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Race Review: Snowdonia Marathon (Marathon Eryri) 2014


This is my second Snowdonia Marathon, having completed the 30th anniversary race in 2012 (Previous Race Review) so I knew that this would be both a tough but amazing race.

Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth
Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth

My plan had been to try to improve on my previous time (and current marathon PB) and after sporadic training and the drain of running the North Downs Way 50 and Richmond Park Marathon the day after (Race Review) I had been making significant gains in my fitness and overall speed so was looking good for achieving my aim.

That was until around 5 weeks ago where those plans all came crashing down around me, at the start of a run around 400 yards in my right calf went and pretty much from that day to the start line of the marathon I had done no running (the actual total was 2 miles a week after the original injury where it recurred again)

My nice neat pile of kit
My nice neat pile of kit

Some frantic physio booking and praying to anyone that would listen I found myself at the start line of this years Marathon Eryri. I was with Gareth (who I ran the 2012 marathon with) who had also got aim of beating his time and marathon PB. To say I was nervous was an understatement, last time I ran I got 1 mile before my calf went again and there was the fear that I would get no further this time.

The race starts at Llanberis and follows the A4086, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. This is a pretty demanding climb and I was worried that the strain of the ascent would cause things to go horribly wrong.

Enhanced image showing the marathon profile
Enhanced image showing the marathon profile

With the count down underway there was nothing for it but to just hope I could make it to 18 miles under the cut off, if I could do this then I should be able to finish even if that meant a death march.  As the race started and we crossed the line I could already feel the lack of running had impacted me more that I had expected. My heart rate had spiked well above what it was in training and for the pace I was running even with the hill was not good. I voiced this concern to Gareth and said that if he wanted to go ahead he should, to his credit he said he would stick with me.

Start line of the race
Start line of the race

About  3 miles in was a water station, however as we arrived it seemed to be having issues as the cups were getting blown everywhere and it didn’t appear to have any water available. This was not a real issue as another water station was a mile or so further away at the top of the climb. Pushing on my heart felt like it was jumping out my throat and my hips and quads were aching already, however my calf seemed to be holding up so I focused on this positive.

After the top of Pen Y Pass it is then a fairly steep descent which allowed me to reduce the effort somewhat and try to bring things back under control. The road then gives way to some trail which was a nice break in the repetitive plod. I was keeping pace with Gareth by the number of walking breaks I was requiring was increasing and I could see that he could go faster. After a quick stop for me to sort a toe out before it blistered around 11 miles in I said to Gareth again that he has to go, I didn’t want to stop him from going for his goal especially after the support he gave at the Richmond Park Marathon.

I was fairly insistent and he agreed to go on ahead and he was pretty quickly gone from my sight. It was just after this that the heavens opened which combined with the increasing pain in my legs lead me to feel quite low. I pushed on though at a more moderate pace interspersed with walking.

One of the reasons I love this race is the locals who come out to support the runners, I remember passing a line of children standing in the pouring rain giving high fives to the runners as they passed. I obliged and it was amazing how that lifted me, I had reached 13 miles and I was damn well going to finish run, walk or crawl.

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The Snowdon Ranger , 18 miles and inside the cut off

From half way to 22 miles it is undulating road, my run/walk strategy had turned into walk/run/hobble but I was still moving forward which was the important thing. The support from the crowds kept me going and I made a point of saying thankyou to everyone who offered their support.

22 miles is where the runners start the climb of Bwlch Y Groes, a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. I remembered this from last time and it was just as imposing, however here I found myself passing people on the climb. I was walking but walking at a determined pace. It was probably the fact that I knew I would finish the race whatever happened which gave me the extra boost.

The climb is not the hardest part though, the descent that follows is a quad smashing brute dropping all that ascent in about a mile. This was extremely painful and I was a hobbling mess at the bottom.

I normally have something left in the tank for a ‘sprint’ finish but this time I had nothing, I think a couple of people passed me at the end but I had nothing to respond with. I saw Gareth and he managed to get a photo of me as I passed

Finishing the race, getting passed in the process
Finishing the race, getting passed in the process

I crossed the line in 05:06:02, about 25 minutes slower than my PB but I had made it. I met up with Gareth and he told me that he had set a new PB (Read his blog on the race here)

To anyone who may read this who is wanting a marathon distance event to run then you couldn’t ask for a better event, the support from the crowds, the organisation, views and challenge of the climbs and descents set it apart from the rest. I am a trail runner and don’t generally do road events, but this is one that I will always make an exception for.

