THE MERRELL BLOG: WHAT'S NOW. WHAT'S NEXT. LET'S GET OUTSIDE.
Lowri's epic experience at the Ring O' Fire
I was a little nervous. It had been awhile since I'd run a long (100km+) race. I hadn't raced a stage race since the Arctic's 6633ultra in 2011.
Now I was standing on the starting line for the Ring O Fire, advertised to have 13,695 feet of vertical ascent making the 3 day 135 mile epic race around Anglesey, Wales a mammoth undertaking for even the most hardy of runners.
Before the race started, I had the privilege of meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge since they were the official Royal race starters. I had an interesting conversation with them both about the dedication needed in training for these kind of events and also the mental strength one needs in sometimes putting simply one foot in front of the other when times are tough during a race or even a training session.
I mentioned in my earlier blog that my aim for this race was purely to get around it and to collect the 4 points needed. I had not trained properly and felt like a student going into an exam without having done the necessary revision - and I hate that feeling. In a race and in life in general, I'll never be the cleverest, strongest, fastest or the experienced runner on the start line, but I pride myself on being one of the best prepared. However, on this start line, I knew it wasn't the case!
So my plan was to take it easy.
William and Kate officially started the race and the stampede began. By now, I am no longer amazed how hard everyone runs from the get-go....including myself! It was faster than I was used to. Soon I was gasping for air. I'll slow down a touch I thought. But again I was comfortable. Or was I?
This is my disclaimer - I admit, that I might get timings, distances, minute per mile wrong in this blog, purely because I am not a runner who is governed by logistics. I listen to my body - to my heart rate, my breathing. I'm constantly analysing the feeling in my legs and feet. I felt good; wasn't pushing and wasn't being lazy either. This race, I kept reminding myself, was a chance for me to test myself against myself. I was happy. I was even happier when I heard that I had settled into 11-12th place overall .
Despite running briefly with a friend, we separated and I spent most of the stage on my own. I enjoy the company of others but also am quite content with running on my own. I enjoy the freedom it gives me and the space to be by myself.
I have raced most of my races abroad, but being able to race one of the UK's toughest Ultra marathon in my own beautiful country is a privilege.
Another advantage of running in my 'green gym' was that my parents were able to came see me race an ultra marathon for the first time. During my cross country athletics days, they drove me around the Uk and supported endlessly. It was wonderful to see them at check points with the same enthusiasm and encouragement.
I felt good, wasn't tired and felt strong with only 4 miles left of the 36 mile stage. So, I plugged my headphones in and started cruising. I was in the zone. I had just passed a few runners.
Little did I know, that behind me, there was a kind member of another support team chasing and shouting trying to get my attention. Then the father of another runner in his car flagged me down. He had jumped into his car to catch up with me, because I had missed the turning.
How careless of me! I had worked hard to overtake a few runners. Now they were in front of me again. And that's when I realised that my competitive edge was reborn. I sprinted back and worked hard to regain my place again. Think I must have lost around 10mins. I finished 10th in around 6.15hrs - ish (everything is approximately, because by the time I cross finish lines, I'm so relieved, excited and happy to see people, I always forget to stop my watch!)
I set up my sleeping bag in the corner of the gym. My brilliant support team ( Mam and Dad) arrived to give me some words of encouragement and to make sure I was digesting enough fuel and calories for the following days's 67 miler.
As I watched them take in all of the amazing atmosphere at the check point, I sat back and had this surge of excitement. I am always very grateful of the experiences that running gives me - to race in beautiful places, to meet amazing people and to have a family who make you dig deeper and believe in yourself.
The second day was to be a monster of a day, but I did not see it like that. For me it was going to literally be one foot at a time.
Early into the run, I knew something wasn't right in my stomach. I felt nauseous from the out set but put it down to nerves and breakfast settling. I have experienced this feeling before and thought it would settle. The most important thing for me was that my feet in my Merrell's were fine. No blisters. No pain. That to every ultra runner is always good news.
This stage feels a bit of a blur. We ran through picturesque country sides, beautiful coastal scenery. I had made a conscious decision to walk the uphills. As I did this, my heart sank as I saw the pack in front of me disappearing in front of me. It took strength and a great deal of patience not to sprint up to catch these runners. I was just trying to keep moving at a reasonable pace. I had to have faith that I would catch up with them - eventually.
I usually move through aid stations as quickly as possible, and I feel that by walking the uphills, I did not need the resting period at the check points. I also found that I could run quickly down roads and I started feeling a little better when the support teams would tell me that I was closing up with the front runners. So the combination of some downhill and scaling back the pace a little bit seemed to be paying dividends.
