An ultra-marathon as a way to explore the Llyn peninsula

Running as an approach to exploration of the natural world. It's not all about times, challenges and racing. It can be about exploring and observing.

Events and organised activities are becoming common place in our countryside. Often they are just about challenging yourself against nature. This is not really nature based activity so much as nature challenge, often causing damage and disturbance too. However, a growing number of events are making an effort to support the wildlife and nature of the places they use, as well as the local economy. Could this be an important way of raising awareness and an income for nature based support? Perhaps in some instances, a tool for management where disturbance is actually good for the ecology? In this blog, Irene writes a littel from the runners persective, as a runner who observes and enjoys the nature she runs through, reaching beyond just personal challenge.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find that ultra-marathon running is a wonderful way to explore. There are several advantages….They often take me off the beaten track to places I wouldn’t otherwise find; someone has kindly worked out the route for me, so that’s one less bit of planning I need to do; because the place is new to me, there’s always that element of curiosity that pushes me on to find out what’s round the next corner, which can be very helpful when I’m beginning to feel tired; and if there’s an interpretation board or some other sort of information, it’s a great excuse to stop for a rest!

Last weekend, I was on the Llyn Peninsula in north-west Wales, taking part in the Pen Llyn Ultra Winter Edition. For the runners amongst you, I can’t recommend it highly enough as an event (and there’s a summer one too) For the non-runners amongst you, do keep reading – the route was all on public footpaths or lanes, so you can explore any or all of it, at any time, and at your own pace.

We started at the Pwllheli golf club, following the Wales Coast Path  route past Llanbedrog. When you do this yourselves, you would do well to time your visit to avoid high tide; we had to wade through knee-deep water, which wasn’t as bad an experience as you might think!

Our route then turned northwards along Llwybyr yr Morwyr, the Sailors’ Path. This is the route that sailors traditionally took between Abersoch and Porthdinllaen. As this is a

former ‘commuter route’, I took comfort from the fact that it would probably follow the path of least resistance through the countryside and so would be as un-hilly as is realistic for a hilly peninsula.

There were great views along the peninsula and out to sea, all the better for viewing the incoming squall which overtook me as I reached Porthdinllaen. The only way to describe the rain is stair-rods – what an elemental and memorable experience!

We joined the Wales Coast Path again and headed east as far as Nantgwrtheyrn. A former granite quarrying village, the remains of the workings are easily visible. Nowadays, the buildings have been restored and the place has found a new life as the National Welsh Language and Heritage Centre.  There are lots of information boards explaining the long history of the site, well worth a read. There is just one road in and out of the place, and it’s steep. Really steep. However, getting to the top of the road wasn’t the top for us, as our ultra-marathon route added a detour up to the radio mast on Yr Eifl. The map tells me I climbed 444 metres in all, from sea level. I was very glad of the unexpected offer of rocky road traybake from a marshal at the road junction – rocket fuel in disguise, I reckon!

By this point in the day, the light was fading. My preference is for running in the daylight so that I can see and appreciate where I am, and I have very little experience of running at night. But there is something special about being out in the countryside in the dark. With only a small crescent moon, and that behind cloud most of the time, it was just me and my torch, and the feel of my feet as they touched the ground. Although the majority of the route back from Llithfaen across the peninsula back to Pwllheli was on the road, the event route directed us up and over a small hillock on the edge of the town. I could hear the marshals at the top encouraging us as I wound my way upwards through a tunnel-like path, gorse either side of me as tall as I was and more, the narrow muddy path visible only as far as my headtorch could reach. I felt a real sense of personal satisfaction as I made my way safely down the rocky descent and back onto the lane below; I’d tried something a bit new and different, and succeeded.

The last mile or so of the route took us through the town. I’ll have to come back another time to explore. It’s a really popular holiday destination.