Written by Dan Park - http://dan-fattofit.blogspot.co.uk

In 2011 this race was my first ever Ultra. At the time I didn't know what to expect, but the race was getting rave reviews. I made the decision to run it and in short... I loved it. I finished in 11hrs 29min with a huge grin on my face. It was at this point my love for Ultra running was born.

2012 didn't quite go to plan. I had a race number and accommodation sorted, but at the 11th hour my little boy developed croup. Sadly therefore I was a DNS for the 2012 event. The running community were great and I knew there would always be another race. Today was that race.

In 2013 I was more keen than ever to get a place and have the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. When it was announced the race entry would go live earlier in the year I was at the computer and debit card at the ready. The clock ticked over to midnight and I signed up. This race usually sells out within 24hrs and so for peace of mind I wanted to enter as soon as possible.

With confirmation I was in the little flame of excitement started burning, but thoughts towards the race were put on hold whilst I focused on Centurion Running's "Downs Double."

Training went great up to and through August and I was thinking that a fast time would be possible. Sadly since August I have had problems with ingrown toenails. One has now healed but the other was sore and proving problematic. It made my training difficult over September and October. I was having to review my expectations for the race. I was now focused on enjoying the day and the time would not be something I would concern myself with until I was across the line.

This was the 6th running of the race and you may wonder why people would run the same race 6 times over. I firmly believe that in this case asking this question immediately identifies those who have not run the race. The truth of the matter is this, it is a race that has something for everyone. There is a reasonable amount of flat ground, sharp harsh inclines, steady arduous inclines and some wicked descents. The descents at times are precarious underfoot, but great fun!

With approximately 6 miles of the race being flat that leaves 40miles with elevation gain of around 6000ft. My ambit readout shows how the incline looks on a graph and it can only be likened to an ECG of someone having a heart attack. The one thing that does not change during this race is the beauty that you are surrounded by. It is simply astounding! The atmosphere of the race is embodied by the life of the Beacons. Run this race and you will not help but feel part of something so much bigger than yourself. I love this race because it is beautiful, fun, but above all liberating.

Beautiful sunset along the route


I had left booking accommodation to the last minute, but I knew that a premiere inn nearby was a safe bet. I booked a room and set off to Talybont-on-usk. I had an opportunity to visit the new Likeys shop. It's an amazing store and every ultra runners dream shop. After a chat with some runners I browsed and picked up a pair of XBionix Fennec Shorts. Yes their expensive but I find XBionic the most comfortable items I've ever worn. I was feeling the anticipation building and after a chat with Simon Robinson (xbionic rep) and another runner who has previously run GUCR I was ready to depart. I got to my room and set about prepping everything for the day ahead. It was a little strange being on my own as normally the events I've been at I have been there with Sam Robson. I pre-packed all my food into single doses and placed them in my pack. I figured that it would be easier on the day just to reach for a pack knowing that it would have a good amount of calories and that i would have enough for the race. After packing my bag and a little pre-race taping of my feet i was good to go. Off with the lights and the next thing i knew it was 5am and i was up and drinking coffee.

I arrived at the Village hall in Talybont-On-Usk for about 6:30am. The place was buzzing, full of excited runners. Some of these runners were running the race for the 6th time and others their first. The reason i love this race is the complete sense of collaboration between the runners. Everyone wants everyone to succeed. Before the race i spent time talking with a few runners who i have the pleasure of knowing through twitter. In conversation with Tim Lambert it was clear that we both had a real sense of excitement for the race. My training had not gone to plan as i had been struggling to get my feet to heal after the North Downs Way 100. Tim was using this race to "get back on the horse" having DNF'd at NDW100. Martin Like gave his pre-race speech and at about 7:30am we headed over to the canal and the start. I lined up with Tim Lambert and Richard Fish. We set out at a steady pace all happy just to see how we got on and not burn ourselves out too quickly. I was aiming to try and beat my pb of 11hours 29minutes. Most of all i was intent on enjoying the day and the stunning surroundings.

As we ran along the canal we passed Kevin Maddern. This was Kevin's third crack at the race and sadly he already looked in a lot of pain. This was not to be his day and a third DNF occurred. Kevin knew he was injured and his guts to toe the line demonstrated everything i love about this sport. Kevin will be back to conquer this beast.

This race really has everything you could want in a race. The flat stretches are runnable and the climbs are tough and the descents technical in places and lightning quick in others. Coming off the canal the first climb starts. The route kicks up a ridge and over a stile. There is a brief pause as runners straddle the stile and make their way toward Tor y Foel. From this point there is not really any more delays with other runners as the racers begin to spread out. As i climbed the stile i knew that this was where my race would begin.

Tim Lambert disappeared off into the distance and somthing told me that he was in for a good race. I set about moving on with my own game plan. The weather was very pleasant and not at all cold compared to the previous few days. Moving up towards Tor y Foel i was conscious to make sure that i had energy to power up the hill. Despite a lack of training i was feeling strong and taking it steady appeared to still be quicker than i was when i last set out upon this race in 2011. I was nervous as I knew how gruelling the climb would be. I got my head down and with my hands on my thighs I powered up the hill. It didn't seem to last as long as previously. This could be due to the fact that I knew the course would reward with a lovely downhill and I was prepared for the false summits. I reached the top and was chuffed that no one had over taken me. Climbs are not my strong point so it becomes about hanging on. At this point I was more than hanging on.

Summit of Tor y Foel

With my head literally in the clouds I felt a real surge of life. The magic of the beacons can just take your breath away. Just like 2011 I felt like I was running through middle earth and once again (like a child) I imagined myself being chased by Uruk hai. Having crested Tor y foel the fun began. A lovely steep downhill. The way I see it there are two ways to approach the downhills. You can be cautious and fight gravity or let gravity do the work and just worry about foot placement. For me sprinting down the hills is pure euphoria. The surge of enjoyment I can only liken to a 5 year old running down the stairs on Christmas morning. I was in the moment and I was having a blast. I felt like I was floating about 2 inches over the rocks. I passed several runners who were tentatively coming down the descent. I heard one of them say "look out someone's on a mission." Looking back perhaps I was, but at the moment I was just grinning from ear to ear. In my head I blocked out the fact I would need to climb Tor y foel again and just thought about how much fun I would get coming down the hill.


Once you finish the descent there is a slow steady climb up and through the forest. In any other race this bit would be monotonous, but when when you look to your right and see the lakes and the hills it is such a joy. The lake was reflecting the image of the world back at itself. With a view like this available I am always saddened at the thought of people who would rather just watch the tv. I was out running and I wasn't worried about the time and I felt alive.


Running through the first water stop I knew I had plenty left so I pushed straight through as I knew there was another loose rubble descent. Running down and through the water I knew I was making good time. As I opened out onto the forest road I knew the next test was ascending the gap. Remembering 2011 I quickly resolved that I would walk/jog all the way to the top, rather than death march it. I quickly arrived at the start of the Gap road and was met by a stream of army guys who were running down the hill. Now don't get me wrong they were in full kit, but elite they clearly were not. In my head the tune "who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler" (apologies if this Dads Army reference is lost on you) popped up. The army lads all looked in a bad way, although the commanding officers appeared to be having a good time. As I started to implement my walk/jog strategy I was sharing the path with the army. There appeared to be a sense that we were an inconvenience to their training. A few looks given as they would go into single file and share the road. The only blight on the day was what happened next. I broke into a jog and two members of the army decided they would not take up single file. I moved out the way as much as I could, without sliding down 30ft. This wasn't far enough though as my arm was whacked by the butt of the rifle. It bloody hurt and no apology either. Now sorry it must just be me, but my mum always taught me if you hit someone with a gun you apologise. Karma appeared to take control though as I glanced behind and saw the same soldier sprawled on the floor having caught his foot on a rock. In fairness maybe he was so out of it he didn't realise he had hit me with the gun. I decided to choose this option rather than the thought he was a Pratt.

