Almost exactly a year ago I rocked up at Talybont-on-Usk at 6am to run 40 miles around the Brecon Beacons. At the time I’d done a few ultras, but they were all relatively tame, trail oriented, not too hilly or muddy.
The Might Contain Nuts, (MCN) Brecon 40 was an eye-opener! Miles of knee-high bogs, massive climbs and rocky hard descents – real off road stuff, in fact it was a lot like all the fell races I’ve done – strung together. However, I met some great people on the run, some of whom I’ve kept in contact with – and one who inspired me to run the legendary 2012 Fellsman, a race that I still say is the toughest, most dangerous and hardcore race I’ve ever done.
I wasn’t going to do this race, and was actually glad when I saw it had sold out – the bogs were horrendous last year… But, then MCN posted on Facebook that someone had cancelled and there was a spare place – bugger… I wasn’t doing anything that weekend, my mates might be doing it and it was only £38 – so I was in. Apparently MCN had upped the ascent and distance to 42-or-so miles for an additional UTMB qualifier point too, 2 extra miles and more hills – bargain.
One week before, the rain was biblical. Then, we got lucky and there was a week-long cold spell – race day dawned and the usual 5:00am Saturday alarm call arrived with a hard frost. The drive to Talybont was dicey, and I nearly skidded off the road and into a ravine which was exciting…
At the start I met-up with my buddy and registered, the MCN crew obviously recognised me from last year which was nice. I piled on the extra layers, ski mittens and headed to the start area in the darkness for the start at 7:30am.
It was blooming cold at the start, but as they say – there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing choices, and after Fellsman I’ve learned my lesson so was nice and toasty, and the ski mittens were keeping my fingers warm, (I suffered minor frostbite at Fellsman!) The first 10 miles were relatively undulating, nice and firm underfoot, the sun came up, the skies were clear and it was a pretty bloody brilliant morning.
I’ve been playing with the paleo diet recently with decent results, so have been running low carb for a couple of months and had good results so far – especially at a recent marathon in Valencia. Today, my nutrition was 9bars, (nut & seeds) and sausages with a gel or-two where they were available. My plan, as ever was 150 calories every 30 minutes, so I had my watch set to beep ever half hour to remind me to eat which worked really well. Instead of the usual 25:5 run/walk routine, the terrain made a walk the uphills, jog the flats, run the downhills an easy choice.
I’d warmed up once the sun came up, but as we ascended it stared to get cold and then it started raining so the coats went back on while we were trudging up a massive hill. Once we were past that there was a nice downhill to CP3 where we moved up a few places.
I’ve noticed, (in general) ultra runners are rubbish at descending… Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a fell runner – but that’s where I make up positions – always on the downhills. So we picked up a few places on the descent and passed through CP3 – the next 7 miles was what I was dreading, it was the knee-high bog section!
I needn’t have worried, the bogs were frozen solid. We just breezed over them, I was so happy – this was the bit I hated last year, then it was down into the forests before heading to the marathon point and the next checkpoint. It was a milestone as there was only one, (relatively) big climb left – the climb up towards Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan.
Still feeling good we ascended the 500m or-so up towards the highest peak in South Wales, but skirted around before the summit to start what I can only describe as the best descent of my running career. I’ve done this descent a couple of times before but today it just flowed, even after running a marathon my legs felt fresh and we flew 2 miles downhill, arms windmilling – I fell a few times on the slippery terrain but it was so much fun! My friend managed to keep up with me, cursing me for flying down the hill – but I know he enjoyed it really…
CP6 was at the bottom, this heralded the end of the crazy terrain, (though – again, it’s all relative – there were plenty of hills still to go – probably another 1,500′ or so of ascent) and from here there was about 10 miles left. We picked up another lad who ran with us to the finish somewhere around here too, it’s always good to have some fresh conversation after 7 or 8 hours on the trail.
Last year, this is where I met my mate, and we were battered at the time, so it was in nice to be feeling strong this time around. There was a fair amount of swearing when the hills appeared and make no mistake, the final 10 miles were not easy! The light faded with about 4-5 miles to go, so it was on with the head torches, and a slog to the finish.
We’d passed a few people and were trailblazing, but it felt like we were being stalked with our head torches leading the way and a group of lights behind. It was true after talking to the chasing pack – they wanted to take us down, maybe next time! We finally got off the hills and mud and onto the canal which marked a couple of miles to go, there was a group of runners ahead of us, the hunted had become the hunters!
With 800m to go we picked up the pace, took down the group of runners in front and ran into the finish in just under 10 hours. Not an amazing performance, but a great day out, nice and easy – and considering I’m doing the Lanzarote marathon next weekend, just what the doctor ordered.
This is the 4th MCN race I’ve done, I love them… The organisation is faultless, they’re extremely friendly and definitely remember your face. Yes, they’re hilly, muddy and very tough – but who cares… I’ll be back for more in 2013!