And it burns, burns, burns….. The Ring Of Fire.

Nearly two weeks on, I am starting to recall this race with some fondness, even though at the time, it was not the most fun ever. The Ring O’ Fire came onto my radar a couple of years ago as a possible way to bag some UTMB points in a way that didn’t involve international travel and/or running over 100 miles in a oner. I thought it would be an easier option to get me into the Big One…hmmm.

A few friends did the race while I kept an eye on it and there were nothing but positive reports: it was beautiful; well supported; a great adventure; easy to follow the route, etc. I was convinced, so I entered. The St Cuthbert’s Way 100km would be an excellent training run for it and two months was enough recovery time right? Turns out it was a bit tight really after what that race took out of me and I went into my week long recce not feeling as full of beans as I would have liked. Anglesey really is a stunning place though, so I enjoyed breaking the 135 mile route down over 8 days. The coastal path was easy to follow, spectacular and very quiet. The amount of tarmac on day two was mildly upsetting but it would be fine. I was also very lucky to have an excellent guide in Tracy Entwhistle who had run the race before, placing 2nd lady and marshalling virtually every other year she hadn’t run. She gave me some great tips and was lovely company over a couple of days, so thank you Tracy!

Recce with Tracy. Newborough beach is great when you’ve only done a couple of hours!

If you haven’t been to Anglesey, why not?! Jayson and I went for a holiday a couple of years ago, found some real gems of camping spots and I even ran some of the coast path before realising there was a race there. The coastal path that makes up the race takes in the whole island with expansive sandy beaches, secluded forest, dunes, cliff tops covered in gorse and heather and some really pretty towns and villages. So, when I heard about this race, I thought  it was right up my street. I love the coast and had never done a stage race before, so this was the perfect way of taking on a challenge and doing something new but still keeping it relatively familiar.

We travelled over on the Thursday and stayed in a campsite, before a casual saunter to Breakwater Country park in Holyhead for registration. The race started at 1pm so there was plenty of time to faff and eat. Scott and Jodie Smith found us too, so it was nice to see some familiar faces. Scott had run the race in 2017, placing 2nd in a fantastic total time of 24 hours 39 minutes. Jodie was starting the race this year after a couple of goes didn’t work out as planned. She was determined this time around so she didn’t have to come back!

Raring to go with Jodie.

After getting all the blisters at SCW in June, I had been wearing in some Topo, Altra and wider Inov 8 shoes to see if having a bigger toe box would help my deformed little toes from getting smushed. I had also been trying Drymax socks instead of Injinjis and, with Jayson’s expert taping, I hoped that this combination would prevent it from happening again. I decided on the Inov8 Trail Talons for day one, as it was ‘only’ 35 or so miles and I had worn Inov8s for a long time. Along with my new Montane kit, I felt ready to go!

We all set off to the theme of the weekend, Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, and as well as the 80 or so people doing the full three days, there were more doing the Firelighter which was just day one. It was a nice easy pace through Holyhead, a part I hadn’t recced, and I fell in with Tim Cook. His first stage race too, Tim had only done one other ultra, so this was a daunting prospect for him. His whole family were out supporting though and we saw them as we trotted along the first few miles. It felt easy and maybe a little quick, but it was such a flat start, it was hard not to feel comfortable at a decent pace. I think I got ahead of Tim going through the first checkpoint at around 7 miles and I wouldn’t see him again that day.

Going well on day one.

Coming into CP 2, about 16.5 miles in, Jayson and Scott were set up with my food and drinks. This was where the route got familiar and hilly! We had spent some time in Church Bay on our holiday, so I knew that this was a more undulating and rural section, with some steep ups and downs and lovely scenery. The wind though! As I approached Carmel Head, a very exposed point, I got whacked in the left eye by the wind and my vision went a bit blurry. Going slightly off course, I managed to look up and see two men higher up, so I went towards them and, as we turned in, the wind eased and I knew where I was again. This section was where we had parked up for a few days and where Jayson got stalked by a pack of seals on his paddleboard! I ran down into Cemlyn Bay and walked across the pebbly beach, wondering if anyone managed to actually run on this shifting ground.

