Ring ‘o Fire Ultra

September 2017

Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.

Some races and events begin long before you shuffle to the start line, before the training plans are formed, before the entry fee is paid. Such was the case for my ‘A’ race this year the Ring o Fire in Anglesey. In August 2016 to use up the remainder of my annual leave we took an impromptu camping trip to Anglesey. Whilst there, to get in some much needed end of summer training my long suffering and ever patient hubby (known in family circles as ‘Poor Pete’ as in ‘she’s off running again and Poor Pete is on his own for the weekend’) would drop me in various locations on the island to go for a run and luckily for me, pick me up a few hours later. On this trip I ran along sections of the coastal path. It really is a stunning location and a chance comment about how lovely it would be to run round the entire Island when I got home to fellow Radcliffe AC runners, prompted one of them to send me a link to the Ring o Fire website.

What is the Ring ‘o Fire? According to the website it is ‘a coastal ultra marathon which takes runners on an extraordinary 135 mile journey around the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales. The epic foot race is staged over three consecutive days and follows the rugged and spectacular Anglesey Coastal Path.’ At that point I knew it was beyond my abilities and signed up. I figured I had 10 months to get ready for it and started to plan the year with it in mind. I began training by asking lots of questions/pestering other running friends who had undertaken similar events and the RoF and devouring talkultra podcasts and running biographies. I had some excellent advice from an experienced 24hour event runner who said that he never trains more than above 23 or so miles for ultras, another said look after your feet, another said to learn how to eat and run. So basically from November 2016 that is what I did. Uncharacteristically I wrote a very honest list of all the skills I needed but lacked for this event.

Multi-Day Ultra Event Must Have’s by Fiona Lynch aged 42.

· Being able to run for a looooong time

· Above, plus over a number of days

· Being able to run exhausted

· Being able to eat proper food whilst running

· Being able to read a map

So began an exciting but busy year. This event took over 2017; holidays, weekends and any spare time were dictated to crossing off the list. I begged and pestered friends to teach me what they already knew. I ran more races than I have ever run before and under normal conditions this isn’t something which will bring out the best for each race as inevitably you will be in a permanent state of ‘recovery’ while still racing. I ran several shorter ultras (30+ miles) and overnight runs, exhausted runs, full tummy runs, sick tummy runs (not recommended!). I didn’t do back to back runs (eg 20 miles one day followed by 20 the next) but I ran consistently for months and for about 3 months raced in pretty much marathon distance events every weekend. Throw in daily yoga or pilates and cross training, by the time the end of August came around I was knackered, but ready.

And it burns, burns, burns, The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

Day 1 Holyhead to Amlwch (35miles approx)

I cannot tell you how excited I was for this event. I called it ‘my present to myself’; a 3 day play out in beautiful Anglesey, buckets of fresh air, hours of running and breathtaking scenery. By the time I parked up in Breakwater Park my excitement had turned to nerves which had set my stomach into a tail spin. For the 3 people on the planet I haven’t already told this to, I have coeliac’s disease, IBS and a host of other gut issues so any emotion can pretty much ‘set me off’. But other people deal with worse things and it wasn’t going to stop me so I made my way to the registration tent on a sunny afternoon where a DJ was playing a set which would not have been out of place in a wedding in Ireland in the 80s. Absolutely brilliant!! I collected my Tshirt (tres cool), my buff (tres cool) and number and some snacks, ditched my rucksack and then had an hour to faff and really work myself up into a state. I chatted with a couple of people I knew and put on my new sunshade and glasses bought specially for the race. I thought I may as well look like an ultra runner even if I am an imposter amongst their ranks. Following the safety briefing, Jonny Cash’s ‘Ring o Fire’ was blasted out over the speakers and off we went. Surprisingly we set off at a really fast pace, the first couple of miles or so were close to 7:30s and it was hot. Within the first mile the sunglasses were lost and by mile 3 I gave the annoying sunshade to a passing walker. My friend Andy who lives near Holyhead was on the route to cheer on runners and it was a nice distraction to see a familiar face as I wasn’t feeling very well. I have to say I began to feel panicked by mile 5 as I felt rough as a rough thing. I was sweating, felt nauseous and my head hurt. Just as my inner tantrum began to get momentum I had a word with myself or as I like to describe it, I went Irish mammy on myself. Firstly, no one forced me to do this, the sun is shining, I’m lucky to be able to even think about doing it. Drink some water, take some paracetamol and slow the feck down Lynch! There’s no glory to be had finishing first on day one and not being able to run on day 2. And so by breaking down the issues (real or imagined) and dealing with them one by one by mile 12 I began to settle into it.

