Brecon To Cardiff  71km(45 miles)

First UltramarathonThe day didn’t start off great… 

Brecon to Cardiff was my first ultramarathon and is a point to point race so the organisers put on coaches to take you to the start line. 

My brother dropped me off around 06:10 which is 5 minutes before the coaches depart. I had my breakfast in my bag ready (yoghurt and blueberries). As I go to step on the coach a sudden and cold realisation comes over me. 

I’ve forgotten my water bottles! Quickly I grab my phone step back from the coach and call my brother. NO ANSWER. Shit! Try again, no answer! Give it a few seconds and ring again…

Hello… thank god. I tell him he’s going to have to turn around and pick me up. The coaches depart as my brother arrives. Race start is 8 am so now we have just over an hour to get home fill the bottles and get to the start line.  I decide to skip the red bull I packed and just chugged some water down with my breakfast in the car on the way to the start line. Luckily we make it up there with about 20 minutes to go and I just about make it in time for the traditional pre-run bowel movement. The queues for the toilets were long so it was touch and go if I’d get a chance to go. 

Race Start

There were around 400 starters for the race and it starts on a narrow canal path in the centre of Brecon. As I was running late I was towards the back of the group so the first mile was quite slow and very stop start as you have to navigate low tunnels and flooding in places. 

The weather was biblical from start to finish so keeping your feet dry(ish) for as long as possible seemed like a good idea. However, after a few miles this was an impossible task with all the flooding so eventually I just gave up and just darted through big puddles while large groups of people were queuing up on the edges to avoid them. As this was my first ultra I was aiming for a finish time of 10 hours. How I got to that number you may be thinking? Well the cut off is 12 hours and my brain was saying 8 hours so I settled in the middle for 10 (science bro). 

Few miles in and we’re cruising. No real monitoring of pace at this point and I’ve turned off all mile notifications. I just have an alert set up for every 45 minutes which tells me to eat. 

Quickstep aside from the race a second to talk about my nutrition strategy. 

1 x gel every 45 minutes and a flapjack every now and again to give me some morale of solid food. Plus eat whatever they have at every aid station. 

I’m carrying two 500ml soft flasks. One is just water, the other has water in with a hydro tablet. Pineapple and Mango flavour tablets for this race. They taste amazing!

PHD Hydro Tabs

Ok, back to the race and we’re just coming up to the first checkpoint which is 7 miles in. 

Checkpoint 1:

Time: 1hr 10mins (10mins ahead of schedule) 

Filled up my bottles. Grabbed some sweets and a breakaway bar and I’m off. That’s the flat bit over with. Now we climb! 

The next section is uphill for around 7-9 miles and my god it was a slog! This is when I realised just the amateur I am in this game. I was holding a steady 11:30-12 min per mile pace up the hill. People would be flying past me only to start walking about 150-200m in front of me. I’d slowly catch up to them and just before I’d get there they’d start back up and trot up the hill and push more distance into me. Now we’re only around 10 miles in by this point so mentally I’m still fine and just accept it is what it is and to continue with my strategy which is basically just keep running until I can’t run anymore. 

The headwind up this hill was disgusting in parts. I’ve watched YouTube videos of this race and the views can be stunning. Not today though. Driving wind and rain produced a very brutal landscape to look out into 

Brecon To Cardiff Ultramarathon

As I get to the top of this beast of a climb someone hands me a mint and it’s one hell of a pick me up. It really did brighten my mood. The little things hey. The top of the mountain was carnage! Full on sprinting through the headwind and I look at my watch to see 11 min per mile pace. Lush! 

As we start to head down towards cp2 at mile 16 we go through some flooding and a few technical trails which my inov8 trail shoes really shone and helped me pass a few people who were sliding all over the place. I guarantee there were some epic falls down that bit over the course of the day. 

Checkpoint 2:

Time: 10:49 (40 minutes ahead, flying!) My hands were starting to lose functionality. I struggled a bit to take my lids off my bottles. I stepped into the corner of the tent and fumbled through my kit trying to get a hydro tab into one of my bottles without soaking the other tablets in the process. Once that was done I grabbed a packet of crisps and set off walking while I ate them. Worcester sauce flavour if you’re wondering. 

