First of all the Brecon Beacon’s are a stunning place. The views outweigh the toughness of this course. The weather helped, we set off at 7.30am with clear skies and about 5deg in temperature and finishing about 18deg around lunchtime and no rain for the duration!
I had studied the route map and knew what sort of elevation I was going to be tackling at what points in the race, where the pitstops were to determine how I was going to pace my race. The first 10km was a steady 400m elevation which i settled into a steady pace for and wasn’t much bother, the next 5km then took on another 400m with most of this occuring during a high-stepping, zig-zagging “path” up to a ledge on the first mountain. I got to the top of this path and my heart rate went through the roof, i felt my energy drop, i was seeing black spots. Other competitors had started running again but I thought I was going to keel over if I did.
This was the first climb, the next 2 were even higher and I genuinely thought i wasn’t going to finish this race, at least nowhere near my target time. Eventually getting my Heart Rate under control, i got to the peak, jogged down and restocked at the 21km checkpoint. Straight up the west path of the Pen Y Fan. This was more of a tourist path, gravelled and a steady incline. I kept my breathing and heart rate controlled and got up ok. 80% of the way up the ultra route then veered off north and back down for a 10km route which came back to summit the Pen Y Fan which was a much tougher track involving some scrambling near the top. Before I had gone up the Pen Y Fan for the second time, my VMO’s (a section of your quadriceps just above the inside of your knee) were trying to cramp, the rest of my legs felt fine. Running was fine, but hiking up… they were definitely twitching and I needed to alter my walking stride so that they didn’t go into full spasm. This wasn’t fun for the rest of the race. I made sure I got plenty of salts and liquids in to help which eased the left one off, but the right was still twitching right until the end.
I got a good pace going back down the mountain and made up some good time. Running downhill takes practice, you can expend a lot of energy trying to brake and slow yourself down, letting the legs roll to an extend is more energy efficient and quicker… but you have to watch every step, one wrong landing and you can take a tumble which won’t end well.
One more climb brought us to a boggy “path” from the previous night’s rain, which I managed to sink a trainer into and submerged my foot… oh well, 8 miles downhill and I’m finished. I finished quite strong, stopped at the last pitstop and necked some coke and grabbed some jelly beans to get me through. I was still smiling at the finish line as all in all I’d enjoyed this event.
I finished in 6:39:30, placing me in the top 20% of the field which I am quite pleased with as although I have done a number of endurance events before, this was my first ultra marathon. My legs weren’t too sore after, my VMO’s were tight as were my glutes and calves but not to the extent that I couldn’t walk, navigate stairs or sit on the toilet, which I think is a testimony to my training. Plenty of quality miles in the legs alongside structured strength training got me through.
I learnt that when I have some intense sections coming up fairly early on, I need to eat and drink before I reach them, I didn’t before the first climb and think this may have contributed to me feeling so rough at the top. I also learnt I need to do more hiking, the running was fine but I definitely fell behind and suffered on some of the hikes. Time spent in the peak district will be key in the next year, I am also considering poles to help take the pressure off my legs but may try and borrow some to see how I like them first.
All in all this is a very well organised event, a nice snood you get when registering, pit stops are well stocked with sweets, crisps, nuts, water, electrolytes, coke etc. Marshalls at these stops filling up water bottles for everyone which saves you some time so you can shove some calories in before setting off. A stunning location which really takes your mind off your breathing and makes it all seem worthwhile. WIth shorter distances of roughly marathon, half marathon and 10km distances there are alternatives for those not wishing to be out on the trails for quite so long.
If you are looking at doing an event like this, make sure you train efficiently for it, not just the miles on the legs, but get plenty of hills in, exercises such as step ups in the gym will greatly help for the climbs and ensure you introduce single leg and balance work to improve stability in the lower body.
It definitely has not put me off ultra running, it has encouraged me to do more. I have already had a look at my next challenge this year! I will most likely look at another Trail Events Co. event for next year as they have a number of locations.