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Brecons Ultra

Ian Saunders
November 18th, 2017 · 7 min read

Race information

  • What? Beacons Ultra
  • When? November 18th, 2017
  • How far? 46 Miles (74 km)
  • Website? Beacons Ultra
  • Strava? Strava
  • Race Results? Sport Ident
  • Finish time: 8:33:33

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
A~8 Hours and/or Top 10No
B~8.5 hoursYes
CFinish before dark!Yes

Training

After recovering from the Yorkshire Marathon, there were only 4 weeks of training before Brecon. I was still feeling pretty fit from the Marathon cycle, and as such I opted to maintain fitness and be cautious to avoid injury. As usual I ended up doing a round trip London -> San Francisco -> New York -> London in the middle of the 28 day training cycle, less than ideal due to timezones, jet-lag and wasted time on a plane! Thankfully, I was back in the UK a week before the race, so wasn’t running with jet lag like in York. I had planned a couple 35km+ runs, but due to lack of time decided that the marathon would have to count as my long run(s).

Race strategy

Having run Brecon in 2016 as my first ever Ultra, I knew the course pretty well. In 2016, I finished just under 10 hours and had felt pretty good throughout the race. My general fitness and long distance running had improved a lot since then and hoped to improve my time. One of my goals for 2018 is to push myself towards the front of the pack, so I decided this would be a good first race to roll the dice a little and go out fast, what better way to learn the challenges of running fast and long?

After consulting the 2016, 2015, 2014 results I decided to aim for around 8 hours, which historically would put me in a top 10 place. As my ultra running friend Karl reminded me, placing depended on who turns up on the day. So I decided to go with a dual A-goal of either 8 hours or top 10. I suspected I wouldn’t be able to go much below 8 with current fitness either way!

Brecon is 2 identical loops. I decided to go with a 3:45 and a 4:15 split for each loop

Race

As I managed to bag an AirBNB only 10 mins away from the race start, I woke up with only an hour before race start and did my usual race-day preparations. After deploying the various anti-chaffing strategies (Bodyglide + Chamois cream FTW!) I glanced down at my watch; 30 minutes till race start! After a mad dash to get there in time, I found myself towards the back of the pack, 3 minutes later and we were off!


Loop 1

Unlike most races, I hadn’t come up with a check-point to check-point racing strategy. Partly because Brecon has a few killer hills which make pacing tricky and to be honest I forgot. Instead, I went out just quicker than the pace required for the 1st loop. As I passed runners, I would have a chat and see what they were aiming for, looking to find a few people aiming for a similar goal.

The start of the race is very runnable as it is on a hard and flat canal path, I felt great cruising along banking time before the first major hill which I would walk up. As I trudged up the hill, I noticed someone running up the whole way! I was impressed at the determination, but wondered if they would pay for the exuberance later.

From the steep hill there is a quick downhill section, my favorite, it was during this downhill section that I overtook our hill runner - guess I was right about going out too hard! Shortly after the downhill the trail ascends once more. I decided to err on the side of caution and walk the steeper bits of the slope. Low-and-behold, the hill-runner overtook me - they were running the hills again! After hitting the flats I caught up and had a chat with this relentless ascender. Turns-out the hill-runner was Michelle Maxwell, the female winner of the 2016 Brecon Beacon race and was also the winner of the 2017 NDW50. She had finished the race in roughly 8 hours last year and was on a similar trajectory this year. I decided that if I was to stick even mildly close to Michelle I would have a decent chance of finishing around 8 hours. I also made the decision to be consistent and not to run any hills :)

The rest of the first loop went pretty much according to plan, Michelle and a few other runners would pull ahead on the up-hill sections, and I would hunt them down on the downhills. I had a glorious descent after the final major uphill section, Pen Y Fan, and was bang on target.

1st Loop completed in 3:45.

It’s worth mentioning that I had given up the aim for a top-10 finish at this point as the field this year was very strong and at the half-way point I was in 25th position - perhaps I could pick-off a few runners but the gap to the leaders was just a bit much.

Loop 2

After leaving the aid-station I pushed hard again on the canal path. I had been eating and nibbling throughout the race but I was starting to feel a bit out of sorts. I decided I was low on nutrition and ate a trusty Gu gel. I did this just as I was about to hit the main hill for the second time.

