After a string of successful ultra marathons in 2022, and wanting to push myself further, I signed up for my biggest challenge yet. The Wild Horse 200 South Wales.
The Wild Horse 200 is a 200 miles (a bit more really) continuous multi-day ultra marathon, and features around 10,000 meters (32,000 ft) of vertical elevation both up and down.
At the time I signed up I still hadn’t fully grasped the magnitude of what I had gotten myself into. It was only a couple of weeks ahead of the race when the enormity of the situation really started to sink in.
Ramping up to the Wild Horse 200 South Wales
I ran a lot of volume in 2022, with little to no breaks. On average I was completing an ultra marathon a month (just about). But, I had not taken on anything greater than 50 miles until October.
To start building confidence and training for times where I would need to be running through the night, I signed up for the North Coast 110k ultra by Climb South West. This had me running through the night into the next day for roughly 18 hours non-stop. A good start.
Next up, I took on my own little challenge of running a 100 miler. I ran 100 miles along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
For training and advice I enlisted the help of two brilliant coaches.
- Stu Obree of Obree Coaching – an immensely talented runner with many years of experience, (and won the Wild Horse 200 South Wales in 2022). Stu helped me with initial training session ideas, nutrition advice, and a wealth of great information specific to Wild Horse 200.
- Jack Scott – a very talented and dedicated runner and coach (2nd place Winter Spine Race 2022, and winner of UTS 50 2022). Jack has helped me with specific training and also massively increased my mental fortitude.
At the beginning of February, a lingering, nagging hamstring issue decided to really flare up. Turns out I had (still have) a proximal hamstring tendinopathy. This is inflamed tendons that connect the hamstring to the sit bone on my right side.
Hill and speed work was getting uncomfortable, and I spiralled downward in the lead up to the Wild Horse 200 South Wales.
I was working with Jack at this point, and felt bad, because this was my own fault due to overuse (too many miles, particularly in January when I took on the Badwater 267 VR challenge).
However, he reconfigured training sessions, and adjusted things multiple times over dependending on how my body felt and how I reported back on pain in the area. He also took into account the feedback from a physio I was seeing (and whom diagnosed the issue after months of me searching for answers to no avail).
To add insult to injury (hah!), my right foot started to show pain in the arch a few weeks ahead of the Wild Horse (after I did some recce and long run training in the Beacons). I suspected the start of plantar fasciitis, but am still not sure. It was aching all the way up to the start of Wild Horse 200 though.
Through these issues, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was difficult to stay positive with the prospect of having to run 200 miles non-stop and not have something go wrong with these problems.
I was flooded with support though. I spoke with Stu a few weeks ahead (he had very graciously taken up my request for him to pace me). Jack was also continuously driving in the fact that he knew I could do this physically and was capable mentally. I just needed to stay positive and believe in myself.
Wild Horse 200 South Wales – Gear
I don’t even know where to start on this. So much kit was needed. I also needed backups. I’ll try to list what I had on me, as well as my two moving bags:
- Checkpoint bag
- Sleep station bag
These two bags were transported between every checkpoint and sleep station (3 x sleep stations, max 4 hours allowed at each).
On my I carried a Salomon Adv Skin 12 running pack and 2L water bladder (which had a leak). I also carried a 500ml soft flask backup, and at times an extra 500ml plastic water bottle – due to the leaky 2L water. In the pack was always:
- Blister kit (Dragon’s back spec)
- Survival bag
- Omm waterproof shell/jacket
- Compass, some basic bandage and plasters, spare head torch, spare lithium ion battery and cables to recharge phone/watch
- Some good food options – veloforte bars, cliff bars, precision hydration 250mg capsules, and carb chews.
- Trekking poles (only carried these from day 2 onward)
In the checkpoint bags were tons of things
- Sleeping bag + pillow
- Lots of spare clothes – base layers, shirts, running tights, merino wool mid layers, merino wool leg layers, synthetic mid layers, spare Inov-8 stormshell jacket
- Tons of socks. I went through about 10 pairs, and even this wasn’t enough. I needed to rotate dirty socks after they dried enough toward the end.
