The Ring of Fire Ultra
One week on from my epic adventure I’ve finally been able to sit down and take stock of what I achieved. I am feeling ok but still tired and I have a little bit of discomfort on my left foot (https://www.physio-pedia.com/Extensor_Hallucis_Longus) from overtightening my trainers (basic school girl error). I have had a steady week and finally headed out this morning for a little run. I was a bit nervous but it felt good to get my trainers on again. I could write a whole essay about the Ring of Fire as there were so many great elements to it but here are some of the main bits of the weekend
I’d set up a FB group prior to the event after being involved in one in 2016 before my first big ultra; The Wall (https://ratracethewall.co.uk/). I’d picked up lots of tips and advice and it was nice to meet people in person along the 69 mile route so I reckoned it would be nice to have that support prior to the ROF. The group was great as we all had lots of question and queries that some former competitors were able to answer.
Steve and I set off on Thursday after a busy week in clinic. It’s a long old drive to Holyhead and it really does feel like the end of the road as you head right to the tip of Anglesey. I’d been keeping one eye on the weather but it was varying between single rain, double rain and high winds so I packed for every eventuality and stopped worrying about it.
The Ring of Fire Ultra first happened in 2011 and is considered one of the most challenging ultra events in the UK due to the varying terrain. Competitors start at Holyhead on Friday afternoon at 1pm then have 10 hours to get to Almwch which is 35.9 miles away. The following day is a 6am start to cover 65.9 miles and the final day is yet another 6am start to cover 33 miles, finishing back at Holyhead. In total 135 miles of gruelling costal running with 13,00ft of climbing over the weekend. There are honesty books to locate, tides to contend with, self navigation, night running and anything that the Welsh weather can throw at you.
Starting at 1pm in the afternoon feels very leisurely and we had a good breakfast then time to chill out.
When we got to Breakwater park just outside Holyhead I was warmly greated by a lovely gentleman from the Stroke Association.
He had come in person to support the half a dozen competitors who had been raising money for the cause. A bag of jellies babies was added to the stash of food squirreled away in the back of the van. I’d raised nearly £1400 for the charity. My parents were also there to support for the whole weekend and as always Steve was there every step of the way.
Several competitors came up at the start to say hi and there was a real friendly feeling to the event. The first day is also open as an event in its own right called the Firelighter. Across the two events there is a max of 300 places and there were 74 starters for ROF. This was my first 3 day muti stage event so I was nervous of the 65 miles sandwiched between two 35 milers. I knew it was all about pacing and refueling at the end of the day. I wanted to get to the finish of day one in the daylight so I had optimal time to recover.
Race briefing done and the first playing of the dreaded ‘song’! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It7107ELQvY) which would stick in my head the whole 3 days. We lined up on the start line full of nerves and excitement and then we were off. The first checkpoint was at 7 miles and apart from being a bit blowy passed without any misshapes. Check point 2 was just over 17 miles and I’d come in at 2 hours 40 mins so was making good time. I met Steve and he’d been up to Holyhead mountain and was sporting a nice wound picked up on his run down.
Heading up to the next checkpoint at Wylfa the winds picked up and at times we were blown precariously along the cliff edge. The decommissioned nuclear power station is such an imposing structure and you can see it looming in the distance. 25 miles in at this point with still 10 miles to go can be daunting but just focusing on ticking off the miles was my main priority. I chatted to other runners as we dropped back/caught up and I loved hearing some of their stories of what bought them here. I was surprised how quickly the runners thin out and you have to be prepared to be running alone for large parts of the route. I could often see only a dot in the distance.
From Wylfa there are lots of big climbs and descents as you hug the coast line. The wind was brutal and at the first honesty point the flag had blown away. Luckily the tower is easily visible so I tore out a page then spent a few confused seconds pondering where to put the page so it was safe. Losing it would be gutting. It needed to be dry, sweat free, safe from opening zips- inside phone case, job done! Steve met me at Bull Bay which was a godsend as I had underestimated the amount of fluids I needed and was starting to feel a bit dehydrated. He filled up my water bottles and reassured me I was well on target for finishing in the light. I cracked on towards Almwch where the 2nd honesty book was. It was just getting dusky so I was pleased to see the flag at about 7.45 pm. Tearing out a page I headed for the leisure centre in the town. It was a bit of a road slog for a mile or so and I was pleased to see the finish line of the day. I’d opted to stay in local B&Bs instead of bunking down for the nights on hard floors. I really didn’t fancy not being able to sleep and knew I wanted to give myself as much chance of finishing as possible.
Day two and we were up by 5am. I was feeling really nervous as we faced 65.9 miles and I knew I would be finishing in the dark. As we set off the sunrise was stunning but we knew there was torrential rain on the way.
Checkpoint 5 met us with hot bacon and sausage butties and then the rain began!! (video below is from Steve at the local Park Run)
Mum and dad were at the next CP 18 miles in and thankfully the rain had stopped. As everything was soaked it developed some chaffing in parts I’d never had chaffing before. I knew I had to sort it out so instead of messing about taking my underwear off I decided to rip my pants off. I had to laugh at this point as I wrestled with my super stitched pants hoping no one was watching. Two runners were ahead in the distance so I caught up with them as we hugged the top of the beach knowing we were getting close to the tide coming in. It was at this point that several later runners got stuck trying to negotiate one of the highest tides in 8 years and unfortunately for some it took too much out of them. Coming into Beaumaris was a long slog on the road then after CP 9 (the half way point at 33.8 miles) it was more road only this time it was uphill. I’d been out along this part and knew it was mainly road so I changed into my road shoes which was a godsend. If you’ve ever done many miles on road in your trail shoes you’ll know how uncomfortable it can feel. I flew (relatively so) to the next CP and went through in about 12th place.
