The Man Who Ran Around Wales – Rob Chapman

Why do we embark on quests of exploration and endurance challenges? Is this part of who we are? Our ancestors leaving the Great Rift Valley were the first great explorers. Is it simply down to the neurotransmitters and levels of dopamine in our brains? Or is it something more spiritual?

14

There are moments in our lives which act as catalysts for change. Moments of failure, illness and death that cause us to stop and reflect on what it is to live a life. These moments mean that the challenges are not just physical journeys from A to B. They become existential journeys to ‘create oneself’ and then live in accordance with this self. They become moments of personal and inward discovery.

It was easy to spot Rob Chapman amongst the lunchtime suits in the trendy Cardiff cafe bar. Tanned, lean and casual. Sat quietly checking messages and completely anonymous amongst those lunching. After all, as Rob is keen to emphasise, he’s an ordinary guy. Except this ordinary guy has just finished running around a country. The first man to run around the perimeter of Wales.

“It’s surreal. I’ve looked at the map on the wall in the planning room and had to pinch myself. Have I really run all the way round? Now it’s over and I’ve come through unscathed, I’m just enjoying chilling out and spending some relaxing time with wife, Jackie”

Having completed a 16 day cycle ride around the UK in 2013, I struggled with the emptiness that existed afterwards. I’m surprised at Rob’s apparent ease with which he’s coming to terms with completing the run. You don’t run around Wales without being driven and I wonder how long it will be before he’s contemplating a new challenge. I don’t have to wait long. As we’re wrapping up Rob drops into the conversation that he’s planning on learning to play the saxophone.

The perimeter of Wales is approx 1040 miles. It’s a small country but is blessed with some of the finest coastline in the world. Much of Rob’s run was along the Wales coastal path, which is a long distance footpath which follows or runs close to the coastline of Wales from Chepstow in the south east corner to Queensferry in the north east. Wales is the first country in the world to provide a dedicated footpath close to most of its coastline. The path travels through 870 miles (1,400 km) of coastal landscape, from the mouth of the River Dee, along the north Wales coast with its seaside towns such as Conwy, over the Menai Strait onto the Isle of Anglesey, past Caernarfon, and then around the Llŷn Peninsula and down the sweep of Cardigan Bay past Harlech, Aberystwyth, and Cardigan, through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to Tenby, around the Gower Peninsula to Swansea, along the waterfront of Cardiff Bay and Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, to the market town of Chepstow.The path runs through eleven National Nature Reserves.

Rob ran clockwise from Cardigan along the south coast. His route to the north was along Offa’s Dyke footpath, a long-distance footpath following the Wales–England border. Opened in 1971, it is one of Britain’s National Trails and draws walkers from throughout the world. Some of the 177 mile (285 km) route either follows, or keeps close company with the remnants of Offa’s Dyke, an 8th-century earthwork, the majority of which was probably constructed on the orders of Mercian King Offa. However, the dyke is not present on the Black Mountains and the path here follows the current Wales-England border along the Hatterall Ridge. Following a man-made border and ancient monument, rather than natural features, the dyke path crosses a variety of landscapes including the Black Mountains, the Shropshire Hills, including the many ups and downs of the ‘Switchback’, the Eglwyseg moors north of Llangollen and the Clwydian Range. It passes through, or close to, the towns of Chepstow, Monmouth, Abergavenny, Hay-on-Wye, Kington, Knighton, Montgomery and then in and around the North Wales towns and villages of Llangollen, Llandegla, Clwyd Gate, Bodfari and Dyserth.

“My brain is brimming over with images. So much so, I have had some really bizarre dreams. One was quite memorable. It was a dream in which somehow I was hovering above the path and mile after mile I was going up and down. I was re-living the run. There is so much footage in my head that the dream suggests I had to play it out. I was literally visualising where I had been. It was utterly bizarre. I’ve been privileged to see absolutely fantastic landscapes. Wales really is a little gem. It’s brought a greater richness to my understanding of Wales.”

What makes a middle aged, self confessed ordinary guy decide to run around a country? Rob’s friend, Tony John, had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2013. The French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot first described motor neurone disease (MND) in 1874. The term motor neurone disease, describes a group of related diseases, affecting the motor nerves or neurones in the brain and spinal cord, which pass messages to the muscles telling them what to do. MND is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the upper and lower motor neurones. Degeneration of the motor neurones leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing. The muscles first affected tend to be those in the hands, feet and mouth, dependent on which type of the disease you are diagnosed with. The effects of MND can vary enormously from person to person, from the presenting symptoms; the rate and pattern of the disease progression, to the length of survival time after diagnosis.

At a critical time in Tony’s illness Rob attended the Do Lectures, in the small, coastal town of Cardigan. The Do Lectures were the brainchild of David and Clare Hieatt who set out to bring the ‘do-ers’ of the world together – the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the change-makers – and ask them to tell their stories. The idea is a simple one. That people who do things, can inspire the rest of us to go and do things too. A morning run with Alex Jungmayr sowed the do-er seed for the Moonshadow Challenge. As is customary for those attending the Do Lectures, Rob wrote on the chalk board that he would run around Wales to raise awareness of MND.

All the more remarkable is that whilst Rob was undertaking the challenge he continued to run his own commercial property, land and regeneration consultancy. Juggling the demands of both his practice and the challenge meant completing it over 19 consecutive weekends. The enormity of the challenge can be a little difficult to take in. Rob ran 39 marathons over 19 weeks. An astonishing undertaking. Anyone embarking on a challenge of the scale of Rob’s needs to be organised. Kit, food, route, preparation etc everything needs to be meticulously planned. When I undertake endurance challenges I often use the planning and organising as a means to help me ‘get into’ the challenge, often deploying visualisation techniques. I’m convinced it’s the best way for the brain to compute what it’s about to be put through and helps the coping mechanism. I wasn’t surprised to hear Rob talk in a similar vein.