- 4 x pairs of Hoka Speedgoat 5 shoes – 2 x normal, and 2 x wide. 1 x pair of Inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G280
- Spare Mountain King trekking poles
- Lots of spare Veloforte and cliff bars
- Joov Electrolyte tabs
- Basic pain and muscle soreness management meds, and some Joov muscle rub
- Spare battery for charging devices
- Spare head torch
- Sleeping mask/ear plugs – not that I really needed them
- Probably a lot of other stuff I’m forgetting…
Carmen and the kids (and dog) were also following me checkpoint-to-checkpoint in a hired camper van. This was also loaded with spare gear, kit, and food.
The Wild Horse 200 South Wales Rundown
So how did it all go?
Well, I’ll summarise first with the dramatic stuff, and then get into the detail.
Pain, euphoria, highs, lows, darkness, light, fun times, tough times, crazy times. I lost 5.5kg of weight over the race too.
I had to keep pushing and moving forward, even when just about every part of my body was in excruciating pain. My achilles / right heel shot sharp pains climbing some of the steepest mountains, my feet began to ache and burn on the outer edges, and I formed blisters on my two small toes which needed draining and wrapping. I ran through the nights, with minimal sleep. At times I was falling asleep while running. I had to dig holes to poop on the go, and staved off hyponatremia toward the end too.
We camped in the van the night before the race started – it was a little cold and cramped for the 4 of us in a small VW campervan, but surprisingly I had a great night’s sleep. Usually nerves get the better of me, but I feel like I slept a decent 6 or so hours.
Start to Checkpoint 1
Starting at 6am in Chepstow, we all made our way in the darkness up the road past the castle and into some woodland trail. Our first goal was to get to C1 – White Castle.
I ran with a bunch of people through this section. Specifically I remember running with Allie, Francois, Chris, Bev, and a few more who’s names now elude me.
We had good conversation and spirits were high, even though the weather was less than stellar. It rained on and off for a bit, and the trail was very muddy and water logged in places.
My 2L water pack was leaking near the top, and I made a call to stop at a little shop on the first town we passed through to fill my backup soft flask and buy a plastic bottle of water.
I speak about it here on the run (1:19 into this video). Also in this video around 2:20, to 3:00 are scenes with me running past an old priory, comically jumping a muddy gate area, and heading up into the hills and mountains with some bad weather.
Arriving at White Castle, it felt like we had run for ages. It was the longest stretch with no checkpoint and was about 30 miles or so. Carmen and the kids were parked up waiting for me. The checkpoint crew were awesome. I knew Jaimie (and I think Kyle was there too). They tended to me needs even in the high winds and rain starting to come down.
I had some soup and snacks, refilled my water again, and went to the camper van to rest up a little. We had a little compostable toilet and I took the opportunity to do my number 2 business which I hadn’t had enough time for early morning! Saw dust covering, I left my poor wife with the nasty task of deciding what to do with it.
I changed into new, dry leggings, a new base layer and mid layer. I also cleaned up my feet, re-applied trench cream, and put on new socks and shoes. Fresh! I felt amazing.
Shortly after leaving C1, the weather turned bad, and it poured down. Thankfully the band of rain passed quickly.
C1 (White Castle) to C2 (Grwyne Fawr Reservoir)
This section is a bit of a blur to me now. I mostly ran it solo, and remember passing a chap named Sam through some of the mountains where we were met with some adverse weather and exposed conditions.
I also remember running into Martin (Kelp and Fern) who was part of the media team covering the race. He took some video of me passing the priory and heading up into the mountain as he was going back to the next checkpoint himself.
Eventually I reached C2 at about 52 miles into the race on day 1. This checkpoint was in a dead zone for mobile phone signal, but I knew it well as I had run a recce of this next section coming up back in December.
The checkpoint was a tent in the car park area and I had the help of I think it was Chris, Jaimie, Kyle, and possibly more. At the tend I had a hot “chicken flavour” pot noodle, coffee, some coke, and ate a few snack bars and biscuits.
I did my whole foot care routine again – clean, trench cream, new socks, shoes, etc… I must have been stopped here for about 1 hour, prepping myself for the Black Mountains I would now have to traverse in the darkness.
C2 to C3 (Crickhowell)
Crickhowell was the first sleep station, and was at mile 67. I would need to first traverse the Black Mountains with quite a few peaks before getting there.