The next CP was behind Wylfa power station, around 25 miles in and I saw Scott again here. He told me Jodie was doing well and was about 21 miles in. I somehow added an extra dogleg on here and fell in with a brusque Italian guy. He seemed annoyed about the extra bit but stayed with me anyway. He was sort of bumming me out with his lack of conversation, so I stopped to loosen my laces and let him go. It needed doing anyway! As I approached Cemaes Bay, where I had asked Jayson to be as the official CP was a bit tight for parking, I could see the motorhome round the other side of the seafront, which was a nice incentive to get there. When I did, I told him my toes felt tight, but I didn’t think there was anything bad going on that we needed to sort. He told me that Amy Chapman was leading and was around 5 minutes ahead. He said she looked like a proper runner, bounding along nicely. As an ultra shuffler myself, this was disconcerting. I hadn’t come into this with the intention of trying to win, but when you only have one person ahead and there are two days to go, you might as well try!

Amazing scenery. Taken on a recce.

For the next section I was toing and froing with three men doing the Firelighter together. We kept falling in and then getting split up again, but I think I chatted with all three of them in turn. As we came down into a stunning little cove with a ruined church, I told them that the next honesty book was at a really obvious place, as they’d been worried about finding it. The books were all marked with big flags except this one as it was just too windy, but it was in a ruined tower. It was somewhere around here – I think as the guys caught me back up again near Bull Bay – that we passed Amy. I didn’t know it was her at the time, and thought she might be on the Firelighter as she was walking a bit. There was a bit of me hoping it was her though! The four of us chugged along, them asking where I was from and upon finding out, telling me the only thing that Yorkshire does well is tea! They were from the red side of the Pennines! I didn’t hold this against them though, especially as I had a good chat with one of them about the Yorkshire Three Peaks race, at which he was a regular. See, we do runs quite well too! As we approached Amlwch and the end of day one, they dropped back a little and I was left to find my way into town. I caught up with another guy and, blindly following him, must have missed a marker. Looking up, I could see the flag for the last honesty book before turning into town but we were on a parallel footpath. Jayson was standing near the flag with Indie and shouted us over, saying that lots of people had done the same thing. He told me that the markers through town went a back way to the leisure centre, slightly different to where I had gone on my recce. I ran on, now with no-one else in sight and hit the road. One sign, then another, then nothing. I stood at a junction not knowing what to do, when a guy in a car beeped and pointed me left. On I went, but with no signs, I was getting frustrated. Again, I reached a point that seemed too far away and looked around. Another person driving past asked if I was looking for the sports centre and told me which way to go. I eventually came out onto a road where I could hear the end! I jogged over the line to see Tracy and her dad, who told me they were pretty sure I was first lady. Coming in at around 6 hours 35 minutes, I was a little slower than I thought, but it was a decent start and I felt good. Jayson appeared round the corner and we got organised: recovery shake; leisure centre shower; big pile of pasta and a Chia Charge protein bar. I had one blister just under my left big toe which I hadn’t really felt. It was a new blister location for me! No toe blisters though, so the taping was a success. Several painful iodine filled minutes later and all there was left to do was sleep.

Waking up at 4.30am is never easy but not having slept well didn’t help either. I think after running for that long, you probably need more wind down time so I only seemed to get a few hours sleep. I shouldn’t complain though as those staying in the leisure centre were kept awake all night by something banging in the wind on the roof! Jayson taped my toes again and my new blister, I ate some overnight oats and headed out into the dark, wet and windy morning.

So much product placement! The start of day two.

We all huddled in the doorway of the leisure centre, people looking less than enthused about the long day ahead. Race director Q led the way through the town, clearly feeling pretty fresh and getting a good lead on everyone! As we turned onto the trail, the quick Spanish guy with the cool dreadlocks, Andre, went a bit wrong and I found myself leading. It was dusky and the track was very narrow, so no-one could overtake. I was moving comfortably though and knew they would all stream past when it broadened out. After a mile or so, we moved onto open moor and the other runners started trotting by me. Climbing higher onto the cliff tops, the weather really starting battering us, with a strong side/head wind and rain. I joined up with Tim again, but neither of us did much talking this time! He broke away from me and, as I hadn’t recced this section, I went slightly off course around a narrow non path. Realising my mistake and seeing other runners crossing the field next to me, I doubled back and climbed over a fence, before getting right again. It was really tough to run into the wind and I didn’t want to waste an ounce of energy so I fast walked up some inclines, cursing the weather.

