I had a great time running the Brecon Beacons 40-miler last weekend. The race itself did not pan out as I was hoping, but I was happy with my effort and I learned a few lessons.
As it turns out, there are plenty of hills in Britain!
The race did not start at the ridiculously unsustainable pace that I am used to from ultramarathons in the US. So I decided to stretch out the field a bit and led the first few flat miles, probably running low to mid seven-minute miles, but feeling fairly comfortable. Just as I expected, the people with ambitions to win the race followed, and I got to run with or behind them in order to get a feel for their styles. We hit the first climb as a group of five or six, and everyone was looking fairly strong.
I was excited by the prospect of an exciting race and was feeling mentally and physically ready to compete hard. Just like at Highland Sky last year, I had no idea who the runners around me were. For example, I had chatted with Andrew James before the start, without realizing he just won two tough ultras in a row, including a UKA title at the Highland Fling after a good battle with Jez Bragg.
After 14 years of ‘rabbit’ pacing strategy in races, I have recently been experimenting with a more patient approach, so after the pace settled, I decided to hang back, keep the leading trio (Mark, Andrew, and Daniel) in sight, stuff myself with as many calories as I could, and put everything I had in a big push in the last 10 miles. This seemed like a very sound strategy, but it did not account for getting off course, which interfered with the plan quite a bit.
This being a race with an unusually well-marked course for the UK, I still struggled with following the markers throughout. I got significantly off course on at least three occasions, which is really three too many, given the strength of the runners competing at the front.
I loved the aesthetics of the course markers.
But I need to get a LOT better at following them.
After losing about 10 minutes with the first wrong turn I took, I tried hard to not let that affect me mentally and I patiently reeled in two of the three runners who had passed me while I was off course. But the second time that happened, I realized my race was over, so I just focused on running the harder second half of the course as smoothly as I could and finishing strong. The two runners behind me kept catching me because I kept missing turns or having to stop or backtrack to make sure I was going the right way. Every time that happened, I would get competitive again and open a small gap on them, and this little game was sufficient to distract me from the inevitable fatigue and muscle pain.
Happily sporting my WVU raceware.
I finished in 6:45 and was satisfied with my running, even if I was also a bit disappointed to miss out on competing with the top four (not that I think I would have necessarily been able to). Ironically but also fairly, I was penalized by 25 min. for one of my jaunts off course. The ironic part was that I still ran at least two extra miles overall. But it was also fair because in one occasion, I inadvertently took a shortcut in terms of both distance and elevation gain, which also misled the runner behind me (sorry Barry!).
In the end, it was a great day of running across some stunningly beautiful mountains. The race was organized impeccably, and hanging out and chatting with the other runners at the finish line was really nice. I guess I will have to pull the map out of my pocket next time and start using my brain a bit while I run. Thanks again to MCN and the course marshals! I look forward to the next event from this series.