Going up toward the reservoir, and taking on the gradual climb toward the various Black Mountains, I felt good. I knew this route, which was just as well, because the cloud cover on me, I couldn’t see much more than a meter ahead.
My headtorch only served purpose to highlight rocks and boggy pits of mud and water that were right in front of me.
I heard quite a few went off course up here, but my previous recce had embedded the feel and layout of everything in my mind.
Fatiguing through the night, I had my first and only hallucination – what looked like a large black widow spider (but with colours reversed) scuttling along near the tip of my one trekking pole.
Aside from that weirdness, I made good forward progress, eventually arriving in Crickhowell at about 2:30am or so. No photos of course, but I’ll leave a few from my recce back in December below when it was still icy:
After reaching Crickhowell, I slept (attempted) for about 1-2 hours, and spent an hour or 2 cleaning feet and sorting out the two blisters that had formed on my small toes.
Checkpoint help here was amazing (this is a theme!) Nick and Bob (as well as others) were very supportive and helpful.
The blisters I had were quite large and I hadn’t really dealt with this kind of issue on the go before, so I asked Nick for some advice. Nick had run Wild Horse 200 last year, and also happened to run the North Coast 110 with me last year. Armed with a 3 minute 101 on how to deal with the blisters, I sterilised the toes, got a new blade out and made two small incisions on each to drain them.
I formed a small padding wrap and used K-tape to wrap the small toes up. Instance pressure release! Clean socks and shoes went on, and I was soon up and on my way. I had spent way too much uncessary time at this checkpoint. I could have easily made up 2 hours here if I was more organised.
C3 to C4 (Llangynidr)
This next section was now to be tackled in the new morning light. The weather had cleared now, but it was still very cold.
This was one of the muddiest sections too. Really tough camper along the sides of the hills and mountains. The trail was slick with thick mud and I had to use trekking poles most of this section to keep stable.
I saw a chap in front of me slip and fall at least 2 or 3 times in this 12 mile segment. I don’t think he had very aggressive lugs on his shoes. Thankfully I was wearing my newer speedgoats which still had good lugs. I managed to stay upright, but it was slow going.
Here is a recap of some of the terrain from day 2.
Arriving in Llangynidr was great. I knew a bit of this area from when I ran the Blacks to Beacons 50 mile race last year. You cross a beautiful bridge as you come in to the town.
Graham met me about 1km before the checkpoint, running up with his dog in tow. What a great guy – he ran the Wild Horse 200 last year and also plans on doing Dragon’s Back this year. He took my food and drink order (pot noodle and tea) and phoned it in to the checkpoint so it was ready when I arrived. Stellar service! The checkpoint itself was quiet and spacious.
Carmen and the kids were waiting in the car park when I arrived, and made the most delicious pan cakes with stewed fruit, plant based cream, and maple syrup topping. I devoured all the food, and also had a coke for a bit of a pick-me-up before heading off.
I took the opportunity to brush my teeth, do my foot care routine, and right on time Ben Jones met me for pacing on the next section.
C4 to C5 (Llanfrynach)
This next section was a lot of fun. Ben and I made our way along the initial bit of road till we entered the trail around Brecon, climbing the notoriously false hope giving Tor y Foel (multiple false summits).
Near the top of Tor y Foel the sunny weather suddenly changed to a hail storm. We were battered by needle sharp hail as we crested the top of the peak, and made our way down again. As murphy would have it, when we reached the bottom the weather cleared off, leaving us with wet and renewed muddy trail.
I still had my running legs, and so we made really good progress around Talybont and Pontsticill reservoirs. At this point the climbs pretty much stopped for the rest of this section. From Taf Fechen onward, the path mostly followed the Taff Trail. It was a slow gradient downhill, most of the way to Llanfrynach, which included a bit of canal trail path too.
With the sun getting low, the trail looped back past Talybont reservoir again, and I meandered my way on to Llanfrynach, the second sleep station checkpoint.
I arrived at C5 in Llanfrynach to the friendly full bearded face of Stu Obree as well as the checkpoint volunteers.
At this point I didn’t want to waste too much time sleeping, so I said to Stu, let’s get straight to it after 30 minutes of rest and a bit of added foot care.