The really well stocked checkpoints were manned by the best marshals ever! If Carlsberg did marshals these people would be it. They were really energetic and positive and encouraging and helpful so that in itself was a boost. The route was really interesting, a mixture of packed trail, fields, technical trail and some climbs to keep it challenging. It follows the coastal path and while I didn’t use a GPS file (they were supplied but I am a luddite) the paper map packs and my OS map were enough with the coastal path signs dotted around to avoid too many navigational disasters (I did take a couple of wrong turns but nothing too serious). You enjoy sandy beaches, tolerate rocky beaches and make your way through coves and bays. In one cove a couple had moored their yacht and come ashore to support and give away fruit and jelly babies to competitors! Other highlights were provided by the beauty of the coastline and a nice sense of isolation. Passing through Cemaes we were treated to a panorama of kayaks in the bay, cliffs and a vista over the Irish Sea which contrasted markedly to the scrubland approach to the Wylfa Power station. Those of us who arrived at a crossroads on the on the cliffs outside Cemaes and chose the beach route rather than the road were treated to further views towards offshore islands, and a bit of extra climb for our efforts. The sun was beginning to lower and in the cloudless skies colours Instagram would kill for began to appear on the horizon. I had a bit of a wobble when I realised that because I had slowed down it may be dark by the time I finished and I had packed my torch in my day 2 kit so I picked up the pace determined not to get into difficulty. We had to find a couple of honesty books on the way and tear pages out to prove we hadn’t taken short cuts. Thankfully this was OK and with 7 hours on the clock I crossed the line at the sports centre in Amlwch. Lodgings for the night were provided in the sports hall and we had full and free access to the facilities including showers (bliss) and swimming pool (don’t be daft). Our overnight bags were waiting for us so I sorted my stuff out and baggsied me a spot as far away from the doors as possible. I dug out a tennis ball and gave my legs a good going over in lieu of a foam roll. I was self supporting on this event so needed to carry and bring all my food as there wasn’t really many options at checkpoints for me. This isn’t a complaint (in fairness I am pretty fussy too) and I had contacted the RDs before the race so was prepared. I knew from my training that a tired Fiona doesn’t do decision making so I had bagged up everything I needed in labelled freezer bags i.e. ‘Carry food Day 1’ ‘Dinner Day 1’ ‘Clothes day 2’ ‘morning food day 2’. While doing this i thought it probably was overkill but by golly was I glad I didn’t have to think more than necessary that weekend. After a shower and food and some chatting with fellow runners I bedded down for the night. Now I knew from speaking to people I wouldn’t get much sleep as the hall is noisy and one of the RoFs strengths is the commitment to ensure every runner gets a good welcome and the chance to have a sports massage when they finish each day. I didn’t really sleep at all and when the RDs came through the hall blasting Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire at 5am I was actually relieved just to get going again.

