When I signed up for the Darth Mannion Beach and Swamp Run Challenge on the 5th of November last year, I didn’t quite expect it to turn out into such a rollercoaster. Yes, this race is definitely in a league of its own. Yes, you are warned from the onset it’s “a race for idiots” but I still went ahead and did it.
I diligently attended a few runs with the Darth Coastal Runners in November and December and even turned up at one of their Santa training runs. Fortunately, no sea dip was involved in that one. I’d never run in a group before so learnt how awesome and fun this can be.
Running in groups is definitely a very addictive way of spending time outdoors and possibly the explanation for the number of trail runners in Bishopston, the self proclaimed “fittest village in Wales” and home to Darth’s HQ. Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that thanks to the DMBSRC, Bishopston is also the Welsh village that raises the most per capita in support of the Welsh Air Ambulance. Fund raising for this awesome charity being the raison d’être of the Darth (well, the race is also an excuse to jump into freezing cold water).
Winter had never looked that good, I was feeling strong, running on the coastal path and even getting some sea dip practices.
Then disaster struck in January as I got sick for weeks and missed out on a lot of training. By the 18th of March, my longest training run had been 13 km, fair enough it had been off road with around 170 m of ascent but would it be enough to master this beast where, if you are to believe the Darth Mannion’s twitter account all HILLS look like KILLS?
Mr Tiger, who’d done the Darth last year and ran it this year as an immortal regulator kicked all my “buts” and, further encouraged by Chris Bidder who I had the pleasure of running with on our last pre-Darth outing, I decided to go for it and treat the event as a long training run.
Saturday morning was as miserable as can be, windy, misty and cold. We all froze a little as we waited for our pelotons to start. Two new pelotons were introduced this year: the “tenderfoots” and the “mortals”. I was running in the “inbetweeners” which started in third position. The fastest peloton, the “immortals” starts last and their main aim is to catch us all up! In theory we all bunch up at some point around the middle of the course and finish fairly close to each other. in practice I didn’t see much of my peloton after the first river crossing and ended up running most of the Darth on my own. Fine by me.
The course itself was slightly longer than last year so that if would exactly match the length of a half marathon. It takes you on a lovely and did I say? hilly route around Gower where you are expected to wade through 4 rivers and one “sheep dip” with three full body sea immersion in between in case anyone was getting bored of all this river water.
The depth of the rivers is directly correlated to the amount of rainfall on days preceding the Darth. Suffice it to say that it had rained a LOT before the Darth this year. Not only were the rivers armpit deep but about half of the course was EXTREMELY muddy, knee deep in places (and no I’m not a hobbit in case you’re wondering).
So here we were, happily slipping and sliding through the woods, rinsing off our shoes in rivers before getting muddy again. After the first 3 km I had to seriously bargain with myself: hang on until 10 km, turn it into a proper training session and then decide whether or not you abandon. I hung on. Seeing friends cheering along the course and being overtaken by other faster friends helped a bit but my legs felt heavy. Possibly because there must have been about a kilo of mud attached to each of my feet.
Then as if by magic, the halfway point and the first sea dip appeared. I’d been carrying a spare jacket in my backpack, just in case I stopped but another lady was abandoning at that point and I lent her my jacket as she was only wearing a sleeveless top. This somehow sealed the deal for me, it was run or freeze! At the halfway point my diesel en-gene also kicked in, I zoned out and started to feel ok, sore but ok. So I just plodded on and also started catching up some people. At that point I knew the force was with me.
The stinky sheep dip was overcome, some more ups and downs followed and I felt good on my legs. Then it was just a matter of two more sea dips and a river wade. Climbing the last hill was a lot easier than I’d have thought. The last run to the finish felt a bit like something out of “true grit” but I was winning: overcoming, finishing, feeling strong.
Lesson learnt: what doesn’t hill you makes you stronger!
After 3:03 hours of mud, water and sand, I collected my medal, my beer and fell in the arms of Mr Tiger for the best and most exhausted hug of 2017 (so far). Then I had a lovely warm shower at the new women’s shower block, put up just for us a couple of days before. Big thanks to the South Gower Rugby Club for that! Big thanks also to all the awesome sponsors who made it possible.
The after race atmosphere has to be one of the most striking features of the DMBSRC. Where else do most of the runners hang around for a big party that feels very much like the village fest? Contributing factors have to be that most of the local community is involved but also that your race pack includes food and drink vouchers. You are treated to quality burgers with a delicious side of salad (and in case you’re wondering, yes I did eat one but there were some vegan pie options for those who want to be strictly vegan, always, all the time). We sat on hay bales (the after party was cowboy themed) and watched the rugby match France vs Wales, with a pint and our burgers in hand.
The prize giving has to be witnessed too, with a bravery award, given this year to a lady who ran the Darth in white plimsolls. Well deserved I say. We made our way home after the prize giving, not just because we had to pick up The Cub but also because France was still winning against Wales… However there was a massive and fun party all night long, with live bands and a lot of ale. An event in itself from what we understand!
For the geeks and future darthletes: what gear, what food?!
Gear: it was cold this year. I ran in SUP capris and a long sleeved rash vest, both items made by Betty Designs of strong swimsuit material, they were perfect for the sea dips as I didn’t have to strip down to my bra and having been conceived for water sports, they didn’t hold as much water as other fabrics and kept out the wind. To honour my roots in the Pacific I wore my favourite Zoot hibiscus t-shirt over the rash vest and ran most of the way with a light wind resistant jacket, also by Zoot. My shoes of choice we Merrell’s all out crush, tough mudder edition (this model has drainage holes on the sides, which comes in handy around water although they do keep most of the fish inside. Fortunately, the soles stay on the outside). The shoes performed very well, I slipped but didn’t fall, which is all you want really.
Nutrition: My Polar M400 tells me I burnt 1700 calories on that course, I’ve always found that the longer an event gets, the less I want to eat and that was the case here too. Before the start, I had a powerbar nutrition bar, a 1/2 banana and a 1/2 red bull. Then altogether 5 jelly babies (provided at the feed stations and by far the best jelly babies we’ve had the pleasure to sample) and 2 GI32 chews on the run. I’d taken a 500 ml bottle with diluted energy, which I refilled with water 1/3rd of the way through at the first station. The bottle was still full at the second station so I ran by. I had to force myself to eat on the second half as I simply wasn’t hungry. and I’m really happy about how the race went nutrition wise. I felt good and strong (sore yes, but that’s to be expected) up to the end. Last year at a similar event I religiously took a gel every 30/40 minutes and although I “only” ran 2:20 hours, I bonked very badly so I’m over the moon this year to have finished feeling great nutrition-wise. I put this down (but may be wrong) to my new eating habits as I now find that I have a constant flow of energy throughout the day, yes I get hungry sometimes even ravenous but don’t crash in the way I used to, which really is a great positive for me.