Heading up the gap I was re-energised by how well my walk/jog strategy appeared to be working. Again I managed to pass a few runners and this year noone with walking poles passed me. At the top of the gap there is a short loose rubble descent (sooo much fun) and I sprinted down this without issue other than a stubbed toe. A few choice words and I felt better. This would normally not have been an issue but I now know an ingrown nail was digging into the flesh from the other side. A short steady incline leads to the penultimate descent. If you watch your foot placement this is an opportunity to go all out. So at an average of 6min per mile I embraced the descent. From here there is some woodland to run through that descends to a checkpoint. From here there is about 6miles to go to complete the loop.

I topped up my bottles and set off. My body so far was responding really well to a diet of cashew nuts and chocolate pretzels. I felt full of energy and things were shaping up for a good race a brief thought of the second climb up Tor y foel was firmly slapped from my mind.

The opening to the last 6miles is down a really narrow path way. It's made up of loose rubble, pot holes and sudden 1ft drops. The result is that a lot of people walk it. I got stuck behind three runners and decided just to take it slow and pass on the wider section.


The final section involved an undulating road and running through some fields. Already I was craving to get back up into the summit of the beacons. Before I knew it I was approaching the canal path. I passed Simon Robinson and his giant XBionic flag, crossed the bridge and joined the canal path. I was on what would later be the home stretch. A flat couple of miles along the pathway felt really tranquil and for a moment I could have been out on a relaxing training run. The varied experiences of this one loop of 23 ish miles still fathoms me and is something everyone should experience at least once.


I pulled into the final checkpoint and completed my first loop in 4 hrs 44min. Delighted with the time the race now changed for me as there was a very serious chance of beating my time from 2011. A lot can happen over 23 miles of varied terrain especially having already run it once.

As I plodded off along the canal the reality of my year dawned on me. This year I have completed two 100 milers, set a 1/2 marathon PB and a PB for the beachy head marathon and now I was on course for PB for this race . All in all this wasn't a bad year for me. My mentality has shifted a lot this year and my confidence has grown. I have trained better and more consistently this year, but still not with the regularity and purpose I would like. The way my brain works I was already wondering with a year of good training what I could achieve at this race in 2014. Still competing against myself. I am under no illusion that I am anything other than a mid pack runner.

My focus was brought back into the here and now when I soon realised my second assault on Tor y foel had started. This time there was nothing beautiful about the climb. I felt like there was cement in the ground and I was having to pull my feet out of it every time I moved. I paused a few times, never doubting I would get to the top. In these short moments I enjoyed the views. Eventually I got to the top. I paused and took in the sights. I felt like I had earnt it more this time. It seems apt that if you want to enjoy such beauty then you must make the effort and endure the pain. I was pleased that I hadn't lost any pace coming down the descents. I'm always appreciative of my twitter family and at this point I remembered Graham Carter's very kind comment of likening me to a gazelle. It made me smile as the truth of the matter is I probably looked more like a grizzly bear falling down the hill. Maybe next year I can be a gazelle :) I should take this opportunity to apologise to the couple of ladies who I made jump with the pounding of my feet as I plummeted down behind them.

Second time up Tor y Foel

The views remained spectacular on the second loop. What is really striking is that although the race is on a loop the changing light dramatically alters the view and in turn the atmosphere of the race. Climbing the gap for the second time the light was beginning to fade. Suddenly the environment felt almost sinister. I felt this urge that I had to get off the Gap before I needed to put my head torch on. I knew I would beat my time of 2011 and now it was a case of by how much. In 2011 I had to put my head torch on at the top of the Gap. Getting there and not needing to get it out felt great.

It was only during the descent that I realised I had made my first mistake. I had not eaten for a little while. I had run out of food in my side pockets and not bothered to stop to retrieve any from the main compartment. I was feeling a little wobbly and so at the start of the main descent I stopped and retrieved the food from my pack. Two runners came past me and one asked if I was ok. The ultra running community is amazing and I know if I had said no he would have stopped and helped me down the hill. Thankfully my experience meant I knew I just need to eat. I shoved some Christmas cake in my gob and BOOM! I felt almost instantly better. It was as if not only only my energy came back, but my vision improved. I hurtled down the descent with 39miles in my legs at 6min mile pace. I felt a bit of a fraud as I passed the guy who had been kind enough to ensure I was ok. I decided against shouting "feeling better now" and figured at least by passing him I had reassured him I hadn't passed out on the Gap.

At what was now the final checkpoint I decided to turn on my head torch and have some fun. Heading off down the narrow descent this time I asked a couple of runners if they minded if I came by and I was off. Some where in this moment I decided 10hrs 30min was achievable. I chucked myself down the descent and in that moment everything seemed to be coming together. It was only when I reached the road it dawned on me that one wrong foot placement and I would probably have broken an ankle. I guess that's why the others were walking. Equally at no time did I feel in danger of slipping.

On the final stretch I had a good run walk rhythm in place. When I hit the canal I knew I was on for a good time. I didn't want to finish the race with any regrets and so when I hit the canal path I resolved that I would walk for no more than a total of 30 seconds for the rest of the race. The finish line was in reach and my pace was good. I passed a few runners in the final stretch. I had more in the tank so decided to go for it and with just under a mile to go I upped the pace. Turning off the canal I broke into a sprint and headed down the 10metre stretch of grass to turn back up to the finish. I stopped my watch in 10hrs 24min. I had beaten my previous time by 65 minutes.

After the race I felt really good. I chatted to some runners and had a cup of tea. I was privileged to see a few runners finish their journeys and delighted to hear Tim Lambert had finished and in around 9hrs 30min. Hopefully he feels he has exercised his demons from NDW100. During a chat with Simon Robinson he pointed out to me that the course record had been broken and was now 5hrs 58min. I am in utter awe that such a time is humanly possible. I can't wait to see how hard Darryl Carter pushes next year in an effort to regain the course record.

I love this race and left the Brecons feeling motivated and inspired. I am not remotely religious, but driving home I realised this race made me feel part of something bigger. Standing on top of the Gap I realised if the only purpose of life is to "take in the view" then that is purpose enough. Let's just make them the best views possible. It's not hard to see why people return to this race year after year, or why Sue and Martin have such a passion for the event. I can't find any criticism of the event and will definitely be signing up for 2014. Who knows maybe I can go 65 minutes quicker than this year :)

Written by Stephen Cousins - http://filmmyrun.com

There was a time when I was an ultra virgin, and it really wasn’t all that long ago. Back in April 2014 I had just completed my third marathon, having done one each year since 2012. But I was disappointed with my time and decided to book another one soon after. So in May I ran the Milton Keynes Marathon and clocked an even slower time! But doing that, made me realise that I didn’t need to stick to one marathon a year. I could run two, three, maybe even four in a year if I wanted to.