Flood central for the next few miles, some parts the water was coming up to just below the knee. Starting to struggle now. 18 miles in and I’m crossing the bridge by the reservoir. Sideways rain and wind smashing you in the side. Loads of fun! I seem to always be caught between packs. Group of people in front just to quick to catch and a group of people behind who are moving just a bit too slow for now at least anyway. Down off the reservoir and I use the downhill to bridge the gap to the group in front. I sit on the heels of these guys and girls for the next few miles until I look at my watch and see we are doing sub 11-minute miles. Too quick for me and my legs start to cease up, not good. We’re on the flat about 21 miles in and I take my first flat walking break. I didn’t plan on walking this early but my legs were in bits. Checkpoint 3 is coming up at 23.5 miles and this is where the drop bags are so I’m concentrating solely on that! 

My First Ultra

Side note. I haven’t mentioned but as this ultra is on both trail and road there is a drop bag station at checkpoint 3 where you have the opportunity to change to road shoes. Drop bag was advised to be a max 10 litres. 

Back to the walk/jog and I hit 23 miles. No sign of any checkpoint yet. 24 miles. Still no sign. Mentally I’m struggling here. Legs are in bits and I’ve walked more than I’ve run in the last few miles. As I hit 25 miles I see the big uni building where the checkpoint is. Happy days! I trot into the canteen pick up my grab bag grab a banana and find a seat. 

Checkpoint 3:

Time: 12:22 (still 40 mins ahead) 

I look around and see a mix of smiling faces and people like me who are in the gutter struggling. I also see people completely changing their whole outfit and I think, shit! That’s a great idea, why didn’t I think of that. I packed road shoes, spare socks and a T-shirt. I used the t-shirt to dry my feet off a bit and put my fresh socks on. Morale booster! 

Stayed seated for a few minutes then decided to try and have a wee before heading out. I haven’t had a wee since the start and I’m now 4.5 hours in. Not good. Bright yellow, dehydrated badly! I clearly need to take on more water so I sink both bottles and refill them as I head out the door and shuffle up the road to begin the second half of the race. 

As I’m shuffling up the road an older guy comes past and says what a delight it is to have dry feet for a few minutes. I agree and then off he goes into the distance. I round a corner and I’m straight into a puddle and my feet are soaking again. Fantastic. 

The next checkpoint comes up quickly. Around 30 miles in. I have a new strategy now where I make sure I start walking when I see the checkpoint and drink both bottles. 

Checkpoint 4:

Time 13:36 (somehow I’m 1 hour ahead of schedule) 

From checkpoint 4 I knew it was a long 7-8 miles to the 5th and final checkpoint. Both bottles filled and I grab another banana to eat as I walk out the checkpoint. I’m in the hurt locker now and I’m proper struggling. I round a corner and take the opportunity to have a quick wee before heading up a hill. Nice and clear. Perfect. Hydration seems to be back up. 

As I walk up the hill I go through a tunnel and see a familiar face waiting there. It’s my mate Wilfy. He asks how I’m doing and said he’s parked his car a few miles away so he can run with me for a about 3 miles. I can’t explain to you how much of a morale boost this was. If you’ve done an ultra before you’ll know how tough it is to keep moving at any sort of pace when you’re deep into it. The thought of quitting never crossed my mind but with Wilfy there I felt I could just chat to him and take the pain off my legs which helped me run a bit longer and a tiny bit quicker. Those few miles flew by and we even passed a few people. Soon enough Wilfy’s car came up and I thanked him for his support and I was back to being solo. 35 miles in and 2/3 miles to go the next checkpoint. 

I come to a road crossing and see that the road is marked to the left but there are already people straight ahead of me on the path. Confused I check my watch but have no idea how to use the navigation properly so I just head straight after the people on the path. 

Off course. I look down at my watch to see the notification flash. I shout ahead to the people in front. The lady and man stop and she says. “Yes mine says off course to but people around here hate this race and sometimes move the markers” we were warned this could happen in the brief so I thought ok let’s just go with it. As we carry on about half a mile later we see it! 

Path closed. F*ck. We’ve gone wrong. Luckily to the left of us a hill up to the road and we make our way up. I’m moving slow and they head off in front of me creating a gap I can’t close. As I get over the foot bridge I’m making my way down the other side and see a sign in some car’s window. I think to myself that looks like my name there. Out jumps my barber and mate Ben with his daughter and cheer me on. I can’t explain to you how much of a boost it is seeing family and friends when you’re out on the course in the horrendous weather in the depths of a long day! 

