There's nothing like a mountain (or 3) to bring you straight down to earth with a big bang. I consider myself to be a pretty fit mother of three. I ran the London Marathon this year in 3:37 with a swift recovery time, I regularly run my training runs doing under 8 minute miles and, living in Bristol, I feel fairly accustomed to hills. Well, that was my opinion before I recklessly decided to put my hand to fell running.
I ask myself now what made me get up at 4.30 am on a Saturday morning to arrive in time for the early 7 am start of the 14 mile 3 peak Brecon Beacons Challenge? Was it the promise of the free Salomon XT Wings and the Nokia GPS? Was it curiosity and the need for another challenge now that I know that I have mastered 4 marathons.......or was it just plain insanity?
As we approached the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre my stomach started to churn. Shrouded in mist, the view of the 3 peaks over which we were about to run looked unbelievably daunting. Thank goodness we had to stick in teams -I knew I could rely on my ex-army superhero team mate, Andy, for his impeccable map reading skills (no, I hadn't had time to work out how to use the Nokia GPS, and quite frankly even if I had trusted it, I couldn't have used it as it isn't water-resistant).
The turn-out was low due to the vile weather - pouring rain, high winds and fog - there must have been about 100 of us die-hards waiting at the start line at 7 am. I was slightly concerned that there was only one other female runner - and she looked super-fit and half my age. I instinctively knew from the first mile that my training around the hills of Bristol had been positively laughable compared with what I was about to experience. The hills, for a start, are steep and relentless. Then there is the terrain to cope with, which on Saturday was not only rough (no track or path in parts) but also boggy and slippery. There are rocks to climb, streams to jump, tufts of grass to leap over and great areas of bog land to negotiate. I also knew it was not a good day physically and mentally - I had had several bad nights' sleep, a dodgy stomach and my legs had not felt strong all week. Despite my desperate attempts to look after myself and eat the perfect runner's diet, I was just not 100% and there was nothing I could do about it.
And then there is the navigation in the fog! No mile indicators here, just the odd safety check point. The Nokia, had it been waterproof, would not have been great for running up in the mountains - retrieving it from the backpack with frozen fingers (my fingers do not function properly during endurance runs at the best of times) would have been too difficult. I have to say that I relied entirely on my team-mate, chief motivator and running buddy, Andy. Expert map-reader he may be.....but he had left his glasses behind because of the rain! We only took a wrong turn at one point - at the top of peak 3, Corn-du. The wind was really howling here and I was frozen. We had reached the summit and last peak of the run, but I was still feeling pretty low. Up on Corn-du, if you err too far one way you drop off the edge. We were slightly too cautious and took a path too far away from this drop. In doing this we added an extra mile onto our run (and the steepest and rockiest, of course). It also meant that having been in third place until mile 10, we dropped down to fifth place. Never mind, we'll just notch it up to experience! We'll know which way to go next time (the winners had already paced out the course in training...clever!).
So...2 days afterwards, Andy and I have decided to give it another go in August. The target? To run all the way up to the top of Pen-y-Fan without walking....I had better get down to some serious training.
We were hoping to gain time on the downhill section of the race, and I have to say that it felt good on the legs. The Salomon XT Wings worked quite well here and had a certain amount of grip, but it was really too slippery and racing down was not an option unless you were after a couple of twisted ankles and a sore butt. We noticed that the team in front of us had spiked fell-running shoes - we could see the marks in the mud. Those spikes were probably ideal for the conditions. My XT Wings were incredibly comfortable - they have been since the first time I put them on. The special pull-string laces make it really easy to get just the right fit around your foot. They were, however, not at all waterproof, and there were times when I could feel and hear the water/mud squelching inside the shoe. I suppose this is the price you have to pay for a breathable shoe and I am sure they would have been perfect for a less boggy trail.
The GPS on the Nokia, as I have said, is not suitable really for fell running as it is not water-resistant. I did use the Sportstracker which monitors your speed and mileage and will download this to the PC, but I feel happier with the Garmin on my wrist - easy to access and accurate, it also motivates you to run faster because you can monitor your actual speed so easily. The camera and video on the Nokia , however, is absolutely brilliant - 5 mega pixels and really easy to use and download. I think these photos really portray the miserable weather of the day.....
It was also the first time I had run with a backpack. I bought a super lightweight original mountain marathon backpack from Up and Running. It sat on my back very comfortably, weighed virtually nothing and had lots of easy access side pockets to stuff in your waterproof etc quickly. I'm very pleased with this purchase and will probably use it for skiing and cycling too.
Recipe for the Chocolate Biscuit Cake which saved me on my return to follow in next post!