Afan and back

For a while I’ve been thinking of doing a ride from my house in
Bridgend up along the road through the valley to Afan Forest Park and
then doing a ride around the park and then coming back.  I discussed
the idea with a couple of mates but most people told me I was daft,
till I mentioned it to Dan, who’s a far keener mountain biker than me
and he thought it was a great idea.  It quickly changed from riding
along the road to riding along the hill that splits the Ogwr and Garw
valley and then dropping into the valley, backup the other side and
into the top of the Afan forest.

I roughed out a route on a GPS mapping website and Dan tidied the
route and loaded it onto his GPS.  Yeah, I know it’s cheating, but we
were going a long way over totally unknown ground and we wanted to
actually get there.  We met up outside Rush Cycles in Brynmenen early
one morning, we got going fairly early, about 8am.  I took a wrong turn on the way there so was about 15
minutes late.  It was quite nippy and I was beginning to realise that
my lack of cycling specific kit (no padded shorts, no decent winter
gloves and summer mtb shoes) that would cope with the winter might
mean things were going to get a bit frigid.  However the skies were
clear and it didn’t look like we’d have to contend with any rain.
Anyway, we set off along the first short road stretch trying to get to the proper start of the
ride out of the back of Bettws.  After a bit of faffing we found it
and got stuck into the mud.  It was pretty hard going for me, the
descents were thick with mud so needed speed, not something I’m known
for.  It was basically impossible to ride uphill due to the mud.  So
the tone was set for much of the rest of the ride – hike-a-bike.

Quickly enough we popped out onto the road and set off a long some
back lanes trying to find the first big climb of the day, roughly up
Moel Cynhordy, which is about 450meters.  The first
section of which was basically a stream and as a result more
hike-a-bike.  However the route moved onto a farmers track which was
quite rideable and we made up some time here.  The first small
downhill came up which was mostly ridable.  However it ended in a
muddy bog which we had to walk across.  There was a nice looking
fireroad to the right, but we were heading for a different end of the
Garw forest.  We did use the fireroad on the way back tho.

After the bog we were into the top of the forest, which was basically
all fireroad, so we got stuck into the riding.  Which was generally
decent.  Soon enough we got onto a long and loose descent which spat
us out onto the road at the top of Maesteg.  We weren’t on the road
for long, the next climb beckoned.  Up through a farmers yard and onto
a rough track, eventually bought me up to a part of the world that I
had walked with the wife before.  We headed right up Foel y Dyffryn (366m),
back to hike-a-bike, before being able to ride off the summit into the
back of the Afan Forest Park.  Here we were able to cruise down the
fireroad to the vistor center.  Which when we got there looked awfully
closed.  It wasn’t but, there was a moment of panic.  We locked the
bikes up and went into get cakes.  Once we’d taken our fill of cakes,
pasties and cups of tea we set off to retrace our route.

As is often the way my knee was starting to give me some trouble.  So
I had to ride/walk the initial climb out of the center back through
the forest.  We were able to ride over most of Foel y Dyffryn and the
descent on the otherside was a great piece of rough riding over the
side of the hill.  Well Dan rode it all, he could do the climb, I just
fell over half-way up.  No real line, just enough of a slope to get up some
speed and enough lumps and bumps to make it hard.

Again, back down into the village above Maesteg and back up onto the
ridgeline.  The lovely descent was considerably harder on the way
back, but still ridable.  We stuck to the top of the forest to miss
out the worst of the boggy area and were able to make much better time
here.  Soon enough we were back onto the track at the top of the hill,
however it was about 5pm now, so lights were attached to bikes and
turned on.  We got to the final descent well enough, but decided that
as it was dark and it wasn’t ridable for long enough, we’d stick to
riding back down the track, past the farm and out onto the road.  When
we hit Tondu, Dan said his good byes and headed off to Pencoed.

I kept on down the road into town.  Kept a couple from crossing the
road as they thought I was a car or motorbike, heard the guy go ‘it’s
a bike!’ as I passed.  Soon enough I was home after ‘enjoying’ the
last bit of riding through Bridgend.  I hate road riding.  Horrible.
But I was home in time for beer and pizza.

Stats are:
44.9 miles
6,022ft climbing
8 hours in the saddle, an hour or so in the cafe and a couple of hours of walking

Might Contain Nuts Brecon Beacons 40 Mile Ultra – 12th May 2012

 

Well I managed to grind out a finish at the Might Contain Nuts Summer 40.  Despite spending most of the race dead last I eventually finished second to last after catching up to the chap ahead of me after the last checkpoint.  I took around 12 hours and 58 minutes to finish, starting at 0800 and finishing just before 2100.