First Ultra

Then, my new running buddy Richard, suggested we do a race called the Longman Ultra in September 2014. A 33 mile event along the South Downs Way. I told him to go away but I used slightly more colourful language to get my point across. He, and a few of my other club mates, had already booked up to run a 46 mile race in Wales called the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November. A few weeks passed and my attitude softened. I eventually agreed to run the Longman Ultra.

The race was a bit of a baptism of fire. It was a hot day. I had nothing left in the final 10 miles, I had gastric issues and threw up at the end! But I loved it and when a place became available on the trip to Wales for the Beacons Ultra, I decided to go for it. After all, I was no longer an ultra virgin. I had run 33 miles and survived. Another half marathon after that should be fine, surely! I mean how big are the hills in Wales anyway?

Wales in November

November arrived and I had what I would describe as a very acceptable run at the Brecon Beacons Ultra 2014. I felt strong most of the way round, apart from painful feet caused by my rubbish Fellraiser trail shoes. I finished in 9 hours and 25 minutes in 49th place. The weather had been superb and we’d had a real blast of a lads weekend away. We vowed to do it again. The high coming off that run fuelled my love of ultra running for months, but it took 3 years for me to organise another trip to Wales for the revamped Force 12 Beacons Ultra.

 

Richard and I had initially planned to camp but given the cold and the wind and the rain, we were handed the last minute lifeline of a B&B about 12 miles from Tal-y-Bont on Usk and race HQ. Hilariously, when we arrived, the heating wasn’t on in our room and it was almost as cold as if we’d been in a tent. Still, we managed to turn the radiator on, then went to the restaurant, stuffed our faces with chips and got our heads down by 10pm.

Beacons Ultra 2017

Race start was 7:30am, at Henderson Hall, as it had been 3 years earlier. Since then Martin and Sue Like, who run the Likeys shop in Brecon, have handed over the running of the event to Jonny Davies and the crew from Force 12 Events. Essentially the race remains the same. Two laps of 23 miles each. The course is identical to 2014 save for the bits that occur around HQ, namely the start, middle and finish. But it’s basically the same. The forecast had been for quite heavy rain early on, but as it was we lined up on a cool, overcast day with just a hint of rain in the air.

Beacons Ultra 2017There were one or two people we knew on the start line. Clare Prosser, who actually won the event overall in 2014. Helen Etherington who we see everywhere these days and who can finish running 100 miles and still manage to look like she’s about to go out on the town on a Friday night. Also, Richard Hurdle who has run everything under the sun, including Arc of Attrition, UTMB and the Transvulcania Ultra in La Palma.

The Start

We began on the sports field next to the canal, ran around the field and up on to the canal bank. The first 6km is flat along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. It’s tempting, as always, to go off too fast, either accidentally or deliberately, in order to get some miles in the bank. This is almost always a mistake. Obviously, it’s all relative. It depends what you are capable of. But, whatever your pace, I am a fan of even splits as far as is possible. In a hilly ultra it’s simply not going to be possible to hit every mile or kilometre the same. But it might be possible to do each quarter at the same pace or both halves.

Beacons Ultra 2017Richard disappeared along the canal and was out of sight after 2 or 3 kilometres. I was careful to keep my pace steady. Quite a few runners came past and I was very happy to let them go. I secretly whispered to myself, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of hours’. Six kilometres into the Beacons Ultra the route leaves the canal at Llangynidr Locks and we began the long steep climb up to the 551m summit of Tor y Foel. It is a 400m climb with about four false summits! It is by far the toughest climb of the race, and beware, you have to do it twice!

The Dreaded Coal Road

The weather was holding and although it was a little windy on the top, it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t raining! A steep descent off the hill leads to a dirt road and a short run to checkpoint one. I didn’t stop. There’s a gentle but technical descent down to the old coal road and then it’s a long slog to the next mental break in the race. The old coal road is about 4 kilometres of slightly uphill running. It’s pretty relentless. It’s flat enough that you feel you really should run, but the incline is such that you can definitely feel it in your legs and I know it’s a dreaded part of the course for many, especially on the second loop.

Beacons Ultra 2017I skipped along it quite gaily first time round and made it to the tarmac near Blaen y Glyn Uchaf car park. There’s a nice little downhill recovery on the road towards Torpantau Station, where the railway line ends. You don’t quite reach the station though because there’s a right turn at 19km (56km on lap 2) which is the start of the climb up to The Gap. The highest point on the Beacons Ultra is The Gap. It does what it says on the tin. It’s a gap in the ridgeline on the climb up Pen-y-Fan at about 600m elevation. The view is fabulous, although it was a little shrouded in mist on the first ascent.

Up To The Gap

I managed to run the whole climb and was very pleased with myself upon reaching the top. The descent is very technical and you definitely have to watch your footing. You’re either going to stumble on rocks or slip on wet grass. When you reach the second checkpoint at the foot of the drop you have 10km to go. There are no more tough climbs left on the loop. There’s a little more technical descent, a road section, then some fields and styles to negotiate, another drag of a road and the final 3km canal towpath back to the start/finish. I got to the halfway point and was just starting to feel a little fatigued. But I could see Richard up ahead and that spurred me on. I grabbed a coffee and got going again.

Brecon Beacons Ultra 2017The second lap is harder. Same course, same distance but now you have 23 miles of running and 900 metres of climbing in your legs. It’s time to dig in and flush out any mental negativity. It was good that I had the goal of chasing Richard down, because that certainly helped the canal path section to disappear relatively quickly. Having now run over a marathon it was time to start climbing Tor-y-Foel again. I power-hiked, with the odd stop for breath. I caught Richard about half way up. He was having gut problems and looked a bit rough. We are friends but we don’t do sympathy. Well, not that often anyway! So I left him behind. It was beginning to rain and the wind was also getting up.

Starting to Tire

I pushed on, feeling tired but confident. I stopped at checkpoint one to get my water filled up and then made my way down to start the long coal road section. This is a very easy place to get demoralised during the Beacons Ultra. It seems such a long way from home and such an unforgiving section of road. But once again I was lucky. Up ahead I could see another runner and I set my sights on catching him. He was walking and so it didn’t take too long. As I passed I asked if he was ok and he said he was feeling nauseous. Another one with gut issues. After injury, gastric problems are the number one reason for DNFs in ultra running. Anyway, once past him I thought I needed to keep running to make sure I got some distance between him and me. So, as much as I would have liked to walk, I forced myself to run on.

I did eventually give myself a little walk break at the tarmac and then jogged slowly down the hill towards the railway station in the rain. But I was suffering now. For the next four kilometres I had to adopt a run/walk strategy. I had run all the way up the hill to The Gap on the first lap, but I just couldn’t do it this time. Half way up, the chap whom I had passed on the coal road came steaming past me. “Stomach’s ok now. Back on form” he said as he bounded up the hill. I daren’t look back because I knew Richard wouldn’t be too far behind. The wind and rain were at their worst now blowing horizontally from the left. This was definitely, physically and mentally, my low point of the run. I finally reached the ridgeline and started to make my way down to Checkpoint Two.

