‘Wow guys, can you see that sunrise it’s beautiful?’ I shout into the wind and hammering rain……..through the dark, rain soaked night I can just see the first glimmer of light coming up through a valley amongst steep rainforest clad mountains. I’m in awe watching the light cast its stunning shadows on the steep tree clad slopes. I need to keep my eyes on the ground as i’s tricky terrain we’re following but I can’t help but keep glancing sideways at the light bringing with it the promise of a new day ahead.
I glance again towards the beautiful sunrise which had already started to bolster my spirits from their previous place in the mud. Then one more glance……..Oh? It’s dark, complete pitch blackness, I stop and turn towards the direction that had brought hope with it but nothing apart from the thin light of my head torch barely reaching through the blackness. Ahead I can just make out two feint pools of light a few metres ahead of my through the driving rain and mist. In a slight panic I look at my watch, it’s 3 am and I then realise I’ve been hallucinating. There’s no sunrise, no promise of the mornings salvation and there’s no lush Vietnamese mountains either!
The reality of my current situation is that I’m very slowly trudging along a rough, high featureless moor somewhere in the Brecon Beacons. With a crash all hope diminished I wonder if maybe this is what hell will feel like? Or am I am just competing in the inaugural F12 Events Brecon Beacons 100?!
I was running with two other men and had been for some time. The small field of 21 runners had thinned out almost immediately and we had bunched up and formed small groups to stave off the loneliness of this wet miserable night. We had ascended Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Bryn Du on this first section but if I’m honest I missed this entirely, it’s only now sitting recalling the route do I realise where I went!
We had made reasonable time (well I thought so anyway) to CP1 the Storey Arms despite the wet conditions and were in really good spirits stopping only briefly for a hot drink and some light hearted banter with the fabulous marshals who were doing a remarkable job in the most appalling conditions. My total gratitude to all of them.
Leaving the cheeriness and banter of the marshals we pushed onwards into the darkest of nights with rain unrelentingly driving heavily upon us. (On a side note I have to say at this point I was dry and warm and very comfortable in my new purple! Paramo smock, not a taped seam in site but boy was I totally toasty in there!)
The ascents were long and hard going, the next section was a mere eight miles taking us ever closer towards the Black Mountains. Mere eight miles? I think they were the longest eight miles of my life! Looking at Strava details (which I rarely do) I was doing the stonking pace of 1mph for much of this section!
Want to know why I was so slow? My legs felt great! which had been a worry post Lakeland, my head and spirits were actually in a very cheery place and I was happily rolling snippets of songs around my head and really enjoying the night. No, I was so slow simply because this place was crafted by Satan himself whilst in a bad mood. There may have been what the RD called goat trails (where’s the goats?!) but they could have been only three feet away but in the conditions may as well have been on Mars! Given this, the only way forward was to hug the GPS line and try to find tracks wherever possible, mostly not possible. It was on this section that the Vietnamese mountain scene came about and to be frank, I’m glad it did. Going was so tough underfoot it would have been easy to lose your happy thoughts never to be seen again! We’d been joined now by a slightly lost fence climbing Steve during this section, he’d been travelling on his own until now and joined up with our merry trio.
Finally our little group were within striking distance of the next check point ‘just’ the descent down to the A4067 and the friendly faces I was positive I’d see there. Descent? Scaling down the North Face of the Eiger would be a better description for it! A wet grass covered sheer drop stood between us and the promise of tea and safety below. Surely this can’t be the way? It’s too steep? It’ll lead to certain death? I try to convince the group that we’re definitely going the way! They insist to my dismay that this is the right way. Scarily I made the slow zig zag descent, sliding, cussing and generally recounting all the things I needed to do before my death.
Finally CP2! Oh lord what a relief! After such a long time out (not sure exactly how long) but at that moment a just a hot drink would outstripped a hot man with a tray of tequila waiting on my beck and call! Sadly neither was to be found here so top up on water, snacks and off we go. At this point the group split into pairs. Steve who had recently joined the group and I were a little slower than the other two so it worked for the best for us all to split at this point.