Preparation

I had been quite nervous before the race as to whether or not I’d finish, so I spent quite a lot of time being obsessive with my prep.  Reading lots of blogs, reading the book on feet care – Fix your Feet.  I’d figured out all the distances between checkpoints, worked out the climbs.  While I’d not done anywhere enough training, I had tested out all my gear, food and the shoes are well worn ones which are nice and comfy.  Ah, yes training.  Well my training consisted of a few 5k runs, an 8 miler, 13 miler and 14 miler.  Not exactly optimal really.  However I’d already paid my money and really wanted to get the race done, so I decided that doing a fast walk around most of the course would get me round in about 12 hours.  I have entered races that I then chuck in cause I’ve got a little twinge or not done enough training, I’ve got to actually start doing stuff and not just wimping out.

Race

I spent the night before at the in-laws in Brecon, so was able to sleep in till 0630.  Didn’t sleep that well to be honest but shovelled down a few bananas first thing.  However got to the race HQ at Talybont in plenty of time.  i was feeling a bit jittery, but nothing too awful.  The night before I’d put my number (94) on my top, but on the morning decided that I’d go with all the cool kids who had their numbers on their packs.  So sorted that out.  I remembered to check if waterproof trousers were needed, they weren’t so I took them out of my already rammed pack and dumped them in my post-race bag.  We all trudged out for the race brief and before I knew it we were off.  As a note if the organizer hadn’t mentioned that people swapped numbers around, i.e. saying 49 instead of 94, I wouldn’t have done it on Pen-y-Fan.  I’d always planned to take the race very easy so started really slowly as it usually takes me a while to get going properly.  I’d assumed that this being an ultra, everyone else would be just as slow.  I was very wrong on that point, as most of the field swept past me really quite rapidly.  I stuck to my plan and switched to a fast walk really early along the canal.  I was expecting my knee to be dodgy so didn’t want to cause any injuries that would cause me to drop out.

My climbing buddy Darren was unexpectedly in the UK on a break from his year of touring Europe, so he was on one of the canal bridges taking photos.  It was nice to see him early on.  By this point I think I was already last, but my fast walk was keeping up with the ‘running’ that the other tail enders were doing.  As the climb started I over took a couple of ladies (who ended up finishing joint last with 14:00 hours on the clock), that was to be my only overtake for a long time.  I made good time up the first climb and felt very good when I reached the top.  There were still a few people in front of me here, but they all ran the descent so quickly disappeared.  Darren was on the descent taking photos again.  We shouted some quick greetings and he followed me down the hill back to my car and we had a quick chat.  He wished me luck and I kept on going.  The first checkpoint came a lot sooner than I had been expecting, I must have got the distances wrong at this point, as I was over an hour and fifteen minutes up on my schedule.  The marshall was very cheery and we had a little chat while I filled my water bladder fully.  I had only put 500ml in it so I didn’t have to carry a full pack from the off.  However I couldn’t wait so once the water was in, I got off.  The course was very well marked so no problems here.  The path was pretty decent in most places apart from the section that was less a path and more a river.  I got very wet feet here, which was annoying and I fretted about this for a while worrying about blisters.  I knew that the bogs on the ridge would be wet, so didn’t want to change socks yet as it would be really awful if I changed socks only to get them soaking a couple of miles later.   I finally caught up to another runner here, he was limping badly and said he’d sprained his ankle.  However at this point there were some marshalls to make sure we took the right turning, so I hope they sorted him out.  The route went through the quarry here, which made an interesting change.  I will admit, I spent some time looking at the rock wondering if there are any routes up there.  There was another marshall shortly, again to make sure we made a turn correctly.

The second checkpoint arrived soon enough at the bottom of the reservoir.  I decided not to change socks here, after having fretted about it.  I steamed through this point, figuring I had enough water in the pack, just to take a quick swig and keep going.  I got onto the ridge before I needed my first comfort break.  My hydration wasn’t that great here, so I tried to take on a bit more water.  The going was awful on the first section of the ridge.  I ended up in boggy hell, trying to find a decent path through it all.  I sank up to my knees twice.  To make things worse my ITBS kicked in up here.  At one point I really thought I wouldn’t be able to walk any more.  I took a couple of ibuprofen and pushed on through the pain.    I seriously thought about returning back to the checkpoint and quitting.  However I decided to go onto checkpoint 4, the Storey Arms carpark and see how I felt.  As I kept moving things started loosening up and the knee pain faded.  I kept a good pace up the ridge finally getting on to the part of the ridge which is on the Brecon Beacon Horseshoe route, so there were plenty of walkers enjoying the weather.  I had to help a couple with directions.  This was the first point where I started to feel hungry so had my flapjack and started eating clif shot bloks a bit more often.  I went through CP 3 very quickly, yelling my number at the marshall and not stopping.  After getting a bit down the ridge I worried that the marshall hadn’t caught my name and number so fretted about that on the way down.  It was here that I saw the first other person in the race that I’d seen for ages.  They were coming back up Pen-y-fan.   I wouldn’t see another racer till Cribyn.  I made good time down the path, eating my scotch egg on the way down.  My knee was fine at this point, so no major problems.  I took the time to change my socks, refill my energy drink bottle and water bladder before heading out. I did take some more ibuprofen in the car park, just to be sure.

