This challenge came about due to a combination of my love of Anglesey and its beautiful coastal path and having previously completed a lap of the island in 3 race stages of the multi day RingOFire race in 2015. When I returned to the race in 2017 and dropped out after only 64 miles on day 2 following severe cramps overnight after day 1, I resolved to just come and do the whole thing in one go.
Plans were made for a non stop 135 miles attempt this spring, only to be torn apart by the Covid pandemic.
My training gained an extra two months of building endurance stamina while I waited for Wales to lift its travel restrictions. The new start date of July 10th was just 4 days after restrictions on travel lifted.
My attempt would be solo and self supported. Additional complications of the new world living alongside Covid 19 meant no cafes or pubs or public toilets would be open anywhere, so my logistics needed precise timing to make use of the few available stores that would be open around the island. This necessitated picking a few locations to visit and stash food and water to provide essential resupply. Add to this the tidal aspect of certain sections of the path and it needs some thought in planning.
I arranged for a GPS Tracker from Wayne at GB Ultras to provide both an independent verification record of my journey and also an easily accessible way for supporters to track me and hopefully advertise and boost charitable donations for the Christie Hospital cancer charity I was supporting.
I left my vehicle close to the iconic Menai Suspension Bridge, first opened in 1826 and started my journey, clockwise under the arches at 5:50am.
The weather was set to be fine for the two days and I headed off at low tide and was soon running over rough rocky beaches along the southern coastline. After traversing a number of very overgrown, knee high dewy, wet fields, my feet were completely soaked. Foot management would be a main feature of a successful round, with the difficult and varied underfoot terrain around the island battering the hardiest of ankles and feet.
As the tide was low, I took full advantage and enjoyed a fantastic out and back onto the beautiful Llanddwyn island with views of the mountains beyond, before a long stretch of soft sandy beaches and forest trails brought me to a first stop at Malltraeth at about 23 miles.
I stopped and bought a banana milkshake and a crème egg which I enjoyed while I removed my shoes, dried and dressed my feet that were already stinging with hot spots after being soaked from the off.
From here my progress was steady as the day grew warmer, with a coastal breeze that was deceiving me as to just how much I was sweating.
The race director of the RingOFire intercepted my path before Rhosneigr and it was great to have a chat with him while he took a few photos of me for the record.
I had a short stop in Rhosneigr where I bought a tin of mandarin oranges in homage to the tonnes of them that I had eaten during the RoF in 2015!
By now I was feeling the heat. By the time I reached Trearddur Bay at 50 miles, my steady pace had slowed and I was suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. A silly unforced error.
I resupplied in the convenience store. However as I sat on the pavement and ate, I was overcome with nausea, cramps and uncontrollable shivering that resulted in a severe and protracted bout of vomiting. I had to put on my emergency warm clothing and take a proper time out, lying on the steps of a café, closed of course. This did not make an impressive sight. I eventually controlled my stomach and temperature and packed up, ready to set off. Realising that I would now miss the closing of my last resupply point on Holyhead before the overnight stage, I made sure to have enough fluid before leaving. My next resupply would now be over 37 miles away. I put this worry to the back of my mind and set off, power marching as I still felt too weak to run.
The only significant climbing on the route is from South Stack where the lighthouse stands guard on the western most tip of Anglesey on its satellite, Holy Island. I watched the sun finally dip below the horizon as I trudged northwards, then as I commenced the climb over Holyhead mountain I finally put my headtorch on. It was 11pm and a beautiful calm evening.
I know the route very well and the darkness didn’t bother me at all, finally dropping down into Holyhead about an hour later. I sat in a bus shelter to rest my legs, then lay down on the bench for a moment. Moments or minutes later a ping from a text message brought me around and I realised I had nodded off.
I passed through the town centre as dozens of wagons disgorged from the Dublin ferry. A strange sight at 12.30am. Desperately looking for any source of food or water, I spotted the lights were on in a pizza and kebab takeaway but when I got to the door I realised it was closed. The owner who was cleaning up for the night must have seen the look in my eye and let me in, kindly donating me a can of tropical fizzy Rio drink. Much needed sugar!
So I marched onwards back out into the darkness and the left the lights of civilisation behind me once more. A couple of miles later as I made my way over Stanley embankment and around the estuary towards the coast, a headlight came towards me. A face appeared that I did not know and greeted me. This was a strange encounter at about 2am. A local benevolent runner had been following my progress and came to meet me and offer encouragement. This was a great boost to the spirits and I accepted a warm drink of tea that he had with him. Feeling more energised I headed back along a rocky beach and I also put on my headphones for company. For the next couple of hours on a frankly unexceptional stretch of the coastal path, I listened to the Rich Roll podcast interview with the inspirational Kilian Jornet.
The only other point of note was witnessing a stunning cloud formation at around 3am as the skies began to lighten. I have since learned that it was probably noctilucent clouds, a stunning twilight phenomena laid out before me as I trundled relentlessly onwards, listening to the mesmorising and softly spoken Kilian recounting his adventures on Everest.
With daylight came a new sense of purpose. My stomach was settling but I was still not eating. The coastline from Church Bay up the north western section of the island is stunning and remote. This is probably the quietest part of the whole island and I soaked up the peace and tranquillity of the new morning. My karma was only briefly interrupted when I followed a bit of a diversion and ended up scaling wire fences, rolling under electric fences and doubling back and forth to regain the path due to some bizarre temporary obstructions that my tired brain could not fathom out. I had also started hallucinating, imagining rocks as animals and seeing swimmers in the sea below the cliffs that were actually brightly coloured buoys.
