In 2017 I entered my first ever Darth Mannion.  I had run for a few years and would regularly see runners from Southgate emerging from sand dunes and rivers around the beautiful coast of the Gower. They looked exhausted and  wet but always had a smile on their faces. I would look at them, then shake my head and run off in my pristine white trainers- untouched by mud wondering why they did it? If there was a puddle in my way, I would stop my watch then carefully navigate around it, (making a mental note to inform the council at a later date to fill the pot hole). However, no matter what distance I ran, I could not get the image of those smiling loons out of my head.  Perhaps I should try the dark path of trail running?

In late 2016 I committed to my first Darth Mannion and in 2017 I completed it.  The training began in October 2016 – still on the road but getting half marathon fit. Zooming along the flat Mumbles front, I felt I was fit enough and ready, I’d just run a marathon a few months ago the Darth would be a breeze.  In January the rain and puddles came, but I was brave I ran through the puddles that Mumbles front had to offer- surely no one could doubt my Darth readiness?

Feeling superbly overconfident, I decided to accept an invitation from The Darth Coastal Runners for a trail run around the South Gower coast- this was my backyard; you can see my house- how difficult could it be?  When i arrived, running members took it in turns to laugh at my smart, slightly puddle splattered trainers, politely suggesting that I invest in trail shoes instead. I set off with them for a 10 mile run and it quickly become clear why I needed better footwear and better training.  I’m sure that I covered the first mile on my bum, and the hills nearly finished me.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Ian-W.jpg

LESSON 1- Buy trail shoes

It wasn’t just the need for trail shoes that I learned on that training run and the Darth Mannion that was to follow.  My lessons are below.

LESSON 2- Find a hill and run up it, then run up it again and again and again. Find a steeper hill and repeat.

Flat road running is completely different and simply won’t prepare you.

LESSON 3- Vasaline. Just put it everywhere.

In the Darth Mannion you run through muddy bogs, rivers, into the sea and down steep ravines.  This is then followed  by long runs into the wind along the coast.  When I did it last year, my adrenaline was pumping and I really felt that runner’s high.  Dragged out of the water by marshalls and other challengers, it hardly mattered that my testicles had shrivelled to the size of peanuts.  But the chafing does matter – at least in the days after the race – so vaz up people!

LESSON 4- Its a challenge, not a race.

The younger competitive me would have hated this part, but you realise early on the joy of the event is in the completing not the competing.   13 miles of running, wading, dipping, scrambling and climbing teaches you that lesson quite well! I had watched the Darth videos online before the event and could never understand why none of the competitors were running full out. Now i was there, I knew. Hill after hill and sea dip after sea dip. It is relentless.

LESSON 5- Try a sea dip before the event.

It’s surprising how much the cold steals your breath and causes your muscles to contract and stop working. Many people had different tactics for the sea dip, with some completely stripping off to their shorts, while others brave it fully clothed. I went for an option somewhere in between and found that right for me. The sea was freezing and fully submersing myself was mentally tough. I emerged panting hard. The cold temperature had taken away my breath.

LESSON 6-  Tighten up your shoes as tight as they will go.   Lose them in the sheep dip and they will be gone for ever – and in that conga of fear, people do lose them.  Last year a chap ran the final mile with just one shoe.

The Darth Mannion is a great running experience and one that I have recommended to all runners that I’ve met.  But there’s just one final lesson

LESSON 7- Don’t forget the after party. The beer is cheap, the rugby’s on afterwards and the bands are great. Make an effort to get to the after party and you won’t be disappointed.