Ring O’ Fire 131 miles

10 09 2012

Ring O’ Fire

Its a few days since I completed the race. Physically and mentally I’ve not been up to recording my thoughts or feelings any sooner. As you’d expect everyone is asking me how it went and to be frank, I’m still not that sure. You’d expect that after running that distance, it would be an easy question to answer, with many tales to tell. So far I’ve not been that impressed with what’s come out of my mouth:

“yea, it was fine”

“really tough but managed to get through it”

“day two was hard”

“the weather wasn’t too bad” (weather wasn’t too bad- what sort of answer is that after running 131 miles!!)

So why the benign responses? More than likely its due to my complete lack of energy to reflect on the event. I’ve decided to break into it using my blog, after all thats what its for, right? I’ll try and go through it chronologically and use that timeline to jog my memory of what I was experiencing

Day 1

ROF Start Finish

In my last post I shared the last minute preperations and with hind sight these went well. The virtual recce was worth the headache. I didn’t forget anything, in fact I had too much stuff (which everyone says will happen) but I’d rather that than not enough!

So we set off early on Friday. Alan picked me up at 06:30, I’d packed my bags the night before and I woke before my alarm. I chinned an espresso and was on my way. I even carted my gear to the far end of the road so that I wouldn’t disturb our dog who would have woken the kids.

The drive down was pleasant and we stopped for a nice breakfast at a Little Chef just before Anglesey. I opted for the American breakfast – bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes with syrup, two more coffees and off we went. We bumped into two more runners in Little Chef who we chatted to briefly and they set the tone for the type of people we were competing with – an extermely friendly, helpful bunch, infact collectively some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I just feel bad that after day one, i wasn’t much for talking (more of that to come) to these very nice people. Our new comrades even gave us a 20% off voucher they had – thanks!

Last minute preparation

We arrived to be met in the car park of Breakwater Country Park by those who had also pitched up a little early along with our event organisers who brought some welcome light-heartedness to ease the pre-race nerves.

I double checked my drop bag and race backpack, filled up my water bottles, put on my race gear (mostly Lycra) taped my nipples and used liberal amounts of vasaline to the usual suspects (re-reading this it’s a list that could easily be taken to some sort of weird fetish party, I imagine…).

Bangor University were doing some research on endurance athletes. I didn’t really consider myself in that category but my medical mind got the better of me and I was intrigued enough to take part.

Height/ weight/ urine sample and a sub-maximal threshold exercise test (step up bleep test for 10 minutes) and I felt like a lab rat…. Well at least I was warmed up properly! It was nice and sunny but a cool breeze took the edge off the temperature. I met up with Olly (remember -the friend I enjoyed a beer with in Washington which ultimately led to me standing on a grassy hillside on the outskirts of Holyhead on this day…) and Jon (an RAF doc and all-round good chap). As you can see from the pic we at least looked the part, Ultra marathon runners!

Ed, Jon, Me, Olly and Alan

We gathered for the race briefing, not much I can recall from it, something about fog and the fact we would be crossing the esturary, but not to worry as it would only be mid-thigh deep!

How annoying, shoes and socks off to cross a river, the even more annoying thing is wet feet + sand = risk of blisters. I also had the added challenge of Injinji socks which are absolutely bloody fantastic but can be difficult to get onto wet feet as they have individual toes!

The air horn sounded (or rather made a sound that can only be compared to the sound made by an a wheezy asthmatic taking his last breath) – anyway we were off through Holyhead and out onto the coastal path. This is where I was suprised at how difficult it was. No major hills, light wind, reasonable under foot but I wasn’t finding it easy – oh no!!!

looking strong

I fully expected day 1 to be easy! I thought the hard part would be going slow enough to conserve energy for the following days. But I was wrong, for whatever reason my legs felt tired from the off, not fresh as I would have expected after a long gentle taper. The thoughts of why occupied my mind throughout the first day – here are the two theories I came up with, even on reflection they still seem quite reasonable:

1. I had residual tiredness from the Lakeland 50 (5 weeks previously)

This is almost certainly true. I am not an experienced long distance runner. My base over the last two years has not been run-specific as I did Ironman in 2011 which involved relatively little running. My run specific training is really only 10 months old so it’s likely that two Ultras (my first two Ultras ever) so close together was going to be a big ask.

2. My brain was doing it’s own pacing

…Slightly more far fetched but I feel no less a real factor. The reason I didn’t just opt for the previous plausible reason alone is that if it was just that factor, I doubt I would have finished. I agree that most who read this will struggle with the concept but I fully believe that my ‘central governor’ (worth a click) determined a safe pace from the outset. Having done a recent Ultra things would have been fresh in my subconscious mind and I feel I ‘subconsciously’ calculated what it would take to get to the finish. My physical capability was then limited by my brain ensuring that I was aware of the feeling of tired sore muscles which in turn made me slow down. Unfortunately Alan has no endurance experience and a seemingly ‘faulty central governor’ (and he’s hard as nails) so he was off like a hare!

light-footed Al

The positives to this are I’m still alive and I finished!

