Here be Dragons!!! Ring O Fire 135 mile Anglesey Coastal Ultra Marathon

29th – 31st of August 2014

Sunshine at last! But I was heading for Anglesey and having visited the place many time before knew exactly what the weather could deliver. I’d been looking for something to aim for after MdS and the ‘Ring O Fire’ Ultra seemed to be shouting out to me. A multi-day race with 135 miles of distance to cover, what could possibly go wrong? It seemed perfect.

I managed to arrive at Breakwater Park, Holyhead before most people, including the race organisers! Eventually other runners started arriving and I took my overnight back and drop bag to the start area. It was great to meet up with a few of my desert buddies and a few familiar faces from other races earlier in the year appeared. Signed on, number stuck on me and I was ready to go. The pre-race briefing was done by the Race Directors ‘Bing’ and ‘Q’, the Mayor said a few words then Johnny Cash singing Ring Of Fire blasted out of the speakers the bell rang and we were off promptly at 1pm.

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Strangely it felt like I was starting a smaller shorter race. The thought that we had to complete 33.4 miles on the first day hadn’t even entered my head. The whole race for 3 days follows the Anglesey Coastal path and takes in some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the UK. To the untrained eye on a map it seems to be gently undulating for the majority of the distance but this would catch many out. I’d decided to push on to the first checkpoint at Alaw Estuary almost 10 miles away. It wasn’t to difficult and I’d surprised myself in my relatively quick pace for me. Stephen a runner I’d met from Mds joined me for a while and we chatted about the race and the desert before he disappeared off into the distance. CP1 done and it was off to the next one at Church Bay. The terrain was getting rather serious with climbs and descents becoming more regular and slowing the pace right down. Although surprisingly it wasn’t too much of a problem and my legs were eating them up without any issues. The scenery was spectacular and more than made up for the impending difficulty of what was about to come. CP2 done and a group smiling faces and lots of clapping sent us off out of the CP back onto the relentless climbing and descending. On to CP 3 at Wyfla was the next target and I’d been joined by a few more runners so we chatted and compared races as we trotted along.

Looking at the headland in the distance and the huge power station perched upon it I’d noted that the CP was just behind it. But as with all coastal paths it can take several miles or more to reach a headland due to the recesses in the coastline, plus we also had a beach to cross so it was hoped the tide would be out! It was and a short while later we appeared at CP3. 10.4 miles and we would be at the finish. We had become a group of about 7 and had been following each other along the path for quite some time now. We all left the CP together and headed off into the now  fading light.

There was a distinct feeling of rain in the air as we began our last leg. The terrain became very gnarly with some huge climbs and to add to this the rain had started to hit us from the seaward side helped by a strong wind. Between us our level of skills in the art of descending down muddy slopes began to differ and our group was split. I began my homeward battle with Garry who I’d met earlier in the year on the Haworth Hobble who was with his friend Stephen I’d ran with earlier. As the daylight really started to fade we made good progress and I had one eye on the map all of the time just in case. Before the finish we had to locate an ‘Honesty Book’. This was a book located in a plastic box at a specific place to prevent runners taking a short cut. On finding the book we had to tear out a page and present it to the next CP or Finish. Apparently it was located just past Bull Bay near a disused water tower. Apparently unmissable! For the last few miles I’d been occupying my mind with spotting dive sites along the coast and  trying to remember when I’d dived them and what I’d seen. Predominantly my diving experience of the Anglesey Coast  had been ship wrecks so I was now passing on my endless knowledge of these to Gary who was running with me. Not sure if I was helping matters and possibly just sending him to sleep! But we just couldn’t find the book or the unmissable water tower! Another runner, Dimitri, had now joined us and together we desperately searched in the blackness for the book. I still hadn’t put my head torch on at this point as my night vision was pretty good and could still read the map. Gary, Dimitri and I found ourselves crossing a field and then into a small holiday home estate. More runners joined us and we were now about six of us. It was absolutely throwing it down and blowing a gale and by chance I spotted the silhouette of a structure that resembled a tower. That was it! We found ourselves climbing through someone’s garden and after a bit of slipping and sliding down to the edge of the coast I decided to put on my light. Now I don’t really like heights and it’s probably best that it was dark but on switching my light on I found I was less than a meter from what looked like bottomless drop off the cliffs into wild the sea below!

We found the book, tore a page out each and made our way to the finish in Amlwch. Greeted again by smiling faces and Johnny Cash we settled in for what was left of the evening. Cold Pizza and a hard gym floor have never felt so good! The biggest problem was with so many others in the sports hall you can just imagine the sound of snoring and other noises coming from the masses.O4:55 ! Johnny Cash again with his Ring of Fire! (This might have been in my head, I’m not sure)Lights on and looking bleary eyed into the now bright lights Bing and Q gave us the news that we were all racing again in an hour, so we’d better get our act together! And today was a 65 mile stage!

Before I’d gone to bed I’d prepped everything so all I had to do was put my kit on pack my bag, eat and go. I can’t say the same for the other runners though! It looked like a car boot sale with kit everywhere.

