Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Brecon Beacons 40 - Race Report

For those of you who are unaware of the Brecon Beacons, it is a mountain range found in South Wales. It boasts several peaks with the highest being Pen y Fan (886m), Corn Du (873) and Cribyn (795m), amongst others. A popular treck is to follow the Beacon's Horshoe which takes you across all the key peaks including some other large ascents and descents. It is beleived that the mountains are called the Beacons as they were once used in the practiceof lighting fires as signals to warn of English attacks.
Picture of Cribyn

I originally entered the Brecon Beacons 40 as a training run to get some 'hill' work in for the World Trail Champs. To say I underestimated the difficulty of this course is an understatement! I should have known better given a) it forms part of the UK Ultra Championships, b) it would see me run with the likes of local fell running legend Mark Palmer, Andy James (winner of the Ultra Tour Lake District 50 and most recently setting a course record for the Highland Fling) and Allen Smalls (English and GB Ultra Runner), and c) it asks runners to run up and down Tory y Foel, Corn Du, Pen Y Fan and the beast that is Cribyn (amongst many others). Thankfully, I tapered down my training the week beforehand and I felt reasonably fresh on race day.

Photograph by David Williams
Pen y Fan on a colder day!

I decided to spend a long weekend in the Brecon Beacons with Anjali and Neel. We decided to introduce Neel to camping and spent the weekend at Pencilli Castle http://www.pencelli-castle.com/ which provides everything you need and is great for kids (it has a deer park and kid's park with loads of farm animals). I was reading a review on the Internet which said you could eat your dinner off the toilet floor - they weren't wrong!

Pencilli Castle

This event was all about being self sufficient, there would be 5 check points with water but the rest is up to the runner. I think I went a little over the top carrying enough food for a family picnic, GPS system (see previous race reports on my navigation skills!), iPod (not sure how that got in there), mobile phone, and two water bottles in addition to the compulsory kit (compass, waterproofs, first aid kit, etc).

You can take a look at the route map here.