“As the weekend approached, I would get into a zone, particularly on a Friday night. My brain would sublimely get into a zone to prepare for the forthcoming weekend. I would have a conversation with Alex Jungmayr, typically on a Wednesday or Thursday evening each week. We would have the plan in front of us and we would talk through the route. Alex had walked around Wales and knew a significant portion of the route. He was able to talk me through some of the more visual descriptions of the experience. Mid to end of the week I would always be looking at the weather. What’s happening with the weather? The first weekend was into the teeth of Storm Katie, which was interesting.

I would get my kit together which would be 2 or 3 bags depending on whether I was doing 2 or 3 runs. Each bag would be marked A, B or C. 3 sets of kit. I would run through what food I would take with me, salt tablets etc.”

Endurance challenges require an unbelievable degree of fortitude. It’s not always apparent whether you have that when you embark on these things. I’ve witnessed a ‘master of the universe trader’ in charge of macho trading floors crumble at the foot of a series of cycling climbs. ‘I’ve never been broken like that before’ are words I’ve heard several times. On the other hand, I’ve cycled with quiet, unassuming women who if they were cut open would have cores of steel. With such a monumentous task as Rob faced, were there moments of doubt?

It’s about mindset. I’m not an extraordinary person. I’m an ordinary guy. I think I have a stubborn side in a sense of getting a job done and not failing. There is something about strength of mindset and a determination not to give up. I knew I had the mental strength from previous experiences to say ‘I’m going to give this a really good go’. There were moments where I thought the wheels might come off, but it was about completing the entire perimeter of Wales and I couldn’t not complete it.”

I had met Rob back in July 2015 to initially discuss the challenge. I vividly recall having lunch outside on a glorious day in Cardiff’s Capital Quarter. Rob had a rough sketch of the plans but had yet to tackle the detail. Tony had died the previous day. I could sense the enormity of it all was weighing very heavily on him. Tony’s death, the run, training, fundraising was all starting to overwhelm him. Experience told me that it was impossible to do everything on your own. I suggested Rob build a team around him to help take the load of some of the logistics, allowing him to focus on training and the route. Chatting now, I hadn’t appreciated how seminal the lunch had been. It had galvanised Rob and crucially the dates had been set in stone, with the decision to end the run on Saturday 30 July 2016, the first anniversary of Tony’s death.

“You know, no man is an island. I can’t take all the credit. 50% of the credit has to go to my wife Jackie. You can attempt to do something on your own but don’t be pig headed and stubborn. If there is someone who can give you assistance it just makes a huge difference. Jackie and I would talk about what I needed. It was a big plus for me. We talked about food and importance of diet, protein and power foods. We both ate really healthy foods during the week. Jackie got into it so much that she put an article together for run ultra. It was made much easier by the support I had from Jackie.”

There are moments in our lives that make us stop in our tracks. They cause us to veer off our safe and planned routes and explore places within ourselves that ordinarily would remain out of bounds. These journeys of self discovery are what ultimately make us who we are, like rich seams of strata that have been layered down throughout your life. There is no telling when a moment will strike and sometimes there is no foresight that can predict when they strike. They are deeply emotional and processing takes place in the primitive limbic system of the brain. Our responses are not always rational and occasionally lead us to do things out of the ordinary. We need to do these extraordinary things to help us; help us process and deal with these cataclysmic moments that challenge who we are. The death of Tony John was one such moment for Rob.

“This was a personal journey to improve me as a person. No-ones’ perfect. It was lower down, it wasn’t right out there. Tony’s eldest daughter had recounted to me one of his sayings, ‘it’s not what you do, but who you are that matters’. That really resonated with me. If I could be or aspire to that quality. It’s about oneself. I’ve tried to reflect on that all those hours running. I don’t know if it’s going to be life changing but I have come back with a slightly different perspective.”

However, adventures like Rob’s are not just solitary tales. We are social creatures and people weave their way into these journeys in many ways. Rob’s story isn’t just about him and his personal journey but also about the people who have been touched in some way by his challenge. People who have been right at the heart of it and others who are merely strangers, who won’t have known the details, but will have been moved by Rob’s desire to want to help raise awareness of MND in memory of his friend.

5

‘On the way I did meet people. We had no end of people expressing an interest and giving donations there and then. Fantastic generosity. I remember reaching a vantage point at Llangranog. I’d stopped to reflect and 3 walkers asked me what I was doing. I explained and they emptied their pockets of change. You really see the human spirit.’

Moonshadow Wales may have originated in the darkness of insidious illness but like many dark places there are specks of light. Determination, empathy, kindness and hope are all layers of light at the heart of this story. A story that is also about Lynne John [Tony’s wife] who had her life shattered back in July 2015. Rob’s challenge has been a catalyst moment for Lynne. A moment of personal and inward discovery that has helped her re-discover elements of her life that once seemed lost.

6

“The intention was to end on the anniversary of Tony’s death [Tony died on 30 July 2015]. There was a build up to the final day. I knew it was going to be emotional for Lynne. I’d had a few cries in the week but on the day I felt I had dealt with it. Part of the experience for me has been about being humble. Lynne wasn’t in a great place when this journey started. From the outset of the challenge she came out of her shell. Part of the process has been cathartic for Lynne. It’s been meaningful to see that it has helped her. When it came to the end and we talked about emotions I gave Lynne a great big hug and we both knew what that hug meant.

More information on Rob’s challenge can be found here: http://www.moonshadow.wales/

Original article posted – http://www.mamilsports.com/the-man-who-ran-around-wales-rob-chapman/ 

Written by Jason Smith of Beacon Cycling.

Pete Patel – Aytel Systems

THANK YOU TO THE PEOPLE / ORGANISATIONS THAT MADE A TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE TO THE MOON SHADOW WALES CHALLENGE http://www.moonshadow.wales/

no man is an island’. John Donne.

In the widest sense, I could not have undertaken the Moon Shadow Wales challenge without the generous support of key individuals and organisations. Through the medium of this blog, I want to thank them personally and give them the opportunity to say something.

