Brecon Beacons Ultra Trail

This event was the first I’ve done as a result of social media  shortly after  I discovered Instagram and decided on my running challenges for 2018, A post by @lil_em_loves_to_run sparked my interest…
It would was to serve as a good training/baseline to kickstart my training for the Alps later in the year. The run was sold as a 32 mile ultra with a ‘strenuous ‘ difficulty rating. What does that even mean?  Who cares, it was  £55 which I think is damn cheap. I booked it and pretty much ignored it as it was so far in the future.  Sometime later my sister was talked into signing up for the half Marton as part of the event. That would be fun with her.
May soon arrived I’d planned to do some hill training, but I hadn’t. I generally felt good, although I was intimidated by the elevation and climbs. I needed to experience some hills though. My parents had arranged to come up for the night so we all stayed in a hotel in Talgarth the night before and they’d be waiting at the finish line along with my sister. This would be the first time my family had joined me for a run, and also the first have done in my home country! The hotel had a tiny chip shop attached to it, so we prepped with some greasy fish and chips and a beer, got an early night and I headed down to the start to register at 6:30am.
Race T collected, number 39 for the day. Despite the predicted warm temperatures,  it was very cold at that time so I’d layered up to keep warm.  Soon I was spotted by Camilla and Dorota from the Cool Catz group. These cats get everywhere.  It was the first time I’d met Dorota,  she would also be running the ultra and Camilla the marathon (crazy cat had signed up just one week ago). We listened to the race briefing, From which I took “you’ll go up Corn Du” 3 times and “you don’t need the wet gear from the mandatory kitlist”, I had no choice at that point but to carry what I’d brought. The only other thing of note here was that the half marathon was actually 15.5 miles my sister would kill me when she discovered this!
Outside we went, a quick photo of the cool cats and we were off. Dorota and I started off together at the back, chatting and getting to know one another. The race started in Gileston farm in Talybont-on-usk and we headed out on the Taff Trail heading out towards the Talybont Reservoir.  After about 4km we came across the first checkpoint, I thought this was a little early in the race, but it was also served in the kother distances so I’m sure the half and 10k runners would have appreciated it more than I did! We didn’t stop. Very soon after though we were upon the reservoir.  A very picturesque scene indeed and many runners stopped to take pictures. This actually helped thin the crowds out a little bit!
We carried on along the Beacons Way (parallel to the TaffTrail Trail) and continued along side the reservoir which presented us with some incredible views. As we reached the end, probably around 6 miles in, I said my goodbyes to Dorota and we continued on at Ice Creamour own pace. I spent some time briefly chatting with a group of guys running together and we shared some stories before shortly after I hit the second checkpoint. They carried on but I I stopped for some coke, Yes, and a few jelly beans and continued onwards. At this point the ultra and marathon routes headed left, with the half marathon turning right to loop around the reservoir back to the start. I stopped to capture a picture of this sign, there was no ice cream. They lied. Briefly we were back on the Taf Trail before heading across fields towards the Beacons Way again. All around us were spectacular views of the mountains and the uncertainty of not knowing which we’d have to climb! I passed the guys again and carried onwards, smiling away and sing my little song that I had on loop in my head that went “gonna shit in a portal,  dum dum, gonna shit in a portal,  dum dum”. I don’t know why, and I don’t know to what tune, but it made me smile.
The path at this point was  covered with trees and fresh smells, we were heading towards Rain Gauge and the old Filter House which is where we’d turn left, toward the first climb. We cossed the Taf Fechan and the climb was in sight. It was steep. I could see people going up all the way, runners and hikers. Out came my poles. This was the first time I’d used poles. I brought  them to try out ready for the CCC.  Mine are the highly rated Black Diamond carbon z. And damn they were light. I wore them horizontally across my back in a Salomon Pulse waistband. I hardly felt them. ‘Poling’ upwards I chatted to a lady from Leicester about her trips to the Beacons as a child and her running adventures.  We got to the top, passed the tourists and off she went. I spent a few minutes thumbling with the poles and made a mental note to put them away just before I summit next time. I was now stuck in a narrow single file track, occasionally having the space to overtake. The views were beautiful. Ridgeway everywhere. Looking down on the gauge we really were being spoilt up high as we traversed the Craig Fan Ddu towards Corn Du.
