Monday, 5 December 2011

Brecon Beacons Ultra - Race Report

We arrived at Talybont-on-Usk in the Brecon Beacons,Wales late on Friday afternoon after an uneventful drive which consisted of a few stops for food and hot drinks, our accommodation for the weekend was an outdoor recreation centre on the outskirts of the village and comprised 1,2 and 4 bed dorms. We were directed by a passer-by to go inside and allocate our beds by placing our bags on it and relax. We chose a 4 man room.

As it was Brian's 40th birthday on the day of the race we had arranged that his race number was #40 and was informed by the caterers that a birthday cake had been made in his honour. So after registration we went for a meal and a few drinks with our new found friends Emiko and Erika returning later to the centre for a restless nights sleep ready for the off the next morning.

The day of the race.
Getting up at 5.30am George and I  watched Brian excitedly open the various cards he had been given by friends and family, then have a relaxed breakfast near the kitchens. We kitted up and went to the main area to be told the start was delayed by a few minutes to allow for late comers from the sounds of the others we were quite happy with this as it allowed us a few more minutes to go over the maps.

At 7.40 we were sent on our way after a comprehensive health and safety briefing including what we should do if we fell into the canal, I was more interested on what to do if I fell off the mountain! So there we had it, 150 intrepid gentle men and lady folk trotted up the road towards Llangynidr finding us to run the next 3 miles along the canalside.

George commented that I was unusually quiet for a start of the race but I was in an introspective mood as I was aware that this was going to be a tough day and wanted to settle into it as I was aware that there were going to be some serious hills, how serious I was soon to find out.

To Checkpoint 1
Passing through Llangynidr and through a network of alleys and roads to got to our first ascent a mild 800 foot climb in just one mile through fields and tracks. It was now becoming apparent that we were going to see some lovely views but first we had to climb. The route continued down then up until we dodged around a corner to find Checkpoint 1 which comprised a trailer full bottles of water and a man with a clipboard taking our numbers.

The wind in this section had really picked up and I was amazed to note that it was not gust of wind but a continuous, constant blow that left your ears roaring and by stopping felt my body temperature dropping because of the wind chill so we agreed to move on quickly so we could find some shelter to allow us to get some food onboard. Pulling my Buff off my neck to create a beany we climbed higher to our highest point yet at 1463 feet, this was by far the highest we would get but we found ourselves in an exposed area where one minute we were in a calmed area until we got into an area where the wind seemed to be forced down a funnel to make our clothes flap and our ears roar.

Is there a Doctor in the house?
Ascent to CP2 (I am bottom right)
Here we were take a treacherous 800 foot drop in 1 mile into T Neuadd, a small farm, down a stoney and very rutted path which was more like a wet stream bed and halfway down I saw a lady runner, Sue, sitting on the floor and shouting to her we found she was injured after taking quite a nasty fall. Sue was looking a bit shocked and had two quite nasty split cuts on her knee and upper shin which were oozing blood. I got down to administer first aid and if I do say myself did quite a good job patching her up with the basic kits we had using some of Brian's toilet paper to act as wadding, zinc oxide tape from my kit and a field dressing from Sue's to bandage the assemblage together. I was pleased to hear that another runner had some Steri-strips that she was able to stick the wound together. Sue was adamant that she continue so we left her to get herself together and we continued on our way. My confidence was a little knocked after the incident so took it extra careful on the remaining section of descent.

To Checkpoint 2 and beyond
The weather now was clearing now to present a beautiful sunny day and the ascent to Checkpoint 2 was yet another 800 foot climb in just under a mile, for a good section of it we were in the shelter of the valley but as we got higher and higher the ground became more sodden with streamlets of mountain water flowing in sections creating mud pools and ankle deep crossings. My heart was pounding from the excersion but the humour amongst us was still good as we laughed about the ridiculous conditions, the roar of the wind and the knee high mud in places which yanked and pulled every leg tendon and ligament. As we approached CP2 we opened a 5 bar gate and had to physically lean against it to prevent it swinging wide open and as we turned we were met by an incredible vista overlooking the Talybont Resevoir looking towards Pen y Fan

Talybont Resevoir
Here we stopped to just take in the view and I was amazed that I could lean into the wind and stay hanging as again our ears roared unable to hear each other talk. We turned away and then ran towards the CP to get top ups of water and take some more food onboard. I informed them that Sue was injured and may need to be picked up when someone pointed back for us to see her running towards us, wow, one tough lady.

To checkpoint 3
We continued on to pass through Bryniau Gleision an open and exposed area that left the wind to blow but there were other hazards to be aware of here in the form of Shake Holes which are deep hollows caused by collapsing limestone caves below the surface, the issues here being that there would be pooling water which created marshy conditions. It is here we saw the last of George who took it upon himself
to run off ahead alone leaving Brian and I the safer option to travel together. This section was still hilarious seeing Brian and I fall and stumble into hidden pools of water up to our waists but we soon pleased to enter the quieter section of woodland to drop Pentwyn Resevoir where we were met by yet another friendly and reassuring race team

To Checkpoint 4
We were still in the realns of long sharp ascents but we couldn't fault the landscape, it is around here I noticed that Brian was beginning start wearing warmer clothes with his hat now taking an outing with gloves later and a windproof(?) jacket also showing its colours. I had taken the precaution of wearing my waterproof equipment, leggings and gloves from the start finding my Buff great as a neckscarf or hat at a moments notice.

