I was back in Brecon for the second year running, last year I took part in the Ultra distance and loved it so much, I decided to come back.
When I told Robbie I was entered, he was none too impressed, given The Spine is less than 6 weeks away now, quite rightly basically telling me that if I want to train well for my main events I need to not be recovering from races all the time. Point taken and ass slapped, I compromised and asked if I could do the 10 miler or marathon distance instead - he said I could do the marathon - yay!
I've recovered well since the Piece of String - rest seems to feature heavily in my training plan - it's funny as before I started training with Robbie, I would feel guilty for taking rest days but having someone tell me when and where to take them takes the guilt away a little. It also seems to make me a bit more consistent as rather than suddenly feel smashed and need to take longer rest periods of do days and days of shitty training, generally because I'm taking rest days where I should, most of my training days are good quality ones - go figure! Don't get me wrong, as he'd tell you, I'm no angel - I miss the odd session or do things I shouldn't but it's a fairly new partnership and I'm trusting his expertise the more I see the results.
I've really been looking forward to this, and had convinced my friend Jonathon to join me - he was going to do the Ultra distance and we'd make a weekend of it. I'd looked at the times from last years winners and made some plans, the course was 2 miles longer this year though which I hadn't factored in, these are the few plans I had in mind:
Plan A - go for the win in time X
Plan B - go for podium in time Y
Plan C - top 5 in Time Z
Plan D - Finish, go home and sulk.
The last two weeks I've been pretty poorly, having caught a pretty bad chill during a cold and horribly wet half marathon, I was off work a few days (being a contractor, this isn't the done thing - you don't work, you don't get paid) subsequently feeling pretty crap for most of the week and not doing any running for 9 days I was approaching the race feeling suddenly unfit and unprepared. My first run back was pretty painful to say the least. My legs felt great but my chest was awful, I got home and coughed up my innards for around an hour. The next day's run, less terrible but I was still feeling under the weather and decided to call it on Friday - if I still felt shit then I shouldn't do it. No point getting sicker.
I felt OK on Friday - my throat was still quite sore and I was coughing up shit still but my legs felt good (which they should with only an hours running in them in the last two weeks) and if nothing else, at least my legs should be fresh, right?
We arrived in Brecon nice and early - too early to register so popped to the pub for a beer. We ambled back, still too early to register but managed to bag a room which we'd booked for the next two nights, so bagsied the best one and went to another pub for another beer. Finally it was 6pm and we could register so back we went to get our maps and numbers then, yep, back to the pub for another beer and some food this time. Early night for a reasonably civilised start the next morning. The ultra was on for a 7:30 start, the marathon and 10 miler at 8am. Delicious Bacon Butty for breakfast, then back to have a lay down for a bit, sort my kit out, wave JZ off, bottle of juice and a banana then off to the start. my throat was more sore than yesterday too so I took a couple of pain killers.
It's a well organised race and it's great that if you're quick you can book accommodation at the race HQ. The course was really well marked and they booked fab weather for the day!
As we headed to the start it was below freezing so I had on gloves, base layer, tshirt and a wind proof. There were lots of people with dogs attached to them - I thought this is cheating somewhat and recalled getting tangled in leads last year so I hoped I could stay ahead of them this time.
Standing around the start I got my usual feeling of not being good enough, not being skinny enough, not looking the part. I shook it off - I know I need to lose a few kilos but it's too late now. I can only do what I can do. I lined up near the front and set off as we were started. The course takes a steady climb for a few km. I've been much more confident on the climbing the last few months so I didn't hesitate in setting off in front. I had several guys in front of me, but I soon realised I was the first girl. A tall hot leggy girl doing the 10 miler shot past - but there was no point trying to keep with her - she was doing a different race.
I maintained a comfortable pace, feeling pretty strong, checking my garmin I saw I was doing between 5 & 5:30 min/km which didn't feel uncomfortable at the moment even on the climb. I knew I shouldn't blow it all up too early so focussed on my breathing and keeping it controlled and pulling back the pace if it felt rushed.
After a few miles, we descended down an icy rocky trail, descending is my biggest issue at the moment - I'm a pussy. I've got no confidence on where my feet are landing at pace so I backed right off the pace. Before long another girl came past me. Shit! I got to the bottom in one piece and we started to climb again. I worked my way back up the 100feet she'd pulled away and was back with her. At this point we hit a check point, where the 10 milers would peel off and we'd head off up Tor y Foel and the summit at 550m. It wasn't too horrific at this early stage and I tried to maintain a steady jog. I stopped to hike for a couple of minutes, which allowed the girl to slip back in front. Along with another lady who'd gained on me significantly on the decent. She powered on past and started to put in a bit of a gap. I stuck with the girl from before.
