There is a coastal path circumnavigating the island. It is beautiful, sandy, rocky and rugged. It is also 135 miles long.
The Ring O fire is a relatively new ultramarathon held in 3 stages and covers the whole coastal path. If you finish the race you earn a hefty 4 UTMB* points. To put this in perspective, The Marathon des Sables also earns you 4 UTMB points.
Day 1 is 35.7 miles, day 2 is 65.9 miles, and day 3 is 33.4
Remembering how I felt after my 100K race in July I was worried about my feet as they were very sore at the finish. I asked last year’s Ring O Fire winner Richard Ashton what would be the best thing to wear on my feet .... he just sent me a picture of his feet at the end of the race. They looked horrific and his trainers were dripping with blood. I spent the week before prepping my feet with a product used for toughening dogs paws and tried very hard to get the image of Rich’s feet out my head.
For this race Shaun and I decided to run together. This would be the furthest either of us had run in 3 days. Day 1 started under the shadow of Holyhead Mountain at 1pm. Last year Prince William and Kate had started the race! This year we got the ever-so-slightly-less fancy Mayor of Holyhead. The bell rang out and we were off!
The plan was to take day 1 very steady and end with the legs feeling fresh for day 2. This is always quite hard to do when you are full up with carbs and are chomping at the bit, but it pays to be sensible on a race like this. The route on this day took runners past Holyhead and along the north coast. It was hilly in places and towards the end the climbs got quite technical. Rain made rocky climbs and descents slippery and required focus. We made it to the finish line with a sprint finish, feeling fresh. Day 1 had gone according to plan.
Overnight sleeping was not so refreshing; as with many multistage ultras it was communal school hall sleeping. Snoring, bright lights, people coming in, and general noise and lack of comfort do not lend themselves well to recovery. We were up at 5am to be race ready for the 6am kick off for Day 2.
Day 2, the long stage. This, for me, was when the race started for real. Nearly 67 miles on little sleep or food, and with cut-offs to make, Day 2 would be the day that defines the race. I spent a lot of today struggling to eat as usual, force feeding myself. The plan was to get half way round to the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (no I didn’t face plant the keyboard, that’s a place on the south side of the Island!) and buy some chips to eat. Eating hot food has been a strategy that has helped me hugely in 50+ mile races. The scenery was different today. After a very slow first 26 miles the landscape got mercifully flatter. Long very stony beach sections made it painful underfoot, however the paw wax was doing it’s thing and my feet only had one blister. Chipper checkpoint volunteers and cheering supporters kept us going along the way. We managed to make 62 miles in daylight. I nearly came a cropper on some large stepping stones, lacking the confidence to leap and Shaun had to guide me over. The last 3 miles, excruciatingly, took over an hour. We had to cross rutted field after rutted field; with little navigational aid in the dark it was the toughest section. We came in a 10pm to some hot pasta. The cut off was 4am; two thirds of the runners came in after us, well into the night. This day claimed a lot of runners who would not start Day 3.
Day 3. Setting off (slowly) the dawn brought a day of cloudless skies and stunning views. My friend, ultra running queen, Michelle Double joined us for the day and we passed the long slow miles chatting and taking it in turns to lead. Another night of interrupted sleep and an early morning had added to the fatigue. The route has honesty books dotted along the way to ensure people do not cut corners. After passing the last checkpoint the last honesty book marked the 4 mile point to the finish line. We ripped out a page each and headed to Holyhead Mountain past the South Stack. The last 3 miles were directly up and over the beast, and knowing how close we were to the end helped the huge rocky climb.
The finish line could not come soon enough; we crossed it triumphant and knackered with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire” blaring out.
This race has a 50% drop out rate. 135 people had entered, 56 finished. Shaun and I finished joint 21st. I came over the line 4th lady. It’s a tough race, but it’s a great well organised race. If you want a decent challenge that will wreck your feet, enter. It does burn though. It burns burns burns.