I will be doing it again next year, I want to run it at peak fitness and see what I can do, I urge you when it becomes available to sign up to do the same.

A selecton of images from the weekend:

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Race Review: Grim Original 2012


Cold

That is the one word I would use to describe Saturdays race, the Grim Original 2012. This was my third Grim, having done the (delayed) 2010 and 2011 events and comparing those vs. 2012 I have to say that this was the ‘Grimmest’.

The Course

Unchanged from the previous years the course so a good opportunity to try to improve on last years time (Update: Had a tweet from the organisers saying that this years route was tweaked slightly and that they do this every year), the course consists of an 8 mileish route around an army vehicle testing track so the terrain is pretty extreme in places.

Grim 2012 Route (Image from Google Earth)
Grim 2012 Route (Image from Google Earth)
Race Day

With a  10:30 race start it I managed to get a reasonable lay in, getting up at 07:30 to be picked up by Kev at 08:00. Having received the updated driving instructions from the race organises we went off and had a pretty painless journey there, arriving at about 09:00. We parked up in what I believe was the overflow car park, which meant a reasonable walk to the actual race start and getting out of the car, even in my fleece I was struck by how chilly it was, which didn’t bode well for the actual race.

We headed to the race start line to see if we could spot Gareth and Matt, who had ended up parking in the main car park. Finding them sitting in Gareth’s car keeping warm, we sat joined them briefly before heading out to grab a couple toasties from one of the on-site vendors to warm us up and fuel our race. We then had to head back to Kev’s car to get changed, donned our bin liners to keep warm(ish) and headed back to wait for the race start.

Standing around waiting for the off, the bin liner doing a reasonable job keeping the worse of the chill off, I was contemplating how it all started at this event two years ago. A random suggestion by Gareth suggestion that the Grim “would be a laugh” and two years later I have run three marathons, one ultra and have signed up for one marathon and two ultras in 2013 already, funny how things go. The Grim Original will always hold a special place in my heart because of this, however standing in the cold I couldn’t help thinking “I would rather be in bed”.

The atmosphere helped lift me away from those thoughts, with a group (2922 participants) warm up to get the blood flowing and spirits lifted when the countdown finally ended and the bugle signalled to go I was back in the mind-set of trying to beat last years’ time. We had managed to get ourselves towards the front for the start, as last year we were at the back and it took a lot of effort and time to overtake people and while I am not a contender for a high placing finish, I was sure that I would be in the top 3rd at least.

The route hadn’t changed from last year so in my mind I had a fair idea of what lay ahead, but hitting the first ‘puddle’ (I will call them puddles, but imagine something the size of a large pond) was like a sledgehammer, my lower body didn’t know what hit it. The cold was something else, my muscles just seized up and my feet went completely numb, if this was a sign of things to come it was going to be hard going.

I was pacing well despite the fact I couldn’t feel my feet, however every time I started to get some feeling back I would run through another ‘puddle’ and lose all sensation again. Although I was happy with my pace after the first puddle I also started to get a niggle in my right Achilles tendon, a feeling if tightness with each and every stride. This pain didn’t subside and continued for the whole race, with a brief respite when crossing the ‘puddles’ as the cold numbed everything again.

There are several places on the course where the crowds gather, several particularly large ‘puddles’ and muddy sections, but the main place to get a real view of the Grim is the section where you have to traverse a mud pit and go under a cargo net.

Having to slow right down for the cargo net, with the thick mud sucking at my feet was a welcome break, it helped me stretch out my Achilles a bit but also the mud was a lot warmer than the water so my legs were getting some heat back into them, albeit briefly.

The mud was a lot warmer than the water
The mud was a lot warmer than the water

After getting covered in mud, it wasn’t long before I was covered in water again and clean (to a degree). I carried on, pushing past the pain in my ankle driven my the fact that I was looking good to hit a PB and beat last years time, by mile 7 I was just over the hour mark and knowing the last section I maintained the effort.

