Monday, 17 November 2014

Beacons Ultra - A Tale of Two Halves.

Entering this race has almost become an obligatory one in my calendar. I love the event, sure it's not the best race in the world, but I always have a great time. So this year I recruited a few friends to come running as well. It made for an enjoyable build up as we all stayed together in the bunkhouse and caught up over food on the Friday night. Some good laughs and banter was exchanged. Settling down for a good nights sleep, this was some what disrupted by the drunks in the room next door. We got our own back when the alarms went off the following morning. Quiet we were not and Bryan made a particular point of crying out through their   door "we're going now." So revenge being sweet hopefully they enjoyed their hangovers at 5:45am.

We all made our way down to the race start. I had time to catch up with a few people I know from this race and as a result of twitter. Simon Robinson of XBionic was his ever present self and just before the start I had a quick chat with David Barker. 

All the runners I knew at this race were much quicker than me. It's no secret that my training has been poor of late and my weight has suffered as well. Still no excuses and whilst a PB was unlikey I was not deterred from trying.

With the runners lined up we set off down the canal at 7:30am. It's a little crowded at the start, but despite the narrow tow path there never seem to be too many issues (perhaps because those who have run it before know that Tor-y-Foel is not far away. About 2 miles in I lost all those I was with for the weekend, no surprise there and I'd just have to knuckle down. A 'call of nature' detour at mile 3 had me feeling more comfortable. A short distance on, this comfort faded and turned into swearing as the climb up Tor-y-Foel began. This climb is a killer, but the first lap climb is no doubt made worse by the knowledge that it's going to be revisited for a second go with a marathon in the legs. Half way up I was greeted by Kevin Hollings whose comment of "you know the way" resonated with me and nearly yielded and few choice words.

By the time I reached the top of the mountain I was knackered. The climb was relatively successful but the legs were feeling heavy. Descending off Tor-y-foel this was evident as I slid up on the grass. Landing squarely on my backside but on my feet again quickly it was clear the ground underneath was slippery and looser than last year. 

Ploughing through the first lap, time was slipping back and clear to me the race was going to be a slog. My quad seized a couple of times. By about mile 16 I was not enjoying this race. I always enjoy the beacons, but truthfully today i found myself not and couldn't work out why. What was happening in my brain in reality was the fact that I was seriously considering stopping at the end of the first loop. All the justifications were sitting on the tip of my mind. Mile 18-21 saw me planning to stop. At 'Simon's Bridge' I appreciated his positivity. As i said "no PB, today is all about the finish." Simon's response was "that's what it's all about sometimes." He was right of course, but at the time DNF was still floating in my mind.

As I approached the half way point I asked myself "why?" Why was I not enjoying myself? And why was i contemplating stopping? The answer was that I simply was chasing a time that would never be attainable. This sent me into a downward spiral. Fortunately i broke it by the time I got to the half way point. Sue Like was her ever cheerful self. It made it easy to push on. This alongside a conversation with Allan rumbles the night before about how some times you just have to grind it out. I made a very clear decision.... I was going to push on, but I would back off the time targets now just enjoy my surroundings. If I was going to carry on then 23 extra miles of calorie burn in beautiful surroundings would be the reason.

My walk run along the canal was lovely. Beautiful weather and stunning surroundings. The climb up Tor-y-foel was hell, but this time I stopped a few times and just looked around and took it all in. The views are jaw dropping when the clouds are not present. It really gave me a sense of where I'd been as well. Up and over the peak the clouds were clearing and I was just loving the scenes. I was walking/hiking/running the route and it was back to being a love of running. I was getting the opportunity to notice things I would have lost in the battle for time. Before The Gap I saw a man quietly herding his sheep with a sheep dog and 4 stones  embedded in the ground that looked like a growling dog. All these moments really made me smile.

Every now and again I was tormenting myself for not being fitter and faster. Despite this though the reality was I was having a bloody good time. It's so easy to get caught up in complicating running that the very beauty in its simplicity becomes lost. I was running simply and simply having fun.

Ascending The Gap I played the imaginary game of running through mordor (yes I do this every time). I tried to race the sunset up the climb, but sadly the sunset defeated me and I was forced to don my torch. 

The Beacons is a beautiful place by daylight, but it's charm and captivating presence is not lost in the dark. Descending off the gap I knew the hard work was done and now was about plodding on to the finish. The dark meant I got to properly test my Petzl Nao. It's a cracking head torch.

Back down and heading towards the canal I was jogging through the fields. It had a sense of silence I had not experienced since the start of the race. I stopped.... Turned off my head torch.... And looked up! I spent the next 5 minutes just drinking in the view. It was awe inspiring. There was largely zero light pollution and every where you looked was sprays of stars and splashes of colour. This view seemed to place everything into context. I was not worried about the mistakes made in the race and I felt revived. I pressed on along the course. I was looking forward to the stillness of the canal.

I arrived at the canal and allowed myself a brief reflection on how nearly I dropped at this point on lap1. Rejecting the easy option made space for all the experiences of the last 6 hours.

Arriving at the last 400 metres I increased the pace for a sprint finish. In the blink of an eye I was done. After several hugs and a bucket of coffee I collected my shirt and went to get changed and head  to the pub.

So that was that Beacons Ultra 2014 done in one of my worst times, yet  I enjoyed this race more than so many others. The scenary is beautiful, the organisers are lovely, the event is very relaxed and a great way to end the year. I'm now feeling motivated for my training for 2015. Perhaps most importantly I'm enjoying my running again and that is after all why we do this sport.