The negative side is it felt hard, much harder than expected, from the get go. Literally from the first mile it was tough!

So I spent most of the first day trying to persuade Alan to take it easy, although with his dodgy central governor and a competitive edge that would put Alistair Brownlee’s to shame it was a constant battle, reminding him of the 99 remaining miles on the subsequent days. Unfortunately when we could see those in front Al (again probably subconsciously) tried to catch them and like wise if anyone became visible behind he picked the pace up.

For me this is the first race ever that I didn’t give ‘a monkeys’ if I passed someone or was passed. I simply wanted to finish.

Normally I use other people in a race to motivate me, I’ll try and stick on the shoulder of someone who is a bit quicker or run past people looking strong so they just let me go without challenge (all the usual tricks…). But in this race, right from the off I had no ego, anyone moving faster at a point in time would be welcomed to move past. If I passed anyone (rare after the first day) I’d give them a few words of encouragement or make sure they were well.

Stage 1 – Holyhead to Alaw Estuary

Was pretty uneventful. We had some encouraging cheers and the odd car horn as we navigated through the harbour and across some grassland to join the A5 crossing Beddmanarch Bay to the energy zapping pebble beach (the first of many!) before CP2. We were greeted with some friendly volunteers and some delightful big chocolate cookies, quick top up of the water bottle before the dip.

Stage 2 – Alaw Estary to Porth Swtan / Church Bay

Running on the beach

Shoes off we plodded across Aber Alaw Estuary, mid thigh deep. It was actually quite nice and cool on my calfs which were feeling it from the pebble beach. Injinji socks are the muts nuts, except when you’ve to put them on wet feet whilst trying to balance on one leg. I used my Buff to wipe away any sand and off we went.

The next CP came a lot sooner than I’d expected and quite a bit before my Garmin would suggest the half way point would be. This was the CP for drop bags so I reloaded with carb drink and a few more chocolate bars. After all the sweet stuff I was glad to grab one of the pork pies on offer (yumyum!).

running into a CP – I’d soon not be able to do that!

Stage 3 – Porth Swtan to Wylfa (in the car park on right of power station)

still smiling

The sun had disappeared by now and there was a gentle breeze, all-in-all good running conditions, I was still feeling tired and introducing walk breaks (these were forced walk breaks on Al and welcome walk breaks for me). This was a longer stage and despite both drink bottles being full, I drained them both a few miles before the CP. During this leg we rounded the north of the Island and the wind was still assisting us. It was misty or rather that really fine rain that soaks you (sea mist) stuff so I had my jacket on, then off, then on again as I struggled to balance the moisture from sweat and rain. I’d begun to feel some definite pain in my right big toe, I’d expected this as it happened to a lesser extent in the Lakeland 50. But we were only 20ish miles in and I needed pain killers. I downed some paras’ and an anti-inflammatory at the CP, with another pork pie (for gastric protection ;)). My foot wasn’t my only pain, my quads were feeling it too. The journey into the power station was my first low point. I struggled to comprehend how I was going to do another 110 ‘ish miles when I felt this sore after 20 something!

I started to question myself, pondering-

“why was I feeling so bad?”

“why was Al feeling so good?”

“”how will I make it to the finish line?”

“how will I keep up with Al?”

I guess my questioning myself finishing wasn’t really a question of would I, more what will I have to do to make it, what is the sensible thing to do?

Final stage day 1 Wylfa to Amlwch (town hall)

proper trail running

With these questions on my mind the previously consumed analgesia began to take effect and I was back on it. The last 10+ miles where probably the most enjoyable of the race. Alan and I were both keen to make up some time and we passed a few people (it almost felt like a race) I was concerned that most times I looked at my Garmin in this stage my heart rate was the wrong side of 145, more like 160 which is a figure I wouldn’t mind seeing in a half-marathon but not on day 1 of an Ultra! However I was enjoying it so I ploughed on (no doubt this wasn’t the most sensible choice but other choices were good so damage was limited). The benefit to picking it up was that we had the luxury of walking the last mile to cool down and we were still in before dark at 19:59.

End of day 1

There was a great atmosphere in the town hall. First up I was intercepted by the Bangor Uni reseach students for a weigh in and my instructions for the following morning. I weighed in at 63ish kg so I’d lost 4+kg (I’ll update on the actual figures when I get them). I was suprised at this because I had eaten ok and thought I’d been on top of my hydration… Oh well. I had to return for a weigh in and provide a urine sample first thing before eating or drinking the next morning.

