Race Report - Beacons Way Ultra 100 2019
A quick warning before you begin reading, I'm going to talk about some of the not so nice injuries that are a side effect of running 100 miles. You've been warned.
It’s finally here, the Beacons way 100 mile Ultra. If you've read any of my past race reports you'll know that I've been training, planning and talking about this race for months.
As soon as I heard about the race from GB ultras, it was immediately put on my bucket list. But, I knew from the beginning of the year that financially, physically and logistically it was going to be a difficult race to do.
After making some money selling stuff on eBay (ultra running isn't cheap) I bought my place. In the build-up to this race, I'd run four 50 mile ultras, Chester, Manchester to Liverpool, Calderdale Way and the Pennine Barrier. All four races have gone well, I’d made mistakes in each of them but I'd definitely learnt from them. Which means I was going into my first 100-mile race as prepared as I could be.
Because this was a point to point race, I had so many questions. Do I drive to the start and then try to get back after the race? Should I get accommodation at the end as well as at the beginning? What happens with my stuff from before the race? If I do decide to go back to the beginning after the race, what do I do with all my dropbags? Should I get the train or drive? And so on.
Fantastically, the GB ultra facebook page was a great place to get answers to all these questions.
After lots of research, I decided upon my plan ;
Book a bed for the night at the start in Abergavenny and at the finish in Llangadog.
On Friday, drive to the finish line with all my kit and share a taxi to the start.
Register Friday night and stay at the start line.
Dropbags and kit bag go to the checkpoints and the finish line.
Run 102 miles.
Pick up my bags, spend the night in Llangadog.
Drive back home the next day.
And that's what I did, race report done!
Ha, only joking. Sit back and relax, this is going to take some time.
Before the race, I put out a question on Facebook about sharing a taxi and it turned out Mick Clark from Doncaster was doing the exact same thing. I’d never met Mick before but I knew him from his Across Britain run with Martin Hookway. Ben Bridewell, a GB ultra ambassador was also doing the same thing, so we all agreed to get a taxi together.
I met Mick at 1 pm on Friday and we bumped into another runner who was looking for a taxi, Craig Taylor, we all jumped into the taxi together and headed to the start line. Ben came 2nd in a Brecon Beacons Ultra a few weeks before so he had some great advice for the beginning of the race, which boiled down to “don't go too fast, it's going to be a lot harder than you think”.
After dropping our stuff off at our accommodation, myself, Mick and Craig met up for a quick drink before we headed to Abergavenny Castle for registration and kit checks.
Everything went as planned, I passed the kit check without any problems, picked up my race number, got a pizza and attempted to get an early night. I was staying in a £14 a night hostel so it wasn't what I would describe as fancy, but I got the lower bunk bed so that’s always a win.
After a fitful night's sleep, my alarm went off at 3.45 am and by 5 am, I’d had my breakfast (scrambled eggs and beans on toast), I’d lubed up everywhere I thought it was possible to get sore, applied NipEaze, triple checked my bags, filled my water bottles, got dressed and headed out to meet Mick.
We walked to Abergavenny Castle together and after picking up our GPS trackers and listening to the safety talk, it was time to walked over to the start line and get ready to run 102 miles.
It’s a stupid thing to say that running 100 miles is a hell of a long way to run because it does kind of go without saying. But... it really is a hell of a long way to run. I’ve spoken to a lot of runners over the last two years and they all have a similar system when dealing with the distances involved.
Simply, don’t think about it.
And that’s it, you don't ever count down from 100 because that's a good way to mentally destroy yourself well before the end.
Once you’ve sorted that out in your head, it's just about how you break down the distance. Some people will think of it as two 50 mile races or four separate marathons. The most common way though is to run checkpoint to checkpoint and then you’re only thinking of the distance to the next point you can get water and food.
That's how I deal with it, it makes running into a checkpoint feel like a mini victory and it keeps the mileage manageable.
This race had 10 checkpoints, the longest checkpoint distance was the last one at 15 miles, the rest were between 7 and 13 miles and our drop bags were at checkpoint 5 and 9.
I planned my race like this.
Go slow! Really slow, take my time and always try to keep something back for the last section of the race.
