There are many reasons why people sign up for races. It may be that they’re angling for a new PB, they may just be there for pleasure or to simply hang out with friends. Then there are those races that are about rediscovery. You see, for the past few months, I’ve been coasting. I had my big race back in June in the mountains and a summer of fun, travelling and a few marathons here and there. But now I feel ready for something more. Put simply, I’m not one for sitting back and taking it easy. I thrive on a challenge.
Enter The Beacons Ultra – a 46-ish mile race around the Brecons in Wales. Starting and finishing in the pretty village of Talybont-on-Usk, it’s a challenge in itself to get there when you don’t have a car and you’re doing it on your lonesome. So, on a Friday afternoon, I left work with my rucksack on my back, a plan of action in my bag and the hope that the journey to this village would go without a hitch. Thankfully, Great Western trains were kind to me, and Stagecoach was even kinder because the bus was late and managed to sweep up a couple of runners waiting near Abergavenny railway station. Once in Talybont-on-Usk, I was offered a lift by a local to the Youth Hostel nearby, where I settled for the evening. Result.
First part of the adventure nailed, now on to the real thing.
Set yourself a goal
I had one main aim for the Beacons Ultra: to sleep in my own bed that evening. If you work backwards, this meant finishing around 5pm, so I could catch the last bus back to Abergavenny. The race started at 7:30am, which would leave me 9 and a half hours to get around the two brutal laps of the course.
And stick to it (if you can)
When I say brutal, I don’t mean Lavaredo brutal or MdS brutal but the course was not the easiest. The race can be broken down into four parts. The canal, which you started and finished on. This was a pretty easy flat bit of the course and a welcome relief after 43 miles of harder running. The hill-upon-hill-upon-hill. Yep, after the canal, you started the climb, which seemed reasonable at first until you were suddenly exposed to a steep climb through the brecon, which felt like it went on forever. It certainly was a walk not run situation. Then once at the top, you had to navigate yourself down to the next section of the race, which I call a gradual climb up an ankle-turning stony path. This was a race where you had to have your wits about you. There were sections on tarmac but this was sparse.
The middle section mostly featured a long path with ditches and rocks. In other words, you needed to be light and steady on your feet. This continued for what felt like forever until you hit the pass which was a steep decline back towards the valley. Again, a technical nightmare that you were prepared for after stumbling about the first time. With rocks, slate, and uneven ground underfoot, it’s the kind of place you wish you could train for in London. Exposed to the wind, rain and cold, it was not the easiest. But, and there’s a but, it was rather exhilarating to finish it for the second time. Once you hit the Checkpoint 2 which became 5 on the second lap, you knew there was not far to go. Yes, the path after Checkpoint 2 was a narrow, irritatingly difficult stretch but when you hit the final fields and the village, you were on the home stretch. Or the final part of the race.
I managed all of the above in 9 and a bit hours, which meant I could do a Cinderella, and arrive home before midnight.
Back at base
When I finally finished this 46-mile endeavour, I felt tired but happy. Happy that I’d taken up the challenge and content that I’d come out of it in pretty good nick. Yes, my legs were tired, and yes, I had that sicky feeling after eating too much sweet food and not enough salt. But I could quite happily make my way back to London after a day and a half in the glorious Welsh countryside, armed with my medal and plenty of ideas of where to take my other half for a weekend away.
The Beacons Ultra 2017 was well-organised, well-marked and worth considering if you want to test yourself against the elements. You also receive 4 UTMB points on completion. The race is a steal at £50 for individual entries. It says it’s self-sufficient. I did, however, end up stuffing my face with jelly beans at the checkpoints and came home with most of the food I’d packed for the race. Unfortunately, I am unable to show you just how beautiful it was. My phone decided to reset itself towards the end of the race and I lost all my photos. As with all races set in stunning countryside, this is not the easiest race to get to. In fact, I ended up walking 2 miles the morning of the race to the start. Then again, why not turn it into your own mini-adventure?