I may even try to fiddle with camera settings – I just get these by luck but I do also know they aren’t entirely representative of what I see. Knocked out another seven miles after work today. The body really is feeling good at the moment!
Plus I have something to work for – The Preseli beast has announced for May 12th next year and Im delighted that the Ultrabeast is returning so I get to have a crack at it. 18 months ago I did the 11 miler and I was at my limits. Last May I did the 24 miler and I was at my limits. I’d like to do the hat-trick and in six months time attempt the 32 miler. I just know that course is brutal with more elevation than the RAT in Cornwall which I only just survived. I love the Beast events so much I will definitely run one of them. Time will tell …. I ain’t rushing anything
Then again with sensible training and hopefully no injuries I can go into this one in much better form!
Ok so in the aftermath of the Preseli Beast last weekend I promised to follow up on a few of the thoughts I had. This might not be as interesting as I’ve used up all my photos of the day (well mostly) but will act as a useful reminder next time I’m running this event or similar so bear with me.
I used my Inov8 Xtalon 212s and they worked superbly – I was pondering which way to go with shoes as they don’t have the most cushioning but I love them for the grip and stability they provide – They turned out to be comfortable all day and the grip while climbing and descending was fantastic. I always trust these if I want to do a technical run and they never let me down.
I used an Inov8 10 Raceultra pack with soft flasks at the front. I was originally going to use my Inov8 Racepak but at 4L capacity it couldn’t hold all the kit required for fellrunning plus enough food and water so this was an investment for the future. It’s an extremely comfortable pack, I didn’t even notice it was there most of the time and it didn’t chafe or bounce at all. My only gripe with it is that the softflasks come with long drinking tubes which can slip out of their shoulder holders while on descents and bounce around in your face but I just slotted them under the chest strap and no further issues.
The rest of the kit was standard stuff, asics tech shirt, sturridge baselayer shorts (although I cricket manufacturer in the main I find their shorts are super comfy) and hilly monoskin socks (no blisters no chafing)
Hydration and nutrition
As noted earlier I took 2 inov8 500ml softflasks with me, normally I run with a bladder in the back but I preferred this as the weight of the water felt better off my back and didn’t contribute to pack movement. Plus i was able to judge how much I was drinking and was able to refill easily at water stations without removing the pack. I remembered to keep drinking all the way which was easy when it was hot lower down but once up on the peaks it was much colder with some wind so I was happy I remembered to keep sipping away.
I took a fair amount of my homemade energy bars with me which always seem to do the trick and tucked into the jelly babies on offer at the aid stations – after all why not! As with hydration I judged this pretty well I think, probably could have eaten a little more and need to teach myself to eat when feeling shit on climbs.
I had a plan which I was determined to stick to and it worked out pretty well in the most. I started out deliberately near the back and just hung around there so I didn’t get caught up in the excitement and hare off too fast. I knew there was single track through the forest after a mile or so and moved up in front of the slowest runners so not to get bottlenecked there. This left me around two thirds of the way up the field which I stayed around most of the day. After around 5 or 6 miles I was chatting to a few guys around me and they were also there just to finish and I almost just stuck with them but realised it was just a mental comfort zone I didn’t really need and struck out at my own quicker chosen pace.
I read somewhere some great advice – Never run something at the start that you wouldn’t run at the end. I had to modify this slightly as otherwise I wouldn’t have run anything over a 1% incline but its solid advice and keeping it in my mind meant that I didn’t overexert on the ascents.
Descending gets a section of its own as it could well have been where the race was nearly over for me and was a major cause of pain and slowing down later on. I love descending, just as I love running quickly over rocks on the beach, it’s a thrill and a joy to speed along just at the edge of what my reactions and body can cope with. However I’m not used to descents that last over a mile over rough terrain and so although it felt fine to fly down (And trust me I made up a lot of time and places doing this in the first 10 miles or so, everyone who went past me going up was caught going down) and it was sooooo much fun to descend quickly at the limits my quads simply weren’t used to this sort of extended pummeling. By about 10 miles I had a pain in my left quad that was making me start to alter my stride and the longish descent into the town suddenly switched to tarmac and I couldn’t sustain any sort of pace without serious pain in my legs. This was then repeated for the next 14 miles – every descent was as painful as the climb. No rest for the wicked!