Lligny Bay at 11.8 miles was our first CP of the day. I wasn’t expecting Jayson here so when I saw the motorhome, was pleasantly surprised as I wasn’t having fun. There was a little bar inside the CP and I think people were being given bacon butties, but I headed straight to the water to top up. Scott appeared and told me that Jodie was stopping; bad blisters had aggravated a niggle that was getting gradually worse and affecting her gait. He told me that Jayson had been told to move the motorhome but was on his way over. I just wanted to keep moving though, so I told him I would see him at the next CP and cracked on.

Heading into Moelfre, a nice little town with an excellent café, I was getting back onto familiar turf. We had stayed here before and I knew a bit of the coastal path from the campsite we had been in. Tim caught me again after spending a bit longer in the CP and we chatted a little. He got ahead of me – again! – and went out of sight. Getting slightly confused here, I dropped down onto the beach which meant I had to walk/stumble across some very slippery rocks as the tide was pretty high. This turned out to be completely unnecessary but I had obviously missed a sign somewhere, as I saw Tim up ahead and he had gained some ground. At least I knew where I was though, and that was a comfort.

Red Wharf Bay was the next CP at 18.2 miles and Jayson was there just before it so I quickly jumped in to use the loo. I had been eating some avocado and rice wraps, Chia Charge and Veloforte bars, and they were working but clearly working through me too! I got topped up again and set off. I knew this section well now, having recced it from here two weeks before. The weather was settling down and I was moving well.

The path was lovely here, undulating and grassy with great views, and I was on my own, so it was very peaceful. Climbing up some steps into a woody section, I met a guy sitting down. He told me to watch my step as he had puked on the steps! I asked him if he was stopping, but his reply was a very casual, ‘Ah, no, I’m fine’. It turns out he had completed this race three times already, so he knew what he was doing! His name was Mark and we ran on and off together for a while. He told me he wanted to break 30 hours and that his wife and kids had set up an aid station outside their house in a village after Beaumaris just past halfway so he was looking forward to seeing them. As he got just ahead of me, we came upon a string of ponies (I wanted to call them ‘herd’, but apparently that’s what it is!), two of which were pretty feisty little ones. Mark jogged towards them pretty confidently, but they started charging around, so I walked by. I caught him back up and made some comment about them and he asked me if I’d seen the dolphins yet. I virtually shouted ‘No!’, most disappointed that I’d missed out. He told me some had been seen in the Menai Strait which we would pass today and even though I told myself I wouldn’t, I forgot to look out for them.

Frisky ponies. Taken on recce day.

The route comes inland around here and becomes tarmac – yack – which obviously did something to my brain. The same turning I missed on my recce fooled me again and I added on about a mile and a half of road. Having a mild panic about losing my place, I rang Jayson to see what buffer I had on second lady. He told me I was fine and just to get back on track – I was slightly hysterical! I eventually made it to the CP at Penmon Point at 28.8 miles, the lighthouse, to see Tracy and her dad again. They told me that had been willing me to realise my mistake on the tracker and everyone had been getting quite stressed! As I marched up the road, eating a bar, Tracy’s dad explained to me that I would have to take the inland route as the tide was in, meaning I would be on the road until the next CP at Beaumaris which was 5 miles along. I knew after Beaumaris there was more road too, so I wasn’t thrilled but I kept on chugging. Jayson met me a little further along and I had another loo stop. As I came out, I saw Mark run by, so, knowing he was local and that I hadn’t recced the inland route, I tagged on with him for a bit. I was moving a little quicker though, so he gave me directions and sent me on my way. This was hard: it felt like a lot more than 5 miles with tender feet!

