The 58 mile Marathon de Gwyr II (MdG II) (known locally as the Boozy Ultra) took place on the Gower peninsula from Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th July 2016. Unlike the inaugural event, it was open to runners of all standards, increasing the total participants from 17 to 26.
Of the 26 runners from MDG I, 7 returned for another go. These included city-dwellers Dean Simon and James Gough who escaped London’s congestion zone with new wide-eyed competitors in tow. Also returning were Gower stalwarts Julie parker-Deer and Peter O’Kane whose enthusiasm about MDG I generated a whole new batch of local participants. The youngest participant was student Joe Beak (aged 20) who braved day one in spite of his mandatory weekly Wednesday drinking session. The oldest 3 day runner was Simon Barry (52).
Injuries and availability were reasons given for non-returners, and promises were made to take part in 2017. A few said MdG I was a one-off (courage, it seems is a fleeting quality), not realising that participation in any of our events is a lifelong commitment that only Darth or death can break.
The event was sustained by a dedicated Support Crew reminiscent of the Rolling Stones hell-raising Roadies, but only once did any of them go off the rails. The permanent Support Crew totalled 3 and was made up of Owen McNamara, Chris ‘Train-wreck’ Coles and Stone Troll Warren. They followed the runners each day providing sustenance, setting up gazebos, tents and Darth’s luxury marquee. They managed injured drop outs and were on hand for any emergency, stopping short at toilet assistance. The Support Crew were reinforced at different points by Gower Watermen, the Toft brothers. Using their unprecedented knowledge of the Gower, The Watermen had prepared a number of routes for both events. The success of the event in many ways is down to all Supporting Crew’s selfless qualities. The runners salute you gentlemen, with the exception of Train-wreck on the Friday night.
Like its March one-day sister event – The Darth Mannion – the MdG employs Regulators. Representing the peak of Gower fitness, they help manage and structure the run, enabling sub-groups to form to compensate for different abilities. Static marshals or signposts are not utilised. This approach encourages a single team mentality that allows people to share the experience rather than run as individuals. The 7 runners that returned from MdG I were bestowed with these Regulator responsibilities.
Like The Darth Mannion, and the Darth Minion’s kids run, the MdG encourages all participants to raise money for the Welsh Air Ambulance. Together, the events have raised over £20,000 this year – an outstanding achievement. In recognition of their efforts in raising over £2000 each, Mark Lloyd of Barry and Gower’s favourite Northern Irishman, Simon McWhirter, were transported to the start line in style in the Welsh Air Ambulance (a helicopter if you lack GCSEs). They joked that they would also be transported in the Ambulance from the finish line too, but fortunately that didn’t materialise!
Day 1: Bishopston to Llangennith
After an inspiring yet unnecessarily long Darth Mannion speech, the runners were cheered off by pupils and teachers at Bishopston Primary School. Darth even signed a few autographs! On leaving the sanctuary of the village the runners turned North, heading through Parc-le-Breos to Welsh Moor via the historic ‘Gower Way’ and eventually reaching the North coast of Gower. They passed through ankle-deep mud and treacherous rocky slopes testing those not wearing fell shoes. After a stop at the Ship Inn for a quick re-supply (the ‘MdG Roadies’ were on their first beer) the group headed West towards Llangenith. Although she was on her first MdG, Fiona Stares took on the role of pace setter and drove the group at a consistent speed to the Hillend Campsite at Llangenith. Despite suffering a leg injury before the end of the day, she continued in her role as front marker ensuring each runner completed the 19.5 mile route and arrived with time to set up camp before dark. The evening was typical MdG – spent in the King’s Head Pub, runners enjoyed local Gower ales, quality pub grub and camaraderie. Runners and Roadies retired to their tents at around 11 pm.
Day 2: Llangennith to Port Eynon
Day two started with a bacon and egg roll at Eddie’s Café and a safety brief from MdG stalwart David Carey. The middle day of MdG is broken into 2 legs – a 12 mile run and then, after a two-hour break, an 8 mile run. Regular ultra-runners would not want to stop, but MdG is about the Peloton and introducing new runners to this discipline in a fun but challenging way. All participants accepted the notion, and the majority of participants required it.