Richard Catches Up

I managed to run but I certainly wasn’t as fast as I had been on lap one. I needed my bottles filling again, which I did when I got to the checkpoint and as I was there, sure enough, who comes bounding down the hill but Richard. It is usually at this point that he disappears off into the distance again, but I think he had used a lot of his energy trying to catch me up. By the time we reached the road section he was falling behind again. There’s a turn off the road at 66km (30km on lap 1) on to the fields. Back in 2014 I missed this completely on the first loop and added another 400 metres to my journey going the wrong way. This time, I had stopped to stretch out my cramping legs, when Richard almost ran straight past the turn. He said if I hadn’t been there, he would have missed it. The rain had stopped now. It had only been really bad when we were up high.

Beacons Ultra 2017We stayed together running across the fields. The cramp in my legs was getting so bad I couldn’t climb over the styles and had to open the gates instead. But I was still running and once we reached the road at Llanfrynach, I could see we were catching the same chap again. He’d either run out of juice or he was suffering a recurrence of his stomach issues. I told Richard I wanted to see if we could catch him, but I don’t think Richard was in the mood! So with one last big effort, I upped the pace over the tarmac and left Richard to his walking break. That’s not a phrase I get to say very often, where he and I are concerned!

Passing a Legend

After a couple of kilometres on the road, you can see the canal running parallel on the left, so you know it won’t be long before the final section. Sure enough, at 71km the route reaches Pencelli and joins the canal where Pencelli Castle once stood. I was feeling good now, knowing that I was nearly home, knowing I was going to catch the guy ahead and that I was going to beat my target time of 8 hours. Once I’d caught up, I briefly walked alongside the runner with whom I’d been playing leapfrog, and he told me he had indeed had a recurrence of his tummy troubles. I knew I recognised his face but couldn’t put a name to it.

Beacons Ultra 2017It was still light and I was still running well when I approached the DayGlo arrow telling me to turn off the towpath and on to the sports field by Henderson Hall for the final 100 metres. I crossed the line in 12th place in a time of 7 hours 47 minutes. My goal had always been under 8 hours and ideally a top 10 finish. However, looking back at previous years results it does seem like, apart from in 2016, 7:47 has always been around 12th place finish time. So I am very pleased. Having won the women’s race in 7:20, Clare Prosser was there cheering people home and the men’s winner was Sam Humphrey, who won the Beachy Head Marathon in 2016. He finished in 6 hours 15 minutes. I’ll just say that again. 6 hrs, 15 minutes. Yea, I know.

Target Time Finish

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the identity of the guy with the gastric issues. I wish I’d known because I’m bit embarrassed that I didn’t acknowledge him en route. It was Steve Wyatt who is twice winner of the Arc of Attrition 100 mile race and who I knew was running. Remember that film I made where I finished in 29 hours 50 minutes? Steve ran it in 21 hours. He’s a phenomenal runner and it’s a total fluke that I came in ahead of him at Brecon. He was just having one of those days that we all have from time to time. So kudos to Steve. Richard followed both me a Steve a couple of minutes later to finish in 14th place in 7:50.

Beacons Ultra 2017

I totally loved the Beacons Ultra when I ran it with the boys in 2014. I love it even more now that we have returned and have to some extent, tamed the beast. It’s a great run and a super challenge. It’s a mix of fast, flat runnable, super technical runnable, runnable climbing and non-runnable climbing. I think it would make a good first ultra if you’re after a bit more of a challenge than a standard 50km trail race across the South Downs. It also makes for a very good race, for experienced and faster runners. Well done and thanks to Force 12 and all the volunteers. If you’ve not done it before, definitely go and have a look at the website and consider adding the Beacons Ultra to your list for next year.

Written by Owain Thomas - http://www.ultrarunningmatelot.co.uk

Trying to think of an appropriate title to describe the event and the blog proved to be harder than I first thought. Many variations went through my tiny mind until I decided to stick with the one I have now. I think it pretty much sums it up because if Beauty did make a child with the Beast I think this is what it would be like but obviously in a running route way.

Since Hope24 just about a month, I took all the positives from that event and used towards my plan on how I was going to run the Classic Quarter. Knowing I was able to cover the distance and in the time frame was no problem, it was just the added pressure of cut off's that always bugs me. As I lose a lot of time on the climbs, I knew I had to make sure I made up the time elsewhere. I'm still trying to improve my pace on the climbs but until then, I had to do made best elsewhere and with the help of my wife crewing me I knew she was going to make a big difference.

Race number all picked up with free Clif bar and shots


In the lead up to the event, I got more nervous about the cut off's especially with the fantastic hot weather we were experience knowing that the heat could be a major factor. However the forecast kept changing saying it was going to be nice, then raining, then overcast etc. It didn't know what it was going to do. I planned the points the wife was going to meet me along the route and we spoke about my plan of attack. The only thing left to do was run.

Friday evening we arrive down the Lizard straight after work to pick up the race number. It was nice to catch up briefly with a few friendly faces, Mark Evans a centurion grand slam buckle owner, Duane Roberts of Team Buff UK, good friend Stuart Queen (who was apart of the race crew)a few local faces of Sharon Smith, Gary Richards (winner of this years Hope24) amongst others. With the fog closed in on the Lizard and the sound of the lighthouse fog horn going off, the weather conditions for me were looking perfect. I just was hoping it would last.

Staying at my parents place in Redruth meant we had an early start, luckily leaving my son with my Mum for the day meant my wife only had me to concentrate on.


Pre start gathering

We arrived back down at Lizard Point, and the atmosphere of the start was building as we made our way down to the start line ready for the race brief. There was a buzz of a drone roving round filming, I saw more faces I knew the likes of David Andrewartha, Sharon Sullivan, Paul Reeve and Phil Bolt. All of us wishing each other good luck for the race.  Eventually with the race briefing done about 0636 we mass started, the soloists first followed an hour later by the relay runners.

Nerves were in full swing at the start

The start was packed as you could imagine with 265 runners making their way down the narrow coastal path, making it difficult to make any good progress until after the first couple of miles. With the first cut off at the 9 mile point CP1 it was important to get a good head start. To assist my wife I set up the Race Drone app tracker so she could hopefully keep an eye on my progress and have some idea where I was. However knowing this was the Cornish Coastal path I knew it wasn't going to be as good as proper tracker due to the lack of phone GPS signal.

The weather at this point was cool and over cast, and I made good progress, and I was feeling good on the climbs that I already come across so far. The wife appeared before CP1 and we swapped my bottles. To save time having to fill my water up at the aid stations my wife had spare bottles and it was a case of one for one. Also having a bladder in my pack full of Tailwind Nutrition, I knew that was going to last me the whole race. I arrived at CP1 with over an hour spare of the first cut off of 3 hrs. This was great as it meant I had 4 hours then at the maximum to get to the half way point CP2 at 22 miles.


Beautiful Cornish Coast

Around the 10 mile point is where it all started to unravel for me.  The sun came out, the clouds disappeared and the heat turned up to around 20 degrees. With no shade, my pace fell away I couldn't sip on my fluid quick enough. My body was cool enough thanks to the great X-Bionic kit I had but I couldn't keep my head cool enough. I went through Porthleven as quick as I could saying hello to a good friend Loyd Purvis (winner of this years Enduroman 50) and continued on. It didn't matter what I was trying I was suffering badly from heat exhaustion rapidly. I still moved forwards but each mile was getting harder and with the climbs added in, I was slowly losing time. I got to 19 miles at Praa Sands and again got supplied by my wife, who already had been assisting other runners who were struggling at that point. I informed her it was not going well for me, and I said against our plan I wanted to see her at the halfway point of 22 miles. I stopped at the kit check stop managed to go through the mandatory kit check and went on. Not with out having a selfie being taken with a new friend Andrew Phillips. He was running in the relay but doing the second half so was out supporting.

