This years event started for me on the eve of the big dance at Avalanche Events HQ, Storey Arms. I rolled up to Storey Arms with a Volkswagen Caddy full of merchandise and Chris Buckle who arrived via train from Colchester. Chris you will now know as the acting DS on top on Pen Y Fan. When we arrived HQ was already a hive of activity with people queuing at registration. The usual suspects greeted us and we wasted no time in helping out on reg. This years event had seen 500 entrants across both Load Bearing and the Clean Fatigue categories sign up, the event has gone from strength to strength in its short 12 month history. Within a space of a few hours we registered 250 people who travelled to Storey Arms to soak up the atmosphere get the race numbers.
|418 toe the line|
With the hustle and bustle of registration continuing, Linda proceeded to knock up some fine scram to keep us going. One of the entrants, Matteo, travelled from Italy with his father and brought with them some fine cheeses and salamis, happy days!
Well fed, it was fast approaching 9pm and it was time for me to get home and get some shut eye.
I returned to HQ at 6:30 and the place was buzzing, people everywhere, organised chaos, race numbers getting attached to bergens, and bergens getting weighed. There were so many faces I recognised from previous races, facebook and twitter, many of which were requesting weather forecasts. To which I could only reply "I hope you've proofed your gear".
The Load Bearing category started at 8:30am, with the rain lashing down, their spirits were not dampened, Ken's speech brought a round of applause and the beginning of their ascent. Within an 100 meters they disappeared into cloud.
Now it was time for the racing snakes. We toed the line at 9:30am, and with Ken's safety briefing digested we set off, into one hell of a side wind and driving rain. It was this early on I knew it was going to be tough, but just how tough? My strategy was to go off from the gun and hold on, I've done it in training so what could possibly go wrong? A few strong climbers made an early break, I managed to keep them within 50m until the cloud thickened towards the Corn Du contour, it was then I lost them. As I contoured around the summit of Corn Du the head wind felt around 40-50mph bringing with it sleet and hail full force into my face. My pacing strategy was going out of the window.
The summit of Pen Y Fan could not come quick enough, and ironically it offered a respite from the wind which, just a few minutes before blew two runners off course making them take the wrong folk towards the Summit of Corn Du, I tried to call them back but the wind sucked the air right out of my lungs. As I made the check point with fellow Fan Dance runner Chris Mills we made our descent of Jacobs Ladder. I decided to make up time and ran down as quickly as I could, it felt easy, although I started to catch a lot of the load bearers and found that I had to put the breaks on, ducking and diving through the crowds, bashing my quads to pieces, would I now pay for this?
On approaching the windy gap check point I proceeded to call out my number and get on the Roman Road. In past experiences I've found this trail the toughest section, it goes in a straight line as far as the eye can see and although its about -6 degrees, the head wind was constant and energy sapping, it felt like a plod rather than a run. There was welcome relief at the turnaround point with the DS Jason asking if I was ok? I was only 7.5 miles in and it felt like an ultra already. I got in some power shots and got moving quickly as not to lose too much of my core temperature. I always joke with the other runners about never having a tail wind to run with in the Brecon Beacons, therefore, a head wind it was. At least this time I could see the faces of the many people I've met from previous races and recce's. People who I now call friends. High 5's, cheers and banter followed, providing a much needed lift. The return leg of the Roman Road seemed to last an eternity followed but the contour of Cribyn. The only thing that now stands in my way of the last check point and downhill section is the notorious Jacobs Ladder, a 541 ft climb in half a mile with an average grade of over 21% and 36% at its worst. Check out the Strava segment entry for details. As I began the ascent, the conditions worsened, the wind was reaching speeds of 60-80mph and it brought with it a wall of sleet and hail, pummeling you every painstaking step of the way. The wind was coming from the worst possible direction too, pushing you closer to the cliffs' edge, go over here and you're dead. Upon reaching the top of Pen y Fan I shuffled over to the DS' and was asked the obligatory compos mentis questions, I found myself managing to be able to string a sentence together but only just. To say the weather conditions were extreme would be a vast understatement. All credit to the DS, superhuman!
Upon reflection, I can now say that this was the point when things started going downhill, I hauled myself up to Corn Du as my body started cramping, all over, I slowed to a grinding halt. I had just hit a wall at the worst possible time, my body would take no more, I was shutting down. The wind was now taking me right to the edge of Corn Du's north face, it took all my strength to get back inland a little which would give me more ground to stop myself if the wind did topple me. My vision started to blur and I found myself muttering out aloud; "If I die now my Mrs will kill me" not realising how irrational that sounded. My legs and body went numb with cold and fatigue, I had started to wane. I was becoming hypothermic, mountain rescue had crossed my mind. My mountain leadership training taught me that a helicopter would not get here in these conditions and that I should put on the extra clothes that I was carrying. But the cold gripped me fast and I was not thinking straight. At least I knew I had to get down off this mountain fast. I dug deep and proceeded to descend Corn Du the cramp was agonising, I kept repeating the mantra; "one foot in front of the other". It seemed like an age that I hadn't seen anybody but all of a sudden a couple of Fan Dancers passed me stopping to see if I could make it and that I was ok. I must of looked like shit or in trouble if people were stopping to lend a hand, but this only spurred me on. From somewhere I found my last scrap of inner strength and ran the rest of the way, picking up a few of the places that I lost in that dark moment. I had made it through the kissing gate, called out my number to Mick at the red telephone box and lowered myself onto the floor, lay in a puddle and closed my eyes. I thought it was over, but things were just about to get interesting.
I could here somebody talking to me, it may have been Mick or Ken, but I was unable to think or pay attention to what they were saying, I couldn't move and remembered slurring something or other. I then found myself being picked up and carried off into Storey Arms by Chris Mills and Steve Hughson where my outer clothing was removed and replaced by Steve Hughson's rather lovely Montane smock. The shaking was uncontrollable, I was indeed suffering from moderate hypothermia. I must of looked like a right tit when passed a mug of tea which I shook everywhere burning myself in the process. It took about half an hour before my vision returned and another 30 minutes to talk without slurring and I was still shivering right up to the point of going to bed at around 9pm.
|Ken Jones and Steve Hughson (and that life saving Montane smock)|
"It's about the fears and tears, the laughs and smiles. I'ts about the shared experiences and the raw emotions. Challenge yourself, share, experience - and know that in your vulnerability is a beautiful strength. Go Race!"
|The day after the Fan Dance (Can you believe it?)|
|The Altra Lone Peak 1.5's held up well, Chief trail shoe washer in action!|