Run the flats, walk the ascents and get down the descents as fast as possible
I had two 750ml bottles, one water, one tailwind. Every mile I made sure I drank something from both.
I also had two packets of Clif shot bloks, nuts, flapjacks and beef jerky to eat between each checkpoint. (I put an alarm to go off on my watch every hour to remind me to eat)
The goal was to eat and drink at least 300 calories every hour.
DON'T SIT DOWN (I may not get back up)
Refill both bottles and drink as much water/coke/coffee as possible.
Eat as much food as possible.
Restock food from my bag to my front pouches
Leave as fast as you can.
Repeat this 10 times, simple.
We could use two drop bags and they'd be at cp05 and cp09. My drop bags had the following in.
Checkpoint 05 Talybont, 45 miles into the race.
All my food for the second half of the race, spare socks, buff, spare shorts, painkillers, baby wipes, anti-chafing cream, blister plasters and baby powder.
Checkpoint 09 Llanddeusant Village Hall, 78 miles into the race.
Pot noodles, snacks, spare base layer, painkillers, baby wipes, anti-chafing cream, blister plasters and baby powder.
So, while standing on the start line, at 6 am in the morning, surrounded by the ruins of Abergavenny Castle, as I was wishing everyone good luck, my race plan was racing through my brain at what felt like a million miles per hour...we waited for what felt like ages and then all of a sudden we were off.
102 miles to go!
Goal 01 - Get to cp01 - Section Total: 7 miles
We headed out and around the back of Abergavenny Castle and towards Skirrid Fawr, the first climb of the day at 315 meters.
I stuck to my guns and kept my pace nice and slow, I’m terrible at the start of a race because I want to be off with the leading runners but I managed to reign in my eagerness and keep to the back of the pack.
The route took us through a golf course and I fell in with two other runners, Amy Fulford and Rhys Davies and we had a quick chat just before we started the first climb. It felt great to be going up the first hill, knowing that the race had started and the waiting was over.
The views from the summit where beautiful and the weather seemed like it was going to be perfect, warm but not too sunny. I ran into the first checkpoint feeling great and I quickly refilled my bottles. Mick ran up about 2 minutes later and after a quick chat, I headed back out again.
Goal 02 - Get to cp02 - 6 miles
I could see that just in front of me was a big group of runners so I picked up the pace a little and ran up to them. It turned out to be Amy and Rhys again and a few other people including two guys called Jon and Chris. We stuck together all the way to the top of Hatterrall Hill, the second climb of the day and then down into Llanthony Treats Campsite and cp02.
I was feeling great, my plan of drinking every mile and then eating every hour was working well, my pace felt perfect. My watch was saying I’d run 14 miles so I was one mile ahead of the official mileage. After another quick refill, I headed back out with the same group.
Goal 03 - Get to cp03 - Section Total: 13 miles
It was 13 miles to cp03, the second-longest section of the race, I knew I had to be careful, the last thing I needed was to burn out this early in the day. We had three climbs in this section but nothing too major. I ran this with Rhys and Amy and between the three of us we managed to figure out the route.
The day started to heat up and I ended up running out of water about three miles from the checkpoint, by the time we got there I was incredibly thirsty but I was still feeling good.
It was at this checkpoint that I noticed I’d lost my cup, this ended up preoccupying me for a little too long. But I eventually refilled my bottles and left with Rhys, Amy had found out she was 1st lady and had left the checkpoint just before us.
Goal 04 - Get to cp04 - Section Total: 10 miles
I realised soon after leaving cp03 that I’d made a mistake and hadn't drunk enough water. It was starting to get hot and I was incredibly thirsty, I had 10 miles to go and I knew I was going to run out of water well before the next checkpoint, I slowed down a little and Amy and Rhys disappeared over the hills.
I needed to get more water and luckily I ran past a stream and thought bugger it, I’m going to refill my bottles. I tasted some first and it seemed ok, so I drank everything I had and refilled both bottles. I had something to eat and got back on it.
I thought I wouldn't see Amy or Rhys again but about 30mins later I could see some runners ahead of me and it was Amy and Rhys with Jon and Chris from before. Stopping for 5 mins did me a world of good and I had caught everyone up and was feeling much better.