Beaumaris is a bustling seaside town, but even more so when I came through as there was a big food festival going on. Swarms of people were in the streets, none of them aware of our little event as we trudged by. The CP was right at the far end of the town just before a long, steep climb on the road. I could see and hear it as I approached, the marshals waving and shouting, telling me I was brilliant. I thanked them and started a strong walk up the hill, eating as I went. There was a very short trail section which was bliss, before hitting the road again. I had stopped at the shop in the village of Llandegfan on my recce, so I remembered it well, and passing someone’s drive, I saw a table set up with Capri Suns and Jaffa Cakes: Mark’s house! This was a section with some road and some trail, as it went through Menai and skirted the strait. The day was turning out quite nicely now and I enjoyed people and dog watching as I approached the CP at mile 40.4. I met Jayson there, loo again and got my music. He asked me if my feet were okay and I told him I knew I had another blister on my right foot in the same place as the one on my left but it didn’t feel like it was getting worse; I just wanted to keep moving! I jinxed it though, as after a short pebbly beach section, it got worse. I stopped and took my shoe off to see if I could pop it, but it had already exploded. There was nothing to be done, so I just kept on, following more road, before turning down through some fields.

On the approach to the Sea Zoo CP at 47.4 miles, I was singing Fall Out Boy at the top of my lungs and feeling better mentally. I knew I would get it done, it would just take longer than I had thought. The marshals were great again, and I had some welcome cola and asked for some orange segments. I was so busy with chatting to them and sorting my tunes out, I went without the orange. This was probably my best moment of the day though. Walking along another pebble beach that was impossible to  run, Hotel California came on and I had another good sing, taking in the scenery and remembering how lucky I was to be here. Over the huge stepping stones into Pen Lon and Jayson met me again, just outside Newborough Forest. Another loo stop – getting quite annoying now and worrying as I needed to keep more in me – and I kept going. The path down into the forest was a lot of loose sand and I did end the day with a lot of it in my shoes. It was better than tarmac though! Running along Newborough beach, I thought I was moving into a headwind, until I turned left and realised that was a headwind! I was so tired, at this point having run more miles in two days then ever before, that I ran/walked until I could see the flag marking the honesty book. I had to laugh to myself as one of the songs that came on here was Alanis Morrissette, ‘You Learn’ with the lyric, ‘I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone’! The flag came into sight and was framed by a rainbow, almost as if I was being guided to it by a higher power! I trekked up into the dunes and headed back into the forest towards the last CP at mile 59.4.

Heading for home on day two.

The tarmac path out of this CP felt really hard. I walked a bit, putting my jacket on as it was getting cooler. The path diverts here through a village and onto some trails so that people aren’t running a quiet country road at night. I was very glad to get off the tarmac and Jayson met me where the path turned, just as my MP3 player ran out of juice. I handed it to him and got my head down towards the end. Heading up a hill towards a farmhouse, I thought I saw Jayson and Indie at the top and then they vanished – was this my first hallucination?! Across an ankle breakingly rutted field and down into the dunes, I wasn’t sure of the best track to take and the markers vanished so I just headed towards the beach, looking out for the last honesty book of the day. Tearing out the final page as it was getting dusky, I felt really tired, slow and emotional.  The village of Aberfraw loomed and I could see who I thought was Jayson with someone else on the other side of a small inlet. They whooped and waved, but I didn’t trust it wasn’t me seeing things again. I didn’t know where the village hall was so asked a lady walking her dog and she told me those people over there were directing competitors. I headed towards them and it was Jayson and Q, who pointed me towards the hall. 67.4 miles in 14 hours 15 minutes, slower than I wanted but it was done. I was still first lady too. There weren’t may others in the hall, but I saw Tim having a massage looking quite smiley. I laid with my legs up the wall while I had a shake and talked to Jayson about my woes, then we headed out. Passing Q on the way, I asked him how the flip anyone got through day three. He said they just walked, then shuffled, then started running again. He might have also said something sweary about me being awesome but it’s all a bit hazy! Jayson got me into the motorhome where there were some chips waiting for me. I managed most of them, a little pasta and two green juices. I was so thirsty and felt battered, my feet a state. I had blisters now just under both big toes; my two little toes on my right foot, including a big bloody one and my left heel was very sore. I insisted on doing my own iodine tonight under the watchful eye of Indie, then it was straight to bed where I slept a little better.

