Trailing the adventures of an ultra-marathon runner; Sheffield & the Peak District National Park, UK

Ring O’ Fire Ultramarathon 2014

A friend said to me a year or so ago he would eat his hat if I ever attempted Ring O’ Fire Ultra-marathon – a 135 mile 3 day event circumventing the isle of Anglesey, comprising of 35.7 miles on day 1, 65.9 miles on day 2 and 33.4 miles on day 3.

To quote the website:

Ring O’ Fire should not be underestimated; the 135 mile distance and 13,695 feet of vertical ascent make this a mammoth undertaking for even the most hardy of runners. – Taken from www.ringofire.co.uk

Take a look at a summary of the route and pretty maps

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

It’s strange how a few little words can sometimes stick in your head. It stuck in my head and I wanted to see my friend eat his hat. (He has yet to do this.) I kept the event under my hat as I was too scared to admit that I was stupid enough to even contemplate it and I was terrified I would end up injured and miserable. However we only have one life and we have to make the most of it. It all begins with the decision to try.

So words of ‘Potentially having something at the end of August’ was my most common line to people when they asked what I had coming up. Cowardly I know but last time I told every man and his dog that I was doing a 50 miler I ended up with a stress fracture. This was not going to happen.

Having goals in front of us is a powerful motivator to push us to continue reaching for the stars. Unless you seek bigger and more audacious goals for the future, how else will you ever know how far you can go?

So after reading the bio’s of everyone on the Ring O Fire website, most runners had more acronyms to their name than a doctorate studying at a University for 15 years, MDS, UTMB, CCC, Lakeland 50, 100, ND100, SD100, SD50, UB40, HP40, HELP50, OMG60, PMSL70, LOL80, WGAFF90, FFS100 – get the idea?

I was to say the least ‘nervous’ with just a couple of back to backs of a cumulative distance of 70 miles to my name alongside a 50 miler and the Long Tour of Bradwell. So off I went to Anglesey, Holyhead to be precise. Weather forecast; rain and gale force winds on the first day, overcast on the second day with potentially heavy rain clearing later, and sunny spells on the last day. Hoo Hum…

All photos below courtesy of:

Run Helsby | John Bowden | Mark Wynne – Official Photographer

Registration

The event started at 1pm sharp at Holyhead Breakwater Park – on the site of a former quarry at the tip of Holyhead. I arrived in plenty of time to register and ‘dump’ my overnight bag. Although my bag felt weighty it was considerably smaller than most, although I could tell a lot had done MDS, UTMB etc just by their posh waterproof ‘North Face’ ‘Mountain Equipment’ base camp duffel bags. Kit Envy began to set in already. OMG100.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

I was instantly welcomed as one of the organisers ‘Quentin’ came up to the queueing runners’ and introduced himself asking how we were all feeling, ‘nervous’ I replied ‘ never done this sort of distance before’. He replied ‘just enjoy it it will be fantastic’. And he was O so right.

Registration was straight forward and we were presented with a fantastic lime green and white ‘Ring O Fire’ technical tee and black ‘Ring O Fire’ buff as well as our number and a 9bar.

The start was on the grassy slope overlooking Holyhead and the wild Irish Sea. A fantastic view even if it was blowing gale force winds. ‘Jonny Cash ‘Ring o Fire ‘ blasted out of the stereo… you know the lyrics sing along now…

Love is A Burning Thing

And it Makes A Fiery Ring

Bound By Wild Desire

I Fell Into A Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire

 

I Went Down, Down, Down

And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns

The Ring Of Fire The Ring Of Fire

 

Johnny Cash

Jiggering up and down I said hi to MDS, ND100 finisher and super ultra runner Susie and her other half Shaun along side Michelle and partner who I had previously met over 2 years ago at the Isle of Wight Ultra. We chuckled about running around another island and wished each other luck for the next three days.

My Kit

I had brought with me my UD race vest which I knew had enough space for a 50 miler even though it was only a 4 litre one it has bungees on the outside and my clever Ronhill running jacket squashes into its own bum bag pouch enabling me to tie it round my waist. I also have one of those cheaper versions of the SPIbelt pouches which I worked out a few months ago carries one of my UD water bottles. I have invested in one collapsible water bottle courtesy of a win at the Long Tour of Bradwell a few weeks ago. It was the first time I was going to use it, and I love, it no squelching and sloshing or leaking. Brilliant though brilliantly expensive too. I also have a range of clothes from the more expensive (but not really as I hunt down the deals) Inov8 double skinned shorts to cheaper Aldi shorts, from posh yellow compreessport calf guards to the cheapie Karimoor (SportsDirect) compression socks.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

Of course the most important thing was my precariously wide feet. 3 pairs of shoes; my blingy blingy (hate the colour love the shoe) Hokas – Stinton style, my Altra Olympus (brilliant toe box) and Brookes Cascadias (good grip). The plan was to wear Hokas day 1 and part 2 of day 2, Altra’s day 2 part 1 and Cascadias day 3. I stuck to this plan and it worked well. Got all that? Kit Envy? There is plenty of mention of food below so I won’t go into listing my shopping trolley of food that I took with me.