After that we set up camp, Alan had grabbed a spot by the access ramp and we unpacked and unwound.

home sweet home πŸ™‚

I remember blogging about the plan and on night 1 I pretty much stuck to it. Hydration and recovery drink, stretch, ‘the Stick’ and feet up. Then we went for a pizza! We got the last three pizza bases in the resturaunt (although any italian chef that can’t knock up some pizza dough…) we all opted for vegetarian (me, Olly and Al) as it seemed easiest to digest and with the least possibility of helping the Ring O’ Fire live up to its name πŸ˜‰

Al and I opted for a beer while we waited and we had an enjoyable debrief.

I phoned home and explained the whole day and the plan. I munched on my pizza feeling very content with the world.

I had a really interesting chat with Stuart Mills a seriously interesting guy who was leading the race at the time and as helpful as everyone else in terms of advising “us” that are new to the sport and made me feel very welcome to this ‘ultra world’

Now, which one’s mine???

I had to get my phone and watch charged for day 2 – seems like I wasn’t the only one…

Then it was time to pack my race ruck sack and half-way bag for tomorrow, 64 miles – what I would need isn’t something that you can pack in a bag!

After Al had made the calls home we had a brief chat and reflected on the fun of today and plan for tomorrow, both sharing the stories of those we had chatted to at various points and how nice everyone was. It was quite nice to speak to people who didn’t think I was absolutely mental by running more than a few miles. In fact I thought some of them were a bit crazy taking on some of the challeges they described – polar expeditions, desert marathons, the list was endless. I felt privileged to be in such experienced company.

WIthin seconds of wishing Alan goodnight he was asleep! Vampire like, lying perfectly still on his back, I even had to look closely to make sure he was still breathing. The rest of the hall were slowly making last minute preparations and bedding down.

I, unlike Al, struggled to sleep. I almost felt like waking him up because I was that jealous! I tossed and turned but think I only managed a few hours (it felt like none at all).

Day 2

I got up at 4:30, I’d been awake for a while but didn’t have a watch, when I saw a few others rise I headed to provide my sample and get weighed. I was back to 67 kg – so that was encouraging. Then off for my Lytham Coffee and boy did it do the trick! Before I knew it the lack of sleep was a distant memory and I was focused on what was to be done (with Swiss watch-tye efficiency). Poridge and banana topped with dried fruit and sugar, carb drink and kit on. Bags packed away and dropped at the foyer. I had my final weigh in before the joy of slipping my feet into wet trainers and the pain of realising my right big toe was no better, in fact it was worse!!

Start of Day 2 (Q, at the front, is so fast he’s a blur!)

The race brief took place in the car park, the blanket of darkness was slowly lifting and we able to see outlines rather than features of the landscape of our surroundings. The main thing I recall from this brief was the need to rip a page from the book at the end of some peninsula or other and the book would be in the right tower!

Stage 1 – Amlwch to Traeth lligwy (in car park front of Chel’s cafe)

up and down every hill in Anglesey!

One of the memorable points of this leg was memorable due to the seemingly pointless wasted energy in running out and around the light house then right back to where you started the ‘out and back’ loop from. It was early in the day so we were able to light heartedly joke about the wasted energy. I’m not sure I would have been laughing if this was 19 hours later!

This stage was quite baron, quite away from civilisation, crossing fields and there was some breathtaking sights.

I have to say as I write I feel elated thinking about what we did but at the same time my mind is a ‘mush’. Normally when I race I can remember in vivid detail every part of the course, every checkpoint, what I ate, what I saw. With this race its a bit of a blur. More like a series of still pictures rather than a flowing movie, its very strange.

Stage 2 – Traeth Bay to Red Wharf Bay (outside the Ship Inn)

I don’t remember much of the stage at all but I remember being very glad to get to the CP. During this stage I felt really quite nauesous. This was preventing me taking pain killers so I was getting progressively sorer. The highlight of the Red Wharf Bay CP was a massive handful of pretzels!

Stage 3 – Red Warf Bay to Penmon Point (in car park near cafe)

The sickness that had been brewing towards the end of stage 2 was eased somewhat by a handful of pretzels. We ran along the shore for some time.

Stage 4 – Penmon Point to Beaumaris (Just off A545 on turning into Cae Mair estate)

At some time after 11:00 a woman from a kiosk shouted to see if we needed any water. The reply she heard was “no thanks but could you knock us up a couple of sandwiches?” They were much needed calories in the form of proper food, washed down with a good old can of coke!

With the ensuing sugar rush we went on to get lost in a field that we couldn’t locate an exit from.

Always happy to see one of these!