However, my stomach was not better at all. I was trying to embrace the pain, then trying to ignore the pain. I tried to drink water, eat food but could not. I knew this was not good. So, I occasionally looked around and tried to be inspired by the gorgeous views of mountains, sea, beaches and bright blue sky and it was nice to have so much mental stimulation during the climb, which could be quite brutal.
I ran, then hiked, then ran, then hiked, alternating on shallow and steep grades and using my breathing as a guide as to when to settle into a pow-hike. I actually really enjoyed this stage as I felt I had a good grinding especially on the technical trails. I even enjoyed the asphalt and loose rocks on the beaches!
I passed several more ultra marathoners. I went the wrong way ... Again. And cursed myself ... Again. You certainly do not want to add more metres or miles to an already long race.
I'm a fairly good downhill runner, especially when I'm in the mood to take some chances. I took some chances. This was evident as I passed 3-4 other marathoners on the descent, including the runners who had climbed so well up to the top of passes earlier in the day.
The support during this race was absolutely amazing. Check points were my motivation. It was, to me a place where I'd be greeted with smiling faces full of encouragement. I loved it!
On the stage's last check point, I was told that I was somewhere around 6th or 7th place, so I decided to let it all go on the last 10kms. But how tough were those last 6.2miles?! As I closed in on the days finish line, and as my soul was being stripped bare, I saw my father and heard my mothers voice, 'Come on Lowri - nearly there'. My soul started to rebuild and the smile returned on my face. I was 'home'!
I was so happy and relieved, not with my position, but because I had finished in 13.15ish hrs, and before it had gotten dark. I couldn't navigate myself properly in daylight let alone in nighttime - that is why I have the utmost respect for not just the front runners in these races, but also the ones who take twice three times as long to get to the finish line. They are the ones who spend longer on their feet, who have to cope with darkness and lack of sleep. Respect to them, I'd say.
I knew as I quickly got into my sleeping bag, that I was struggling. I had struggled with stomach problems through out the day. I was white as a sheet. Apparently, according to medical opinion, I had burned the stomach lining by taking some powerful pain killers on an empty stomach. This resulted in me finding it hard to swallow water, food. I was glad that I had my other sponsors liquid post race fuel Daionic to force down.
At this point, I've run enough races to know my body and that the next stage, the last day was going to be interesting. I felt weak, and my lack of long runs during training was going to pay.
My plan was go out and see how I could push my personal boundaries. I was running strong but mentally didn't feel strong as I knew I didn't have the backing of those training miles in the bank. So I was taking a risk, but risks are there to be taken. If I go too slow, I regret not pushing. It's all about finding a balance.
I joined forces with the front 6 for about 15 miles but eventually left them to get on with their own battles. I was quite happy to run my pace in my own world. The only drawback for something like that, is that when I zone off, I don't concentrate and when I thought I was lost, I reached for the map.
My map wasn't there. It had fallen out of its side pocket. I was so annoyed, and it was just at a point in the race when we needed to follow the map due to some changes. I felt sick (literally) and started to loss patience - with myself. I had no signal on my phone. I had really messed it all up. Nobody else's fault, but my own.
By now, even my forte - the downhills was letting me down. I had no energy and was putting everything I had into the last couple of miles, but as I couldn't see anyone in the distance I let up on the pace for a tad and tripped over some rocks. OK, lets finish this out strong I decided. So I hammered my legs into oblivion running uphill and downhill at 10/11 minute pace. I ignored my screaming legs (my feet again were fine) as I had reached that point where you don't care about pain and just want it to be over.
I could see the finish lime. I had 35 miles on my clock. Unfortunately I realised I was running on a parallel trail to the finish line. I managed to cross the line but in a slight variation to the official one. I had finished 12th out of around 130ish runner. I was pleased. My aim was just just to finish the race and didn't care as much about the overall placing nor running time. I was also pleased to see that my feet were in perfect condition (considering what I had put them through) so thank you Merrell!
It was a great social environment with all the finishers being extremely friendly and congratulatory.
The race was a challenging one; the high mileage, the tough terrain and the navigation making it one the UK's toughest endurance events. I wouldn't have had so much mental pleasure out of it if it had been easy! I can only blame myself for getting lost and running those extra miles. I need to practise what I preach - nobody plans to fail, they just fail to plan.
So, Ring O Fire ... I WILL be back!