The Pembrokeshire Coast Path Challenge
- St Dogmaels to Trefin
- Time – 18hrs
- Distance – 47 Miles
- Elevation – 8,179Ft
- Trefin – Solva
- Time – 15hrs 30mins
- Distance – 24miles
- Elevation – 3,343ft
- Solva to Little Haven
- Time – 9hrs 50 mins
- Distance – 13 miles
- Elevation – 2,185ft
- Little Haven to Dale Village
- Time – 16 hrs 10 mins
- Distance – 20 miles
- Dale Village to Amroth
- Time – 40hrs 25 mins
- Distance – 80miles
- Elevation –
Total Distance – 184 miles
Total Time – 148 hrs 15 mins (6 Days)
Total Elevation – TBC
The Challenge was to run, hike and scuffle my way around the 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire coast path the UK’s only Coastal National Park and described by many as one of the world’s greatest in the months building up to the event a number of people enquired about joining me on the adventure and 3 committed, Sanna Duthie, Rob Smith and Helen Platel all veterans of the recent 100 mile Pembrokeshre coast path run. Rob and Sanna were very late nonstarters due to injury and Helen was hit down with a bug but said she would do the first day.
Yes I know the plan was to do this in 3 days but when it became apparent that was not going to happen I had to decide whether to stop or carry on. My thought process around this were, if this was a race or a pre-arranged event I would have stopped, had the other 3 of been on the challenge I would have stopped and acted as support for them. But as it was just me I thought lets carryon. It was weird although I was in extreme pain (not sure if I have mentioned that) I did not feel injured, it wasn’t like a sharp knee pain or something that could be causing serious long term damage to an otherwise well-tuned machine!!! It was blister pain! Then as the days went on and the heat and pain became unbearable, I thought I have come too far to stop now. This Challenge had been a dream of mine for a long, long time and I genuinely felt whilst out there that if I stopped I’d probably never do it again and that would be another regret to hang on the hat stand so to speak.
So I kept telling myself these challenges are meant to be hard they are meant to push you or they wouldn’t be challenges. And like anything in life when it gets difficult you have to ask yourself why you started and if those reasons are good enough they will be why you finish. If they are not or you never really wanted it that much you will stop and that will be the end of it.
Sometimes near death or serious injury stops you, but quite often in these cases the person will return and complete the task or dream, but I was feeling that if my mind gave up and I stopped that was it and there would be no return.
The main problem with extending the challenge was that I had only planned for 3 days so everything after that was made up on the spot, in regards to food, water, sleeping, resting and distance to be travelled and due to the nature of the beast this was constantly reviewed at a moment’s notice. Not ideal prep but to be honest I thrive on that sort of thing.
One example of this was climbing out of Little Haven on the road and just about to re-join the actual path, which goes into a wooded area for a couple of miles towards St Brides. When I got to that gate on Sunday afternoon at 4pm and nearly 40 degrees!, Knowing what was a head (a 2 mile windless heat trap of canopy then out onto a 3 mile sun soaked cloudless coast line) and the way I was feeling I decided to stop, rest for a period and go over night instead. So a 6 hour break and at 9.50hrs I was back at the same spot and once into the forest I thought “What a wise move” as even at that time of night the forest was like an oven.
From then until 0600hrs when I reached Martins Haven I did not see another soul! Came face to face with a badger at about 2am on a very narrow section of the path and had a stand off until he ran away (there was no way I was moving or going back) I have to say that bit overnight through the forest, and around St Brides Castle was a little bit eerie got the old goose bumps and hairs on the back of my neck standing up as I was hearing all sorts of things. But just had to tell myself “for Christ sake your 42 there’s no such thing as the bogeyman and in all reality your probably safer there than any large town anywhere!
Saying that I definitely wouldn’t run as an organise an overnight event on the path! And wouldn’t recommend anyone doing it.
Then at 3.30am ish taking a look to the east and seeing the daylight starting to make its way across the sky was an uplifting feeling and ready to attack the day but that’s easier said than done.
From here on in the walk really was a battle of fatigue, heat and the feet. With impromptu little naps becoming the order of the nights and early mornings but on some occasions I’d walk for an hour just looking at a suitable place, I’ve never realised how many badger sets and animal tracks are on the path but these are the things you try and avoid when looking for a place to lie down! And the thought of 4 miles (yes only 4 miles) to the next place were there may be water seemed like an eternity. The last stage was hard, so hard that I have had 24hrs of pure rest from it all. By now my phone battery had died, so had my tracker and garmin. The tracker guy said to me “there’s plenty of battery life enough to last twice what you are doing” how little did he know! On this section I slept somewhere on the path just before Manorbier and when I woke up at about 3am it was a bit cold and I was aching a bit, by about 6am the rain started to come in and people said, I bet your glad of that, well not really was the answer. It was a final 15 miles of just thinking “ok how can I go faster” because I’d lost communication with everyone, I arrived in by myself (which didn’t bother me) and had about 1hr 20 mins wait for the next bus – just enough time for another nap! Now there was so much happening over these 6 days that you’d never get it all down but here is what is stuck in my head
The People and Support Crews
Doing something like this self-sufficient would be a massive undertaking and require real self-discipline. Having a support crew and people willing you on is great and something that made a hell of a difference to me.