Day 2 Amlwch — Aberfaww (66 miles)

I went down, down, down and the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns

It’s dark, there’s a chill in the air. A crowd of bleary eyed runners are assembled outside the sports hall. Even though I haven’t slept I feel good. I’m in the same position as everyone else so at no disadvantage for lack of sleep, plus I have run on no sleep as part of my training so its not unfamiliar. And I am really REALLY looking forward to the route. I know its going to take in some of the most beautiful spots on the Island, that I am going to run through a sunrise and sunset. The weather forecast is good. I haven’t picked up any injuries and the tennis ball massage has worked wonders so my legs feel fresh. 3, 2, 1 and we are off. Before long we are out of the urban streets and back on the coastal trail. The sky begins to lighten as we climb up the trail on the cliff. On the horizon I spot a flame and think its one of the off-shore gas platforms until it gets bigger and realise its the sun! I don’t have the skill to describe the sunrise so I’ve nicked a photo from the RoF website taken on that day. It was worth the entry fee to see it! Day 2 plan was to get to Beaumaris which was roughly half way by lunch time and have something substantial to eat. Our morning route took us through Dulas Bay, Lligwy Bay (with a feeding station which would rival some wedding buffets I have seen!). I fell in love with Red Wharf Bay and its long beach dotted with bemused holiday makers. A detour inland provided one of the day’s climbs. At this point I was running with a motley crew of male runners from around Europe. We had a really funny moment running through a farm when we were faced with a herd of sheep being moved from one field to another. Our presence confused the sheepdogs and basically we had a standoff while the farmer got them moving again (there is footage on the RoF facebook page). You don’t get these things happening in road marathons!

Its hard to sum up that morning but my overriding feeling was being really happy and grateful that I was there. That’s not to say it was easy going, rocky beaches are not the runner’s friend and I did think at one point that a bit of tarmac on the beach wouldn’t really be a bad thing! I guess it’s about time I mentioned something about timings and position. Siigh. I had finished day 1 18th overall and 4th lady. I knew as i ran into Beaumaris that I had moved to 3rd lady and I could see 2nd lady ahead of me. Sally Forde (who I had competed against earlier in the year) was well ahead in 1st place. I’m too new to this game to have race strategy nailed and I didn’t want to ruin a good thing by getting too competitive and not being able to finish but I thought if I could keep her in view for a few more hours it might be interesting to see what happened. I had expected her not to delay at Beaumaris but as I came into the feeding station I could see she was not in a good way. We all have bad days and she was unfortunately having one of those. If I’m going to gain a position I would rather it be through running and not because a better runner (and she is a better runner than me) gets injured or sick. We chatted together for a while and as I left the half way point she was still deciding whether to continue or not.

