When I learnt about the inaugural St Illtyd’s Ultra being organised in Llanelli last November I immediately took advantage of the early bird offer and signed up for the 100K race. I think I must have been a high after completing my second ultra around the Gower during the same month and thought that I’d be able to step to an even longer race.
I booked accommodation in preparation then just before Christmas I received an email saying that I had one a free place in the South Downs Way Devil’s Challenge organised by XNRG events. The event, also an inaugural race, was 97-miles over 3 days, an even further distance than I had ever run before.
I was torn between which event to do, especially as I was aware of some Twitter friends that were doing the St Illtyd’s Ultra. But I was drawn to the multi day race, particularly as I was doing the 2 day option on Race to the Stones in July and it would be a good opportunity to raise money for charity.
However, as the Devil’s Challenge race approached, I developed a minor injury in my foot which meant I had to make a judgement call about whether I should compete or not. Common sense prevailed and I decided to pull out. This meant that I had a weekend free and as I still wanted to be a part of an ultra I volunteered to help out at the St Illtyd’s Ultra.
I had given my place to a friend so offered to drive him down for the early registration and I was sure to help out on a checkpoint in the afternoon. With time to kill I offered to be the unofficial photographer and was excited about helping out and being on the other side of the camera during a race. I was also relishing the opportunity to be part of a friendly community and ensuring that both the event ran smoothly and that all the runners had a memorable day.
Organised by Go Events Wales, this was their first ultra race but they are not new to distance running. This gave them the advantage when it came to making sure everything ran smoothly whilst still providing a challenging event.
St Illtyd’s Way is a signposted route that runs east from Pembrey Country Park to Margam Park. At 100K, or thereabouts, it would be perfect for the 100K race with the 50K turning around and heading back but would be a logistical nightmare due to two different finishes and manning checkpoints. Based on this the route was a 50K loop that followed St Illtyd’s Way along with other footpaths. The 100K race would complete the loop twice.
Around 50 runners entered the 50K and there were 6 starters for the 100K race. A few of the 100K runners dropped down to 50K before the start of the race with another two taking advantage of the opportunity to do so after completing the first lap.
It was certainly interesting watching the runners arrive for registration. Usually I’d be slightly wound up, itching to get out on the trails whilst being nervous that I had been to the toilet enough! But I had the opportunity to relax and watch everyone getting prepared and witnessing the the comaraderie of ultra runners. Like most runners, we’re all a friendly bunch and if you don’t know anyone before the start, you can guarantee that spending a day with people on the trail you will make a few new friends.
Photographing the Runners
I’m more a hobbyist photographer and despite owning a DSLR, my iPhone is my camera of choice, particularly when running (for obvious reasons) and I my speciality was photographing pub interiors so it would be challenging shooting less stationery objects. Despite many blurry and out-of-focus shots, there were some good ones amongst them and managed to photograph every runner at least once.
They all made my job much easier by being friendly, funny and not concerned about me ‘papping’ them whilst they navigated a difficult stretch and then stuffed their face at the aid station. Some clearly loved the attention and those that probably hated having their photograph taken didn’t seem at all concerned.
The Aid Stations
I helped set up Checkpoint 2 and it featured more food than a children’s party! Cakes, sweets, crisps, savouries, fruit, pop, water, the lot! This was their big selling point and it certainly was a huge talking point. Due to the layout of the course you didn’t have to travel far between each picnic!
I’m not one to be too concerned with medals and most end up in a drawer but I had some serious bling envy! The medal looked awesome and was based on the trail icon that is used through the course. The t-shirt was pretty sweet too!
The 2018 race is already open to entries with some from this year already signing up. It’s definitely one to consider if you’ve never been to this part of the country. It’s an extremely scenic route and you get to sample some Welsh rain (almost guaranteed!).
I Ran Part of It!
As I had already booked accommodation for the race, I stayed in Llanelli after the race and I couldn’t go back home without running at least part of it. Luckily the route was still marked with tape so I parked up at race HQ and ran the first 7 or so miles to where CP1 would have been then headed back the short distance to HQ. Despite rain and some slippery terrain I loved it. I was rewarded with one of the most scenic bluebell paths I’d ran or walked through.
Want to see (a lot) more photos from the event? View my Flickr album.