Crossing the line, as in any race, is always a mix of emotions. I had beaten my time and was very pleased, but I was so cold the focus was on getting out of the wet gear and getting warm. I met up with Kev who had finished about a minute and a half before me and we waited for Matt and Gareth to cross the line. Once they were back Kev and I headed to the car to get changed and get warm.

Last years results
Last years results
A better time on last year
A better time on last year, although slight variance on the distance. Average pace was the main thing.
Again next year?

Initially I was thinking no, not because I don’t rate the event, being my third time I think you could say that it’s a firm favourite, but I was considering what other races are during the same period.

Sitting here now though, how could I not partake in the race that started it all, I am building up a nice collection of Grim race numbers now, that and the fact that my wife is going to run in next years race has cemented the fact that I will be doing this again next December, sun, rain or snow.

Is it for me?

If you are reading this, thinking about entering a running event you cannot go wrong with the Grim, be it in Aldershot or the one up north. They are great events and all abilities enter, it is very much a “have a go, have a laugh” event and a great one at that.

Head over to http://www.grimchallenge.co.uk like them on Facebook or follow on Twitter to get a heads up when you can sign up, I will see you there.

Race Review: Snowdonia Marathon 2012


The Snowdonia Marathon

‘The inaugural Snowdonia Marathon was held in 1982, and was conceived as a dramatic alternative to the numerous city and town races becoming so popular. The demanding and spectacular route, encircling Snowdon, Wales’ and England’s highest peak, has given the event a unique place in the annual marathon calendar ever since.’ (source www.snowdoniamarathon.co.uk)

Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth

So as the description states and the image shoes, this marathon is a run around Snowdon starting in Llanberis, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. Following this it is a downhill and both on road and a brief stint on trail, then undulating road past until reaching the second of the climbs at Beddgelert. After this climb it is more undulating road until hitting the biggest climb of the race at mile 22 just past Waunfawr. This climb continues until about mile 25 before a steep descent back into Llanberis and the finish line.

Enhanced image showing the marathon profile

With the profile giving an indication of the amount of climb involved, this is by no means you classic practically flat marathon with a view for setting PB’s if you have previously run marathons. To put it into perspective how a different a beast this run is, the London Marathon has a total climb of around 174 meters, just compare the below profiles to get an idea.

Comparing route profiles of London (above) and Snowdonia (below)

Going into this run, I knew it was going to be a challenging, with the potential for the weather to really add to the challenge!

Race Day

It had been a long time coming, with the NDW50 well behind me I had been waiting for this race to bring my running year to a close. Training for this specific event had been sporadic but I felt I had a base level of fitness following the work done previously so although I was uncertain of what time I would be able to achieve, I knew I would be able to get around.

I was going to be running this race with Gareth, who crewed the NDW50 for me, with this event being his first marathon. With race number on, kit ready and feeling the anticipation of the race starting we headed to the start line with about 1600 other runners.

Ready to start the run

The race started and we headed off, the course is pretty flat for the first couple of miles before hitting the climb up to Pen-y-Pass from mile 2 to 4. The first 6 or so miles went by in a flash, the general atmosphere of all the runners around us carrying us forward and our pace reflected this averaging about 10 minute mile, increasing slighty on the uphill but us making up time on the downhill. The one section that caused me what would be a repeated problem later on was the section after Pen-y-Pass of about 2km which was on a trail. I was wearing New Balance Minimus Road, zero drop shoes and with the rocks and uneven surface I was getting a lot of discomfort on my feet as the soles of these shoes are very thin and designed primarily for the road.

We got past this section pretty quickly and before we knew it we had hit the half marathon mark in 02:04:26, a  new PB for Gareth and I. As we crossed this milestone the second of the climbs was upon us, heading out from Beddgelert. As the legs were starting to feel it we opted to walk this hill, although when I say walk it is more of a march so as to minimise the impact on our time. With this hill out the way from mile 15 to 22 the course undulated along the road heading Waunfawr. During this section we were experiencing the support of the local people, with kids and adults shouting their support and offering high fives. This really kept us motivated, particularly as my choice of zero drop shoes may have been a step to far. My arches were starting to suffer and with the balls of my feet getting sore maintaining the proper gait was getting harder and harder and I kept dropping to my heels which was causing further pain.

