Archive for October, 2010

Black Mountains Ultra – Karen and Stan

Karen’s Report

Where do I start? The Black Mountains 30 mile Ultra seemed like a good idea at the time. First I knew it was a 6hr 30min drive away was the day before when I checked on the route finder? 6hrs 30? I could get to London quicker!! Anyway we decided to try leave a bit earlier. Stan had an exam at college so it was just as soon as he could get away.

We set off around 1630 on Friday hopeful of getting there around 2300 at the latest. Best laid plans and all that!! What happened was a bit of a nightmare 😥 . I would say which town we were going through but have no idea, anyway it was raining, very hard and the roads were a bit flooded when we hit a pothole hard, ouch that was a sore one we commented. PS we were in Stan’s lovely big VW Phaeton which has 2 computer screens and loads of toys, but no pothole alert!!! On we drive until it became obvious that something was wrong with the wheel, we stopped in a lay-by 40 miles from Pengenffordd (our destination) to have a look. Puncture. Head torches on, into the boot getting all the gear to change the tyre and find this kind of pump thing, oh ok this looks good, put it on plug it in and we wait, and wait and wait but the tyre aint going up. So obviously this chemical and blow thing only works in the daylight when it’s not raining, so Stan goes for the spare wheel, yep you’ve guessed it, no spare wheel, why is it now an optional extra? You used to fail you’re MOT without a legal spare tyre!!! Only one thing to do, call VW assist, and we were very lucky to have a signal, I think we got the only hotspot for miles. They decide the RAC should attend and this would be within the hour…. 2hrs 30 later and we are still sitting in a lay-by in the middle of nowhere occasionally checking to make sure it wasn’t flooding all around us. Turns out they had given him the wrong road junction and he couldn’t find us. Anyway, he inflates the tyre, cuts off a bit of rubber as the tyre had shredded slightly, makes sure it’s holding the pressure and sends us on our way, following us for the first bit to make sure we were ok. Eventually we arrive at the Castle Inn car park at 0300 👿 and can’t really go into the bunkhouse and wake everyone, so need must, sleeping bags out the boot and we end up having 2 odd hours sleep in the car.

Up at 0600 to cross over to the pub for registration and kit check. Gladly they let us have breakfast, supposed to be ordered evening before!! It was a continental breakfast but at least there was coffee!!! A quick change and ready for the race :) Meanwhile the organisers who were aware of the disaster we’d had offer to try source a tyre while we were running, could only be good.

Now onto the race 😛
We started less than 5 mins form the pub on a tad mucky leafy trail path. Should have been about 100 starters but I think on the day more likely 80 and one gorgeous husky. The dog runner had to start one minute behind. The start was nice and slow on a downhill, the racing snakes disappearing and I settled in nicely at the back where I’m comfortable. Stan stayed with me for a minute or so but was soon away into the distance. I was happy to plod and even more determined not to go out to fast. The pain of Loch Ness was still fresh in my mind and there was no way I was wanting to feel like that again. The first uphill was a grass path through the heather meandering up the side of a hill, now if you went straight up it wouldn’t be that bad, but it was going round the side. Too steep to run but walking was taking ages, top of hill and you were rewarded with a lovely long grassy downhill, a bit boggy underfoot due to the amount of rain but really not that bad. Out of the hills and down a trail through some forest, now this was the first bit to go wrong. I followed the arrow up a trail path through the forest only to be met by a runner going the other way; she was convinced this was the wrong path, so we get out our maps and study, along come another few runners, one with GPS. We hook it all up and discover we are definitely on the wrong path going uphill north instead of downhill south.. Some lowlife piece of shit had moved the arrows, at 0900 in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday morning!!! Anna (her name) saw a male standing beside a car next to the arrow and had been a bit suspicious. So off we go again along a small tarmac road looking for the first checkpoint. All the others ran off and left me at this point but the one thing I didn’t want to do was try and make up for lost time, so I just plodded. This part of the route became like the part before, long uphill, having to walk and taking ages, there seemed not a lot of run able miles. I caught up with and passed the others as the route progressed, I seemed much more able to walk uphill faster than them. Then was almost lost again, small ruined farmhouse with 2 paths going different ways and no directions. Was told later someone had removed the arrow!! I stopped here as I didn’t want to get lost, Anna soon came along and we discussed again, deciding to follow the more obvious footprints, quite good navigation tricks here 😉 not be copied!! We soon found another arrow but neither of us were really confidant about using them. I soon pulled away again on a huge uphill climb. A really bad downhill followed, steep, slippy red clay and very rocky. Quite scary. Once leaving the fields it was a short tarmac road to the next checkpoint. Then the marshals sent me the wrong way, you seriously couldn’t make it up, I even went back and asked them if they were sure!! Oh yes keep to the left and follow the path, which took me back out on the same road a few hundred meters away, but thinking they knew the way I carried on, but it just didn’t feel right, so I retraced my steps, just to see the folks I was in front of 30 mins ago climbing up the bloody hill I was supposed to go up. By this time I was not a happy bunny, so stomped my way up yet another long bloody grassy hill. I reckon if I had ran 3 miles of the first 8 I would be lucky, have never walked so much in a race. Getting to the top of this hill seemed to be a bit of a turning point and the next few miles were along the top of the hill. Reminded me of the Rannoch Moor only not as nice. Now if anyone knows the Rannoch Moor they will know it’s a pretty open baron place. This is when the rain started, and then the wind got up then the sleet. Oh yes things could only get better. Stopped and got my jacket on, glad I put the hood on it, off with the headband and on with the fleece hat, it was freezing. Seeing as this was about the first run able section for a while I ran as much as I could, the wind regularly taking my breath away but I was mostly able to keep going. Through into the next checkpoint and I top up with water, first of the day, my new wee rucksack and bladder were doing fine. Off up the next hill and at last I’m catching people. I’ve only 8 miles to go and I’m feeling fine so top of the hill and I’m running happily along in the rain. Then the ground goes from bad to evil, and I mean you couldn’t go round cos it was all bog and grass so you had to go through.. My shoes sucked and sucked with every step and not one step went less than ankle deep in this bog/shit/slurry path. I was still actually finding this quite fun, then my leg disappeared up to my knee, both hands in to stop myself landing flat on my face, have no idea how my shoes stayed on. I glubbed my way out, couldn’t even wipe my nose now (which was running worse than a toddlers) as my gloves were covered in shit!!!! I plodded on towards a gate where 2 walkers were watching, and I couldn’t help but laugh at their faces, total utter disbelief I think it was. You ok they ask, never been better I reply 😀 and plod on. The last part of the race is where for me it all went wrong and I know I will never be back. It took you along ridges, and then down very steep descents, now I know I don’t like heights or edges, I just didn’t know how much. It was horrendous. I couldn’t stay cos it was making me dizzy and nauseous but I couldn’t go cos it was making me dizzy and nauseous. I got down anyway I could, didn’t care if it was the correct route of not, watched as others struggled over rocks getting cramp and I’m belting on with nothing in my mind except getting of this bloody hill asap. Then the sting in the tail it warned you about, one more steep hill then a ski run on the muddy grass on the way down finishing in the car park at the pub. I was glad to be done. 7hrs 15 for 30 miles. I felt good and didn’t run out of steam which was the main thing :)