The next section travels inland again for several miles, under the Menai Bridge and up towards the Port Britannia Bridge. I ran a chunk of miles with a lovely Danish runner whom I later learnt is a very seasoned and well known runner in the Ultra-world. It was great to talk to him and hear about his experiences and get tips and advice which I was able to use later. His partner Louisa was on support and was a friendly and encouraging face to see as we passed through checkpoints. This section of the route had been included in my reccies. I figured that I would be feeling pretty wrecked at some point from the Menai Straights to Abberfaw and that any advatange I could give myself would be worth the investment. So a few weeks before the event we went on another camping trip near Newborough Forest and I reccied a lot of the final sections of day 2. I was really thankful that I did that as all was going reasonably well until we got to the Sealife centre. By this time I was bored senseless of my staples of rice, beans, salted crisps and cereal bars. When we got to this checkpoint other runners support had hot food waiting for them. The tiredness and the fact that we had run close to 50 miles that day came home to roost and culminated in a major pity party as I dragged my arse out of the checkpoint. However one of my races earlier in the year had a similar moment so I kept repeating to myself that it would pass. It took about 4 miles for the fecker to pass but it did pass and I also realised that there was no sign of the lady who had been in 2nd so I was doing OK. I also knew that I was going to cross the famous stepping stones soon and luckily I didn’t fall in the river crossing them. A stretch of tarmac led towards Newborough forest. From here I had reccied the route to the end of day 2. I think knowing this and the fact that Newborough Beach is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever seen raised both my pace and spirits. Climbing over the sanddunes onto the beach I was greeted by the sight of the Snowdonia National Park across the bay and Lladdwyn Island ahead of me. I felt like I was flying at this point. Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile, Jasmin Paris bagging the BG record. Queen’s ‘Dont stop me now’ had earwormed in. B’jeasus this is great! Slightly marred by a man on the beach asking me if this was a sponsored walk!!!! I banked round the rocky outcrop at the edge of the tidal Llanddwyn and saw the running Viking ahead of me. Had he been hoping for a quiet reverie along this section of coast it was not to be as I caught him up. Hyper with renewed energy I babbled along pointing out the so called mansion of a cottage where William and Kate holed up in when they got married across the bay and guided us both to the honesty book at the end of the beach. We then turned inland again across the marsh and into the forest. I pulled ahead at this point, pace found (although I cant rule out the fact that he may have slowed slightly just to have a bit of peace and quiet!). I didn’t delay at the final checkpoint as i knew i only had about 6 miles to go and wanted to finish before i needed my torch. I dug in and saw the beginnings of the sun set as i crossed the reserve at Malltraeth sands. Once more the route turns inland and through Hermon and then goes a bit Scooby Doo. A wall outside Llangawaldr must be climbed and ploughed and harvested fields crossed. The sound of gunshots wards off birds and expecting to hear banjos and talk of squealing piggies I pass an abandoned house and the carcasses of crows tethered to a fence. Presumably to warn off their friends and family from feeding on seeds. I imagine that if scarecrows and gunshots aren’t working this must filed under ‘drastic measures’. It is Saturday evening, I haven’t slept since Thursday night. It takes me a while to realise that I’m not imagining this! Continuing in this vein I follow the arrows into a field of cattle who line up and not, i think to my-self, to cheer me on. I make an executive decision and throw myself over the closest wall into relative safety. Now totally paranoid and jumpy as hell I spy the lights of Aberffaw ahead. But the route dictates a left turn up through the dunes and onto the beach. Its deserted, with the greys, blues and deep purple of dusk setting in. I push on find the honesty book and head inland to Aberfaww. I think another minute out would have meant taking out my headtorch but as it was i was soon in streetlights and the welcome sight of the hall, day 2 complete. I pitched my mattress on the stage at the end of the hall figuring it might provide the quietest and darkest patch for the night. I dusted the cobwebs off my wallet and paid for a sports massage. I heated up my quinoa curry and it may come as no surprise that I gagged when trying to eat it (NoOOOoo I hear you cry, who would have thought quinoa curry would be a bad choice after 66 miles of running). I had some flat lemonade and then just about managed to make it to the loo where I called for Ralf down the ceramic telephone for a long time. Then thoroughly dehydrated and broken I took to my bed for the night and managed a few hours sleep.

Day 3 Aberfaww — Holyhead (33 miles)

Oh, but the fire went wild.