The runners started day two in the summer sunshine, heading North to Brufton and then East to the hideous Llanmadoc Hill. The wind, dunes and sandy terrain eventually hit a few runners and 3 were asked to use the safety car for a short distance to recover. They started out again at the King’s Head Pub, but injuries and fatigue were clearly taking their toll. All 26 arrived at Rhossilli for a single pint of Gower Gold and a bowl of delicious pasta courtesy of the Worms Head Pub – not every runner opted for a beer! Steve Davies, local fireman and mischief maker, opted for a lemonade but once he was reminded of the tag line ‘the Boozy Ultra’ he glumly changed his order. After 2 hours the group started out again and the safety car was immediately in use – injuries rather than alcohol causing a number of people’s demise. 25 runners moved towards Worms Head as the sun slid behind the afternoon clouds and the sky turned grey. Moving along a narrow cliff path the runners stopped briefly at Mewslade Beach car park, where another runner was forced to retire.
24 of the 26 runners eventually made it back to Port Eynon. Perhaps in recognition of their efforts, they were rewarded with a Gower West Coast bathed in glorious sunshine for the last 4 miles.
Back in the Peloton, Regulators were forced to break down the group to cope with a number of exhausted individuals who just would not give up. Thia Malan could barely walk, but bravely forced herself around the final 8 miles. Mark Lloyd of Team Brawd was so fatigued he began hallucinating – in a confused state he thought he was following a trail of onion rings similar to the Hansel and Gretel story (but a less healthy version). The last group arrived about 30 min after the first runners appeared and all were pleased to see that the Roadies had started to construct camp. The Welsh Air Ambulance Van and Silverback Gazebo provided the right amount of shade for runners too tired to set up their own. That night all runners enjoyed another boozy and high spirited evening in the Ship Inn. Like the Worms Head and Kings Head Pubs, the Ship Inn provided wonderful local ales and first class meals. The only mishap was 2 of the Roadies decided to carry on until the early hours and proceeded to wake up many of the runners with their frolics and story-telling. It comes with the territory but they have since been fined for their actions. The Committee can confirm such behaviour will not happen again, unless everyone participates!
Both Careglwyd Caravan Campsite and Hillend provided camping for free in support of their local Welsh Air Ambulance – thanks very much!!
Day 3: Port Eynon to Pwll Du
After a warm breakfast in the Ship Inn, Darth provided yet another inspiring, but lengthy speech (apparently he uses the same writer as Donald Trump). The 3 day runners were also joined by 30 or so family and friends who would also run the final 17 miles to Pwll Du Beach.
During the night a storm had gathered and before the start the heavens emptied. But despite the horrible turn in weather, morale was high and the group of 60 headed West towards Oxwich Point. Only one of the initial 26 had been forced to retire prior to this, but more eventually joined her in the safety car.
The 50 runners were immediately broken down into 3 groups – a faster group led by Darth Mannion and Peter O’Kane were able to navigate the sea mist on Cefn Bryn and with grim determination crossed the line at Pwll Du some 3 and half hours after starting. A middle group initially compromising of 4 Regulators had been forced to break down further to cope with people of different speeds; Julie Parker-Deer and Tom Price managed to each bring a few runners home – fortunately a few Darth Mannion regulars, such as Robert ‘The Real Colsey’ Coles and Kirsten Collins were able to get back without any assistance. Special mention to Ian Joslin who helped one day runners despite having covered the 3 days himself. Fiona Stares, still plagued by injury was also able to cross the line and helped other 3 day runners in the process. Nick Tune, who had been voted ‘Distinctly Average Regulator’ by all 3 day runners at the day two evening pub visit, with many declaring ’I didn’t even know he was a Regulator’, redeemed himself by helping Mark Lloyd (still suffering from his onion rings ordeal) to the finish.
Crossing the line was a mixture of ecstasy and extreme pain for runners no matter their standard, but it was made better by the local supporters and fans that had gathered on the beach with cold beers and prosseco! Their cheer and sweet tasting hops made the ordeal seem worth it. Thanks to Taff Thomas and Matt P-D for setting this up. Afterwards the party headed to South Gower RFC and then later the Valley Pub for a memorable celebration. It topped off what was a brilliant three days. To those that conquered MdG II you should be proud of yourselves, it is an awesome achievement!!
MdG will return in 2017 – be ready, it’s one hell of an experience!