For the second race in a row I am left with mixed feelings about the outcome. On a personal level I finished in a time that is quicker than I would have expected – especially given the conditions – but once again I failed in the core objective which was to get around as a team.
|Team at the start line at YHA Danywenallt Talybont-on-Usk|
The name “Short Course” is totally misleading because it is far from short, and very far from easy. I had completed that course in around ten and a half hours as my first ultra marathon two years previously and remembered very well how punishing it is. I had tried to convey to the rest of the team that either way this was a serious endeavour, and we agreed that we would only opt to “go Long” if we all felt very strong at the point the two courses diverged: one third distance on the Long Course and around halfway on the Short.
|Feeling good as we eye up Fan Fawr - the first of the "official" 10 peaks|
In retrospect there were some signs to which I should have taken closer attention. First, at the feed station, James sat down in a deck chair rather than continuing to stand like Andy and myself – a possible sign that his legs were feeling it more than ours. With his preparation for this event having been heavily disrupted by ongoing foot problems (a possible stress fracture), he had not managed to get the usual training miles into his legs. Second, the extremely wet conditions under foot – with almost continually boggy ground and the need to wade through several streams – meant that our feet were not getting an opportunity to dry out, and I should have anticipated that toe nail and trench foot problems would become more serious as the day went on. The boggy ground also made running significantly more sapping on the legs than I remembered from two years ago – we had travelled 27km but it felt a lot more.
|James making good progress as the fog clears|
One of the challenges of this course is the relatively long distance between feed stations. There are five in total across the 89km – an average gap of 10 miles might feel comfortable in a flat race, but in the Brecon Beacons and on tired legs they feel a very long way apart. This is particularly the case when you have to get to the next feed station in order to drop out. One of the key elements in James’ thinking was that, from where we stood at Bannau Sir Gaer, it was over 7km of hilly terrain to get to the next feed station in a layby on the A4067. Furthermore, from that point there was a long gap of 19km to the next and final feed station at the Storey Arms, and he couldn’t see himself successfully bridging that gap to the next point of safety. That was why he had firmly decided to retire at the A4067.
|Steepest climb of the day up to Fan Gyhirych immediately after the fourth feed station at the A4067 - the only time in the day when I wished I had walking poles|
James consoled himself that by the time he dropped out he had covered 55km and around 3,000m of vertical ascent – exactly the same as we would have done on the Short Course – and that therefore he had done his ultra marathon. However, it is still a shame for him because this is such a great event in such superb surroundings – the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains are just so magnificent. Sadly, because we had rain for the first two hours and then fog for the next couple of hours, we didn’t get the wonderful views of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big as we headed out westwards past their southern flanks in the morning. We did get some fine weather during the middle of the day, and the best views of were undoubtedly from the Black Mountains looking eastwards to those famous peaks of the Brecon Beacons. Our enjoyment of the view was tempered only by the knowledge that we would have to bag those far distant peaks that night before we got home.
|Views of Corn Du and Pen y Fan from Fan Nedd trig point|
|Some wading may be necessary!|
|Heading towards Cavers' Cottage at Penwyllt|
The other downside of the rain was that the ground was absolutely soaked. I knew to expect some boggy sections but some of the bogs had turned into small lakes. Also, streams that I had crossed two years ago by rock hopping this time required calf-deep wading. Since I was a small boy I have always loved splashing in puddles, but I was also aware that I have previously suffered badly from blisters on my soles arising from wet feet never drying properly, and this was probably my biggest concern this time out. As mitigation I carried spare dry socks in my pack, and had a couple of pairs (plus a dry pair of shoes) in my drop bag waiting at the third feed station – Cavers Cottage at Penwyllt. In the end I didn’t use the spare shoes – much as I wanted the luxury of dry feet, I knew that it would not last for long, and the tread on my spare shoes is not as good for wet and slippery conditions. I did however use the spare dry socks, and made sure to reapply masses of Gurney Goo to try to protect my feet from blisters. Fortunately this seemed to do the trick, because whilst I ended up with the compulsory black toenails, I didn’t get a single blister.
|The streams were full, and the waterfalls spectacular|
|The famous Storey Arms burger van|
Massive thanks to Andy for being such a thoughtful running companion, for dragging me up some of the later hills, for guiding me home when injured, and of course for doing all the driving. Thanks also to James for bearing his disappointment so stoically – definitely unfinished business, and we will be back next year.
- Andy and I finished 29th out of 125 starters and 83 finishers in 18 hours 29 minutes
- I was fourth in the over 50s
- My GPS recorded 4,865m of vertical climb
- Adjusting for the climb, the 89km distance is equivalent to 120km on the flat
- Strava says I burned 8,650 calories although Andy’s claims over 10,000 calories – how does that work?
- 10 Peaks Website: www.10peaks.com/brecon-beacons/the-route/
- Results: http://live7.sportident.co.uk/home/multistage/stage/results.html?multistageid=acdbfed2-0aae-46e1-9897-48bd5831fda4
- Strava Activity: www.strava.com/activities/708580414
- Movescount Move: www.movescount.com/moves/move123287966