She Runs… the 30-mile Heartlands of Wales Ultra Marathon, The HOWUM

Huge congratulations to our 29 She Runners who completed the Heartlands of Wales Ultramarathon on Saturday 6 May. 

The HOWUM, as it is known, is a 30 mile off-road event, starting in Llanidloes. It takes in four beautiful trails – the Sarn, Glyndwr’s Way, Severn Way and Wye Valley Walk, with landmarks along the way including the Clywedog Reservoir and the source of the River Severn. The scenery and the views are beautiful but it traverses tough and tricky terrain; its constant hills give it an elevation of more than 4,400ft – more than Ben Nevis, as our runners learned after the event.

The HOWUM is organised by Pegasus Running Events and is one in a series of six Welsh ultramarathons designed by record breaking endurance athlete Rhys Jenkins. Rhys – who has become a good friend of She Runs Cardiff – has competed in some of the world’s most gruelling endurance events including the notorious Badwater 135 ultramarathon, renowned for being the hardest footrace on the planet. He wanted to bring a flavour of that adventure to his homeland of Wales and his events have certainly become popular with the running community, including She Runs Cardiff members.

For many of those taking part in HOWUM, it was the first time they had ever taken on an ultra marathon distance.

As She Runs Cardiff member Catherine Taylor says, “The HOWUM was my first (but definitely not last) ultra.

“For the training, I focused on increasing the length of my long runs and practising lots of hills. I really enjoyed lots of early Saturday trail runs – it was always tough starting in the dark but worth it to get some amazing views and lovely She Runs company.

“ I got an injury with a couple of months to go so didn’t get in as many long runs as I hoped but resting up meant I got to the start line. On the day I was a little nervous but mainly excited and it was amazing to see the sea of purple from all the She Runners.

“The race itself was tough with lots of elevation but it was also very beautiful and had lots of fun downhill stretches. I was very grateful to run lots of the way with Myfanwy, Flora, Lorna and Caz and we kept each other going towards the end. A huge thanks to the volunteers at the checkpoints too. The HOWUM was an incredible experience, and I can’t wait until my next adventure!”

Shedi Snook was another first-time ultra runner. She says, “I would describe it as a lovely hike with some great views and beautiful scenery. Some of the inclines seem to go on and on – but as the saying goes: what goes up must come down!, so there’s plenty of opportunity to run. The route does pass through quite a number of fields hence numerous gates to open and close. If you’re looking for a fab day out and you’re reasonably fit, HOWUM it is”.

Anna-Jane Thomas is a She Runs Buddy and Run Leader. She says, “I never had any aspirations of doing an ultra but FOMO got the better of me.

“The weeks before the event were not ideal,” she explains. “I tweaked my back on my last long run and wasn’t even sure I’d be fit to take part. That was the point I realised I’d be gutted if I couldn’t do it. My aim became ‘just finish it, whichever way you can’.

“Almost a week on, I now look back on the day with great memories. I recall there being times when I was less than happy but those memories are fading fast. It was a great way to spend a day in the best company.

“I vowed never to do another ultra but now I’m not so sure…”

Ann Lawson-Jones, another Run Buddy, was also an ultra first timer who even found herself the recipient of an extra special award for her efforts.

“Wow!” she says. “My first ultra and I’m sure it won’t be my last. Right now my legs ache but it’s a handy reminder of just how epic Saturday was.”

She says her training didn’t go to plan in the run up. “Life got in the way, work got busier so meeting up for midweek runs with my besties was tricky, and in November I fell. Soft tissue damage saw me at physio and back to square one with a walk to run programme just days before Christmas.

“Being asthmatic I find hills a struggle and a strain on my lungs so I decided to buy some running poles. I’m so glad I did. I did some training with them but kept catching my feet. I doubted I would use them for long on the day but they were a god send – from helping me push on up the steep inclines, judge the depth of muddy puddles, help take the pressure off my knees on descents and stopped me from falling in the mud! Well worth every penny.”

She added, “Being my first ultra I felt under prepared and rather daunted being surrounded by lots of seasoned ultra runners but there were so many from SRC running and supporting it was like one day-long party.