After circling it several times we hopped over a fence and proceeded to the path we should have been on. It was during this that I had a slight hint of Al’s dislike of being a bit lost and wasting time, just a hint of frustration. Our time wasted allowed a few chaps behind to catch up which spurred Al to pick the pace up slightly. With tuna bap on board I was happy to comply. I also knew the next CP was not far and signified the start of us heading onto the southerly aspect of the Island. A mix of costal path and road saw us into Beaumaris.

The down side to the end of this leg and the reason I was so relieved to see the ROF flag signifying the checkpoint was the long painful run along a pebble beach. I stubbed my right big toe several times and it was rapidly becoming my biggest problem. The energy that surface drains from you is second only to loose sand (and there was plenty of that yet to come!).

So into CP and time for to check my big toe and reapply a blister plaster and lashings of vasaline. I decanted the necessary from my drop bag and changed my merino wool tshirt for a technical fabric one (something I would regret 12 hours later on a cold wet wind swept beach – but for now the sun was out) I grabbed a slurp of Coke, a banana and a pork pie and we were off.

Stage 5 – Beaumaris to St. Mary’s Church (in the car park)

Al started running until he saw the hill we had to climb which must have been almost a mile long. I enjoyed the remnants of the pork pie and called Nicola. I was still in relatively high spirtits almost laughing about the fact that it was early afternoon, we’d been running since 6a.m. and we still had 30+ miles to go. I expalined that we wern’t likely to finish until after midnight so I wouldn’t call when we got in…

I manged to get Al’s pulse rate up again when we got lost in someones back garden (he really doesn’t like being lost!) before cleaving our way through heavy undergrowth and a very muddy path to continue on our quest. Across some fields then on and off the roads and trails passing some very nice properties we went. We ran on and off with Yin-Hai from here until dark. She was a Londoner and it gave Al someone to talk to as it was round about this time my ability to do anything other than use my mouth for gaseous exchnage was non-existant. Poor Al – sorry I wasn’t much company mate!

The church car park was a chance for pain killers and water. I do recall the volunteers at this CP being very helpful and kind, what they couldn’t offer in calories they made up for with smiles – Thank you!

Stage 6 – Church car park to Sea Zoo (just outside the front entrance)


There was a lot of coastal path (proper on the coast – pebble beaches etc.) to cross eary in this stage and some fabulous scenery. It was really nice looking over to the mainland and crossing under the big bridges.

We’d lost touch with Yin-Hai for now and Al grabbed the chance to chat to a scandinavian chap that passed.

it was sunny in Al’s world

The down side to this part was the lack of coastal path due to some ‘posho’ not wanting to play ball, so we trecked along the A4080 cautiously and I was relieved to see most drivers slow and give us a wide berth. We then proceeded to get lost in a field and cut back trough some very deep slurry-type shit. This was the angriest I saw Al get for the whole 131 miles. More wasted time and dirty wet feet as a reward. I’m not sure my reminder of “this is what it’s all about, seeing how we cope with adversity” was so well recieved at the time. However on refelction I think we both agreed later that it was exactly that – we coped, we got on and we did what needed to be done.

Some time later, before traversing yet another beach we shared a can of red bull, this really did not help my sickness, in fact it made it much worse! It slowed me down to a long walk/ occassional shuffle. I was feeling pretty ropey by the time we reached the next CP, Al was on top of the world, he even managed some star jumps and a jig! We discovered at that CP that there had been quite a few people pull out.

The plus side to that was Al would have someone to talk to as Yin-Hai caught us up again.

Stage 7 – Sea Zoo to Newborough (in the car park just before Malltraeth cob)

they were some big stones

The series of still images continue to flash through my head as I reflect. The images that jump out are- the stepping stones, even nicer houses a few with wind socks indicating probable helicopter action and the creep of darkness. At the time I remember feeling this was a tough leg, it was certainly long but the events and challenges that followed kept my interest and relieved the monotony. I was still able to move at a gentle jogging pace and forward progess was reasonable through the marshland and fields before crossing the stepping stones and across the field to the side of the forest.

As we rimmed the forest in a South westerly direction, we were met with loose sand under foot but the bonus of shelter from the growing wind. It was about this time it started to rain but we were somewhat sheltered from it. As we reached the beach we were caught by a Scottish chap called Angus who had stopped at the sea zoo to consume his evening meal, kindly brought to him by his wife (no such luxury for me as I necked another energy gel).

in daylight, the scenery was breath taking

Head torches adorned we headed over the dunes onto the beach. In the fading light we were met by the full on-slot of wind and rain. Our spirits were lifted as we could see headlights in the distance, unfortunately these were not other racers just some hardy Anglesey folk out to catch some fish (there must be a better way to spend your saturday night on the island!). We reached Ynys Llanddwyn, this was the peninsula where we were to grab a page for the book (to prove we’d been to the end) and take it to the next checkpoint.

