Vale Coastal Ultra

I couldn’t not sign up for this race for two main reasons.
1) It followed a similar route to my first ever ultra (but with fewer checkpoints & challenges, and less self navigation).
2) It started at the pier in Penarth, the town where I went to school and all my friends lived, and finished at Ogmore, the village one across from Porthcawl, where my parents live now (but not for long as it’s on the market).
Apart from that it’s a beautiful coastal route and I wanted to get in another ultra before my hundred miler in April.

It was brilliantly organised by Run Walk Crawl events, with the option of parking at the finish and having a coach transfer to registration and the start. Perfect for me, finishing with my car right there for a 10 minute drive back to my parents place.

We started at the end of Penarth Pier and I pelted off (I think you’re probably getting the pattern by now that I always do that!) and turned left, up the hill to the clifftops. I was heading up the hill with a lead group of two other men, feeling good and chatting comfortably. It was actually probably a good move, because very soon we moved into narrow single-file trails and I wouldn’t have wanted to be stuck at the back unable to overtake. At one point, my shoelace came undone and I dropped back a little while retying it but managed to catch up again. The second time it came untied though, a couple of people passed me including the lady who had been in second; and from that point I just couldn’t catch up again. Prior to the start, she’d been being filmed my S4C (Welsh version of Channel 4), so she was obviously expected to win, and who am I to argue!

We ran past Cosmeston Country Park, The Captain’s Wife Pub (probably my most-attended food venue in my life) and Sully Island and along the beach front. We left the coast to head slightly inland avoiding the Barry Docks (this was where I went wrong in the Unnamed Ultra [see first ever blog post] and got stuck, having to be given a lift in a boat across  short stretch of water). I ran for a while here with Rhys Jenkins, who was in my year at school, and I don’t think we’ve actually ever spoken in real life before, but in the years since school have both moved into the crazy world of ultrarunning. From here, we ran along to Barry Island where we mingled with some parkrunners –  I don’t think any got confused and joined our race by mistake! From here we passed on to Porthkerry park (which features an iconic viaduct), Aberthaw power station, Llantwit Major, St. Donat’s castle and Atlantic College (where I spent a week aged 11 on a school trip), towards Southerndown, and finally Ogmore-by-Sea.
At one point, I ran out of water, which is really unusual for me (I wasn’t once thirsty running the Sahara desert!). I rarely finish the water in my hydration bladder in a race, and very rarely even top it up, instead drinking at aid stations and usually getting home with around 100mls left inside. But I used an old bladder as my last one split and this one was 1.5 instead of 2 litres, and I filled it to a similar level so overall less water. Still, at only 33 miles compared to my usual 45ish mile ultras, AND I refilled it at an aid station, I’m surprised I ran out and suspect there may have been a leak. While thirsty and tired, I took a wrong turn and with the 3rd place lady just catching me, I  led her astray too, but realising my mistake and turning back, I was now behind, never to pull it back. I had to stop at a cliffside cafe to buy water, and could have kissed the man who handed me an ice cold bottle, saying “it’s on the house” and wished me luck. It went down beautifully and despite trying to ration it, I ran out again and bonked big time, slowing to a walk-run. It was warm, and I wanted to remove my long sleeve top but I could see women behind me, and not knowing if they were direct competitors or if they were doing the 18 mile race, I didn’t want to risk stopping.
I finally made it to the final aid station, thinking I had about 1.5 miles to go but the volunteer told me I had just under 3 which was a little disheartening. I think in the end if worked out about 2 miles, taking the total distance to just under 33 miles. I pulled a sprint finish out of the bag, hearing a group calling out what I thought was “Go Nicola” and thinking a girl could pip me to 3rd at the last minute (it turned out to be Nicholas). The weather was beautiful at the finish so I took the opportunity for a good long stretch and a 99 icecream, enjoying watching the other races cross the line, and the beautiful view of Porthcawl across the sea.

Race pros:
Beautiful course
Good organisation with shuttle bus to start
Plenty of parking at finish
Icecream van at finish
Well marked course
Enthusiastic and helpful marshalls at aid stations

I came 3rd!
Race cons:
Last aid station too far from previous/too close to finish
Race results are mixed together for 33 miler and 18 miler so difficult to work out ranking and compare results with people doing same race
No prizes/trophies for podium finishers

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