Perhaps I should have taken the gel earlier, perhaps I should have eaten more solid foods, but as soon as the gel hit my stomach I had waves of nausea engulf me and stomach cramps to boot. I kept pushing up the hill, but with far less vigor than on loop 1. This was the last time I saw Michelle until the finish. As I went higher, the pain increased. My 8 hour goal was slowly slipping away, had I gone out too fast on the first lap? As the intensity of the pain grew, I knew this was it - my first DNF. I would quit at the next aid station. I didn’t have to finish this race, it wasn’t a qualifier for anything. I didn’t even have any friends running with me. The decision was made.

Reaching the top of the hill a couple of people overtook me, and asked if I was okay. Gah, I guess I don’t look great either!!!

Pulling up to quitters checkpoint, a little girl at the aid station shouted out to me, “Are you running?” - in retrospect this was to see if I should be treated to some TLC from the aid crew or shrugged off as a local hiker - but at the time it resonated with me! Yes I am running and yes I will finish this race. Times be dammed. Onwards and upwards.

I stuffed myself with a few solid foods to stabilize the stomach and pushed on. I opted to no longer look at the watch and just run as I felt.

Rather than struggle, I started to enjoy the race again run-walking when needed and just getting the job done. The stomach issues thankfully went away and I continued to push.

Now that the stomach were resolved, I had another issue on my hands - well more to the point, on my feet. Throughout the day there had been a light drizzle, if you mix soil with rain and 300 runners you get a muddy slippery mess. With nice trail shoes, there would be no issue at all, sadly I had opted to go with my Hoka Clifton 3 Road Shoes for this race! Are you mad I hear you cry? Not exactly, the last 2 ultras I ran the first 50 miles in Cliftons and they had performed great, nice and quick on the road sections and handled the trails well, only opting to go for trail shoes during night sections for added safety. From my memory the terrain at Brecon was on-par with the NDW and the Oner - this perhaps was true in dry conditions but proved to be quite false now.

Reaching my favorite downhill running section, I realized my shoe choice was quite the folly as I slid along. Rather than lovely long joyous strides, I upped the cadence and reduced stride length. I’m not going to lie, that 5km downhill section was sketchy as hell. The rocks underfoot were quite jagged, and all it would take was a little slip and the race would end badly. If it hadn’t been for my fair-chunk of slippery trail running, and this being the 4th time I ran this section, I would have had to walk it all.

I slid up to the final check-point, had a nice chat with the crew, who had hauled something like 1,000 liters of water up there! Amazing. Stuffed my face with delicious salty crisps and at least 4 chocolates brownies, and I pushed on for the final 10 kms.

A nice little sprint finish to a glorious cheer and I was done.

8:33:33 finish time and 29th overall.

~1.5 hour improvement from last year and 36 places higher up the leader-board. yay.

Very nice medal this year! Very nice medal this year!

Post-race

Given the challenging conditions and the nutrition errors I was very very pleased with my time. I managed to stave off my first DNF and finish the 2017 racing calendar on a high! A quick chat with Michelle (who finished in 2nd place in 7:55:30) and some other runners before dashing home for a shower and snooze!

I will also say the Force 12 Events team really upped their game from last year, which is saying something as 2016 was very well organized! Though a bit more self-sufficient than the Centurion race, I would say this race has a similar feel and I much prefer the new half-way and finish end-point. I may be in the minority, but I would love if everyone had a race-drone (it’s much more exciting for those at home watching!) and for the half-way aid-stations to have a few sandwiches or similar.

Cold morning after! Cold morning after!

What’s next?

For 2017 that’s pretty much it. Next year is going to be an exciting year as I will be heading out to North Carolina to hang out with Karl and run Umstead 100, I’ve got another Marathon lined up for Sub-3 attempt #2 and finally the SDW100! Oh, any maybe WSER, but with my single ticket in the hat, I ain’t holding my breath! Time to crack open some beers and relax before getting into proper training mode for 2018 after Christmas.

Photos

For some reason my phone kept getting locked during the race so sadly I have no photos from race day. Here are a few photos from the following day, don’t be misled - we hardly saw any sunshine on race day!

Always have a sip of this Stream! Have to admit not the best taste Always have a sip of this Stream! Have to admit not the best taste

Pen Y Fan - Highest Peak in South Wales - 2nd Major hill climb of the route Pen Y Fan - Highest Peak in South Wales - 2nd Major hill climb of the route

Muddy, stony route leading up to Pen Y Fan Muddy, stony route leading up to Pen Y Fan

The dam just to the side of the route The dam just to the side of the route

Strava

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