I had a cheese toastie, pot noodle, and a brilliant cup of coffee here. Again, foot care was done, including cleaning and re-dressing my small toe blisters, and re-applying trench foot cream. There were a number of people sleeping in the cots set up here and the atmosphere was fairly quiet interspersed with intermittent snores from the tired runners.
Stu was fully prepared and ready to go with his pacer bib already fitted and head torch (Fenix) at the ready.
C5 to C6 (Penwyllt)
Into the final minutes of sunset we went. This section was 26 miles long, with a long initial stretch on road through Brecon, till we would meet Storey Arms, and make our way up the mountains to the South West of the Pen-y-Fan horseshoe.
The day had been clear, and the night was therefore freezing cold. Once into the hills and mountains, we were met with boggy, muddy terrain. Very similar to what I’m used to in the unforgiving Preseli Mountains near where I live.
This is where Stu’s experience of this route and skills came into play. I didn’t have to think too much about navigation at all. We weren’t moving very quickly as I was at a real low point (lack of sleep), but not having to think about nav was a real bonus for me.
I was cold and Stu talked the hind leg off a donkey (don’t get me wrong – this was good!) to keep me moving and my mind active. It was a tough slog for me to get through this section. The South Wales Caving Club was the C6 destination, and it felt like it was forever far away for me.
There were multiple times where I felt like sleeping on the go, even while moving, my body just wanted to fall asleep. I fought off the sleep deprivation, and at one point had half a caffeine bullet that I had saved from earlier in the day. This gave me a 30 minute wake up call and kept me moving.
Around 1 or 2am in the morning it had gotten so cold that the boggy ground partially froze. This helped me move a little quicker, until eventually Stu exclaimed the Cave Community Center was in sight.
A beacon of warmth and light
Sure enough, a small, orange warm glow eminated from a tiny little window in the distance. It still took us another 10 minutes or so to get down to it, but we made it, probably somewhere around 3:30am from what I recall.
Owain and one or two other volunteers met us at this checkpoint, and another delicious toasted cheese sandwich was consumed along with a hot coffee.
There were cots up in the top of the building, and a shower building outside (the only shower on the whole course). I spent 30 minutes or so munching on foot and listening in my half-sleep state to socials (chatting to a chap who had unfortunately pulled the plug due to his leg not being able to move or lift anymore!) After this, I had a quick shower and managed to get about 1.5 hours of sleep.
Sleep in both Crickhowell and here at Penwyllt was restless and uncomfortable. My gluteus minimus muscles would start seizing/cramping up every time I lay on one side. So sleep was basically a constant turning cycle each time one side would cramp up.
In total I wasted way too much time trying to sleep when I just couldn’t. I reckon I wasted about 4-5 hours in total over the entire course where I could have just continued on instead of wasting time trying to sleep.
C6 to C7 (Llanddeusant)
My wife and kids were camping out in the far car park at the Caving Center, and it was lovely to wake up after an hour and a bit rest to know they were there.
It was an extremely cold and frosty morning, so I geared up, and got my foot care done so I could go meet them outside. On the way out I saw a familiar face – Steff H (met and run with on other Pegasus ultra running events). We had a brief chat – always good to see a familar and friendly face!
At the van I grabbed a massive fully-loaded chocolate muffin and munched on homemade rusks that Carmen made (South African snack).
The trail down was extremely rocky and chunky. Basically an old quarry (Penwyllt Stone Quarry) down a fairly steep hill.
At the bottom of the hill was Craig-y-nos Country Park. A familiar sight to me as I had done this next section as a recce just 3 or 4 weeks before the race.
I knew the coming section would be tough and slow going, but was full to the brim with amazing views and scenery.
Up to the Carmarthen Fans
Making my way up along the base of the Carmarthen Fans, I climbed the trail through rough, chunky rock, boggy mud, and marsh, with river and series of waterfalls off to the side.
The sun was hot, and layers needed removing at this point. After some time I reached the lakes near the base of the Carmarthen Fans. This is arguably once of the most scenic parts of the Wild Horse 200 South Wales. There is a steep stoney path that leads up to the top here. I took the opportunity to sit and have a quick snack to fuel the climb.