Day 1 – Holyhead to Amlwch – 35.7 miles

At 1pm a countdown started, 10, 9, 8… no backing out now… 7,6 ,5… no you have time to back out….4,3,2,1 and we were off, 135 miles of coastline over 3 days. Here goes…

Respect the distance or the distance won’t respect you. It will eat you up, spit you out and make you beg for mercy.

106 runners took a light jog to the park gate and across the first of what would be many stiles. 106 runners out of 135 who had entered. Of course with this amount of people there would be congestion but plenty of time, plenty of time my friends to run a mere 135 miles over 3 days.

I was mid pack and trotting along at a very comfortable pace with a stream of runners now a good mile in-front of me. Everyone I had spoke to said ‘take day 1 easy’ so many people drop on day 2. I listened to the words of the wise and felt the love for my own pace ignoring the speed goats ahead of me.

Through Holyhead town we went, marshals were sporadically aligned to get us through the busy portal town. Within a few miles were were on our way on the coastal path keeping the sea on our left at all times, the golden rule to running around islands.

#Life is meant to be lived. Take risks. Feel passion. Discover love. Run free. – Real Runners

I was almost immediately running on my own, the 106 people had spread out instantly and I could see no one in front or behind. I had my newly routed Suunto on but just wasn’t confident enough to believe in the accuracy of the route which I had spent night after night mapping and re-mapping. I had also mapped way-points and programmed in tides and diversions and honesty book locations, more of this later. Of course I also had the OS Maps which I had bought and sliced up delicately into little sections, highlighted the coastal path and transferred all small detail such as low and high tides and diversions and most importantly Check Points. Call me an OCD runner? If you like. The route was also marked with the official blue ‘coastal path’ signs, sometimes easy to spot, sometimes not.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

My first mistake a few miles in. I wasn’t paying attention and indistinctly went straight on at a junction. I knew instantly I had gone the wrong way, looked back to see a group of runners turn left down the lane, so ran back looking rather foolish. A few of us then went somewhat pointlessly around a field as the coastal path was pointing that way whilst others cut across it debatable which was the best/most sensible route?

After a mile or so on the causeway path connecting Holyhead to the Isle of Anglesey I felt that I was really on the journey. This was all so real now, the expedition had begun. This wasn’t going to be over in your average 10km.

I was excited as I approached the first beach, I had never really ran on the beach before, though the tide was high the beach was passable. I scrambled across the large boulders and rocky masses covering the compact sand. I had soggy feet within a few minutes of running and amongst the slippery smell of seaweed I knew the beach running was going to be challenging. Apparently 1.6 times harder than running on tarmac.

A girl was footsteps behind, I turned round to say hi and we ran in unison across the beach. I found out later she too was another ‘Helen’. It didn’t quite click at the first checkpoint were were numbers 58 and 59. Everyone had numbers in first name order.­­­ This became a game on day 2 and 3 as conversations were struck up with other fellow runners ‘guess my name based on my number’.

The first checkpoint at Alaw Estuary at just under 10 miles supported a couple of plates of jelly babies and pretzels. I took a couple of jelly babies and went on my merry way closely followed by Helen. I was eating my own food at regular intervals including dried black banana (fantastically discovered only the other month), Aldi fig biscuits chopped up, one of many cliff bars Kendal mint cake (oh I love this stuff it is so much better than expensive sports stuff) and drinking my own coconut water. I was trying to eat as much natural food as possible before diving into sticky gel land.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

The two Helen’s struck up conversation whilst running across the coastal path. I found out Helen was a seasoned Ultra runner, having completed the West Highland Way Race (near on 100 miles in one go) and the Highland Fling amongst others whilst her Husband had done numerous Hardmoors including the Hardmoors 110. I was inspired already.

Running down to Checkpoint two some 7 or so miles later was a welcome sight at Porth Swtan just before the delightful Church Bay. Cheers went up from the locals and marshals alike as we shouted out our numbers, 58 and 59. A quick top of my water bottles and grabbing a couple of slices of malt cake and a 9bar I went on my way again.

The path meandered around the coast up and down and through sections of technical coastline, winding its way around the sea and windswept cliffs. The westerly winds were pushing sideways, rain looking imminent but so far it had kept fine. Within just a couple of miles of the start I had stripped off my waterproof coat and tied it messily around my waist. I was feeling good still munching on my own fig biscuits and cliff bars. Eat and Run, run and eat.

I lost Helen as she allowed her husband to catch up with her and I continued to run along the rugged coast at my happy pace in my own little world. At points just me myself and I, when I turned a coastal corner I could see a runner in the far distance.

The next Checkpoint was way in the distance, at Wylfa Power station, looming some 10 miles or so over yonder. I focused on running straight against the side wind on the remote coastline and the beckoning views ahead. I was engrossed it was just me and my faint shadow lets not fade shadow lets not fade. Time for another fig biscuit. Yum.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

A diversion around Wylfa power station some 25 or so miles in led me onto some road, which I had re-routed on the Suunto but the kind Ring O Fire guys had signposted the diversion for us. I was now catching up a couple of guys, the running was flowing well. Too late for a fig biscuit the final checkpoint was looming.

The last Checkpoint of the first day supported coke and sandwiches as well as plenty of 9 bars chopped up. I took a peanut butter sandwich and downed a cup of coke. I had never run on coke before, but I know some runners swear by it, not fizzy and full of caffine, an ultra runners’ dream drink when running. I don’t care what it does to rusty 1p coins or the inside of your toilet – people it works! We were told about the ‘honesty book’ on this section – tear a page out of the hidden book strategically placed en route to prove you have taken the correct route and not cheated.