I headed out along the sand bank to read a sign to see if this was the right way when I heard Al shout after me to get my ass back. I turned round to see the sandbank, I had just crossed, get consumed with a rushing, incoming spring tide. Shit! We turned and ran back towards dry land (the water was already knee deep and that had happened in a matter of 60 seconds).There was no way we were risking being stratnded on what had just been transformed from a peninsula to an island! We attempted a phone call to Q (race director) to let him know and we then moved on.

‘Moved on’ was not as easy as those two words suggest. This was a challenge and time for one of those ‘good decisions’ I referred to earlier. We had three choices, the first one for me was simple. We either stayed as a 4 or we split up. There was two options on the route we could take but I was certain the only wrong decision in this situation would be to split up. Thankfully everyone agreed. Now the more contentious decision. Al and I favoured heading North along the beach (the negative to this was the rain was horizontal, blown by the strong wind into our left sides and faces), this would be easy to navigate and therefor we were less likely to get lost. The other two were keen to head into the wood to find a more sheltered path with obvoious benifits in this morale zapping weather (the negative to that was the path was not obvoius and it could be difficult to find). We had a brief look in the woods and nothing was clear in terms of geography but what was clear to me was the opportunity to get disorientated and lost was high!

Al, who was begining to get frustrated almost in a panic wanted (quite rightly) to keep moving and not waste time, he pretty much forced the other two into a decision by pushing back to the beach. We headed North and decided that we would have a further attempt at the woods once we had rounded the corner into the estuary where the woodland path was closer to the sand dunes. I could sense the others in the group were wavering. Al’s panic levels were rising, Al’s and Angus’ morale seemed to me to be in decline and I sensed similar from Yin-Hai. I on the other hand was feeling calm and despite the cold wind and rain was comfortable enough as we moved forwards. I had to keep concentrating though as small drifts of sand were growing and were a trip hazzard that my right big toe could ill afford to stumble over. I was sure we’d made the right choice and we were still making continued forward progress (albeit slowly).

Once we rounded the corner the wind was buffeting us directly on the left side we took the decision to turn and head due East over the dunes. With compass in hand we clambered over the dunes, the pain in my right foot hit a sharp crescendo on every descent. We finally met the path and headed into the woods. Our comrades left us and Al and I plodded on together. I was walking now, the pain in my foot was excruciating and consuming most of my attention and energy. My previous calm mood had evaporated, now the danger had passed I felt I could relax. Instead of relaxing though the calmness was simply replaced with an all consuming discomfort which for the first time made me question the ‘finish-ability’ of this race. We followed some glow-sticks into the CP where we were met by a jolly motley crew. Al joked with them whilst I scavenged for pain killers. The recent stress failed to quash Al’ s competitive spirit, wanting to know the where abouts of those in front and behind!

Stage 8 – Newborough to Aberffraw (at the town hall)

The competitive spirit was soon to be blunted. I discovered his Kryptonite… we passed along a straight stone path for about a mile. It crosses the estuary and the rain was coming hard from the left side. It was horizontal. Where there were weeds or small bushes on the left of the path, the path was dry as there was no vertical element to the rains direction. The wind was cold and it was pitch black. The Orange glow from Malltraeth could be seen in the distance but didn’t seem to get closer.

A reminder of why we did this, the text is getting a bit dark!

So what is Al’s Kryptonite? Cold- we were getting cold, I couldn’t progress at more than a brisk walk (I was simply too sore, it wasn’t a case of MTFU, my body was ignoring what I was shouting at it) Al was swinging his arms and doing whatever he could to generate body heat but it wasn’t enough, he was getting cold and defeat was nipping at him. I was strangely comforted by the fact that he was not a machine and gained some mental strength to counter Al’s doubts. I was going to finish this stage!

The pain, tiredness and cold increased to an almost unbearable level. I had consumed more than my recommended daily allowance for pain killers in less than a 24 hour period and they ‘weren’t touching the sides’ I could have literally curled up on the ground and fallen asleep in pain. I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since 11:30 a.m. (even that was just a tuna sandwich) and I was feeling very, very sick. That sickness you get when you need to take deep breathes just to prevent the feeling becoming a reality. I knew if I started vomitting my race would be over, as sad as it sounds this was the main thing motivating me not to be sick. As strange as it sounds (cold, sore, tired and sick) I didn’t want to have to stop…

Our only encounter in the next town was outside the Royal Oak when a rather large lady with a pint and fag stopped to ask us where we were going. I explained that we have a few more miles left and we’ve travelled almost 100 miles and we were trying to get to a town begining with ‘A’ (Aberffraw- but that was more detail than I could recall at the time) and requested directions to the costal path – she seemed suitably bemused and pointed to a lane down the side of the pub. We were on our way, Al cheered me up with the fact that he’d wanted to nick her pint (I’ve no idea how he could stomach a beer but each to thier own) but he was worried she’s have knocked him out (which was a real possibility!).