Now back to the saga of the car. Stan met the marshal who was trying to arrange his new tyre with about 10 miles to go. We have to be in Brecon before 5 its 1230 now think you can make it? Stan ran as fast as his wee legs would take him to make sure he got back in time. 6hrs 28. He was showered by the time I finished, gave me the car keys and he got a lift to Brecon for the tyre. I went for my shower, then into the pub. Had a coffee and lemonade, saw the prize giving another coffee and another lemonade. Wow they’re taking their time I’m thinking. Then they were back, bit more bad news 😥 the alloy wheel was damaged and the new tyre wouldn’t seal, so we still couldn’t get home. We decided to have something to eat while Stan tried to sort out something with VW assist. This seemed to take hours while they continued to get all their files mixed up, anyway, very long story short, they said they would send out a recovery vehicle to take us home. Oh yes… a 20 minute tyre change turned in to a 24 hour nightmare and cost Stan a fortune. It appears VW alloys are soft so they don’t weld, but at the same time very bloody expensive.

Got home at 0330 Sunday morning, knackered with a sore back and creek in my neck. These wee recovery vehicles are not comfy!!!
Stan is thinking about going back down for the December 40 mile race. I most certainly won’t be back.. Too much walking for my liking, but the race marshals other runners and pub staff were just amazing and couldn’t do enough.

All in all an experience, just one I don’t wish to repeat 😯

And now…. Stan’s Report

In terms of a journey, have to agree with Karen; a bit of a nightmare. In terms of race preparation not ideal for a hilly 30 milers across the Black Mountains.

It never dawned on me to check under the spare wheel cover for a spare wheel in a new car. In common with others Volkswagen deem it to be” not necessary and reduces our carbon footprint”. I am quoting what they told me. Offset that against 3 RAC visits including a round trip for the recovery man of 766 miles and I somehow doubt it! Anyway have now got 4 shiny new wheels for less than the price of one from Mr V and it did not take the 4 weeks to get it to me that they were quoting.

I cannot agree with Karen about the race though can understand how she felt as she doesn’t like heights and not had a lot of sleep to boot. Started nice and slow, chatted to Karen and to the organisers who took it upon themselves to try and get my car sorted while I ran. They went above and beyond. Toddled my way up the first hill at good walking pace to the top and then a superb grassy downhill. Lots of folk went too fast here and paid the price further on. The 3 big uphills were too steep, for me, to run though I never saw anyone else running them either. The main ridge run was at 2,000 ft which was where the weather changed. Felt a bit sorry for the guy in shorts when the hail started but not sorry enough to stop and help him into his waterproofs as I went past. Basically kept a decent pace and passed a fair few on this section. Lost a good 5 minutes as I came up to concrete monument (?) where the wind was fairly blasting the sign that indicated race route first, right and then left as the wind turned it. Retrieved my map form rucksack and luckily chose the correct route to come to the last checkpoint. The marshall then talked to me as I walked up the hill that they had found me a new tyre about 30 minutes from the finish. Had to be sure and finish in time to get there before they closed. That wasn’t to be a problem as I put head down and just kept running through the mist. Karen didn’t exaggerate about the final 13km! Erosion is obviously becoming a problem as the “path” broadened to over 30m wide as past walkers have sought to avoid the worst of the boggy conditions. Add thick mist, signs that were laminated A4 sheets at ground level and it was easy to doubt that you were on the correct route. No-one caught me though I did manage to clawback ground from guys in front to re-assure me that we were all getting lost together.

For me the finish was stunning. Coming out of the mist back into the sun we could bound down 4 subsequent hillocks before a little uphill to the remains of Powys Castle and the final downhill to the finish. I went meandering here and lost a good 4 mins before getting to the finish. A confusing sign caught me out or maybe just me being a little tired.(no pun intended)

A shower and straight to taking the wheel off and getting another runner to take me and said wheel to Brecon to the tyre place and you know the story from there.

I enjoyed the run and the route. It was steep in places and I can understand why Karen did not enjoy it overly much. The organisers and staff at hotel were really friendly and helpful and just as important, good fun. Even managed to chat to some fellow WHW runners over a beer and a good meal in front of a log fire. Hard to beat really. Could have done without the epic journey though.