Please stop shouting mum!!

4.30am. Oats, tea, toe tape. My right ankle was aching now too, the site of my sprain from last October, so I kinesiology taped the hell out of it. One thing that I only noticed in hindsight was that my feet hadn’t swollen. Usually, after as much time on my feet as yesterday, I would have fat, featureless feet but on day three, I could see veins and bones and my shoes weren’t tight. Amazing what the body can do when it knows it hasn’t finished yet. I walked the few minutes to the village hall, using my poles, still unsure how I was going to manage over 30 miles. Q led out again, and I started mid pack this time. To my surprise though, everyone set off at a jog – there would be no walking apparently! I joined in and my legs didn’t feel terrible. My feet were another matter though! One guy was saying, to no-one in particular, how we should all just hold hands and walk it in, everyone agreeing to finish in the same position as yesterday. That sounded really nice to me but no-one else was biting, so a race it was.

The sun seemed to appear quickly and I was steadily overtaking some people, aware I was leading the ladies field strongly, but not wanting to finish day three behind anyone else. The route passes the Anglesey circuit, a huge track where people go to drive cars and ride motorbikes really fast. It was still very early so the din hadn’t begun yet which was nice! Climbing up through a field back towards the coast path, I fell in with Amy, who was taped up too. We hadn’t spoken yet and when I asked her how she was finding it, she said it was ‘the worst weekend of my life!’ She had started suffering with all sorts of pains and injuries she’d never had before and I really felt for her. I think the uneven terrain was harder for her, whereas I preferred it to the road, so I cracked on again, into another side wind. It was fairly strong but not as bad as the day before.

Into Porth Trecastell, a little car park we had used on the recce, I met Jayson and picked up my wraps for the morning. He told me there was a lady going strong 5 minutes ahead, which totally freaked me out for some reason, even though I knew Amy was behind me! I got into Rhosneigr, where Sandy’s Bistro marked the 7 mile CP, and went into cafe to use the loo. They were handing out bacon butties in foil here and people were taking their time, but I had spotted the lady Jayson told me about and seen Amy come in, so I trotted out and down the road, determined to maintain my record of being first lady each day.

This is an odd section. There is an RAF base on the island and an airport, and it all takes up quite a bit of room! It does almost feel like you are being watched as you skirt around it and it is one of the more barren areas. It was here I caught a group of four men who seemed to have teamed up and were sticking together. I think we had a brief chat as I caught and then passed them but I would see them again.

Coming towards the Four Mile Bridge CP – actually mile 14 – I could see Jayson, Scott and Jodie just up ahead, strolling down the lane towards me. When they saw me, they whooped and hollered to let me know I was doing well. It was so good of Scott and Jodie to hang around and help cheer me through: they could have easily just gone home but chose to support me instead, which I really appreciated. And I know Indie loved playtime with their Vizla, Okker! I got topped up with drink and I think just sweets here. I was starting to not really want much food, but sweets seemed appealing. Heading straight through the CP, I was in familiar territory still and was recalling all the little sections from conversations I had with Tracy while running them, such as what her children were doing at school.

More road here, and as much as I didn’t want to, Tracy had told me that taking the road round and down to Silver Bay where the next honesty book was, was a better route than cutting through some woods. Either route was still official coastal path but my way was slightly longer, if easier going. This book caused people a lot of trouble! As I was running down the road towards the bay, I saw someone dithering at the bottom of a small road onto the beach. It seems that people were all trying to find the best route down and getting turned around! Even though it seemed to go on forever, I kept the doubts that I was wrong at bay by remembering what Tracy and I had chatted about. Through some woods where we had we talked about her son playing rugby, this was right! I eventually found the book, took a page and got moving. Around a mile later, I saw a guy running towards me and I told him where it was. That must have been so frustrating but to his credit, he just went back and got it. The lady I had passed earlier now appeared in front of me which again sent me into a panic spiral: if she was ahead, had other people got ahead somehow? Had they gone wrong? Had I gone wrong?? As I caught her, I asked her if she had found the book and she had to which I said I didn’t know what I had done then! It must have sounded really arsey but I had convinced myself that everyone except me was cheating and I would end up losing my place!