Official race pic

As I wobbled in to the half way in a daze, I dibbed in after 3hrs and 20 odd mins since CP1. The marshal asked if I had a drop bag to which I managed to get out "No, I have a wife" I was told to move on to which I then went an almost collapse in a heap. Luckily my wife came and found me and dealt with me as no event staff checked up on my well being at this point. I was ready to retire from the race, however the wife picked me up dusted me off and kicked me out of the half way. I got to 24 miles where the I had planned originally to meet the wife, so I could change my shoes to road ones as I was starting a stint from Marazion to Mousehole which the majority was tarmac. As planned the wife was there, she quickly whipped of my trail shoes and socks and shoved fresh socks and my road shoes on. She also handed me a Callipo ice lolly and kicked me on my way again. The clouds came over and soon enough it was like I had a second wind, with the Callipo in my hand I started knocking off the miles and I felt good. 29 miles soon came and I had a quick bottle change before heading into Mousehole. I made up a lot of time and clawed back the time I lost at CP2 and prior to that.

Official race pic (Marazion)

With the plan to revert back to trail shoes at Mousehole, I decided against it. I knocked back a quick cup of flat coke from the wife and cracked on. I got to Lamorna CP3 in just under 3 hrs again from CP2 under the cut off time of 9 hrs by 43 minutes. I knew those 43 minutes were going to be needed as the next 6 miles was going to be the toughest section of the race. I wasn't wrong and to add to it the sun and heat had come out to play once more. Again it knocked me for six, making for me what was already a hard section even harder. My mind was starting to weaken and knowing I had to get the Minack Theatre (Porthcurno) with in the cut off time. Although not a CP but a water station you still had 3 hrs from CP3 to make it in. After climbing the steps eventually crawling into the water station I had made the cut off and was met by the wife and friend Laura Millward, who gave me a hug and told me to get on with it. I quickly changed by bottles which now was ice cold and was given my 4th or 5th Callipo by now. I moved on foot in front of another, running when I could and walking the hills. I finally had some company for the last stretch of 5 miles with a guy called Fred who was running his first Ultra. We chatted as we went along, and the final miles fell away. It had cooled down now as well as it became over cast once more. Soon enough we saw the last mile sign and the sense of relief had left me as we made our way to the finish at Land's End knowing we'd be finishing within the final cut off time.

Stunning Porthcurno Beach.

I ran in to cheers from my parents, my son who ran the last bit with me, one of my best friends Craig who waited around for me to finish after all his club members had long finished and gone home as well as all the other supporters at the finish. I completed the last 11 miles including the 6 really tough miles from Lamorna to Minack in 3 and half hours. This meant I finished the whole event 2 hours under the finish cut off in 11 hours 57 minutes 5 seconds.

My splits

If it wasn't for the heat I was looking good for around 10 and half hours but I'm not disappointed, apart from the heat which was out of my control my plan worked well and obviously having a great crewie that is my wife who knows me so well by now, she was all over it like a well oiled machine.

As an Endurancelife event goes, it was what is was. I was fully aware of what I was getting for my money prior to entering. I entered for the route and course really nothing more than that. It's a good training event for next years epic adventure. What did surprise me and made my event was the support along the way, it was fantastic! Not only did I run along such a stunning route, which looked like I could be in the Med when the sun was out, the support was brilliant. At one point there was a little cottage in a cove where the old couple was bringing out glasses of cold water for the runners. I couldn't tell you how limited the CP's or Water stations really were as I never used them, but at a glance they lived up to what they said in the race brief and race information.

It was a little lumpy

The kit I used was X-Bionic " The Trick" Top and Shorts, X-Socks marathon socks, Ultimate Direction AK 3.0 Mountain pack, Sunwise "Odyssey" and "Canary Wharf" Sunglasses (I didn't have time to change the lenses from yellow to dark on the Odyssey so it was easier to change glasses), Tailwind Nutrition (Tropical Flavour), Hoka Challenger 2 Shoes (trail) and Saucony Kinvara 7 shoes (Road). I don't regret any choice of kit and all worked well to help me achieve my goal.

Well earned recovery drink!

So where does this leave me? Well there is still a lot I need to improve on especially getting quicker on the climbs and my over pace, however this is one of my better performances and I hope to improve on it. I came away with only a couple of tiny blisters which compared to Hope24's performance it's a world apart.

Andrew Phillips wanted a pic whilst I was at the kit check point

I need to thank my sponsors X-Bionic UK/X-Socks UK and Sunwise for the fantastic kit they provide me. I know for a fact I'm able to achieve what I do with the kit they provide.

Now to continue with training and focusing on the areas I need to improve on. Until next time!

Owain

Written by Andreas Siebert - https://vadda60.wordpress.com

(*) = reporters freedom

Spine Race: The Loffenauer ultrarunner Andreas Siebert passed the most spectacular nonstop race in south (*) england. From Stephan Juch

Loffenau/Kirk Yetholm- It’s called the most brutal race in england and belongs certainly to the hardest, sportive challenge in the world.

The Spine Race, what goes along the Pennine Way from Edale, about 20km west of Sheffield, to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. From 10th to 17th January, 98 adventurous extrem athletes dared to face this even for experienced ultra runner barely unimaginable distance of 431 km and 11000 m altitude (*). One of them is Andreas Siebert from Loffenau (germany).

The 55 year old reached in aprox. 142 hours (+22h due to race stop in Alston and a non Dufton runner) at position 39 the finish line and belongs so to an elite circle of three german runners what finished the spine race since his existence. In this year edition more of the half of the starters got a DNF state, only 46 out of 98 did reach the finish line. The winner the Czech Pavel Paloncy’ finished this 431km within incredible 81,34h.

“The time to finish was unimportant for me” said Andreas Siebert retrospectively to the most spectacular race of his life, at the BT-Interview: “I only wanted to finish the race”. There where many of situations where he thought he will fail. “This deeps mostly are due to lack in sleep”, explained the Loffenauer. Because sleep at the spine race is luxury what you can not have too often. The time limit of the annual race is seven days. There are only 5 CP’s each aprox. 80km apart. They are in (*) simple huts and tents, partly spartan in comfort and offering only a minimum of service (*) ( he must have it from old pics but it sounds good). There for every runner do have a drop bag with additional clothes and food, what where transported from CP to CP.

