How it Happened
Around this time last year I saw an explosion of social media about a little ultra in Wales called St. Illtyds. However, it wasn’t until December that I registered for it – around the same time that I was preparing to go back to visit Vancouver for the first time since I made the snap decision to move to the UK in July 2016. I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the beautiful North Shore trails that I grew up on and this definitely influenced my decision; St. Illtyds is a beautiful trail.
Tweeting that I had registered for this race unlocked a hidden dimension of Twitter I was unprepared for. My friend Baz added me to a message group the likes of which I’d never seen. In it is/was about 40 #ukrunchatters all signed up for the race, 1,001 ongoing running jokes, and an amazing support network for all the trials and tribulations that come with ultra running.
To put into perspective how overwhelming we were when we descended onto the small town of Burry Port, in 2017 there were 57 runners and this year there were 161.
This was only the second year of the race.
On the Saturday, we arrived from all over the UK – it being a long weekend in May, it was not without complications – checked into our hotels and B&Bs, and sat outside the Hope & Anchor Pub to sun ourselves and talk smack. Quite a few of us then made our way to the Coastal Pilot Hotel for a big pasta meal and more drinks.
I was staying in a family-run B&B called the Four Seasons, and my wonderful landlady Margaret told me upon arriving that there was another woman staying who was running the race. Once I was in my room, I posted something to this effect to the Twitter group and immediately heard a voice from the next room, ‘Alison?’. This was how I met Jeanette.
There were two others staying at the Four Seasons, husband and wife team, John and Clare, and we drove down to Burry Port Yacht Club through thick fog the next morning in a cavalcade. Weather forecasts had been for warm, sunny weather, but the morning dawned foggy and it took a few hours to burn off.
We parked, registered, and hung around the start sorting out packs and applying Vaseline. Kat of Racecheck found me and gave me my Racecheck visor (I’d been picked to join the #visorclub the week before) and we took our group photo before RD Nathan gave us our race briefing and sent us off.
As usual I went off too quickly…
…no I didn’t, this was a 50km and my plantar fasciitis was only just beginning to improve. Myself and Sarah settled in for a chat as we ran along the canal leading out of town. We wound through a neighbourhood and down the wide path through the Pembrey Nature Reserve. We crossed the train tracks and a road with the help of a familiar looking course marshal (Nathan) and down a single track trail where Sarah and I stopped to talk to some llamas. Then we started the first climb through some woods, up a country road (bit too far up, but we caught ourselves and turned back), and off through some beautiful, bluebell woods where Rob (beerrunner.co.uk) was waiting with his camera.
We emerged from the woods and carefully stepped over an electric fence to climb up through fields and catch our first view. We stopped in a field to say hello to three horses (and take a selfie with them) and then continued up a steep road to the cheers of Kat and Joshua‘s girlfriend Merit (we were going to walk, but Kat had her camera on). There were more fields before going down a steep road to the first checkpoint where I met up with Jeanette. The three of us continued down and then up a long road, across a field – where we made more noises at sheep (Sarah speaks New Zealand sheepish. Sarah pulled ahead and Jeanette and I had a good chat all the way along a long road segment, back onto some trails, and down what Rob dubbed ‘the chute’ to the second aid station. We met up with Sarah again, headed out, and here’s where it gets a little confusing.
I remember chatting to Sarah, who was running behind me along a road, and then suddenly we were in the village of Furnace, Sarah was no longer behind me, I was with seven other people, and we hadn’t seen a piece of flagging tape in a while. We would have been there a while if it weren’t for a volunteer who pulled his a van over with a few beeps of his horn and informing us that we were quite a ways off course and that he’d take us back to where we’d gone wrong. We’d missed a turning off a road and into a field of young cows – if you know me, you’d know how sad I’d be to miss that.
A few people opted to climb into the neighbouring field and avoid them, but I went to say hello and take a few photos before continuing the climb up a few more fields. I caught up with a few ladies and we discussed when we’d get to see the crazy horse that had necessitated a slight course change. The sun was getting quite hot here, especially as we began climbing down some open country roads. As my detour of just over a mile had set me towards the back of the pack a bit, I began seeing some familiar faces coming back from checkpoint 3 and the turnaround point. At the bottom of quite a steep road I turned off onto a path through shaded woods that circled the Cwn Lliedi reservoir and up a road the the turnaround point in a parking lot. I got there just as Sarah and Jeanette were leaving. Sarah had gotten lost at the same time I had, but we somehow didn’t manage it together.
I stopped and chatted to a few people on my way back around the reservoir before climbing back up the steep, sweltering road. At this point I started jogging until I caught up with the person ahead, walking and chatting with them a bit, and then moving on to the next. This was how I met John, who was getting himself healthy so he could donate a kidney to his son – something my own Dad did for my brother a few years ago. I was with him when Ant and a group of other runners passed us heading to the turnaround, but not before stopping to tell me that they’d taken a selfie with the cows for @cowrater, which required me to admit that I co-ran a cow reviewing account. The penultimate checkpoint provided me with a peanut butter sandwich and a ‘facilities’ break (marshal pointed down a dirt track, ‘gents to the left, ladies to the right’).
I caught up with Sarah, who was resolutely pushing through a stitch, and then two 100km runners who were dropping partway through their second lap – never have I heard such thick Welsh accents, I assume it got stronger with fatigue. I ran into Joshua heading up a steep road to the final checkpoint where we decimated some orange slices before moving on. At the top of the road, just before heading down through fields, I had the life frightened out of me by Rob, who was hiding in some tall grass taking photos.
I passed Joshua, Si, and James who had gotten ahead of me and saw Kat and Merit again before turning down a steep road. A flash of yellow, two poles, and an ebullient shout from the bottom told me that I was coming across Stu (and Luke). We chatted through a field of high grass for a while before I went past and into the bluebell wood. I accidentally started a minor stampede here as it’s single track and the group ahead of me, who had been walking, heard me coming and began jogging. They kindly let me past and I exited onto the road at the bottom, stopped to greet three horses who had their heads over the fence to cheer on the runners, and caught up with Jeanette and her new friend Alex.
Over the road, down the track, past the llamas, over the railway tracks, and I caught up with a group of lads for a while before moving on to chat to a woman just as we entered the Coed y Penybedd. I left the woods after chatting with two more guys and went forward on my own through a small neighbourhood and out along the canal until I could see the yacht club only a field away. The Start/Finish was just round a bend in the parking lot so I didn’t see the ambulance driving to the finish until I almost turned into the back of it. I have been told that Matt was killing himself laughing as a slowly jogged the last 50m trying to get around it (tried going right, but it turned and almost hit me).
The lineup for beer inside was long and I ended up petting a dog and chatting to some local men from the floor after I suddenly had to sit. Jeanette, Sarah, and I sorted ourselves out with beers, sandles, and food while cheering on finishers before heading to the beach to stand in the ocean.
It was an amazing weekend. St Illtyds is a great race and the atmosphere is really friendly and relaxed. Most of us are returning next year (already registered and I’ve called up Margaret who’s happy to have me back).