My problems were not going to get any easier as we hit mile 22 and the last (and biggest) climb of the race. After 22 miles the last thing you want to see is a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. This was punishing, there is no other word for it and we were not alone as other runners were suffering as well. We passed people who were struggling with injuries, trying to stretch out their legs and one runner who was throwing up (possibly the dodgy stomach that can come from too much carb gels). This 3 miles of pain was taking its toll and the decent into Llanberis was no better. Dropping from 376 meters to back under 116 meters in about 1 mile just destroys any remaining strength in the legs.

With the balls of my feet in agony and literally no strength in my arches it was a struggle to carry on but with the finish almost there I thought I was over the worst of it, I was wrong. With the finish now in sight both calf muscles cramped up and I literally couldn’t move. This is the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, Gareth who had carried on about 10 yards turned back and asked what was happening, I said cramp and for him to carry on. Gareth wasn’t having any of that and said we are going to finish it together, so I did the best to stretch and started running, both legs still cramping as I ran to get over the line.

Running to the line, legs cramping and in a lot of pain (Photo courtesy of www.sportspicturescymru.co.uk)

Crossing that line was the greatest feeling in the world, we had done the marathon despite the aches and pains and set a much better time that we anticipated. What topped it off was seeing my wife and kids waiting for me and giving them a hug just made the day even better.

Race done!
Would I recommend it?

In a word, yes. The organisation is great, the atmosphere fantastic and the route amazing. I myself am a trail runner at heart but this is one road marathon that I can see me doing again. If you have done a marathon in the past and are looking for a road marathon with amazing views and something a bit different (read significant climbs) then this is for you. It is a run that everyone should add to their bucket list.

Centurion Running North Downs Way 50: Race Report


Now that I am able to concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds (more explanation will follow) here is the report of my first Ultra Marathon, the North Downs Way 50 mile.

To try to write about 11+ hours of activity would probably lead to a wall of text and the reader falling asleep, so I will try to keep the text down and break things up with the numerous photos that were captured on the day.

An early start:

After a reasonable nights sleep I woke up at 05:15, having gotten my kit ready the night before it was just a case of having some breakfast and a quick shower. Breakfast consisted of 4 of my home-made flapjacks (recipe will feature in a post following this one) and water.

Gareth, who was my support crew for the day, picked me up at 05:45 to head down to Farnham for the start, the key memory of this journey was Gareth pointing out that it is a long drive and I am going to be running back. Race HQ was at St Polycarps Primary School where I collected my race number, and the race director gave a briefing on the race route, “don’t cross the A24 or you will be disqualified!”

First problem of the day, fixing my race number to my shorts

Gareth and I had established a plan for where we would meet as well as what supplies I would need throughout. The race organisers had set up 6 aid stations between Farnham and Knockholt Pound, 2 of which crew were allowed access to, so the plan was that I would meet Gareth at various points throughout the course to resupply, meaning that minimal time would be needed at the official aid stations. Another key advantage of this was that all the sports nutrition I would be using throughout had been tried and tested beforehand.

Farnham to Puttenham – Aid Station 1: 6.8 miles/6.8 miles overall

It was a short walk to the start of the North Downs Way and there was about 15 minutes of waiting around for 07:30, the race start time. It was during this wait that I was really aware of the lack of nerves, comparing it to the Trail Marathon Wales where my nerves were all over the place, here I was remarkably calm. Standing there I had no doubt that I would finish, be it under the 13 and a half hour cut off or not, I was going to finish.

The anticipation was starting to build and following a 10 second countdown the wait was over and we were off. I was in the middle of the pack and I was distinctly aware of the pace, having to really focus on keeping it steady. Throughout all my reading on the subject of Ultra’s I had come across numerous bits of advice and one was ringing in my head “start slow, then go slower”. Not allowing the pack to dictate my pace I slowed down and let people past, it wasn’t a race against anyone else, the challenge was to complete the course and to do this I would stick to my race plan as best I could, a 12hr 15min finish time.