26 miles 385 yards is where racing ends and ludicrous extremes begin. – Runner’s World

I followed another guy out of the checkpoint and got chatting about how good the Grindleford Gallop was (his words not mine) as we meandered back onto the path aligned with the coastline. I then flew away saying our goodbyes wishing each other luck and a ‘see you at the finish’ with 8 or so miles to go for a completion of day 1 I was back running alone feeling the love, feeling the passion.

Passion cannot be instilled; it is either there or it is not – Joan Benoit Samuelson

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

The sky was looking moody, as little spots of rain dropped precariously. Although it was only around 6.30pm it felt like it was getting dark. I felt comfortable across the coastal paths meandering up and down and round the cliff faces supporting outstanding views of the coastline as heather clustered delicately around the rocks and the peaty terrain made for joyful running. Pure beauty.

Running is my time. No phone, no internet, no television. No to-do list, no meetings, no interruptions. It’s my personal sanity check. When everything is hectic and noisy, I collapse into my running self, and the only sounds I hear are my rhythmic breathing and my footfalls. I challenge myself by pushing hard, or I take control by running at a nice steady tempo, or I empower myself by running any way I feel. – Joanne Hirase-Stacey

Time for my first gel of the day, just to ensure I didn’t bonk what flavour should I pick? Blackberry for the autumnal blackberry bushes, why not?

34 miles in and a somewhat large flag waved in the coastal breeze ahead of me. I was expecting a little 1 foot flag not a scarily 6 foot flag supporting the ‘Ring O Fire’ logo. Easy to spot! A passer by asked what was going on as I found the box and tore the number 59 page out of the book. We had a little chat; I told him about the ‘Ring O Fire’ and the honesty book then went on my merry way into the town of Amlwch, Checkpoint four and home for the night at the leisure centre. The Ring O Fire guys had marked the way through the little town, most helpful this far into the game. I followed the signs up a hill and around the ‘high street’ into an industrial estate and up a hill. It was a hill but in true Sheffield style I was running this hill, not quite believing I was feeling this sturdy after 34 miles.

I entered the leisure centre to big cheers from the organisers and asked if I had enjoyed it. Hell Yes! Everyone was so supportive and friendly. I had finished day 1 uninjured and in high spirits – mission day 1 accomplished.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

I was surprised that there were only a handful and a half of runners who had already finished, less than 20 or so. I found out a few days later I had come in around 17th out of 106 starters, It was around 7.30pm I had completed day 1 in 6 hours and 36 minutes. I had done the right thing and kept it steady throughout.

Bags were gathered at one end of the sports hall and those runners who had already made it had set up their roll up mats / sleeping bag and made themselves at ‘home’ on the sports hall floor. For me this is part of the fun, sleeping in a sports hall with lots of like-minded runners and more running kit than would cover 100 football pitches. Kit envy at its best. Or should I say ‘bed’ envy as some people even supported proper fold down ‘posh’ beds. I had my self inflating Quechua mat and North Face (Cat’s Meow may I add) sleeping bag and I was happy with that. I first got a recovery drink down me, then a blissful shower. As it wasn’t too busy I got my name down for one of the first massages, at £15 for 20 minutes it was worth every second. The girls did a brilliant job of helping us all recover.

The leisure centre canteen was serving the perfect mix of ultra runner food, lasagne, pasta, rice and cups of tea. Just what I needed. Some of the runners were diving into their own foods, dried food pouches or pot noodles. I was saving my own food for the following evening as we were told there would be no canteen the next evening. The organisers were milling around checking everyone was well and happy, the friendliness was faultless.

By the time I had sorted out myself and had a chat to other runners it was time to try and get some sleep. Runners were still coming in, drenched by the downpours which had started around 8pm. I tried to put my head down but a mixture of bags rattling, banging, pattering of rain, runners still out on course staggering in tired and soaking wet, beaten through with 500ml of snoring, add an egg for extra protein made it a recipe for no sleep. It was bar on impossible even with ear plugs. More so I had a lethal cocktail of Endorphins and nerves running around in my tummy, having got through day 1 scared senseless of what was ahead in day 2 – over 65 miles.

Unfortunately I had positioned myself between two heavy snorers, so around 2am when lights had finally gone out and most runners were home and dry I grabbed my roll mat and sleeping back into the middle of the floor hoping for some quieter noise but alas not that much better. I just couldn’t seem to nod off. Eventually I may have dropped off into a light sleep.

Day 2 – Amlwch to Aberffraw –  65.9 miles

The beeping of a number of mobile phones at 4.45am was soon to disturb my little rest. A 6am start with a 5.45am registration required a strategy of organisational multitasking, packing big bag, running bag and half way drop bag whilst eating plenty of porridge. Kit all ready, registration done, I was about to encounter my longest ever run in one go just a mere 65 miles. If you asked me how I was feeling that morning, I wouldn’t have replied with anything polite.

