Roll back the clock to 2019’s race briefing and Huw standing there in his NASA orange jump suit. He starts by saying, three severe weather fronts are coming in…
The weather out there is going to be shit… Then it’s going to get shitter and then, it’s going to get even more shitter…. Oh & don’t forget to thank the marshals.
With those fine words we headed out into the storm to the start line. A few more words from Huw which no one heard over the howling wind and we were off. If the stinging rain in your eyes didn’t thwart your progress then the acrid smoke from the orange flare did!
2022 and the weather for race day is almost looking disappointingly perfect!
I arrived at Spartan Ben’s house just in time, I would have got there five minutes earlier but due to a course of Chinese herbal medicine (don’t ask…) I was on this week, an emergency pit stop was required to avert a very embarrassing situation!
Ben skilfully navigated us from Chester to Pwllheli at what seemed to be warp speed. This was probably because we talked non stop, or was it just me jabbering on about past adventures?
We knew we’d arrived with plenty of time to spare as we helped the marshals carry the registration gear into the sports centre. Once registered we had plenty time to socialise and faff around, as you do. A PA system was blasting loud music around the sports hall, I wasn’t sure whether this was trying to get us psyched up or out onto the start line sooner?
On the sea front of Pwllheli we gathered in the chilly morning sun and eagerly awaited for the magic to start at 9 o’clock.
The buzz amongst the runners was terrific and electrifying, smiles, jokes and jibes were plentiful.
On Huw’s countdown we were off, the front runners left like it was a 100 meter race! This was the last I saw of my friend ‘Eat My Dust Zoe Murphy’! I’d first met Zoe on this very race three years ago! We ran together for quite a while until she got sick of my jokes and belted off just before Nant Gwrtheyrn. We’ve followed each others progress since then. She’s gone from strength to strength, where I’ve just gone…….!
I knew the path was generously wide for a fair distance so there was no rush to be placed advantageously for stiles or gates to come. The first tight spot was the stairs off Llanbedrog Beach. By this time we had all spread out sufficiently enough not to charge the steps. In fact if there were a few of you arriving at the same time you’d probably argue as to who headed up them first…
The hobpotch steps are great (not) and guaranteed to give you a good calf burn early on in the race. At the top of the steps is the first honesty book where you need to rip a page out and carefully stuff it somewhere where it won’t be lost. Easier said than done… A mile and a bit later we hit a road where a guy was heading back up the hill towards us. The look on his face said it all before he spluttered ‘Did YOU see the honesty book???’ I thanked my lucky socks that I wasn’t in his shoes right now. I reckon his little mistake would have seen him clock up 40+ miles today.
A bit more beach and we were soon heading North over land towards the beautiful Porth Dinllaen. It was on this stretch that I had the pleasure of Darren Owen. He caught me up at the top of a tarmac hill. I thought I was doing really well to run it all but he was on a role. We stuck together for a good few miles and had a great bit of banter. Eventually the elastic snapped and he shot off into the distance.
The check point at the pub at Porth Dimllaen is great. I was greeted by a large Jellyfish, entertained by Mermaids and chased off by a Shark!!! I need to return for a few pints in that pub soon but I reckon the Mermaids may have moved on…
The stretch across the North coast is truly special. Moorland, quarries and goats all guide you along to Nant Gwrthyen where after the heavenly paths, the road from hell waits you. A mile of steep unrelenting tarmac teases you onwards and upwards. I surprisingly found a great rhythm and stormed the hill at a good lick. I was spurred on by shouts from behind by Joe. I’d met Joe several miles earlier as I’d missed a junction and sharply about turned. Over those miles we’d ran together and pushed each other on.
At the top of the steep road you soon join a rough track that teases you around to the infamous steps up to the BT tower. The track is all uphill but very runnable (if you’ve still got a bit of oomph in your legs!).
The steps up to the BT tower were nowhere near as formidable as the last time I was there. For a start, I could clearly see the top of them this time, unlike 2019.
Once I’d ripped the page out of the honesty book at the top of the stairs it was eight miles of mainly downhill to go. I passed Joe on the steps and we fist bumped, with words of encouragement. Once back on the stoney track to retrace your steps it’s great to see the rest of the runners heading up & congratulating them on their efforts.
Not far away is our final checkpoint, The great Tafarn Y Fic. Another pub that I have to spend a criminally short amount of time in! You run in the front door, up the stairs, grab a refill they fly out the back door…
Joe stumbled up the stairs and once again we were united. I burst out of the pub with Joe hot on my heels, soon we were chatting away on the home straight with only 6ish miles of the dreaded black stuff to go.
Our pace was good but I was worried about been caught up and wanted to push on a bit harder. Joe wished me well and said he’d try and keep me in sight to pull him along.
I looked over my shoulder a mile or so later back down a long stretch of road & there was no Joe, oh bugger…
As I turned the corner at Llannor, I eyed another runner heading up the hill in front of me. At last, I thought, I’ve got a target to try and chase down in the last few miles.
I think my target had got wind that I was trying to close in and he upped the anti a bit. Every corner I turned, I’d closed in on him, not by much but it was significant.
Suddenly, I heard pounding footsteps behind me, bloody hell, who’s this chasing me down. I could tell by the sound that they were approaching fast will no let in the pace. A few seconds later, Joe hurtles passed me like he’s seen a ghost!!! With no time for chit chat I shout encouragement as he disappears up the road. I don’t know if I’ve got any chase left in me but I try to find another gear and push harder.
As I round another corner I see Joe passing the runner I’d eyed shortly before. A quick assessment of the situation tells me that I’ll soon catch the runner up but not Joe, he’s gone….
I pass the runner as I come to the final sting in the tail on the route, a little hill called Pen y Garn. It’s short, sharp, got the final honesty book and has a bit of a slippy rocky descent. The marshal at the top was kind enough to give me my page and send me in the right direction.
I was soon back on the road and legging it into Pwllheli. With a marshal on virtually every corner cheering me in I just had to put one foot in front of the other and I’d soon be over the finishing line.
A while back a marshal had told me I was in tenth place but with Joe blasting past me then me overtaking the runner I should surely still hold that top ten place.
It happened again, out of the blue with less than quarter of a mile to go I hear the familiar sound of a runner’s footsteps catching me up. Before I could squeeze a final gram of energy he was passed me and away. I had no chase in me, I was totally spent. This wasn’t the guy who I’d overtaken before the last hill, this was someone who’d dug extra deep and prepared for a fitting finish.
I rounded the final corner and there was the leisure centre with the finish line. I had nothing left to give apart from big smiles and words of gratitude to all the crew helping.
Straight away I spotted Joe sitting on the grass catching his breath. We shook hands and congratulated each other on good running and great company. I asked him where he’d got the energy to blast away and leave me in the shadows. He admitted that he’d called his mum and she’d given him a kick up the arse to get at least 10th place!
Well, you’ve got to listen to you mum eh…
I checked the tracker to see where Ben was and he was doing great and didn’t have far to go, come on Ben…
All in all I had a bloody great day at the sea sides.
I was two minutes slower than 2019 but came in 11th where last time I was 13th. Ben rocked up in great spirits in 33rd place and we never saw Zoe as she’d flown in hours before in fourth place/first female!!!
I felt strong throughout the race but it was clear that my lack of big mountain days out since Cape Wrath was evident.
The Pen Llyn Winter Ultra is a great race, with a great director Huw and fantastic marshals ever smiling.
Thanks for reading
All my races are training runs leading up to my ‘A’ race in June 2023, ‘Run Britannia’. 1000+ miles of mainly national footpaths leading from Lands End to John ‘o Groats over 34 days.