Sunday 31 December 2017

Lon Las Ultra (DNF at Dollegellau)

Here is my race race report from my attempt at Lon Las. If you want to advice on how to finish the race, I can recommend Ronnie Staton's blog and Karl Shields's blog

You can watch an action replay here: . The names seem to have changed - I am number 11 (the full start list is here Lon Las Runners).

My attempt was rather amateur in comparison but I certainly have learnt a lot from it. My blog is mainly to help remember things for a crack at 2019. If it helps, entertains, or amuses you too, that is bonus. It will be quite long and rambling in places - you have been warned.

I have written about my build up here:

Travel and pre-race admin

I travelled down with Owen on Wednesday afternoon. We got the 13:10 from Euston with a change at Chester.  Virgin trains has been quoting an outrageous £94 for a single to Holyhead but I managed to get a single to Chester in the sales for £11 and an advance single from Chester for £12.50.

I bought a copy of Mimi Anderson's new book but was struggling with concentrating so switched to listening to the Bad Boy Running podcast which is amusing and suitably low brow. I was catching up with old episodes and listened to the Monarch's Way special ( About 350 miles more than I needed to run...

We get off the train at Holyhead and headed into to our hotel. We got slightly lost on the way there and bumped into Karl Shields - he assumed we knew the way which was a mistake. We eventually found the hotel and checked in. In reception we met Mark Cockbain and the Grim Sweeper (Peter).

We used the opportunity to collect race trackers which was all we needed as Mark had sent out the numbers and maps beforehand. The official registration took place in a nearby pub - I decided to give this a miss as the race would be hard enough without a hangover.

The Travelodge was just over the road from an ASDA. I was very tempted to get dinner from the McDonald's next door but settled for a cheese pasta salad and all-day breakfast sandwich. I picked up a bottle of Elvis Juice - more like "Building Societian" rather than going full "Banks method". I also picked up a few extra snacks for the race. I also picked up a pack of wheely bin liners. My original bin bag (mandatory kit) seemed a bit lightweight and if things went badly wrong, the bin liner would have been very helpful.

The alarm was set for 5am and I had a couple of Trek bars and a cup of coffee. I had a shower and lounged around in bed I faffed a lot with my kit and suddenly it was 6.45 and I could see everyone heading off to the start. I got my kit together and was outside the hotel at 6:50. As I headed down the road, I realised I had left my phone in the room. I got an extra key cut to the room and went back and couldn't find it. Then Owen went and had a look and found it. By now it was 7:03 and we were still quite far from the start line. We got to the dockside at 7:15 and missed the starting photos and everyone was off down the road.
We gave Mark a call and he came and collected our drop bags and wished us well. We then took a wrong turn leaving the port and Mark shouted at us and we made it back on course. He said we woud soon catch up but I had visions of not seeing anyone for the rest of the race. We took the left turn eventually rather than heading down the A5.
Start photo - we were still in the hotel
We were soon off Holy Island and next to the A5. We met a group of 3 early morning runners who joked that we must have got lost as everyone was miles ahead of us. It was a lovely morning and we stopped for a few photos.

Penrhos Beach
After about 4 miles, it was 8am and we had made up the 17 minute handicap. The route peels off the A5 and switches to country lanes. We went past RAF Valley and Anglesey Airport after 7 miles. The RAF kindly put on a flying display with fighter jets taking off for their sorties. 
 There is a SPAR just off the route here but we had plenty of provisions so didn't need it. Shortly after here we saw a couple of hi-viz clad runners which was a good sign. We moved out of last place as we caught Byron Cook and David Wright. We had covered 7 miles in 75 minutes or so. Half marathon was covered in 2:18. Possibly a bit on the quick side as we had passed quite a few people.
The first 20 miles was fuelled by a couple of gels and a rum & raisin Ritter Sport bar. The are 100 grams and approximately 500 calories. As an added bonus, they are made up of 16 squares so I had 4 squares every 30 minutes during my walking break. I was using a 25/5 run/walk strategy.

