Fell running in Wales is something I have wanted to do for a long while, so when invited by the lovely Rosie to the Brecon Beacons it was a definite ‘yes please’ and within the next 24 hours 2 fell races and the campsite were booked.
Race details organised over coffee after a Park run, postcodes looked up and a ‘light’ packing list jotted down, along with a ‘light’ dinner for on the boat (possibly also a Eddie Stobart lorry booked for my snacks, as those that know me, will be fully aware that ‘light’ packing and me do not get along!). Travelling day, Friday 12th July, the perfect start to a weekend of running -carb loading on the ferry, crusty bread and brie, thanks to Elaine. Followed by a fantastic trip to the beautiful welsh campsite, where we were greeted by fellow Harrier, Hayley, who being the perfect host helped unload and supplied beer. Tent up, beers poured, sitting admiring the stars, who would have thought we were here for a little run up some hills!
Saturday 13th Fan Y Big Horseshoe 10.5 miles.
Saturday morning, beautiful start to the day with carb loading porridge for breakfast followed by plenty of tea and chocolate flapjacks, whilst listening to words of wisdom from our fell guru Rosie regarding suitable footwear for the terrain and discussion of a compass test you need to take first! (thank you Rosie, my face must have been a picture). Emergency kit packed, although I may have added some extras to this emergency list: snacks, lip balm, cream tea! Then we were off to the picturesque village Llanfrynach, where they combine their village fete and a fell run, fantastic idea. Ken, Jo, Les and Jane all arrive, a fantastic team (no pressure now!). Collection of our numbers before a team photo, where we are full of joy, cheer and enthusiasm. Time for a warm up which now includes strides (thank you Geoff) around the starting field (by which I mean literally a field that includes a marque with tea and cake surrounded by welsh hills, we could sit here all day admiring the views, my version of heaven). Quick exchange of words of encouragement from other running clubs who also advise that are coming over to our fells on the Island, I wondered if this was merely a promotional tour! Numbers on and the start of our adventure, by that I mean run. Quick race briefing, where we are introduced to the back marker and her hounds, now there is a reason to run fast! And we are off, through windy village lanes up a lovely woodland path which follows a stream, it is stunning scenery, before opening up to rolling fields, everyone is friendly opening gates, chatting (well you can tell I wasn’t at the front), here Elaine starts to pull away (my conversation must have bored her!).
Before we reach a slate undercover path that is the start of the incline of hills! I over hear a conversation from some other runners, ‘its 5 miles up, 4 along and 1ish down’, right so now I am mentally prepared, pick off the first 5 miles and I can do it, hooray. We come out of the trees to discover it is literally just up, up more and even more up. I can see a long snake of runners ahead, some power walking up but not a lot of running due to the steepness of the hill (more mountain it feels). My first thought, ‘how do you train for this? Right onwards and upwards, for goodness sake there is cake at the bottom!! The view to either side is breath taking, but a very narrow path, (if any path) so looking around is a tad scary. I chance glimpses of the lake further down the path, an ideal picnic stop! Before you knew it, mountain accomplished and you reach the summit, still wondering when I will get my breath back. Just enough time for a quick selfie at the top, whilst the marshal’s note down my number, I pass on thanks to the marshal’s for waiting at the top of a very steep hill so that I am able to run and advise them I am merely running back for cake now! At this point I am lucky enough to be overtaken by the awesome runner John, from Pennine Fell Runners, so I cheat a bit and follow his path not taking my eyes of his feet (so much so that after when I congratulate him on an amazing run, I realise that I don’t know what he looks like and can only recognise him by this trainers). Fan Y big horseshoe by name and nature, round, round and round we go, trying to run quick whilst also choosing your path on uneven ground that leads to the next path, sometimes I take the wrong one and discover this mid-way whilst figuring out how to recover without losing time or pace, jumping down back to the right path.
Sometimes needing a little man up chat with myself, nearly there and there is cake. Well this horseshoe must belong to a shire horse as it’s a pretty big horseshoe, but it has beautiful views, if only I didn’t feel seasick when a tried to look at them. I now feel like a shire horse as find myself putting my hand to the side of my face sometimes to prevent the view going past me too fast for my eyes to keep up, partly due to fear of falling over the side of the ridge and distraction over. This is when I start to feel like I am on a roller coaster ride, up down, up down, all those people that pay to go to Alton towers, they just need to go run a fell run, its nature’s own amusement ride and so much cheaper.
As we start to descend, I need to find my inner mountain goat and harness it, galloping down (just like Tom Blackwell advised many years previous, fell runners gallop as less likely to fall over). John who I had been following, proved that age is immaterial to running, as at vet60, he flew down the hill descent and out of sight. Right mountain goat I will be, it was so enjoyable galloping down, feeling carefree and fearless, over taking other runners that spent longer deciding their path. Although I was over taken by runners myself whom were far more fearless than me, speeding passed.
