This last Saturday, I had great fun feeling the dark force of running. I was one of the over 200 “padawan” to do (or do not, but there is no try) the Darth Mannion Beach & Swamp Run Challenge (DMBSRC).
It was the seventh edition of the event. It is organised by a great team of Gower lovers who obviously know how to mix fun with challenge and community impact through their amazing fund raising for Wales Air Ambulance. It is less of a race than a challenge, hence the name, because the noble aim is to support everyone to achieve the challenge.
We were split in 5 different groups according to ability. The “early birds” started first. The last group called the “immortals” crossed the start line 30 min later. Each group is led by “regulators” who dictate the pace so that at some point, every group merges in a crowd of wet and muddy happy few.
The challenge itself is an 11 miles trail run on a wide variety of terrains and altitudes. The run bit alone can be classified as tough, and you definitely need claws on your outsoles to stay upright, well most of the time. But truth be told, the run is just a pretext to go from one source of water to the next, in order to self immerse in: 4 rivers, 1 sheep dip and 3 full body sea splashes…not counting a bath tub and a shower once crossed the finish line. Yes we are in Wales mid-march. Yes it is as crazy as it sounds.
Now what about my own experience? I enjoyed and appreciated every aspect of the adventure. Though, my main personal challenge had been to be healthy enough to step on the start line. I raced Ras Dewi Sant (St Davids coastal path half marathon) two weeks before, with the first symptoms of a bad flu or virus. I had a solid performance there but got cold.
Since then, the soon to be “immortal” felt much more the weakness than the force. I retested running a few days before the race as a checkup. The fitness was ok but breathing was difficult at higher intensity. Simply “not coughing” became my new aerobic threshold, and also my actual race plan for D-Day.
I started the day with some porridge because I knew there would be horse like obstacles on the Rugby field. I loved the jungle-like downhill with rope before jumping into the first river. With a low ceiling of branches to hang loose on, it would not have been much of a surprise to see Baloo floating on his back with Mowgli on his belly.
I don’t remember the second river too well but I recognised the long hill climb that came right after it. I’d ridden it before on a mountain bike and thought it was easier on two feet with all the mud. We started to join the other groups along the Pennard golf and Castle and then we started the fun down and up the sand dunes. The third river leading to the three cliffs was a treat with warmer temperature, a favorable current and of course a gorgeous view.
Another up and down sandy hill and it was time for the first full body immersion in the sea. Quick strip off and very slow strip on but to my own surprise I really enjoyed the swim. That was invigorating, and from there onward, my pace was stronger. The run along the beautiful coast flew-by cough-free.
The infamous sheep dip was a disappointment, maybe misled by the name but there was no sheep to be seen. The closest to the promise in the puddle was a queue of some lycranimals wearing merino wool, but that’s a bit of a stretch.
The long technical descent to the beach was a good mix of fun and excitement. I have a soft spot for Pwll Du. It is my favorite place to go to for a long run or a short intense MTB ride. It is also a funny name when pronounced in French. Anyway it was great to have Pwll Du at the center of the stage of the grand finale with two sea splashes, one deep river and a “hit the wall” hill to burn the legs.
The Darth Mannion Beach & Swamp Run Challenge is great and pure event. I never use the word pure lightly and here I mean that everything is genuine. The welcome, the atmosphere, the community concern, the people, the beauty of the scenery, the chill of the water, the gradient of the hills, all is nurtured by nature. You could even eat the hurdles on the rugby field, though I would easily favour the locally made burgers and cakes. It is also the only race I know where you receive a beer before the medal, even a few meters before the finish line!
Shall you want to join in the challenge next year, I would suggest you first visit the DMBSRC site where everything you need to know to have a great experience is thoroughly explained. Then bring on your stamina on the day and a good sense of humour and you will be in great company.
Special thanks to:
Claire. She is the one who made me aware of the DMBSR Challenge but more importantly, she stepped up brilliantly to the challenge herself. Claire you can be as proud as your kids were proud of their mum when running with you on the finish line. Well done
JPD of the DMBSRC team. J may stand for Jedi but I know her as Julie. She had the power to transform me from the reserve list to an immortal! First and foremost, she does a tremendous job within the team, supporting and training neo runners so that they can achieve beyond their own expectations.
After the finish line, Peter the regulator subtly checked if I had some post race blues and kindly inquired about my overall first experience of the Dark side of running. Nice touch.
Now to whoever baked the Awesome Carrot Cake, I wish that the Force levels up to your baking skills and then stays with you.
Last but not least, a warm thank you to my Dulcinea. Without her none of me would be possible. She always embraces a good challenge, which is the way we love TWExplore.