So I know I need to really work on my downhills to build up the muscles there that tend to get neglected. The next race in August also has a lot of climbing and descending though its coastal nature means shorter bouts of it. I intend to identify places where I can do repeat hillwork – And everytime I get fed up of it then remember the pain and problems my quads caused last weekend and do it again. If I hadn’t suffered so badly with the quads I could have knocked a fair amount off my time and although the mission was simply to finish it’s always nice to give it a real go!
I will quite happily admit I was nervous going into the race. I hadn’t run 24 miles before and certainly not in a fellrunning environment. However I was coming in with a gameplan and a goal – finishing. The race had cutoffs too which was new to me and they added a little to the stress but in the end were happily immaterial. There were many times, especially once the quads were hurting, that I thought “I cant do this for many more miles” and each time I told myself to suck it up and keep going. I cramped badly in my calves after the penultimate climb because it was so steep I was constantly on my toes and at that point I thought I was done (I’m not used to cramps) but I didn’t panic and just slowed to an amble and figured I could get by with a weird shuffle step until it passed – If it didnt pass I was on top of a bloody mountain so I was coming down one way or another anyway. People passed me at this point and it didn’t matter, it was me versus my legs and the mountain. After a while and a bit of stretching the cramps faded and I could pick up pace again.
So if theres one thing I learned its DONT PANIC. Things will hurt, things will feel like they are so broken that you cant possibly finish. Get the pain under control until its managable, if you cant run then walk a bit. At one point I had to sit on a rock to remove stones from my shoes, I sat for less than a minute. When I got up my quads were miraculously cured – for a short distance but it took a while before they reached def con fucking arghghghghhhh again.
Its a long day – its a long race and at the end of the day when you look at it time and places are immaterial. If you need to stop to regroup do so. There are no medals for running every step, there are no medals for breaking yourself to achieve a time or placing.
I hope I remember to read this and remember it before the next race. If I can do that plus add some hillwork I might just get away with pain instead of agony
So having completed the Beast Bach last year which is the Beasts offspring at 11 miles yesterday it was the full Presesi Beast over 24 miles and 4500 feet of climbing. Was to be a new challenge for me as I’ve only ever done 20 miles in training and the climbs on the beast are excruciatingly long and in parts steep. I’d trained for this for many months so determination was high but how the body would cope was the question.
I won’t do a blow by blow account here or go into depth, when I’ve had time to work out what happened I shall probably write a bit more. I finished in a few minutes over 5 hours (as is tradition here I forgot to stop my watch on the line so I await official timings) I think I probably would have gone under 5 easily had I not made some mistakes which I can now learn from. Oh and the marshalls at this race who are utterly brilliant all seem to have the most beautiful dogs which meant stopping to stroke and chat with every one (dog not the marshall) including one staffie which reminded me of Soaky so much I could have cried. At that point I was in pain and a low point and seeing that particular dog reminded me how far I’ve come and the promise that brought me here – Perfect timing Soak!
I didn’t win – LOL like that was never a thought – The race was part of the Welsh Fell Running Championships this year so there were some seriously fast fell runners – Winner took 3h 5m apparently! Thats inconceviable considering the terrain. I dont think I came in the top half – No matter not why i was there.
I obviously didn’t come to win – I came to finish, learn and enjoy. I did all three.
As I say I’ll flesh out the thoughts below a little later
I learned a huge amount about longer races.
I learned that there is a huge step up from trail half to a long fell race.
I learned what works kitwise.
I learned more about pacing myself (though I’m very happy with my plan and how I pretty much stuck to it)
I learned how to fuel and hydrate sufficiently
I learned that in fell racing there is so much time to be made on quick descending, what you lose climbing you can easily haul back with quick feet and a lack of common sense
I learned that its true that climbing decides winners and descending decides DNF after I managed to blow out a quad after 9 miles
I learned that you do have to learn to cope and adapt physically and mentally as the race progresses.
I learned that with a determined and positive outlook physical issues can be overcome.
After all that you’ll also be glad to hear that I paused quickly to take a few photos this year – I couldn’t resist treating you guys who have been so supportive. Many came out a bit blurred as I wasn’t really stopping for long but I got some good ones. Enjoy.
Its a fantastic race. I cant praise the organisation and marshalling highly enough. The whole village is there to see you off and cheer you home with horns and drums. Every marshall is cheerful and supportive as were everyone we met on the course. A favourite part was the water station around 14 miles in which was 3 old farmers in a farmyard with water and jelly babies. They were obviously loving the day as much as we were.
Im very proud of achieving something I put my mind to. There were doubts in training, there were doubts in the race but 24 miles is just 24 miles, more important is how far I’ve come in the last 2 years. From being unable to run a single field to running in the Welsh Championship fell race over long course just shows what you can do when you put your mind to it.