The first 6.8 miles from Farnham to Puttenham was wonderfully flat and the route pretty straight forward. For the most part I had other runners around me, but eventually all our differing race plans meant the field was spreading out.

Had to get a phot of this, it was 08:10 and already getting warm. The temptation to dive under those water jets was strong

The Puttenham aid station stop was brief, I grabbed a cup of water and a couple of small cupcakes and was off again.

Puttenham to St Marthas Hill – Aid Station 2: 5.7 miles/12.5 miles overall

So far so good, I was plodding along under my planned pace of 13:30/mi and feeling good. It was getting warmer and this part of the route was pretty exposed, but I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew the latter parts of the Way were under tree cover.

This part of the course was pretty uneventful, I just kept monitoring my pace, keeping an eye on the route ahead and ‘feeling’ out for any hotspots on my feet.

Hitting aid station 2 about 2 hours 18 minutes into the race I met up with Gareth, who after getting a couple of photos commented on how hard this crewing malarkey was.

Who’s that in the distance
Coming into Aid Station 2

First order of things to do was get my hydration bladder full, I had already pre-prepared bottles of electrolytes the night before so leaving my pack on Gareth poured it into the pack (In hindsight this was a mistake, see why later on). I filled my bottle with a 4-1 Carb-Protein mix, grabbed some more gels and was off again,  I would be seeing Gareth again at the top of Box Hill.

St Marthas Hill to Box Hill – Aid Station 3: 11.5 miles/24 miles overall

Now starting to get into the swing of things properly it was time for the longest stretch between aid stations, 11.5 miles overall. The Way was starting to get a few more hills, which meant the views were only getting better.

A lovely view, not so lovely sand

As you can see from the photo above the views were stunning and these really helped keep me motivated, the sand however not so much. Along the route there was increasing sections were the path was sandy and this just sapped the strength from the legs, not to mention getting into my shoes.

With only a couple of clouds in the sky the sun was starting to beat down and I was increasing the amount I was drinking. I was feeling good and enjoying myself, I was well on my own by now so I had my music going in one ear and was singing to myself (god help anyone who witnessed that). Things were progressing well, then I hit a snag which fortunately did not impact me as significantly as it could have.

Another beautiful view
Self portrait

About three miles from the Box Hill aid station my hydration pack ran out of fluid, it seemed that filling it up on my back had resulted in the bladder only appearing full when the reality was that it must have only been about half full. This was a mistake that could have cost me dearly if it wasn’t for the bottle I was carrying and while the 4-1 mix wasn’t ideal to drink on its own, it got me to the Box Hill aid station where I could grab a quick glug of water.

Box Hill to Reigate Hill – Aid Station 4: 7 miles/31 miles overall

I didn’t spend too much time at this station as I was meeting Gareth at the top, crossing the stepping-stones with due care it was time to climb up to the summit (anyone who has been to Box Hill will know what a pleasant stroll up that is!!)

I had rung Gareth before starting the climb to detail what I needed and I opted to put a fresh pair of socks on as well. The climb was expected, (horrible) but I got up there eventually. Gareth ever the motivator asked me what had taken so long, I think my response was of the 4 letter variety.

The Olympic Rings
Happy that the steps of Box Hill were over and done with

Fresh socks donned, I was off again and having done this section of the North Downs Way several times I was aware of what I was on for. The route would now be in the shade with tree cover for the most part (a good thing) and more hilly (a bad thing).

Having now done a Marathon and being only just over half way I was feeling the strain on my body, from now on it was unknown territory. So far my nutrition plan was working and I hadn’t had any stomach discomfort, my feet were sore but no blisters. My legs were feeling it and every hill was a real struggle, with every downhill a pleasure to be savoured (albeit briefly)

Reaching Reigate Hill felt like an age, but I was still under my projected race plan.

Food glorious food
Peanut butter sandwich + dry mouth = not good!

Gareth had fetched me a bottle of Coke and a Mars bar which lifted my spirits no end. My Garmin’s battery had started to run out, but I had planned for this and using a Duracel pocket charger, a Hilly Gel armband and the base unit for my Garmin 305 fashioned a booster pack that fitted to my arm and would go on to charge my Garmin for the full 11 hours.

