Race day began with a 5:30am alarm in order to catch the 6:30 am bus, taking runners from the Cardiff finish line up to the Brecon start. I was running this one with my son who always runs with me on any Ultra. After a rather humorous safety briefing we were scanned into the start pen and pretty soon the horn went and we were off.
The first 7 miles to checkpoint 1 is pretty much flat and we made good time reaching CP1 around an hour ahead of the cut off time. From CP1 to CP2 is about 6 miles of continuous uphill track, although everyone around us seemed to be walking, we opted to follow a couple of club runners who spent equal periods between walking fast and running, it seems this reduces the build up of lactic acid in the leg muscles. The terrain at first is a wide rocky tram road and after a quite steep climb the terrain quickly changes to narrower paths, some of which consisted of cross-country grade mud.Towards the top of the climb we were confronted with strong gusts of wind driving sleet and snow into our faces. At the summit the terrain briefly changes to tarmac which felt great to run on but the long descent didn’t do the quads any favours. The route then went off road again and followed a forestry trail alongside the Brecon Mountain Railway. Despite the climb we were still making good time and we were now over 2 hours ahead of CP2s cut off time.
At CP 2 we quickly topped up with water and set off for CP3.This section changes gradually from the wild barren moorland of the beacons to the hidden industrial secrets of the South Wales valleys. Coming out of the woods, the route passes the end of the Pontsticill reservoir, then following an old railway line across the high, many arched Pontsarn Viaduct after which, we reach Check Point three, in the town of Merthyr Tydfil.
From CP3 the route is mostly tarmac so we collected our dropbags and changed to road shoes and nice dry, clean socks. Removing my trail shoes exposed the fact that my left foot had the worlds biggest blood blister. Not being sure of how to treat it I decided that since it wasn’t bothering me too much I’d leave well enough alone. CP3 had a huge variety of food and drink but as usual I couldn’t face eating anything, although I did manage a chocolate chip biscuit and half an orange. It was whilst eating the orange that I noticed somebody had thrown a perfectly (almost new but muddy) pair of Solomon Trail shoes and wet muddy socks into the bin. Clearly he had decided no more trail runs for him. He must have been a big lad because they were so large I could have sailed down the Tees on them.
Setting off from CP3 to CP4 I felt remarkable fresh except my knees had become stiff from sitting down but soon we were running making good time for the next couple of miles. Overall we were still making good time although we were now aiming for a 10hr run which based on previous years results would place us about mid table. Soon we were at CP4, and after topping up my water bottle and grabbing a Jaffa cake biscuit and half an orange we were off.
We were now well and truly in the Welsh valleys running along paved streets and amazingly every single person bar none that we passed offered words of encouragement a couple of car drivers even pulled up to tell us the way although we knew it, it was nevertheless nice of them.
Trallwng Working Mens Club, is the final checkpoint. This offered sausage and chips, tea and coffee along with the usual food. The thought of eating was enough to make me feel ill but I did accept a cup of tea but after dinking half a cup set off to the finish just 8 more miles. Shortly after setting off I had a very sharp pain in my left hip, which didn’t last long but kept re-occurring intermittently (I now know it was my TFL muscle) Gareth was also feeling a little shot, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to him since he had only done 3 training runs in the weeks leading up to Ultra and one of those was only 8K. It was now getting dark and I needed my head torch on. It was about this time that the ladies from Islwyn Running club, that we’d been leap frogging throughout the race, passed us for the final time offering encouragement and pointing out that it really was all down hill from that point on. We now were running along a very narrow tree lined, lonely lane and the miles just seemed to go on forever. At this point we caught up with a local who had done the race a few times. She was walking completely spent and although she had a head torch it offered very little illumination. It wasn’t somewhere you should be without a decent light so we walked with her until we hit the streets again with just over a mile to go we set off on the downhill stretch to the finish.
We could hear loud cheering, cowbells and clapping from way off and suddenly I had stacks of energy and the hip pain didn’t exist. – We’d made it!
The race had a sweeper that ran at the cut off pace and if he got to a CP before you, you were pulled out. At the finish I met a poor woman who had arrived at the last Check Point but couldn’t keep up with the sweeper’s pace and so was pulled out. I can’t imagine how disappointing that must have been for her.
There were 502 participants although I’m not sure how many actually turned up or dropped out but we were joint 314 in a time of 10hrs 56mins but frankly by the time we reached the finish line all aspirations of achieving a good time had long gone.