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10 Peaks

Ian Saunders
July 14th, 2018 · 9 min read

Race information

  • What? 10 Peaks - Brecon Beacons
  • When? July 14th, 2018
  • How far? 89 kms
  • Where? Brecon, Wales
  • Website: 10 Peaks
  • Strava activity: Strava
  • Finish time: 14:57:02

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
AHang out with the front packYes
BDNFMaybe
CFinish Top 10Maybe

Pre-race

For the last 2 years, I have made a pilgrimage to run a race in Wales called the Brecon Beacons Ultra. Given the late November date, the weather is cold, rainy and often snowy. Come 2018, a few friends chose to run an alternate Brecon Course, a little longer 74 km vs 89 km but a lot hillier and in the middle of summer. Sadly or perhaps fortunately, I was going to be San Francisco in July, so decided to pass. Fast forward 3 months and my SF plans were in flux, I decided to sign-up just in case. We all know where this story goes…

After Edinburgh marathon, I was still trying to find my way with what to do next. I had made the decision not to do any more A races in 2018 but focus mainly on using the rest of the year to try round out my general running ability. That’s not to say I wouldn’t run any races, but rather that races would have less pressure to achieve a certain goal time.

Leading up to Brecon I had been doing a 5 km/day running streak, and got to day 79 - sadly I had to kill the streak due to constant Achilles pain. The tipping point had been a 139 km cycling race (it’s not a race!), the famous Maratona Dolomites in Italy. This was 2 weeks before Brecon and the heat, elevation and traveling proved draining.

A week before Brecon I knocked out a half marathon as part of the I Move London Relay World Record attempt and ended up catching a bus home due to pain. This was a bad sign. Would I be able to run the full 89 km without injuring myself? Probably not. Time for a new plan.

I Move London I Move London

After some thought-provoking beers I came up with a new strategy, instead of trying to hit a target time, it would be interesting to run with the front pack, at least until I blew up. After my heroic fail, I would make my way to the next aid station, hand my bib back, and DNF. My A and B Goal, hurrah.

Other than the Achilles pain, the lead up to this race was pretty uneventful. I caught a lift down to Wales with a friend, and there ended up being 8 of us staying in the hotel. There were 2 chaps who had run (and DNF’d) the race before and 4 Brecon virgins. During dinner, we went over the route. If you have read any of my race reports, you will know I take a rather meticulous approach to planning these runs. Reviewing previous race times, sketching out distances and pace targets between aid stations etc. etc. Given my goal was to run the pace of someone else, this was not needed. Instead, I went through the list of entrants for this year and found the fastest finisher who was running again. Ollie Stoten, who had finished third in 2017! I would sit behind him for as long as I could and see what happened.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still loaded the map onto my phone, added the GPX route to my watch and reviewed the map pretty well. But it was a lighter touch than usual. One of the interesting parts of this race was that it was a fell run. This meant you needed to run from one location to another. Dibbing in at certain places to prove you got there, there was no marked route to follow!

As with the other Brecon Ultra, this race was billed as self-supported. There was also a recommendation to take a water filter with you, curious! After working out the distance between aid stations I decided to carry enough water bottles for 1.5L and always carry at least 1L on me.

Race

With a 5 am start, we had an early wake up. The hotel prepared a bacon sandwich to go, of which I ate half for breakfast. I stuffed the other half in my ultra-vest for lunch.

We got to the start with time to spare. As the runners congregated I spotted my front-running “pacer”, so slowly crept up behind him - shadow mode engaged.

One, two, three! GO!

After a short 10 min warm-up jog we faced our first hill, I was curious to see what the “A” team did here, thankfully the hill was pretty steep and there was no hero-running up it! At this point, we were in the mid-pack and the pace was decent. As the sun rose behind us, I knew we were going to be in for a long hot day…

Shadow mode Shadow mode

The hot sun rises The hot sun rises

After a few surges on the flats, we crested a pretty steep hill and my pacer hit the gas. As we dropped into 4 min/km pace, we left the mid-pack behind. The break-away group consisted of around 5 runners and we were roughly 4th and 5th. I continued my tactics of trying to keep Ollie close, and we eventually struck up a conversation.