In this blog, I introduce you to Pete Patel.

‘‘Hi my name is Pete Patel and I’m the Managing Director of Aytel Systems www.aytel.co.uk

Having been in the IT industry for 32 years, my experience and expertise in this industry has taken me through from: application development; through to banking and telecom systems Project Management / Consultancy, to finally running Aytel Systems for the past 18 years.

Aytel System Limited is an Information Technology (IT) Company based in Cardiff. Established since 1998, the business provides solutions for local and UK Wide businesses for their IT services. We support local charities as well as SME businesses, councils and Welsh government bodies. These services range from cloud solutions in our private data centre, to networks and networks security solutions. We believe in honest and ethical business practices aimed at providing all our customers with professional and strategic solutions that progresses with current technology trends.

Aytel Systems supported Robert Chapman and this Moon Shadow Wales Challenge for Motor Neurone Disease Association (MDNA) charity through support towards:

  1. Domain Name Registration
  2. Web Site Hosting
  3. Sponsorship Money from Aytel

We wish Robert all the best and congratulation in achieving his goal in completing his challenge.

Well done Rob!’’

Weekend 19: 30th July 2016

IMG_2222Jackie and I travelled across to Cardiganshire late on Friday afternoon 29th July. There was something surreal or strange about the experience. Perhaps it was simply the realisation that this was to be the final weekend of the final run of the Moon Shadow Wales challenge …….running 1,030 miles around the entire perimeter of Wales. It was deliberately intended to complete the run on 30th July 2016 marking the anniversary of TJ’s passing on 30th July last year. That is why the run was “reverse engineered” to establish when I should start, taking account of (at least) marathon run distances each weekend day.

Saturday 30th July 2016: Aberporth to Poppit Sands (18 miles)

On the day before, BBC Radio Wales had been in touch, they wanted to do a pieceIMG_2224 “live” on radio at five minutes to eight o’clock on Saturday 30th July. And so I was up and about early and was down for breakfast at the B&B for 7.30am. The phone rang. I had two minutes before going “live on air” over the telephone. The rest was a blur. Before I knew it, I was being cut-off because of the 8.00 o’clock pips. I was disappointed that I didn’t say what I wanted to say, but then “something is better than nothing”. I explained that the “run” was in memory of Tony John in order to: (i) raise awareness about Motor Neurone Disease (MND) http://www.mndassociation.org/what-is-mnd/ ; (ii) raise money for MND research.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Mi8BhSh8o&feature=youtu.be

Shortly afterwards, Jackie drove me down to Aberporth where I was greeted by my son Alasdair…..and two great friends from Cardiff (Ange & Fi). THANK YOU for your support. Ange & Fi had produced some lettering which said: “18 miles to go”. Neat 👍

I departed from where I left off from the weekend before, rounding the delightful waterfront beach at Aberporth before running up the steep hill adjacent to DERA, Aberporth. This was an early morning rude awakening to get the heart and lungs going!! I turned right when the security fence headed inland towards the coast and then followed the signs to the coastline where I enjoyed some great, rugged trail running all the way to Mwynt. I moved swiftly and got there by 10.00am……ahead of time. In advance of the last run, I had invited Alex Yungmayr http://www.plasywern.co.uk to join me. Why? Simply because Alex has made a significant and invaluable contribution to the success of this challenge. I wanted to recognise this modestly with the “invite”. I was delighted that Alex accepted. He was working first thing so he joined me at Mwynt.

IMG_2225

We departed at circa 11.00am leaving behind the beautiful beach at Mwynt. Running passed Pen yr Hwbyn and Pen Tew,  the coastal path then headed inland towards the “waterfront” hotel at Gwbert. “Waterfront” in that the beautiful outlook was across the Afon Teifi estuary towards Poppit Sands.

IMG_2229
We were deliberately taking our time because I had agreed with Jackie that to allow people time to travel we would arrive at the finish at circa 2.00pm. So there was a “swan song” element to this final run on the Moon Shadow Wales challenge http://www.moonshadow.wales Arriving in Cardigan, I did something that I had not done before. I had a celebratory drink of Ale with Alex at Teipi, Forest? I’ve been careful not to tempt fate or to “let my guard down” but there was something of the “Champs Elysee cycle-in” about this final stretch of the run (of 1,030 miles) Screenshot 2016-08-02 13.54.33and …….guess what…… I aimed to enjoy the moment. Subsequently, we had a coffee at the Ferry Inn as we were passing-by. Thereafter, we ran along the banks of the river and then right the way out to the tip of the “sand spit” where the river joined the sea. It was circa 1.40pm so we decided that now was the time to run-in to the finish. I ran through the waves initially, then headed inland to the RNLI building. I could see a gathering of people who were standing, clapping. It was like as if the people on the beach turned to see what was going on. A finish point had been created on the sandy beach but I had to run through it to the actual finish……where I had started several months ago on 26th March. My son Alasdair took a video clip of the finish, which I subsequently shared on line. We shared a big hug at the end. Then, I returned to the beach and gave Lynne John a big hug, followed by Jackie. I said hello to members of the John family, friends, guests, interested parties and thanked Richard Shackelford, MND for his help. Photographs followed and subsequently articles appeared in the Wales-on-Sunday, Western Mail and South Wales echo etc. Here is one of the links https://www.facebook.com/WalesOnline/posts/10153847587152183
At the start of the run, I had said that it was the end of the beginning. Now, it is the beginning of the end …..with fund raising on the agenda https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Robert-Chapman12 until the end of September / first week in October 2016.
Screenshot 2016-08-02 13.53.27
I conclude by offering a sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Weekend 18: 23rd July 2016

Well, well. Since Easter I have been running consecutive weekends: at least 2 marathons per weekend. 3 over Bank Holiday weekends. It was a pleasant change then to know that this weekend there was only one marathon to run. In fact, I could have completed the perimeter run by undertaking the final leg on Sunday. However, it was always my intention to complete the run on 30th July 2016, TJ’s anniversary (succumbing to MND) last year.