Trying to strap the Garmin to my arm, my ability to concentrate diminishing
Even small tasks such as clipping up my Salomon was proving difficult

Reigate Hill to Caterham – Aid Station 5: 7 miles/38 miles overall

Another part of the North Downs Way that I had already done previous, leaving Reigate hill 31 miles in I was now really feeling sore. I had popped a couple of Ibuprofen to try to keep the inflammation down and ease the soreness but this 7 miles was hard going. The negative feelings were washing over me and as from the photos above I was finding it hard to concentrate, getting confused very easily. I was relying more and more on my map and the tape that the Centurion running team had put out at various locations to mark the route.

I would find myself running along, coming to a junction and standing there totally confused where to go next. The caffeine from the Coke had helped somewhat but it was getting steadily worse, despite this I kept on. It was here that I went wrong on the route, missing a clearly marked sign-post for the North Downs Way and carrying on, only to have realise what I had done and run back up the hill I had just run down, adding about a mile onto my journey.

Towards the end of this stretch I started to feel better in my legs and my pace was starting to return, although the confusion was still there.

I met Gareth just before the Caterham aid station, replenished and set off again.

Caterham to Botley Hill – Aid Station 6: 5 miles/43 miles overall

Leaving the Caterham aid station I was feeling better, I had begun to pick up my average pace and was running stronger again. I would see runners in the distance and slowly close on them, my average pace being quicker than theirs. Despite me not considering it a competition against anyone, it was still a boost when I eventually passed someone.

This was a short section overall and almost passed without incident, I managed to take another wrong turning but the impact wasn’t as significant as the previous. I also passed a women who said well done and that I was looking strong (take compliments when you can get them)

Botley Hill to Kockholt Pound – Finish Line: 7 miles/50 miles overall

Once I got to Botley Hill aid station I knew I was going to do it, I was going to finish. I passed through this aid station quickly as I was going to meet Gareth a bit further up the road.

Picking up my nutrition from Gareth for the last time

Picking up the last of my nutrition and refilling the hydration pack for the last time I set off, to the sound of Gareth telling me to do this last 6 miles in an hour and come in at 11 hours overall. I tried my best to do this, I really did but despite the mind being willing the legs were not. The challenge of the hour really fell apart when again I missed a marker and took a wrong turn, adding another half a mile on. I turned back, found my way and caught and passed the women who I had already passed not 15 minutes before.

My 50 miles actually clocked over while I was still 1.68 miles from the end, so the vision of the mile counter tripping over as I crossed the finish line wasn’t to be.

Coming into the finish line, sore but happy

How did I feel crossing the line? I would like to say elated, full of tears, but the reality was I was so tired I just sort of stood there. My wife and kids were at the finish waiting for me and this filled me with pride, but I think I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing that I was dumbstruck

My time (according to the Centurion Website) had me at 11:19:44 placing 58 out of 92. My actual distance was 51.61 miles, so possibly without the errors I could have placed a little higher but it wouldn’t have been significant. For my first ever Ultra I am very pleased with this result and it gives me something to work on.

It was a rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish, an experience that I will never forget, but one that I want to repeat. I will be signing up for the 50 again next year.

And Finally:

A few thank yous are needed: Thanks Gareth for an excellent job of crewing, I can imagine it was a bit tedious sitting around for 12 hours and without your ‘motivational’ support it would have been a much, much tougher day.

Thanks Centurion Running for putting on such an excellent event and thanks to all the volunteers who manned the aid stations, without you there wouldn’t be a race.

Thanks to all my family and friends for the kind messages, they really helped keep me going and gave me the self belief to finish.

Lastly, the biggest thanks of all, goes to my wife for supporting me this last year, all the times I came back with a new rucksack, trainers or some other piece of kit, for tolerating me going out for 3-5 hours on a Saturday to run, and for giving me two wonderful boys who are my inspiration for trying to better myself.

Anthony (no longer a wannabe Ultra Runner)

Now officially an Ultra Runner

Race Review: Pen Y Fan Race 2012


My previous post was a brief preview on the Pen Y Fan race and what it entailed, now its done and dusted how did it go and what are my thoughts?