I cheered up a bit when I realised I was still moving faster though and as we approached Rhoscolyn Head, a lovely section that weaves down to Trearddur Bay. The day was really pleasant now, with a lighter wind and sunshine, so as I got into this more developed area, there were people out enjoying their Sunday. There were a lot of little marker flags here too, apparently marking out the same route that we were doing, so I had to work hard not to just follow them and forget myself. It turns out there was a Swim Run going on and suddenly, a steady stream of people in wetsuits came by in the opposite direction. Most of them seemed to know what I was doing and said well done, but some were rightly so focused on their own race. One guy ran past telling his friend how terrible he felt as he had stitch from his breakfast, which I found hilarious, all my empathy thrown into the sea at this point. Trearddur Bay marked the 23 mile CP and was on a busy promenade in the town. The marshal took my honesty book page and walked out with me, explaining about the next book. He made it sound like it was right on the cliff edge and that I would have to look really hard to find it, which worried me again, especially as I wasn’t feeling like I was super observant at this point. Round the corner and Jayson was in a smaller carpark with Scott and Jodie again. Scott had bought me a just-in-case-crepe but I just didn’t fancy it. Glancing down at Jodie’s feet, because they were pink and stripy, I noticed she was wearing Crocs. I told her that I had been deliberating buying some as they looked like just  the remedy for post race feet, but I thought they were so ugly, I hadn’t been able to. She got very excited and told me I could have hers when I had finished, as I would be amazed. Something to look forward to! Conversations like this also reminded me that the end was in sight and I ploughed on, them telling me they would see me in a couple of hours at the finish, me telling them it might be a tad longer.

Searching for the penultimate honesty book on the cliff tops, I felt so slow. I never thought this would take as long as it had and I was so ready to be done. There are little tracks snaking all over this moor like section and I was going down every one that hugged the cliff side, even scrambling down a bit to make sure I didn’t miss the book. A missed book meant a three hour time penalty, which I could have afforded but would have felt like a huge failure. I even rang Jayson to ask him to check my tracker and see if I had gone past it. Scott looked on the map and shouted from the other end that it was close but I hadn’t missed it. After I hung up, I looked up and saw the flag marking the spot, not close to the cliff edge at all! I also saw the four guys I had passed so much earlier, which made my heart sink again. How slowly was I moving if I was getting caught? They whistled me over and waved, and I trotted over to the flag. A German couple were passing as I was taking the page and asked me, ‘What are you doing? Is it a game?’ I explained that it was a race and they were suitably impressed but I did end up pondering that question for while. It is a game really! Something we enjoy and that challenges us but ultimately, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme! I trogged away from the four guys again, completely determined that I would maintain my 1st lady, top ten finish record.