My further reflection, put simply, is that I had given myself a very, very slim contingency should anything have gone wrong. One could say that the contingency amounted to one weekend!!!!

Saturday 23rd July 2016: Llanon to Aberporth (24 miles)


The weather forecast was correct. Saturday was dry, with periods of sunshine. Sunday was going to be wet…….. It was a beautiful morning as I set off from Llanon. Luckily, we had stayed at “digs” the night before located very close to the beach at Llanon. This meant that I could almost have “rolled out of bed” onto the coastal footpath. Ha, ha. I ran along the coastal footpath to Aberarth. From here, I decided to run along the pebble beach to Aberaeron, which was waking up as I arrived. Rounding the harbour, I could see that there were already a number of boats out at sea.

I ran up the hill out of Aberaeron entering familiar coastal footpath territory: narrow paths, overgrown with bracken, gorse and briars (at this time of the year) but compensated by fantastic views out to sea. Unlike last weekend (with no rain, low cloud, or mist in sight), the views from the path were fantastic.

Onward I ran to New Quay, where I met Jackie and Lynne. They were excited because they had just seen a dolphin. It was time for a quick coffee and cold drink, and a change of shirt. My top was soaking with sweat. Alex Jungmayr caught up with us briefly in New Quay. He said that he would join me for a short stretch further along the coastline……..the inlet before Cwmtydu. He did so and there is a great video clip of Alex and me standing together on a vantage point, with Alex waxing lyrical about the coastline yet to come.

I climbed up the hill from Cwmtydu onto (what I describe as) true coastal path: narrow, remote, bracken/gorse covered and traversing steep coastal cliffs (hence the “dangerous cliffs” sign). I cracked-on from here traversing Traeth y Gaerglwyd, and passing Ynys Lochtyn, turning the corner towards the hidden inlet of Llangrannog where I met Lynne and Jackie again. These two have patiently awaited my arrival at so many locations and on so many occasions around the circumference of Wales: I am so grateful – THANK YOU. Also, thank you to the gentleman who gave me a monetary donation as I ran down into Llangrannog. After a cold drink and a coffee, I climbed up the hill out of Llangrannog along the coastal path to Penbryn. From here, because the tide was out, I decided to run along the beach to Tresaith – I enjoyed the run……. and the clamber over rocks!! There was a regatta at Tresaith and in the “beer tent” I was given a pint of Coke for free. Thank you. I think they were in awe of what I was doing. From here I followed the path, running into Aberporth early afternoon to be greeted by Jackie and Lynne……..the end of marathon 38.

As I write this blog, I realise that there is just ONE more “leg” to run to compete the ENTIRE perimeter run of Wales, and hence the Moon Shadow Wales challenge http://www.moonshadow.wales

Weekend 17: 16th & 17th July 2016

Saturday 16th July 2016: Tonfanau to Furnace (26 miles)

Start in TonfanauThis weekend turned out to be a weekend of constant rain (Saturday) and mists (Sunday) ………peppered with long inclines and undulating terrain………especially on the Sunday. I was delighted to have Alex Jungmayr to join me. Alex has been a fundamental and integral part of this challenge and journey. Without him, it would not have happened. I cannot thank him enough for his cogent and knowledgeable advice, mentoring, encouragement and friendship. In praising Alex, I am by proxy referring to him, Ellen and Teifi.

So at circa 8.30am we set off from Tonfanau opposite the train stop. After a relatively short stretch of road, we ran along the beach (or shoreline) all the way to Aberdovey. It was a really enjoyable run. What the coastal path is all about. We arrived in Aberdovey ahead of time according to our supporters (Jackie, Lynne, Ellen + Teifi + Alex). Calling into the Sunflower cafe, Aberdovey for a quick coffee, it was great to receive their support by way of donation and Facebook entry – THANK YOU.

Leaving Aberdovey by road (not recommended for running), we missed a “turn” to the left (easily done when signage is either hidden in foliage or missing altogether). However, we knew where we needed to be so turned left at the next suitable point off the main road, traversing the incline inland across country to where we intersected with the path again. From the high point, we followed the coastal path signs down to the main road. From here, we ran across country to Pennal. The trek out of Pennal into Foel Goch was memorable for the very, very long upward incline which seemed to go on forever!! This was hard work and energy sapping. It was a relief to “turn a corner” so-to-speak and head downwards between Coed-y-Penrhyn and Foel-y-ffridd. Crossing the bridge over the river Dovey, we ran along the road into Machynlleth. After the energy sapping run in the morning, it was good to call into the Wynstay to take on board food (calories) and drink. I must have been thirsty because I drank 3 pints of Coke.

Leaving Machynlleth, we headed up into high ground again. It was still raining and continued to do so until the end of the day. We ran through Coed Garth Gwynion before bearing right down the Llyfnant Valley. It was in the vicinity of Caerhedyn that we made a significant mistake. Perhaps a result of tiredness or fatigue, but certainly the fact that the signage was “invisible”. Anyhow, we became disorientated and ended up near Glaspwll. Long story short, we were able to recover our position by acknowledging the mistake which enabled us to get to Furnace, the destination point for marathon 36. The upshot was that instead of running 26 miles, we ended up running 30 miles. A long day!

Sunday 17th July 2016: Furnace to Llanon (26 miles)

Off on Sunday - marathon 37[1]Clearly Alex and I were “cheesed-off” by our mistake yesterday. We were clearly determined to put things right on today’s run and to double check our decisions when there was any element of doubt.

So, we set off on Sunday morning, where we left off on Saturday afternoon. We planned to meet / set off at 8.45am but per chance arrived at our start destination at circa 8.20am. Today we meant business! Whilst it wasn’t raining (thank goodness) it was a tad drizzly but certainly misty. For the first stretch of today’s run we seemed to be in relative darkness. Perhaps a combination of woodland running and low cloud. Of course, this meant that we had a “zero view” of the Dovey estuary.