Race Day

Arriving at the race start the weather was appearing to be in our favour and although there was a substantial amount of low cloud the rain was holding off. Heading over to the registration tent we queued for our race numbers, collecting mine (176) it was also reconfirmed that due to the variable weather conditions all runners were required to carry the mandatory kit; full windproof body cover, compass, whistle and map all in a rucksack or bumbag. Having sold my Inov8 bumbag and not wanting to use my Salomon S-Lab because it’s not waterproof I opted to use my OMM Ultra 15 which might be a bit large size wise but I had taken out the foam padding and compressed it right down.

With the 11am start looming I was contemplating my objectives for the race. Last year I completed the run in 1:05:38 which considering it was my first proper fell race wasn’t too bad, but given the record time of 00:30:00 not a winning time and in I finished second to last in 2011. Given how the weather had been I was preparing myself to being slower, remembering how punishing the climb was and how difficult the descent would be.

Trying not to dwell on the prospect of finishing worse than last time I waited for the race briefing to be completed and for the starter to kick things off. At 11:05 we were off and immediately the lead runners were off at a pace I can only dream about. I on the other hand was plodding along, Gareth had a good start and was a head of me and increasing his lead. I fell into the pack and ran until the climb started getting steeper and fast walking was the more efficient method of progressing. Eventually crossing the stile the real climb began and the sweat was pouring off me. Gareth had now opened even more gap and I was moving as quickly as I could but keeping pace with those in front of me, with some conciliation taken from the fact that I wasn’t last and had a few people behind me.

I am not going to lie, I found the whole uphill section hard going, despite all the running I have been doing the relentless uphill just took the strength of my legs. The year before in preparation we had been on the treadmill with 10kg in a backpack and the incline ramped up, this year I had done none of that and it was showing. I hit the summit in 00:43:06, 16 seconds slower than last year.

Already I was slower and I still had the descent to come, which I had already anticipated being slower than last year. Running towards the cairn and following the marshalls instructions to drop to the left I hit the downhill. As you will be able to see from the hill profile at the bottom of the post this descent is steep. With no path to speak of it’s just trying to find a route down on the grass as quickly and safely as possible. I can’t recall how many times I slipped over onto my bum, each time thinking to myself  “don’t break your ankle!”. One guy decided that trying to descend on his feet was too much and slid about 50 meters on his bum, overtaking about 4 people as he went. He got up find and carried on, but this is not a technique I was going to adopt.

I continued down, aware that I needed to make up time on the climb but knowing there was only so much I could do. Not being a seasoned fell runner I simply didn’t have the experience or the bravery to go any faster than I did. Eventually it leveled out and it was then a case of navigating through the boggy grass back onto the route we took up. Continuing down I was finally able to break out some speed (you will see on the pacing chart) and actually did some running!! It was here that I managed to re-take some of my lost places on the descent and passed about 3 people on the final sprint finish.

Surprisingly I had finished the race in 01:01:55, about 3 minutes 30 seconds quicker which I was utterly surprised at. The descent had been done in about 18 minutes which rather than the 22 minutes the year before.

As you can see, its a lot of up and a very very steep down!
A birds eye view of the route
A chart detailing my speed vs elevation, you can see that its pretty slow until the point the descent levels out and I feel more secure in my footing.

As an Event

As an event the whole thing is great, from the simplicity of signing up on the Brecon Fans website (link at the bottom of the post) to the value for money (who can argue with £4.00). Organisation is really good and the people are all very friendly. I was most pleased with the return of the beer and flapjack at the end of the race. I would say if you are looking to add a fell race to your calendar then this one is a must.

So what have I learnt?

First and foremost, I need to train on the descents. I just can’t seem to go as quickly as the other runners, I know I am not going to be as quick as the top end runners (9 minutes anyone!) but if I could shave 4-5 minutes off I would be pleased. Part of me thinks the shoe choice could play a part, but that must only a small one at that, it has to be mainly in technique and confidence.

If anyone who reads this post has any suggestions, training or technique then feel free to leave a comment as the advice will be most appreciated.

Link to Breconfans website: http://www.breconfans.org.uk/home

Picking up the speed for a sprint finish
Another shot of the sprint to the end