I entered this months ago to take advantage of the early bird price but as the time drew closer I am not sure I was best prepared. We arrived home from the Alps on Tuesday afternoon after a month of climbing, walking, Via Ferattas and my biggest race of the year. The UT4M had finished exactly 3 weeks earlier and I had run once for about 90 minutes since then. I told myself that some people taper for that long and not to worry; perhaps the 11,000m of climb would still be in my legs as a benefit.
I couldn't even remember how long the race was but assumed a bit like the 10 Peaks Lakes and so perhaps about 14 hours. Ha!
Actually about 56 miles and over 12 of the highest peaks in the Beacons and more likely to take me 16 plus hours.
We drove down slowly on Friday with a stop in Newtown for coffee and a quick sit in the sun. We were at Danywenalt YHA before 4pm and helped the warden put up the lights in the big tent (the YHA was not big enough for us all). Bob and I then set about putting up all the Runfurther flags, banner and display boards before chatting to the ROs and other runners.
I registered early and then retired to the van to laze before the race briefing at 9.30. I scanned the entry list but it seemed everybody that I knew on it had failed to register! I didn't linger and shot off to bed ready for an early start in the morning. The weather forecast was spot on with heavy rain overnight and by morning it had almost fizzled out. Unfortunately it had drenched the parking and camping field and the morning arrivals quickly tried to turn round and park up on the dam and the Taff Trail. I ignored all the fuss and got on with my porridge ready for the 5am start. Sleeping in the van and only 2m from the start line was ideal.
The drizzle was annoying enough to need a cag and I was chilly and so had on a long sleeve top too. I quickly spotted John Knyston and Chris Davies but knew that Splatcher and Dick would not be there. I looked for Dominic (who I had met in the scorching heat in the UT4M but did not see him). With an Si timed punching start there was no rush for the gate and a steady trickle of runners crossed the dam and started up the lane onto the first hill. The drizzle was making the light from my torch bounce back which was fine on the lane but an issue on the muddy paths as we broke onto the hill. I seemed to be climbing OK and so settled in to keeping up with some guys who seemed to know where they were going. The rain had turned the path into a stream and the hill was slippery with mud. After the first top of Carn Pica there is a tricky section across some peat moor and I wanted to make sure I did not go astray or miss the turn down to the Neuadd Reservoirs.
In the end we did not get a perfect line but it was OK. I was happy that that section was over and knew the next sections would be easy nav. This allowed me to stick to my own pace and not worry too much about others.
Running up the Crag Fan Ddu ridge the dawn had broken, the cloud was starting to lift and the day was going to be glorious.
I barely stopped at CP 1 on the main road below the Storey Arms and then there was route choice. The event encourages this which I quite like even if it does advantage local runners. By Fan Fawr summit the runners had spread out and I almost headed SW not NW before correcting my error. Two short course runners came by at what to me seemed like sprint pace and then I was caught by two other runners. After a couple of minutes we both realised we knew each other- it was Dominic from the heat of the summer. He had plenty of energy and was talking non stop but his buddy was finding it tougher. Then Chris Davies caught us up; he had made a very steady start. We were so busy nattering that we all ran down the ridge towards a huge cairn before we realised we had missed the Si box on the summit which was a tiny grassy lump. Annoying but hey ho. About 500m back up hill and we got it. In the meantime John Knyston had come past and I had been caught by the second lady. I was now on terrain that I remembered from the OMM a few years ago and more importantly it was a wonderful grassy ridge. I blasted to try to make up for the lost time. John strayed to my right but I stuck to my line. My phone rang- I ignored it. It rang again and I was bothered. Then a text message pinged; somebody really wanted to talk to me. I was worried but CP 2 was minutes away so I raced on. I dibbed and gave my number but before I could dig out my phone the marshalls explained. They wanted my van key. The RO had asked us to move the van on Friday night but now that the main entrance to the field was totally wrecked we were blocking the only alternative. Relieved that it was not Bob or the boys I handed over my keys and ran on. Actually I walked on eating and chatting with John. This section was very runnable and his analysis shows that apart from my error on the previous peak this was actually my slowest split compered to others. Once through the woods and out onto grassy paths we ran and I tried to keep up with John and Chris and pulled ahead of Dominic and friend.
I kept them in sight and that was good enough.CP3 was excellent and the crew there had prepared hot food, soup and more. ( I could have done with this later at CP5) We had drop bags here so I grabbed extra food, downed a chocolate milk shake and ate the rest of my cheese and cucumber wraps. I eyed up the cakes but John, Chris and David were off! I ran off before filling up my water bottle. Oops. Luckily there was plenty of water after the night of rain.They pulled away slightly as we hit the main road and then crossed to the Black Mountain.
