Ultra Brecon 40
Date: 7th December 2013
Distance: 41 miles (actual distance covered 44.21)
Elevation: 2,196 m
This was the last in the series of 4 events and was the first every ultra I had done back in 2011 so I knew what to expect, or so I thought.
I arrived on Friday night at the now familiar Talybont Outdoor centre. I collected my number and map and went to find a bed. My usual room, in the older part of the building was empty. So I grabbed a bed and made my way down the road to the pub for pre race meal and pint. I sat at the table waiting for my meal to arrive and noticed they guys on the table next to me where studying there map. Turns out they where Dutch and had travelled over for the race.
I walk back up the road to the centre, which was now busy. I entered the room and greeted by a couple of guys that where down to do the marathon. As we chatted I sorted my bag out for the next day. The weather reports where favourable considering it was the Brecon Beacons in December, but you never know so I was undecided what to wear on the top half. I decided that even though I had run the course before I should look at the map.
However, I noticed there where a couple of changes to add extra elevation. This allowed people to collect 2 UTMB points rather than 1. However, much of the course looked the same. As I got ready for bed my final room guest arrived. He had travelled over from Iceland for the event. Turn out that this was one of the last events you can collect points first and if you don’t have enough points then you can’t enter. We agreed a wakeup time and tried to get some sleep.
In the morning I started my usual pre race routine. I went down to the kitchen to make my breakfast (pour hot water on porridge), there where a few more international visitors, Japan, and Germany from what I worked out. As I returned to the room I was trying to work out what to wear. Did I go with the thin base layer or the merino wool. Did I wear nothing over this, a t-shirt or a long sleeve top. Decided to go with the warmer option as it can be very cold on the higher ground. However, stuck the thinner one in my bag just in case.
Near start time we made our way down the road to the car park for the race briefing. We then made our way to the start. This was all very different from the first time I had run this as the briefing and start where outside the centre. The start was on the bridge next to the pub I had eaten in the previous night.
I was trying to work out how we got to the canal path from here as the last time I did the first 2-3 miles where on the toe path. As the sun popped up we where off. This was my first shock, rather than turning left as I expected we turned right and started climbing. The path narrowed to single file with the occasional passing places. I was running to fast, needed a wee and was getting too hot, but locked in place and pace on the path.
Less than a mile the path merged with an access road. At this junction several people had stopped to peel off layer and use the “facilities”. I joined them.
Now more comfortable and running a decent pace I ran along a queue of people climbing over a stile. There where a couple of people with dogs. There was a hole in the fence for the dogs but the owners needs to go up and over. I help out holding leads whilst they did this. The first 3 miles of the course seemed to be all uphill followed by a downhill to the canal. About a mile of flat and we where climbing again to the first check point that was a quad bike and trailer. Nothing else other than a hard core 4×4 would have been able to access this point. I topped up my bottle, checking I was drinking enough, and continued on.
The next part of the course was familiar. Mostly up hill with the occasional down, with some rocky paths to keep it interesting. As we climbed I was getting cold so stopped to put my long sleeve club top back on and continued to the next check point.
Fairly uneventful I relaxed into a pattern of walking up the hills and running the flat and downhill bits. I knew there was a technical bit coming up as you descend down a rock covered path. They moved so foot placement was critical so as not to twist or break your ankles.
Through the next check point and we where climbing again. I knew what was coming and exposed bog land that last time just before the 20 mile point. This was nearly the breaking of me last time as it was tough going. However, this time I seemed to clear it with easy, making my way down the fire road to the next check point and the straight up again. As we continued I was constantly changing places with the same small group of people. We could have run together but never seemed to be running at the same pace. Through the next check point and the half way mark we headed down on an undulating road. There was lots of paths off it, I kept checking my GPS map to ensure I was suppose to go straight on and not turn off. We hit a main road, an crossed over to go through another boggy section towards Storey Arm.
There was only one sign I was fairly sure of the way but some extra signs would have been useful. As I scanned around to pick a path I was joined by a couple of the others, they didn’t want to get lost and had spotted my GPS mapping. We found our way through the bog and picked up the path. Crossed the main road again and to the next checkpoint. I knew what was next the path up to Pen Y Fan the highest point in the Beacons. We would not be going up all the way this time, as we did in one of the previous events. However, just enough climb to make things uncomfortable.
As we climbed up you could see the weather closing in. Trying to work out if we would clear the mountain before this hit. I decided to press on and and see if I could beat it. As we took the path that took us around Pen Y Fan rather than over it, it started to rain and the wind was high. Needed to put on my jacket, but needed to find somewhere sheltered or risk chasing my jacket down the mountain. There was a slight hollow so I jumped in and squatted down to put my jacket on.
Now protected from the elements I pressed on. This part of the course I knew, or so I thought, I was feeling comfortable. I knew most of the next part of the course was downhill, but there was a nasty uphill section on the road followed by a small river crossing and then a section through some fields.
Last time I did this course I got to the river crossing before it was dark. With the extra climbs added I had to stop on the uphill road section to put on my head torch. Crossing the river in the dark was a challenge. Difficult to spot where to cross as no obvious way through the fence on the other side. Spotted the gap and crossed the river.
On the other side there was no obvious route or course markers. I scanned around as was joined by another runner. We then spotted the marker and made our way up the hill.
He started to pull ahead but I kept him in sight so I could use him to spot the course. In the twisting sections I lost sight of him.
As I came into the last check point there was quite a few runners handing around. I filled up and headed off. A small group of us now seemed to be running at a similar pace. But this section was all downhill so I pressed on and opened up a bit of a gap.
There was then an issue with the course marking. I approached a gate with an arrow pointing ahead, so I climbed over and pressed on. After about 400m there was another gate and no sign. The gate post had now markings on it for a foot path so something was not right. I pulled out the GPS, it was off, the batteries must have run out. I fired it back up, got a low battery warning, and it took ages to get a signal.
I could see I was off route so I walked back the way I came to try and get back on course hoping to bump into the group that was behind me. They where no where to be seen. I could work out where the course was I ran and walked in all direction but I must be missing something.
Then the battery died in the GPS. My head torch was dimming and I only had one spare set of batteries. Did I replace the ones in the head torch or the GPS. The GPS only needed 2 and I needed to know where I was going. So decision made. Fresh batteries in the GPS it fired up almost instantly. I could see I was on the course, but could see where I was suppose to go next.
The sign said over the gate, but I had done that and it was wrong. I then noticed the footpath sign on the gate post was pointing to the left. So I climbed back over and looked left and spotted the sight I had missed.
Up the hill and back on course. I was anger with myself so not spotting the gatepost sign and wasting half an hour or more messing about. I pressed on cautiously not wish to go wrong again.
Last time I did this course I went wrong 3 miles from the finish running the wrong way along the canal. I reached the section where I had gone wrong last time, doubled checked I was on track.
The remaining part of the course was uneventful. I made it to the finish and felt ok once I had demolished a burger and the best cup of coffee I had ever had.