Here we go again… The Might Contain Nuts, (MCN) Welsh One Day Ultra series – Round 2, the Brecon 40, (yes – that’s 40 miles) the toughest, hilliest, boggiest race in the MCN portfolio – and that’s on a good day. Today was NOT a good day.
I did this race in 2012, finishing in 9hrs 15min with my lasting memory being that of the ascent up Cribyn at 30 miles. OK, so we’d also climbed Tor-y-Foel, Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan along the way, but it was the ascent of Cribyn that lingered. The weather in 2012 was excellent, sunny and calm – and I even got a bit of a tan! 2013 was not to be like that…
I got to Talybont at 7am for registration and met up with loads of people who I know from various races and Facebook. It was a veritable who’s-who of the ultra community at the start with familiar faces, (and buffs) from Fellsman around. Eventually I teamed-up with my MCN partner, the “Fantastic Mr Fox” and we agreed to a nice easy run, somewhere between 9-10 hours and joined the pack somewhere near the back for the start.
It was quite pleasant down in Talybont at the start, overcast but warm enough to make me wonder if wearing a waterproof on top of my long-sleeved base layer was overkill. I’d also decided there was no need for leggings today – hell, it ‘s the middle of May goddammit. I had packed my waterproof mittens though, and was wearing lightweight gloves at the start.
So, we were off on the usual MCN start which is 3 flat miles along the canal and a nice warm-up, this was my first decent run after Fellsman so I was concerned how my recovery was, but it was nice and easy. Eventually we headed off the canal and onto the first big climb up Tor-y-Foel.
The climb went on for ages, with lots of false summits, but we took it easy, letting people pass and eventually crested the peak and ran down to CP1. The weather had started to turn now, and I was glad of the jacket. My buff also went on and I got the waterproof mittens on too just in case. Once through CP1 the next section took us through some forests and up into a quarry before a nasty section of boggy, rutted moor and a tricky, rocky descent down to CP2. By this point people had stopped overtaking us and we had started reeling in people in front.
Now, I’ve done these races before – and I know the next section is nasty at the best of times! It’s a 6-mile uphill slog across bogs to Corn Du, a lot of which is across an exposed ridge. As we got higher, the weather closed-in and the conditions underfoot got worse, and worse. It was pretty-much impossible to run and we slogged it through the bogs to the ridge. Last year I managed to jog the 3 miles or-so to Corn Du, but today it was impossible! The wind picked up and it got colder as we got higher, then it started raining and, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – the rain turned to hail.
I was chilled to the bone and in real trouble. Head down, into the wind with the hail drumming a death march on my hood I carried on, swearing voraciously. Mr Fox was just behind me, but we couldn’t talk – it was all about survival. Eventually in a lull we caught up and compared notes, yep – he was feeling the same as me, we’d both lost all feeling in our hands and were pretty close to hypothermic. However, eventually we made it to Corn Du and the rocky descent down to the road.
At CP4 we regrouped, ate loads of food and tried to warm up a little. It was obvious that several other runners were having similar difficulties here, a few of the chaps we’d met at the MCN Round 1 appeared and seemed equally miserable. If there had been an easy DNF option, I would have been tempted – but, eventually we deceied to man-up and head down to the Storey Arms and the climb up to Pen-y-Fan.
The sun came out and it warmed up a little, now the wind was behind us and we plodded to the highest peak in southern Britain. At the summit it was incredibly windy and the tricky initial descent was interesting, the following descent to CP6 was OK but a bit slippery. However, at least now we’d warmed up a little – my hands were working again and the only major obstacle now was “The Cribyn”, (or so we thought)
It’s an hour’s trek up to the summit of Cribyn from the start of the climb, but we were prepared for it. The climb starts off tough,then lulls you into a false sense of security – before shoving a 400m near vertical climb at you! However, we got to the top and started the nice fast descent to the final CP.
Once through CP7 we thought it was all over bar the one climb out of the CP… How wrong could we have been. Firstly, the climb went on for ever, then more bogs and peat hags to climb over and, just when you thought it was over the weather closed in and it started hailing. Not little itty-bitty hailstones, but big pea-sized ones – fired into your exposed skin by a freezing gale-force wind. There has never been so much swearing on the top of a hill! Every bit of exposed skin was red-raw. This shouldn’t be happening – it’s the middle of MAY was all I could think.
But, once again – we prevailed and got off the final hill in the end and onto the relatively flat final couple of miles to the finish. Tired and emotional we finally got back to the start at Talybont just in time for the first thunderclap of the day! I’m so glad it wasn’t doing that up on the peaks, it would have been really scary.
I’ve done a lot of tough races, I’m not sure if this was the toughest – mentally maybe? It was hard to carry on in the conditions – and without the excellent company I think I may have had my first DNF. Talking to people afterwards it appears that a few casualties were claimed, I can’t say I’m at all surprised.
So – would I do it again…? Well, I’ve done this one twice and to be honest, the terrain really isn’t my cup of tea. A lot of it is hard and rocky,and the bits that aren’t are wet and boggy so maybe not, at least I think I may try something different next year, I hear the LDWA Rhondda Rollercoaster is a good event, and historically it falls on the same day.
Having said all that – pain fades quickly, but the memories of the good times linger – and we did have some good times on the hills. This is what I love about ultras and the ultra community, everyone helps each other get through the bad times and we share the highs and lows. So, as I recently said “Never Say Never Again”…