This was probably the most frustrating part of the course when we were put on to an exposed, marshland that was just too treacherous for running as there were hidden  drops, pools of water and yet more swallow holes, the wind was high over this area but we knuckled down supporting each other with various conversations and jokes which allowed us to see the brighter side of the adventure. By now our feet were freezing cold and we were both desperate to so we put our heads down and battled to the woodland ahead, we were later to hear that others had a similar feel about this section but this is where strength of character and determination pay off as there are always low points in morale and this was one of them.

After what felt like an eternity we were out into the relative warmth and shelter of woodland then the surprise that we had the next checkpoint which was situated by a vistor's centre.....and a shop, a veritable oasis. Here we decided to take some time out and fishing out some money I had stashed for such occasions bought two bottles of Coke and a packet of crisps. Here Brian mentioned he wanted the toilet so whilst he went off I got some geographical knowledge from some locals who pointed hazards and points of interest out on the map. Little did I know that in fact Brian was cleaning his running shoes in the disabled toilet! This sounds like madness but in fact very sensible as he got the mud out from inside his shoes.

To Checkpoint 5
This was an interesting section that was mainly up but now the cloud was pulling in and we were now sufficiently below the hillsides to be out of the wind and allow us to get some running in which was a continual up hill 600 feet through various woodland and water features. Throughout this section I sides on Corn Du and was getting a tad worried for I knew at some stage we were to climb it. On reaching the Checkpoint we were to hear that George was not too far ahead but we were not going to rush it....

Up Corn Du to get to Checkpoint 6
WOW the next section took my breath away...literally. We took a gentle jog up a roadside to meet about 8 Military Policemen who were doing their Brecon training and I think there was a little bit of admiration from them when they realised we had just passed the marathon mark and were about to ascend the next cliff...or 500 foot ascent with a horizontal gain of 800 yards to the highest point on the course. Here is where the fun and games started when I was excited in the idea that we had the opportunity to run a massive descent which I took with relish but I have a feeling Brian regretted the idea that road shoes were sensible as apparently he fell or slipped over numerous times on the grass and mud, it must have been hell for him as my grippy Kanadias were having trouble on the wet grass as I was seen skidding and swearing through the latter section of the hill. When Brian and I met at the bottom he looked decidedly shocked but he appeared uninjured but in his normal good humour so we continued onwards to Checkpoint 6 where there was a sole marshall happily listening to the rugby and keen to help out with biscuits and gels if needed. It is here I realised I had only eaten just under 2 flapjacks and 2 carb gels all day.

To Checkpoint 7 and the end
Darkness was now descending and we were happy to be off the hills and were going to coast the contours from now on but first we had to traverse a river which didn't sound too bad considering we had had wet feet all day so we went off happy to be on roads for a little while to make up some time when we eventually reached the this water feature. I was surprised to see that we had to descend a deep gully to the river and doing so in the pitch dark, with headtorches was slightly insane and as to prove it I took a tumble twisting my knee slightly which got me to the river a bit quicker than I planned. At the river we found a large rope had been knotted across and we had to use it to pull ourselves throughthe knee high rushing water. Clambering out we continued the last 8 miles by the light of glo-sticks and reflective ribbon, the sights of the mountains and surrounding countryside lost in the dark with just ourselves and the reflection of hundreds of sheeps eyes for company. This was a gutty section, Brian now suffering from the cold as he had fallen a number of times now and his sodden gloves not helping his morale. So at checkpoint 7 he changed into leggings and I lent him my dry, spare gloves from my pack. Staying a little longer than I wanted (my body temperature had dropped significantly during the extended stop) we eventually moved on to take on the last stage.

Tiredness stepped in as we stumbled and slipped our way through the countryside both of us still laughing at each others mishaps and even howled with laughter when we took a  wrong direction and I found myself groin high in cold flood water. 

We carried on meeting the canal near Talybont very quickly then take a side turn along a track to see the Finish in the near distance. Clambering up an embankment and guided by a marshall we were cheered in with a cow bell and whoops to the welcome finish line....the end to an awesomly, tough, beautiful, fun-filled day across the mountains. Brian was then heralded with a chorus of Happy Birthday and a birthday cake provided by the organisers....brilliant


  1. A birthday to remember. A great adventure in a very beautiful place.
    Wonderful report with nice pics. The photo near "to checkpoint 3" deserves the header.
    However .... Wales I am coming!!! On march 10, I will run the Cardiff Park Run on the same day of the rugby match Wales-Italy.

  2. fantastic race report Jez. I'll come and do it next year!

  3. Loved the report Mr S, blooming hard hard work, and that is just writing out your report! Ultra runners amaze me, well done


  4. Great work Jezza, sounds like a very tough event. You are obviously in really good shape at the mo with Ultras on consecutive weekends.

  5. Hi

    Love your Blog. Hoping to enter (and complete) the Beacons Ulttra next November and your account of the race is a great read. Can I ask you how you did the 'gadget' that keeps track of your mileage in the top right hand box of your righthand column? I want to use something similar throughout the year, on my blog, to keep track of distance.



  6. Mark, I'll email you the details how to get the widget from

  7. Many thanks Jerry! My email, in case it isn't in my profile (?) is

    Much Appreciated!

  8. Oopps I realised after as I thought you were the Mark the organiser. Glad to see you have it live on your blog now though