The morning of race day dawned with perfect clear blue skies and the most stunning drive up through Wales into the Brecon Beacons to find the quaint little village of Talybont-on-usk. The event organisers Trailevents had picked a great location here with all the facilities you could need all within easy walking distance. There was a small shop, cafe, 4 pubs, toilets in the village hall registration area and the campsite where we parked for a small fee of £5 also included a proper toilet block with hot showers – massive bonus!
The only thing marring this perfect morning was the return of the dreaded chronic nerves. I thought I had started to get them under control last weekend but they seemed to be back in full swing that morning. I’m putting it down to the race being over a much longer distance than my previous ones and only having ever run that distance once in training. I’m also beginning to learn, much to my own self denial, that I am quite a competitive soul so to just finish is not good enough for me, I have to do respectably well in my own eyes.
Luckily there wasn’t too much waiting around at the start and we were soon off down the canal path trying not to get knocked into the canal by the many charging canicross competitors! After a slightly undulating mile and a half to the first checkpoint at the start of the reservoir I settled into a steady pace for a very monotonous 6.5 mile gradual uphill climb on fireroad. When I had finally beat the nerves and negative thoughts into submission I was able to enjoy some great views over the reservoir and valley following it as we climbed the hillside. I found chatting to fellow competitors in between trying to breathe really helped to dispel the racing tension.
My favourite part of the race came after checkpoint two when we crossed the top of the valley too descend through the forest on the other side. The trail turned to steep singletrack with lots of rocks and tight turns to keep you on your toes. It was so much fun running through such a pretty part of woodlands passing several little waterfalls and river sections. All too soon I had reached the bottom and soon found myself back into climbing up a gravel fire road.
The next section seemed to mostly consist of long grueling power walking climbs up followed by fast, limb jarring, joint grinding, foot pounding free falls back down, repeat until you have lost count. All on hard parked forest road, high on the hillside, in blazing sunshine. Though I personally find running, particularly racing to be quite an individual thing I usually find myself tailing someone for most of the race. In this instance there was a small group of us that kept interchanging positions and exchanging a few words. I stuck with them to the end and found this a great help with motivation to keep moving as we passed the 13.2 mile mark and then hit the 3rd aid section. It was a disheartening thing to realise you had done the set distance you mentally set yourself and still had further to go.
1.8 miles further it turned out. So my first half marathon turned out to be 15 miles, the furthest I have ever ran! I finished in a time of 2 hours 29 minutes and 55 seconds which placed me 42nd out of 133 starters and 13th out of the 49 women that finished. Interestingly my watch clocked my actual half marathon distance time as 2.11.25 which is under the time goal I had set myself. For a hard course with 655 metres of climbing and my first attempt at this distance I was very happy with these results.
Overall I did enjoy the experience but was a little disappointed with the course at this event. So much of it was on boring, hard fire roads. Don’t get me wrong it was really well organised, everyone was very friendly and the scenery was spectacular and for all I know perhaps it’s impossible to get permission to use the footpaths in this area but that is how I felt about the event. As the small section through the forest showed, there is beautiful sections of footpath in the area so it is a shame to not be using them. It makes the miles fly so much quicker when the terrain is ever changing, for me that is one of the joys of running on trails.
Proud as I am of what I have achieved it was also a good indicator of the areas I need to improve. There were 3 ladies that passed me and the group of guys I was with on the second half of the course through the steep hilly section. All three passed separately and kept running all of that hill while the rest of us walked. One of the ladies just disappeared into the distance but the other two I had mostly in site as they kept on running up every hill we met. I found this so impressive and inspiring to see and have made that my aim for the next race. In Torquay we have short sharp hills and I’ve mastered them but these long, lung buster hills are beating me, this won’t do, so it’s off to Dartmoor I go for some lengthy runs with big hills!