I had asked about the paths here the previous evening and knew I was going up the ridge. John opted for the lower route and Chris went with him; initially. As David and I neared the top I could see John far below and knew we had made the right choice.
Chris had switched to our route and soon caught us up. The marshalls at Fan Brycheiniog were great and even offered some food.
From here there was an out and back to our most westerly summit of Bannau Sir Gaer.
The views were spectacular and I lost several minutes taking photos.
Racing down to catch Chris and David I spotted John ploughing up with his poles and then later Dominic and the second and third ladies.The rocky steps down to Llyn Y Fan Fawr were a pain and it was a relief to reach the bottom. Big streams here allowed us to refill our water bottles again. From here we ran as a three for most of the remainder of the race. This helped with pace, motivation and route finding.
The next section down to a road, up the other side and then steeply down again to CP4 were almost pathless but with good visibility, mapwork and luck we got some decent lines. We stopped to eat at CP4 but saw nobody emerge over the hills to catch us. We could see 'red shirt man' ahead but the gap never seemed to change.
The climb up to Fan Gyhirych was tough but was followed by some easier running and Fan Nedd. From here we could see the distant ridges of Corn Du, Pen Y Fan etc that we still needed to cross - daunting.
I hoped that Chris was not 'waiting' for me but he insisted he wanted to finish a race less trashed than usual and was more than happy with the pace. An unexpected Mountain rescue truck and cheerful marshalls with water and food boosted our spirits and then it was onto the Sarn Helen Roman road. The welsh Romans obviously missed the message that said roman roads should be striaght and somebody has now sprinkled it with boulders, rocks and pebbles of various sizes. This was not my favourite stretch. On the plus point we found a nice short cut and saved at least 1500m and I now know that the Scott shoes I won at St Cuthberts work as my toes/foot/ mortons neuroma/ issue caused me no bother. We phaffed a bit with the best line after Fan Frynych and then caught a convoy of short course runners on a narrow and very muddy path. I knew I needed to refuel and so was determined to stop at the Storey Arms. Chris agreed that he was running low too ( I hoped he meant this and was not being polite to wait for me). David pushed on as we waited for hot food. It was a strange CP with vouchers for the burger van. The cup a soup allowed me to dunk and eat another cheese wrap as we waited for our egg burgers. Ah, we had expected two fried eggs in a bap. We got burger and egg- my fault and a pointless wait as Chris is veggie. I ate mine as we plodded up the huge path and tried to reel in David. I was very slow up Pen Y Fan until the burger and gels kicked in but we caught david and ran together again. The descents were now hurting more than the climbs- my left knee was sore and the tendon? up the lower part of my right shin was hurting like mad. Still not far now.We crossed Cribyn and then Fan Y Big. I had spotted a distant path and convinced myself it was ours until I remembered from MCNuts races that we had to run some distance around the rim before our final dib and the turn to the easterly path home.
The sun was setting behind us and it was now a race against the dark. It was also getting chilly on the rim and I stopped to put a dry long sleeve layer on and get my torch out ready for later. We were keen to make it to the turn off and across the worst of the peat in the dusk and upped the pace. We lost David but found the promised glow sticks and were back on Waun Rydd before we needed torches. The final descent was very wet and slipperly but we did overtake other runners from the short course. We had a worrying moment in the bracken when we thought we had gone wrong but all was well and we reached the last rocky stream bed like path before the lane. We totally missed the short cut and added about 800m which was a shame but there was nothing to do but run as much as we could down the steep lane. The uphill back to the dam was hell and I could not even manage a continuous run over the dam itself but Chris a gent to the finish stuck with me. Despite our errors we made it back a shade inside 16 hours. (15.57.48) Chris could easily have gone faster but I was chuffed to bits. I was also absolutely trashed. I had not really recovered enough from France and the big race but had managed to get round. I owe great thanks to David and especially Chris for their company- I could not have done it without them.
12th or 13th overall (Chris let me dib first) and 1st lady (although possibly their slowest ever winner?).
It took me some time to recover enough to stand up and receive my medal and prizes from Paul the joint RO. I was so wasted I did not initially recognise the me's winner David Chetta even though I was grouped with him on the Fellsman this year!
and I almost cried when Bob sent me off to the YHA for a shower. It was the right thing to do of course and I emerged clean and feeling a bit better. A quick bite to eat and I was in bed son after 10, it had been a long day.
Great event, well organised, tough but wonderful route.
The last runners were still coming in as I started to wake at around 5am. We were up by 7 and after coffee and bacon sandwiches we set to taking down all the flags and banners. The sun was on the tops but the valley was damp with a heavy dew. Everything was dripping wet. The ROs were having some well deserved sleep when we drove away home.