PART II-2 – The Running Bit
Here is how I roughly saw the 4-day weekend panning out:
- STEP 1: Travel to Tenby and head for the coast.
- STEP 2: Camp out, ensuring that all equipment is still up to standard before venturing onward.
- STEP 3: Wake up crack of dawn and run north.
- STEP 4: 4 days later, have either:
- Run a coast to coast
- Tackled a few mountains
- Covered the best part of 200 miles
- STEP 5: Cease running. Go home.
A pretty watertight plan there I think we can all agree. Earlier in Part II-1 I talked about keeping plans loose for just in case the unexpected happens. Well as I was sat on the coach to Tenby, drifting off into my own little imagination world, where I’m not such a loser and ignored by most people. I really enjoy it in imagination land; so much so, that I missed my stop.
I got off at Pembroke Docks, so already my idea of a ‘coast to coast’ was somewhat scuppered by the fact I was no longer technically on the coast. Never mind I thought; I will begin my run at Pembroke Castle and aim to finish my run at another castle along the north coast somewhere.
That night I found a quiet spot in a grassy area to camp out in the pouring rain. I was impressed with the bivvi bag here and wondered why I ever bothered dragging a 1-man tent around weighing 4 times as much on all my travels. It was COMPLETELY waterproof and surprisingly warm!
This would have been fine if I hadn’t accidently, in the dark, placed it upside down on the ground, meaning that the lip of the bag was not over the top. This allowed the rain to slowly settle into a puddle as the hours went on, and as I slept soundly, this growing puddle of water slowly descended like a ninja along a stream into the main area; resulting in a soaking wet hobbit upon waking up in the morning. Never mind I said to myself again; I will find somewhere to dry it all off and remember that for in future. I must have spent about 20 minutes in a McDonalds bathroom by the hand dryer. Well at least that’s my worst possible mistake out of the way early. I can’t see things getting any worse than that.
After a ludicrously unsatisfying breakfast at McDonalds (not a fan), I got going along a few roads north; keeping myself endlessly amused by trying to pronounce the place names I saw. I have a feeling that if I lived in Wales, I would not thrive there.
I made my first stop about 10 miles in, at a place called Haverfordwest. I only really stopped here for some biscuits and energy drink; I didn’t even sit down in the end. A bit like I did for LEJOG, I wanted to get some miles under my belt quickly and resumed at about a 9 minute mile pace.
Having now got bored of main roads, I opted for trail routes for the afternoon. Not so good for getting mileage done quickly, but much more relaxing to run along and that was kind of the whole point.
My next stop wasn’t until Cardigan Bay roughly 40 miles in. The weather up to this point had been mostly just rain, so it was nice to be able to dry off and get some food.
During this point, it started to go dark, so I broke out my Christmas tree attire and got on my way once more. I’m keen to point out that I was very keen on safety for this trip.
I didn’t enjoy the next spell of running. I spent 10 miles moaning out loud about the muddy lanes, no field of vision and my ankle felt like it had a trapped nerve or something. I ended up in a place called Aberporth near the coast (not that I could see any of it). I figured I was about 25 miles from Aberystwyth, which is where I had arranged to meet my friend Helen the next day who was on a holiday not too far from there. I did a quick Google Maps check to see how many miles it actually was, and discovered it was quite a bit further than that. Oh well, might as well keep going for a few more miles then. I don’t actually know exactly where it was I camped out; I just know it was cold.
The problem I then noticed with the bivvi bag was that it was a constant decision and battle between wanting to be warm enough, and wanting to have enough oxygen to breathe with; nothing too traumatic, just a bit of a nuisance as I kept waking up.
As this was a trip carrying the bare essentials; I did not carry a great deal of warm clothes. If I wanted to warm up, I had to do so by keeping moving. This was fine, as I don’t really have a problem with the cold, but it did require a serious case of ‘manning up’ for getting up in the morning. Basically, it was: out of bed, shoes on, shove things in bag, get running!
I worked out that it would be roughly 28 miles to Aberystwyth whichever route I took. I opted for a combination of trail and roads. I made the usual stops for food and rest here and there, and was basically enjoying the day. It got to around 11:30am where I made a quick stop at a petrol station shop to purchase a banana and an Irn-Bru; it was here at the checkout when I reached into my pocket, I realized that the zip had worked itself loose on the straps of my bag and my wallet had departed.
I did some quick calculations and determined the following: it is somewhere on the floor or a bench, anywhere between where I am now and the past 10 miles. Terrific.
I stopped for a moment to consider what this meant… if I don’t find it I am essentially stranded 200 miles from home, with no food, drink and no means of getting back. I decided it would be wise to trek back and try to find it.
Panic is one of those things that builds up slowly. You start by denying everything; it’s all fine; everything is fine. Then slowly it grows viscerally within you like an infection. Half an hour passed with no sign; I inspected around the benches I may have sat on with increased weariness and concern. Thoughts of ‘game over’ were rising quickly within me.
