My first 100 Miler on the Wales Coastal Path

Last year I wrote a blog post putting a stake in the ground for a few goals of mine. One of those goals was to run a 100 miler in one go. Before 2022 was over I made sure to give it a punt, and on boxing day I ran 100 miles down the Wales Coastal Path in Pembrokeshire.

My first 100 miler route – a coastal path adventure

For my first 100 miler, I wanted something varied and interesting. The Wales Coastal Path would offer this, plus plenty of challenge. I plotted out the route I wanted to take using Garmin Connect. The first part of the route took me from my door step, across to Newgale Beach on the coast (7 miles). From Newgale it would go southward down the coast and follow the Wales Coastal Path all the way to Tenby.

Planning my first 100 miler

The first problem I had to plan for was support. I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own, mostly on the coastal path, and especially not in Winter.

Location

My wife graciously offered to support me, and in order to make things easier for her, running the coastal path southward would be best, as it wraps around our central location in Pembrokeshire. If I had gone north up the coast, I would have finished close to the start of Snowdonia National Park, which is a very long way for her to drive.

So the route would be South, down and around the coast.

Support Point Times and Locations

The next issue was planning rough times and locations for meeting up. There were two tidal crossing areas on the coast path that would be uncrossable at certain times. (There is a 3 hour window either side of lowest tide where you can cross). On the map, this is the area near Dale, about 55km into my run (32 miles or so).

With this is mind, I planned to leave at 11am on boxing day morning. A run of about 7 hours to cover the 32 miles would get me to this crossing point within the 3 hour window I had on that day. An hour extra would be required to get to the next tidal crossing, hopefully also still possible by that point.

The Plan

The initial, rough written plan my wife and I came up with in terms of support points and times. Planned start time was 11 a.m. not p.m.

The rough plan we came up with was:

  • Depart 11am, run for about 6-7 hours to Dale (53-55km in) where we would meet up and I could refill my water and get some food.
  • Leave Dale at about 5:30pm, pass the tidal foot bridge crossing, continue on the path for another 6-10km where the next tidal crossing was at Sandy Haven. Hopefully also still low enough tide to cross at this point.
  • Run all the way across to Neyland, which is on the inside of that large inlet from the ocean into Pembrokeshire. Roughly at 78km (close to 50 miles or half way). We would meet again here, hopefully at about 10:30pm. I could get some more food, drink as much as I can, and fill up my 2L water for the run through the night.
  • From Neyland, continue across the bridges into Pembroke Dock, and Pembroke, running through the night, and meeting up in Castlemartin (123km) at roughly 7 or 8am the next morning. Have some breakfast, hydrate, refill water, nap for 20 minutes if possible, and continue on.
  • Meet again 20km later at Stackpole Quay (143km) for more water or food if required.
  • Finish at Tenby by about 5pm (roughly 163km, or 101 miles), for a total of 30 hours.

Weather Planning

The weather was planned to be fairly cold, but clear for boxing day. Some scattered rain forecast, but nothing persistent. The minium was 3 celsius, and a maximum of 7. The following day showed trouble though. From 8am onward there was heavy rain and strong gusty wind forecast. This would continue all the way through the day till 6pm. Basically the entire day of running for me.

The Gear Selection

As it would be cold and wet at times, I had plenty of layers and options for clothing, as well as surplus socks for changing if required.

carried gear selection laid out for my first 100 miler.
Part of my carried gear selection.
  • Storage: Salomon Adv Skin 12 pack to carry everything – I use this for all long runs. I also wore my Naked Running Belt for a bit of food storage.
  • Hydration: Salomon 2L water pack, and spare 500ml flask as a backup
  • Food: On me I carried a clif bar, trek bar, and some additional flap jacks.
  • Survival:
    • Heavy duty survival bag, fully waterproof, bright colours. If something went wrong and I had to stop on the coast, this would keep me dry and warm till help came.
    • Whistle
    • First aid kit with blister plasters, selection of bandages, cleaning wipes, etc
  • Light: Ledlensr NEO10R 600 lumen head lamp, plus spare battery. Also took a basic Petzl headtorch with fully charged batteries as a spare.
  • Clothing:
    • Runderwear merino wool underwear
    • Danish Endurance base leggings
    • ODLO synthetic base layer
    • ODLO tech t-shirt over the base
    • Mountain Warehouse merino wool jumper (only wore on day one once the sun went down)
    • Inov-8 Stormshell waterproof jacket
  • Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Carbon-Z Trekking Poles (only started carrying and using these once I got to the 32 mile mark)
  • Shoes: Hoka Speedgoat 5

The First 32 miles

Starting off a little bit late, at about 11:20am, I made my way along the farm roads and back roads where I live to Newgale. A 7 mile run.