Arriving at Corn Du it was getting busy with tourists, and the heat was getting intense. A picture of the Welsh flag and a sharp hairpin turn, it was time to go back down from Corn DuBwlch Duwynt. Now this was fun. Loads of people walking up, and me, free running down. I was smiling. I was humming and bumbling tunes out as I skipped and jumped all the little breaks in the path,  weaving my way through the crowds and thanking the occasional cheer and supporter. I say it was fun, within a minute, I could feel the burn in the quads, and the pain of the impact in each ankle. I soon wished it to be over. I was overtaken by this dude who was flying down! When we reached the bottom and checkpoint 3 I commented so. He laughed, said the uphill were the problem. I stocked up on water, had some crisps and sweets, joked with the volunteers and headed off again,  with a toilet stop in the public toilets I was good to go.
The route briefly followed the road before we turned back in on the paths and it was time to head up towards Corn Du again. We started off heading up, then briefly back down before the climb started properly and the poles came back out. I passed the down hill sprinter and joked that I’d see him on the next downhill (I did!) And up I went. This time I was huffing and puffing. Sweating like a bitch and I could feel the ache in my arms from using the poles. I was drinking a lot to combat the exhaustion and heat. The top looked and age away, and then I noticed the runners doing another sharp hair pin, we weren’t going completely to the top this time,  as it was yet again time to descend. I took a moment to enjoy the views again and started  chating to a guy from Wrexham doing his first ultra. We ran together and we’re soon in a little group of runners descending down Llyn Cwm Llwch. Most of them got ahead of me on the down hills. I was finding this tough and coming to the conclusion that I’m not that strong on the downs. I could feel my body fighting the gravity and I must have been afraid to relax into the ‘fall’ , the uneven terrain was a fear for  me. We carried on along Cwm Llwch, getting closer and closer to ground level.
As we reached the village of Modrydd there would be a stretch along public roads. Narrow roads. This was undulating and I could see many runners walking the little inclines. I kept telling myself I’d go so far then walk also, but I kept moving the goalposts, deciding that I was fairly strong on this type of road and I’d keep going, racing, putting some distance between me and those who were stronger on the down hills. Rounding the turn at Three Rivers Ride, it was another steep incline to a car park (start of another public path), there was a runner sitting at the bottom changing his socks, he laughed as I looked up and said “fuck that” and started walking.  At the top, Checkpoint 4. This was a biggy, checkpoint 5 was 15kms away, with only a emergency water at the top of Pen Y Fan.  I filled the bladder and bottles, ate some stuff and moved on. I made some videos to share on Instagram to occupy my mind as I looked up at the biggest climb of the race, Pen Y Fan loomed in the distance. I looked at my watch, I’d been running for 4hrs and 20mins at this point. I was curious how long it would take to walk.
I was huffing and puffing away, occasionally chatting to other runners and hikers as I powered up. I thought we’d reached the top at one point and had a little run, but to my annoyance we were barely half way, ahead of me it was even steeper than before. I Pen Y Fan Halfwaydipped into the babybel stash, I needed a salty pickme up. I was also conscious now that I was out of electrolytes. For some reason I didn’t bring any additional ones with me. I don’t know why. I no longer had the tasty escape from just plain old water. I wanted coke. Checkpoint 5 was a long way away. Nearing the top I had to scramble. Hands and knees over big rocky steps. I was there.
