Last updated on November 20, 2021
I’m aware that the title of this makes little sense to many – but this was my first experience being a support crew for friends (Liz and Kelly) who were doing their first ultra, the one day Firelighter event in Anglesey (Wales) as part of the larger ‘Ring of Fire’.
I’m nearly always out of our group the one going and doing an odd event of some form – and one of the earlier in the group to venture into Ultras. As a result, I’m generally the person running around trying to pack (then repack), work out eating plans, hope that I’ve tapered (or trained) enough before the event (generally neither).
This time it was my chance to experience what my (incredibly patient) better half normally goes through – patiently making sure that everything isn’t lost, I am probably in the right place at the right time, and that I’m wearing my clothes the right way around. Or something like that.
I say crewing in this case – I’d badly gone over my ankle a week or two before and was having problems walking (coastal paths are great in this state!) – and another friend with us was paying close attention helping get food and the various check points plotted out – so to an extent, I kept an eye, knew what was where, and gently helped when needed. There can be too many chefs, and too many people trying to help will just stress out the person doing the event.
The event itself – it’s the first stage of a 3 day ultra, covering 35.7 miles, starting at Holyhead and finishing at Amlwch – it’s a pretty route, predominantly undulating coastal paths (give or take starting in Holyhead, and a decommissioned nuclear power station). There’s links at the bottom of this post – either the 1 day, or for the adventurous, 3 day 135 mile route look great, and I’d love to give the shorter version (at least) a go at some point.
This was our friends first Ultra – they were concerned about the cut-offs, so the plan was to meet them at each CP, feed and water them, then point them in the right direction – and it pretty much worked out that way – ish.
It’s both interesting and strange crewing and event like this – a lot of people were doing the same, so you inevitably met the same collection of slightly odd people in the strangest of car parks (no, not that) – all dot watching the tracking app, grabbing some food, cheering the crowd on, then rinse and repeat. It was easy to get caught up in the atmosphere, and as timings got tighter – and gently concerning watching the margins for getting through CPs winding down!
The race kicked off in a country park out the back of Holyhead – we watched them off (if you ever do this event, be prepared to hear Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’….a lot) – then, as you do, found a craft brewery to get some supplies for the rest of the day. (Bragdy Cybi – https://www.bragdycybi.cymru/) – it was decent beer!), whilst the runners left Holy Island and went through the first check point after the bridge.
Give or take getting around cows and the coastal paths never ending collection of steps, our runners came through the second CP very kindly in time for us to finish lunch at the Wavecrest cafe we’d found nearby – in fairly good spirits at this stage. By the third CP however at the decommisioned power station, the time on feet and old injuries were starting to tell for them – I’d worked my through a significant amount of food by this point (you have to keep up with the runners, right), we’d seen a guy run past with shorts missing (strong underwear game), a lady covered in blood and a couple of people who definitely hadn’t gotten their nutrition right.
With Liz injured and needing to increasingly walk – and Kelly being faster, and able to go on, the inevitable ‘talk’ happened – and we saw a gap start to form between the two on the tracker. At this point I’d started to walk up the track from the CP to stretch my legs – and was glad that I did, as a number of runners were getting lost in that section. Shortly later, I came across Kelly and pointed him in the right direction, then found Liz and hobbled in solidarity with her to the CP for a well earned DNF.
It didn’t stop there. Having gotten Liz back to our accommodation, the rest of the afternoon was a rollercoaster – to make it to the end, Kelly was running on adrenaline and was going significantly fast – too fast – to give himself a chance of finishing. By this stage, I’d grabbed my bike as walking had stopped being a sensible option, and road up the coast to give him some encouragement on the route, chatting to various other support crews dotted along the route.
He came through at the head of Bull Bay in a group looking like he was at the stage where food makes little difference, and you just have to keep moving. It was good to see him still running when we could – when his route diverted back onto the Coastal Path, I rode along to the finish at Amlwch.
By this stage, a number of our crowd at home were dot watching, and were of the same conclusion – finishing on time was going to be on a knife edge. We watched more and more people staggered into view – bobbing head torches in the dark trying to work out whether they’d missed the entrance to the leisure centre grounds (they had) and whether they’d have to jump over the wall (guess….). We were still waiting.
And waiting. Just to see the group we were tracking take a wrong turn on the tracker. You could could tell who the other supporters were for that group of runners, all had the same expression.
Then a spot of light came sprinting up to the finish – suitably euphoric playing on the PA system, our pair re-united at the finish line – Kelly made it! On an 8 hour+ run, with a minute or two to spare only – it was couldn’t have been much tighter, Having supported all day, it’s hard not to be on the rollercoaster desperately hoping they make it – doubt had been significantly creeping in towards the end.
The crowd went wild (give or take 50 people stood in the dark in a field in Anglesey late at night), and the final people who’d dug in deep to finish sat on the ground and just looked….broken. I can’t blame them – it was a heroic finishing effort.
You never want to see the first people who don’t make the cut-off – it just doesn’t feel fair.
So, crewing. It’s a long day. with a lot of logistics and waiting. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Was it an odd experience? Definitely, particularly when at the time I was thinking about my own upcoming event, and the fact that I was struggling to walk.
Crewing. Do it if you can – it’s an odd but rewarding experience – and the people you’re supporting will generally really appreciate it! You might even find a couple of good cafes along the route, and you’ll definitely meet some interesting people.
The aftermath? We stayed in Anglesey for a couple of days before – exploring, recovering, eating heroic amounts of ice cream, and reading books on a balcony whilst being molested by a local cat – I heartily recommend it, and there’s some very pretty scenery around Anglesey.
Other things to do in Anglesey? We found a decent local cider producer (Jaspels), Cemaes Bay was beautiful as well as Rhosneigr (beaches, watersports, and an interesting place to watch jet aircraft on training flights). There’s some great roads to cycle on to explore great views, hidden bays and everything inbetween. We also headed to the South Stack Lighthouse (It’s an impressive setting – expect stairs though!)- with a quick ramble around the edge of the Holy Mountain at the same time
The race: http://www.ringofire.co.uk/
Wavecrest Cafe (recommended): https://www.wavecrestcafe.co.uk/
Bragdy Cybi Brewery and Taproom – https://www.bragdycybi.cymru/
Jaspels cider – https://www.jaspels.co.uk/
South Stack LIghthouse – https://www.visitanglesey.co.uk/en/things-to-do/activities/south-stack-lighthouse/#.YZjOPGDP2Hs