First and foremost a special thanks to Ann for the constant food, kit, and water drop offs and the sections she walked and the support – Even if she did eat half my sandwich on day two because she got feed up of waiting!
Then day one with Helen was great she kept me going and was nagging that I should eat more, and drink water and look after my feet and silly things like that, things like that that when you are feeling fresh and good you do ignore!! Remember if you are hungry or thirsty you’ve left it too late!!!! But really enjoyed and appreciated the company!
Day two my tracker was playing up and people were finding it hard to find me!! Or that’s what they said!!! Although I did see Carwyn and Ali drive around Whitesands Car Park 4 times and I waved my walking stick at them but was not spotted.
Then as the long day was coming to a very slow end Eddie Bolger was waiting at St Non’s for me with loads of sweets n stuff, and from there we speed marched to Solva, this was a great boost and the by far the quickest I’d moved all day. And in turn we were sported along the route by Rob Griffiths who even offered to buy us a pint in Solva but I had to reluctantly turn down.
Day 3 I had the pleasure of being joined by Barts (Ian Bartlett) and Arnie, who got me to Nolton and brought with him Lucozade and chocolate flap jacks not to mention the litre of water! As I left Barts on the promise of seeing him later! I had a pleasant shock as I bumped into John Williams who was waiting for me with a cornetto (that was the best) John managed to carry me to Druidstone and fair play to the retired major he did all of that with a pebble in his shoe, which was really annoying him – a real trooper!!!! And then at Druidstone I bumped I to Ali and Carwyn who after 3 days of looking for me had managed to eat all the supplies. So as they walked with me to Broad Haven I gave them my water and fruit to keep them going and Carwyn my poles to help him out on the tricky sections.
Carwyn did give me a moral boosting tale, saying that he always wanted to do it but never got around to it and now due to injury probably will never do it and regrets that! Words that did encourage me
The next time I was to see Carwyn was almost 24hrs later I rang him as an SOS call and he came and picked me up from Dale and I was gone flat out on the grass heat stroke, feet on fire and probably smelling a bit! I can’t really remember much about it but I think he advised me to stop and at that point I fully agreed with the thoughts and was going to, but a shower and serious blister treatment and I was back at it. But that lift really was a life saver and needed there and then!
Also Mark and Camila for the chat and drink in Dale.
And Harvey for the evening run before he abandoned me for a trip to MacDonald’s
And Chris Grayell for his lift from town to St Davids to finish of the return trip!
Now in addition to these were all the people I spoke to on the path there were numerous, all had their own story to tell as we walked together or stopped and chatted some of who sponsored me. The one who stands out the most was a German Girl (absolutely loads of Germans out there) who was walking the whole path in 14 days we walked together on and off for a bit. Then she would go ahead and sometime later I’d catch up (I think she waited to ask a question) and she’d say I’ve been thinking how are you eating? Or where are you sleeping? Are you washing? Then as I was telling her I was thinking this doesn’t sound right so was then trying to explain that this is not normal behaviour – To which I had back “I think this is all very interesting” She was trying to offer me a banana for ages but being like I am I was saying “no, no” it’s ok then eventually I gave in and said “that would be nice thank you” and she just smiled and walked off! Close but no banana! That annoyed for a good few hours. I had built my self up for that little snack
Not to mention the kindness of the farmer near castle martin and the café owner in dale who gave me drink and fair play to the farmer he offered to take me to the farm for food! Plus the many more. It really was an adventure and journey through the best of Pembrokeshire
Plus all the kind messages either via text, social media or any other format, they really did help and were much appreciated
Now why do you get blisters and more importantly why did I get them on day one and what could have been done to prevent them or to treat quicker and more efficiently. I must admit my first aid knowledge on blisters was pretty poor and the reason for that was because I’d never really had any! Another reason when I did not foresee the problem!!!
I had gone over 20 miles on the coast path on over 15 occasions 30 miles plus on 5, completed another 5 marathon distances on the road and an IM in 35 plus degree heat and never had a foot blister so compliancy may have crept in.
I was expecting muscle soreness, stiffness and pains in the knees along with the obligatory banged toes! But blisters no!!!
They started on about the 30 mile mark at Fishguard and by Strumble Head the pain had really slowed me down. We stopped on the 47 mile mark to try and treat them so I could go again the following day.
First Day Treatment
- Ice water (lots of swelling)
- Foot spa with Epsom salt
- Cleaning and drying
- Smothering in Vic! And sleeping with socks on.
Start of day two
The feet felt refreshed but as soon as I took the first steps on the path it was painful, extremely painful I knew it was going to be a long hard day! That day according to my garmin I took over 75,000 steps and I can honestly say every single one felt like an electrical shock going through the body and really did sap the energy and morale and when it got to the really rocky on areas like St Davids head it was like someone had turned up the volts.
