Like everybody else all over the world my 2020 race plans were scuppered by the onset of Covid. I had originally intended to compete in the UK Skyrunner series, which would of seen me race in Snowdonia, the isle of Arran, the Lake district and Ireland. However all but Ireland were cancelled and I didn’t fancy trekking over there from Devon for what would of been my final race in the series, now it was rendered meaningless.
I had been to the Brecon Beacons a few weeks before this race, which happened on the 15th August, to do a long training run in preparation for my new goal, Ultra trail Snowdonia 100k on the 20th September, and saw an advertisement for a race in the Beacons. I looked it up and it was being put on by Limitless trails they describe the race as follows
‘Starting at the base of the Mountain, a harsh and brutal climb up to the first leg of the Table. Skirting the perimeter, you will collect a wrist band before facing the steep south face who will be smiling down at you. The outstanding views stretching as far as Pen Y Fan will make the climb worth while. Continuing your fight, traversing some technical paths, your aim is the summit of Pen Cerrig-calch at a height of 701m before claiming victory and collecting your second wrist band. Full of light relief you will then have the chance to pick up some speed and marvel at the very fast but tricky descent back past the Table Mountain and back to base where you will hand in your bands and then decide whether to head straight back out or to rest and enjoy some light relief and refreshments. Our team of physios will be on hand for any aching muscles that may need some attention before taking on the next challenging and testing loop. A strict 10 hour cut off will be in place- any participant that does not reach base before the final horn will not have that loop recorded, this only adds to the challenge to ensure you are fast enough to beat that horn!’
I saw that and thought perfect. An opportunity to do a strenuous long run with 1700ft of ascent and descent over a 4 mile loop, competing against other athletes, so I would be sure to try my best. It was all I could ask for in these times, so I signed up immediately. I travelled up to Wales on Friday lunchtime to make sure I had plenty of time to set up camp and eat lots of food before kick off. Another competitor Eric was already there and it was so nice to be able to talk to someone new whilst you both were attending an event. I had not realised how much I missed the community of running and racing and not just the competition.
I woke up and ate my overnight oats and drank my coffee before getting into my race kit and making the short journey to the other side of the road for race briefing, and for the fun to begin. I will confess now running a 4 mile out and back for 10 hours wouldn’t make for the most interesting blog if I wrote a fairly traditional blow by blow account of the day, so I will not do that, but here are my highlights.
At the briefing Ellen the RD explained that there would be a prize for the fastest first lap. I had obviously told myself that a race like this would be all about pacing and race management, especially after the 5 hour mark when the effect of the continuous up or down started to be felt in the legs. However I was there to compete and as Nick, another runner had already stated he was aiming for 10 laps, which was also what I was hoping for and Eric had previously said the same, I new a real race would be on. Inevitably this meant we all went charging up the mountain as soon as the whistle blew, redlining the whole way. I knew that an average of one lap an hour was what was required if I had any chance of doing ten laps, so I was well aware that when I got back to the start in 45 mins with Nick breathing down my neck that I certainly wouldn’t be doing that all day (I did win a hat though for the fastest time). It become clear however that poles would be essential for the ascent every lap, and due to the nature of the event I had all my supplies in my car a few metres from the start/finish line so I scampered over to retrieve them and set off on lap 2. This did however hand Nick the advantage and I was following him then for the next lap and the ascent of lap 3.
I put my headphones in and decided to let go a bit and see if I could catch Nick. I caught up to him coming down the steepest most technical part of the trail, and it was actually quite busy with runners and hikers coming up. I was going fast though so had to turn my brain off and hope my feet danced around the rocks quick enough. Of course they didn’t so I rolled down some rocks into a bog, I had however regained the lead so put my head down again and pretended it didn’t hurt.
The next 3 laps settled into a familiar rhythm. A gradual decrease in pace and an increase in fatigue, with Nick never out of view stalking me. At the half way mark I had managed 6 laps in 5 hours, which put my goal of 10 laps firmly in view. However my right hamstring began to feel more then just accumulated muscle soreness and a really quite acute pain began to develop, that became increasingly prevalent on the long downhill. Every time I checked my watch now my average pace was slipping at an alarming rate, but I was still keeping the lead. Eventually Nick and I ended up refuelling and filling our water bottles for the 7th lap together at HQ, and we set off together. Starting back up the mountain it became clear that our individual maximum pace at this time was the same, as it had been for the whole race. Neither one of us could pull away from the other. This was actually rather nice, running alongside somebody after 7 hours of flogging yourself alone. It did however present the problem of who would win. If we continued to match each other until our time was up then it would be a joint victory, we didn’t even know if there could be a joint winner.
We spoke to the RD Ellen after completing the 8th lap and explained that there was nothing to separate us, and no matter how hard we tried we were still together and would probably only manage 9 laps due to the nature of the race only counting full laps and having to complete a 10th lap in 1 hour after ascending and descending a mountain for 9 hours. In short, it was going to be our last lap and we would finish together. She said that if that was the case then we would be joint winners and another trophy would be made, up so we could both have one, but it would be preferable if one of us managed to pull away from the other. Eric was also at HQ and he set out with us for one last lap (his 7th) so the 3 of us ran together coming in after 8hrs 50mins of continual hill bashing. Although in theory we still had time for one more lap, the legs just weren’t there anymore, and for me I would of been in real danger of seriously injury my hamstring if I kept going, and this was essentially a training run for UTS so no need to be stupid.
To conclude it was fantastic to be able to race again, even with the capacity reduced to 30 runners, the chat and feeling of battling against other people has been sorely missed. The organisation and most importantly the comradery of all the people involved in staging the event and attending it was the real highlight. I would like to give a special shout out to Stu who was out on the course with us all day, encouraging and checking on us throughout. People like Stu make these events so fun, big up yourself.