Heading down towards the last road climb before reaching Holyhead mountain, a guy wearing a Firelighter t-shirt was coming towards me. He asked if he could walk with me for a bit as he was waiting for his friend at the road. Walk?! WALK??!! I wasn’t walking!! Actually, by now, my ultra shuffle had become so slow, that he kept pace with me fine, just doing a little jog every now and then. He was really nice and it helped to have someone there. As we hit the road, he ran on to his car and told me he would get me a cup of cola. It was a lovely gesture and something I was very grateful for going up that road hill. I turned off left into a small car park to some cheers and back down onto a dog leg on the route that takes you past Elin’s Tower and a prime bird watching spot. As I climbed back up, the four guys I had passed were right in front of me, and I felt myself deflate again. I asked, ‘How did you get here?’ and was told they had ‘just cut that bit off’. I was furious but didn’t have the energy to let it out, plus they didn’t seem to think it mattered. All I could see in that moment was that they were just going to keep getting ahead of me and I would lose that top ten finish. I got my head down and trekked on as fast as I could, up the hill and onto a ridge before dropping down towards the last book at an outcrop on the path. I was making ground on them on the climbs, but they were right there when I started to descend. I just couldn’t go any faster, my feet were so sore. They were chatty and kind, but I just didn’t want to engage as I had convinced myself they had cheated and all my work was for nothing. They let me take the first page from the book and I just left them, climbing like my life depended on it, but they passed me on the last rocky descent towards the park. I could hear the finish and should have been elated but just felt utter disappointment. Letting the gap between us widen so that I could finish on my own, I hobbled over the line to the race theme tune, feeling pretty dejected. Ridiculous in hindsight. I had beaten the other ladies by 4.5 hours in total and finished 6th overall but in that moment, all I wanted to do was cry. It was the tiredness as well, of course. I probably would’ve cried anyway! Jayson, Scott and Jodie looked after me, bringing me snacks and drinks, a blanket to sit on and, as promised, the pink stripy Crocs. And yes, they are blimmin amazing!

With Q and Bing after I had my diva moment.

On reflection, this is a great race. At the time, I can’t say I enjoyed all of it, apart from day one and some lovely moments on day two. But, it’s not all unicorn Crocs and beer (even though some of it is). Races that really test you always give you something and this one delivered. I came away with a real understanding of the importance of self care in long ultras and multi day challenges. You can’t wing this stuff! It also made me realise that I want to challenge myself in different ways. Yes, this was hard but it was still within my realm of experience in a lot of ways and I had a lot of support. Next year for me is going to force me to dig much deeper and get properly scared, and that thought in itself doesn’t scare me as much anymore. So if you want a nice weekend of suffering in a truly spectacular location with a special atmosphere, try this one. It really does burn, burn, burn!

Beer, bling and fancy Crocs.

Kit and food stuff

I can honestly say all of my Montane bits and bobs were spot on. I used the Gecko pack the whole weekend as the kit list is pretty small so this was perfect. It is secure, comfortable and had easy to reach pockets with plenty of capacity. Plus it’s not pink or purple.

My new favourite items of clothing are the Trail 2Sk skort. Aside from being really pretty, it is extremely comfortable and stays put. The undershorts are a bit longer than some other brands and are really flattering too. The waistband is snug without being tight, which is always a plus. I did have a slight issue with the back zip pocket when I put my wedding and engagement rings in there on day two, only to think they had fallen out at the end of the day! This turned out to be me being a dolt, as once something is in there, it stays in there: they had just moved around the side! So actually, you can fit quite a lot in the little pockets in the waistband! Also, the Featherlite trail jacket is awesome. I usually avoid pink, but this was actually a lovely bold colour and to be honest, the performance quality matters more. This was perfect for covering up at the end of the day or as I moved slower, as it kept the chill off. It has thumb holes which are ace, and a nice high collar, plus it packs down into itself to about the size of an apple. I have even shoved this in the side pocket of my tights and it didn’t bother me at all.

Shoes are still a work in progress. The Inov8 Trail talons were spot on for day one but did feel snug at the end of the day and I would have struggled in them for longer. I wore the Topo Terraventure for the second two days and they worked pretty well in terms of comfort and fit. My toes didn’t get bashed at all despite the firm terrain and I think they helped my feet not to swell after day two. But, they are quite loose around the top, so let sand in and they are not very squishy, which I could have done with on the road sections. I am pleased with how durable they are though. They’re barely showing any signs of wear even after this battering.

I ate pretty well, except on day three when I just wanted it all to be over! Active Root drink went down really well, but I have to dilute it quite a lot as it is very sweet. Avocado and rice wraps still work well but do go mushy when it’s warm. Chia Charge chocolate and PB flapjacks and protein crispy bars are the best and always go down well – thank you guys for stocking me up!

P.S. Using poles for over 8 hours when you haven’t used them for over a year is not big or clever…

Forearm tendonitis anyone!?


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Mountain goats, Jelly beans, big smiles and Welsh rock – The Snowdon SkylineMountain Leader training