Both myself and Tori were extremely nervous about our first event. As a runner I have never really thought about the effort race organisers go to and the stress and worry behind putting on these sorts of events, yeah I knew there was a lot to sort out and I’m not the kind of person to moan about things if I didn’t think it was done right, I always say thank you and tell the organisers how great their race was even if I didn’t think it was sometimes but I really did take for granted the amount of work that goes into it.
St illtyds Ultra Marathon Race Report
My biggest worry was safety, I wanted to make sure everyone got back safely, I also wanted everyone to finish, finishing your first ultra or any ultra for that matter is a huge achievement and something we remember for ever, I wanted the St Illtyds Ultra to be remembered, but for all the good things and nothing bad, I also wanted everyone to have a great day, races are getting expensive, I should know I enter plenty of them, add to the entry fee, fuel costs, hotel, food, etc and all of a sudden you’ve spent a small fortune for a large amount of pain, but if it’s a day we enjoy we start to enjoy the pain (who said ultra runners were strange)
We arrived at the Neptune pub, our start/finish base and 100k turnaround point at 5:50am , Tori got inside and started to set things up whilst I went off to check the tape along the canal path for the first few miles of the course. I’d spent the previous day marking the course to a point where it was literally impossible to get lost only to find when I’d return less than an hour later the tape had been removed, how infuriating!! So I’d spend the morning when the runners had set off getting to where I could on the course to check the markings.
Runners began to arrive for registration from around 6:30am, everyone was in high spirits as is typical at most ultra races, we had managed to put together a small team of amazing people who had agreed to volunteer for us, how many times had I heard event organisers and race directors thank volunteers and say they couldn’t have done it without them… well now I know they couldn’t do it without them. It would have been impossible to put on any sort of event without the help we had.
The team was made up of Steve Burton & Simon Hurford who helped out at the start and then relocated to set up and look after CP1 , Martin Slack who had travelled all the way from Leeds to help out, he spent most of the time back at HQ looking after the safety of everyone’s belongings and getting water to aid stations when needed, Geraint Williams and Rob Welch who helped us set up the checkpoints and then based at CP3, Matt Rogerson and Gethin Francis who looked after and supported everyone at CP2 along with Tim Porter who had travelled all the way from Cambridge and stayed until midnight doing whatever he could including running with the competitors later in the night, Angela Brabrook and girls, and Alice Thomas who between them made sure everyone arrived and was looked after at CP3 the turnaround point, Rob Gale who was meant to run but due to injury had to pull out but decided to come and help anyway and spent the day getting some great shots of all the runners, Cayo Arran and Katie Jones who helped and then replaced Steve and Simon on CP 1 and the Andrew Arran and Lisa Williams who then replaced Cayo and Katie for the night shift. Lots of others jumped in to help too including family members and friends of some of the runners. Thank you all so much.
The registration room began to fill up and everything went smoothly getting everyone checked in.
I did a short race briefing before seeing the 100k runners off at 8:07 am, there were only 6 in the 100k race, we’d had 13 entries but quite a few had dropped down to the 50k for various reasons but the 6 runners would certainly make an interesting race, there were some really experienced males and females in the race with some having done some of the biggest ultras in the world and in the UK, there was a also a couple of fairly new runners to the ultra scene who would be going out to see what they could do over the distance. The 100k runners were joined by Rima (Tyre Lady) who would be running the 50k but by pulling along her trusted friend Dreu, a tyre.
The 50k field was bigger with 51 starters, with quite a few ultra virgins amongst them, I wanted them all to finish, the course is challenging and they would be earning their medal and t-shirt, it was never going to be easy but I wanted them all to get back in one piece having completed the full distance. They didn’t disappoint! Every last one of them made it back, it felt great to see them come back in having done it! The first back was Stephen Shanks in a time of 4:24, he took the lead after 100 metres and just increased the gap the further along he went, he raced it the way I love to by going out fast, building a gap and holding on for as long as he could, a great performance and a deserving winner of the inaugural St Illtyd 50k, he was only down for the weekend from Nottingham with his wife Jess but I hope they’ll be back again next year to defend his title. Next in was local man Steven Williams in another fast time of 5:22 followed then by Paul Collins and Lee Shannon who were seconds apart coming into the finish.
The next 50k runner in was Natasha Breen, our female winner, in another insane time of 5:41, Congratulations Natasha a deserving winner. We’d never planned for the ultra to be competitive but there were some seriously fast runners amongst the field and it was great to see. Natasha was soon followed by Dusty, Paul, Jonathan, Chris, and Jessica and Malcolm to make up our first 10 home. From here on in all the runners made it back with Rima the tyre lady the final 50k runner home in 10:48, 100% finish rate. I was so happy to see them all come back having done it! We had printed on the back of the race t-shirts “Never Underestimate the Strength of an Ultramarathon Runner” and never had that been so true than today for these bunch of runners, truly inspirational.
The 100k had gone slightly differently, Rob Mills who had travelled down from Manchester took the lead and pushed the pace closely followed by local runner and fellow 3M Gorseinon club member Gari John, Gari took a couple of wrong turns around the reservoir which Rob took full advantage of and increased the gap only according to Rob to keep finding Gari hot on his heels, on the way back to the 50k turnaround though Rob really picked the pace up and built a considerable gap on Gari, when Rob got back at 50k other than a few blisters which a change of shoes would sort he felt fine and spent a bit of time getting himself together and he was off again with Gari arriving 40 minutes later and deciding that due to a recent injury and with other races coming up later in the year that he would take the option of dropping down to the 50k which I’d offered all 100k runners. So a great performance over 50k for Gari and he would be leaving as a 50k finisher.