First stop was Llangaffo - a post office and shop. The shopkeeper had clearly had several runners through before and wasn't surprises by my selection. I bought a 500ml bottle of Dr Pepper and a Mars Bar. I was keeping up with the calories. A couple of runners arrived just behind me and I think went for Magnums - there can't have been many sold that month. 
The mainland awaits
Shortly after leaving Llangaffo, we missed a left turn. The sign wasn't obvious and the Route 8 sign was sideways on. We took the next left but this added another half mile / 6 minutes to the route. Judging by the trackers, at least one other runner made this mistake.
Google street view photo of the junction - can you see the sign?
The next highlight was passing through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch or Llanfair PG as it is known to the locals. We made the correct decision at the junction unlike James McNamee who tried to take the shorter route across the Britannia bridge instead. This was deemed to be excessively aggressive cornering and he was sent back onto the correct route.

The next pit stop was at the Shell garage. I went for Irnbru and Pom bears. Pom bears are 95 calories and full of salt so a good choice. Combined with the 200 calories in the Irnbru, this was another hour of energy. I was working on getting 250-300 calories per hour. I suspect in previous races, I had tried to take in a lot more than this (too much in hindsight) due to the bull in a china aid station approach to fueling.

There was also a Waitrose over the road where at least on runner took advantage of the free coffee.

Entering CP1 - Karen Webber photo

The first major milestone was crossed - the Menai Bridge. I had now crossed the whole of Anglesey and had started making progress across mainland Wales. This was also the site of the first aid station. I use aid station in the loosest sense of the word. All but one of my ultras have been the Centurion series. The aid station is a cross between an F1 pit-stop, the Virgin Upper Class lounge, and an audition for bake-off. This was a water stop with a couple of jerry cans and nothing else. However it was a chance to catch up with Lindley and Karen. After weathering the initial stick for not making it on time to the start, it was a chance to find out how everyone else was getting on. I had joked that by missing the start, I wouldn't see Paul Ali but Lindley took great glee in letting me know he had got a bit lost. Apparently Ali's mate had just texted the word "tw@t". 

We were sitting mid pack as it turns out despite giving away the 17 minute headstart.  Chris Yeo came past dressed impeccably with a very quick stop. It turns out we had two of the three Monarch's Way starters this year. We were just missing Lee-Stuart Evans who was busy at the Obstacle Course Racing world championships so couldn't attend. Lindley told a few anecdotes about Lee-Stuart's Monarch's attempt while we filled our water bottles. 

Chris Yeo - ultrarunning legend
Shortly after CP1, Paul Ali came past us. Here is a selfie documenting that I was ahead of him. 

PaulAli trailing at the 32 mile mark

Next major stop was Caernarfon castle at mile 39. There was a choice of ASDA and Morrisons. The smart choice was the Morrisons as it has a cafe which serves all-day breakfast. We went for the ASDA which was marginally less of a detour. I picked up Welsh cakes, walkers salt & vinegar crisps and a bottle of coke.

I took a photo outside the Castle as it appears in Go-Jetters - a cartoon my kids watch. As we were leaving Caernarfon, we came across Martin Ilott who had been caught in Lon Las one way system.

The short way is to the East of the Castle....
Elite nutrition and nose picking technique
We were caught off guard by paparazzi photographer Gordon Hughes who took some photos as we went past. I think he was the only supporter we saw all day.

The 20 miles or so to Criceith were fairly uneventful. There was a pack of runners spread over a few miles. I would get overtaken during walking breaks but catch up a few every so often. I got to Criceith without using a headtorch which was a nice bonus.

Karen Webber Photo - Checkpoint 2
I managed to get to Criceith - the 60 mile point and second checkpoint. It didn't have the broken bottles of the first stop and technically was under cover. And it has a bench - what luxury!
Checkpoint 2 - Google streetview

I had planned poorly on this stop. I knew there was chip shop but it was about a 10 minute walk from the stop. I picked up sausage and chips for dinner as well as cod and chips for Karl. This tacked on another mile or so to the race. On the way back to checkpoint it started raining and hugged the chips to keep warm. My wet weather kit was in my bag so I scuttled back. I sat down to eat my chips - it was the first time I had sat down since Holyhead.

I was on my way after an hour or so. Not very good pitstop but at least I had eaten.

Coming out of Cricieth, the weather took a turn for the worse. It was getting windy and pouring with rain. The maps and notes were tucked away so they didn't disintegrate. However this meant we missed a turn. Here is a picture of it. Can you see the Route 8 sign? It is quite hard to see in daytime - let alone in the wet and dark. This added on a bonus 2 miles / 40 minutes down a fairly sketchy busy road. It would have been even more if someone following the race hadn't driven out to point us back on our way. 
This was quite a low point in the race. The combination of the slow pit stop and detour meant I had covered about 3 race miles (6 actual) in 3 hours and had eaten into the buffer for sleeping later in the race.