### Luxury: four hours sleep in a ladies restroom” ###

The start fee is 550,- £ aprox. 670,- EUR. Plus the runners equipment – Equipment you must carry with you is a sleeping bag, a tiny biwacksack, emergeny foil, rain jacket, additional warm clothes, spare batteries for GPS and head torches (and certainly the GPS and head torch it self, also some more stuff as you know). The most of the fee is for the mountain rescue team (don’t know where he has this from, surely this will cost some pounds but if it is the most of the fee I don’t know) what are for the safety of the runners to rescue an injured athlete. Short after the start nearly Andreas Siebert have had a use of the MRT. After about 8km he dropped into a gap between two flagstones in speed motion and took a flesh wound out of it. “for luck it was not as sore as it could have been” he told, to quit the race about this he never thought about. Danger situations are awaiting the runners everywhere along the hilly landscape with moor, bare mountain’s crest and gorges. The partly bad signposted ways have less common with the good prepared service and forrest roads in our country. Furthermore are the extrem weather conditions: Siebert is reporting about rain, sleet, hail, snow and an average windspeed of 90kph (*) (maybe yes, maybe no but it felt very strong) and temperatures from four to minus 14 degrees celsius. In addition it had rained a lot the weeks before the race, there for you sank in to mud to your ankles. “To withstand the forces of nature was my desire” named Andreas Siebert his motives for participating the spine race. Especially at the first three day he have had some deeps in motivation “but when you have had at least some hours of sleep, the motivations was here again”. But sometimes it is difficult to find a place for a biwak in times of heavy rain and strong wind. “for once we found a place to sleep in a public ladies toilet of a village” told the extrem athlete who mastered this race together with his friend Michael Frenz. “After CP3 I have had a bare hope to finish this race” told Siebert. 84h he already was in race, 58h more to Kirk Yetholm followed. Due to over fatigue the joy, the inner satisfaction to have it done only came after long while describe the Loffenauer his feelings: “It makes you proud to have overpowered so many mental deeps” in reviewing the exertions. But this will not retain him from further adventures, quite the reverse “I will do that again in any case”.

Written by Ian Gallimore - http://ninearms.blogspot.fr

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end. Then stop.” - Alice In Wonderland

When I started running in May 2012 I didn't have any particular aim in mind. I had no desire or need to lose weight, no particular interest in "getting fit" (fit for what? as Dan John reminds us - I was a weightlifter and you don't need to run to be fit for weightlifting), no race I'd decided it would be cool to run. I'd been to Thailand after a pretty shoddy performance at the British Masters Weightlifting Championships, and somehow I'd ended up reading Bryon Powell's "Relentless Forward Progress". I'd not run for quite a few years, but for whatever reason I just thought it would be good to run, just a little bit, because it kind of felt "right". I had no long term aims beyond running 10km (because that's the first distance I considered you actually have to train for) and "maybe doing the odd race". However, my training log for that period makes it quite clear: "No, I'm not going to start doing ultras."

To this day I'm not sure how I decided on reading that book - I look back at my training log for that period and there's no mention of any interest in running. What there is is a sense that I needed a change, a change in approach and maybe even a change in goals. I suspect it came about as part of that desire to just do something different for a while that often occurs after a period of intense focus on a single goal. I'd moved away from my weightlifting club and was now training alone, in my garage, with none of the peer support and heckling that makes putting weight overhead more enjoyable (despite being a solo sport on the competition platform, training for weightlifting works best in a team environment). I'd not been lifting well since the move, my training seemed to flit around between programs in attempt to relieve some of the boredom of these new solo sessions, and was finding myself trying to come up with ways of training that minimised the actual competition lifts. (Although I'd also read Dan John and Pavel's "Easy Strength", in retrospect I was training in almost entirely the opposite way to what they were suggesting; instead of spending most of my training time practicing my sport and the rest on preparing for it I was spending the vast majority of my training time getting stronger and very little on practicing the competition lifts). Eventually I came to the realisation that I wasn't really training for my sport at all any more. I was still doing the lifts, albeit intermittently, but I had no competitive plans nor any real desire to be back on the platform again.

Predictably, those first runs were horrendous stop-start affairs as I struggled to even manage 500m, but eventually I figured out a few different loops and set about making them feel more comfortable, and eventually making them longer. Before long I was going out for a run because I was actually enjoying it, and that original 10km target started to look a bit redundant. I started frequenting the kind of places on Facebook populated by people who think that "100 miles is not that far". And so the distances started to creep up: first the half marathon, because that's how runners do things - you move up a recognised race distance, in the same way that weightlifters and powerlifters like to only count sets of 1, 2, 3 and 5 (a new 4 rep max is apparently just a failed set of 5, or a triple that was too light) - and then towards the end of the year I started to think I might try my first race. "Hmm, no interest in a road marathon; how about a "short" ultra? That sounds like it might be kind of fun." So, in January 2013, 9 months after I started running, I signed up for the Ennerdale Trail Race, a 50km outing in the Lake District in October that year. A few months later I went out and did a 45km training run (an intended marathon plus another 3km tacked onto the end because my route was slightly longer than planned), so inadvertently popping my ultra cherry. Shortly after I, along with my friend Dan, made the wise decision to enter a second ultra before we'd even completed our first. Not only that, but we'd decided to enter a race 50% longer but with about 4.5 times as much climbing, because it looked good on the telly. That race was Transvulcania, a 73km mountain ultra on the island of La Palma with over 4500m of ascent. (When it came to my first race Ennerdale wasn't exactly the most enjoyable day of my life - race day norovirus coupled with camping-induced hip pain, poor weather, the awful South shore of the lake, and simple inexperience left me hobbling round with cramp for the last 33km, for a finishing time of just over 7 hours. That was fine though - it had long since become a training run, and a chance to learn from the mistakes that might finish me off in La Palma.)


Fast forward to May 2014 and I'm sat on a plane at Leeds Bradford airport about to begin the first leg of a 16.5 hour journey to La Palma via Tenerife. Eventually we arrived in the town of El Paso, just a few miles from the race finish, where we'd be staying for the next 10 days. From the door to the bungalow I could see a vast, long sweeping ridge, dotted with pine trees, gradually descending right to left before plummeting towards the sea at Tazacorte. From the pool I could see a big, black cone rising above the trees, an enticingly smooth path snaking its way down the hill's nose before disappearing into the forest below. These were my first glimpses of what lay ahead for us an just under a week's time. "It doesn't look that bad from here. Looks pretty runnable."

My training leading up to this race had started off well, then stuttered from February onwards when I started having to deal with niggle after niggle. Peroneal tendinitis in my left foot, medial knee pain in my right leg, then the beginnings of medial tibial stress syndrome in my left leg, and then finally, on my last long run before flying out, the beginnings of ITB syndrome. Not exactly the best build up to the race, but I'd been very aggressive in dealing with these issues, had made what I considered to be sensible adjustments to my training, and arriving on La Palma I was feeling about 95%. I'd also stepped up my non-physical training, and mentally I was feeling very good about the race. 5 weeks out Dan and I drove up to Keswick with the intention of doing 5 reps of Skiddaw to get some good climbing in our legs and as a confidence builder. Weather conditions on the day meant we pulled the plug after 3 reps and went off to trot around the awful South shore of Ennerdale water, but it felt pretty clear on the day that we were in good shape. The climbing was comfortable, the long descents didn't trash our quads, and we came away thinking that bigger climbs would mean more fun.

After consulting the map we decided that our race week would consist of a 2-3 hour run on Sunday along the high point of the course, a short but steep descent and ascent on Tuesday, and an easy forest run along the flattest section of the course on Wednesday followed by a trip to the race start to see what the terrain was like. Thursday we'd trot part way up the Vertical Kilometre course to watch the race, and Friday we'd spend constantly repositioning our race numbers. That way we'd have a pretty good idea of what to expect for most of the course - the only section we'd be going into somewhat blind would be the descent from the high point at Roque de los Muchachos to El Time, and Youtube had given us a reasonable glimpse of what to expect of that section. The rest of the time would be spent either in the pool or in the sea.