The very start, just 100 meters into my first 100 miler run.

The weather was clear, and cold. On arrival at the coastal path above Newgale Beach, I was met with some pretty windy conditions.

Another short video soon after starting the coastal path, going down past “Rickets Head”, between Newgale and Nolton Haven.

A bit further on I passed Broad Haven where I stopped to buy a cola a cafe on the beach front. I drank that on the go as I descended into the small village of Little Haven, dropping the empty can in a bin as I went up and out again following the coast path.

I continued the run through the middle of the day and afternoon, enjoying the beautiful coastal views.

Here is one more video as the path became more remote once again. I didn’t see too many people from this point on until much later that evening.

At about 4:15pm I needed to get my head torch on as it was getting dark. There was a crescent moon out, so there wasn’t much ambient light. It rained a little bit more, and I could feel the temperature drop quite a bit. My layers kept me warm and mostly dry though.

Checkpoint at Dale

At roughly 5:30pm I arrived at Dale and found my wife parked up. A warm and inviting light eminated from the car.

I was thankful, as it had been pretty lonely running out for the last 7 hours or so. I had only passed a handful of people on the trail in the last few hours.

There was hot butternut soup, some vegan buttered bread, and a variety of snacks laid out in a lunch box for me, as well as a lovely hot coffee.

I sat in the car and warmed up, taking a bit of rest and enjoying the food. We had a good chat while I rested and refilled my 2L water pack, adding a bit of tailwind mix too.

Looking at the time I was in doubt as to whether I could cross the tidal foot bridge here. We confirmed our next estimated meetup time in Neyland and I set off toward the bridge, picking up my trekking poles before I left the car.

The bridge was indeed just under water. About half a foot or so of water to be exact. I did not feel like removing socks and shoes and crossing, especially with the chance I might slip and fall in.

So, I opened up my map and looked for a diversion. The diversion would essentially take me up the tarred road from Dale to St. Ishmaels. From there I would use a foot path through a local park that rejoined the coastal path.

It didn’t take me too long to reach the coastal path again with some fairly easy, albeit hilly running on the roads. As I got back onto the path it started raining again. This time I got out my jacket. It was clear now that my first 100 miler would definitely not be a dry one.

Soon I came to Sandy Haven (66km of running so far). The next tidal crossing. I hadn’t been to this part before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Immediately I saw a mass of sea water in front of me where the road disappeared. From what I read on a sign, there should normally be stepping stones here. The sign showed an alternative route to rejoin on the other side. A lot of extra mileage just to get to what I could see on the other side of the water.

Taking a picture of the detour and sign at the Sandy Haven tidal crossing stepping stones.

Detour to Milford Haven

The detour the sign suggested would have wildly thrown out my distance and time estimates for the next support point meet up. I was meant to meet my wife at about 10:30pm in Neyland.

Instead of rejoining the coastal path after a long detour, I decided to run some local roads to Milford Haven (which the coastal path passes through). This was another 11km or so for me, and I made fairly quick work of it, messaging along the way to change our meeting point to be the pier in Milford Haven instead.

I ended up in Milford Haven at 77km just shy of 12 hours in to the run. Like clockwork, my wife was perfect with her timing and had everything ready.

Enjoying some pasta and flapjacks, along with coffee and other refreshments, I warmed up a little. I spent almost an hour here resting as far as I recall. One of my hamstrings had been slightly complaining, and my wife was kind enough to give my legs a massage. I also changed my leggings, tech shirt, and put a new waterproof jacket on. My Injinji half leg socks were also switched for Injinji ultra compression socks.

I set off once again, water refilled, a bit more tailwind added, and with an extra 500 ml cola and energade in the back of bag as extra fluids.

Distance-wise, I was just shy of half way – at about 48 or 49 miles.

Running through the night

I wanted to make good distance and time through the night. I knew there would be bad weather in the morning, so the more I could do at night now, the less bad weather I would need to run the following day.

The run was tedious and arduous. I needed to navigate the entire section of the Milford Haven harbour and Pembroke docks.

Pembroke and Milford Haven section of my first 100 miler run.
The area highlighted that I ran through the night. Very tedious and slow going.

The area was quite industrial, but the coastal path meandered it as expected. I had some weird metal footbridges that passed over pipelines to cross, and many, many farm fields that were really muddy. The fields were especially bad, with cows having trod deep holes everywhere in the sticky clay / mud. The rain was on and off through the night, but remained quite light.