A couple of days later I’ve had time to think about what went well and what didn’t at the Beast Mawr on saturday. So warning this is meant as something I can read an consider before my next race and hopefully before the same race next year too. Might give some thoughts to those just starting to enter events as I am.
What went well …. I’m here to type this so I didn’t croak on a hillside somewhere?
Seriously though, getting to the venue early was good, perhaps not the few hours I did but it did give me chance to chill out and relax rather than rushing off to the start line.
Half zip running tops work for me. I tend to get very hot as I run and the ability to open up the zip to allow more airflow was great to cool down.
Recognising I was struggling and forcing myself to slow down and accept I’d be passed a lot. I’m a competitive wee beastie by nature, no-one likes being passed in a race, I think that’s natural. Realising that I was going to have to slow down because of the foot injury meaning half the field was going to pass me was hard at first to swallow. I sucked it up and told myself I was doing well to still be running at all let alone trying to hold places. As it dawned on me I was doing all I could I realised how meaningless these places were, no-one but me cared where I finished, my friends and family cared that I DID finish, once I worked that out I felt fine. (For the record I was 120 out of 179)
My attitude to others out there was good, I didn’t feel much like being cheery, it’s hard to smile through gritted teeth but I’m so happy now that I thanked and smiled at every marshall and tried to acknowledge all the people supporting from their gardens and in the streets. None of them had to be there for hours to watch me limp past but they did and I’m glad I tried to repay their support at least with a gesture. Also as I mentioned earlier in the latter stages I got passed a lot – I took the time to gauge runners coming up behind me and then stepping aside and waving them through. It felt like courtesy and the vast majority said thanks, I think it took a few by surprise and for the one or two who didn’t acknowledge me – I hope you run up a hill on a screwed up foot one day … I don’t mean that but guys if there’s someone obviously struggling and in pain a word of encouragement or thanks for stepping aside means a lot.
Nutrition – My homemade energy bars seemed to do the trick now I think about it more clearly. I struggled early on but recovered well and I had no issues with energy later on, the lack of training was the issue so i’ll keep making them and hopefully I can judge their effectiveness on a course I know well soon.
Determination – I’m proud that I finished in some shape, I have that going for me, when I read this back before my next race I need to remember I can live with the pain, my head was strong on Saturday and it will be next time.
Things that didn’t go so well
Injury – I’m an idiot and I shouldn’t have run on that foot .. There I said it. I so so wanted to do this particular race that I risked further injury, have probably set back my recovery by a way and put myself through a world of pain just to complete it. Would I do it again – probably as sometimes I’m not very bright. But in retrospect there was a chance I would come through unscathed and I took it, a gamble that both succeeded and failed.
Hydration – It got pretty hot what with starting off at 12.30 in the afternoon, I took a Salomon squishy bottle with me so I could drink from it and then stash it in my flip belt. The problem being the water in the bottle got very warm as it was in my hand and carrying the bottle itself was a pain. I need to rethink how i’m going to hydrate in hotter weather as I tend to chuck a Nile full of sweat out.
Out too fast – It’s pretty hard in a race not to just stay in step with those around you even if they’re hitting a pace you can’t sustain. In retrospect with little recent training and an injury I should have skulked near the back but oh no I happened to be near the front of the pen and so that’s who I ran with …. Idiot (see an idiot shaped theme here?)
You know what – I’ll leave it at those three – To be fair to myself I’m not going to beat myself up, I did what I could and If I can address these three next time I’ll be improving and that’s really all I want to do.
I forgot I took this one – That there in the background is the Beast! I’ll be back!
So yesterday was my second ever race. The Preseli Beast Mawr (little beast) – How hard can 11 miles be?
I was up with the lark as I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there, those west Walian roads can be small and twisty. As it turns out it was a simple enough 2 hour drive in the trailmobile.
Yes thats right yesterday was also the unveiling of the trailmobile. no not a new car but a ad hoc conversion. The back of my battered old mondeo is now converted to a pre race nervecentre and also post race sleeping accomodation. This could be a fun summer!
So I was an hour or so early and just chilled out in the Trailmobile (now capitalised) and got ready while chatting with some friendly guys from Swansea who were next to me.
I had 3 main worries, the race started at 12.30 and it was getting hot and I don’t particularly like the heat, I was woefully undertrained having hardly run for two months due to my major concern my foot injury. Still nothing I could do now but give it a go!