The only thing I could eat (something I relied on for most of the rest of the race) was Nic’s homemade peanut butter flapjack. I described it to Al’s as “a little bit of love”. For whatever reason I could stomach this and water but not much else. It got me through the toughest of times – partially nutritional but more so psycologically, just to think about how supportive my wife is and she’d be giving me a kick up the arse if she was here (in an encouraging way!).

The rest of the trip into the town was wet and cold. Our companions from the beach, were well ahead, however they got lost in the woods (update– just after the woods, ending up in a field of cows – perhaps a cow tipping opportunity missed ;)). Another 2 people had to bivey overnight as they got lost in the woods!

Al and I discussed the fact that we might not be able to start day 3, I think on reflection there was no serious weight given to the discussion more a checking-in with each other that all options were on the table. To be honest I had concerns my body was going to over rule my head on this one and shut down so that I couldn’t start again in a few hours.

End of day 2

We walked into Aberffraw and stopped a passing car (who wasn’t for stopping – two weirdos in lyrca and head torches musn’t be a familiar sight in the town at almost 1 a.m.) and asked the direction to the village hall. We arrived into the best news of the day – there was pasta and sauce (kindly prepared for us), without which I doubt I would have been able to start the next day. I chinned it in ‘a oner’ and curled up in my sleeping bag (after I’d been weighed and given a urine bottle), it was so nice. It was the type of warmth I’d compare to when you were a kid and had played out in the snow for too long, soaked through with slush in your wellies and you came inside to get your wet clothes off and wrapped up in your PJ’s and a blanket infront of the fire. There was almost a pins and needles feeling as you defrosted. It was like that and it was oh so nice to be horizontal.

Just before nodding off, I said to Al I was up for giving it a go tomorrow. He threw an arm over me and gave me a pat on the shoulder. I turned to thank him for his support today but by the time I’d rolled over he was unconscious (now that man can sleep anywhere!).

Day 3

Could I or couldn’t I?

I’m top right, shirt off taking on a mammoth task of rolling my mat – everything was a mammoth task!

I’d had less than 3 hours sleep (AKA rolling around in agony on a village hall floor) and it was 04:30. I was thirsty. My bag was 10 ft away. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge, even the mental aspect of considering how I could traverese those 10ft was too much. I must have pondered it for a good 10 minutes before opting for a crawl. It took me a further 5 minutes to power myself onto all fours. I secured the water and had a sip. Sat up right I considered my options. I had two: race or quit. As much as every signal said quit I couldn’t seriously consider the option.

So I would have to find a way to race. First problem was I couldn’t stand… after a fair bit of manoeuvring during (and many newly discovered Yoga poses) I got myself up. I was vertical – yes!

Next up – movement… I shuffled to my drop bag (where I had some recovery drink) and back. I saw Olly who was taping his feet up, even he didn’t look so fresh and like me seemed to be seriously exploring the two options. When I looked around it was more like what I imagine a battle field to look like!

Ok – so I can stand and I can move, next a sample was required (I’ll spare the detail) and I was weighed in. I couldn’t drink the recovery drink so I settled for a water. I packed my stuff and decided that I’d start the day in my road shoes rather than the trail shoes (mainly for the boost dry feet might give me), I packed the Salomons in my half way bag. As I couldn’t eat I carried a banana and a rice pudding Al persuaded me to take.

Stage 1 – Aberffraw to Rhosneigr (high street outside Sandy’s Bistro)

Pain and sickness predominated, the latter more so. I was able to jog slowly and the run/ walk pace was determined by the sickness rather than the pain. It took me an hour or so to eat the banana and rice pudding. I used my finger as the spoon which provided small enough mouthfuls that I could swallow it without bringing it back up.

One week later as I reflect on the challenges I rose to, I miss it, I want to be back there despite the darkness of what I write. Its very odd…

Anyway, up passed Trac Mon (where in my more sensible 20’s I enjoyed a bit of motor racing – now that was a great way to spend a sunday, today was slightly different). On the plus side the sun was out and spirts were high (as high as possible all things considered). I kept dropping off the back of the the group, as i would for most of the day). Al was chatting to Ed who was going to power hike the stage (Ed’s walking was as quick as my running shuffle). We had a bit of cat and mouse with Jenn, Yin-Hai and the chap with a pony tail who Al spoke to for long periods and seemed extremely pleasant, I think he was called Chris.