I mentioned his success last year and also at NDW50 this year, where he finished 2nd. He seemed a cool chap and didn’t mind my tagging along. I mentioned I would probably drop out due to Achilles pain at some point, and he cautioned against going out too hard - sound advice!

We rapidly ticked hills off and made our way to the first aid station. The front pack certainly knew their way around and grabbed some pretty chunky short-cuts by cutting switch-backs or minor diversions. Of course, the cutting meant running down a super steep hill, but this allowed us to catch a few of the people in front. First aid-station reached, supplies topped up and I was still hanging out in the front, nice!

Straight away we were up against our biggest hill yet. and then another hill and then another hill! One thing I noticed was the strength of the front runners up the hills. I felt good staying in-touch on downhills and on-flats, but my effort level was certainly higher up hills. Most of these runners ate up slight inclines like it was flat. Interesting.

After many more hills, the front runners spread out a bit more. Slowly Ollie pulled 100 meters in front of me. I had to work extra hard to keep up as he was able to keep the racing line better than I. His knowledge of the route allowed him to find paths where I found bog. Checking into the second aid station, the temperature was getting very hot. I started to fill up my supplies and the leaders left, just before me. I hurried to catch them and saw someone running to the right. I chased after him, but something didn’t seem right. He was moving quite slowly and I couldn’t remember his vest. As I approached the runner I asked him had he seen the runners ahead, his reply. “Sorry mate, I am not in the race. It’s back the other way”. Wrong way, £$!! Turning back I found that there was a path that forked from the road, which I had missed. I was now a good 10 minutes behind my pacer. Would I be able to catch them?!

I started running hard to catch up, and after a few moments the realization dawned - no, I would not be able to catch them. I was pretty baked from 30ish kms of heat and hills.

Time to DNF:

  • Option 1: Shall I walk back to the aid station and wait for my friends?
  • Option 2: Should I carry on to the next aid station and DNF there.
  • Or, shall I introduce a C goal! Try finish in the top 10.

Race back on.

Given the large gap from the mid-pack, I could take a bit of time and allow a few people to overtake me and still be in a good position. Time to re-group. I had spent the last 30 km racing hard and needed to restore the energy, time to walk and eat and drink. During this re-group session, I really felt the heat which contributed to my low moral, I was overtaken by 2 runners. And then I bashed my left big toe on a hard-rock.

I continued to grind my way to the next aid station. Usually, I am in-and-out of aid stations in seconds - today I sat for a few minutes, drank some coke, ate.

Feeling the heat Feeling the heat

The day was getting hotter-and-hotter with very little cloud cover. After leaving the aid-station I continued running up-and-down the hills - following the route on my watch religiously.

As lunchtime arrived, I completed a particularly beautiful and heinous section arriving at a large reservoir. This was fortunate because I was out of water and there was still quite some distance until the next aid station. In fact, I had been out of water for 20 minutes, not good. To drink or not to drink? Ladies and gentleman, I drank. Like a king. I also covered myself in water and dipped my hat in for good measure. It was lovely. Bacon sandwich devoured, I found some new energy - onwards!

From then on, whenever I found a flowing stream, I would re-supply my water and have a mini splash. The best decision I made all day.

Amazing view Amazing view

Loving" the hills Loving" the hills

I continued to grind through the hills and the heat. Slowly counting down the kilometers until the finish. I ran past someone who thought I was in 7th position, I thought they must be off by around 2, so put myself in 9th or 10th - not bad!

So far the hills had been somewhat runnable or allowed for hands-on knees walking. As I approached the next aid station and looked up, I knew this was about to change.