By the time I reached Cemaes Bay at 90 miles, I was ravenous and fantasising about food, having not eaten anything of note for nearly 15 hours. I had to queue at a shop where I bought cold drinks and a prawn sandwich then found my own stash of food and water outside the holiday house of some friends that had given me permission to hide my gear on their driveway. I took a sensible amount of time to refuel and carefully redress my feet with new blister dressings and clean socks. My 40 hour finger in the air timing plan was now long gone, but my supreme goal was to enjoy my journey and I headed back onto the path, ready for the run down the east side of the island. From Cemaes the path is particularly familiar to me as this is the area where we stay the most as a family.
It almost felt like home turf and it was a major psychological hurdle crossed to have got this far, though I was still not entertaining any ideas that I had this challenge beaten.
The sun felt very hot and I was glad to have used sunscreen and that I had my cap with me.
My next stash point was at 111 miles, at the farm campsite just past Moelfre where we stay on our visits here. I retrieved my pots of fruit and snacks and topped up my water. I chatted with the farmer, Ieuan, a lovely guy, who went up even further in my estimation when he offered me an ice cream! In fact he was so taken aback that I would choose to run the entire island with no sleep that he offered me two ice creams, but I declined! I headed off into the evening sunshine licking a Magnum and feeling very happy with it.
The sunset glow was fabulous and it made me feel pretty lucky to be experiencing the journey in this way, outstanding views of the island and across the sea to Snowdonia beyond. At Benllech more strangers came out to wish me well and stoked my positive energy banks.
As the sun finally set, I could tell that it would be a cold evening as the skies were so clear.
My original theoretical plan had me finished before dark, but I still had 20 miles to go as I put my headtorch on again near Llandonna. With darkness came a real chill and I put a layer on. I also began to feel extremely light headed and was unsure for a while if it was low energy or just dog tiredness after 40 hours on the go. I had used my caffeine energy tablets early Saturday morning. I was on a very uninteresting stretch of straight coastline, marshy in places and with a raised section of coastal wall that I felt I was going to fall off as I was so wobbly. I found a Mountain Fuel caffeine gel that I keep in my pack for ‘emergency’ life support. Seemed appropriate to deploy it!
Next up was a recently opened revised section of the path that climbed steeply up from the shore and wound around the headland towards Penmon point. A series of fields that would be simply negotiated in daylight became more challenging as I sought the correct line. This seemed to take forever, though I was pleasantly distracted by a deeply orange coloured moon that rose above the horizon, rather like a Death Star.
Shortly before I dropped down from the headland, I saw what looked like a smudge of light stretched across the sky at about 2.30am. It looked like an enormous comet, though with my hallucinations I wasn’t sure until afterwards when I discovered it was in fact comet Neowise.
It was at this point that I checked the ETA on my tracker and realised that I was now due to finish at 6.15am, beyond my 48 hour barrier. I had lost so much time along the way and especially through the previous section, I really got a bit angry.
I stopped and stripped down to my running vest and with 11 miles to go, broke into a much more determined and sustained pace of running.
I reached Penmon point, the location where I had abandoned the RoF race in 2017. From here a road section grinds steadily uphill towards Beaumaris. I ran this entire section, filled with a conviction to finish strongly.
9.5 miles to go. Then onto a nasty rocky and boulder strewn beach. My feet were utterly destroyed with burning on the balls of both feet and in both heels. And the tide was in. Another short section of road then I came onto a last choice. It was another mile or so of rocky ankle killing beach, fighting the tide that was also making the rocks wet and treacherous. Or the high tide diversion on the road that added probably an extra half mile or more.
I opted for the latter and headed reluctantly inland but shouting out loud at myself to run like it was a 5K.
At 3.30am I must have looked some sight, running down the centre of the road straight lining the bends.
Checked the tracker ETA again. Down from 6.15am to 5.20am. Run on.
Into Beaumaris, 4 miles to go. All on roads now as the coastline is developed with expensive houses and a posh hotel.
Outside Beaumaris the route takes a turn inland up a ridiculous hill that climbs over 300 feet in half a mile. After 130 miles that’s no fun. Head down, marching like I had the devil chasing me I pushed on. The last 3 miles came and went in a blur, the sense of elation was building.
Headtorch off and I stayed in the middle of the empty road running the white line.
Once I dropped back onto the main road and saw Menai Bridge ahead, I let out a little whoop. Then I saw Sian, my wife ahead, leaping up and down like a jack in a box waiting for me.
With under half a mile to go we had a triumphant but brief hug. My tracker now had an ETA of 4.50am so off I went, knowing I could get not only under 48 hours but possibly under 47.
Sian ran ahead of me to record my ‘sprint finish’ and I dashed back under the arches of the bridge to my virtual finish line at 4.47am. Spent and ecstatic. 135 miles finished in 46 hours and 57 minutes with an exhilarating last 11 miles where I clawed back over 90 minutes.
We stood together and drank in the beauty and utter tranquility of the new day. I was too tired to speak coherently.
Then as we drove over the bridge shortly after, the sun burst over the horizon to the most majestic of sunrises and signalling my own little personal triumph of a dream adventure realised.