The VOGUM is a 40 mile (64 km) ultra marathon taking place in the Vale of Glamorgan. The route hugs the South Wales coastal path, running from Porthcawl to Penarth, just below Cardiff.
Having moved to West Wales toward the end of last year, earlier this year I found myself seeking out marathon and ultra marathon events that were more local for me. Besides the Blacks to Beacons 50 mile ultra, the VOGUM (and other Pegasus Ultra Running events) also caught my eye.
I thoroughly enjoyed running the VOGUM last Saturday (the 4th June 2022). Although the conditions were slightly challenging with a persistent head wind most of the way, the route itself was varied, with lots of different surface types to keep things interesting.
Lead up to the VOGUM
After the 50 mile Blacks to Beacons ultra in the Brecon Beacons I did a month ago, I took a few days to recover. Then I slowly ramped training up the following week. My training goals were simply to maintain fitness.
I had a rough average pace time goal in mind of 6 to 7 minutes per kilometer. Over 64km this is 448 minutes or 7.5 hours, and I’m happy to say I pretty much nailed the goal coming in just under that.
Following this, I kept my standard running and training routine consistent for the remaining weeks leading up to the VOGUM. At the moment this loosely consists of weekly:
- One or two faster runs of about 10-13km each (pace aim of 4:30/km)
- One or two easy runs (with a fair bit of added elevation) of about 10-15km each)
- One long run (usually aim for about 30km or so, with a pace of 5:30 to 6:00 / km)
- All the above interspersed with a few free weight strength training sessions during the week
My gear selection conformed to the race’s official minimum requirements, but honestly I think we could have done without the head torch! Here is the list of gear I carried for the VOGUM:
- Salomon Adv Skin 12 running vest
- Salomon Soft Reservoir 2L
- 2 x 500 ml soft flasks (kept empty as I already had a 2L pack)
- Buff Pack Run Cap
- Salomon Agile Full Zip Hoodie (a nice, lightweight running jacket)
- OMM Halo Waterproof Pants Trouser Bottoms
- Thermal foil blanket
- Spare socks (Danish Endurance compression) – planned to change into after initial sandy 5 mile stretch
- Pre-cut K-tape in case I needed for my legs
- LED Lenser NEO 10R Headlamp + battery
- Naked running belt (for storage of nutrition around my waist)
- Tailwind – enough scoops for about 3L more of fluids
- Snickers chocolate + other nutty snack bar, loose wine gums for chewing
- DJI Action 2 mini camera
- Credit card (crucially needed this at one point during the race!)
The gear I wore for the run was:
- Standard running shorts
- Odlo base layer (this was great against the constant wind)
- Odlo ventilated running t-shirt
- Danish endurance running socks
- HOKA Speedgoat 5 trail shoes
VOGUM Race Weekend
On Friday, the day before the race I drove the two hour journey to the ‘finish’ line in Penarth where I had booked an AirBNB for the night. I arrived late in the evening and was greeted by amazing hosts Alan and Helen.
They helped me settle in and provided use of their kitchen so that I could prepare a quick meal. I had coffee and was offered delicious lemon slice cake. We talked about Helen’s Man vs Horse race coming up – a very interesting race that I definitely want to check out!
I tried to get some sleep as early as possible but couldn’t as the usual race and event nerves kept my mind working till past midnight.
I was up at 3:45am soon enough, grabbed my packed Salomon running vest, filled my 2l soft flask and drove 5 minutes to the bus collection point.
The bus was filled with other eager race participants who had also parked at the finish. I could feel the energy as we drove the 45 minutes or so to Porthcawl to the starting location and registration.
After registration everyone moved down to the beach and starting area for the pre-start briefing.
With the race briefing out of the way we all stood on the beach at the starting line. There was a lot of shuffling around and pre-run stretching going on to stay warm (as well as trying to avoid the constant barrage of sand in our faces!)
Here is a short clip which helps to illustrate the wind, sand, and pre-start energy.
The VOGUM Race
Soon we were all off, with the first 4 miles of mostly sandy beach and trail ahead of us.
Although the wind was brutal, the beams of low sun light shining through the clouds were pretty glorious. Swathes of sand blew across us as we made our way along the beach.
From start to the first checkpoint I kept a fairly quick pace, although I was careful not to push my heart rate too high. This kept me near in the front 30 or so of the pack. It had rained the day before and the beach sand had packed in a little bit, making it fairly easy to maintain a pace between 5 and 6 minutes per km.
The elevation was fairly flat during this entire segment, but the route had some interesting sections, such as these stepping stones.
Otherwise, the miles flew by pretty quickly with the first checkpoint arriving quite unexpectedly.
Arriving at checkpoint 1
Rhys Jenkins, the race director was stationed at the first checkpoint, dishing out high fives and advertising his various wares (read: snacks, ice lollies, and ultra marathon related fuels!)
I opted to skip stopping at CP 1 as I was feeling strong and had plenty to sustain me until the next at about kilometer 28.
The remaining miles before the next CP led us up coastal hills with amazing views. The weather was not great at this point, but I could still appreciate the beauty of the coast.
I enjoyed this section of the race which led us through a really varied collection of terrain consisting of sand, gravel, asphalt road, grass, and rock.