It was when we arrived at Tre’r ddol that we noticed how light it was: a slightly surreal experience.  We grabbed a coffee-to-go at the local store. Yet again, interest was shown in the Moon Shadow Wales challenge http://www.moonshadow.wales : the manager of the local shop was so impressed that she took a photograph of us in order to post it on Facebook. THANK YOU for your support. From here we ran along the road to Tre Taliesen, entering territory well known to Alex. We ran a long straight line along the bottom of the marshes forming part of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve eventually arriving in Borth. Before the climb up and out of Borth we grabbed a sandwich and Coke on the go. Alex was in his element because he was back on “proper coastline” where the cliff top path runs parallel to the coast.

Sadly, for most of the afternoon run, we were shrouded in mist, or low cloud,On route to Aberystwyth
meaning that “views” were non-existent. Arriving at Constitution Hill which overlooks the coastal town of Aberystwyth, we knew that we were close to meeting up with Jackie and Lynne, Ellen + Teifi + Alex. We were able to replenish our water platypus’s, grabbed a pint of Coke before taking on board some calories. On this occasion, chicken nuggets for protein and a bit of salt. Yes, salt is really important to endurance running, something I discovered with a vengeance when as part of my random training last autumn, I participated in, and completed, the Gower50.

Alex and Rob in AberystwythRunning out of Aberystwyth along Tanytwich beach we were confronted by a long (big) and steep hill. This was a precursor to the rest of the day because from here the coastline was undoubtedly undulating. My legs really felt as if they were working hard when one incline was followed by another incline. Certainly, it was a real shame that the mist / low cloud shrouded our views out to sea so for large parts of the afternoon run “we were in the dark”. It was only when we ran down the hill towards Llanrhystud that visibility became much clearer. It was on the way down that we decided to head for the beach in order to cross the river meaning that we kept right on the coastline. After the heavily pebbled beach, we re-joined the coastal footpath. Rounding the promontory above Llansantffraid, we decided to continue the final stretch of the run along the pebbly shore until the carpark on the shore at Llanon, marking (for me) the end of marathon 37. This was undoubtedly a tough weekend. As Alex put it subsequently, “hard miles, not helped by the weather”. It was really good to have his company. Master (Alex) and apprentice (me). Ha, ha Mr Arghhhhh!! I hope and believe that we both goaded each other on over this weekend. It was a big one for me and a tough one.

And now: OMG – only 2 marathons to go!!

PS: Just looking at the data from weekend 17 –

  • Saturday: 30.1 miles, 4,050kcal;
  • Sunday 28 miles+, 4,027kcal #heavyburn’

 

Weekend 16: 9th & 10th July 2016

Saturday 9th July 2016: Llanystumdwy to Llanbedr (26 miles)

I woke up on Saturday morning (as per usual) at circa 6.00 – 6.15. I tweeted “Another Saturday am & my night attire is wet through. Yup, night sweats on Friday nights / Saturday mornings common occurrence since start!” Why? Because I know what’s coming! 2 more marathons in circumstances that cannot be foreseen. Looking out of the window that morning from our base in Dolgellau, it was pouring with rain.

20160709_083143Jackie dropped me off at the start at Llanystumdwy. I ran south to the coast, meeting the Afon Dwyfor before turning left to Criccieth. Apart from it raining, I was also running into a head-on wind which (take my word for it) is disconcerting. I didn’t linger and ran across Black Rock sands, parallel to Morfa Bychan, rounding Ynys Cyngar to discover a lovely little bay. Onward I ran until I reached a lovely cove called Borth-y-Gest. This is where I grabbed a coffee at a Pizzeria out of the pouring rain. Following a Twitter conversation earlier that day, I tweeted to weather lady Ruth Wignall (@ruthwignall) whilst slurping my coffee: “Never mind trail runners, I need Wellingtons!!” The period after leaving Borth-y-Gest is surreal. I ran into Porthmadoc and ran along the path immediately adjacent to the Ffestiniog Railway. On the other side of the causeway I turned left up the main road but didn’t see a coastal footpath sign. Normally, I have a pretty good instinct for where I am and where I need to be so I turned right off the main road along a bridle path because this would link me back to the coastal path………which it did. However, I reached a point where I turned right instead of turning left. Because the terrain was unfamiliar I followed this route which took me through a station point on the Ffestiniog railway and then a footpath below a road with water to my right. This took me back to place which looked different……but it wasn’t Penrhyndeudraeth!!!! Yes, you’ve got it.

Unwittingly, I had run in a circle back into Porthmadoc. I couldn’t believe it!! Having discovered my mistake, I hated running over the miles that I had already run once before. Talk about “deja vue”!! And as Alex Jungmayr would say “these are junk miles – avoid them”. I sent a text to Jackie explaining what I had done….and used a swear word out of frustration. Per chance, Jackie was driving back to Portmeirion and saw me running on the road to Penrhyndeudraeth. She stopped and I took on board a lucozade and banana. It was also at this point that I swallowed an ibuprofen tablet to relief some pain in my legs.

Crossing the estuary, I ran on in determined fashion, still cross from my earlier gross mistake. There was a bit of ascent as I crossed Ogof Foel and then ran through the area called Morfa Harlech, crossing farm fields to the built-up area of Harlech with its prominent castle. The path then crossed the railway line, leading me to a coastal run adjacent to the Royal St David’s Golf Course. Eventually, the path crossed the railway again and zig-zagged up the hill. From here, it was a road run down hill to the carpark in Llandanwg where the run came to an end……circa 28+ miles!!!!

Sunday 10th July 2016: Llanbedr (Llandanwg carpark) to Tonfanau (26 miles)

Start of marathon 35This was a different day weather wise. I think the rain had “rained itself out” on Saturday, evidenced by the waterlogged terrain and bulging rivers on Sunday. I had tweaked my left calf muscle on Saturday (jumping across a stream) so I was apprehensive about today’s run.