06:00 more Johny Cash and the bell was rang. Off we went back the way we had come to rejoin the coastal path. Strangely I was feeling great and was ready for the day ahead, in fact I was really looking forward to being out at night. The sun was making a slight appearance as we headed to CP1 at Traeth Lligwy. It came with the smiling faces of the marshalls and without stopping CP2 was in our sights. I was with Gary at this point and we mentioned finding a fish and chip shop for lunch and that was it. The seed was planted! Moelfre was the next village and we stopped briefly to take some pictures of the sea and the memorial to the Lifeboats and I passed yet more knowledge of shipwrecks to Gary. Keeping an eye on my watch we negotiated the various beautiful beaches and tiny villages. At CP2 – Red Wharf Bay I’d decided to stop for a short break,let my feet dry and change socks. Quite a few runners passed me by but I’d again decided that I’d catch them later.

ROF 1 ROF2

Two more checkpoints and it would be halfway (33 miles). Back on my way I’d completely switched off and was now in my own world of nothing apart from taking in the sights and sounds. I seemed to be on autopilot and just following the map without a care in the world. This is one of my many reasons that I run ultras. It sometimes is a relief to be in my own space without worries or concerns and I have an ability to do this when running long distances. People often ask me how I occupy my mind and most think that I listen to music but that doesn’t happen very often. I just zone out, be absorbed by the environment and follow my route on a map. It’s brilliant, almost like being in a deep sleep but with having a fantastic dream. Also I’d been taking advantage of the blackberries growing in the hedgerows and making a welcome break from the usual snacks.

I’d almost reached CP4 (½ way) at Beaumaris and caught up with a group of runners that I kept meeting along the way. People were clapping and cheering us on and I spotted a lady with a portion of chips and I was oh so tempted to act like a seagull, steal the chips and run off! (Thanks Gary for planting the seed earlier on)

I rested a while at CP3 and yet again dried my feet and changed socks. There were a few bedraggled runners there and many who had decided this was a good place to drop out. The journey continued and I’d hooked up with the group I kept meeting up with. Unknown to me at this point we would all pretty much finish early the following day nearly all together. Checkpoints came and went and I arrived at CP6 alone. I’d made a decision about a route marked on the race maps earlier and everyone else had followed a slightly different route but I’d trusted my navigation and found the correct route.

At CP6 I was greeted by a cheerful group of ladies who insisted that they fed and watered me. My left foot was now beginning to give me some cause for concern as it was starting to blister on the sole. More sock changing and insole swapping just in time for the group of runners whom I’d left to follow the other route. We decided to stick together for the next leg to CP7.

The light was now fading so head torches was the order and we pushed on into the darkness. We travelled along the path along the beach skirting the perimeter of Newborough Forrest. Again another honesty book was somewhere along the path. This took some finding as we kept on mistaking the night fishermen for the flag marking the book. Eventually we found it and with a slight and very wet detour into the estuary arrived at CP7 And again a very welcome sight. Everyone was pleased to see us and asked us if we were ok. I was now limping severely and was not on my own. Each of us were now looking worn and battered. However, the sight of peanut butter sandwiches and Coke was just awesome!

ROF 3

We moved off and started the final leg to Aberffraw. This was now becoming a painful experience and it was becoming even more difficult to maintain a regular pace. I was relying heavily on my poles and when we entered the last set of dunes looking for another honesty book every step was like walking on hot coals! Eventually Aberffraw village was reached and myself and an Irishman called Danny gave each other some encouragement as we hobbled towards the finish in the village hall. Yet again there were smiling faces and clapping as we completed the stage.I was shattered and it was somewhere around 3am on Sunday morning! Q showed us into the kitchen and gave some pasta and we just ate in silence staring at the floor desperately trying to be awake.With my kit found I quietly found space on the floor and just lay down with my feet on top of my bag. I’d removed the shoes and socks and my left foot was in bits. There was little sleep and I just contemplated my dilemma and had a painful couple of hours just lying there.

Morning came quickly and I knew I was done. The feeling was terrible and as others prepared to start the last day I was now just staring at my feet. I couldn’t believe that this had stopped me literally in my tracks. Two days of wet feet and 100 miles had taken their toll and the forefoot sole of my left foot was starting to separate and deep blisters had developed. If they had been surface blisters I could have patched them up properly with the kit I had with me. Everything else was fine but walking was hell. To say I was feeling annoyed with the whole situation was an understatement. I wished people near to me the best of luck and Q spotted me moping about and promptly cheered me up with a brew.I reluctantly sent a text to Liz letting her know that I was out and she responded in a way that only she can and made me feel much better. It was great to have such support from her and I suddenly felt much better and happy with myself that I’d made the right decision to pull out and I’d managed to run over 100 miles of this beast. I had been worrying about my right foot before the race as it had split but I’d used some super glue to hold it together and that had worked a treat!!

I’d managed to scrounge a lift with Bing as he made his way around the checkpoints heading towards the finish. I was not alone in the van as a fellow runner Daniel who was also out shared the journey with me. We swapped stories and hobbled around like two zombies but vowed to take it all on again next year. It was great to see everyone at the checkpoints and give them some support to keep them going. Everyone who completed this event deserve every credit and it’s not a race to be taken lightly.

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Finally I cannot emphasise just how good this event is. The organisation is second to none, the race directors Big and Q are brilliant and are always there for everyone. The marshalls are all stars and deserve a special mention and in my opinion a medal!

Cant wait to go back and finish it off.

Thanks to Team Buff UK, Duel Fit, The Original Power Cookie for your continued support

Race website http://www.ringofire.co.uk/

Some Photos courtesy of Mark Wynne

 

 

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