Ultra Brecon 40

I arrived at Race HQ in Talybont on Friday evening after a fairly relaxing drive down the Welsh Borders, a few showers had cleared by the time I got there and it was a beautiful evening. Registered then went to a pub and had tea with a couple of other competitors. I’d arranged to stay at Race HQ and my bed was probably the closest to the start line it will ever get in any race I ever do!

Race day dawned with clear blue skies, not too windy and fairly cool; perfect conditions. A few words from the organizers and a roll call then with the ringing of the cow bell we set off. The first 3 miles was mostly along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – it was just like being at home training on the Bridgewater! – nice flat running to ease you into the day. This was short lived though as turning away from the canal we started the climb up Tor y Foel gaining 1200ft over the next couple of miles. So out with the trekking poles and 25 minutes later the summit was reached. Poles away and a short descent down the other side to Checkpoint 1. I’d started with two 600ml bottles and still had plenty left so no need to stop here.


Photos of me by Darren Ross. Photos not of me by me.

The next 8 miles to CP2 were reasonably flat and good running, although very wet towards the start running along what could only be described as a stream for a while, always annoying to get the feet wet for the first time but at least when it’s done it’s done and you can just get on with it. Into some woods the path twisted around the head of a steep valley, very precipitous in parts and if you fancy taking this path I would advise doing it sooner rather than later as it didn’t look like it will be attached to the hillside for too much longer! Out of the woods and onto open moorland before a sharp turn back on ourselves for a short road section then a good wide track through some old quarries. Onto the moors again before a couple of miles descending to CP2.

CP2 is at 15 miles and represents the end of the warm up, now things get interesting! The next 6 miles to CP3 are a steady climb right up into the heart of the Brecon Beacons. The lower section was a horrendous slog through wet boggy grass, not very steep but the ground was so soft that even when running progress was frustratingly slow; no need to get the poles out as they would have sunk right up to the handles probably! It was a relief to clear this section and get onto a good rocky path along the edge of the ridge with great views to the Beacons above and the valley below. The halfway mark was passed with about 3:45 on the clock so well ahead of an 8 hour schedule, although I was well aware that most of the hard stuff was still to come. At the top of the ridge (814m) it’s a short descent to CP3 at Bwlch Duwvnt, the col underneath Corn Du.


Photos of me by Jon Phillips. Photos not of me by me.

The next 4 miles are just mean! A long quad mangling descent down a good track losing 400m of altitude in a mile and a half to CP4. Half a mile along the road then climb all the way back up to where we had just come from; CP3 and CP5 are one and the same! Fortunately it’s then not much further either along or up to the summit of Pen y Fan, the highest point in the Brecons at 886m. Obviously from the highest point there is only one way to go, down. And down and down and down to CP6 in the valley. The initial drop off the summit was very steep but thereafter it was more runnable. Great views Eastwards to Cribyn our next objective but we were going to have to get there the hard way.

A quick top up of water at CP6 then across a couple of fields to the road and the start of the climb up Cribyn; we’d lost 600m of altitude and now had to regain 500m of that. The lower ridge of Cribyn is a steady climb but looming ahead is the incredibly steep upper section. The poles really came into their own here and helped me to haul myself up to the summit. There was a good crowd at the top but no time to hang around with CP7 in sight via a grassy descent to Bwlch y Fan. Another water top up plus replenishing my waist belt pockets with more food made for a slightly leisurely stop but I needed to get a wriggle on if I wanted to get under 8 hours as the clock was ticking and the hard terrain had eaten into my earlier advantage. A last climb bypassing Fan y Big before the poles could be packed away for good. It was still hard running here though, along the path tracking the edge of the Northern Cwms of the Brecons and then cutting off Eastwards across some peat bogs. After longer than I’d hoped we started to head downwards, and down and down and down. My left adductor was really feeling the descents by now and wasn’t very happy at all.


Photos of me by Jon Phillips. Photos not of me by me.

At last we came off the hill by Talybont Reservoir just leaving a flat 3 mile run in to the finish. 7:35 on the clock, do-able but I’m going to need to shift a bit. I was also expecting a checkpoint here, I’ve no idea why as it wasn’t marked on the map but I was a bit confused when it didn’t appear! Anyway, across the dam and a left turn to head for home. I was running side by side with another chap here – we had traded places a few times from CP7 – and as we ran along a good flat track we could see ahead a fork with one track going down and one going up. We looked at each other and both said “I hope we’re going down” but of course when we reached the junction the arrow was pointing to the uphill track – doh! I walked the climb and he continued running and pulled ahead. Over the top and get the running legs back on dropping back down to the canal; 12 minutes left to break 8 hours and a mile left to run – good job! Luckily I didn’t relax too much as it was actually 1.3 miles to go, closed out the last section on sub 8 minute mile pace and came home with 75 seconds to spare.

GPS Data | Results

I was pretty shattered when I finished and a few minutes sit down was required before getting on with the standard post race Rego, shower, compression, food, sleep, food. Stretched my legs down to the pub in the evening with a few fellow runners for a couple of pints which was a nice way to end the day.

Just a few closing comments and notes. The course was excellent, well signed and very tough; harder terrain than the Lakeland 50 for my money. You had to be self sufficient on the course other than water and I ended up taking far too much food with me, probably about twice what I actually ate! For the record I consumed half a margarita pizza, 6 assorted muesli bars and 4 gels – so actually not that much really. Shoes were Mizuno Wave Harriers which were great, no blisters and just a bit of rubbing on the top of one of my toes. It was the first time I’d used walking poles in a race, I had super lightweight Mountain King Trail Blaze poles which weigh very little and split into 4 pieces so go easily on the back of a running rucsac. On the uphill walking sections they were great, taking a bit of the strain off the legs and also because it’s very hard not to walk purposefully when using poles. I’ve not really got the hang of running with them yet as they make your arms into much longer pendulums so they come through a lot slower. And it was a bit of a nuisance having to stow then away when done. But overall I think they are a good bit of kit for a race with this amount of steep climbing. Finally, it was the first time I’ve used my Go-Lite Rush sac in a race and it was fine other than some bruising on my back. I think this was caused by my phone being against the back of the pack which doesn’t have any padding down the middle, nothing that a bit of camping mat can’t fix.

So that’s the end of my Spring running campaign, overall quite successful with good runs at Haworth Hobble, Edale Skyline, London and here, with the just the one DNS at 3 Peaks. I’ve now got less than 8 weeks to train for the Challenge Roth ironman, I was supposed to start straight after this race but my quads have been so sore I’ve only been able to swim so far this week! Heading off to the Lakes for the Man Tri training weekend in a minute so hopefully I’ll kickstart my bike training there.


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