I ran around Morfa Mawr, then the boundary of Llanbedr Airfield. A concrete footpath led me to forests. From here, forest tracks led me to the dunes in the vicinity of Shell Island. The run across the sands of Morfa Dyffryn was definitely a highlight. They seemed to go on forever. It’s a paradox I know but running on sand is quite hard work, yet I enjoy it because of the fantastic scenery. It does something for my wellbeing. Accordingly, I ran along the beach as far as I could go, reuniting with the designated coastal footpath as I ran up through the holiday village located adjacent to the coast. From here, it was a road run into Barmouth where I crossed the railway line to run along the promenade. It was good to rendezvous-vous with Jackie at the Lobster-Pot cafe where I took on board “calories and hydration”.

It was interesting to cross the estuary from Barmouth along the pedestrian boardway alongside the railway – Barmouth Bridge. At its end, the path turned sharply right and offered stunning views back to Barmouth. Thereafter, it turned left to Fairbourne where there is a fine beach.

From here the route was uninspiring. The plus point – having reached Running into BarmouthLlwyngwril – was that purely coincidentally Jackie was driving along the road and stopped. It was an opportunity to take on board a Sports Lucozade.

Reaching Rhoslefain, I was relieved to think that it wasn’t far from here to the end point. I ran via a farmstead to the main road leading to Tonfanau. Turning right, this road seemed to go on forever until I reached the carpark opposite the station, representing the end point of marathon 35. I had enjoyed the morning running. The afternoon period from Llwyngwril was uninspiring.

Video links:

Coming out onto Black Rock Sands – https://youtu.be/52P-fk9hoMU

Track adjacent to Glastraeth marshes – https://youtu.be/NpbaWejFQqE

Dunes and beach at Harlech – https://youtu.be/q7oDMAV7YWQ

Dunes in the vicinity of Shell Island – https://youtu.be/CSd95_9HfJU

Robert Chapman Morfa Dyffryn beach – https://youtu.be/LqOk_SuiDsU

Heading out to Barmouth Bay – https://youtu.be/qYJ51McCiEo

Fairbourne Beach – https://youtu.be/xQnt7DqxILM

 

Weekend 15: 2nd – 3rd July 2016

This was to be an interesting weekend – one in which I made several mistakes. I put these down to “fatigue”.

Saturday 2nd July 2016: Tudweiliog to Pentowyn (28 miles)

I departed from the carpark at Towyn farm, heading for the coastal path, then

Start of marathon 33 at Pentowyn
Start of marathon 33 at Pentowyn

left along it as it hugged the coastline. I knew that this stretch of coastline was going to be uneven and rugged. That is why I brought my red Salamons “out of retirement”. It proved to be a wise decision because the coastal footpath was very uneven and overgrown in large parts. The bad decision was wearing two pairs of socks (mistake 1), which I return to later. It was also going to be solitary and remote, evidenced (in reality) by the fact that I did not meet anyone on it until I got to the promontory overlooking Bardsey.

It was a windy start to the day as I moved along the coastline, but the weather improved significantly as the day grew. As the trail run traversed the Wales coastal footpath, I was able to view some wonderful beaches, for example, Traeth Penllich, Penrhyn Colman, Pen y Borth and of course Whistling Sands.

Thereafter, the terrain became even more rugged in this fairly solitary and remote part of the Lleyn as I ascended Mynydd Anelog, down the other side before ascending up onto Mynydd Mawr and Mynydd y Gwyddel. From these vantage points, I was able to enjoy wonderful views of Bardsey Island.

Pentowyn - at the end of marathon 32
Pentowyn – at the end of marathon 32

Rounding Pen-y-cil, the wind was now behind me, as opposed to coming head-on into my face. Also, at this point, I felt (psychologically) that I had literally “turned a corner”… the most westerly (northern) point of the perimeter run. After a solid 18 miles, I ran in to the delightful village of Aberdaron (along the beach) where I met Jackie and Lynne at the local bakery (Becws Islyn Bakery) for a well-earned coffee and some calories (tuna sandwiches). From here (just another 10 miles to go!!!!!), the path went cross country up onto Mynydd Penarfynydd. I carried on through this bracken covered terrain. As I passed the sign for Plas-y-Rhiw (National Trust), I decided not to follow the coastal path which paradoxically goes in land (away from the coast), but opted for the more logical ‘real coast’ long run (and it was a long run) along the beach forming part of Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth). I arrived at the beach-located orange Life Buoy at the very far end where I met Lynne and Jackie. My polar watch indicated exactly 28 miles.

It may be that I don’t realise it but after 32 marathons, physical fatigue is setting in. Unprompted after this long run, I walked into the sea and bathed my legs: a wonderful moment after completing marathon 32.

PS: wearing two pairs of socks in my Salamons was a mistake because it gave rise to my first blister!!

Sunday 3rd July 2016: Pentowyn to Llanstywmdwy (27 miles)

On Sunday morning, we left our base in Pwllheli where we had been accommodated by the Jones-Evans family. I want to give a big SHOUT OUT to Carys and Cyril for their generous hospitality. Thank you so much. Diolch yn fawr iawn. On route to the start at Pentown, via Abersoch, I missed to inform Jackie of the turn to Llanengan (mistake 2). We ended up at the end of a “no through road”!!! I was annoyed with myself and a bit grumpy. I don’t think I realise it, but the physicality of this perimeter run is taking its toll on my body. I suppose one could call it cumulative, physical fatigue. Anyway, we arrived at the beach carpark at Pentowyn and I set off. It was a glorious day, free of a headlong wind and I really enjoyed the run from here to Abersoch. I took lots of video clips with my GoPro because the coastal landscape was glorious. Guess what!? I arrived in Abersoch to meet Jackie & Lynne for a quick coffee, and discovered that my GoPro Hero Session (attached to my hat) was facing the wrong way (mistake 3). In other words (as I discovered unsurprisingly on Sunday night back in Cardiff), the several video clips showed my hat with peripheral glimpse of the country / coastal landscapes in the background!!!

