On Saturday I set off at 7.40 am from Llanmadoc with 180 other people and one dog (Bubbles) to run the Gower 50 ultra marathon. The route is a complete circumnavigation of the Gower Peninsula on foot. A total distance of 50 miles. This is my review of the race from the point of view of a novice runner completing my first ultra.
Run Walk Crawl Gower 50 – the route
The vast majority of the route follows the beautiful Wales Coastal Path. If you decide to run in the UK, you can choose your distance and location but what you can’t control is the weather. And the running surface in an ultra like this can vary vastly depending on the conditions. I decided to stay in Llanmadoc the night before the race, and ended up camping in the sports hall overnight. At around midnight, the heavens opened in a way that sounded like the roof was about to collapse. The torrential rain continued until about 7.20am when the clouds started to clear.
By the time we got going, the sun was shining. We were actually lucky enough to miss most of the rain during the race, but the water from the night before had turned much of the course into a bog. The first 29 miles from Llanmadoc to Mumble’s Head were hard going. The terrain varied from undulating coastal path to beach. There were stepping stones thrown in and we had to wade through sea water, mud and streams. This did result in quite uncomfortable feet and blisters. I’m told that putting Vaseline on your feet can prevent this issue – if only I’d known before!
Despite the discomfort, this was also the most beautiful section of the race. The route takes in stunning cliff tops, and crosses Rhossilli Bay. From there it makes its way through coastal farmland and more cliff tops to Port Einon Point. Next come a string of stunning beaches. Port Eynon, Oxwich, Three Cliffs, Caswell and then Langland. The next stop is Mumbles Head at the 29 mile mark where the going got drier – for a while.From there it’s tarmac track along the Mumbles and up through the Cline Woods to Gowerton. This is where you take the Wales Coastal Path again – and where the race gets really tough.
The last 10 miles
It may seem ridiculous, but the first 40 miles were pleasant. It was daylight, the scenery was picture-perfect and my legs were coping well. But when I left the Dunvant Checkpoint, the going got tough. I turned my head torch on and headed off down the cycle path. So far, so good. But it wasn’t long before we regained the Wales Coastal Path – and it was underwater. We spent a few slow miles wading through mud and water in fields and through woods. I’m sure it was psychological because I’d been expecting the second part of the course to be on better terrain. My motivation started to flag.
But luckily I was surrounded by people in the same predicament. There was also an allocated sweeper called Sean who did a fabulous job of keeping up the spirits of those of us at the back of the field. It wasn’t long before I was back on track and Bubbles and I picked up the pace again, striding back in for tea and medals some time after midnight.
Race organisation and support at the Gower Ultra Marathon
I can’t fault the race organisers or supporters at all. Every last detail was thought of. There was reasonably priced camping or dorm rooms for those of us needing to stay over. Hot food was available and there was even last-minute kit for sale at the event. Parking was perfectly coordinated, race registration went smoothly and the compulsory clip points were clearly explained. We were given both a map and written instructions of the route. Emergency procedures were also covered in detail.
En route, the support volunteers were incredible. They provided sweets, nuts, coke, crisps, sandwiches, hot-dogs, tea, coffee, cake, water – the list goes on. They also provided moral support and sent us off in the right direction at each stop. There were people coming along to check everyone was on the right track and a van to pick up people who dropped out. I’ve already mentioned the awesome support from Sean the sweeper who ran the whole route offering moral support to whoever happened to be at the back at the time.
The race t-shirt given out at the start is a brilliant memento. At the end, there was a race medal and lots of congratulations and support. Even Bubbles got a medal – and some well deserved snacks en route.
The Gower Ultra – the verdict
This was a tough, long race to choose as my first ultra. It was also a very different experience running with a dog, because I spent a long time at all the rest stops making sure that she was fed and watered too. There were also the obligatory dog-related stops which did slow me down a bit. But the difficulty of the race was made manageable by the incredible support provided. So whether you’re a seasoned ultra runner or a novice like me, I’d highly recommend the Run Walk Crawl Gower 50.
Will I be back? I think I might. If I can put something in place to stop me getting blisters next time, the whole experience would be more pleasant. I’d also like to see if I could get round a bit quicker with more training and less dog.
The Run Walk Crawl Gower 50 was an incredible experience and I feel genuinely proud to have completed it. I’m pretty proud of Bubbles too, the first ever canine competitor in the race.