In my world I was a Gazelle galloping down the mountain and thankfully there is no photograph evidence to prove otherwise. Before you know it you are running back through the woodland path by the stream, here I was greeted by the welcome cheers from Hayley (so nice to see a welcome face). Before starting back on the windy village road, this seemed longer going back than it was running up, but I can now see the entrance to the field and finish line straight ahead, wow. First Welsh fell run done and amazing cake eaten after, I do believe I like this fell running after all. Thank goodness Rosie dragged me here at long last, now when’s the next fell run, oh tomorrow, Eek!
Leslie Cupis 01:27:49 (2nd Vet 50, 12th Overall)
Ken Beak 01:48:14
Elaine Parry 01:54:40
Samantha Fancourt 02:06:57
Rosie Eldridge 02:11:10
Pen y Fan Sunday 14/7/19
Sunday morning came too quickly after Fan y Big (I know..I chuckled too!) the day before. A short journey from our campsite through Brecon and along narrow rural lanes brought us to the field used for parking and registration. It was the sort of location next to a rocky stream where you would stop for a picnic but we had other plans! A ten minute walk from the car park up a footpath to the start gave us a first view of where we would be running. Personally I was feeling a little tired from yesterday’s race and a little nervous, and I regret not warming up properly (lesson learned!). The race briefing was brief and to the point which is part of the charm of Fell running. The kit required is explained at the registration and can be full kit in challenging conditions (map, compass, whistle, full waterproofs, hat, gloves, warm layer, food and water), or a reduced kit if the weather is kinder. The emphasis is on the competitor to navigate and look after themselves and we were lucky with the weather so a reduced kit was carried. We were surrounded by a lot of very fit people and it is apparent that everyone knows what they are doing. The route..up that hill and anti-clockwise upwards to the peak which is Pen y Fan, then drop off the edge (he wasn’t joking!) down to the valley and back to the start. We set off at 12 and immediately the incline hammers tired legs.
It is almost a relief to get to the base of the first steep slope as walking is necessary, but this is relentless fast walking and the competitors around start running as soon as the gradient reduces. Great care has to be taken with foot placement as the path is rocky and narrow. Arrival at the top of the ridge doesn’t bring any respite as the pace quickens. The view would be stunning if there was time to look, with a steep drop to the left and view of a lake in the valley, but concentration on staying upright is required to progress towards the peak. A shale path then leads to a rocky outcrop and the gradient increases again. Legs are really tired and sweat is pouring off as I try to keep up with those around me, all the time thinking where to place my feet to stay upright and get grip. At this point we share the mountain with lots of walkers traveling in the opposite direction but generally they kindly step aside. The final steps to the rocky outcrop of Corn Du are huge and really finish off the leg muscles. Arrival at the top brings welcome relief of a breeze and a dip downhill before the next and final incline to Pen y Fan after which “you drop off the edge “ into the valley. Arrival at this point leaves you thinking Pen y Fan is Welsh for “you’ve got to be joking!!” Nevertheless over the edge we tumbled onto an insane slope that wouldn’t be tackled if you stopped to think. It required an undignified geriatric scramble leaning backwards and using arms as support, a move I may practice and use on the dance floor after a few pints! I believe the front runners just run and tumble down this slope but I was too far back to witness this, and any attempt to emulate them would have resulted in me being delivered home in instalments!!
Arrival in the valley with quad muscles on fire is a massive relief as grass and rocks give way to spongy low heather and springy peat turf which provide a softer landing should you fall, certainly softer than the floor of our overnight tent (bit of a sore point with Mrs Beak that will be covered should this story ever be turned into a film!) and I felt good and keen to get to the finish down the valley and see what I had done to my complaining big toe nails! The finish line was a few white sticks and a little tape in a field, a little applause and a well done. No medals.. beautiful simplicity! Les had finished a while and looked composed and relaxed as always belying the phenomenal effort he always puts in. Elaine was not far behind me, followed by rocket Rosie and then Sam, all smiling and relieved to finish! All did great credit to the Harriers vest! We were all exhausted by the effort you feel obliged to give, but exhilarated and ready for the gentle walk to the car park chatting with fellow runners and support crew/cheerleaders (Jayne, Hayley and Jo ..Thank you so much!) and looking forward to the beer and cake at the award presentation. The first runner finished in 33 minutes! Astonishing for the 3.5 mile route and 1,930 feet elevation! Highly recommended if you fancy an adventure. Try out some Fell running on the Island in September and surprise yourself what your body can do! Now I’m off to Blacks to purchase a bigger tent (I’m sure an estate agent would describe my old one as charming!) and upgrade the sleeping mats to something with more cushioning than a paving slab, because I’ve fallen for Wales and can’t wait to do it again!
Les Cupis 0:46:12
Ken Beak 0:57:37
Elaine Parry 1:04:39
Rosie Eldridge 1:11:38
Sam Fancourt 1:17:06