Recce 1: Roque de los Muchachos to Pico de la Cruz to Roque de los Muchachos

13.6km, 636m ascent. Steady outing, terrain seemed pretty runnable for the most part on the way out, slightly harder on the way back but nothing particularly difficult. Some nice smoothed out single track in places, but mostly pretty technical and rocky. Stiff climb back to the observatories should be fun on race day with 52km in my legs. Surprisingly few runners out on the ridge. Looking forward to this section a lot.



"Recce" 2: Tijarafe to Poris de Candelaria to Tijarafe

7.8km, 670m ascent, 670m descent. Not a true recce, but a chance to run something technically harder and steeper than the descent from El Time to Tazacorte that ends the big descent on race day. Short and steep descent to the smuggler's village, photo break, then hammer back up the way we came. Just over 3.5km each way, return trip was around 640m climbing in the space of 3km. Gnarly stuff, but felt great. It's certainly no Stone Cove or Aaron Slack (the benchmarks for awful climbs and descents).


 

Recce 3: El Pilar

6.8km, 304m ascent. Freezing cold dawn start, had to wear my windproof. I'll just freeze on race day. Nice snaking forest tracks interspersed with rock hard forest road. I hope they use the forest tracks on race day, but I seem to recall them using the road in the 2013 race video. Ran out to where the trees thin out and climbed up through some bushes for a good view of civilisation sprawled out below the ridge. Wild dogs around according to a sign hidden amongst the foliage. Spotted one on the drive back - looked like a greyhound crossed with a deer, and not very fearsome.


 

Recce 4: El Faro

Not so much a recce as a quick look at the start area and a run up the first few switchbacks to get an idea of the ground underfoot. Sand deeper than anticipated but would be runnable under normal conditions. On race day we're already prepared for the log jam and having to walk most of the first 5km. 



Race day

I didn't get the best night's sleep - a combination of pre-race excitement, howling winds outside, and the fact that for the first time since we arrived the night time temperature felt unusually warm. When I woke up at 2.30am I checked my phone for the current temperature and it said 20°C. That can't be right, I thought to myself, so I went outside to check. Yep! 20 degrees at 2.30am and blowing a gale: today's going to be a fun one! A quick coffee and flapjack breakfast and then our taxi arrived to take us to the start.

Around 4.30am we were dropped at the end of the road just a couple of hundred metres from the lighthouse. Lots of people crouched behind walls sheltering from the wind, and the temperature was much colder than back at the house. We chose to spend the next hour in the entrance of the nearby tourist office, keeping warm and availing of the toilet facilities in the hope of avoiding the need to drop a trailside curler (judging by the whiff just past the El Pilar checkpoint I suspect plenty of runners were not so wise).

By 5.40am we were waiting at the start, the atmosphere starting to build as more runners arrived (atmosphere then ruined by the DJs decision to play one of the worst Black Eyed Peas songs, no mean feat considering how awful all their songs are). The obligatory AC/DC, headlamps on, the countdown, and we're off. For about a minute. Round the lighthouse, across the car park, then 2100 people all tried to get up the same piece of metre wide trail at once and everything grinds to a halt. I knew this would happen, and there was no point getting annoyed about it. Just go with the flow, try not to fall over or get impaled by someone's poles, enjoy the support from the locals, and eventually things will open up.

 
 
 

There wasn't much running over this first section, but eventually I hit a dirt road where I could actually run for more than 10 seconds at a time. Shortly after it was back to more deep sand and switchbacks, before finally reaching the top of the hill just outside the town of Los Canarios, about 7km in, where the first aid station was located. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to power up the hill into town like I was racing at Zegama or something, whilst others made the strange decision (in my eyes) to casually amble through the town on what is really the most runnable section of the course, only to immediately resume running the moment they were back on steep, unstable volcanic sand.


The next section of the race had more runnable sections as the sandy trail wound its way through pine trees, slowly gaining height, before eventually bringing us out onto a fantastic balcony-esque track where the still snow-capped mass of El Teide, Tenerife loomed on the horizon. Another aid station and a short ascent before we started dropping down towards the first major checkpoint of the day at El Pilar. The 500m of descent was really welcome at this stage as my hamstrings had started to cramp from the constant climbing, and I was really in need of some sustained running. I bombed down a big sandy slope accumulating half a volcano's worth of sand in my shoes in the process, and then it was a longish (~5km) semi-technical descent through the forest before finally appearing at the recreation area of El Pilar where there were crowds of people to spur on the ultra competitors and congratulate the half marathon runners whose race would finish here.

 
 

I was about 30 mins behind my anticipated schedule, but my timing chart for the day suggested I could be out for a whole 2 hours more than I thought. Oh well, it takes as long as it takes. I refilled my bottles and grabbed a meagre piece of watermelon (a piece of bad timing on my part as a fresh one was in the process of being carved up) and headed out towards the trail. The next few minutes involved me fumbling around on the floor attempting to empty my shoes of the sand which had shrunk them by a full size whilst simultaneously trying to avoid my hamstrings and adductors cramping up. This was not successful.

Unfortunately (but understandably) the next section of the course used the broad forest roads rather than the narrow, pine-covered single track, but this was one of the few opportunities to really run for an extended period. The temperature was getting hotter by now and I tried to stay on the shady side of the track in order to keep cool. I knew I should be running all of this section, but 4.5 hours of climbing had taken the spark out of my legs and I was already doing the run/walk/shuffle.

On paper this section of the course looks really flat, but in reality it's full of undulations that sap your strength and summits that never arrive. It is, however, a fantastic piece of terrain to run, full of narrow ledges and blind corners. Eventually I reached the aid station at El Reventón, refilled my bottles again, and prepared myself for the long drag up to the main ridge. In reality this section is less than 9km, but in my head it felt like I was moving for hours and not getting anywhere. I was starting to suffer in the heat too, feeling nauseous on the climbs and dizzy. My Clif Shot Bloks were now a chore to choke down and I was slowly running out of fluids. Every so often I'd sit down at the side of the trail thinking I was going to empty my stomach down into the abyss below, but nothing happened. No vomiting, no relief, no progress. Other runners would check I was OK and I'd give them the thumbs up (I really was OK, it's an ultra and they tend to make you feel a bit rough from time to time - it's all part of their charm). I'm pretty sure the same woman must have checked I was OK about 5 times during the course of the day as she passed me, I repassed her, and so on.

Conventional ultra wisdom says the best strategy for dealing with the distance is to run from aid station to aid station, breaking a race down into manageable chunks so as not to be intimidated by it. With Transvulcania you cannot do this. The route is always there in full view, and it's a view that really should be appreciated as a whole, not deconstructed into its component parts to make it easier to stomach. It's a big route: embrace it, enjoy the immensity. After Skiddaw I was excited about hitting some really big, sustained climbs, and now here I was. 50km of almost non-stop climbing. How incredible is that?

 

 

By the time I reached the aid station at Pico de la Nieve (2232m) I had no fluid left and was feeling pretty awful. I made the decision to spend 5 mins getting some fluid in, forcing down some calories, and letting a guy with a fire hose cool me down. I was now on the main ridge and it was only 3.5km to the next checkpoint, with superb views to either side and some tasty technical singletrack to deal with. From there it should really only be an hour or so to the summit and the 51km point. In the real world this section took me several hours as I battled nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, my increasingly sore feet, and a next level bonk. I ate a couple of slices of watermelon at Pico de la Cruz, the only food I could tolerate, refilled my bottles again, and set off on the final 7km stretch to the observatories at Roque de los Muchachos.
 
