This had been a long time coming. From first hearing about it in 2015, to my first attempt in 2021 resulting in my first ever DNF 41 miles into day 2, to this year’s race, and what a race!
135 miles around the whole island of Anglesey, most of it designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, over 3 days. Most people take over a week to walk the route!
Day 1 – 35.7 miles, 3,500ft, 9 hours
“I Fell into a burning ring of fire”
A start time of 1:00pm meant I had time to have a big breakfast and get to the start in plenty of time to get a good parking spot (I wasn’t going to see my car again for 3 days!) and register before tucking into a decent lunch ready for the race briefing at 12:30pm. It was a party atmosphere in the sunshine at the start at the beautiful Breakwater Park, Holyhead, with a DJ blasting out Johnny Cash and everyone looking excited and a bit scared at the same time. After the race briefing, the countdown began and we got ready for the opening sprint. My experience from last year had taught me that there was a narrow gate about 50 meters in, which caused a big bottleneck so I had persuaded Barrie to join me near the front so as to not get caught in it. It proved a good tactic as we got off to a clean start and were off on our 135 mile adventure!
We wound our way down into Holyhead town and then out through Penrhos Country Park and on to the first checkpoint at Stanley Embankment (CP1 – 7.15m). The sun shone all day and it was hot, but we stuck to a steady pace and by the time we got to Wylfa (CP3 – 25.3m) we were about an hour ahead of the cut-off. The terrain was very varied, from a bit of road to pebble beaches, maize fields, forests and even a power station! That was before the hills started! The climbs in the last section of the day were tough on tired legs but we finally arrived at the finish at Amlwch Leisure Centre with 50 minutes to spare before the cut-off. There was a canteen here serving massive portions of beef lasagne with extra pasta on the side which Barrie demolished and I forced down!
We showered, picked our spots on the sports hall floor and bedded down for our first night. Any hopes of sleep were quickly lost as the loudest snoring broke out across the hall, followed by squeaky airbeds as people shuffled about with twitchy legs! I think we were probably lucky to get any more than about an hour’s sleep all night before being woken at about 4:30am by Bing, the race organiser, playing that song again through his phone while walking among us all!
Day 2 – 65.9 miles, 4,850 ft, 18 hours
“I went down, down, down and the flames went higher”
People slowly surfaced and busied themselves packing up and eating whatever breakfast they had brought with them. Everyone was quiet and the mood was sombre as we contemplated the 66 mile stage ahead of us today. I borrowed a couple of Compeed plasters (I foolishly forgot to bring any!) and stuck them on a couple of hotspots beginning to form on my heels, followed by tape to keep them in place. A change of trainers for some dry ones and I was ready to go.
6:00am and we set off back through Amlwch to re-join the coastal path and continue our journey. Everyone was quiet for the first 5 miles or so as we were still waking up but the scenery on this stage was stunning as it started to reveal itself in the sunrise. Onwards towards Lligwy at almost 12 miles and the first checkpoint of the day (CP5 of the race at 11.8m) where we had been promised hot breakfast rolls! They didn’t disappoint and we guzzled down as many sausage baps as possible before heading off again with handfuls of food to eat on the way. The volunteers and organisers at each of the checkpoints were absolutely amazing and couldn’t do enough for you. They grabbed our water bottles as soon as we arrived and refilled them for us, offered advice and generally looked after us before telling us not to hang about too long and ushering us onwards!
We were now onto the section of the race I am most familiar with. We have a beach hut between Red Wharf Bay and Llanddona and I have run this section so many times it felt like I was on home turf! Red Wharf Bay was the next checkpoint (CP6 – 18.2m) and was a relatively easy 6 miles along cliff top paths. People had woken up now and were starting to form small groups and run in packs. After Red Wharf Bay we dropped down onto the rocky harbour floor as the tide was out. It was really slippy in places but we made it safely through and onto the beach to take the low tide route for the next section. My beach hut is about 3 miles from Red Wharf Bay so we soon reached it. I had stashed a whole sliced watermelon in the fridge ready and had been looking forward to it for miles! We offered every runner who came past some watermelon which they gladly accepted and then Brad came limping up. He had slipped on the rocks after Red Wharf and gashed his knee badly (the gash was affectionately referred to as ‘Mr Flappy’ for the rest of the race!). He was even considering dropping out but we persuaded him to stick with us and fortunately he agreed. So we finished the rest of the watermelon and set off in our team of 4, Me, Barrie, Brad and Carl. Carl was treating this as training for his attempt at MdS next year!
On to the ‘lumpy’ section of day 2, over to Penmon (CP7 – 29.8m). We were keeping up a good pace and were about an hour ahead of any cut-offs and it was much easier now we had a team as we pushed and supported each other. From Penmon it was a road section for a couple of miles (uphill!) followed by a rocky beach and more road over to Beaumaris (CP8 – 33.8m) and halfway! We walked into the CP eating ice creams after a quick stop at Red Boat ice cream shop! We now had access to a drop bag which we had prepared before the start. I mainly had food in mine! My daughters also met me here and asked me if I needed anything. Compeed was the only thing I could think of as my feet were starting to hurt now! Out of Beaumaris and up the hill past the golf course to a road section then dropping down to go under both Menai bridge and Britannia bridge before arriving at St Mary’s Church (CP9 – 40.4m) still almost an hour up! My daughters were there again and had bought me a couple of packs of Compeed which probably saved my race as will become apparent later! A field of cows almost stopped us on the way to the Sea Zoo (CP10 – 47.4m) but we didn’t get trampled and managed to get there with no incidents via another low tide route along the Menai Straits.