Without too much hanging around we quickly make our way out of the checkpoint onto the next section towards Fan Foel. Only eight miles again but little did I know I was about to meet the ‘Baby Heads of Brecon’
The RD had used this term in the briefing. Me, not coming from a military background was clueless as to what this meant but at a guess I’d have been close to thinking they were elephant grass tussocks. Only close though! The next section was trackless miles with an endless see of ankle breaking baby heads that stood as tall as my waist. The going was near impossible! I kid you not, we were averaging less than 1mph and spending as much time on our knees, backs and faces as we were on our feet! I’m sure we weren’t alone in the misery of baby head hell. Despite this Steve (new to all this and being baptised by fire!) and I remained in great spirits laughing through the pain of it all.
Not one to laugh at others misfortune too much………the funniest moment and still makes me chuckle was during the dead of night in baby head hell, Steve being stuck in between baby heads, in a stream wedged in by his pack, think beetle on its back……….ok maybe you had to be there?!
Daylight did eventually come and I still felt amazingly good. How I was I don’t know. That felt a longer, darker night than even the Spine has thrown at me so far. But here I was on the other side, legs and head all working happily. Ok the sleep monsters were starting to plague me quite persistently but whacking down three ProPlus soon banished that one.
Now into daylight and on easier ground on the Beacons Way we pootled along uneventfully to CP 3 So far we’d run a marathon and it had taken 12hrs! Even pitted against the Spine on both bad weather years I took part this was even slower progress. I’m rather proud of my 12hr marathon though!
At CP3 I ate so many tortilla chips I made myself feel rather unwell. I was so hungry! But as there was no hot water at this CP so my cup pasta was pretty useless to me. I’d been munching on cubes of cheese and polish sausage all night but at that CP in the cold light of morning I could have eaten a plague riddled donkey I was so hungry! So after a brief pig out stop and some banter with the very tired marshals (more so than me I think, but then I was having my own private ProPlus party by now!!!) we headed on out again towards the next eight miles section.
Somewhere along the way, not sure where and not sure when……..the rain stopped and the sun came out, oh it was glorious to feel it’s warmth after such a long time in the dark. Words can’t describe the joy it brought, I even got the camera out for the first time since the start for a few snaps.
Sadly however I knew that time had beaten us. Oh yes we had many hours before the cut off but looking at our stats we were likely to reach CP 4 which was thirty four miles, so a third of the way into the course in pretty much eighteen hours so over a third of the overall time of forty five hours. For me it was a done deal. I’d loved every single moment of this race so far but I knew that time had beaten me and with other big races for me on the horizon I was going to take the sensible choice (haha, me? Sensible???!) retire at the next CP. Once that decision had been made and Steve was in agreement, his knee was sore and he could see the futility of making that worse given the chance of completing the course had slipped away.
Once the decision to quit had been made we could relax and take our time. Ironically this leg was on good ground with some runnable tracks so we actually enjoyed some nice bumbling in the sunshine to the next CP where there was the best banter and our lift home in the Taxi of Shame J
I’ve already vowed that I will be back. I know that I will need to up my game significantly to finish the Brecon 100 but the event has really caught my interest, I would agree with the organisers claim of it being the toughest 100 mile event in the UK. Certainly underfoot condition made it by far the hardest course I’ve attempted and I’ve done my fair share! But one of the friendliest races around, I’ve certainly come away from it with some great new friends.
Results? 21 starters and 5 finishers…….kind of speaks for itself.
Brecon 100 you spanked me harder that I’ve ever been before, painfully but oh so pleasurable too. Never before has failure felt so damn good! I loved every minute with you and can honestly say that I can’t wait to go back better prepared in 2018 and suspect there might be a few more than 21 of us on the start line for this beast!