The race started from the centre of Maenclochog with a quick prerace briefing from the organiser Caz the Hat and we all had to hug people around us in a pre race show of solidarity. When you run alone these things can be awkward but luckily I was stood next to some pretty ladies.
And we were off! I take my hat off to the locals from the village who cheered and clapped us and even banged drums and rattled tambourines. After a few hundred metres of road we hit a gravelled farm track which led us to a wonderful marshy forest with single track wooden bridges throughout it. I spent most of the time just enjoying being out and praying the foot would be ok which it seemed to be, there was a slight ache but I could cope with that despite forgetting to take painkillers before setting off.
Out of the forest and the first hill, all good feeling fine. Nothing to it! Then down through a farm and through an old slate quarry. This was a lovely technical section with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs. I’d love to run this alone at my own pace when fit but was content just to be sensible and hold pace with those around me. A nice touch around here was Caz the Hat who had obviously taken a sneaky shortcut waiting to greet, encourage and fist pump every single runner going over a stile. This man has class!
Then another hill and this is where things started getting tricky as I suddenly felt awful, this was only a few miles in but I think the lack of training was starting to show itself. The gradient wasnt really enough to force a walk but it felt like there was nothing in the legs and the heat was getting to me.
I slowed and unleashed my secret weapon – My homemade chia, flax, date and raisin energy bars! (see this post for details) I admit I found it hard to swallow the first one – mainly because like an idiot I crammed it all in my gob at once and then found I had to chew it for about 300 yards – Well it took my mind off things!
After a while I started to feel better in myself and spied another serendipitous opportunity – a fresh mountain stream. Much to the surprise of the runners around me I leaped from the track straight into it up to my calves in lovely cool water. It was worth a few seconds to drench myself.
Invigorated I reached the top of the climb and then we sailed across a beautiful mountainside towards the aid station at mile 5.
Aaaaaand this is where the foot went …. running down and sideways on this path meant I was unbalanced with my bad foot on the uphill side and running at an angle hurt it. By the time I reached mile 5 the pain was getting bad and I was now favouring the other foot and the limp had begun. Well I guess this is trail running, it’s going to hurt and no turning back now.
The next stage was across the moorland in the photo above in a steady climb until we hit the Beasts Back.
This hill/mountain/evil incline of ultimate pain seemed neverending. Much of it we walked, some of it I could run by staying on my toes to reduce the pain but climb it we did and what views from the top!
Annoyingly my legs had come back to life and my breathing felt as good as it could be considering but the pain in my foot was now crippling me. It was time to simply dog it out for the last four or five miles or so. There’s a saying that kept running through my head at this point – It’s not the size of the dog in the fight its the size of the fight in the dog. Does anyone else get random mantras stuck in their head while running? I was telling myself that despite the fact that physically I was undertrained, injured and in a lot of pain I still had my head going for me. Time for fight in the dog to show up. I’d rather forget the downhills from that mountain. Normally I’d fly them, savour them and enjoy them but I couldnt impact the foot at all and so had to brake all the way down meaning my toes were being slammed into the toebox of my trainers causing more grief – It never rains but it pours!
Once back on level ground it was back through the forest again and into the village. And what a greeting, I was dead on my feet by this phase and just wanted to walk to alleviate the foot pain but I couldn’t give up with these people watching. It was like the whole village were in their gardens and on the road clapping and cheering. At that point it meant a lot – the whole run the marshalls and supporters had been fantastic and I tried to thank every one in passing. I limped over the line and what a relief to collapse on the grass! Now I know why they call it The Beast -even fit and uninjured that would have been a challenge.
Afterwards I waited around chatting and relaxing until the presentations. There was tea, cake, cawl all dished up by some fantastic volunteers. In fact I have to say the whole village should be proud of the day they put on for the runners. It really felt like a close community showing their warmth to a load of strangers who pitch up to run around in their beautiful countryside.
The organisation was top notch. I take my metaphorical hat off to Caz the Hat who clearly loves the area, running and his event. He’s created something special there and I would heartily recommend it for anyone with an interest in trail running. There were of course the full beast (24 miles I think) and a 32 mile ultrabeast too. If i’m fit I’d love to try the full beast next year.
The gory details
Oh and the goodies – I nearly forgot the goodies – an awesome tshirt and a fantastic slate coaster! So appropriate, I’ll never forget that quarry – I’m coming back one day at speed!
Despite the personal pain I really had a day to remember. You don’t get to say that very often. Beasted but not bested!