I’ve run lots of 10k’s, half and full marathons over the years, but the Brecon to Cardiff Ultra 2017 will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first ever ultra marathon. At 44 miles, this race was both a physical and mental test. So how did it go? Did I finish it? Would I recommend it?
A race for ‘beginners’
Well, before the big day, I couldn’t help notice that the Brecon to Cardiff Ultra is classified as ‘beginner’ level. Now I’m not sure running 44 miles is ever really a ‘beginner’ thing. And proof of this is the number of people who didn’t finish the race because they had to drop out or suffered injury (about 72 people from what I could tell by the race results). But, I will concede that if you haven’t run beyond 26.2 miles before and want to test the water, this is about as ‘easy’ as it gets. It’s safe, straightforward and well organised by Run, Walk, Crawl.
The long and winding road
The route took in 44 miles of the Taff Trail, starting in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park and ending on the outskirts of Cardiff. It was a linear route, easy to spots signs meant navigation wasn’t needed, and there were checkpoints every 6-7 miles to fuel up. That said, the route wasn’t entirely flat. Miles 6-12 were all uphill. Not too steep, but still, a gentle, constant climb to Torpantu which got my legs and heart going. Not to self: do more hill training!
In total, I climbed over 3,000 feet, and the pic below (taken from my Garmin Connect) shows the elevation between miles 6 and 12. Occasionally, I had no option but to walk. Not because of the steepness, but because I just hadn’t done enough hill training – I felt like the naughty school kid who hadn’t done his homework. As the climb wore on and on, I also started to worry how much energy I’d have left in the tank to get to the end. Nothing like a bit of mid-race uncertainty…
Checkpoints, kit and being organised
Regular checkpoints were always a welcome relief, and I took a few minutes to rest at each one. This meant I could fill up my water bottle, munch on snacks and have a chinwag with the amazing volunteers who were stood out in the cold for hours on end. The checkpoints were well stocked with drinks, salty nuts, crisps etc. It probably wouldn’t have done much for my running, but I would’ve bloody loved a brew.
At Merthyr Tydfil, we reached the halfway checkpoint where our drop bags were being held. A drop bag is for holding spare kit, and the organisers transport them to the halfway point, and back to the finish line. I’m so glad I took one. I put on a fresh pair of socks, changed footwear (from trail to road runners), and set off. This is where being well organised beforehand really helped me. I’d spent the day prior to the race checking (and stressing about) my kit list. And after a lot of faff, it looked a bit like this:
How I got on
I had 2 aims for this race: 1) finish the race safely, and 2) try and finish somewhere in the region of 7-8 hours. Amazingly, I achieved both so I’m counting my first ultra marathon a success! I ran well and finished the race with no blisters, niggles or injuries. Overall, the Garmin stats below show my running pace averaged at about 10.02 minutes per mile:
On the flip side, my thighs felt like an elephant had belly flopped on them. And by the end, my running gait was getting pretty shoddy. Proof? Check out this flattering photo my wife took of me 50 yards from the finish line:
I’ve done it! Thoughts. feeling, emotions…
As I crossed the finish line and the marshall put the medal around my neck, a range of feelings and emotions were flying through my head. Sheer joy I’d finished. Relief I’d completed it safely and on time. Pride I’d trained and prepared well. But what drowned everything else out was an unrelenting urge for a cold beer! I’d been salivating about it over the last 10 miles of the race. So as soon as I’d showered and changed, my wife and I headed for a curry and beers. And dagnammit, that first one was the best beer of my life.
Now I’ve completed my first ultra marathon, and have the medal and t-shirt to show for it, the most obvious question is: would I do another one? And without a doubt, my answer is yes, absolutely!
I absolutely loved every second of it. Training for an ultra got me in shape, physically and mentally. I’d never been so fit through the winter months, and not long after the event, I was already looking at other races in 2017. But I need to think about my next steps carefully. In 2018 I’m planning a long solo run (details to follow soon), and I need to keep my enthusiasm in check, use my brain and be smart about which events I enter.
Right now, I’m just really chuffed I can say I’ve run an ultra marathon. For anyone reading this thinking about running one themselves for the first time, my advice is simple: go for it!