As there are loos here I took advantage of them, coming out of the loos I bumped into another climbing buddy who was out on a walk.  I badgered him to walk down the car park, take a photo and have a quick chat.  I told him how the race was going and he told me I looked ok and that he was sure I’d finish and to keep up the good work.  Joe is an experienced runner and walker having done 100s of half marathons and numerous marathons, so this was a massive and totally unexpected boost.  I headed up the third major climb of the day, back up the path to Corn Du.  This was definitely harder however the path is nice and even.  The stream in the middle was deeper than usual, but I made it across with dry feet.  By the time I got back to CP 5, I was tired, but otherwise ok and had plenty of energy still.  However my food was disappearing quicker than I had hoped.  At CP 5 I made sure that the marshall had got my number first time round and fortunately they had, so no worries there.  I got over to the Pen-y-Fan summit, where there was another marshall who warned me about the descent off Pen-y-fan, again this is where local knowledge comes in handy, I’ve ice climbed on Pen-y-Fan, so the small rocky step there wasn’t a big worry.  This descent was fine and my knee was still ok here.  By this point I knew I was going to make CP 6 by about 1630, so would be well with in the CP 6 by 6pm cutoff.  I knew that barring major issues I was going to finish now, so was quite happy.  Also it was quite nice to be on my own, it seemed like all the marshalls were out on the hill just for me, which made me feel oddly special.  Weird I know, but there we go.

I got to CP 6 and it was here that the marshall confirmed I was last.  This must have been a mistake as I’ve since found out that there were two others behind me at this point.  Also I got a flapjack as I said I was low on food, this was ace, I just inhaled it.  As I was walking across to the start of the final climb up Cribyn, I slowed down long enough to ring Mum as I knew I wasn’t going to finish on time, so wanted her to know that incase she worried and to also take a shot of the upcoming pain that would be the Cribyn climb.  It’s like lots of Brecon Beacons climbs, very steep.  They’re either nice and gradual or short and super steep.  It was here that I saw a couple of other runners on the Cribyn climb.  As I was going very steadily, knowing what was coming, I managed to reel them in a bit.  I was very tired by this point and I couldn’t look around at all, I had to focus on each step.  It was brutal, but at least I was expecting that, it must have been horrible if you didn’t know what you were expecting.  However on the descent off Cribyn to the top of the Gap pass, my knee pain really kicked in.  The last of the painkillers went down my neck just before Cribyn, so there was no more solace there.  I just had to grit my teeth and get on with it.

I didn’t bother with filling up at CP 7 either, I just drank a decent amount of water and kept on going.  Not wanting to waste any time.  I could see the other runner at this point so started to chase him down, as while he was running still, my walking pace was much faster.   I caught him up on the ridge round from Fan-y-Big.  We exchanged greetings and I confirmed to him where the route was going.  Jamie (the other runner) was I think relieved that I knew where I was going.  However the course was well marked at this point so my local knowledge wasn’t that useful.  Still we walked/jogged together having a good natter.  However I knew the final descent from Carn Pica was coming and I was dreading that.  It was as awful as I’d thought it would be.  My knee pain was utterly horrible here, however I had to go down and that was that.  I got down and eventually Jamie managed to coax me into a run downhill, at least it would finish things quicker.  We got down to the Talybont resi and kept on trudging onto the Taff trail.  Here I rang Rhi and arranged the post race curry and asked her to head down to pick me up.  While we were on the Taff Trail, one of Jamie’s mates came out to meet us as Jamie’s wife was getting worried.  Also one of the organisers came out on his bike to check up on us, which was lovely.  As we got close to the canal I eased into a jog and Jamie followed me so I thought.  However after a while I looked round and he’d disappeared.  I wanted to get finished at this point, so just kept up the pace and the organiser whizzed past on his bike encouraging me on.  As I came into the grounds of the race HQ the marshalls rang bells and everyone came out and cheered me on.  I managed to break into a fast run here and got over the finish line.  As it was flat, my knee was ok.  I was happy to have finished.  I recieved my finishers medal and mug and nabbed some flapjack that was floating around.  I was surprised Rhi wasn’t there, but it turns out she didn’t know that she could come inside so was patiently waiting for me in the car.  I waited around for Jamie to come in and while I was doing that I changed tops and started drinking my recovery drink.  I thanked as many marshalls as I could and went outside to find Rhi.  She then took me home via the curry house.  I again inhaled the curry and a pint and crashed out in short order.

Recovery and Post-Race

It’s nearly a week after the race now and my knee pain (ITBS) in my right knee is slowly going away.  The left knee has been affected but not as badly.  The muscle soreness is pretty much gone.  I would imagine that people who do this sort of thing on a regular basis would recover much quicker when compared to someone like me who’s relatively fit and just forced themselves round.  Especially as I knew from about halfway round that I was just doing myself damage.  I spent the Sunday after the race watching John Wayne westerns (Train Robbers, El Dorado, Cahill (US Marshall) and Chisum) and just sitting around at the in-laws while the wife and the in-laws went to the Malvern flower show.

While the race was well organised

Gear

Race Photos