I had made my drop-bag out of a yellow ‘drybag’ in case it rained, which contained a change of shoes, (Hokas) and socks (toe socks to stop my horrible wide feet rubbing), more coconut water, ample amounts of figs and dried bananas, a small stack of my favourite gels (Torq only used for special occasions) and a couple of baby bells. Now I knew the checkpoints were well stocked with food that agreed with me I opted to leave my own cereal bars behind. Alas however I forgot to pack my Kendal mint cake.

We were told that there were 102 starters morning only 4 had withdrawn a tremendous effort all round as we all lined up in the dark ready for 65 miles of off.

Either you run the day or the day runs you. – Jim Rohn

At 6am we were gone. We were first lead through the village and then wished the best of luck as we meandered back onto the coastal trail and the remaining 65 miles were all in our hands and feet. People were looking strong this morning as many hurtled past me. My head was struggling with the task ahead. The legs were fine but my mind was playing silly games with me, the reactions inside my thoughts were weak, this was not a good sign. With a 22 hour cut off I could walk if I needed surely? But it was not my legs, I cried out, my legs are fine, it was just the head playing devils advocate. No you are not almost there.

Don’t over think it – Rich Roll

Once again I had the route on my Suunto but knowing it would only last to half way if I was lucky. I supported all my OS route maps as well all labelled in squares according to the section chopped into checkpoint size chunks.

The first few miles were picturesque on the remote bankings of the coastline. Many I met on day 1 were now way ahead little dots on the landscape scampering along. I was playing my own game. I followed the array of runners through the coastal path up and down and round the cliff edges but still not feeling the love. Back round some fields a little inland, some others caught up with me and we grouped together for a while on boarded platforms covering marshlands.

A few beaches added to the mix of terrain. It was beautiful no runner could ever get bored of this and the beauty of the trails put my thoughts into a much better place.

I am too positive to be doubtful too optimistic to be fearful and too determined to be defeated

At one point there were about 12 of us running together through fields, supporting each other by navigation and kind chit chat of motivation. I admitted I had a hard 6 miles and was scared but kind words of wisdom from other surrounding runners kept me going. I knew I could get through this dark patch. I was almost grateful the dark patch had come at the beginning of the day when I was fresh rather than at the end of the day.

The Suunto route was working well now I had got used to the little arrow and line, understanding if I was off course, and using the OS maps for back up. The route was also well signposted with the ‘Anglesey Coastal Path’ Blue signs. Checkpoint 1 at Traeth Lligwy was a hefty 12 miles away and I had already munched through many fig biscuits, and starting on my dried banana and this time dried pineapple chunks. Who cares what time it is when you are running and eating?

Find your love, your talents, your #passions and embrace it. Don’t hide behind happiness. Experience it! – Real Runners

Four of us decided to take the ‘High Tide’ route on the next beach, a little climb to the top of the cliffs then across some fields, whilst the more daring crowd behind took the beach option and soon caught up with us at a most complex navigational point around a caravan site. We then all dispersed and got on with our own comfortable paces. Another fig biscuit if I may?

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

I was now running well behind a couple of others feeling stronger but once again in my own little world and own little happy place. The head was now in the right place they do say a lot of it is mental not physical, so true. I dropped down into Red Wharf Bay, a typical coastal village, busy with day trippers watching in amusement. One lovely woman was offering sandwiches and jelly babies. I politely took a jelly baby thanking her and went on my way to the next checkpoint at The Ship Inn just after the bay. I picked up some malt loaf and savoury snacks, topped up my water and got on my way. I don’t even like sausage rolls but picked up a couple of cheesy ones for the road. I have a habit of not hanging around checkpoints too much but eating on the way. This wasn’t a ‘race’ but a good strategy to abide by for any event.  Cut out the faffing at checkpoints I remember someone saying to me at an event and you will feel stronger.

I found many people had support along the way, parents, or other halves ready to meet them at the checkpoints with gifts of glory or just a familiar face. I was stupid enough to let hardly anyone know I was doing this. Stupid girl.

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go. – Dean Karnazes

The route took me through some pleasant woodlands, I was back on my own, enjoying the variety of this coastal path, aiming for the next checkpoint towards ‘Penmon point’. A nice little climb allowed for a rest bite before descending gently across fields amidst getting lost on someone’s driveway. By this time a group of guys had caught me up and we were running almost together (or had I caught them up who knows…) Of course I had to do my girly thing and just bend down randomly for the act of nature was calling. I am past caring when it comes to running and wee’ing personally. If boys can do it then so can girls, we are all human right? Err.. maybe unless you decide to run around Anglesey for a laugh. Isn’t ultra running sexy?

Why run a race? You race to test yourself, for the ritual, the camaraderie, and for the adventure and discovery – New York Runners Club

I didn’t hang around the checkpoint for too long but opted for half a banana and peanut butter sandwich and took a full 9 bar for the road. A steep hill loomed up at me. May as well walk this one and enjoy my sandwich then. I took the opportunity to re-arrange my running vest and stack up my front pockets with the all important fig biscuits, 9 bars, dried banana, a baby bell and an emergency gel. Chocolate GU or Orange Mandarin GU this time? Oh look I have an old Zipvit Blackcurrant one too – choices choices. It’s like being in Tesco Extra – every little helps.