“And unlike my London Marathon experience, which felt very lonely whilst running on an iconic route with thousands of others, this event was chilled. I made a point to stop to take photos and to take in the views. I didn’t check my phone or watch for the time once. I think my mindset was different. I expected different things from myself and that paid off.

“I plan to explore more trails and trail events and am considering an ultra or two next year. I will combine this with more regularly attending the She Runs Cardiff hills sessions too.”

Shortly after crossing the finish line, Ann was awarded a beautiful wooden trophy for Most Determined Runner. While there are awards for first, second and third male and female runners, this award has nothing to do with time but is voted for by the check point volunteers who nominated Ann for her sheer grit and tenacity.

It was a hugely emotional moment not just for Ann but for the large number of She Runners who were at the finish line cheering on every single finisher – and even race director Rhys was overwhelmed by the moment.

Ann laughs, “Sorry to Rhys for making him cry when he tried to give me the Most Determined Runner award when I’d finished. I couldn’t quite take in that it was for me or why. I was incredibly overwhelmed. He eventually said, ‘you are going to have to take this from me eventually’.”

For other She Runs Cardiff members, this may not have been their first ultra marathon – but that’s not to say they didn’t find it hugely challenging.

Samantha Haines is a She Runs Cardiff Run Buddy and Run Leader.

“What an experience!” she says. “This was my fifth ultra and the hardest I’ve done so far.

“The elevation was insane, far more than on any other race I’ve done. What kept me going was the amazing support, both from those running and the SRC families who came along to support.”

In the run up to the HOWUM, Sam has been taking part in a ‘run streak’ – this means running consecutively every single day.

“The day of the HOWUM was day 132. When I started the run streak I had no idea how much it would help with the training,” she says. “Getting out every day definitely built my stamina up to be able to keep going. I’d say to anyone contemplating an ultra…do it! Yes, the training takes up time but I’ve never been lonely as there’s always been someone to train with. Also your training runs don’t have to be as far as you think.”

For Run Buddy Elaine Davies HOWUM was her second official ultra marathon event and, as she points out, a very different course to her first, the Vale of Glamorgan Ultra Marathon (VOGUM), another Pegasus event, along the coast path of South Wales.

“It was absolutely tough, some parts more than others, but without doubt the support from all the other runners and the wonderful volunteers at the checkpoints is what makes the difference. The feeling when you get to the end makes it all worthwhile!.”

She adds, “The training was hard and it did feel like it started to take over my life. I struggle with that, which is why I am now being much more selective about what I enter. In the past I have found it too easy to overload myself and for me I start to lose the fun of running at that point. It’s about finding the balance for me going forward.”

She adds, “I would never have entertained the idea of the HOWUM without a crew of She Runners because for me the shared training, motivation and understanding is really important.

“My ‘take home’ message from the HOWUM and from many other events would be that you absolutely can dothings beyond your belief.

“Go for it!” she says to anyone contemplating such a challenge. “One foot in front of the other and repeat!”

Myfanwy Thomas, She Runs Cardiff Buddy and Run Leader, says, “HOWUM was my fourth ultra and hands down my absolute hardest one to complete, despite being ‘easier’ on paper than the other two routes I’ve done. Don’t be fooled by the smiles of the photos…I’ll be honest I lost the mental game early on and so it felt like a (very) long hard battle.”

That said, her initial feelings of how tough it was have subsided and now she’s celebrating her achievement and looking forward to her next event.

“I can look back on it now with rose-tinted glasses and bask in the achievement, rather than focus on the tough mental challenge that it was.

“As the aching subsides you reach that point when you think “well, it wasn’t that hard was it? Maybe I’ll sign up to another?!” And bang, something is booked! I don’t even need to do that though as I have PIGUM in eightweeks then Berlin Marathon 11 weeks after that!

“I’m going to have a full rest week then I’m going to go back hard into that training. I want to feel stronger and fitter than I do now when I’m next on the start line.”

She adds, “If you want to feel all of the feelings run an ultra!”

SRC Run Buddy Catherine Thompson is another experienced ultra runner – and signed up for HOWUM just five days before.

