Sunday, 28 June 2015

Midnight Mountain Marathon

As I drove to the Brecon Beacons for an evening marathon I was scarily under-trained for, it occurred to me how bonkers my whole plan was. I'd left at 6am for a 5:30pm race, why? Obviously it was so I could bosh out a parkrun first. More specifically, the brand new Penallta parkrun which - hilariously - is described as "mostly flat" on the website. The Welsh do crack me up. I wouldn't say it was hilly but it definitely wasn't flat.

I have an ongoing love affair with all things hilly so I didn't mind the undulations one bit. My love for hills is why I was on this crazy journey in the first place. I had entered the Midnight Mountain Marathon and was far too excited about it to put my sensible head on. My knees had been duff and I hadn't run more than one 5k a week since the end of April, so I knew full well that a very challenging marathon was a bit silly but my heart was in it and I just hoped the body would follow.

Loads of cake courtesy of Brutal Events. Happy Egg!
Driving across the high road to Talybont- on-Usk, I caught some sneaky glimpses of parts of the route. It looked hard. Part of me was terrified that I'd be left out on the mountain way past the cut-off and the other part was convinced that hard was good because lots of people would be walk/running. I say "lots of people"; on arrival at registration my heart sank as I saw there were only 140 entrants, and that included those doing the half marathon. A rigorous kit-check didn't help with the nerves, I think this might have been the first race I've ever done where I made a conscious effort to write all the emergency details on the back of my race number.

The great thing about so few participants was that there was no queue for the loos at any point and plenty of cake to go around. A thumbs up to Brutal Events so far from me. The whole event had a really friendly vibe to it as well, I think by the time the race started I knew half the field already.

The race began heading South on the Taff Trail before crossing the dam on the Talybont Reservoir. From there it was a long, steady climb through Talybont Forest. I having a chat with a very nice lady  and as we paced uphill, my sentences were getting shorter and shorter. She then informed me about all these ultra marathons she had won last year and I realised why I was suddenly running so fast. Like every race I enter, I was having a strong start. At about 5.5 miles, the climb finally ended and it was a mile and a half of downhill towards the first checkpoint.
Time to bum slide...

The downhill was already making my knees twinge. I saw the half marathoners at their turnaround point and thought it might be sensible to listen to my body and go back. I did feel a tiny bit sad for them though as they were missing out on the mountainous part which, for me, was the whole point. Instead I trudged onwards and upwards to Checkpoint 1. From here it was up, properly up. Following the Beacons Way we climbed 1500ft to the plateau of the Beacons Massif. The distinctive shape of Pen Y Fan still looked so far away!

The trail around to Fan Y Big was a dream to start with but then became really rocky and uneven underfoot. Dropping into the craig cwm (rock valley) was massively challenging on the knees and I ended up sliding down the grassy slope on my bum, which was more effective that it looked. Next was Cribyn, the descent from which was even bigger and more knee-wrenching.

I was hating the downhills at this point, but I couldn't help feeling smug on the uphills when I passed people looking a bit knackered and miserable. I was in my element on the climbs and was loving every second. The last scramble to the summit of Pen Y Fan was great fun. I had this romantic notion that at the top I would watch the sun setting and take a hilarious selfie, but it was blowing a hooley and I was keen to get back down the steep descent whilst the light was still good.

Once down, the trail was flat-ish and I was doing my best to maintain a steady totter. The path was rocky and was taking a lot of concentration, which did help distract from the aches and pains. I found myself a running buddy named Scott and we kept each other going, sharing our dreams of running on smooth tarmac. Coming into Taf Fechan Forest, the trail softened, giving the legs and feet a much needed bit of respite.

Once we hit the road I knew it was less than a kilometre to Checkpoint 3. A wild urge to consume hit me on my arrival. I filled up on jaffa cakes and jelly babies and celebrated in my head because I knew now I could walk the last 7 miles if I had to and would still make the cut-off. About five minutes later, my body processed the sugar and for the next mile and half, I found myself running really strongly. I was feeling great!

The speed did not last long. The combination of subsequent sugar crash and the ever increasing knee pain had me attempting a run/walk strategy on the home straight. It felt like it was going to be a long five miles. The darkness had crept in and I could just see the odd glow stick from other runners in the distance. Bats weaved in and out and midges attacked my sweaty face, drawn in by my headtorch. Each time I tried to run the effort shortened and with three miles to go, it was going to be a power walk to the finish.

The last section of the trail was a nice downhill gradient to run but it was very knobbly and after a few ankle turns I decided it would be safer to walk. Once back onto the road in Talybont though, a final surge of energy saw me run to the finish and to mountain marathon glory!

A brilliant event and, like the company name suggests, brutal.

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