There were plenty of lights and ships from the harbour to look at, but I never saw a single person all through the night.

Rural Coastal Path once again

At about 4am I started to finally get out of the harbour and docks area. I had passed through Neyland, Pembroke Dock, and Pembroke (including the massive castle).

It was really nice to leave this area and get back to just the sound of waves on the coast, with the darkness all around me.

The trails remained pretty muddy, but never too wet. My feet stayed dry for the most part all through the night.

At about 5:30am I was nearing the little village of Angle. I stopped on a bench overlooking a bit of estuary, and finished the last of my cola, and snacked on some clif bar and a flapjack. I also caught sight of the first human since having passed through Neyland at 12 or 1am. Someone walking their dog in the darkness up ahead.

Castlemartin and mental struggles

Running from Angle onward was along some sandy covered coastal roads. Lots of wind and sand flying about.

The next meeting point was Castlemartin. With detours, this was at about the 124km mark. I had been running for 20 hours at this point.

The sight of my wife and the warm car was very welcome. As I got to the car, the skies opened up and it started raining, a lot. The wind had already been kicking off for the last hour or so, and it was great to get shelter.

I rested for a long while here. Just over one and a half hours. I even got a short 20 minute nap in, along with breakfast and hydration.

Here’s where I met the first real mental challenge. The wind and rain was battering the car. I had another marathon worth of distance to go (about 40km left). With fatigue, and the weight of my gear I was going pretty slow now, so I knew this distance would take me a while.

Sitting in silence in the back of the car, I fought the urge to pack it in and call it a good 125km run. This took me 10 minutes. The idea was very tempting. I didn’t want to get out into that cold and harsh rain and wind. Finally I won the battle, the urge to complete 100 miles was strong, and I’m thankful I got out.

With weary and tightened up legs, I slowly walked off the stiffness into the wind and rain. At least I was refueled and rehydrated!

Renewed vigour

Within 5 minutes I actually felt good again. Good enough in fact to get back into a run. I seemed to be able to muster a continuous pace of about 7:30 per km. A slow run for sure, but much better than power walking.

I maintained this pace for most of the rest of the journey.

By this time I was now approaching the Stackpole coastal path area. It goes through a military training ground area.

The coast path is very exposed here and I got thoroughly battered and blown around by the wind and rain.

At times I actually had to lean right into the wind to keep moving forward. Sudden changes in wind would then whip my legs from the sides, nearly tripping me up a few times. It got really bad here. By the end of the exposed coast path, I was soaked through.

rocks in the ocean near Stackpole, running my first 100 miler.

Bosherston and St Govan’s

Finally I reached the ponds and estuary area of Bosherston. The have some great trails running all the way around them.

I decided to finish off the 100 miles in this area. One reason was that they were slightly less exposed to the crazy wind, and another reason was that I could just do 5km loops of the area and ponds, giving me a predicable ending position to meet my wife when I was done.

The rain did not hold up though, and I remained soaked through. This wasn’t a bad thing though – it forced me to keep running to try to stay warm.

Finally I reached the 162km mark, 100 miles, and a good two hours faster than my estimated time. Total elapsed time was 27 hours, 50 minutes (forgot to stop the watch as I walked into a warm pub!)

Final thoughts

I’m really happy to have ticked off my first 100 miler goal. Here are some things I’m really happy with, as well as some areas for improvement.

Things that went well

  • Aside from the expected discomfort, I was mostly fine physically. I didn’t feel any seriously bad pains along the way.
  • I only got one small blister on a toe. My toes are very calloused from running and I think this, along with toe socks helped me avoid blisters. My feet only got wet for the last 6-7 hours so that probably also helped me avoid blisters.
  • Initially planning for an easy-paced 100 miles, I had estimated finishing in 30 to 32 hours. However I managed to come in just under 28 hours. A nice surprise! For the Wild Horse 200, I plan to slow things down though, and probably aim for 35 hours or so for the first 100 miles.
  • Food and nutrition worked well. I never felt like not eating. Hydration was mostly OK, although I just wanted to get things done from the morning onward, and could have done with drinking more.
  • Support from my wife and parents. My wife was crucial for me in terms of food and water (and moral support). My parents were visiting and they were very kind to watch our kids while she came out to meet me at the various points. Extremely thankful to both!

