to a neck of land above Dale and checkpoint 2, level and very easy running. The next stage was much more varied around a complete peninsula taking in Dale Point and St Annes Head, a bit of road down through Dale then coast path all the way, clifftops, descents and reascents, occasional wooded areas, 7 miles in all back to checkpoint 2. Those on the marathon course (28 miles this one, distance interpretation rather like on the Hardmoors events...) could now head back up the coast towards home, but for the ultra distance we had to repeat the 7 mile loop around the peninsula. On this second loop my calf started to feel a bit sore so I cut the pace a bit by taking shorter strides, a tip from the physio. It continued to hurt for the next 15 miles or so and was getting a bit concerning, but it finally went away a few miles from the finish and I have no residual effects a day later so all seems to be well. But overall it meant that my pace, which was looking steady at a few seconds over 11 minute pace, was now drifting into the 12 minute area.

After our third visit to the checkpoint above Dale the course headed northwards again, but this time along the coast to Marloes Sands then cutting off some of the Wooltack Point headland to arrive back at the original checkpoint 1 by St Brides. I saw almost no-one along this stretch, the field of both the marathon and ultra being pretty spread out by now, but I overtook two or three runners in the last mile or two before St Brides, and another few as I left the checkpoint.

All required now was to complete the original five miles in the opposite direction back to Little Haven and the finish. I got home in 6:51:52, nicely inside the 7 hours I had previewed for the trip even though I had slowed up somewhat to avoid pressuring my calf. I finished in 28th place, which coincidentally was exactly the same position that I got in the previous race in this coastal series, up in Northumberland a few weeks ago. Generally a satisfying day out, and I was back home in Chester for dinner.

But we've had the warm-ups now, things get serious soon with the Northern Traverse starting in just 4 weeks time!

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