I’ve never run a race before where you needed to drag yourself up using tufts of grass. This was pure scrambling up a very steep hill. Though good fun, it was bloody hard work, as I neared the top I looked back, there was no-one in sight. Given we were further than halfway through the race I made a tactical decision. “Race-for-position” - from now on I would run to feel and look back to ensure no-one was catching me.

Apart from a pack of cows blocking the road, a couple of painful slips, the next 30 km proved uneventful. As I pulled up to the final aid station, there was 16 km to go! And only 3 more large hills - phew.

I ground out Peny-fan and Penny Big, knowing that there was only 6 km to go felt pretty great - I was nearly home and my 10th place was secure.

Glancing back, there was something on the horizon. Another runner.

He must have spotted me walking as he was pushing hard - closing the gap quickly. I decided that this was a spurt of bravado on his part and if I picked up the pace he would give up trying to catch me. For the next couple kilometers, I put my head down and pushed hard, it hurt, but there was no way he could have kept up, let alone close the gap. I settled down into an easier pace and subtly glanced back. There he was. Even closer than before. My speed burst had been futile, I resigned myself to being overtaken. To ease the humiliation of being overtaken, I decided to sit down and high-five him as he passed me.

As the runner drew nearer I noticed his bib. It was green. Hallelujah!

The race was split into an 89 km long course and a 69 km “short” course. Red bibs represented the long course, and green, well that’s the short course. I had run 20 km more than this chap and he wasn’t about to take my hard fought position!!!

As he pulled up we had a quick chat, and I decide to run behind him and use him as a pacer for as long as I could. Only around 4 km left to go!

A short while later, I crossed the finish line and sat down, drinking some lovely fresh clean water.

As I sat and relaxed, I noticed there was a flurry of discussion going on between the race-director and the rest of the crew. Trouble in paradise?

The race director strolled over and sat next to me. Bad news. I had missed the top of one hill! How was this possible? I had been meticulously following the map on my watch, making sure I hit the top of every hill I went up - and searching for dibs when I got to the top. Though I wasn’t certain how many dibs I had done, I certainly hadn’t cut the course. So where had I gone wrong?

After a few minutes of being a touch frustrated, I walked over to the RD and he guided me through what went wrong.

I had made 2 errors.

  • Error 1: I had missed a dib at the top of the final hill. He could see I passed within meters of it, so was happy(ish) with my explanation that I didn’t see it when I got to the top.

  • Error 2: I had crested what I thought was the top of a hill, and headed to the boulders which indicate an OSI point - the top of the hill! Sadly I learned that isn’t always the top of the hill, and I had failed to spot that I needed to go about 250 meters to the west to a slightly different location which was the true top of the hill - there lay the missed dib.

Fair play.

As the next runner came in, I saw he claimed 10th place, oops!

Taking an L Taking an L

Post-race

After eating a ton of food I headed back to the hotel to have a shower. Returning to the finish to watch for my friends who had DNF’d in previous years finish!

Though not an ideal finish, I had managed to achieve both my original A and B goals ;)

Splits

LocationElapsed
Start00:00:00
Carn Pica00:42:19
Twyn Mwyalchod01:23:46
Storey Arms SP02:01:34
Fan Fawr02:23:41
Fan Llia02:57:09
Blaen Llia SP03:11:26
Penwyllt SP04:29:35
Fan Brycheiniog06:03:30
Bannau Sir Gaer06:18:53
Cray SP07:45:41
Fan Gyhirych10:34:26
Fan Nedd-
Storey Arms SP11:09:52
Corn Du12:09:25
Pen y Fan12:20:01
Cribyn12:44:06
Fan y Big-
Finish14:57:02

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May 27th, 2018 · 7 min read

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I’d always intended to take a 10 minute or so break at the half way stage, but ended up taking 25 mins changing shoes, clothes, eating and warming up.

May 7th, 2018 · 9 min read
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