Headline Sponsor – Craft of Sweden
Friday afternoon saw the first of the athletes gathering at the Outdoor Recreation Center, Talybont on Usk for the final round of The Welsh Ultra Running Series. The event also formed part of the Run Further, UK Ultra Running Championships.
The forecast had been improving all week but with 6 weeks of very wet weather the conditions underfoot were likely to be testing.
Being the last round of the series there was an added interest with series contenders hoping to secure their places in the overall series leader board.
In the mens category hot favorite Terry (Mr T) Conway was otherwise engaged so would not qualify for a final placing, this in all probability left it a two way shoot out between between 2nd and 3rd place athletes Piers Stockwell & Barry Murray. They had been evenly matched over the series each getting the better of each other on different occasions, it was likely to be close.
The womens category was in theory more straight forward with the ever smiling Victoria Mousely dominating the category with two wins in earlier rounds, would this be a formality?
The team category once again proved that endurance is the key with only two teams remaining in the competition at this stage, having met the criteria of using a maximum of 5 athletes over the series and having a minimum of 3 starters per round.
Lakeland 100 were in a commanding position however without Terry Conway on the start line they would fail to start with 3 athletes. To their absolute credit (Barry Murray & Bob Smith) they resisted the temptation of recruiting a 'ringer' and in the spirit of the team category, victory went to Mynyddwyr De Cymru.
MDC a local Welsh Fell Running club has used 5 athletes over the series all drawn from their club, so the first of the series prizes was decided before the starting bell had rung, congratulations to the MDC team, Alan Stone, Gary Davies, Katie Roby, Keri James and John Sweeting.
Saturday started early with registration opening at 06:00am. Morning arrivals mingling with athletes who had taken advantage of the accommodation at race HQ, swelling the numbers. The event was sold out and we were expecting the largest starting field of the series.
The weather forecast was proving reliable and the suncream was reached for and waterproof trousers downgraded to optional. After a final briefing on the start line from Race Director, Matt, the now infamous starting cow bell was rung by the ever effervescent and indispensable Dixie, we were off!
The early pace at the front was quick, probably too quick. Who was a dark horse and who had made the mistake of getting dragged in to a race in the early miles, there would be plenty of time for the answer to reveal itself and no hiding place for any athlete in the latter.
CP1 had seen the athletes cover approx. 6 miles and top Tor y Foel at 551 m, the lead group which included Piers Stockwell was tearing up the trail, if they could maintain this pace then Mark Palmer's incredible winning time from last year of 5 hours 54 mins could be in danger, but it was still very early and the challenge of the central Brecon Beacons would soon be in clear view, stunning and formidable in equal measure.
In the ladies event things appeared to be going to plan with Victoria as always smiling and comfortable near the front of the field. Claire Akin-Smith and Katie Roby a member of MDC were setting the early pace.
The pace continued through CP2 and on to the long drag to CP3 and the start of the central Beacons sections, this section will always settle things down and anyone who has gone off too quick will need to quickly re-adjust if they are to recover.
At CP3 Piers had taken a commanding lead of the men's race and looked comfortable, it was still early but with his experience it was going to take a big effort to overhaul him. Some of the early lead group had indeed settled down and the pace was a little less frantic. Barry Murray who hadn't featured in the lead group now started to pick athletes off and moved comfortably in to the top 5.
In the ladies race Katie maintained her impressive start heading down to CP4, however further down the field something wasn't right. Victoria appeared but the smile wasn't there, this is not normal! A quick chat confirmed that a troublesome knee which has been present but managed all year was now refusing to play ball, still she pushed on. I hoped I would see here again as they headed back up to us after visiting CP4.
Little changed at CP5, Piers and Katie maintained control, Barry continued his pursuit of the leading men, asking how far ahead Piers was, always a sign of someones mindset, he was ready to race. In between the two, Gancho Slavov and Jim Mann continued to cover the ground at an impressive pace.
Thankfully Victoria did reappear and even better the smile was back, I suspect a mental re-adjustment had taken place and racing had been replaced with finishing. A short chat hopefully banish any lingering doubts, the Series title was still there to be won if she could get around. Behind that ever present smile is a tough cookie and very good athlete.
CP 3 & 5 (same checkpoint) was an interesting place to be. Psychologically it is a tough part of the course, you are approaching half way having endured a surprising tough, steady climb from CP2. You then have to lose all that height down to CP4 to then undertake a different more brutal climb back to CP5, all this knowing you have the crux of Cribyn waiting to greet you in a few miles time.
If I was a betting man I would have offered good odds for a DNF number in the teens, the fact we only had 3 is a testament to all the athletes. I saw real suffering at CP3 & 5 but obviously most managed to pull themselves back together to complete the course. There was some great comments questioning the parentage and sanity of Race Director, Matt, but my favorite quote had to be 'there is nothing like being handed your 'ass' on a plate', as a dejected female athlete sat at CP3 contemplating what was to come. This same athlete pulled it back together and went on to finish, in fact there were no female 'DNF's', who said child birth was easy hey!
And so the race moved on to the central Beacons, from CP5 the highest point in Southern Britain, Pen Y Fan was conquered, followed by a stunning ridge run were the full beauty and scale of the Brecon Beacons could be experienced. The only issue being all the height loss. From here the only way was up and the crux of course Cribyn awaited the athletes. A steep climb got steeper, then after a brief respite got steeper still and with lungs bursting and legs burning the final descent had many athletes resorting to hands and feet. Having conquered the twin cardinals of the Beacons the athletes could console themselves that all the sustained climbing was now behind them, although being the Brecon Beacons it was never going to be flat!
A quick visit to CP7 at the windy Gap and much needed water supplies could be taken on board. The athletes were now on the home stretch with a fantastic ridge run and long descent back to the Talybont reservoir.
This is where the mens race took a twist. Piers still in command and on the home straight and possibly relaxing for the first time (?) made a navigational error heading right off the ridge too early. The detour added miles allowing the following athletes to overtake him. Piers ultimately finished 4th having been in such command up to this point. Gutted doesn't quite do it and with Barry Murray moving up to 3rd had it cost Piers the Series title as well?
A short section on the ancient tram road and Brecon canal brought the athletes back to where they started their epic challenge. The relief and sense of achievement evident in all.
To sum it up it is always a privilege to witness first hand athletes pushing themselves to their limits, make no mistake this is a toughie and the underfoot conditions made it tougher. It was a fitting end to The Welsh Ultra Running Series. This is also an appropriate time to thank our headline Sponsor, Craft of Sweden, they are a relatively new brand to the world of Trail Running and Adventure Racing but have a rich heritage in endurance sport, as long time users of Craft kit we can whole heartily recommend it.
Lastly we need to thank our team of volunteers, anyone who has done a couple of events will know them by now, they are all great personalities. The same individuals give up weekends time and time again. These are not easy events to stage and without them they would be impossible. We only hope that in time we can reward them for their continued commitment and hard work. Guys, you are the best team anyone could ask for, thank you.......
Round 4 results can be viewed here
Series results can be viewed here
Dates for the next years series will be confirmed soon, keep an eye on our Facebook page.