Top Ten Ultra Marathon Finish! (CTS Pembrokeshire Ultra 2016)

The last race in the Coastal Trail Series was Pembrokeshire, and I finally felt like a real ultra runner instead of a tourist.

Pembrokeshire is way out on the southwest coast of Wales.

I caught a train from London Paddington out to Newport. I had plenty of time to think about my race a few weeks ago in Exmoor.

(Click here to watch the video)

I was haunted by the dumb mistakes I made which resulted in a DNF (Did Not Finish). At Newport, the signs were in Welsh. Nice try Wales, but you can’t confuse me! I had learned a lot from the 6 ultra marathon races this past season and was determined to put it to good use in the CTS Pembrokeshire Ultra. I reached the end of the line at Haverfordwest, and the friendly guesthouse owner picked me up from the station. The guesthouse was very comfortable, and I settled in with some tea and snacks.

The next morning I was ready to run. A taxi took me to the start of the race. I saw a lot of familiar faces from previous races, like my friend Claudia. The CTS Pembrokeshire Ultra course was almost entirely along the coast, with an extra loop around St Anne’s Head in the south.

At the starting line, I saw my friends Joachim and Svein. They came over from Norway just to run this race. As the race started, I had been debating what to wear. It was chilly, but the sun was already coming out. I decided to wear my usual long sleeve thermal top, but I brought along a short sleeve running shirt in case I got too warm. After about 25 minutes of running, my body was already warm. Not only was this coastal course beautiful, but it was a relatively flat course. That meant it was a fast course. Soon I was too warm. I wanted to stop and change shirts, but my ego didn’t want to let Joachim to pass me. As I approached the first aid station, I decided it was better to lose a bit of time and change rather than over heat. Joachim took the opportunity to pass me.

This is when I noticed a big mistake. I had pinned the race bib to my long-sleeve running shirt, so switching shirts meant I had to undo and redo the 4 pins to my new shirt. Soon I was back on the course. Next time I would remember to attach it to my shorts or pants to avoid this problem again. The race went through several farms, but luckily the cows were also scared of us. Cheering crowds lined the villages, they were greatly appreciated. This part was an abandoned airfield from World War II. By the 2nd aid station, I was glad I had changed. It was very warm. It was the first ultra I had run in sunny weather. I wondered how Joachim was doing and if he was still wearing his running jacket. Would I see him again on the course?

The sunny weather was something I had not planned on. Obviously I had sunglasses with me, because even on cloudy days squinting for hours makes you unnecessarily tired. The heat was not the problem with sun, it was the radiation which was exhausting. I wished I had a visor to keep the sun off my face. Something for next time. I was having a lot of fun too, it was an amazing stretch of coast line. I was doing a good job keeping my heart rate from going above 165, so I had learned something from my mistakes at the last race.

Three hours and 40 minutes into the race, I suffered some cramps in my inner thigh and groin. I think this was caused by not enough salt. The sun was making me sweat more than usual. I should have increased my salt intake.

Despite the mistakes, I was having a great time. The sun can be physically draining, but mentally boosting. I was drenched in Vitamin D. Praise Jah! By this point in the race, it’s not about physical or mental ability. It becomes emotional.

Oh hey, I just finished a marathon. No big deal, still another 14km to go.

The best way to train for an ultra marathon is to run an ultra marathon. And the crucial part of training for an ultra marathon is to build your confidence. Confidence is the most important part of ultra running. I could not have run this race at the start of the season, my ultra running confidence was built on learning lessons from mistakes in previous races. I re-framed the mistakes as self-experiments, which helped my ego to distance myself from the failure. As long as you can learn from the mistake, you can improve.

As Ray Dalio says: “Pain + Reflection = Growth”.

Past races this season in Dorset, Dover, South Devon, Baikal, Sussex, and Exmoor had their own mistakes. That was the pain. Sometimes it took me a few days or weeks to realise the mistakes. That was the reflection. This race was the growth achieved after reflecting on painful mistakes. Speaking of mistakes, Joachim didn’t take off his running jacket. He overheated. I passed him.

With less than one mile to go, I increased my pace and tried to chase down the runner ahead of me, Jonny Dry. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch Jonny before the finish, but we thanked each other for the race. My initial race result was 8th place! This was adjusted to 9th place overall, because the fastest lady on the course (Ellie Bates) passed me while I was stretching out a cramp. Congratulations to her and all the other runners.

At the start of the season, I wanted to achieve a top ten finish by the end and I did it. Barely. Started at the bottom, now we here… in Pembrokeshire. At the pub after the race, I bonded with other runners over pints. I was delighted with my result, but was also glad to identify the mistakes I made. Not trusting myself to warm up was bad, but having to re-attach the race number was dumb. Not having sun protection probably caused my next mistake of not having enough salt and cramping.

Mistakes are frustrating, but identifying the cause of the mistakes means you learn from them and grow. I was happy with my result, but happier about applying these lessons towards an even better finish next time.