Woken again by Johnny Cash singing rather aptly about burning rings I checked my phone and Poor Pete had texted to say I was 2nd lady, 11th overall and that 3rd lady was about 45 minutes behind me. The lady who had been in 2nd had retired on day 2. All I needed to do was consolidate 2nd and try and gain one place to finish in the top 10. Sally was a couple of hours ahead of me and even on my best day i had no chance of pulling that back over 33 miles. After a small breakfast and a brew we made our way outside. The weather had turned. It was blowing a gale and raining heavily and had been through the night. So wet feet and mud beckoned. I don’t mind those conditions too much so I wasn’t really bothered. Once running a few of us packed together towards the front and figured it was just a case of finishing now and not being daft. In spite of the weather it was still beautiful. The sea looked like it was being boiled and the wind nearly blew us over on the beach. We settled into a little crew of 3, myself Sally and a guy called Ron. Tiredness and being away from real life I think had turned us all a bit giddy and there were points on day 3 where I couldn’t run for laughing. Unbeknownst to me our little party was causing quite the stir in Radcliffe HQ. We had trackers on for the weekend and people from my club were dot watching. So from their point of view it looked like Sally and I were having a crazy duel, overtaking and passing each other constantly in a race for the finish. Instead we were having a good Sunday pack run. The banter was good we mused about how I could win if Sally ‘got lost’ or missed an honesty book page incurring a 3 hour penalty. Funnily enough my offer to carry her pages and keep them ‘safe’ were not taken up . We managed to stay towards the front and were only over taken by a couple of runners including the running Viking from day 2 who flew past us like he had grown fresh legs over night! We had been joined towards the approach to Nature Reserve by Ron’s mum who had taken part in the shorter Firelighter event which takes place on day 1. There was definitely a sense of finishing on day 3. Both in the sense of crossing the line but physically we all agreed we were done! Sally and I had children starting school the next day, my youngest starting primary school and her’s starting high-school and once my thoughts turned to home I was eager to finish and get back to my family. However I was still very much running and had 8 miles to go. The wind had knocked over the marker for one of the honesty books and we nearly missed it. By the time we reached the bottom of Holyhead Mountain exhaustion had set in and the clouds were down but there was still a stark beauty to be had. We began the climb focusing on our feet. To my surprise my friend Andy appeared on the track. He had come over to see us in and being the great runner he is, decided to run with us for the final section. It was the boost I needed and with lifted spirits it was a jolly jog to the final honesty book near the light house (don’t want to give too much away about these in case you are thinking about signing up!). At this point it turned to a family affair as we were joined by Ron’s sister who not only ran the Firelighter but the marshalled on day 2 and day 3. More about marshals later. Sally and I had already decided to run in together so we stuck together down the final descent to Breakwater park. With the rain in our faces and blisters on our feet we finally crossed the line. I have goose bumps writing about that even now 3 months after the event. Again, my writing skills can’t do justice to that feeling but I had achieved a personal goal crossing that line. The RDs were there to give out prizes, hugs and beers! The DJ was still doing Irish Weddings on the decks (I assume he went home and hadn’t been there since Friday but who knows) which was fantastic. Goodbyes were issued and Andy pulled out all the stops by driving up to the finishing area and bundling my smelly bags and a smellier me into his car to drive me down to my car. And that was that. The ring o fire had been rung. I finished 2nd lady and 10th overall. Driving home fuelled by Starbucks finest (cough cough sponsorship…) into the welcome arms of my family I received a consoling ‘aw, maybe you will win next time mummy’ from my youngest….

Bear with me for one final paragraph. I really need to mention the people involved in this race and just how impressive the organisation is. The RDs and marshals stay in the same halls or in tents/vans nearby as the runners. They probably get less sleep than runners do. And every runner is welcomed across the finishing line with the same enthusiasm as the first runner. The sports massages stay until the last runner has come in case they want a massage. Feeding stations are superbly stocked and there was fruit and bars that even a gluten-free nearly vegan like me could have. They had foccacia at one point! Sandy’s Bar in Treaddur (owned by one of the RD’s mum) pulled out all the stops on Sunday for runners to fill their boots. The locals and holiday makers in Anglesey are incredibly supportive and generous. I’ve already mentioned the impromptu yacht delivered goodies on day 1 but the amount of people I passed who offered part of their picnics, who set up people tables outside their houses offering water and sweets and random people who offered me a banana (3!) made it even more special than it was. And obviously thank you to Poor Pete and offspring 1, 2 and 3. This event took over my life for nearly the year and I can honestly say I am better for it!

Ring of Fire

Love is a burning thing

And it makes a fiery ring.

Bound by wild desire

I fell into a ring of fire.

[2x]

I fell into a burning ring of fire,

I went down, down, down and the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns,

The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

The taste of love is sweet

When hearts like ours meet.

I fell for you like a child,

Oh, but the fire went wild.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,

I went down, down, down and the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns,

The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,

I went down, down, down as the flames went higher

In the zone Day 2 and final climb on day 3 (with Sally Ford and Ron’s mum)
Day 2 Sunrise
Prize-giving
Me, Sally and Ron near North Stack. And near Beaumaris Day 2
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