This was a tough but fun section of the run, we found some wild loganberries which tasted amazing and I found another stream so I refilled all my bottles again. I’d narrowly stopped any dehydration, which could have been a race stopper.
There was one very nasty little climb a few miles out of the checkpoint and we got a little lost at the top in some long ferns, in the end, I decided to just cut across them and start the descent into cp04.
I was feeling great, the food had kicked in and I ran into the checkpoint with my watch saying I had run 38 miles. Usually, for a 50-mile race, I’d be thinking about the finish line around about now and digging deep to get to the end but I had bags of energy and so far I was loving every second of it.
Goal 05 - Get to cp05 - Section Total: 9 miles
This next section was an important one, cp05 had my first dropbag. This had all my new food and a change of clothes. It also felt like halfway through the race and it was just before the first of the biggest climbs of the day.
I drank and ate as much as possible at cp04 and was ready for the next 9 miles. I caught up with Amy just up the road and after a few mistakes with the route, we ran out onto a beautiful canal section and bumped back into Rhys, Jon and Chris.
The next section of the route had us running through farmers fields and small paths. Navigation was a bit tricky, we ended up missing a few turns and had to double back a couple of times.
After an hour or so we came around the back of Tor Y Foel and the views across the Talybont Reservoir were amazing.
The next section was hard work, my watch was saying I’d run 45 miles but it was looking like the next checkpoint was still 3 miles away. The rest of the route was on a gravel path that killed your feet and I could feel the dreaded chafing was starting, I knew from the beginning that it was going to happen at some point.
Those three miles felt like they took forever, but Jon and I eventually ran into the checkpoint together, Amy and Rhys had gotten there just before us and Chris had dropped back a little.
I’d gotten to cp05, my watch said I’d ran 48.6 miles and I was feeling great. I got my bag and broke one of my checkpoint rules and sat down for the first time in about 12 hours.
They had chicken and bacon sandwiches at this checkpoint that tasted amazing and I even had a cup of coffee. I also put my watch on charge and more importantly, I cracked open the anti-chafing cream and went to town.
I made a major mistake at this point, I had a spare pair of shorts in my dropbag but because I couldn't be bothered swapping over my race number I didn't get changed. If I had, I think I would have saved myself a world of pain later in the race, it’s a lesson I've learnt for next time.
If you can, always change your shorts!
It was around this time the 2nd placed lady, Anne Pike came into the checkpoint and I could see Amy getting ready to go, so I got my stuff together and headed out.
Pen y Fan was waiting, the highest point of the race.
Goal 06 - Get to cp06 - Section total: 7 miles
This next section was only a short one but it had a lot of climbing in it so I knew it was going to take a couple of hours,
Amy disappeared up the climb in front of me and I knew that it would be the last time I’d see her before the end. (Amy ended up finishing as 1st Lady in 31 hours, an amazing run)
It was a steep climb out of the checkpoint so I got my head down and took my time, I knew I had to save something in my legs for the night.
I got to the top of the first climb in this section, Craig Cwareli, the views were amazing. It was early evening, the shadows were stretching over the landscape in front of me and you could see for miles. It was a phenomenal part of the race. I ran across the ridge looking down into the valley and it felt like a real adventure.
My main goal was to get to the top of Pen y Fan before it got dark and it looked like that was going to be easy to achieve. I was taking my time though, mainly because I wanted to take as many photos as possible and Jon caught up with me as I got to Criag Cwm Oergwm, and then about 15 mins later Rhys caught up as well, Rhys said that Chris had dropped out at cp05, he’d had enough and called it a day.
The three of us started the climb to the summit of Pen Y Fan.
The climb itself wasn't too bad, you’ve already climbed half the height by that point and because it’s such a well-known route the path is great.
We got to the top to find Wayne, the race director, waiting at the summit and after a few quick photos, we headed over to Corn Du, the second-highest peak and then started the descent to cp06.
Goal 07 - Get to cp07 - Section total: 7 miles
By the time I got into cp7 my watch was saying I’d ran 56 miles, 4 miles more than the official mileage and I’ve been on the go for 16 hours.