 

We'd already recced this section of the course on our first full day in La Palma, a fantastic twisting and undulating ridgeline trail full of hidden climbs and false summits to trick the mind and punish the legs. On Sunday I was looking forward to this section, but now I just wanted it over with. I was starting to fall asleep on the move, my legs were cramping again (proper leg crippling cramps that left me hobbling along like the Tin Man), and every climb brought a new wave of nausea. When I finally reached the checkpoint, after a tortuously slow final climb that must have looked like I was clambering up the Hillary Step, I'd been on the move for 11 hours and just wanted to lie down for 10 minutes and have a nap. I'd seen someone napping on the 2013 race video and thought it would help clear my head before the big 17.5km descent. Except there was nowhere to lie down unless you wanted to be pulled out of the race by the medics. The tents were crammed full of people, some eating actual food, some getting out of the heat, some making the decision whether or not to pull out. I sat down on a bench outside, rested my head on my arms, and almost instantly nodded off, the fatigue clearly getting to me. It was too warm outside so I went back into the tent, grabbed a cup of Coke and managed to find a spot to sit. I'd not been sat for more than a couple of minutes when suddenly Dan's stood in front of me - he'd been sat outside ready to go to the medical tent. We both agreed that this was tough going, and had this checkpoint not been such a pain to get to and from we might have pulled the plug. As it was we decided to stay there for another 30 minutes, get some fluids and calories in, and then see how we felt on the 10km down to Forestal El Time. If we still felt bad there it would be much less of a hassle to get back to Los Llanos if we decided to pull out.

On the way out we let a guy pour jugs of ice cold water over us, and I soaked the 3 buffs I had (they'd be dry in about 5 minutes, but the temporary relief was worth it). I stopped briefly at the roadside to remove the gravel from my shoes, stumbling around with cramp again and barely able to get my now swollen feet back into my shoes. Then the big descent began. Except, for some reason, this descent seems to spend an awful lot of time going up! Eventually I lost sight of Dan who was now feeling much better, and I carried on alone. Eventually I start losing some height and the trail gradually changes from the rocky technical stuff to dusty, gravel and pine covered forest tracks, tracks which my fuzzy head, battered feet and less than grippy S-Lab Sense were clearly not coping well with. On fresh legs and with a clear head these switchbacks through vineyards would be superb running, but 60km in it was all I could do to stay upright. At this point I started to seriously consider dropping when I got to the next aid station - I was dizzy and stumbling and had already fallen a few times. The prospect of making my way down the switchbacks at Tazacorte in this state didn't exactly fill me with excitement. I texted Dan to let him know what I was thinking and he said he was going to try and finish. Still the negative thoughts swirled round in my head. I passed another runner sat at the side of the trail and told him what I was thinking. He suggested I try and have a nap at the next aid station, or at least take my time there, as I had plenty of time to get to the finish.

Before the race Dan and I had decided that 14 hours would be a reasonable finishing time. And now here I was considering pulling out of the race no doubt massively influenced by my inevitable failure to meet that essentially arbitrary target time. That would be a stupid decision and I would regret it.

So I sat down at Forestal El Time, ate some watermelon, drank some more of the isotonic drink they'd been serving all day, and texted Dan to say there'd been a change of plan: I was going to finish, however long it took.

I grabbed another drink, filled my bottles, and got out of there. I tagged along with another couple of British guys before losing them as the descent got more technical, and then suddenly I found myself powering along at a good rate. Not running yet, but hiking fast and hard and feeling better both physically and mentally. A voice called out from behind me, telling me I was looking good all of a sudden. I turned round and it was Wayde, the guy who'd talked me into taking stock at El Time who I'd somehow passed and not noticed in my suddenly urgent march towards Tazacorte. We ran together for a while, yes ran, down rocky walled tracks towards the final descent. It was starting to get dark now so on went the headlamps, in theory more than practice in my case as I'd forgotten to change the batteries before the race and they were now on their last legs.

Eventually, after an inordinately long flat section during which we seriously thought we'd gone wrong somewhere, we finally started down the switchbacks that made up the first third of the Vertical Kilometre course a few days ago. In daylight this is superb technical running, but at night lit only by a flicker of torchlight it made for slow progress. Wayde would stop at the end of each switchback and shine his torch back along the path so I didn't stumble down the vertical cliff face or trip and smash my face on a sharp volcanic boulder. We could see and hear the final checkpoint far down below, and before long it was clear that they could see us too as a chorus of "Vamos! Vamos!" sailed up the cliff face. We hit the last switchback, turned the final corner and we were on the sea front, running towards the checkpoint as the aid station volunteers cheered loudly, spurring us on for the home stretch.

Onto the beach, under a bridge, and into a boulder filled dry river bed. It's slow progress but we're moving. 300m of climb left. 300m of climb in about 3km, at the end of a 73km race. It's a cruel twist, a final sting in the tail that weaves up though banana plantations along stupidly steep paths and roads. The plantation spits us out onto the road and a marshall stops the traffic and gestures up another hill. More zig zags. Wayde reminds me to drink as I've drunk about 300ml in the past 2 hours. Out the other side. More climbing. Wide, steep, long roads that only maniacs would drive, a house visible far above, never getting any closer. We're powering on though. We've lost the 3 or 4 others we went through the canyon with, our climbing through the plantations clearly stronger than theirs despite my sorry state. We reach the house, turn left, a marshall says something about how far to go but I'm not really paying attention, left again, up the hill, and suddenly we're on the final straight.

The road through Los Llanos that leads to the finish is a long one. Although only about a kilometre long it seems infinitely longer, like you're running the wrong way along an airport travelator, the finish line cruelly hidden away around a corner, a corner you can't see until you're stood on it. Wayde started to run harder and I gestured for him to go on ahead, in part because I knew I would finish and in part because I thought he deserved his own finish, at his own pace. I walked that last stretch at a leisurely pace, savouring the cheers, shouts and high fives from the locals who were still on the streets, watching from street corners, bars and bedroom windows and congratulating every runner like they'd won the race. I turned the penultimate corner and then picked up my pace to run the final 300m down the red carpet, still lined with supporters as raucous and rowdy as they'd been all day. Barriers were rattled and kids were leaning over to high five me. And then it was over.


If there's one thing about Transvulcania that everyone seems to talk about, it's the supporters. No matter where you are on the course, no matter what time of day, the chances are there'll be someone there so cheer you on. The winner had ran along that final kilometre some 10 and a half hours earlier than I had, and yet as far as they were concerned I was just as worthy of their applause, even though I was just some guy who'd somehow managed to scrape round just under the cutoff time. But that's the thing: I'd got round in 17 hours and 36 minutes. That's a stupid amount of time to be climbing up and down mountains. What sort of an idiot does that for fun? Me, apparently.

Yes, I said fun. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but the course is superb and it was massively fulfilling: I'd do it again in a second. Only this time with poles, different shoes (Salomon S-Lab Sense were not the best choice in retrospect, but you have to try these things in order to find out what works), and without the temptation to DNF when things got tough. Begin at the beginning, and go on till you get to the end. Then stop.