The next challenge to come was the section at Newborough Forest. I had been able to check this section out and knew that I was going to take the forest path as opposed to the beach path. There had been a lot of chat in the group about which section folk were going to take. It seemed that last year several runners got disorientated (lost!) going through the forest then trying to find the honesty book on the dunes. Thankfully it was still light so I was confident I could negotiate the forest and locate the book. Job done! I tore out a page and headed off to the next check point knowing from there it was just 6.5 miles to go. It was pitch black by now and as I ran along I turned my headtorch off and enjoyed the tranquility. I could see the lights in the distance of where I was heading. I was still making good progress as I headed into the last few miles. Unfortunately this is the point I got a bit disorientated. Part of the route went into some farmers fields and there were glow sticks positioned to show us the next point to head for. As I headed into the dark I couldn’t see the next glow stick and my OS map showed I was ever so slightly off track. I started to panic and tried to head back to where I thought I needed to be. I couldn’t see a point of reference and with a tired body and mind I began to panic that I would be stuck in a field all night. I headed back to where I thought I had come from and finally I spotted some other runners coming towards me. I stuck with them the rest of the way to the final check point and was glad of the company. We headed through sand dunes, along the beach, along an estuary and finally we could see the glow of Aberffraw and the welcome sight of the Village Hall. Day 2 done! That night I woke up in a sweat with my heart racing after having struggled to get any food down.
Sunday morning I was really worried that I hadn’t eaten enough and I felt quite queasy. Steve gave me a porridge pot and as we set off I kept my pace right down so I could try and eat something. I felt so sick though that the pot remained pretty untouched and was finally deposited at the first CP of the day. There were bacon butties available so I forced myself to eat one as I headed out along Rhosneigr Beach.
Rhosneigr beach seemed to go on forever and I was really feeling quite sick at this point. I knew I just had to keep my head down and keep plodding on. At this point there were 3 things going through my head
1- the Ring of Fire song!!!
2- please let me finish and not let anyone down
3- oh my god Im moving so slowly, how boring is it for the people following me
I tried to just focus on the views and not think about the distance left. After all I had wanted to do this and I was supposed to be enjoying it. The scenery really was stunning and the weather had cleared so although it was chilly the sun was shining on us.
As I approached Holyhead Mountain I can remember thinking ‘Pha that’s not a mountain’. I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland and it really didn’t look very imposing (thoughts I would come to regret!!!). As I headed off up and around the mountain it seemed to go on forever and every time I headed down a bit there was another huge uphill section. There was a lot of swearing and huffing and puffing at this point and my teddy was hanging by a thread out of the pram. I kept trying to run but it made the nausea much worse so I was down to a brisk walk (some may call it plodding!!) Finally, I located the last honesty book
More ups and downs and then finally I could hear the music from Breakwater Park where the finish was located. I could see the crowd and I began to feel the emotions of the last 3 days well up inside me. I was so relieved to have almost finished, and not let myself or those supporting me down. As I ran the last section down hill I did have a little cry and as I ran across the finish line I just couldn’t keep it in. I think it was relief that I had survived rather than pride in finishing that was the overriding feeling.
I received my finishers medal and some goodies from my parents and then amazingly I was told I was potentially in 3rd position. To be quite honest I just wanted to get my trainers off and sit down.
Job done!! 135 miles round the coast of Anglesey. I did come in as 3rd lady and missed out by 1 minute on second place so I was slightly disappointed but out of 74 of us that started only 44 had finished. I was super chuffed to receive my 3rd place medal and even managed a glass of fizz to celebrate
The Ring of Fire was an epic adventure. Did I enjoy it??? Hell yeah!! The scenery was beautiful and Anglesey really threw everything at us but I love a challenge. I met some great people along the way and was so chuffed to see everyone at the end looking tired but happy. There were some amazing runners who inspire me to always push myself more and face the next challenge stronger and better prepared. The first lady smashed it, coming in in under 30 hours. Women are proving that on the endurance scene they really can give the men a run for their money and are often up there in the top few finisher’s regardless of gender. I’m proud to be still running well into my mid forties and I really hope my adventures inspire others to tackle things that they think may be outside of their capabilities. We are our own enemy when it comes to self doubt but never underestimate what you are capable of.
Would I recommend the event ??? Absolutely!! It was one of the friendliest events I have done but if you want a challenge, love running and love the coast then give it a go. Be warned though it is brutally tough and you really have to dig deep but you’ll come away with a huge sense of achievement
Thanks ROF team, thanks mum and dad, thanks Steve and thanks to all of you lovely people who supported me along the way. I was super chuffed to receive a donation from Tannenbaum Camping site which took my total raised to just over £1500. Now to rest and recover and get ready for Equinox in 3 weeks.