From the Sea Zoo it was a really nice section including an estuary crossing over stepping stones and down to the beach at Newborough before darkness started creeping in. A long, slow walk/jog along miles of beach lost us some time but we still had a bit of a buffer left from earlier. There was an honesty book at the far corner of the beach we had to rip a page out of to prove we had been there and we found it before heading into the woods and on to the next checkpoint. We were still about half an hour ahead of cutoff at Newborough checkpoint (CP11 – 59.4m) and there was hot soup on offer here which was very welcome! 6.5 miles to go now across Maltraeth cob, up the road through Henmon and across fields and sand dunes in the dark to Aberffraw beach to find the next honesty book. It was a painful section for all of us and seemed to go on for ever until we finally arrived at Aberffraw village hall at the end of day 2 (CP12 – 65.9m) at about twenty to midnight – 20 mins ahead of cut-off! There was veg pasta on offer here which tasted like the best thing I have ever eaten! I had a shower and finally laid down to sleep at about 1:00am. Again, one person seemed to have a great sleep judging by his snoring and I don’t think I could even describe the smell of 50 or so sweaty bodies and their kit in a small village hall! Needless to say, not much sleep was had by any of us until that song got us up again at around 4:30am!
Day 3 – 33.5 miles, 3,166 ft, 9.5 hours
“And it burns, burns, burns, The Ring Of Fire, The Ring Of Fire”
We had been really lucky with the weather so far but that was about to change! There were 25mph winds and hard rain as we prepared to set out on the last day. My feet were now in bits. After spending most of yesterday being wet I had trenchfoot and really soft skin which had formed huge blisters under the toes on both feet, and the blisters on my heels had also grown! Compeed and tape enabled me to stand up but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to run or even walk. I wouldn’t even think of going out on a 33 mile run in this condition normally! Brad was in a similar condition but had managed to put a dressing on Mr Flappy at least! Amazingly, I managed to pull my (wet) shoes from day 1 back on and we managed to set off and even run a fairly fast mile or 2 to start us on our last day’s running.
We were all looking forward to the promised bacon butties and coffee at Mojo’s Café in Rhosneigr (CP13 – 7m) and they didn’t disappoint. The rain had now stopped and the sky was clearing so the waterproof jackets came off and the smiles came out again! We wolfed the breakfast down and limped off towards the next checkpoint with a determined attitude. The main conversation at this point was what new sensations we were feeling in our shoes – new bits of liquid when blisters popped, or plasters or tape slipped! There were groans whenever we had to cross a stile but we kept each other going and reached Four Mile Bridge (CP14 – 14.1m) still smiling and about half an hour up. There was another honesty book to find now at Silver Bay and this meant going via sand dunes past RAF Valley on the same route some of us had done a few weeks ago in the Cybi Trail marathon. Onwards to Trearddur Bay (CP15 – 23.9m) and the finish was in all our minds now! Neil and Alison Gunn were waiting for us and ran with us into Trearddur and it was good to see some fellow Harriers.
Incredibly, we arrived at CP15 with almost an hour’s buffer which we knew we would probably need as we now had to traverse Holyhead mountain! Our group had grown to 5 now as Wayne had joined us which gave us more to chat about and take our minds off the running! 2 honesty books (South Stack and North Stack) later and a painful climb and descent of Holyhead mountain and we could almost see the finish line! Neil met us again and supported us in to the finishing field where there were flags flying, music playing (guess what song!), pans being banged and supporters cheering. My wife, children and dog were there on the finish line and our group crossed the line together before promptly bursting into tears at the realisation of what we had just done!
106 runners started, 53 (50%) runners finished. I was 43rd overall, 39th male with a combined time of 34:30:25!
Bragdy Cybi, the local brewery, supplied us with a beer and we all hugged the organisers, each other, our supporters and everyone else we could!
This was much more than a race, this was an adventure where I met fantastic new friends and pushed my body through more than I thought it was possible to do. It just shows how much the body really is capable of and how it’s mainly the mind which holds you back. After my DNF last year, I didn’t realise just how much I would need the determination it gave me to finish this year.
I just have to say that everyone we met was absolutely brilliant. The organisation was superb, the volunteers couldn’t do enough for you, the unofficial aid stations where people just had their car boot full of food and drinks for us were fantastic, the official aid stations/checkpoints lied to us (“you’re looking strong!”) and swore at us to keep us moving through for which I am eternally grateful!
Thank you, Ring O’ Fire and Anglesey for pushing me further than I thought was possible! It’s been emotional!
To see more amazing challenges and achievements please visit the ‘Rounds and Challenges‘ section.