“I’ve had THE most tremendous day ever,” she said shortly after the event. “It was really so much about running community spirit.

“What I love about Pegasus and the inclusivity is that we are all welcomed, regardless of our finish times. This is hugely important in women’s running when so many are put off by restrictive cut offs based on male ability. I read the percentage divide of entrants of another Wales-based ultra where close to 80% of entrants were male, and I think it’s fair to say that Pegasus have really tipped the balance this time. Thank you.”

Indeed, it is testament to Pegasus that this year’s HOWUM boasts a 100% finish success rate, not least due to the supportive environment and policy of no cut off times. As Rhys says on the website, “You’ve trained and paid to enter this race… We owe it to each athlete to provide the help, support and time to get all to the finish line.”

Cathryn Scott is a She Runs buddy and this was her third ultra, having completed VOGUM twice. “Two She Runners, Gruby Barrett and Kate Morgan, took part in HOWUM last year and it was their persuasive efforts which saw so many of us signing up to take part. We all loved the idea of a road trip. Personally, I found HOWUM incredibly hard, the elevation was tough and I wasn’t as well-trained as my previous two ultras, but I’m so proud of myself for not giving up and for crossing that finishing line.

“I did have really tough moments on the course, and I’m so thankful to my fellow She Runners for encouraging me and helping me get round.

“I’m so glad Gruby and Kate rallied us all around and got so many of us to sign up. Yes it was tough but we have all shown we are capable of tough things, and it was wonderful that so many of us did it.

“To have 30 runners out of 180 for an event that is three hours away is brilliant and testament to the nurturing, supportive and empowering environment of both She Runs Cardiff and Pegasus.”

Sixteen of our runners even shared a house together, complete with hot tub, swimming pool and games room, adding to the communal spirit of the event.

Cathryn adds, “Relaxing in the hot tub afterwards was a wonderful way to celebrate our achievement, and we joked how amazing it was being able to talk non-stop about the event with each other – most other people would, understandably, not be as interested!”

Events such as this one can’t go ahead without volunteers and Kate Morgan and Kathryn Gilman, two of SRC’s run buddies, were among those helping out on the day.

Kate – who has completed several ultra marathons including last year’s HOWUM – says, “It’s just as rewarding an experience volunteering at a Pegasus event as it is running one of the events.

“From the nervous excited chat whilst helping at the bag drop at the start of the race to ensuring runners have everything they could possibly need at the checkpoints (except perhaps a new pair of knees, which was one request!) it’s an all round brilliant experience.”

She added, “I love meeting new people from all walks of life and hearing everyone’s stories and supporting their achievements and volunteering at an ultra is one of the best places to do this! And of course it’s always extra special when there’s lots of good friends from SRC taking part.”

Kathryn, who helped at check point one and three, said, “It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet, support and get to know others in the running community and see their incredible achievements.

“Knowing that you can help someone when they may need a boost and give them encouragement to keep going is really rewarding. It also inspires you to get out there and try things for yourself that you never thought would be possible.

“Pegasus events are always so inclusive you feel like part of the family.”

Final words must go to Anna-Jane Thomas, who said shortly after the event, “Without the encouragement, support and friendships in this group, I would never have done this… .in other words, it’s all your faults that I can’t move today!”

You will find She Runs Cardiff runners taking part in all of Pegasus’ remaining 2023 events, including the VOGUM on Saturday 3 June, The PIGUM on Saturday 1 July, the EDDUM on Saturday 5 August, and the RIDUM on Saturday 2 September. Our members will also be volunteering at VOGUM, PIGUM and RIDUM. For more information on Pegasus events visit their website here.

If you’re a She Runner taking part in any Pegasus event, let us know on our social media and we’ll direct you to our event pages and chat groups including others taking part.

Finally, this event is part of our second year of fundraising for Big Moose Charity, which provides fast-access mental health support and counselling for anyone who needs their services.

Our women running on the day have raised close to £700, you can sponsor them here.

It brings our total fundraising to close to £20,000 – double our original target.

Credit to @dazphotgtaphy1 @graffika_photography @mwb_1962 & @zoemorgan1993 for these photos.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: