I ran my first ever ultra on Saturday - 34.3 miles of coastal trail around Anglesea, featuring several gruelling ascents of Holyhead mountain.
I finished almost last, but that's not the point. I finished an ultra. It was something I'd wanted to do since I first started running seriously a couple of years ago.
Back then, after a few 10k runs on local trails, I began to wonder what it would take to run a marathon. I thought I could do it, so with no training I set off to try. After 22 miles and 3 big hills, I collapsed completely, but the distance bug had taken a firm hold.
I went back to the drawing board, running shorter races and keeping the miles up between events. Less than a year after the first attempt, I ran my first marathon. Then another. I thought I was ready for longer distances, so I entered the Endurancelife CTS Anglesea ultra.
Work on the new howies website made training tough until the middle of November, but I managed to keep the miles up and by the time Christmas and New Year came round, I was feeling great. I thought I was in the best shape of my life.
Then, exactly a week before the run, I fell off my bike and landed heavily on my leg. A previous injury in my knee was reawakened and as the days passed with me limping around I began to worry. I thought about dropping out, but couldn't bring myself to do it.
On the trip up to the race with Chris (also running the ultra) and Alex (running his first trail half) I was subdued, and at dinner the night before I found myself massaging the damaged knee and mulling over what was to come. I knew this was bad, and that the doubts were probably more dangerous than the injury itself so I tried to put it all to the back of my mind.
Arriving at the start before daybreak we found the car park was a 10 minute walk from the event HQ at the Breakwater country park. And again, the pain from my knee started nagging at me. The howling wind and lashing rain didn't help, although thankfully both began to subside as the sun came up and we began to run.
The course started off with a short flat run to the foot of Holyhead mountain, before the first long climb began taking us around to the South Stack lighthouse. I was more than happy to walk the steep rock stairs, near vertical in some places. I knew we were coming back here later.
For the first few miles I was running with Chris, who had kept me company during my first trail marathon a couple of months before. I don't think I was great company this time as I was still struggling to control my negativity and I was actually quite relieved to see Chris head off up the road, running his own race. I was now alone, and I knew that was how it had to be.
I was soon beginning to feel much better and was enjoying the scenery as we passed Trearddur Bay. My thoughts were a lot more positive, although my knee was still giving me trouble. Shortly after the half way turn around on Rhoscolyn beach, it flared up and my leg cramped causing me to fall against a low wall. To my relief I was able to recover quickly and get back on my feet, although cramp (and the fear of cramp) plagued the rest of my run. Especially over the numerous stiles, which I now negotiated ver gingerly for fear of triggering another leg failure.
Heading back toward the finish line, I saw Holyhead mountain again in the distance. Knowing I would be having to climb the rock stairs around the mountain again before the finish and already approaching the furthest I had ever run I wasn't in a hurry to get there. I ran a steady pace, but making sure I could make the cut off point in time to be allowed back onto the mountain.
As we joined the half marathon course, I was quite glad to have the company of other runners again, as I had be plugging out the miles alone, save for odd fragments of conversation as I traded places with a couple of the other ultra runners. By chance I met up with Alex, who seemed to be having a great run in his half. He left me with one of his spare gels and carried on.
The miles all began to blur together and my mind wandered until I reached the foot of the mountain and the sharp ascent brought things back into focus. The sun was out, the views were amazing, and passing half marathon runners with their fresh legs on the climb gave me a massive boost. I passed nearly everyone I saw on the first climb, although my legs screamed at me to stop. Eventually I reached the summit and took a moment to enjoy the view before turning back down the mountain toward the marathon finish line.
I made the cut off more than 20 minutes before it closed. I knew this wasn't fast, but it meant I would now get to finish the ultra. I set off toward the mountain again, looking over my shoulder to check I wasn't last. Ray who runs the whole food shop in Cardigan and his friend were the next through the gate, about 500 yards behind me.
Seeing someone I knew behind me gave me another boost and I was determined to keep up a good pace as the climb began again. I was impressed that my legs seemed to have recovered from their earlier cramps and I was able to power my way back to the South Stack lighthouse checkpoint without stopping.
I ran into the checkpoint and headed straight back out again, not wanting to loose any more places before the finish. The course now took me back inland and I knew that another trip to the summit was coming. My legs were beginning to feel hollow and my mind was wandering. I was interested by the sensation, but refused to slow down.
Reaching the summit for the second time, I almost cried. I knew that gravity would do the rest. All I had to do was point my weary body int he right direction and not fall over. I plodded out the descent, drinking whatever was left in my bag and eating a bar. I realised I had too much food left, and should have been eating more. I was already planning my next ultra by the time I finished.
Chris and Alex were waiting for me at the finish line. I had to wait a few minutes to get my time. They'd turned the power off and had to restart the computer. As I waited, Ray and his friend came running home. I would later find out they were the only finishers behind me, although 9 runners dropped out.
I followed the others back to the car and was more than happy to let Chris drive home. I was done. I had run my first ultra.
We stopped at a little climbing cafe called Pete's Eats that Chris knew on the way back to Cardigan. The good coffee and baked potatoes seemed to serve as a fitting full stop to the run, and the reality of the achievement began to sink in.
There's such a difference between believing you can do something and knowing you can.
My legs are still killing me today but I guess that’s what happens when you enter an Enduro somewhere as hilly as mid Wales. It’s self-inflicted pain and i shouldn’t really be moaning or making those achy leg noises every time I get up from my desk but I do, and will continue too for the rest of the day.
On Sunday, myself and two friends Josh and Rune turned up at the brilliant trail center Brechfa at 7:45 am with bleary eyes and a feeling of excitement that the day ahead would be filled with riding our bikes, and generally having a good time.