Things to improve

  • To get a sub-24 hour 100 miler time I could definitely spend less time at checkpoints. By my calculations, if I had just spent 15 minutes or so at each, I would have finished this in less than 24 hours. However sub-24 hour was not my goal here, so this is just something for me to remember if I were going for a faster 100 in the future.
  • Better light. My headtorch is great, but there were a few occasions where I couldn’t easily spot gates on the ends of farm fields that the path passed through. Having a tight, high distance beam will help a lot. With that in mind, I have already ordered myself a 1700 lumen Fenix PD35 V3.0 flash light. It uses the same battery type as my main headtorch, so I can use one to backup the other.
  • Bring another base layer top next time. I used the same base layer top all through the run. It would have been nice to swap this out for a nice dry one at the half way mark.

The gear aftermath – sorrting through all my soaked through gear and clothes for washing.

dirty and wet running gear laid out after my first 100 miler.
The gear after my first 100 miler was complete (the day after!)

And lastly, here the Strava activity if anyone is curious.

Are you planning on doing a 100 mile journey in the future? Or have you already completed one or more? I would be curious to know if any of this post contained any useful insights into the logistics and planning, or if you’ve already done 100+ runs, what your challenges were.

5 thoughts on “My first 100 Miler on the Wales Coastal Path”

  1. Wow, reading what you had to go through weather-wise makes this feat even more inspiring! Well done, Sean!!!
    Ha, I think I would have definitely lost that mental battle in Castlemartin. Incredible that you got out of that warm, cosy car. I bet your wife also played an important part in encouraging you to run the rest. Talking about your wife – kudos to her!! Crewing is not easy and she did a fantastic job.
    I guess you also had to plan for someone to look after the kids?

    You are well prepared for the Wild Horse – both mentally and physically.

    Reply
  2. Hah! That’s my fault for deciding to do this in Winter! On the plus side, I didn’t have the Summer heat to deal with.

    Thank you Catrina – that means a lot to me.

    It was pretty tough continuing on at that point, but I am now reminded of a phenomenon in ultra running (that is always easy to forget in the moment) – when the going is tough and you’re having a bad time, if you can push through for an hour or so, things usually change for the better. Once I was moving again I already started feeling better, despite the terrible weather.

    Yes! Carmen was such a great support and guiding light on this. I’m really thankful as she had a late night getting back home (after meeting me in Milford Haven), and an early morning waking up and getting to me in Castlemartin again. Luckily my folks were around to look after the kids! So it really was like a little mini-support network.

    Hopefully I can keep fit and healthy leading up to the WH200. Thanks Catrina!

    Reply
  3. I really enjoyed reading this recap. You really put so much detail into your articles.

    Congratulations Sean. This is a massive accomplishment. I know you will be prepared for Wild Horse.

    Your preplanning was incredible. Running through tidal areas is something I know nothing about as I live something like 2,000 kilometers from the ocean. You were prepared also if things didn’t go well. It is good there were alternative routes to get you around the flooded areas.

    Your wife was such an amazing support. She was like clockwork. Butternut soup really really have hit the spot. It would have been so hard to leave a warm, dry car and head back out with a marathon distance to go. While being hammered by wind and rain.

    That is an excellent finishing time. You had really grueling conditions with the cow pasture mud and the wet conditions.

    Although I haven’t yet put my “stake in the ground”, I’m toying with the idea of a 100 mile in one go this year. I’ll be turning 65 this year. My wife is supportive with my running, but not to the point where she would crew me like your wife did with you. So it very well may be a self supported effort for a 100 miler.

    Thank you for sharing, Sean. I’ll likely return to this post for more inspiration if I do decide to go for it.

    Reply
    • Carl, thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

      The tidal areas still caught me a little off guard, specifically the second one as I didn’t expect it, and it was pitch dark when I arrived suddenly with the water blocking the way. But yes, luckily I had skimmed the map the night before and had a good idea of where to go to get around (as well as seeing the sign on the rock wall where the crossing was!)

      Yes! Carmen was such an amazing support, and a literal beacon of light in the dark for me.

      I know you’re fully capable of the 100 miles in one go Carl. I’ve seen your ultra efforts, both in races and personal adventures like this one, and not to mention your longer running virtual challenges you have completed. I have no doubt you can pull it off. What’s really impressive to me is how you’re doing this in your 60s. Really, really impressive, and something I aspire towards being able to do some day.

      I’m not sure how viable it would be for you, and maybe easiest if you did a loop that wraps around nearby where you live, but you could go out a day or two ahead of your effort and setup some little self-supported checkpoints with food and water. I’m imagining a little rope/pulley system to keep the food high up in trees away from animals 😂

      Keep me posted if you decide to go for it, and I’m really happy you found this post inspiring or useful for ideas.

      Reply

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