Race report – Brecon Ultra

Brecon Ultra – Might Contain Nuts

This race is special to a number of St Austell runners as it was one of Dave Rowe’s favourites, writes Doug Alsop.

It starts and finishes in Talybont on Usk and runs around the Brecon’s national park. This year Dave Speake and I made the journey and had a great day out.

We lined up for the pre-start briefing at 7.20am but missed parts of it which we came to rue later.

The start was a bit of a sprint as the first five miles are along the canal tow path and quite unrepresentative of the rest of the route.

Leaving the canal and through a small wood, “Tor y Foel” the first of the many inclines appeared. 

It disappeared into the clouds and as we entered the mist we could see that what we thought was the top was only the first of two more false summits.

 As we started the descent and dropped out of the mist we were treated to beautiful views of the wooded valleys and reservoirs and the rolling hills to the south.

The route continued with good running through forest trails but care was needed on the icy paths. After the second checkpoint we started the accent up to Bwlch y Fan.

The path was a steady incline and was runable if you were fit enough, which sadly I wasn’t. So by employing run/walk we made it to the third checkpoint.

From here we were sent up a steep climb and once more into the mist. We could see the drop to our right as we made our way along the ridge to the trig point on Cribyn but unfortunately the mist obscured the wider view.

I didn’t enjoy the drop off from Cribyn; the path was laid with loads of medium sized flat rocks, sloping down and none big enough to land your whole foot on. I’m sure they would be a great help when coming up but I’m struggling for confidence on the descents.

After the small drop we started to work our way up Pen y Fan again in the mist so it was only when we couldn’t see any more ground above us that we realised we had reached the top. The wind was much stronger here and called for us to don our waterproof tops. The descent off Pen y Fan was good going and we ran all the way down towards the Storey Arms. As we dropped out of the mist we could see the road (the first we’d seen for 20 miles) and the Burger Van. Dave and I had been discussing the bacon rolls here for about a month previously so two large bacon rolls and two cups of tea set us up for the next phase.

Whilst we were enjoying our break the Welsh girl overtook us. As this was a new route I had looked at the map on the website and seen that we had to do 5 ½ mile loop at this point but I hadn’t looked at the contours and wrongly assumed it was flat.

After checkpoint four we were directed up the opposite side of the valley. This was a small winding path contouring up the hill with not much chance of running. We climbed until again we disappeared into the mist. The course is very well marked but here the mist was a bit denser and we had difficulty in seeing from one mark to the next. There was no path, just slogging over the moor and our confidence had just about ebbed away when we picked up another marker. Looming up through the mist we saw the trig point on top of Fan Frynych but no-one there. We had picked up from the start address that we needed to go there but hadn’t picked up that it was unmanned. So we continued over the top expecting to see someone sheltering but found no-one. We consulted the map and came to the conclusion that was it. We checked the trig point but there was nowhere to dib in so we headed back down. The route then dropped into a steep sided Coombe this was another tough descent and as we came out of the mist I could see that we were going even lower than the Storey Arms and realised that we would have to recover that height.

After checkpoint five we were trudging up the path back towards the Story Arms when the Welsh girl caught us up. She had got lost on the top and hadn’t found the trig point. At Checkpoint six Geraldine was there to see we were ok and wish us well. As we set off up towards Corn Du we could see the Welsh girl ahead of us heading into the mist again. Knowing that at last we had turned for home we seemed to storm up Corn Du turning left and following the ridge at the top the Welsh Girl again appeared behind us. She said: “I’m going to stick with you guys I’m fed up of getting lost in the mist.”

So we stayed together down through checkpoint seven and on our way to the final checkpoint. However the extra climbing in the middle of the course had slowed us down and darkness came on us when we were still a good 10 miles from the finish. This part of the course is not mountainous it threads its way along lanes, paths and fields and only has slight undulations. With darkness now enveloping us we had our head torches on and passing through a series of stiles and gates we ended up walking into a large field it so happened that the Welsh girl was in front.

Now knowing that she had propensity for getting lost, we really shouldn’t have followed her – but we did. It was a large field full of sheep whose yellow eyes were reflecting our torch beams as they watched us cross their field. We picked up no direction signs and when we reached the fence at the other side again no signs. Dave and the Welsh girl went anti-clockwise round the perimeter of the field whilst I went clockwise looking for signs. I eventually I got back to the gate we had come in checked the arrow which did seem to point straight across the field however, I continued going round the perimeter clockwise and about 20 metres from where we came in found a sign on a gate taking us out of the field. I managed to locate Dave and the girl and we set off once more happy to be back on route but that was the last time we let the Welsh girl lead.

After the final checkpoint it was just a slog, the mud in the fields was quite gloopy and clogged the treads in the bottom of our shoes so they felt like deep sea divers boots but as we clicked off the miles to the finish we were in good spirits. Dave and I started to plan our liquid menu for when we got to the pub. As we dropped down to the canal towpath again we knew we were nearly home and we made in back into the HQ at 8.30pm

A quick turn around and down to the pub for a few pints of Butty Bach and some chips. There has to be some benefit for doing these nutty things.

13 hours, 42 miles, 2702 metres of Accent

A great event and a great day out we just need to do it again without the mist so we can appreciate the views. Roll on next year.

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