I took my hat off in Abersoch and decided to take any further clips with the

Coming into Llanbedrog
Coming into Llanbedrog

GoPro in my hand. As I ran out to Mynydd Tir-y-cwmwd I took a backward looking clip towards Abersoch as a cathartic act to overcome my deep frustration and stupid mistake. I ran onward along the beach and after Mynydd Tir-y-cwmwd met Lynne and Jackie on the beach at Llanbedrog. This is the place with the multi-coloured huts. I took a light-hearted video clip at this point involving a small dialogue between Jackie and Lynne. Then I cracked-on running along the shore, around Carreg y Defaid, then along Traeth Crugan to Pwllheli.

I made a mistake in Pwllheli. I wanted to see if I could get around the point. This meant crossing a waterway. It was deeper than I thought which meant that I drowned my I-phone and nano. This was a stupid error of judgement (mistake 4) and I had taken an unnecessary risk. Bearing in mind that my mantra on this journey was to keep injury free and safe, it was an unforgivable error to put myself at risk.

Arriving in Llanystumdwy
Arriving in Llanystumdwy

Leaving Pwllheli I ran along the shore to Pen-ychain. Passing the Holiday Park (and Sewage Works), the path moved in land to the main road which led to the edge of the village. I was relieved to see the final half mile sign into the actual village where I met Lynne and Jackie.

The end of marathon 33 made me realise that the physical nature of this challenge is taking its toll on my body.

Weekend 14: 25th – 26th June 2016

Saturday 25th June 2016: Brynseincyn to Dinas Dinlle (25 miles!)

At start - Sat 25 June - Brynsciencyn
Start of Marathon 30 – Brynseincyn

The night before I (Jackie and I) stayed with a long standing friend’s family at Rhostryfan. It was a two night stay whilst I was undertaking “the weekend runs”. It is such acts of kindness to help us on our way that have been so gratifying on this #MoonShadowWales challenge “journey”. Thank you Elinor Gwynn.

Saturday morning was great. The weather was still and the sun was out as I ran from Brynsciencyn, initially inland, then along the Menai Strait shore. I enjoyed memorable views both ways along the Menai Straits, including wonderful views of the Britannia Bridge and the Menai Suspension Bridge.

Taking a quick coffee in a store just off the roundabout in Menai, an elderly couple made a donation to the cause. THANK YOU.

I was sad to cross the Menai Bridge because it signified the completion of my run around Anglesey: a wonderful experience and a big thank you to the many people who generously made donations. I (we) will be back.

From here access to, and visibility of, the coast was not easy but I ran on. Arriving in Y Felinheli, I called into the local pub Tafarn y Garddfon http://www.garddfon.co.uk to have a Coke for hydration purposes. There were several gentlemen in the bar who, along with the proprietor, kindly donated money to the cause …….and I was given an extra Coke drink for good luck!! THANK YOU.

End of Marathon 30 - Dinas Dinlle
End of Marathon 30 – Dinas Dinlle

The weather was changing and when I arrived in Caernarfon it was pouring with rain. I met Jackie in Y Galeri to grab some food (calories) and a drink (hydration). Leaving the marina, and running out of Caernarfon crossing the footbridge near the castle I bumped into Lynne who saw me coming with her long camera lens. It’s been tough for Lynne just lately, marking TJ’s birthday and the ongoing grieving process. I didn’t linger and ran on determinedly, skirting Foryd Bay on what was a lonely run. There was no one else stupid enough to be out in such weather!! Ha, that is part of the mental (resilience) challenge.

The weather was closing in but at this stage of the run there was something satisfying about reaching Caernarfon Airport. Why? Simply put because it meant that I was near the final stretch. Passing Morfa Dinlle to my left, I ran along the coastal path to Dinas Dinlle where I completed marathon 30 (actual distance 27.1 miles).

Sunday 26th June 2016: Dinas Dinlle to Tudweiliog (27 miles)

Stretches at start of Marathon 31 - Dinas Dinlle
Stretches at start of Marathon 31 – Dinas Dinlle

On Sunday morning, I had one of those moments again! Jackie had driven to the start at Dinas Dinlle (where I had finished marathon 30). The car stopped. For a moment, I didn’t want to get out of the car. I couldn’t get out of the car. Such moments have occurred before. In one sense, there are inexplicable. Yet, in another sense, the “moment” reflected my “being” for a number of seconds before the spell was broken as I “forced” the passenger door open.

For the first part of the day, and for the first time on this “challenge run”, I had decided to run without my “pack”. The run to Trefor was along / alongside roads. The straightness of the road (via the cycle way) to Clynnog Fawr seemed never ending. Nevertheless, it was good to arrive at the beach carpark in Trefor where I met Jackie and Lynne. I changed my “running shoes” for “trail shoes” to suit the forthcoming terrain. And “reunited” my “pack”.

Whilst more challenging, the run from here was more rewarding because of the variety of the changing landscaping. It was raining quite hard now as I quickly marched up Yr Eifl (rewarded by fantastic views) before running down into Nant Gwrtheyrn (the Welsh Language centre).

What a location for study, learning and events. I met Jackie and Lynne here for food and drink before running on to Nefyn. I enjoyed this stretch because of its variety and remoteness before arriving in the cosy village of Nefyn. From here, the path hugged the coast and I was even able to run along the beach to Morfa Nefyn. At this point, I was cold and decided to pop into the local pub for a mug of tea, whilst leaving behind a number of moo cards (which explain succinctly what I am doing). From here, I did in fact continue along the shore passed the RNLI boat station and rounded the slender, finger-like thread of land which formed part of the golf club. I pondered on what this spectacular location would be like on a fine day. However, the weather was inclement to say the least as I ran around the golf course and then followed the path as it hugged the coast. This was a fairly remote stretch but its beauty was still evident even in the rain.

