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From bog of despair to peak of happiness

by Caroline44
Monday 16th May 2016
In a nutshell: a challenging course that takes you up the highest peak in South Wales. Expect steep gradients, rocky paths, stinky bogs and breathtakingly beautiful scenery (assuming it’s not foggy).  You do need to carry kit, calories and a good stock of water (some is available en route).  A well organised run with great marshals and a relaxed atmosphere.
Do this run if you love: tough trails, hills, varied terrain, being largely self-sufficient, a large plate of the best tasting chilli ever at the end. 
Do NOT do this run if you love: running with a large crowd of people, cheering spectators, a flat fast course, roads.
The Full Monty: 
Everything about this run was different to anything I’d done before.  Admittedly I have only been running in events for a couple of years, but I had 6 trail runs under my belt, including one marathon. Plus I grew up in Wales and I’d hiked up a mountain or two. So I thought I had a good idea of what to expect. I didn’t.  
The starting line was amusing with runners jostling to be at the back rather than the front.  Clearly the veterans of this run knew what was coming. The first 3 miles followed a flat towpath and then we hit our first hill –a 500 metre stomp up Tor y Foel, which is a brutal yet effective way to warm up the legs and lungs.  From here we dropped down and up and down and up for a few more miles to Talybont reservoir – which was simply stunning. I was 10 miles in and all was well in my world, even as the CP marshal advised that I was about to do a really tough 8 miles, but that it would be worth it in the end.

Caroline collage

2 miles later I was in meltdown and wondering how anything could be worth this torture. The night before I had studied the OS map and wondered what on earth an ‘area of shake holes’ was and laughed at the rather dramatically named ‘Swallow Hole’.  I was not laughing now.  For your information, an “area of shake holes” is an area of reeds and tussocks which covers a pit of very deep, very smelly, black boggy stuff.  As I hopped from tussock to tussock, my energy levels started to dip and then my left leg disappeared.  Yes, I had picked one of the unstable tussocks that plunges you straight into the mire. Repeat three times and I just wanted to stop and have a good cry. I was cold, tired and nauseous and I didn’t want to play this game anymore. I was also on my own at this point with no other runner to pull me along. To add to my despair the heart rate monitor on my TomTom, which had refused to work for the past 3 months, suddenly buzzed into life displaying a warning of “no recovery” with a graphic of a heart with a line through it. Cue nervous breakdown.

Caroline collage 2

8 miles later, as I reached the top of Pen-y-Fan, I was on top of the world.  The sun was out, the view was awesome and so was I.  After the bog of despair, there was a long hike up a stony ridge before a final steep ascent to the summit.  By this point I had mentally accepted that a mountain marathon was not a 26 mile run – it was a 26 mile endurance campaign.  The varied terrain demands respect, concentration and calories.  But the CP marshal was right – the 8 miles of drudgery just made the destination more spectacular. My good mood sustained me through the next 10 miles of steep descents, another ascent, another bog, a fall and a stony track. For the last stretch home, I enjoyed the company of another runner, Dai, who had done a fair few of these runs and informed me that this was one of the toughest. 
And would I do it again?  Hell yes.

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