The chafing had started to get worse and I was going through Vaseline like it was going out of fashion. I feared the damage had already been done and there was nothing to do but try and forget about it.
Rhys’s cousin, Jamie was joining us for the next section so he was waiting at the checkpoint as we ran in.
After another quick refill we headed back out again, this next section was reasonably straightforward, we were still climbing but there was nothing too big or tricky. Around this time a runner called David caught up with us and we all ran together, it was amazing to watch the sun go down over the hills.
The head torches came out as we descended into cp07, the route disappeared and we had these big grassy nodules to tackle, you couldn't go around them so you had to try and step over them, they slowed you down and made the descend go a lot slower than it should have.
We ran into cp07 and the temperature had dropped now the sun had gone down. Apart from my chafing I was still feeling good. I had no issues with food and I was ready to run into the night.
Goal 08 - Get to cp08 - Section total: 9 miles
That last section had taken about 2hr 30mins, my watch was saying I’d run 63 miles, still 4 miles up on the official mileage. I knew this next section was going to be a bit of a slog, it had one hill and one descent but it was dark and tricky underfoot.
I got my thermals on, had some food, refilled my bottles and headed out into the night with David, Jon and Rhys.
It proved to be invaluable to have other people to run with through the night. We naturally all took turns leading and we all had a hand in the navigation, this was amazing because it meant every now and then you got a rest and just had to follow everyone else.
We had the same grassy nodules to get over and no real route so navigation proved to be tricky at times. Fatigue was starting to set in and my chafing wasn’t getting any better so it was hard work keeping my spirits up, plus I knew that right after cp8 we had the hardest climb of the race, up to the top of Fan Brycheiniog.
David and Jon took the lead on the descent into cp08 and I was finding it hard work to keep up with them, I ended up falling back a few times but I managed to catch them up as the route leveled out.
We got lost about 3 miles out of the checkpoint and missed a right turn, we then ended up going around in circles but we finally managed to get back to the main road and ran into cp08, ready to tackle the hardest climb of the race.
Goal 09 - Get to cp09 - Section total : 10 miles
As we got to cp08, Anne (the 2nd placed lady) came in just behind us, Anne had gotten completely lost for over half an hour in a country park, her GPS watch had run out of battery and she had no idea which way to go.
My chafing was getting bad and I needed to spend a little bit of time sorting everything out. After applying a very liberal amount of Vaseline at the back of a car park, (Ultra running is a glamorous sport) we got ready to head out and climb Fan Brycheiniog, the longest climb of the race.
It was 1.45am and I had been moving for nearly 20 hours. Our group now had 5 of us in, myself included. I was feeling very tired but I do enjoy a good climb so I got my head down and started up the hill.
I seemed to have a massive burst of energy and started flying up the ascent. I left the group behind and after about 45 mins of climbing and four false summits I made it to the top. It was at this point I realised I’d made a bit of a mistake.
I was 76 miles into the race and as I reached the summit, I suddenly felt completely exhausted. My feet had started to hurt and I didn't even want to think about what was going on downstairs. The thought of still having 7 miles to run to get to the checkpoint started to weigh heavy on my mind.
The rest of the group set off across the ridge and I did everything I could to hang onto the back of them. I spent far too much energy racing to the top, I’d not eaten as much as I should have through the night and I was paying for it now.
Running downhill was killing my feet, we’d also ran through wet grass and I could feel the beginnings of blisters. I needed to get to cp09 to get my second dropbag, so I pushed on and slowly caught everyone up. This checkpoint had an awful out and back section that seemed to go on forever but I eventually made it, everyone was feeling exhausted now.
I’d run 83 miles, 5 miles more than the official mileage and I could feel it. My feet were killing me, I was sore everywhere and I didn't have any spare socks or shorts in my dropbag.
Goal 09 - Get to the last Checkpoint
Section total : 9 miles
I tentatively went to the toilets to have a look at the damage and it didn't look good, but there wasn't a lot I could do about it now. I didn’t want to look at my feet, I was a little bit scared that if I took my socks off it was going to rip the bottoms of my feet off with them.
Even though I was in pain and I knew we still had a marathon to do, having some hot soup and sitting down for 10 minutes did me a world of good and we all got ready and headed out. Anne wasn't in a good place and almost DNF’d but we convinced her to carry on to cp10.