Day two treatment was the same as the first and really with the same level of success for day 3.
The next treatment came on the advice of Carwyn from his military days, which was pop the blisters and treat with iodine. Now this was during my siesta break and to be fair when I started again that night at 10pm it seemed to have done the trick for the first 15 miles or so, but as morning broke I could feel the blisters emerge and the pain became unbearable again
Now it’s hard to explain the actual pain and the effect these blisters were having on me and the enjoyment of the challenge but basically they had slowed me down to a mile a minute and every downward step brought a tear to my eye. And at this stage it was all over so desperate times called for desperate measures
A quick google / YouTube research and I came up with the following
The blisters that were still intact – I took a sharp blade to, split them down the middle and drained them of their puss, before sealing the reddened skin area with superglue.
The blisters which were broken had the skin cut away cleaned up and the raw area super glued.
The idea behind this was that the strength of the superglue would prevent the blisters reforming, it wouldn’t stop the hotspot feeling but would stop it getting worse.
Now doing this was a little bit painful and took a few hours to sort out and was not without drama. As I did one foot, I placed it on a towel and started on the other and in a massive school boy error had superglued my open blister to the towel and in a temper pulled it off in one go leaving half my foot on the towel!! Ouch!!!
Now this treatment I would stress is only for an emergency to get you through a big day/event and not the norm!
The final touches to this was making the feet as comfortable as possible, and to ensure this I did the following
- Gel insoles
- Moleskins patches covering the whole foot
- Double socks
- Shoes as tight as possible
And what a difference this made and with the next session having a lot of road I actually managed to run a fair bit of this and although there was some discomfort it was nothing like the previous days
This last section was 80 miles and my main motivation for completing it and not stopping was – I was not going to take my trainers off and go through that treatment or any treatment again!!
Marathon Des Cote
Now if you are looking for real challenge, one which will be a lifelong memory and will rate up there with one of the best things you have ever done or experienced, well this is for you. It really is a journey through the coastal communities of Pembrokeshire, which is being described by professionals and tour operators worldwide as the best costal trail in the world.
Now can it be done in 3 days, yes it can, it is a big ask and everything has to be right but it can be done. What we will ensure is that the logistics are in place to give you the best opportunity to succeed. We will ensure, Food, Accommodation, recovery massage and first aid is on hand to help you overcome and enjoy your journey.
After this little adventure and conversations we had, we are going to open up a relay event to run alongside the individual runners this would be an ideal team event for clubs, organisations or charity groups
More Info of Marathon Des Cote – CLICK HERE
Sections of Note
Now with 186 miles there was so many spectacular areas, stepped with History some I’d done many a time and some I’d never done and really wondered why not! Having just finished here are my top five sections in no particular order – And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the others.
St Dogmaels to Newport – High cliffs with share drops and great views out into the Irish Sea brutal climbs but a real sense of being off the beaten track, which I love
Harbour Village (Goodwick) to Abermawr – Another brutal section on the climbs but, the area between Harbour village and Strumble had a great forest section, little bays and great views with lots of visible marine wild life whilst the cliff views around Strumbe and Pwll deri really are world class once again at times you feel like you are miles from anywhere – Outstanding
Abereiddy to Caerfai – A 20 mile or so section that I know very well and have done, worked on and enjoyed for years but it never fails to impress from the beauty of the north section around to St Davids head and the historical landmarks around the peninsular.
West Angle Bay to freshwater West – I was taken back by this bit as you leave Angle there’s a great view out onto the estuary and the fort that lies within it. Then as you get around the headland there are some great ups and downs and rugged cliffs on the peninsular until you are meet my the great sight of Fresh west this bit was a first for me and a great surprise.
Stackpole to Lydstep – Now I’ll be honest I was binging to think the South Section lacked a bit but then as I left Stackpole, into Freshwater East, Manorbier and Lydstep I was taken back some great sections, with lots of variety, real dramatic views and good trails a real morale booster for tired body and legs. On the Marathon es Cote the climb out of Fresh East could be a bit special, sand dunes, steps and hills that just keep given!
I am now trying to learn to walk again without poles what a godsend from Carl and Helen and they are far more than a walking aid here’s my top 10 uses for the poles
- Beating back long grass (especially around Martins Haven)
- Beating off horse flies and removing them from your legs (especially around Castle Martin)
- As a weapon of protection whilst walking through Pembroke Dock at night I had it all planned out
- Scaring off badgers
- Ice breaker as in a conversation opener to other walkers, we discussed, techniques, 1 pole v 2 poles, pros and cons we had it all
- An aid to help me get off the ground from a rest or sleep
- A toy using it as a pretend gun to shoot at things in the sky (sun stroke kicking in)
- A waving stick to attract people’s attention
- An aid to help me get up the stairs to the toilet
This really was a great challenge – I’m not disappointed I didn’t do it in 3 just happy to have done it, an absolutely brilliant part of the world so lucky to live within it.
Finally a special mention to the two charities DPJ Foundation and Safe Horizon if you need support or help please get in touch with them, both run by great people who’s aim and only goal is to help.