Fresh from setting a new record for being the fastest person to run the Wales Coast Path, endurance athlete Rhys Jenkins joined She Runs: Cardiff via Zoom to tell us about his epic challenge and his ultra running experiences so far.
Rhys, who grew up in Penarth but now lives in Cardiff, ran the 870-mile (1,400km) Wales Coast Path in 20 days, 10 hours and 38 minutes, setting off from Chester on 21 July and ending in Monmouth on 10 August. He ran an average of 40 miles a day – including 56 miles on the penultimate day and just short of 50 miles on the final day. He has raised £5,500 so far for three charities – CF Warriors, NSPCC and Maggie’s Cardiff.
A phenomenal achievement, no doubt about that – so we were amazed to learn that running the Wales Coast Path wasn’t actually in his plans for this year. He had been training for the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, known as one of the toughest races on the planet, when Covid and lockdown struck and the race was postponed. Knowing that he was in peak physical condition, he decided to take on this challenge in his homeland instead, adding that it had always been on his bucket list of challenges to complete.
He beat the previous record set by James Harcombe from New Zealand in 2017 by more than two hours, but says some days were incredibly tough, both physically and mentally. There were days when he was in a lot of pain as well as days when his mood was low. When asked what kept him motivate, he said thinking about the causes he was running for, as well as his support crew, who kept him going throughout. His team was headed by his wife Cerys, who not only drove the van around Wales for the entire challenge, waiting for him at every check point, but also helped with nutrition and hydration, footcare and more, as well as mental encouragement too.
Rhys has undoubtedly been a huge inspiration to many runners, with thousands following his challenge online and around 60 runners joining him to run sections of the path (including me and my eight year old son!). He said that seeing these people pushing themselves to achieve more than they thought possible, and having complete strangers turn up to support him, or offer him accommodation for the night, was incredibly inspiring to him too and really helped him get through the tough days.
Rhys has been competing in ultra events for around a decade, and he and his wife Cerys also stage local ultra events with their company, Pegasus Ultra Running. Their ethos is that ultra running is for everyone and as such their events have no cut off times, meaning they are accessible to runners of all paces.
He had plenty of advice for anyone thinking of taking on their first ultra running challenge. It’s a different style of event, he says, with less pressure on time and pace than the more competitive style of road race many of us are used to. Yes, there will be faster runners aiming for a personal best, but there are also those who can take up to 17 hours to complete the 40 mile distance. They get to fully appreciate the whole experience, he said, taking in the scenic views of the dramatic Welsh landscape in a way that the faster runners don’t. “An ultramarathon is an adventure,” he told us. “A picnic with a bit of running.”
This sentiment was echoed by She Runs: Cardiff member Bernadette McCarthy, who ran her first ultra when she was 50. She joked that she doesn’t look like what you might picture an ultrarunner to look like – although she can wear that badge proudly as she now has several under her belt, all of which she’s run on her own terms, running, walking and stopping as much as she needs. “I’ve never run a marathon,” she told us, which came as a surprise to lots of us. She added that the idea of pounding the pavements for 26.2 miles doesn’t appeal to her and me and that she would choose an ultra over a marathon any day. She was attracted to Pegasus events because they don’t have a cut off time, meaning there is no pressure to run at a certain pace. She even makes sure to stop for an ice cream midway through the Pegasus Vale Of Glamorgan Ultra Marathon.
Another She Runs: Cardiff member Gruby Barrett shared her experiences of volunteering at Pegasus ultra events. She explained that there are check points every few miles, with volunteers making sure runners all reach the points safely. Volunteers provide refreshments – not the gels and sports drinks of road races, but ‘proper’ food which one year included pies. They also provide mental and emotional support to runners, helping them get round the course.
We know from the chat in our Facebook page that several of our members have been thinking about running their first ultra event, and we had great feedback that this online event helped answer questions and concerns and cemented their decision to take on such a challenge in the future. We’ve also since had a number of women who have surprised even themselves by thinking that one day it could be possible…
As Rhys himself said, you are capable of so much more than you think.
We’re looking forward to seeing our purple army on the ultra marathons of South Wales and beyond in the not too distant future.
Thank to Rhys, Bernadette and Gruby for giving their time so generously to chat with us, for sharing their experiences so openly, and for answering all of our questions.
For more information on Pegasus, visit the website.
You can follow Rhys Jenkins on Instagram here.
by SR:C Run Buddy Cathryn Scott (@cardiffmummysays)