This year’s enduro had a slightly different format because it would be the three timed stages that counted towards the final positioning, rather than trying to get round the whole course as quick as poss. I really like this, as it meant you could take it easier on the in-between bits and then give it the beans on each stage.
With a staggered start it meant less congestion at the beginning, and gave people time to get sorted. Us three being keen as custard got going straight away and set out to conquer the 30 km course with big smiles on our faces!
The first timed section was the 3 minute downhill which was super fast and flowing with some tight corners that made you squeal. I love riding downhill quick so I gave it some welly and managed to get down to the bottom in one piece with only a couple of near misses. Our smiles were even bigger now!
The second time section was the undulating stage, this consisted of a horrible switch back climb that makes your legs and arms burn, followed by a swooping downhill that required concentration and momentum. For me this was the hardest part because after the climb, my body felt like jelly but my bike was accelerating downwards at a rate of knots, so I just hung on and flowed through all the twists and turns!
Three quarters of the way round was a feed station with banana’s galore. We loaded up on these and stood around speculating about where the final stage could be. The general vibe was great too and everyone looked like they were having fun. Fueled up, we continued onwards to the final leg.
Who ever planned the course must have been having a chuckle to them self because the last part just seemed to go up hill. I can only imagine the amount of colorful words being spoken from tired mountain bikers! The final timed checkpoint was an 8 minute climb!
I maintained a comfortable pace and reached the top with a time that I was pleased with. That’s the hard part done, now just got to reach the finish…
The final section back to the finish was a fire road decent, which if you let off the brakes you could really cut loose. I followed a guy called Paul who drives trains; he was a great person to be behind because he just had no fear! Ace fun indeed!
Through the finish line I got off my bike and stood there with the same smile that I started with. I’ve been riding mountains bikes for 16 years and it just doesn’t get boring, I still get that great feeling!! Buzzing.
And to top off an already top day, I managed to take the overall win in the women’s category. It was Tracey Mosley who presented the prizes which was amazing! She’s awesome, definitely a rider I look up to!
I’ve rattled on for long enough now sorry, but what can I say MTB’s are just rad!!
Thank you to Bike Brechfa and Brechfa bike club for putting on such an ace event. To Josh and Rune for being top riding companions, and to all the marshal who stood out in the freezing conditions. Roll on next year!!
howies Clothing Designer & Technician
After a lovely fortnight off over Christmas and New Year we're back in the office and hard at it with new t-shirt designs for the spring range. Trying to come up with ideas got me thinking about my life and how I live it, and the things in it that I love or hate (sometimes both).
One of the things that I noticed was that I find myself glued to my iPhone. All that information right at your fingertips is an amazing thing to have, but at the same time it kinda works the opposite way. You end up consuming more information than you create, almost becoming a bit of a 'slave to the machine, man'. So I thought about how I could reflect this in an illustration for a t-shirt.
Here are a few sketches of what I've been working on. It was nice getting away from the mac and get drawing again, although, as you can tell, it's been a while since I've picked up the pencil and drawn some human forms so they're a little bit rusty. But I do like the Matisse-esque style they have.
Thanks for reading.
P.s. I understand there's great irony in posting these on Instagram from my iPhone.
As of January 1st, howies got small again.
When we were sold to Timberland in 2006 we became a tiny part of a $2 billion company and that was not easy.
When VF bought Timberland last September we became a miniscule part of a $10 Billion corporation.
So while everybody was crunching the big numbers, the howies management team quietly bought the business back.
We thank VF for giving us the opportunity to be small again.
It could be big.
We've not even been back a full week in the office and Team howies are off to a racing start this weekend up in Manchester.
This Saturday, Russ Downing is heading up the team at Revolution, and we're looking forward to some big leg action in front of another sell-out crowd.
Still buzzing from Round 2 and Cav riding for Team howies? Well, you can get your hands on a limited edition howies rainbow replica jersey.
We've got x2 to give away, both are a size Medium.
To be in with a chance to win, simply share your photos from Revolution this weekend with us.
We'll announce the winners next week along with a link to the ITV4 highlights.
PS. If you're not Social Media savvy, you can always drop us an email with your photo to email@example.com.
Jon's role in Team howies seems to be being stoked on riding as we haven't seen him on the bike without a smile.
Originally from Wales, Jon has been in the team from the start (aided obviously by a strong list of accomplishments & a great riding attitude). He spends the winter focused on the track and concentrates on a Road race programme through the summer, taking part in events all around Europe.
When Jon isn't racing for howies, he's based up in Manchester together with fellow British Academy riders. These guys all live and train together with a love of biking and a sole purpose to race bikes.
1. How did you get started in cycling?
I started when I was 14 at the Newport Velodrome, my Mum and Dad took me down one day for taster session and just progressed from there.
2. Where do you ride when you just want to ride for fun?
I think I'd ride a mountain bike up at Cwmcarn Trail with my brother, I don't do it much, but it's always good when I get the chance to.
3. If you could ride in any event in the world, what would it be?
I'd want to finish the Tour de France, it's the most famous race there is. Ask anyone and the first race that comes to their mind is the Tour.
4. What do you do to relax before a race?
I just listen to music, but it's not always 'relaxing' music I'd listen to. But before any road race I always try and find a cafe and get a quick coffee, especially in Italy.
5. What do you like to do off the bike?
I'm a big Ice Hockey fan so whenever I'm home I always try and watch the Cardiff Devils. And I'm into my dance music so I like to think I'm a DJ not a very good one but spend a lot of time 'trying' to mix songs.
A year of lunchbreakouts.
A year of first Marathons.
A year of races.
A year of Microadventure.
And the year a World Champion raced for howies.
A year for riding harder.
A year for first Ultra's.
A year for (more) racing.
A year for adventure.
Then again, why wait until January...