I talked to no-one, I listened to Al (who generally gave me instructions – later they were more like impressions of the drill instructor from ‘Full Metal Jacket’) and I’m sorry but every ounce of my energy was devoted to doing whatever it took for me to get to the finish. I say every ounce but there was a small niggle that had my attention, that was the fact that my inability to move at much more than a walk/ shuffle was holding Al back, he was tired and a bit sore but his pain was eased by running and mine by walking (catch 22). Also our psychological needs were very different, I was focused internally and managing that, Al required external stimulation to keep his mind occupied and company comforted him (most of the other competitors were moving faster so one of us was making a sacrifice at varoius times).

At the first CP my race was saved! The big lad just infront only ate half his bacon sandwich, Al rescued the other half (from a volunteers hand as she directed it towards her mouth) and gave it to me (what a mate!) it was make or brake. It was, bar none, the best bacon sandwich I had ever had, on well done, but not burnt toast. OMG it was amazing. My sickness which may have ended my race was now mere background noise.

The other thing which gave me a boost was the fact that Stu Mills took the time to come to the CP and cheer everyone through, despite the fact his race was over he had a smile and a word of encouragement for us all, cheers Stu!

Stage 2 – Sandy’s Bistro to Four Mile Bridge (at Tide’s End cottage)

still smiling, just…

With Bacon on board I actually led the group across the next beach indeed for a mile or so as we skirted Maes Awyr Mon (the airfield) and up across the fields. This stage was probably my best in terms of minute mile pace for the day (still just above walking but I was staying with our growing group).

However this came at a price my right big toe was now worse than ever and I decided to change back into my Salomons at the half way CP which was next up.

Al grabs nutrition with Yin-Hai and the big guy

What a friendly bunch. I had both my water bottles filled for me, and I was festooned with Jaffa cakes (not had those in a while – nice!!) and encouraged and applauded.

I had to sort my toe out, blister plaster, Vaseline and fresh (if you consider fresh to mean cold, wet, and muddy) shoes which all took time. This allowed Al’s comfort blanket (people who talked rather than grunted at him) to get away. My punishment was a 10 minute run (more like jog) to catch them!

Stage 3 – Four Mile Bridge to Treaddur Bay (Promenade Raven’s Point side)

After the initial burst of speed (cough) we settled back into the days routine of walk/ shuffle, I would fall away and then have to catch up with a sustained effort. This stage was again reasonable in terms off continuous forward progress but as always there would be yet another price to pay (paid in full on the walk to Treaddur Bay). Up until the last two miles before the CP I was able to stay with the group which kept Al happy and allowed me to focus without destraction on the job to be done.

Chris gave me a massive boost with the end of his bag of salt and vinegar crisps, washed down with a slug of water, wow –

to me this is what its all about – for 2 reasons

1. camaraderie – no explanation required

2. It breaks you down to your basic needs – those crisps meant more to me at that moment than the winning lottery numbers.

There’s not many opportunities in life to appreciate what you need.

The relentless forward progress caused a break in the group, Al was in the front part and ploughed on with Chirs to the next CP, Jenn and the big guy were in between and I trailed at the back. This was the lowest point in the race for me, even on reflection I’m not sure why, the sun was hot and I’d been out of water for an hour or so, perhaps it was dehydration that tipped me over the edge or perhaps the earlier pace. I was walking down to Treaddur Bay (a road I had previously run when I was here for a good friends wedding) feeling like it was too much. I felt like pulling out at the next CP, this feeling was much stronger than the feeling I had early that morning. I didn’t care that I’d done 120 miles and only had 11 or so to go. I had just had enough.

I don’t often feel helpless. There’s only one thing I could do – phone Nicola. She answered and as soon as she heard my voice she knew something was wrong, how does she know these things? I could feel myself welling up and didn’t want to speak, I just needed to hear her. Nic must have sensed this and filled any possibility of silence with a story about what she’d been up to, within 2 minutes of listening to the reality in the outside world had me grounded. Barely having spoken I was straight. I walked on to the CP without any further thought of withdrawal and had a new concern – what I could eat (at least I was thinking again!).

THE FINAL STAGE – Treaddur Bay to Holyhead Breakwater park (at the finish line)

First up, nutrition. We got a hotdog each from the vendor at the end of the bay. It wasn’t the nicest but it had onions and I topped it with ketchup, mustard and mayo!

stunning backdrops everywhere!

The group had slpit by now and Al and I chased down Jenn and the big fella and ran (now a catch all term for forward movement) with them. The big guy pushed on ahead, he looked like he could collapse at any time but his forward lean meant his gravity assisted running was quicker than ours.

