The Across Wales Walk (AWW) is a 45 mile walk from Anchor Bridge near Clun on the English-Welsh border to Clarach Bay on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth. It is organised every year by the West Birmingham Hostelling Association and has a challenge walk format with 5 checkpoints along the way to ensure competitors are still alive and provide them with food and drink. When I heard about it through some of our friends it appealed and so I signed Richard up to it before he could truly appreciate what he was getting himself into.
If any of you were under the impression that this was a walk then think again …of course not, why walk when you can run!
How does this compare to things we have done recently?
So we ran/walked 57 miles at the Rogaine, but this was over 24 hours and we were pacing ourselves for the time duration rather than the length. Then there are all the mountain marathons, but these are very hilly and so constantly the pace is changing from walking uphill to running downhill and it’s only for about 6 hours per day, although there are two days, compared to this one day event. In comparison, the AWW is a 45 mile route across farmland and undulating countryside with one mountain to cross in the middle of Wales… so less walking uphill and more running … as it turned out a lot less walking!
So, it was with slight intrepidation that we started our weekend, I say slight as when you have to get up at 3.15am on a Saturday to start an event, there isn’t much room for gathering apprehension…. I say got up, but in reality we were sleeping in a village hall with about 100 other people, so I think I got absolutely no sleep at all! Nevertheless I stand by my view that sleep the night before an event is unimportant as long as you lie down and rest.
After a toast breakfast we were bussed from Clun to Anchor Bridge where the challenge started (5 am). It was difficult to know what pace to begin with, but somehow we found a sustainable one and kept with it. From Clun the route followed roads, paths and tracks. It was undulating with short sections that were too steep to run. Soon the sun started to rise and the rather lovely landscape came into view.
In no time we arrived at checkpoint 1 where orange squash was on offer – a mid-race refreshment that I often crave and hence was a real treat! I would try to describe the route in detail, but I don’t want to get up (because it hurts) to get the map and anyway I’m sure the race through my eyes will be more interesting! To be honest, I can’t really differentiate between what we saw on the 1st and 2nd legs, it was all quite similar. But I do remember that coming out of the second checkpoint, Richard decided to take a slightly different route (within the rules) which he thought had slightly less climb. It was very amusing because the marshalls at check point 2 called us back asking if we knew what we were doing, which we of course replied yes …. afterwards we saw that they had noted on their checking sheet “went a very odd way out of CP2!
Leg 3 was quite tough; not so much for the terrain but just feeling tired and slow. I think in a race, the start is always ok and then you have to go through this crappy period before you really get going. To make it worse there were a few forest roads which were hard on the legs. Then there is the mental side of it, you know that you have to run 45 miles, you guess you’ve run about 10 and then you start working out how many marathons there are still to go…
Checkpoint 3 was great, they had tea … fantastic, it was a bit hot however and I so I drank half and then got Richard to cool it down by adding water. Unfortunately he added barley squash instead… which was actually delicious, the tea was still bitter, but also sweet!
As the check points rolled by things got better and better. Plus, good advice when you start to feel a bit low is to eat. I had stocked up on sausage rolls, pork pies and flapjack at the farm shop and they were delicious!
Soon enough the leg arrived that contained the mountain Plynlimon. For most of the race so far we had been running with a man and a woman who had rather different skills to us. They were quick on the roads and where they knew the route, whereas we were quick off-road and the mountain was going to be our one chance to get ahead before the road running increased in the second half. Richard chose a line up the mountain that knocked off a bit of distance and then we quickly walked up the mountain, traversed the summit peak and then ran down the other side. The bottom was yukky with lots of hummocks and holes to fall down, but it didn’t take too long, other than extracting my foot from a metre deep bog on the last step before the road! We got to the road and didn’t know if we were ahead of the man and woman or not, so we ran on up the road around a reservoir and then along a dam to the next checkpoint. They hadn’t got there, we were in front! We drank watered down soup and then headed on, overtaking another competitor in the process.
The next bit was dull, a run of probably about 3 k around the lake on the road. I decided that this was too dull to go slowly so somehow we increased our speed, we could see the other competitor behind us and we just pulled away from him. Those sausage rolls really had done the trick! We also knew that the man and woman could come up behind us at any moment, so any extra speed was going to be useful.
This part of the run was actually quite pretty with gorse and heather-covered hillsides and waterfalls. We kept powering on and soon arrived at checkpoint 5. There was bread pudding and more soup. Perfect. We didn’t stay long though, the last leg was still to come. I was amazed how well we were doing and how we were still able to run relatively quickly after all those miles! So, we made our way up quite a long hill to start the leg. It was there that we met a runner coming down the hill. He stopped to tell us how far the next person was in front and then proceeded to ask where we had run from, we said Clun and his face was an absolute picture! Soon we were descending on the road … 6 miles to Clarach Bay. This was probably the least enjoyable part of the race. It was road, we were going quickly, but when we did slow to a walk up the hills, getting going again was torture. By this point Richard’s knee was aching and my hip was hurting, so the first few steps of running was agony. The thought that the man and woman might be close behind us however made us keep running. We ran into Bow Street and then there was just the 3.5 km run down into Clarach remaining. It was painful, but we mustered enough energy for a sprint finish into the finish. What a race! We’d ran across Wales in 9 hrs 50 mins! After a few minutes we thought we should go down to the beach. I got up and realised that my legs were now completely useless. It took me about 5 minutes to walk about 25 m!
We were driven to Aberystywth where we ate in the university halls of residence. We then awaited our friends from the Peel Road Runners who were also running the race and ended up in town for beer and wine. An early night was on the cards.
Before being driven back to Clun, certificates were presented and our congratulations focused on the two chaps (one 68 and one 72) who had done a double crossing – the first being through Friday night and the second starting when we did! What stars! We came joint 6th overall and I was the first lady home. Our first ultramarathon complete. What next. The idea of completing the BG is getting evermore appealing.
A great event – thanks to the organisers who did an excellent job!