The hill was slippery with ice in paces so foot holds weren't perfect and I've recently found that I'm not a very fast walker (something else I need to practice before The Spine) so to walk fast was actually more effort than to jog really steady so I tried to stick with that tact. When it got really steep I did have to walk (slowly to keep my HR sensible) I reached the summit right behind the girl and looked around me, the morning was beautiful. The Sun was shining brightly to our right, and the icy ground was shining back up at me. I was pretty happy right now! The hill climbed with a couple of false summits and trail which was fab underfoot aside from the frost.
The first big descent was super slippery, there was trail which was threatening to kill me on every tentative step and a slightly grassier path to the right. I took the latter where I could and slowly jogged down being careful not to die - watching the girl gradually get away, and the lead lady gradually become a dot in the distance - that was the last I would see of her! From here we started overtaking the ultra runners - it was a good feeling to be doing so, so early in the race.
Another lady drew up to me, and flew past me on the descent. "For fuck's sake Anna! Stop being a pussy" I said to myself.
As the hill came to lower ground it was a shallower descent and less slippery so I picked up the pace a little. We hit a bit of tarmac briefly. I could see both the two fast descenders just in front of me. Soon we were once more climbing, and I was back on them. If they hiked, I'd make sure I kept jogging and stayed on them. Again we descended, again they got away.
The race took on this format for most of the way. I was working hard on the climbs to make back the distance I lost on the descents. Around half way I started to bonk and managed to source a gel from a check point, I'd wished I'd brought more paracetamol as my chest and throat were a bit grim.
The route was brilliant, it went through lovely flowing trails, great climbs that made me feel strong, a few bits of woodland, some pretty boggy sections, as well as finding myself trapped in some thorn bushes. At one point the three of us all missed a sign post as we were all too busy looking down at the slippery rocks, we corrected ourselves and went back the way we'd come. Back up another climb. Walking this time as my calves were burning a bit. An ultra guy who we were passing said we were 1st, 2nd and 3rd females. I corrected him and said no we're 2nd, 3rd and 4th. This surprised one of the girls and she seemed to take fuel from this and started to put distance between us. I was pissing quite frequently today, I'd counted 4 already. Must be well hydrated I guess but the last couple of multi stage races, that's meant I've got a kidney infection, but this isn't a long effort so I should be fine!
She was never more than about 100m ahead at this point and the other lady just a few meters in front. I wanted to keep her in front of me so I could keep an eye on her, rather than wait for her to fly past me again. At 18 miles the route split again and the ultra guys went left and we carried on up a fire road. The fire road soon became a sticky track damaged by the recent deforestation.
The next 9 or 10k was fairly uneventful, not very technical, just fairly sticky underfoot. I was still just behind lady number 3, number 2 had now disappeared. I was still in a chance for a podium. and looking at my watch, I wasn't far off my plan A time. The track descended slightly so I opened up my hips a bit to extend the pace and close the gap some more. I was now within talking distance of her and she put the pace in a little too on the descent. I saw we were about to climb a little, so waited for that to close the gap again. Back within a few meters, we hit the final check point. It was a couple of miles gradual descent now down a rocky river bed type trail. I overtook a guy who was picking his way down, and still not able to get any closer to her.
I checked my watch, and we'd done the marathon distance already and happy that I was Plan A time + 5 minutes.... we were close to the start which I foolishly thought was very close to the end. I reached the two marshals there who said it's another couple of miles along the canal to the finish. The flat terrain, really fucked up my stride, I needed a piss and I was totally out of water.
I had a minor huff as I saw the lady opening up the gap. Fuck it.
I stopped on the side to piss again, and jogged it in steadily to the end, I finished in 4th place about 30 seconds behind number 3 in the end, and was 3rd open female, so not too shabby. Plus I got inside my Plan B time, even with the extra mileage!
I enjoyed some of the amazing food that was being made (half a brownie and a welsh Tartiflette), had a shower, and a nap then headed back down to wait for JZ to come back in. After he'd returned, showered, we headed back to the pub for a celebratory couple of beers and some chips and back for another semi early night.
I didn't get any pics out on the course today as I was kinda busy trying to win ;-)
Couple of days rest now, before getting serious for The Spine!