We ran round every peninsula, so as nice as they looked when we were running, we would think in half an hour i’m going to be over there and there will be another one on the other side!!!
Holyhead mountain was also growing, not sure why but the high point of the route was within the last few miles. So basically after running almost 130 miles, we then need to climb over a mountain. Granted this is only a mountain in name but a flight of stairs would have been a serious challenge by now!

Alas we made it up the mountain and could see and hear the finish line. We could see those runners 30 minutes ahead finishing. That’s all it took to spare us on. We discussed our finish line celebrations (I don’t remember agreeing to being pushed over and you taking the glory Al – but it was funny!!).

Job done, pain disappeared at least temporarily.

The Finish

What’s next?

You guess it:

Big Mac, Fries, Large Strawberry Milkshake and a cheese burger chaser!


A massive thanks to Bing, Q and no AKA (Richard) for organising the event, it was an awesome event, for a first attempt it was unbelievable – respect.

A big thank you to all my fellow competitors, everyone who lined up on the start line you guys are amazing with a zest for life others can only hope to emulate!

Thanks to Olly for talking me into this and sharing my passion for running

A massive thanks to Nicola and my three boys who have put up with me over the last year and supported me through every high and low. This race was for you, I hope I did you proud.

Finally, Al – what can I say? For three days you were inspiring, funny, reassuring, challenging, motivating, a good person to spend the nights with and overall a true friend. A weekend I will never forget

As I’ve quoted before and I see no more appropriate words to end on:

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself — expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.” Karno

And what a trip!!





14 responses

11 09 2012
Ed Stevenson

Great blog, I had forgotten or blanked out lots of the course and I thought my race diet wasn’t good but reading yours……………..


11 09 2012

Cheers Ed, it’s my first season in Ultra so race diet is still in the experimental stage. The ongoing sickness is an obvious worry, never had it with ironman and that was gels, carb drinks and snickers (marathon!) so not sure what’s causing it. Never had it in training either (even on 5-6 hr runs). One of those things i need to keep practicing. I’m going to slow to survive on gels and drinks so need to find the solid food that works. Perhaps I’ll go back to cheese and jam sandwiches- They’ve worked in the past.

19 09 2012

Ohmigosh what an amazing race recap! I can’t imagine running an ultra now, but you never know. As much as you had trouble feeling sick and having toe pain, the sheer joy of it still comes through in your writing. Thank you for sharing your experience!

19 09 2012

You’re welcome and thanks for taking the time to read it and comment.


25 09 2012
Rachel Stroud

Mark, what a fantastic blog. It was so wonderful to read the details of all three days, well done for pushing through and finishing. Despite only getting 3/4 way round day 2, I now feel like I lived the rest of the race with you! I especially loved your rendition of trying to move at the beginning of day 2, you summed up that overwhelming feeling that every task is too big perfectly, yet somehow now it is over it is a feeling which you want to relive (perhaps because it puts everything else into perspective). I think you will join me in saying that the Ring O’ Fire was β€˜type 2β€² fun (the kinda fun which at the time is hell, but on reflectiction it was the best time of your life!). Hope your toe is mended, and see you next year! Rachel

25 09 2012

Thanks Rachel, I appreciate your comment.

Totally agree on “type two fun”. It was hell but amazing on reflection.

My toe is much better after having the nail off and I’m back running. Making my usual autumn attempt at a 10k PB πŸ˜‰


6 10 2012
Blogs I Read | Running Before I Walk

[…] being followed, wordpress included the suggestion that I check out his (then) recent post about the Ring of Fire – 3 Day, 131 Mile race. It’s a rather long post but absolutely worth reading. As with some of the others in my […]

3 12 2012
Rick Berry

Well done your story sounds like how I felt when I competed in the coast to coast with a mate stronger than me all ways on the catch up πŸ™‚
I said no more silly events after ironman Germany but this sounds very interesting
May be I’ll see you in 2013
I’ll bring the pork pies πŸ™‚
Well done again

4 12 2012

Cheers Rick. It was a great event. Despite the difficulty I had I wish I was back there almost every day!

I got into this stuff off the back of an Ironman as well!

Good luck in the future, can definitely recommend it.

19 06 2013
Another year on | Ultrun's Blog

[…] doing my first (and potentially last) 100 mile run next month. As I said last year after the Ring O’ Fire my next race would be for charity… Well here it is- I’m raising money for Multiple […]

22 08 2014
James Belton

I’m running RoF next weekend. This post has me more excited/fearful than ever.

22 08 2014

Nice one James! It’s brilliant, you’ll love it. Good luck and enjoy πŸ˜‰

4 06 2015
Will Lloyd

Hi Mark, I am beginning training for ultra marathons and eventually ring o fire 2016, and am looking to talk to somebody about preparing correctly for ultra runs who has the experience, would it be possible to arrange this?


4 06 2015

Yea sure. Is it best to email you on your gmail?

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