At the top of Pen Y Fan, the views were spectacular. I first sat and chatted to two hikers as I caught my breadth. Then I wandered around the top taking some pictures. Unexpectedly I could hear my name being called. What the…. It was Camilla! We hugged and laughed and enjoyed the views together before setting off down the Beacons Way away gain towards Fan Y Big. I was running and enjoying and I felt bad,  I’d forgotten to say good by to Camilla,  I looked back up and waved, she didn’t see me. I carried on, more down hill, but, in my mind, the last down hill, or so I thought. Before Fan Y Big, we turned off the main paths, we were going to go up again. I felt cheated. I accepted I’d misinterpreted the instructions at registration,  running up to Corn Du three times did not mean only 3 hills to run. Stupid me. Oh well, up again I went up Craig Cwareli.
I passed two guys having a break and would see them again at the top when I decided to walk for a bit. We shared some chat about poles and equipment and I fell in line behind them as we ran the rocky ridgeway. It was tough underfoot, then the guy in front rolled his ankle and and yelled in pain. We stopped. He was alright, annoyed more than anything. I carried on out front. Then it was my turn and I did the same.  We decided to walk through it, and enjoy the views.
Eventually the path was good enough to run again, heading along Flordd  Las. It was soft and muddy. It was good. I felt stronger on this down hill than all the rest. I think it was the knowledge that the final Checkpoint and the coke I craved was just a few miles away. I could see runners all ahead, like individual targets to chase down and pass. And I did. One by run I sought them out and caught them. Until I got some serious cramp on the inside of my right quad. Normally in races, and earlier in this one, when I get cramp I power through. But this one was worse than I’ve felt before. I had to stop.  A runner passed me and offered help to stretch have me, I told him it would be OK and I hobbled on behind him. I then felt so bad when he slipped in the mud and fell in front of me. It was funny to watch but I sensed it hurt and he was annoyed.  He refused my assistance too and we carried on.
We crossed through some fields and painful climbed over some stye before the oasis of Checkpoint 5 presented itself. It was busy. We were all grabbing at the coke and sweets. Spirits were high and a lot of thanks to the volunteers were given. I checked, we had 6 kms to go,  down hill and along the river.  I text my parents, eta somewhere between 30-40 min.  Onwards for the last time.
As we headed to Pencelli,  where we’d pick up the Taff Trail back to the finish (start) I passed along and chatted to more runners. We were all on the high of knowing it was the final stretch. Along the river I picked some more targets and chased them down. A few would stop to walk and I felt like doing the same.  It had been 7 hours. I was fatigued and my mind was ready to give up. I kept fighting the urge to walk.  I was on race mode again, unnecessarily not wanting to lose a position in the final standings.  Pointless, but that competitiveness kept me going. Up ahead another runner and a little incline as the path split, we were being directed off the path. I had the idea I’d stop st the top and have that walk. Only,  I asked how long left a land I was told 300m.  This changed my mind.  There would be no stopping now!
The final stretch have winded down some farm roads. Plenty of supporters were out clapping and cheering. I clapped and thanked them all, rounding the bend through the car park entrance and to the finish line. I put on my pose, cheeks puffed, arms out and waddled across the line. Past my father and sister and cameras, passed the medals. Then they all called me back. I was in my own world.
I spent some time with my family who’d set up camp with their picnic of food. I went in and ate loads of crisp sweets and chocolate, chatter to runners I’d passed along the final stretch. Talked about the Ballache that was the third climb. Smiled and congratulated each othe. I also spent time getting pictures with my sister and enjoying hearing about her run.  I was conscious Camilla could be finishing anytime soon, but it was time to leave. I went to the toilet,  grabbed an Icecream, and there she was! I’d just missed her cross the line, I felt bad again!
We had a chat, then we left, she would be hanging around for Dorota who was up on the ridgeway, somewhere before Checkpoint 5.
The journey home was peaceful, I was so tired, but had had such have and around amazing time. I’d learnt around maxing lot, and now my sttention would switch to the next race (the Helsinki Marathon in two weeks) and the summer of ultras that lay ahead.