**** From here onwards was written in December. I had hit publish back at the beginning of November and it didn't save properly. I couldn't face rewriting it again ***

Things picked up as we met up with 3 other people coming into Porthmadog (68 miles). It was great to have company after several hours. Martin, Jon Strong, and another runner formed a slow moving peleton with Owen and me. Soon enough we came upon a massive Tescos. Luckily it was still open. We got there at about 10.40 - the staff were getting ready to close up when 5 strange men with head torches walked in. We were greeted with "can we help you?" - which we took to as an opportunity to find out where things were. As we paid for things, we had a chat with the staff. They were quite surprised at our antics. They also confirmed that there definitely wouldn't be anything open between here and Barmouth (about 25 miles) - even that would probably still be shut.

I picked up coca-cola, McCoy, and Starbucks latte cans. There was no hot coffee and the Starbucks was an excellent alternative. A decent 150-200 calories and plenty of caffeine. They are aren't exactly a Caffiene Bullet but were good at 11pm.

There were some easy miles out of Porthmadog before hitting the first proper hills of the route near mile 74. This was quite enjoyable as it took my mind off things. It was absolutely hammering it down with some serious wind. About 2 miles before the 80 mile checkpoint, we caught up with Chris. He had flown in from Singapore for the race so it must have been quite a shock for him. He had a plastic poncho over the top of his kit which was quite a good idea.

Soon enough we arrived at the 80 mile "aid station" where Lindley and Maxine were handing out water. We filled our bottles from the Jerry can in the back of Lindley's pick up truck. The aid station was Lindley's vehicle. There was a plastic box packed full of treats and coke but this was only for DNFers. Apparently this was a coincidence and not mind games...
Another up and over a hill and we were into Llanaber and Barmouth. I'm sure this is a lovely place in Summer but it was absolutely disgusting at 4am. The wind and rain was coming in from the sea. I was hoping this would be a lovely jog along the seafront with a sunrise was more like being in a hurricane. 

The worst part was the crossing of the estuary on an elevated railway crossing. I ran this as fast as I could to get out of the weather.

It was nothing like this
There was the small matter of 9 miles now to get the Dolgellau checkpoint. The weather didn't abate and my waterproof had failed and I was now soaked through and starting to struggle. Owen had picked up nasty shin splints and an achilles problem and Jon was hobbling along. We battle along with a few stops to use the public toilets on the section. Another minor detour and we almost there.

I called it a day at Dollegellau. I was physically ok but couldn't see myself getting through another 153 miles. I didn't have good kit and I needed to get another 50 miles to Rhayader in the terrible conditions. A bit of lame drop out in hindsight.
DNF selfie
My parents gave me a lift as they live near Glasbury (mile 175). We drove along the course and it was absolutely shocking conditions with knee deep flooding on some sections. I stayed at my parents on the Friday night and was lucky enough to see Ronnie come past on his way to second place. He prepared well for the race and fully deserved to finish.

In the end there were 6 finishers out of 27. Ironically I was in about 8th place (11th or so to drop) when I dropped and Karl Shields was at Dollgellau when I dropped. He gave me the fiver he owed me for dinner before heading on his way. It wasn't a bad performance to do 102 miles unsupported (100 miles in 23:47) in terrible conditions (it is Wales so kind of expected) but not good enough to finish.

The race is hard but fair. There were only 6 finishers out 27 with quite possibly one of the best DNF lists of any race ever seen in the UK. I have 7 finishes at the 100 mile distance and there were Spine, Spartathlon , UTMB, Thames Ring finishers on the DNF list too. The 6 finishers can be very proud of what they achieved.

Hopefully I will be back in 2019 and get all the way to Cardiff...

Thanks to all the people working on the event. It is largely a solitary event but the support is there if you need it. There was some good banter from Karen and Lindley - particularly at Bangor. I was too fast to see the Grim Sweeper and not good enough to see Richard in Rhayder.

21 months of training to go...
Mark Cockbain / Karl Shields

No comments:

Post a Comment