With little time to get sufficient hill training in before the 10peaks race, I was approaching the start line at 5am with a few nerves. I was surrounded by some very lean fell runners, three Ghurkhas and a mix of “normal” runners (like me)…. Which put my mind a rest a little. As the race began I had a horrible sinking feeling as the lead runners set a terrifying pace for the first few miles of trail running.
Following the trail run to get the legs moving we were into our first climb: 700ms of dark, wet fell running. Despite only being 25minutes into the race, the lead runners were well out of sight- not even a flash of head torches could be seen. By the top of the climb my multiple layers to battle the early morning cold were starting to feel like a bad idea; 2 hours of fell running results in some serious overheating! Resisting the temptation to strip layers, we descended into the valley near the Neuadd Reservoir. We crested the next climb after a serious session of scrambling up what can only be described as a “wall”, not a hill! On reaching the summit of this intermediate peak, there was a small out and back to reach a checkpoint before progressing North to Bwlch Duwynt, where we had stunning views of the later stages of the race (Pen Y Fan, Fan Y Big and Corn Du). As we tracked the steady climb along the exposed ridge temperatures dropped, heavy mist closed in and fingers and toes were numb…. Luckily we had some reasonable terrain to get a running pace going again and get the blood pumping! Dropping down from here onto the A470 got us out of the mist and allowed me to stretch the legs through a speedy descent! Though not as fast as the daredevil leaders- utterly amazing to see them fly down and up the mountain side! Fells runners are a different breed of runner – FACT!
And breathe… we’re half way in mileage… but well under halfway in terms of hills!
Some cold pizza proved to be the perfect pick-me-up at the halfway check point, despite it being very squashed and slightly sweaty from the first few hours in my back pack! With the sun providing some warmth and the strenuous climbs generating enough body heat, stripping the 3 excess layers was particularly welcome. Refuelled, rehydrated and ready for the next stage, we watched as 4 runners set our ahead of us (having been behind us for the previous couple of km). They were our bait for the next 5-6km! With some tarmac and a roman road to lead the way until the next fell, we made good progress but didn’t manage to bridge the gap to the group of 4 ahead of us- everyone had settles into a nice steady rhythm. As we approached the Graig Cerrig Gleisiad Nature reserve we hatched a plan to take the most direct (but hilly) route to the next peak. It paid in spades… we overtook the group of 4 that we had been following and managed to pull out a 600m lead on them – we were away and clear. A chance to set out own pace all the way to the Storey Arms. Quick slice of cold pizza, a can of coke and a few stretches and we were ready to go again!
From the car park we could see what was waiting for us. This was the “Oh Shit” moment in the race: we had already completed a marathon across the fells and we still had the huge climb to Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Cribyn and Fan Y Big. Walking these on a normal day is a big undertaking, to do them after running a marathon across the fell… well that’s pretty stupid 😀
As we started the climb, there was no sign on the “low” I experience in the Lake District (at about this mileage)- I had learnt my lesson on hydration and nutrition. An attempt to speed march up Corn Du was met with some puzzled looks from the tourist out for a relaxing Saturday afternoon walk with their family. Especially when their curiosity was met with the response “I’m over 28miles into the race and have another 8 miles to go”! When you say it out load to the general public you realise how big of a deal these events are – I probably play down Ultra Marathons, because its “only” 36 miles and not in the desert!
Having beaten Corn du, the infamous Pen-y-Fan was waiting! Having never climbed it before I didn’t know what to expect, other than something quite tough (the SAS train and run their selection process on this hill!). By this stage Mike’s knee was giving him some serious pain- loading it up on the steep descent from Corn Du proved really tough! The sound of his yelps made me wince! But he pushed through and we made it to the top of Pen-y-Fan. Note: I must come back as try this climb on fresh legs!!!
All that remained was Cribyn (795m) and Fan Y Big 719m), followed by about 10km of fairly flat fell running (on a normal day this wouldn’t be called flat). Easy! Well, it was for the winner of the log course who can thundering past us as we approached the open fell above the Talybont-on-Usk. Honestly, on fresh legs there is no way I could ever keep pace with him!! I still can’t fathom how he could run so fast after 40+miles and on such uneven terrain! Mark Palmer….massive credit to you!
We had topped the following peaks:
1. Spot height Waun Rydd, 762 meters
2. Trig point Twyn Mwyalchod, 642 meters
3. Fan Fawr, 734 meters
4. Fan Llia, 632 meters
5. Fan Frynych, 629 meters
6. Corn Du, 873 meters
7. Pen y Fan, 886 meters
8. Cribyn, 795 meters
9. Fan y Big, 719 meters
10. Spot height Bwlch y Ddwyallt, 754 meters
A final push to the finish, including getting lost in the bracken (oh yeah, I hadn’t mentioned we had to navigate our way around this 36mile route), and we were home and dry (well, actually soaked) in 10hr50min exactly! We were pretty pleased with our time, especially considering Michael had picked up a knee injury! We were even more delighted to later find out that we finished 20th out of 90runners (Top quarter!)!!! Our best finish yet!
So, the preparations for the MdS 2014 continue! Another ultra under the belt, another 10 hours of training, another 10,000 feet of elevation gain! I’ve now racked up 1,500 miles in training 1,000 running, and 500 kayaking/crosstraining/cycling! The next event in the calendar is “only” a marathon. But to make things tricky it’s a trail marathon and it’s likely to be muddy!!
Until then… More hill reps and more miles!