Back on the straight I was running again this time with a few of the guys, chatting away, guessing each others’ names from the numbers on our bibs, where we were from and all other important details like ‘have you done this before’ – ‘haa no neither have I’. We were all in the same boat, just lets not let it sink. The miles just ticked by whilst running with others, chatting away and taking in the picturesque scenery. I had no idea what mileage we had done I just knew I was having a great time. There was a fair bit of hillage in this section, as we walked up and chatted more. I was feeling fine still eating still running and chatting along.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

Dropping back down to the coast on tarmac, the wind was getting up pulling through from the estuary, somewhat bleak as I headed to Beaumaris, the half way and drop bag checkpoint. One of the guys picked up the pace as I let him go, too fast for me and found my own happy pace dropping the remaining guys behind to run alone for a while. Feeling strong I ran towards the half way checkpoint. A number of runners were already there being fed and sorting out their kit. I did the same; whilst eating some peanut butter sandwiches. I swapped shoes and socks and re-packed my bag. I was soon ready to go on my way armed with a few more goodies including some sausage rolls which had now become part of my staple diet. You are now more than half way there. If you were doing a 10km run you would have completed 5km. Now there’s food for thought.

I don’t run many marathons but when I do its during an ultra marathon.

As I set off my Suunto bonked on me. 3% left just not enough power to continue, I was hoping my body wouldn’t do the same. I was 37 miles in – half way and feeling remarkably OK. 2 guys joined me on the hill walk up the steep tarmac road as I sorted out my maps which I had carefully labelled and would drag out one at a time when needed. They ran ahead, I let them go as I plodded on myself. A lot of tarmac on this section made for the first tedious section. However locals were out around corner shops handing out jelly babies and free water. Such a great island atmosphere.

Heading downwards towards the town of Menai Bridge made way for a rather busy high street where the seafood festival was taking place. Full of tourists we dodged cars and tourists alike, four or five hardy ultra runners, as I had caught up the few boys within a few miles. Up in-front we spotted three other runners who I was to find out later had stopped for ice cream. We initially passed them but they soon came past us again working together to get to the next checkpoint. The four of us were working well too navigating together and enjoying the low lying path lands, laughing at the somewhat silly half circle pathways that would add on another 100m or so just to keep us off the road. It began to rain quite heavily as we meandered around the estuary towards the next check point. Not overly picturesque at this point and still rather busy from the tourists of the seafood festival wresting with little kids holding big monster balloons blocking the pathways.

Who runs for #pleasure never gets tired – Dean Karnazes

Some very picturesque flat woodlands made the running so more enjoyable and refreshing as the rain eased and we found ourselves at the next checkpoint St Mary’s Church. Once again a big cheer went up. The group of lads in-front of us were stocking up on food. I grabbed more savoury sausage rolls and yet another 9bar and then found myself setting off with the new group of friends. I didn’t think this would last long, these lads looked strong but I was so so wrong for the next 30 miles we all ran together.

I found out I was running with 001 – Adam, and Chris and Chris, easy names to remember. Chris began to talk about his adventures, having done the Dragon’s Back and ‘Lakeland 90′ alongside the Fellmans’ Race, some most inspiring events along side his Bob Graham. Well I did 1 leg of Bob Graham last weekend in the dark up Helvellyn does that count? Err…I ran to Derby from Sheffield… does that count?

We were all getting on well, Adam had his Suunto although the same type as mine his hadn’t bonked. Adam showed me his secret, an un-complex way of charging on the go with a lead, a sweatband and a tiny pebble very impressed!

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

The next checkpoint appeared without thinking – Sea Zoo. I was told by one of the ladies that the girls were doing well and one of the girls ‘Val’ was actually leading with another girl a good half hour in-front. After downing some more coke, savoury snacks and filling up on water myself and Chris ran on to be joined by Adam and Chris further down the road. Onto a pebbled beach we ran unsure if we had gone the right way but then finding the correct path up to the busy road. More tarmac inland took us round some country roads. We bumped into another runner who was walking and looked a little lost even though he was now on the same route as we were. How did he get there?

Even though there was a lot of tarmac on this section it was still enjoyable for the mix of terrain from the sandy or pebbly beaches to rocky coastal paths, long grassy fields and a little bit for the road lovers it was all fine and dandy. We were laughing about the highest distances we had ever run in one go. myself a mere 50.8 miles, Chris and Adam 57 miles, so we celebrated when we passed the 50.8 miles and then again when we passed 57 miles. What other kind of event would give you ability to eat and run and chat and run and eat and run and chat and run and most importantly have fun?

If you run, then we speak the same language – Real Runners

With 2 lots of honesty books on this section, we were careful not to miss them for not tearing a page out of the honesty book would endure a penalty of 3 hours. The first was positioned on the beach around Newborough to prevent short cutting through the forest. The first beach a good mile or longer of finely packed sand, as we all separated into our own pace towards the headland and rocky outcrop. My legs were getting tired and it was hard work on the sand but at the same time the beauty of the surrounding landscape kept me going. I was alone but at the same time surrounded by great company. It was time for another fig biscuit and a baby bell. Munch munch run. Squelch.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

This was a long stretch of over 12 miles to the next checkpoint but bonking was not an option. Turning the rocky outcrop there was more beach stretching far far ahead with a glimpse of a wave of a flag, the first honesty book. After a good couple of miles on the sand we were then in boggy marshland squishing our shoes against the wet terrain. That section had drained me and so I reached for some dried banana, and a Torq gel. I do like the Torq gels, strange flavours like lemon and lime cheesecake (or was that the ice cream I had a few days before?), raspberry ripple and banana toffee. Yum.