Next back to the 50k point would be Paul Harris and Chris Simons, both friends of mine and 3M’s club members who were going to be running together, Paul is the experienced one having completed a number of huge ultras including MDS and Chris who is new to the ultra distance having only completed his first ultra at Pendine just 2 weeks ago, I really wanted them both to finish.
They were followed in a few minutes later by Alexandra Wade, who looked strong and determined and looked as though she’d just been for a short stroll. The three of them hung around for a while, had some food, changed clothing and got themselves together before heading off again. I hoped they would run together but Alex stayed behind a few minutes longer than the guys so she would run the remainder of her race alone.
Next back was Louise, I had heard so much about Louise via social media, she has completed some big ultra events and has 2 250 mile races planned for later in the year, yes 250 mile races…. Louise told me she didn’t like running laps, and so would be doing just the one lap and saving herself for the longer stuff later in the year, she was awarded her 50k medal and t-shirt and stayed around for a while to chat.
So we now had just 4 runners out on the course, unless something went drastically wrong I couldn’t see any other outcome than Rob being the first one back, based on his time leaving and his pace I expected him back around 8:30pm.
I was getting news back from the marshals out on the course that Chris and Paul were still running together and going strong, Alex was alone but she too was looking strong and I was confident that they would all finish.
At 8:36 Rob got back to the finish, it’s tough winning long ultras sometimes as you go to such an effort for a very anti climatic finish, there was only myself there waiting for him with his trophy. It was the same for me at the Robin Hood 100 last year when I finished in a room with just myself, Tori, and Ronnie the race organiser.. But it’s not about the finish, it’s about the whole day and Rob Mills had annihilated this course from start to finish and is the inaugural St Illtyds 100k winner! Congratulations Rob.
By 9pm the remaining 3 were through CP 3 so we started to close things up on that side of the course, myself and Tori packed things up at race HQ and decided to get out to where we could and support and help them get to the finish. By around 10pm Chris and Paul had gone through CP 2 and had around 11 miles left and Alex was on her way there. When Alex got there she was quite cold and Tim who had stayed on well past his time to help got her in the car to warm up, he then decided to run with her to the next checkpoint 4 miles away, what a guy! Later on he told us he just wasn’t comfortable letting Alex go alone in the dark, Tim, you are one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and just what this community of ultra runners is all about, but young girl or not, Alex is obviously a tough one and when we caught up to them in the car I could see the determination in her face to get the job done.
We turned around and decided to head to CP 1 to man the CP as Lisa and Andrew were due to leave at 11pm. On our way we saw Paul and Chris at the side of the road, they had gone past this area well over an hour ago and I had to get out of the car just to make sure it was them as they shouldn’t have been there… it was them, they had taken quite a few wrong turns in the dark, managed to get hopelessly lost and ended up covering around 5 miles to get back to where they were, they decided enough was enough, they had covered 58 miles I think but would have had another 9 or so miles to go. I shook their hands and got them into the car, they had covered a huge amount of miles and were classed as 50k finishers, huge respect to the both of them.
Tori as the most responsible one of the two of us kept saying how she felt we should pull Alex out for safety, and that we had put the cut off times in place for these reasons, I didn’t want to, I felt that she would finish strongly, but then I hadn’t seen her when she was cold in Tim’s car. Tori spoke to her on the phone and she said she would pick up the pace, we made our way to CP 1 where we would make a decision, I thought Alex and Tim may get lost where Paul and Chris did so it was a big shock to find she was back at the CP before we got there, she really had got herself moving which made the decision we had to make even tougher..
Tori told me to stop thinking like a runner and to start thinking like a responsible race organiser, Alex had another 7 miles to cover along some of the toughest parts of the course in the dark, heavy rain, and alone. She would probably get to the finish not much before 2:30am, the cut off was midnight. We made the heartbreaking decision to pull her out and class her as a 50K finisher. For me the race had ended on a slight low as I know how hard she had worked all day to finish and her talent and determination deserved more than a hug at the side of the road in the pouring rain. Having said this, it was great to see her go for it all day. I think she will be one to watch, I didn’t really get a chance to speak to her about her goals and what kind of events she enjoys, but I could see her doing extremely well at things like 24 hour racing and the Welsh Ultra champs at the Barry 40, it will be interesting to keep an eye on her progress.
So that was that, we cleared the checkpoints, piled everything into the car and made our way home. It had been a great day and one I will remember forever. Thanks to all the runners and volunteers, you all made it what it was and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Some of the runners we already knew as friends others came as strangers but every single one of you left as friends and I hope to see you all again either at our events or others around the country, thank you so much.
Entries are already open for the 50k next year here, there’s a 20% discount to enter before the 10th of May ?
Images of the race can be found herehttps://www.flickr.com/photos/awv/albums/72157683182452006/with/33551441134/ Thanks Rob for these, you did great! Lots also being posted also on our twitter and Facebook page from the runners themselves.
All the results can be found here