I don’t expect I will ever forget that moment when I saw it 5 meters ahead of me along a main road, having trekked desperately for almost 4 miles. I’m fine! I do not need to die this day!
I think you’ve got to laugh about things like this when they happen. Really, if you don’t see the funny side, it’s just a bit scary. My amusement did turn into frustration for a while when I realized that it had added 8 miles to my day. By the time I made it into Aberystwyth in fact, a couple of hours later than I wanted, I was actually in a pretty foul mood, but it didn’t last long.
My friend Helen had traveled down from where she was on holiday up the road, to come and support me, which honestly did me the world of good as I was getting absolutely fed up with my own company. I was doing nothing but moaning to myself at this point; it was actually getting quite annoying.
By the time I left to go and find a place to camp out, I was in a much more positive mood. This was useful, as it had gone freezing, and when I say freezing, I mean actually well below zero! Coldest night of the year for the area I would find out the next day.
As I mentioned before, the bivvi bags are actually surprisingly warm, so I quickly got back up to temperature. However, when I woke up at 2am from the stabbing cold, I suddenly realized the slight flaw. When the temperature is THAT cold, keeping warm, you naturally tend to breathe into the sleeping bag. Unfortunately with the lower temperature, this creates a lot of vapour and condensation. In a tent, this just escapes and disappears; in a bivvi bag it has nowhere to go. The inside of my sleeping bag was now drenched in cold moisture that my body heat was struggling to keep up with. The next 4 hours were incredibly uncomfortable and getting up at 6am was almost a relief, but for the fact it had only warmed up to -1 degrees.
That morning was a rush to get running! I ran and I ran for almost a mile and a half before I realized in my sleep-deprived brain that I was running the wrong way.
I’ve done enough of these things now that I know how to roll with the punches and see the funny side to all of these misfortunes. It tends to read back a little more interestingly than having everything go to plan, so I’d learn to live with it. I made my first stop for the day in a place called Machyllneth on the border to Snowdonia and a really nice area.
It was here where I tried my best to get my sleeping attire aired out for one more night of probably discomfort and I spoke to a couple of cyclists who gave me some great route ideas.
I took this route advice and then proceeded to do it wrong and get lost. Really lost.
This didn’t concern or even vaguely bother me in the slightest; I was well and truly used to this and it’s not like I had a definite route plan to stick to. I declared to myself to soldier on up the vast hills and down again to the other side, and then worry about the minor detail of where I was.
That afternoon I made the decision that with the limited time I had left, I needed to choose between doing an ‘end to end’ run, or do a couple of mountains. It was definitely one or the other and I elected for the ‘end to end’ option. This meant I really needed to do a long, boring stint up the main road, but it was dark so I actually enjoyed having a few street lights.
9pm came and I decided to retreat into the woods to camp out. Unfortunately for all my hard work, I couldn’t completely get all the cold damp out of my sleeping bag during the day. Marvellous! This is going to be fun! Naturally, it’s freezing cold again tonight.
In my 30 years of being alive on this planet, I have not had a more uncomfortable night’s sleep as this one right here. At 2:38am I woke up with pain and cold shivers. I made a conscious decision here to try not to fall asleep again that morning as there was a genuine niggling concern that I might not wake up again. My heart-rate was sky high and I had definitely given myself a cold.
I’ve been in colder places before and colder situations than here, but never so inescapable. Curling up smaller, breathing deeper into the sleeping bag; everything just seemed to make it worse.
At 4am I concluded that I had 2 options:
- Option ‘A’ – Call an ambulance on yourself and call it a day
- Option ‘B’ – Get up. Run.
I elected option ‘B’, whilst keeping option ‘A’ in reserve for the time being, although I honestly felt really ill.
As I stumbled around, shoving things in my bag and getting all my lights and things on, a police car pulled up nearby, so I walked over. A police lady got out of the car and said hello and then asked me what I was doing in the woods at this time in the morning. A fair question, I remember thinking. I filled the police officers in on what I was doing and where I was heading. She did a quick I.D. check on me just to make sure I was who I said I was, then gave me some directions to follow.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so exhausted, but I had to keep moving just to keep warm. I eventually arrive in I Betws-y-coed at around 9am, ready to devour some breakfast.
Decision time! I thought about just catching the train here and going home right there, but in the end decided that I had to get to Conwy on foot and complete the challenge; albeit updated about a thousand times.
That afternoon the sun came out, and was one of the best afternoons of running I have ever experienced. I think the fact that I was nearly there gave me a lot more energy and I was able to reflect on the weekend with nothing but positivity.
I made it to Conwy Castle and I instantly forgot about the film I was making. I hope you enjoy the video, despite the dark making it difficult. I just threw in some music from a band called ‘Spock’s Beard’ and a track called “You Can’t Get It Wrong” for the bit when I got to Conwy. Pretty apt I thought.
So that’s the story of when I took 4 days, and ran up Wales with them. I’m trying to decide now whether to do a Part III, or move on to somewhere else. Whatever I do, I think I will always enjoy it going back to Wales regardless.