Helen Watkinson reports on the Cardiff Ultra, Sunday 20 May

Helen Watkinson reports on the Cardiff Ultra, Sunday 20 May

Photos: Helen coming up to checkpoint 1 at 8 miles, Cédric on the home straight and Joe looking strong approaching a checkpoint.
On Sunday, Cédric and I attempted the Cardiff Ultra.  This was to be our second ‘ultra’ of the weekend, the first being a 6 hour opera we both worked on Saturday afternoon/evening.  So following little sleep, our morning started at 4.15am with preparations before getting the coach at 5.30am.  There were 2 coach loads of lycra clad runners taking the bus from Cardiff to Brecon at the crack of dawn.  We were able to use the facilities in the Theatre at Brecon where we registered, collected our race number , had a race briefing and a quick group photo.
At 8am we all set off to run ‘home’ – the 50 or so miles back to Cardiff.  Cédric and I had agreed to make our own way back and not run together.  The route was along the scenic Taff Trail, which for most part doubles as Sustrans cycle route 8 so navigation was pretty clear.
After 8 miles of winding undulating country roads leaving Brecon, I arrived at the first checkpoint for a quick re-filling of water supplies then set off straight away.  We were both fuelling the run with dates (being raw vegans) so I also took one of my prepared bags of dates out of my rucksack to snack on before the next stop.
On leaving the checkpoint, there was a long, slow climb for about 5 miles before reaching the summit of this particular stretch, following this, there was a steep downhill before entering a National Forest Park for more undulations.  I was getting into the rhythm of walking the hills but running the rest which worked well as I neared the 2nd checkpoint at about 20 miles.
With approx. 130 runners, it was encouraging to see runners ahead and behind at points so not to feel too lonely and at this stage I was looking forward to reaching the half-way point at Merthyr Tydfil as from then it would be more familiar territory, as a 20mile race we regularly do each March follows some of the same route as the second half of this race.
It seemed to take forever to cross the town of Merthyr, heading over the viaduct and reaching the halfway point.  Following the now more familiar pathways I was still happy with my routine of walking the hills and running the rest.  I caught up with 4 other runners and running with them close by for a few miles really helped at this point.  After this, runners did seem to be few and far between but as I reached the 3rd checkpoint, around 28 miles there were bodies strewn everywhere.  Once again after refilling my water and taking out another bag of dates to snack on, I set off on my way. 
For me, this was the toughest part of the race.  The miles went by so slowly and it was quite lonely with not many other runners around.  I felt really emotional and at times didn’t know whether to run or walk, as they were both so painful to do.  I also didn’t know if I would be able to make the end.
Re-joining the Taff Trail, following a steep diversion, I suddenly felt much stronger.  Stopping briefly at the 4th checkpoint at 40 miles I was in a comfortable running pace.  It felt as easy as it had been in the beginning of the race and my legs felt absolutely fine and fresh! I ran pretty much the final 10 miles to the finish at Sophia Gardens, the Glamorgan Country Cricket Ground.  I was thrilled to make 50miles in just less than 10 hours, and with the course being just over 50 miles, I finished in 10h03m42s.  I’m really pleased with this time as at one point I didn’t know if I’d make it.  It was only my second ultra after a 50km last summer, but it was a great race, excellently organized and with beautiful scenery. 
It was a nice surprise for Cédric to meet up with fellow Vegan Runner Joe Harling after the first checkpoint.  They had a quick chat and then met again at the finish.
Cédric had a good race and will definitely do it again next year.  He finished in 8h40m53m and Joe in 9h44m04s.
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