But, I was soon energised with the coming views from the top! The trails through these mountains were very busy with it being Easter weekend. Lot’s of folk were stopping me to ask about the race and chat. I tried to keep moving along as best I could though. Here are some more amazing views:
Eventually I caught up with James (whom I ran with for much of the remaining race). We both made our way into the Llanddeusant checkpoint. A quaint, quiet little camping location next to a river.
The checkpoint was staffed by Nick, Kyle, Steff, and Jerry. They ran an efficient and super helpful (as well as relaxing vibe) checkpoint. This really is a running theme now. Every Wild Horse 200 South Wales checkpoint was amazing.
I had a pot noodle (once again!) and Carmen and the kids made me another magical stack of fully-loaded pancakes. I sat in a camping chair in the relaxed atmosphere, and even managed to get in a little foot bath.
Other runners Rachel, and a couple of Swiss-German chaps came in soon after. We all enjoyed a bit of relaxation before setting off again.
It was really nice to see my family here and see them enjoying the woodland and river setting.
C7 to C8 (Llandybie)
This was another long, tough slog. Making things worse, I had already recce’d this route before. Usually this is a good thing. But it now made the sights a little bit boring for me as I had recently seen it all before. I didn’t take many photos, but there is a very long climb out of Llanddeusant into the hills and mountains with the Fans off to the left. At the top is a rocky plateau / field. It’s very tricky to run through as you risk turning an ankle or tripping up if not careful.
I did take some photos and video on the previous recce, so I’ll post those just below:
After this section was a very long and fairly barren bog-laiden section through another quarry. This was just after meeting the road for a quick crossing near Herbert’s Quarry.
An interim checkpoint
Carmen and the kids met me at the road crossing and I had a quick top-up of food and drink. It was great to see the kids had enjoyed a bit of running around the area (though the littlest was apparently a little grumpy – reflected in my own self too with the built-up fatigue at this point).
I continued up the hill to the next trig point, making my way in behind James a little further ahead.
Eventually I caught him up again and we made our way through dusk, around Castell Carreg Cennen (an old castle). The route here had very slightly changed since my recce – diverted by the local council/area closing off a road. We had to follow the diversion slightly through some muddy farm field.
Views of the castle from my previous recce:
It was still a fair way to go until we reached the checkpoint, by this time it was night.
The checkpoint crew were simply fantastic at Llandybie. The setup was in a school or community hall, and they had a little menu written out with the food on offer.
James and I both opted for a pasta bolognaise (and we shared a second one between us after this). I also topped up on other snacks, and had a hot chocolate.
This was a sleep station, and I was pretty tired, so I tried to get a bit of sleep. Unfortunately, the sleep didn’t really work out and I pretty much just constantly turned over trying in vain to get some sleep. Soon enough I had almost exhausted the maximum 4 hour stop over here, so I packed up, got ready and set out into the night (I recall being about 2am or so).
C8 to C9 (Penclawdd)
James and I set off into the night, head torches lighting the way. The initial part of this route was a lot of road and small towns to pass through. You can see us preparing and heading out into the night in the first 2 minutes of this video:
The hours felt endless in the night, and there was a long hilly section to navigate on trail after the initial road and town navigation.
Eventually we were greeted with the dawn and an amazing sunrise behind us.
With freezing temperatures still about, we kept moving toward Loughor Castle – where I had asked Carmen to meet us for a quick coffee stop on the side of the road.
The trail was extremely wet, waterlogged, and muddy all the way through this section. We passed some grim scenes of lost farm animal skeletons half submerged in the bogs. They really gave off a desolate, wasteland vibe in this section.
Finally around noon or so we reached C9 – Penclawdd. Bernie, Clare, and Kevin were at hand to offer us support. We had some great chat, fueled up and went over the terrain layout of the final 17 mile stretch along the Gower Peninsula to Rhossili.
C9 to Wild Horse 200 South Wales Finish (Worm’s Head / Rhossili)
The final stretch was 17 miles, but by now we had climbed over 9000 meters of elevation over roughly 200 miles. Slowly moving out, speeding up into a power hiking stride with the ocean to my right, my heart was now set on reaching Worm’s Head later on in the day.
I made a critical error though. I forgot to take my electrolytes at the checkpoint, and my blood sodium levels were apparently critically low. After a bit of running I soon slowed to a crawl as I started getting really dizzy.