There was a point on this part of the coastal run when looking inland I could see a settlement in the distance. I knew that it was Tudweiliog and therefore I was close to the point where I would head inland off the coastal footpath to the meeting point. This was the carpark forming part of Towyn farm. I was greeted by Jackie and an upbeat Lynne John as I ended marathon 31 (actual distance exactly 27 miles).

Bloody hell, 31 marathons done!! 8 to go.

Weekend 13: 18th & 19th June 2016

Saturday 18th June 2016: Holyhead to Rhosneigr (28 miles)

It was a beautiful day as I set off on marathon 28 from Marine Square, Holyhead heading out along the path adjoining the New Harbour. I ran passed the Country Park out on to Holyhead Mountain which provided fantastic and dramatic views of the coastline and the rest of the Holy Island! I did have a fall in this area – rocks and human beings don’t go together – but after “dusting myself down” moved on with nothing more than some brushing and a few cuts. The vagaries of trail running!! Leaving the mountain meant that I was running more on the level. It was delight to discover the lovely cove of Porth Dafarch where I bumped into the Beach Warden. In discovering what I was doing he kindly made a donation to the Moon Shadow Wales Challenge http://www.moonshadow.wales – THANK YOU. Onward I ran along this beautiful coastline to South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve, meandering along the coastline to Trearddur where I stopped to have a coffee and had my cuts treated with an antiseptic wipe. The stretch of coastline to the south of Holy Island felt more remote and lonelier somehow, notwithstanding the rugged beauty of the coastline. East of Rhoscolyn, on the coast, I came across a rocky outcrop and a coastguard viewing point well placed to scan the Bay. The lady volunteer very kindly made a donation to http://www.moonshadow.wales THANK YOU. I explained that today I was running to Rhosneigr. She pointed out that it was “3miles that way” just across the Bay. Ha! Of course, I would be running significantly more mileage following the Wales Coastal Footpath.

Arriving at the beautiful Silver Bay, the path then moved inland and across Start of marathon 28country to Four Mile Bridge. Having crossed it, the path meandered significantly along the “estuary” as I headed towards Cymyran Bay. I knew I was almost home when I ran alongside Valley Airfield. This was the point when my lower left calf muscle began to “tense-up”. Applying roll-on “deep-heat”, I managed to run along the long “Traeth Cymyran” beach, eventually arriving – with relief – in Rhosneigr: the completion of marathon 28.

PS: After gulping my protein drink, Jackie took me back to base where I had a hot bath, followed by improvised ice treatment. She expressed genuine concern that I would not be able to run marathon 29 on Sunday. I guess this point highlights the physical and emotional resilience that one has to have for such a unique endurance event. That night, I had a subliminal and real night-sweat worrying about whether I would be able to run or not. In my head, I knew that I was going to do marathon 29 but I did not let on to Jackie.

Sunday 19th June 2016: Rhosneigr to Brynseincyn (26 miles)

This was an altogether different day: weather wise and physical fitness wise. I was up at 6.00am. Having had my porridge and banana, I ice-packed my lower left calf and then followed my usual routine of preparation. I was also clear that this was a day for my “skins”.

Arriving with trepidation at the start of marathon 29, I hobbled off being very careful not to jolt my left calf muscle. As the minutes passed by, my hobble changed to a jog, then short runs, then fluent running. It was like as if my mind was adjusting to the physical readiness of my left leg to perform. Apart from concern for my injury, the weather was overcast and drizzling with rain. Several hours later, this drizzle changed to full on rain. It was a reflection perhaps of my mood early on in the day.

Start of marathon 29 from RhosneigerSo, the weather was dour, grey and raining, and I was apprehensive. There was no phone signal so I concentrated on running (carefully) without necessarily taking in what I was doing. I remember having to circumvent the Anglesey Motor Racing Circuit (I could hear the cars), rounding the coast to meet Jackie in Aberffraw. We had agreed to meet here to see how I was performing. Politely put, Jackie was offering me a “get-out” point if my leg was bad. It was OK, so after consuming a hydration drink, I was on my way again. After the dunes of Aberffraw, the coastal footpath moved inland and therefore across country. At this juncture, I’m prompted to say that marathon 29 required considered and careful navigation. In other words, it was important to have my wits about me because otherwise it would have been very easy to “go wrong”.

A signal did come through from Jackie that I should meet her in Maltraeth. Luckily, there was a delightful Gallery Studio near the bridge offering coffee and food. It was raining quite heavily at this stage so I joined Jackie for a hot drink and took on board calories in the form of a quiche salad, and piece of bara-brith. Yet again, we had inquisitive questions about what I was doing and this resulted in donations from the owners of the cafe and some parents who were “in awe” at what I was doing. THANK YOU.

A combination of food and caffeine spurred me on. I ran continuously across the bridge, through Newborough Forest until I arrived at Newborough Warren. There is where I took one of my GoPro clips. There were quite a number of people on the beach para-surfing.

From here, after the beach run, I followed the forest edge inland and acrossEnd of marathon 29 - absolutely soaked country. This is where my navigation skills were tested in terms of map reading, weather, lack of signage (or hidden signage) and (importantly) having a sense of where I was in relation to the coast. After several miles, I popped out onto the coastline (it was raining heavily at this point) opposite Caernarfon. It was kind of misty / murky but I could still make out the outline of the castle. From here, with a degree of excitement and relief (because I was almost at the end of marathon 29), I ran the final miles to end today’s run on the coast adjacent to Brynseincyn.

PS: On reflection, this was a BIG day. There was a moment over the weekend when I thought I would not be able to run. However, I had come through those dark thoughts to complete marathon 29……… leaving 10 more to do.

PPS: we stayed at an Airbnb in Gwalchmai who kindly gave a donation to http://www.moonshadow.wales THANK YOU.