More back up I jog along the pavement and check my watch to see the checkpoint is just around the corner. 

Checkpoint 5 is the final checkpoint 

Time (15:42 10 minutes behind schedule) that the last section was tough and the wrong turn didn’t help. The hour I built up was gone). 

Checkpoint 5 and I’m straight in for a wee. All clear. We’re still hydrated. Can’t use my hands properly now so the lovely volunteer opened them for me and filled my bottles up. I popped in a hydro tab and she kindly tightened both bottles. 

Now this checkpoint was amazing. Sausage and chips are available plus the usual crisps sweets and bars. I was conscious of the lost time so I banged two sausages into a piece of bread, smothered it in red sauce and inhaled it as I walked out the door back into the wet and wild weather. As I come round the corner the same car from earlier pulled up by my side and handed me a Mars bar and a Lucozade sport. Winning! Thanking Ben and his daughter I head off onto the path. Home straight. 

Ben did tell me later on that his daughter asked why on earth anyone in their right mind would want to run that far. Haha, I had to agree! I think most of us long-distance runners must have a few screws loose. 

Back on the path and I’m on the home straight. 38 miles in and the race organisers said it was 70km or about 42 miles. I’m thinking 4 miles. Just over a park run and I’m getting dry! 

This shows how bad the weather was along with flooding over your ankles there were fallen down trees covering the path in places. It took me well over a minute to climb over a fallen tree that wasn’t as high as my knee. You’re hopping over this on a normal jog. 

People are just flying past me now and I’m walking way more than running. Even my run at this point I can’t shuffle quicker than 13:30 per mile.

42 miles tick by and I realise this is a few miles further than I thought. Other runners are encouraging me to keep going as they move past me. Some look in the locker like me others look fresh as if they’re out on an easy run. At this point, it is purely a mental game. Your body is screaming to stop but you just have to keep going. Picking a point further down the path I initiate a job walk combo to see me to the finish. 

44 miles in and I turn off the path and head down a steep hill. This is pain but I continue to use it to jog down and over a bridge. Finish line in sight and I know my daughter, wife and parents are there so I don’t stop to walk I just jog that last mile all the way in! 

Crowds cheering in the rain as I hobble across the finish line! 

9hours 15 mins and 28 seconds. 

45 minutes ahead of my plucked out of the air finish time and a big smile on my face! 

Now, you might think that’s the end but it’s not! My legs are stiff but I’m not very hungry and I think I’ve smashed my nutrition on course to perfection. I just wasn’t fit enough to move any faster which I’m fine with. 

My wife suggests a dominos and I agree so it’s ready when we get home. I demolish a medium pizza and some chicken kickers then head up for a bath. 

20-30 minutes in and my stomach starts cramping. I instantly regret the pizza and I’m in pain for the next few hours with a few visits to the toilet. 

Monday morning I wake up. Very stiff but not as bad as I thought. I crack on with my usual day and head to work. Monday night all goes fine and I think I’m passed the stomach problems. 

5am Tuesday morning I wake up in a world of pain and the toilet becomes my best friend for a few hours. I feel fine a few hours later and head to work. Don’t feel great as soon as I get there so I decide after my sports massage I’m going home. I make it through my sports massage and my god the pain when he was massaging my calves is nothing short of horrific! They are soo painful but soo beneficial after tough sessions. 

I head home and climb into bed. I don’t move from that bed for the next few days apart from the toilet. The agony I felt was insane. 

Around Saturday afternoon I started to feel better and by Monday I was 100% 

That pain for those few days was much worse than the pain I felt on the run. I definitely should have researched post-run nutrition and should have planned a complete off-day on Monday. Live and learn as they say. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and if you’re planning your first ultra I can’t recommend this one enough. Challenging weather with some great terrain. I’m sure the views are amazing on a brighter day to. The staff and volunteers are incredible and there are plenty of points for spectators who are always cheering you on. 

My strava link to the run is below if you’re interested. 

Link to strava

Now to decide what to sign up to next. Any suggestions? Let me know some cool races in the comments.