Thursday, 15 February 2018

Brecon to Cardiff 70k - Somewhere cold and caked in snow

Learn to run when feeling the pain: then push harder. William Sigei

Race date: 11/02/2018
Run Walk Crawl -
Location: Starting in Brecon Beacons National Park
Weather/Conditions: Snow and sunny spells.  4 degrees with sub-zero wind chill.

Maria Harryman joined me as crew again and we actually planned, properly.   Ensured we knew where we would meet and all sorts of stuff. Honest!

We traveled to Brecon on the Saturday to arrive at lunchtime and gorged ourselves on a large lunch before visiting Likeys store in the town.  Having relieved myself of a few more hard earned pounds we then found the marvelous AirBnB that would be our beds for the night.  I prepared and stressed over my packing until 7pm when we headed out to see the FAC OFF crew staying close by.  The pub was subdued due to the rugby score from earlier in the day and we had a few drinks before heading back to the accommodation and trying to sleep early.  Eventually, I drifted off.

The FAC OFF contingent - Emma, Denise, Roger and myself.

We found our way to the registration area which was already packed by 6:50, the queue for the kit-check shuffled along in the cold dawn light until I entered the building and showed my "requested" kit items from my pack.  I briefly spoke to Rory and Amey Mortimore, whom I had run with at the AVR Half.  Then on to registration, pin my number, find somewhere to sit and carry out final preparations before the race brief - mostly by drinking coffee.  Not all runners had been processed by 8 (the official start time) and so after the briefing and walk to the start we were all in place for 8:15, starting a few minutes later.

Heading out from the start.

The race starts from the beginning of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal along a narrow and often muddy towpath, ensuring the race does not shake out for many miles.  The canal heads east out of the town before crossing an aqueduct over the River Usk and then heads south.  There are trees and cover from the wind along initial miles along the canal, which gave us a little defense from the early snow.  After the initial snow fall some runners started to remove their waterproof tops as they warmed up, but I could see the mountains ahead and the low clouds heading towards us, and thought better of it.

I talked with a few fellow runners along the canal, many were running an ultra for the first time and decided this was one of the easier options, for winter ultra races it is.  Being social on ultra races is important as it's a great time to learn from others as well as pass on experiences from your own adventures.

The canal weaves across the countryside, mostly heading south-east, through the village of Pencelli, and eventually to the first checkpoint at 7 miles in Talybont.  I met up quickly with Bob, Richard and Alison who were supporting Roger, Denise and Emma before I started off on the long 7-mile climb towards the Talybont Reservoir.  The snow started falling lightly again, and would on and off throughout the day.  The track was initially firm and stony but not too steep to prevent a good pace.  The track then became loose grit, but again, my choice of shoes paid off and found the surface manageable.

View while climbing the 7 miles

One minute sun, the next low cloud and snow

The weather changed so quickly as the wind blew snow showers along the valleys, feeling over dressed to cold within a few minutes.  The Beacons would appear in sun, only to be hidden next time I looked by the low cloud.

Not long after passing the south of Talybont Reservoir, and in thickening snow, I could see a group of walkers heading towards me in the opposite direction.  "What bunch of loonies would be out in this weather?" I muttered to another runner.  Turns out those loonies were Tina and Richard Vivian, Kaye and James Crawford, Rich, Alison and Bob heading along the track to meet Denise, Emma and Roger.  After a few quick hugs and being promised it was "sunny around the corner" I continued.

More snow

The 7 mile climb is not steep but relentless, slowly it wears your energy levels down.  Eventually, I reached the pinnacle of the climb between Talybont and Pontsticll reservoirs and headed on through the valley until I met Maria just crossing the north of Pontsticll reservoir and fueled up with malt loaf and banana, before dropping down to the to the dam at the north of Merthyr Tydfil (18 miles in).  The trail from the damn is tarmac and for the next 5 miles, even with cushioned trail shoes, was hard underfoot.

At 23 miles, on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil, I met Maria outside Check Point 3 and changed my shoes, immediately feeling the difference with the cushioned soles.  I topped up my bottles and ate a few Marmite wraps and then gorged on malt loaf with nut butter.  I popped into the checkpoint to give them my number and headed off again, my feet taking a short time to adjust to the shoes.   The route continued to head south through the town, causing us to wait at traffic lights to cross major roads and roundabouts.  The path roughly followed the river Taff now before heading into Aberfan where we ran along the back of the housing estates, the view across the valley was stunning but often lost in clouds and more driving snow.  At one point I skirted a large puddle, I kicked a rock on the way and only just saved myself from a nosedive into the ground.  For the next few miles my toe throbbed!

Approaching Check Point 3

For a while the route crossed the A470, running adjacent to the road, the sound of rushing water being swapped for the constant traffic for a short while.  After a mile or so we crossed back under the dual carriageway and looped around Treharris before passing through Abercynon at 35 miles.  Some of the paths had flooded with the rain and snow of the previous weeks, leaving little alternative but to go through.  My feet got wet for the first time in the race, the icy water woke my senses a little as well.

Finally, at 37 miles, I reached the last checkpoint at Pontypridd.  Maria topped up my bottles and forced food into my hands and pockets.  Then she mentioned I had slowed, the runners I had been with had edged ahead.  I had slowed over the last section, allowing myself to run slower and chat.  I set off on the final 7 miles and picked up my pace.  Miles 40 to 43 followed a tree-lined path with very little view or change of scenery, being able to see at least half a mile ahead.   I slowly started to pick off other runners, keeping the pace steady I could see them ahead and gradually caught up and passed them, many at this point only walking.  I knew at some point the route turned off this tunnel of trees and, after what seemed like an eternity, the turn off appeared as I passed another competitor.

I picked up speed, finding a reserve strength I wasn't aware I had, and used the downhill through Nantgarw to push myself on, up and over the A470 footbridge, constantly looking for route markers, around a corner where I saw the finish line.  I kept pushing on, the cheers getting louder, spotted Maria and pushed the final meters over the line.  Completing the course in 08:25:06.

And rest!
I headed for the showers where I met Rory again, he had finished about 5 minutes ahead of me.  I joked with some of the other runners while trying to get showered and changed as fast as possible so I would not cool down too fast.  I rejoined Maria at the car and we headed off towards the M4, and into the sunset.  I was tired, but this was a good test of endurance for me and was a great training race in the build up for the Thames Path 100.

I finished 89/253 in 08:25:06.  I was pleased with the result but need to work harder in the "middle miles".

44 miles of love - not all downhill

Trail shoes - Saucony Koa ST
Tarmac shoes - Altra Olympus 2
Salomon S-LAB Adv Skin3 12 Set
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Decathalon Quechua Forclaz 400 jacket

Wraps with marmite
Wraps with nut butter
Malt loaf with nut butter
Torq gels
Cliff bars

Good question.  It is a good ultra, taking in some amazing scenery, but for me there is too much road/tarmac and not enough trail.

This is an ideal first ultra.  It is easy to navigate, the aid stations are well stocked and there was plenty of information supplied by the organisers.

My Strava link

Trail Running Wales video from the day.

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