Can’t stop. Won’t give up. #run – Real Runners

I found myself eating foods I would normally not touch from cheesy and meaty sausage rolls, pretzels, pork pies, pork pies I tell you, porky pies, cocktail sausages, peanut butter and jam sandwiches on white bread,mars bars, bounties all mixed down with a gel – nice! Hey it kept me going I was not going to bonk. Through the forestry sandy paths we ran. This was tough going now. Adam picked up the pace and I could feel my body running ‘fast’ I say fast, I am not talking sub 7 minute miling by any means but with 100 miles under my feet it felt ‘fast’. As we approached the next check point and I asked Adam what he was on back there and he replied we were running a good 8 and a half minute miling – after nearly 100 miles over 2 days – its amazing what your body can do. I ran strongly into the final checkpoint Malltraeth cob, Newborough and the other guys’ families were there for support, not far to go and they weren’t joking just a mere 6.5 miles, and being really supportive to me too ‘work as a team guys’ they said, just before we left I grabbed more chopped up Mars bar wedged between a peanut butter sandwich and a cheese sausage roll.

Don’t out-run your stomach.

Onwards we went down a straight path, mind numbing but chatting along we all got through it and congratulated each other after that mile or so stretch of the ‘path of doom’. Get the picture? (especially if you are reading this and have ever done the ‘path of doom’ at Sheffield Running Club – vision that after 60 miles). Chris was reminding us to eat regularly even though we were only 5 miles from home.

I was now downing shot blocks maybe as a mental emphasis to keep me going rather than actually needing it. Somewhere along the lines we passed some large stepping stones. Unfortunately my phone had bonked too so I was unable to take any photos but an amazing if not rather precarious task of stepping over these massive stones whilst feeling a little dizzy. Just don’t look down… Safely over we continued, 4 miles to go. The sun was beginning to set, as dusk set in. This was surreal as Adam got out his mobile phone and blasted out many of his 31 versions of ‘Ring Of Fire’ whilst dancing through one of the cow fields, an experience not to be missed I just wish I could have captured this moment and put it in a little box. It was just surreal. It certainty kept a smile on my face.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down
as the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child,
Oh, but the fire went wild.

Johnny Cash.

Through more fields we ran. Suspcious looking cows began to eye us up then suddenly the began to make a move on us, we were half way across the field. RUN! No! don’t run SPRINT! and holy cow, my legs moved faster than I would have ever thought as the four of us sprinted across the field towards the gate. We made it as the cows looked at us in discrace, 60 miles would not get the better of us, and moo moo to you cows too.

Happy Cows they think us Humans are bonkers – Becky Crossley

There were a few signs and glow sticks as we were only a few miles from home for the night at Aberffraw village hall. Across the sanddunes and just in time to see the sun setting behind Aberffraw village. A group selfie was a must in this idilic setting as we now plodded across the beach to the final honest book of the day. Past caring what pages we tore out of the book we handed each other a page and off we went. Other half’s were now scattered on the beach as Chris and Chris were cheered on. Myself and Adam ran on down the estuary across the bridge to cheering passer bys. I was now running through the village up the hill towards Aberffraw village hall feeling alive even after 65 miles. I would not stop, I felt like Forest Gump… I ran into the hall full of praise and claps. I had made it, past 65 miles just before it went dark, in 14 hours and 14 minutes, a top 10 finish for a brilliant day 2. I was offered a nice cup of tea instantly which went down a treat. The guys were looking after us big style.

Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further … past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known. – Rex Pace

I stripped off my shoes to see the damage but all was ok, big toe looking a bit sorry for itself, a bruise/blister appearing underneath it, and a couple of other little blisters emerging against my other toes. I have very wide feet and little toe was showing signs of wear and tear. But nothing that a bit of tape and plasters wouldn’t fix. The legs were tired but body all intact. There were no showers tonight so instead the first thing was to get my name down for a massage, have a ‘baby wet wipe’ shower and fuel up on recovery chocolate milk.

Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from a place showers will never reach. – Dr. George Sheehan

Surprisingly the village hall was serving free pasta bowls as I was expecting to dive into my mug shots and bread, but I honestly didnt feel like any hot food straight away. I found out there was a room ‘downstairs’ which would be quieter so asked about this and indeed the downstairs room was quieter. I got talking to ‘Carol’ who had come in half an hour or so before me as ‘2nd female’, possibly meaning I was 3rd but not wanting to even contemplate position for I still had another near on 34 miles ahead of me the following day. Once sorted with my stuff, massage had, been told my knee was slightly swollen been given ice, I downed some free pasta then proceeded stupidly to scoff my own cold pasta dish and some bread.

Soon after I began to feel, dizzy, not just dizzy but really dizzy. I made my way to the toilets staggering in a dizzy state to clean out my cup but the dizziness got the better of me, my head was spinning so much that I was beyond dizzy. Next minute I had fallen and smacked my head on the wall. Clutching my towel I felt in another world, was this really happening to me. Quentin one of the organisers found me on the floor and immediately looked after me offering me a sweet cup of tea. I owe my big thanks to him and others who helped me come round. Low blood pressure and erratic Sugar levels had caused this crazy head-spin. I supported a lump on my head but most importantly I was OK and decided at this point it was time to go to bed and try and get more than an hours sleep. Lesson to learn – don’t eat so fast next time.

