Back in March 2018 I ran my last ultramarathon before a Crohn’s flareup lead to colostomy surgery and a running reset. After ticking off 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon distances as well as two 24 hour challenges, it was time to see if I could tackle ultra distance.
The Brecon to Cardiff Ultra was the third ultra I completed back in 2017 and at 44 miles was the furthest I had run. Despite its distance, I’d considered it to be an accessible ultra due due to it having large sections on tarmac or canal path. I would have attempted it after the first time but due to a troublesome couple of years didn’t get chance to give it another attempt but after getting back on track 2021 was going to be my first chance at trying it again.
For obvious reasons the race was cancelled so initially I was going to run the same route as an unofficial race but when lockdown hit again I created my own route from home of the same distance. I was keen to still run the race particularly as I had run a ‘sort of’ training plan in the weeks and months leading up to the date and it would be another step in getting back to where I wanted to be post-colostomy surgery.
Leading up to the initial run I was a little apprehensive of running due to an issue with my foot where I was getting a little discomfort near my inner ankle so I held back on the running and it appeared to rectify itself.
In the week leading up to the run I received an appointment for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for 2 days before the run. Due to a friend having the same vaccine the week before I knew that there was a very good chance that I would experience side effects. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to have the vaccine so had it and hoped that all would be ok. Unfortunately I experienced many of the common side effects on Thursday night into Friday and even though I was hoping that they would miraculously disappear, they didn’t and the run was a write off.
Six days after the vaccine I was able to run again and all felt good, the side effects had worn off and there was no issue with the foot. However, after having three weeks of just a handful of short runs, would I still be able to tackle the distance?
When the official race was cancelled on December 18th, 2020, Wales wasn’t in full lockdown (that came two days later) so the original plan was to still run the route with another Parc Bryn Bach Running Club member but then the lockdown called for a change of plan and a change of plan means the fun of planning a new route!
44 miles is a long way so planning a route of that distance is not a straightforward task especially if you don’t want to run laps around a town. I like a good challenge so headed over to OnTheGoMap.com to experiment with routes. At first I looked at a look of Newport but having run long runs during previous lockdowns you need to head further out of town and the further you go the more chance you have of encountering more hills, off road sections or both. Being the first ultra distance run since 2018 I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew so looked at out-and-back routes.
First I looked east towards Chepstow but it’s not the most interesting running in that direction and to make up the miles I’d either have to go beyond Chepstow or make up the miles running around Redwick and Nash (again not the most interesting).
Looking west I randomly clicked on home and then Barry Island and surprisingly it was roughly 22 miles which would be perfect. I’m familiar with all the sections of the run having run them at different times so I’d be able to run the route pretty much without consulting a map and I’d easily be able to visualise the distance run and remaining based on the my location.
The Planned Route (with supermarkets and toilets)
The night before I wasn’t 100% convinced that I should attempt the run but thought it was best to act as though I was going to attempt it so irrigated before bed so I didn’t have to worry about it in the morning and get all the kit ready. I woke up still feeling unconvinced and a bit daunted by the prospect of tackling the distance but with easy ways out along the way (catch a bus or train home), and with the route going near my office in both directions I could easily pull out there and shower and change before heading home, I thought I may as well give it a crack. If I could finish under 8 hours I’d be delighted.
The forecast for the day had been changing throughout the week and by Friday had settled on being chilly with a chance of snow by the time I got to Barry. I usually heat up pretty quickly when running so wanted to try and get the right balance and be warm enough on the run but not have to worry about taking off any layers. I opted for a base layer, a long sleeve top, the new Inov8 jacket, leggings, shorts a cap and the new La Sportiva gloves.
The first and last part of the route is not the most inspiring. As you head towards the edge of Newport you run along a busy four lane road with a very narrow pavement meaning that buses and trucks hurtle past extremely closely at 50mph. I’ve run this route quite a few times but I’m always on the look out for interesting things that I may not have seen before and passing through Llanrumney I spotted an old boundary stone marking the edge of the City of Cardiff dated 1938.
At 10 miles I dropped down Newport Road to the built-up retail area and the start of 3-4 miles of pancake flat running until I get to the end of Penarth Road. Along Penarth road I stopped at Tesco Express to refill one of my bottles.
Continuing along Penarth Road I was starting to need a pee. Being out all day and passing through a lot of built up areas it was going to be challenging finding places to have a pee. I found the perfect spot beneath the Grangetown Link Road and just as I was finishing the forecast snow started. At this point Penarth Road climbs up to the Cogan junction so I used it as an opportunity to have something to eat so had half of an OTE Duo Bar. These crispy bars are really easy to eat on a run and are pretty tasty.
Rather than running the main route into Barry – which would have been longer – I took the shortest route which took me through Dinas Powys and along some scenic country lanes. One of the lanes was Gilbert Lane which is blocked to traffic but still open to pedestrians and featured one section which had frozen over quite considerably which made it a bit tricky to climb. Being another hill, it was an opportunity to eat the other half of the OTE Duo Bar.
On the edge of Barry, the remnants of Gilberts Lane continued down through a housing estate. The lane itself has long gone but served as a great shortcut down towards Barry. The snow was starting to fall more heavily and was starting to settle on the edges of paths. My route took me through Barry town centre and was a good opportunity to stop at Tesco Express for a water refill. I had originally planned to stop at ASDA in Barry but after seeing the huge queue outside I was glad I went to Tesco.
It was cold, windy and snowing as I arrived into Barry and the only thing that appeared to be open was Greggs. I took a few photos on the seafront and then turned around for the return journey which would take me back through the town centre and up Gilbert Lane.
By the time I reached Gilberts Lane again it had been snowing for perhaps an hour or so which meant that the tricky icy lane that I had encountered earlier and become even trickier now that the ice was covered over. A couple of slips but thankfully no falls.
By this point (29 miles) the legs were starting to ache so had started the run/walk approach. This was earlier than I had wanted but after the last few weeks of a lot less running it was not unexpected. At Cogan junction rather than following the same route back along Penarth Road I chose a different route for a bit of variety and crossed over Pont y Werin (the People’s Bridge) to the International Sports Village.
From here I crossed the River Taff along the Cardiff Bay Link Road to the Bay and another water stop at Tesco Express. From here the route passed along Schooner Way, along East Tyndall Street and then through Splott until I rejoined Newport Road.
At 35.5 miles was the big Newport Road hill up to the top of Rumney and was a perfect opportunity to have another OTE Duo Bar whilst walking up the hill. At the top of the hill I was into single figure miles left and I could visual the end but I still had to get through that tough, boring, busy road to Newport.
At this stage the run/walk strategy was in full flow and the quad muscles were really sore but I had set out aiming to finish in under 8 hours and thanks to pre-loading the route onto my Garmin watch I could see the predicted finishing time based on my current pace which kept me moving. With the miles gradually being ticked off I was still on track to get in under 8 hours and as I reached the finish in the centre of Newport I reached 44 miles at just under 7 hours and 58 minutes.
44 miles after setting out I’d successfully completed my first ultra since colostomy surgery. This was the furthest I’d been solo and self-supported and I managed to enough fuel with me including the 2 litres of water I picked up along the way although I missed the ‘picnic’ style aid stations you’d commonly find on an ultra race.
24 hours after completing the run I’m still crawling up the stairs and standing/sitting and walking are proving challenging so one would ask why do it? Why not?!