We set off at 8am on Saturday morning, intially starting off at a reasonably fast pace starting on some privately owned land leading on to the Talybont canal path. The course started off nice and flat for a few miles so we all stuck together having a natter before we hit the first ascent up Tor y Foel, this seemed to calm down the pace and separate the field. I ran with Gancho Slavov for a while but I could see Mark and Andy taking a lead further on so I took advantage of the steep descent down Foel to catch up where we ran as a 3 for a few miles.
We ran at a good pace through the limestone area of Cwar yr Hendro, however it was very windy and exposed and running against the wind was really taking it out of me. I tried to sit behind Andy to offer some shelter from the wind but it wasnt really working. If the wind was going to be like this for the rest of the course, I was going to struggle. Mark and Andy looked extremely relaxed running in the wind which was also a little disheartening. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we hit the shelter of a forest in the Cwm Callan area which gave a little respite from the wind. The forest part of the course was technical, very enjoyable and neatly took us into CP 2 at the Pentwyn Reservoir. I was carrying 2 water bottles so I briefly shouted my race number at the official and ploughed on through the CP without stopping.
It was shortly after CP2 when Mark decided to increase his pace (especially on the hills) and it wasn’t long before he was out of site and the next time we would see him would be the finish line. I can see why they call him a local legend!
There was a several mile slog through marsh, rutted grassland, loose rock and exposed hilltops running past Twyn Mwyalchod on our left then further on Gwaun Taf on our right. Although this stage was only slightly uphill the footing was very difficult and required a lot of concentration and effort. 
At this stage I was still running with Andy and we both shot past CP3 at Bwich Duwant hitting a descent at a very quick pace. Again, the footing on this descent was loose rocks and man-made jagged rock (to assist with the climb and preserve the trail) adding difficulty in making sure the footing was correct. There was a couple of times my foot hit the rocks awkwardly but I managed to maintain my balance. Falling at this speed and on the rocks, getting back up and carrying on would be unlikely. Andy was directly in front of me at this stage so I tried to use his footsteps to follow as I knew he would probably use the best route down. After hitting the bottom of the hill my legs certainly made it known that the descent hurt and I would pay for it later… It also didn’t help to know that I would shortly be coming into a CP and have to hit the hill again but this time going up rather than down.
Andy and I hit CP4 at the same time, it was here that I left Andy behind for a moment (I think he went for a pit stop) but with the accent back up to Duwant I knew it wouldn’t be long before he caught me up. I was right! The ascent took it out of my legs but I knew this was the easy part. No sooner than clocking into CP 5 (which was essentially a couple of miles from CP4 but was strategically placed to ensure we didn’t cut out a large and difficult section of the route) a massive climb up to Corn Du was required. Having pushed myself up to the top of Corn Du, Pen Y Fan was calling half a mile or so later! Relentless, but a great challenge and certainly not for the faint hearted :O)
It was here that Andy appeared to be ‘at home’ and overtook me on the trail between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. With the fell running approach to running back down Pen y Fan, Andy took off at a pace I could not match on this terrain. I was running down Pen Y Fan at a reasonable rate but my legs were too tired to match Andy's pace. It was at this point (I think about 27-28 miles) I would run alone and continue running on my own until the finish.
Andy was still visible through Plas Y Gaer and Bryn Teg part of the course but again, the climbing took its toll and he managed to increase the distance between the both of us. Running along Bryn Teg I could see an extremely large peak in front of us and I was thinking (hoping) that the trail we were on would somehow route itself around this peak. We were now 30 miles or so in and the thought of climbing so soon after Corn Du and Pen Y Fan was a wee concern. It wasn’t long before I saw the white singlet being worn by Andy making good speed up what I now know is ‘Cribyn’. I don’t believe that Cribyn is as high as Pen Y Fan but its incline is extremely sharp to say the least. It must have taken me a several minutes to tackle this bad boy. A quick smile for the camera and I was off.
What made the next stage tough was that it was relatively flat so a fast pace was required to catch up for time lost on Cribyn and the previous climbs. I was asking a lot from my legs but I could see on the map that this was the home stretch. I hit CP 7 which was at the bottom of the final major ascent which I think is called Bwich y Fan. I could see Andy running up the hill now a good 5 minutes or so ahead– by the time I filled my bottles and took an Ibuprofen (my Plantar Facia was a little inflamed) – Andy was gone and would not be seen again until the finish line. An amazing run by him.
A final push got me up Bwich y Fan and a most welcomed home stretch on the edge of Fan Y Big, Craig Cwareli and down Twyn Du took me neatly in to Talybont Reservoir Dam. An ice cream van was waiting, willing and able. However, lack of money meant I ran past the ice cream man with a very sad smile on my face. The thought of running in to the finish line with a Mr Whippy and 99 flake would have been funny, but sadly not to happen.
A final push into Talybont along the canal and back to the Talybont Outoor Pursuits Centre saw me finally finish in 3rd place with a time of 6 hours and 30 minutes. A great run by Mark and Andy who left the rest of us behind. The results are:

1st - Mark Palmer  5 hr 54
2nd -Andy James   6 hr 15
3rd - Dan Doherty  6 hr 30
4th - Allen Smalls  6 hr 39
5th - Tim Laney    7 hr 06

Here are some more pics

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Paul Tierney Sets New Wicklow Way Record

Paul Tierney has recently set an impressive new record for the Wicklow Way, taking 8 minutes off Eion Keith's record set back in 2008. Paul set a new time of 13hr 39 mins for the 82 mile course. Keep an eye out for his race report on his blog here.

Keith Whyte Wins Kildare Marathon

Irish team mate Keith Whyte has recently won the Kildare Marathon in a time of 2.40.39, not bad for an intended training race! More on Keith's blog here.