Don’t ever let someone tell #you you can’t do something. Not even me. All right? – Pursuit of Happiness

The room was a little more silent than the previous night with only a handful of runners. So far so good but I was feeling a little sick so tried to munch on a bit of cereal bar and have some water. A few more runners were trickling in around midnight and trying to settle down quietly. Eventually I got off to sleep and proud to say I must have had about 4 hours. Result.

Waking up at 5am, a kind runner put the kettle on for all our porridge pots (and curry’s for those that had those instant dried meals or pot noodles what Ultra runners will eat at any o clock) Bacon sandwiches were waiting for us at checkpoint one but that was a good hour or hour and a half away so stocking up on food now was essential.

To run an ultra marathon you have to be arrogant enough to believe that you can do it and stupid enough to try

Day 3 –  Aberffraw to Holyhead – 33.4 miles

Registering for day 3 we found out there were only 56 of us starting. A high drop out rate for day 2. This event was not to be underestimated. I was beginning to feel proud that I had made it to day 3. I wished the lead female ‘Val’ all the best of luck, she was in overall second place and was secretly hoping she would keep the pace and win it. And with that off we went.

Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way

Instantly a front group of 8 or 9 runners sped off down the coastal path. This time I took myself off into my own head space and ran by myself for the first few miles enjoying every step. The morning sun was just rising, the glistering sandy beaches glared ready to be trod upon. Beat the sunrise, beat the sunrise. Today was going to be a good day I could feel it and I could smell it amidst the fresh sea air. I was running with the volume up.

I run to breath the fresh air I run to explore I run to escap the ordinary I run to savour the trip along the way Live becomes a little more vibrant a little more intense – Dean Karnazes

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

Within a few miles a couple of the guys I had met on day 2 caught me up and we ran together across sand dunes and beaches, Simon, Paul, Darren, Mark, Seb, Nigel sorry if I can’t remember all your names, no doubt I ran with Bill and Ben the flowerpot men at some point too. A nice group of 5 or 6 of us navigating together, my Suunto now charged up and doing its job properly as I was now able to see if we were off track directing us when I thought we were going far too into or out of the sand dunes.

Soon back out on the beach we hit the tarmac into seaside village of Rhosneigr with its stunning beaches and onwards towards Sandy’s Bistro with even more stunning Bacon and Sausage butties. I was tempted but the porridge was still sitting a little uncomfortably inside me. Instead I opted for Swiss roll, chocolate Swiss roll at just after 7am. Where else can you justify chocolate Swiss roll at 7am? Only after 100 miles that’s when. Back on my way I went, leading the little friendly pack out of the village feeling more confident of my watch and map reading skills.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

Back on the beach running adjacent to the airport, this was bliss. Feeling good and chatting away to fellow runners. I still supported my fig biscuits and dried bananas and today remembered more of my Kendal Mint Cake. It was just over 7 miles to the next checkpoint at Four Mile Bridge. A group of us were running strong together, but nearly went wrong very near to the checkpoint as a coastal sign pointed down the river yet the checkpoint was over the river. Watch the signs! I was still feeling quite full but when a picnic is on site it is an excuse to eat more. That will be some more chopped up Mars bar then for me please and a 9 bar for good luck.

Onto a marshland which supported boarded walkways. Onto the next field. Then which way? Bewildered runners stood there studying the maps and looking rather lost. My Suunto got disorientated, well really I am blaming my watch when it was in fact my head that was disorientated and my OS maps were not doing their job properly, perhaps they had just bonked too? We all dispersed looking for a way out. Trapped. Trapped in the Ring O Fire. It was going O so well. A couple of us ran around in circles for shear fun. I knew we were off route and tried to orientate myself properly with the maps and the watch. Suddenly I had a light bulb moment and pointed upwards around the field a little gap I had spotted, shouting at the other guys that-a-way, they followed as we joined up with some of the runners who were behind. We must have been in the dreaded field of doom field some 10 minutes or so.

Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still. – Chinese proverb

I met up with fellow day 2 friend ‘Dragon’s Back’ Chris. We joined up and ran comfortably together whilst chatting about last nights’ events how his friends’ were and general running ‘stuff’. This is the great thing about ultra running, one minute you can be running on your own the next in a large group a while later you can be running with someone you met a day or so before and then next you just don’t know. There is no plan you just put one foot in front of the other, eat, run and smile, run smile and eat and smile eat and run.

You’re better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can! – Ken Chlouber

Two honesty books today were placed en-route. The first one flagged up at the end of a long stretch of beach. Running towards it myself and Chris bumped into Carol coming the other way, she had gone a couple of miles out of her way. I was gutted for her as she was running so strong. She soon picked herself up and ran on ahead. A woman on a mission, I could tell she was a hardy runner the energy in her steps and the way she flew down the technical sections of the coastal path. The sun was shining across the cliff edges not a cloud insight, the views were immense. I was just happily running back in my own little world. Coming into the final checkpoint on the promenade of the seaside town of Trearddur Bay there were plenty of day tourists building sandcastles paddling in the sea and cheering on 56 crazy runners.

