An introduction from Huw and race report from Tori:
When should you start your preparation for a 13 mile trail half marathon? On this occasion we decided that the very best place would be a bar called ‘Gin and Juice’ in The Mumbles; 30 minutes from where we would be running along The Gower coast in the morning.
With 400 Gins to choose from, Tom was drawn to enjoying a Jaffa Cake gin; complete with two Jaffa Cakes balancing in the rim of the glass. This was the drink of choice of an experienced runner!
I love trail runs but they have to deliver on two things; variety and views. This run had both in spades. No big climbs but we were blessed with a break in the weather and some glorious views across Three Cliffs Bay. We ran through rivers, up and down sand dunes, through woods and across the wonderful expanse of Oxwich Bay.
There are runs (often called ‘races) that you need to run with your head. There are others that you should run with your heart. Lift your head up, look around and enjoy the simple fact that we can do this. This was a run for the heart and we loved it.
Lying in my hotel bed at 5.15am listening to the rain hammering down outside I’m seriously rethinking my last minute decision to join Liza, Sam, Tom (Powell) and Huw running the inaugural Swansea Trail HM. Jo Marriott was due to join us but sadly had to pull out at the last minute.
Huw had kindly offered to do the driving (in his very, very clean car) so we headed down on Friday night to stay in the Mumbles area of Swansea. A visit to Gin and Juice bar followed by delicious supper at Bistrot Pierre helped with some carb loading and lively banter buoyed our spirits for the challenge ahead.
The next morning we were all feeling slightly nervous but it was only a 20 min drive to Oxwich Bay and the queue into the car park moved fairly quickly. The sun was out and the setting picturesque. The event organisation was very slick and mercifully short queues for the loos! Despite the heavens opening about 15 mins before the start (after we’d taken off our warm layers) we all set off in good spirits. Whilst it was a ‘mass’ start everyone had to go across the chip timing so there was no real rush and we started towards the back. Liza hared off but it was tough running across the soft sand and everyone quickly tracked across to the harder packed beach – that came with its own hazardous rocky sections…I caught my ankle, Tom nearly went flying but Huw decided to out do us all and went for the forward somersault – luckily only denting his pride!
It was about 2 miles across Oxwich bay (including crossing a small river) before a steep climb up a sand dune up onto the cliff top. For the next 2.5miles it was a mix of terrains, up and down through some woods and short stretches on some lanes, more water crossings before looping back to Three Cliffs Bay. Again there was another steep climb up a sand dune onto the cliff tops at Pennard Burrows – it was on these dunes I met some of the first runners on their way home. We joined the Wales Coastal Path for another 2 miles along the front at Southgate – this section was great as there were runners both still on the ‘out’ as well as those on the ‘back’ route – I saw Liza already on the way home, she said Tom and Huw were not far ahead of me. At the end of Southgate we dropped steeply down by Hunts Bay followed by another sharp climb up a sandy path back onto the coastal path to start the run back home….by now the coastal path was a mud bath and anyone in road shoes was really struggling for grip. My main concern was whether Huw would let us back in the car so covered in mud!. Sam joined up with me at this point (taking it easy after Covid) and we both enjoyed running back down the sand dunes to Three Cliffs Bay, we then crossed a shingley section followed by some stepping stones across the Ilston River. There was then a lovely flatish wooded section before climbing back onto the cliff top where we had first left Oxwich Bay…but instead of dropping down on to the beach we had another 3 miles undulating through Nicholaston Woods – I found this mentally tough as the beach was so near and you could hear the finish announcements but there was still a fair way to go. We came out of the woods onto the beach with about a mile to go. Again the trick was to get across the energy sapping soft sand on to something firmer…I was definitely at a run/walk stage but the end was in sight. Encouragement from Liza, Tom and Huw got me across the very last soft sand stretch before finally crossing the line with Sam just behind me. We had time for a quick photo before the heavens opened and we dived into Huw’s car – he managed to throw down a blanket before we completely covered it in mud! It was a quick drive up to Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park at Penmaen where the very hospitable owners let us change whilst they sorted out some mugs of tea and hot pasties (this looked like a fabulous camping site). Recharged it was a couple of hours drive back home.
Our collective view was that this was a tough but great run (I had a total elevation of 627m/2057ft on my watch) – it was very well organised, fantastic marshals and the very varied course with stunning scenery was well marked – definitely one we’d all do again!
Liza (xxxx), Tom (xxxx), Huw (xxxx), Tori (xxxx), Sam (xxxx)