Not immediately realising the issue, I stuffed my face with veloforte bars, fizzer sweets, and water. After half an hour things were still not right. Suddenly I realised I had been stopping to pee quite often.
Then it dawned on me – electrolytes/sodium depletion. The water was going right through me. I think this is known as hyponatremia. I didn’t have any effervescent tablets with me, but I did have a 250mg precision hydration electrolyte capsule. This was quickly swigged down with some water. I also decided to stop for 25 minutes to sit on a rock and recover.
A couple of people overtook me at this stage but I wasn’t too concerned with placement. My new concern was not falling over and smashing my head on a rock so close to the finish.
Slowly I got up and began moving again – 3:08 in this video actually (same video as above if you already watched through).
It was another 2 or 3 hours from this point till the finish. On the way out of my hydration problem I passed a pub on a hill. I stopped for another 20 minutes to get some cans of pepsi. Unfortunately it was busy so I had to queue for a while. I think it was worth it though. With the sugary energy, I was soon shuffling along again making up a bit of lost time.
I passed through woodland, sandy beach, climbed coastal cliffs, and marvelled at the sun started to lower toward the horizon.
Finally, Worm’s Head was in view, and it was only another 5 or 6 miles to go to the finish line.
The final stretch and shot of adrenalin
My pace picked up as I found my running legs through the pain in my knees once again. The final 4 miles were more of a run/shuffle than the previous few hours walking, and when I departed the last bit of beach, picking back up onto a grassy trail that undulated its way up hill toward the finish (2 miles remaining) I kicked things up a gear into a run.
Adrenalin kicked in, and I ran the fastest pace in days, up hill too. It was literally a hill sprint finish. The final 2 miles were eaten up quickly as I pictured my family and the finish line crew up at the top.
Greeting my family and choking back tears, I hobbled over to touch the gate, give Rhys (Race director) a hug, and received my buckle.
My final time for the Wild Horse 200 South Wales was 84 hours and 36 minutes, or 14th position. 6 hours slower than my planned completion time. I deviated from my plan with sleep stations – instead of spending 2 hours at each, I spent 4 hours at each, so I lost time there – my own fault.
However, I’m still really happy I finished, and pleased with my result. I know I can do a lot better next time around (yes, I’ve already started considering another go, even though I’m still slightly hobbling around the house!) I’m also thankful my body held out going into that with the hamstring and foot problem.
Post Wild Horse 200 issues
Here’s a quick list of ailments and behaviours I’ve had post event. (Expected, and will resolve with some rest and recovery or copious amounts of eating)
- Knee inflammation (more on the left side). Not really visible, but I can feel its there. Going down stairs the knees are tender. Already feeling better now after a few days. I had this after last year’s North Coast 110k and it took a couple of weeks to dissipate.
- Feet tender and slightly swollen. Two small toes formed blisters after about 67 miles (toe socks wet and small toes curled in/under themselves).
- Heat rash formed on arms and chest – I’ve had this before, usually result of lots of layers and a lot of sweat sitting on the skin for a while
- Slight chafe formed in the butt crack
- Weight drop – 5.5 kgs – this is probably a combination of body and water loss.
- Big appetite – expected. Even with the huge amounts of food I ate during the event, post I have been eating close to 1.7x my usual calorie intake.
Huge kudos and thank yous to my pacers, who both went above and beyond my expectactions to help me out.
- Stuart Obree
- Ben Jones
- Also a big shout out to Dan R (Ultra Dan) who unfortunately couldn’t make it for pacing me on a section, but did send tons of moral support. Thanks Dan!
Thank you to my coaches
Thanks to my amazing wife and kids for supporting me the whole way. They were a beacon of light which I found myself pushing for when things were tough.
To all the runners I shared miles with on the trails of the Wild Horse 200 South Wales – thank you. I might miss a few names here, and apologies if I do. But here is a quick list off the top of my head:
- Ben B
- The guy with the blood blister on his tongue
Would I do the Wild Horse 200 South Wales again? Hell yes. It’s a whirlwind of emotion. Some epic levels of pain and hurt, but made up for in lasting memories and experience. I would also love to see what kind of times I can chop off my current time with the experiences gained.