Hugging the coast, I meandered along maintaining pace with the group around me.
Checkpoint 2 – a quick pitstop
CP2 arrived after having left the sandiest beaches and tackled some coastal elevation. I decided to stop here to change out my shorter running socks for compression socks. The people helping out here were absolute saints, offering me a chair to sit whilst they refilled my Salomon 2L flask. I also had a small cup of coke for a quick energy infusion, priming me for the coming climb.
I emptied out the sand collected in my socks, stretched the clean compression socks over my legs, and fumbled around to re-organise my running pack and strap everything back on as I watched a group of runners behind me fill in down the coastal path and into the checkpoint.
The coastal trails ahead were varied and interesting. We passed cliff edges, small coastal woodlands, farm borders, and rocky beach coves. The elevation was up and down keeping my quads and calves working.
I made my first (and luckily only) navigation error somewhere just before the bag drop CP. At the top of a cliff, near to some park home style beach cottages there was a small gate leading down a very steep set of stairs to the beach at the bottom. It looked like I needed to turn down and run the coast from the bottom.
I got all the way to the bottom and realised it was a dead end. This meant a steep, quad-busting climb all the way back up to the top before I could continue on the actual route. This lost me a good 5 minutes or so and added unecessary elevation.
However, I soon arrived at the next checkpoint (the bag drop) feeling pretty good. The support was once again amazing. I entered the CP to the sound of cheering and clapping as well as my name being shouted out from the small crowd. A lovely morale boost!
I had left a bag with a spare pair of shoes and some running poles, but I decided I still didn’t need the poles, and my shoes were still a good choice. I downed some coke, grabbed a handful of snacks, and departed along with another lady who had come in just behind me.
We both set off up the hills and into the sparse coastal woodlands to continue our journey.
Hitting a wall at Barry
Soon after the previous checkpoint I started to hit a wall. I believe I had not been diligent enough with sipping my tailwind, and had not taken in enough sustenance. My energy was dwindling as the instant boost from the coke at the previous CP wore off.
I tried my best to get some food down, but could feel my body protesting the snickers bar as I tried to feed myself. The corn chips I had in my hand were also going down very reluctantly.
My pace slowed down a fair bit, but I fought as long as I could, slowly sipping my fluids.
The worst of this hit me at around the 49km mark, just before entering Barry. I opted to walk through the beach promenade in Barry. I spent about 15 or 20 minutes walking to try to re-build my energy reserves. Solid foods were not going in but I spotted a small cafe on the promenade. I stopped for 2 minutes to buy a can of coke which I finished while walking the remainder of this section. I needed this. Adding my credit card to my racing pack the night before was probably the best decision I made.
About 4 or 5 runners passed me as I walked through the beach front. I was a little disappointed, but on the other hand I had put in some great pace up until this point, keeping my goal time achievable if I could rescue myself from this slump.
I left Barry, and with it a weight seemed to lift off my shoulders. Perhaps it was the (under normal circumstances) evil sugar rush from the coke, or perhaps it was a bit of determination kicking in.
Soon enough I was picking up the pace again as I traversed the inevitable roads and streets of this part of the run.
The last checkpoint arrived soon. I recognised a social contact @southwales_running_andrew helping man the checkpoint along with two others. The group were a great morale boost and we exchanged a few jokes about the distance and conditions as I re-fueled once again.
The last stretch
The last stretch in my mind was about 12 or 13 km after the last CP. I surprised myself (after the previous slump through Barry) by continuing to run for most of this. At times I found the need to walk short sections. I limited myself to a few hundred meters of walking only, followed by at least 1km of running after each of these intervals.
It was a tough slog, but I managed to claw back 4 positions by forcing my pace, even with the fatigue and discomfort.
From speaking with the bunch at the last checkpoint, I knew I was somewhere in the top 30 runners, and I planned to keep it that way.
With my Garmin telling me there were just 3 or 4 km remaining I chugged on, the nearing finish motivating me to keep going. I ran pretty much all of the remaining kilometers in at this point without stopping, albeit slightly slowed compared to my first half race pace.
Finishing the VOGUM and Results
Looking over my shoulder in the last 700 meters, I spotted 2 runners I had passed earlier appear over the hill behind me. I wanted my current place, and so mustered up the energy to quicken my pace significantly.
Running through the finishing flags was great. There was cheering and clapping all around and I was relieved to be done.
7:25:01 is the time I recorded on my watch for the 40 mile / 64 km route. The official board showed me finishing in 25th place (out of I believe roughly 180 runners for the day).
Rhys was at the finish line to welcome the finishes and hand out medals.
The support crew were fantastic, and I spent 40 minutes or so catching up with and meeting other runners as we applauded further finishers coming in.
The VOGUM event was great. Pegasus Ultra Running are a fantastic events group and managed to pull off an excellent ultra marathon. From communication to support on the day, everything was top-notch.
The photography / media team were on point too. They captured some great shots of the action. I encourage others who ran to visit the online shootproof gallery, choose a few photos and purchase digital prints to support their work.
With that all said, I’ll be back for more ultra marathons with Pegasus ultra running for sure!