I was especially lucky for this event. My friend Lynne had very kindly offered to be my own personal support crew, and what a support crew she was, fantastic!
Lynne arrived at 6.30am to pick me up and take me to the start line in Pennard. The start line consisted of a small hut in the middle of Pennard park, which for the day had no mains water (nice!), surrounded by a few benches and deck chairs. A 5 min queue to get my little blue card with my number on A13 (my lucky number), and then 30 minutes sitting on the deck chairs at the start line and chatting and watching the walkers drift off. The Gower Gallop is incredibly low key, not a race as such, a challenge walk, which they let runners complete too.
A couple of friends turned up for the later 20 mile event, so I thought I had better go. A quick wave to Lynne, and off I trundled at a very sedate 12 min mile. The first check point was the furthest away at 8 miles. I had opted to head round the top of the river at Parkmill rather than risk the stepping stones, which can be covered by the tide. I made good progress and reached Oxwich Beach quickly, meeting some of the walkers there. The next section took me along the top of the coast along a small road and then onto a track. A lot of swearing ensued on meeting so many stinging nettles, good job there was noone around.
Checkpoint 1 in an average of 12.50 min miles, and I was feeling fresh. A quick flapjack and a drink and I was off again. The next section was along the coastal path and there were some very tough steep ups and downs. I had completed this section for the Gower Trails Marathon in December, and it was looking and feeling very different in the warmth of the sun. The ground was good, not the 3 inch mud of December and I overtook a couple more fast walkers by Checkpoint 2 at Rhossili. It is quite amazing how hard it is to overtake a fast walker. When I was running it was easy, but when I stopped to walk I really couldn't match their speed.
At Checkpoint 2 only 4 people were ahead of me, so another flapjack and I set off to skirt round the bottom of Rhossili Downs. The plan was to overtake the other walkers by Checkpoint 3. Things were now feeling a little tougher. The ball of my left foot had a sore spot on it, which I suspected was a blister, so I retied my shoelaces and tried to ignore it. The path was continually on an angle hugging the side of the Downs and had been along the coast as well, so my knees and feet were beginning to complain. By Llangennith I put my music on, and after nearly 3 hours of silence the sudden burst of noise made me laugh out loud. I had a hairy moment at the bottom of Llanmadoc Hill when the path I was following petered out and I had to scramble up the side of the hill to reach another path above me, but the going down the other side was good, and I took the opportunity to scare the sheep by singing along to my headphones not caring if there was anyone else around.
There was no checkpoint 3. I had beaten the opening time for the checkpoint, so I met Lynne and hung around for 5-10 mins until it opened. Within 5 mins of leaving Checkpoint 3 I promptly ran out of water. Knowing that Lynne would pass me if I stuck to the road I prayed for a fresh supply and kept one eye out for her behind me. Thank goodness for Lynne! With my camelbak filled up I cracked on to Checkpoint 4 and made good time.
At Checkpoint 4 I found there was only 1 person now in front of me. That felt good! Just 1.5 miles cross country to the next checkpoint, and my aim was to beat Lynne there. The going was very tough though, rough moorland, 600 ft of ascent, and bogs. Having managed to sink knee deep in a very smelly boggy patch I was pleased to reach the last Checkpoint.
Checkpoint 5 was heaving. The 12.5 miles walkers had reached it, having started around 9am. 20-30 people all trying to check in at the same time. When I gave my number and said I was on the 30 mile route there was a moment of disbelief from the marshall before they quickly moved on to the next person. With so many walkers there, I just grabbed a biscuit and headed off. Only 4.5 miles to the finish along the top of Cefn Bryn then up and down Pennard valley.
Within 5 minutes I had run out of drinks again. I'd missed Lynne at the checkpoint, she'd got lost on the way and decided to go straight to the finish, so had missed out on her stash of drinks too, and been too overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of the crowd to really think about drinks. Luckily there was a little shop at a campsite on route. The guy behind the counter clearly thought I was mad, mud to the knees, sweaty and panting, and by 28.5 miles unable to stand still very well. Having fuelled up again, off I went for the last few miles up and down the side of the valley. By this stage I was definitely into "old man shuffle" mode, but still feeling ok. It actually measured 30.62 by the end, but not bad for such a long off road route.
Technically I won the lady's race, beaten only by the very quick male runner in front of me. I would love to say I had beaten other runners, but I didn't. It was a lovely feeling though to lead the field over such a long tough race though, and one I probably won't get again.
Today I feel tired but not sore, just stiff. The blister is tiny and not at all painful, I have some interesting sunburn, and some annoying scratches and stings, but all in all, I'm in pretty good shape. I hope to try a run tomorrow................. now a 40 mile race seems doable!