We now had the last big climb of the race to do and it became clear very quickly that we weren't going to be able to move any faster than a quick shuffle.
We got to the base of the Black mountain range and slowly made our way to the top. The sun was now fully up and I could tell it was going to heat up.
I made it to the top and was rewarded with an amazing view across the Brecons, but I now faced one of my nemeses from the Snowdon Ultra last year, rocky outcrops. They're a bugger to get across, you can never see a path to follow and they kill your feet.
Every time my foot slipped it felt like the skin was being ripped off the underside of my foot, my toes felt like they were about to drop off and I was sore in places you should never be sore. No one ever said this was going to be easy. Yay Ultrarunning!
It was around this time that we all got split up, the rocks make it impossible to pick one route. I finally got over them and managed to meet back up with Rhys and David. Jon and Anne seemed to have disappeared though. We waited for them but in the end, we had to keep moving, it was getting hot now and the final checkpoint was still three miles away.
After some tricky navigation, the GPS said one way, the maps said another and there wasn't any path we finally made it the cp10, 94 miles in. 6 miles up on the official mileage.
Goal 10 - Finish LINE - Section total: 15 miles
We were in and out of the last checkpoint in a few minutes and started the last section of the race. In theory, we’d done all the major climbs now but in reality that wasn't the case, the last 15 miles was still constantly going up and down, we were tired, hot and hurting so everything became hard work at that point.
I was falling asleep while moving, I was seeing faces on the roads and stone walls. I kept seeing things just outside of my peripheral vision, I’d turned to look for it and nothing would be there. Every climb felt like it took a lifetime.
We came around the back of Carreg Cennen Castle and did the final biggish climb of the race, only small ones to go.
Everyone's watches had died by this point and Rhys was either using his map as a sun shield or for navigation. Between my GPS, Rhys’s paper OS map and David’s OS map on his phone, we managed to navigate without too many issues.
With 5 miles to go, we’d all just about ran out of water, it was so hot but we carried on, we were almost there.
We started seeing signs for Llangadog and we knew it was almost finished. With only 1 mile to go, I slipped while climbing over some bushes and managed to pop all the blisters in my right foot, the pain was immense and I couldn't put any weight on my foot but bugger it if it was going to stop me now.
We came around the back of the village hall and we could see the GB ultra flags for the finish line, but we had to loop all the way around the back of the hall and come up the main street. Rhys’s family was waiting and we got a massive cheer, the three of us even managed a run over the line together.
In the end, I ran, climbed and walked 109.63miles in 35 hours 03 minutes and 30 seconds and climb 21,716ft.
Rhys, David and I crossed the line in joint 8th.
5 minutes later I was presented with my 100-mile buckle and I couldn't have been happier to sit down, knowing that I didn't have to move.
I even got an amazing bacon and egg sandwich in the village hall, and at that point, it was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten.
Unfortunately, we heard that Anne had dropped out at checkpoint 10, but fantastically Jon came in 30 mins after us and Mick an hour after that.
The post-race high was one of the biggest I’ve ever felt and I think it lasted for about 3 days. I’ve never pushed myself for so long, so far beyond what I thought I could endure. But it’s possible, you just have to keep telling yourself that you’ll finish and to keep moving forward.
I also feel like this race was a prime example of why I love running these races so much. It's all about the people you meet, the support you give each other, the chats at 3 in the morning and ultimately doing everything you can to make sure you all finish something that is almost impossible to do.
The route across the Brecon Beacons National Park was phenomenal, but it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, every section seems to have something in it designed to break you.
So many fantastic runners started this race and so many didn't finish.
It isn't waymarked at all and big sections don't have any signposts or tracks to follow so you have to be able to read a map.
I feel like it could do with one more checkpoint towards the end, we ran out of water in the last section and with the heat, it made it really hard work. We did find out later that we could refill at the castle but it didn't occur to us at the time.
All the Volunteers were fantastic, so helpful and supportive and they do make such a massive difference and the food at the checkpoints was spot on.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend this race to anyone but be warned it’s going to push you to the limits of what you think is possible.