I didn’t realise it was the final checkpoint as I had lots all sight of how long we had left, I was lost in the run, until someone said just 10 miles to go. I had once again scoffed an entire supermarket shelf of pork sausage rolls and a trolley load of cocktail sausages and greedily took another chocolate bar for good measure. Good luck everyone shouted not far now.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

I was remarkably feeling good at this point and ready for the last 10 mile challenge. I ran on the shore edge around the pretty seaside village and onwards towards the moorlands. A few of us were now running in a pack, a couple of the guys in-front, Sean and Seb I believe.

Chris, Carol and myself had struck up a good conversation as I listened to their amazing stories of events they had completed, who was who and how and what plans they had for the future. I was intrigued by the Dragon’s Back, by Lakeland 100, by the shear determination of these runners. Such interesting stories as the miles flew by across the purple infested moorlands running towards the final honesty book.

That’s one of the great pleasures of an ultramarathon. You can hurt more than you ever thought possible, then continue until you discover that hurting isn’t that big a deal. – Scott Jurek

I was in blissful world, the surroundings were perfect in every way. Yes I was tired but not yet bonked, constantly feeding my every step, listening to the stories, asking questions and enjoying the whole experience. We were going to complete this, I was suddenly sure we were going to do this. The end ‘Holyhead Mountain’ loomed insight, I had read stories about the ‘mountain’ (of doom?) We debated what constituted a mountain (Google says it needs to be 2000ft) and yes it comes into the mountain category. The ‘mountain’ was very busy with day trippers clapping us on and sensational views of the tip of Holyhead with its pristine white lighthouse of South Stack.

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon Up the mountain we walked, punching every step. The sweltering sun beating down on us but we weren’t complaining. Having crossed the 30 mile mark Holyhead Breakwater Park was almost in sight. First at the top of the mountain we had to drop down the coastal path and wind our way back up, a mini sting in the fiery tail of the ring.

We ended up on quite a wide path scattered with the whitish rock of the mountain. It was here we got chatting to a couple just running for fun and lost concentration of the route. My watch was showing we were slightly to the right and I recognised the cliff edge that dropped down towards the park where we started 2 days before. We needed to be to the left of the upcoming cliff else we would end up overshooting the finish and coming in from the wrong direction, that was not going to happen!

You finish because you started

I suggested a diversion a mini fell run across heather cladded lumps towards the path we were supposed to be on, then just as we were jumping over the heather the Suunto lost its battery . Perfect timing. However I had reccied this last section a day before the event in preparation of feeling wrecked so with relief I knew where we needed to be. We carefully picked our way down the steep rocky slope, we were nearly there, so nearly there. A passer by came by and shouted out ‘not far to go’ I piped up ‘for the first time in three days I believe you’ as I could see the finish ahead.

Down the last of the rocky rabbit path we fumbled with cheers from some of the spectators. We were now on the straight path through the lovely wooden gate and onto the grassy slope.

 

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon The finish flags were waving, beckoning us forward. The three of us joined up hands and ran in unison right through the flag posts. A rapturous applause from the organisers and spectators, I was elated. We had done it, what a burning finish to the Ring O’ Fire 2014, I could not have asked for a more emotional finish with two other awesome runners seeking exactly the same challenge as myself; to challenge the body, to try and complete, to keep strong and to run, eat, smile and enjoy.

 

Finish with a smile on your face. – Joe Trask

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above photos courtesy of Mark Wynne

And Finally

3 days over 28 hours and 15 minutes of running. I wholeheartedly enjoyed every step of the past three days (apart from 6 steps or was that miles? on day 2). I could not have asked for anything better. Unimaginable a few days previous. What a magnificent event, unique running in stunning surroundings. So friendly and faultlessly organised, a demanding challenge conquered. Happy and proud, and hell yes this will get splatted this all over Farcefacebook so be prepared!

Results

      • Day 1: 6.36 – 17th out of 106 finishes
      • Day 2: 14.14 – 9th out of 58 starters
      • Day 3: 7.25 – joint 8th with Chris and Carol out of 56 finishes
      • Overall Time: 28 hours 15 minutes
      • Overall Position: 11th out of 56 finishes and 106 starters,
      • 3rd Female

Ring of Fire Ultramarathon

Photos

Some photos of the three days through my eyes are on my Flickr Feed – this gives a flavour of the beauty and variety of the route.

All Photos containing ‘me’ used above courtesy of:

Run Helsby

John Bowden

Mark Wynne – Official Photographer

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2 comments

    • Steffi A. on January 8, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Reply

    Dear Helen,

    I just read your ROF-report. Absolutly great writing! Thanks for sharing the special moments with us.

    Next year I turn 50 and I was looking for some special race I could do. Since 2 years the ROF is in my top ten to-do-list.
    But after reading your adventures on this race it is on the very top!

    Thank you very much again and now I have to start reading the rest of your races.

    Greets from wet stormy Germany
    Stef

      • admin on January 8, 2015 at 10:30 am
      • Author

      Reply

      Thank you for your kind words, I am glad you enjoyed the read. It is an excellent event, the guys really look after every runner, scenery is spectacular and its a fantastic feeling afterwards. It is also really good value for money. I can only say give it a go, you won’t regret it.

      Helen

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