Last updated: 20-Aug-18
By Dave Heeley
Friday morning the 21st November 6 am, Tony, one of my guide runners picked me up and we drove towards the Brecon Beacons. Our intention was to complete a training run of around 23 miles, up and over the Brecons, in preparation for next year’s Marathon Des Sables event.
We pulled on to the car park of the Talybont-on-Usk community centre and on checking the previous evening it should have been a dry, cold day, it started to rain! Kit on, including wet weather gear we began our run at around 8.30, off the car park and on to the canal tow path. The tow path would take us for 2 miles, whereby we would then turn right and hit the Brecons, we were not disappointed!
We weren’t even a mile into our run and suddenly the strap on Tony’s back pack snapped, not a great start as the packs we had, carried food, drink, spare gear and importantly a 5 kg weight, simulating the weight in the packs we would carry in the desert next year. With the rain now falling quite heavy, we tried in vain to fix the strap but it wasn’t to be so we trudged on regardless, what had to be had to be?
The hills that faced us certainly lived up to Tony’s description, steep! We climbed, running where we could and walking a great deal, but the idea of the day was strength in the legs. We went up! And up! And up again! We passed through and over many farm stiles, the land levelled and just as I caught my breath at times, it went again, and it seemed an eternity climbing that mountain! Well it seemed like one! The top was a relief, but then mixed with the rain now getting heavier came the wind. The top held no shelter, the wind was fierce, strong and biting, our bones seemed to shiver, and then we headed down!
Coming down to me was worse than climbing up, it was steep and the legs were in permanent brake mode, I was literally climbing down the hill, more stumbling than walking and certainly not running. The legs were screaming at this point and welcomed the valley floor, 7 miles and 2 hours into our trek we actually had the opportunity of some good running surface, legs, body and mind welcomed it, such a relief to actually run.
But the running was short lived! The climbing began yet again, this time not quite so steep and in fairness it gave us an opportunity to walk and get food inside us, sandwiches wet and soggy but who cared, it was fuel!
This climb was rockier, dispersed with gravel, slightly awkward under foot but at least it led to another bout of running on tarmac road, bliss! It was at this point we came across some Army vehicles, we guessed some manoeuvre going on, we stopped to ask if they had anything we might be able to fix Tony’s bag with, sadly not but it gave us a breather and the opportunity of a couple of photos, I did think may be a lift but the offer never came, so we trudged on.
The tarmac took us on for around another mile, then we hit once again rocky, uneven surface, with rolling rocks as I called them, taking our feet every which way, could have been a recipe for disaster, Tony said we had a few miles of this, first a long incline up and then 3 miles down, getting worse! It was at this point we encountered the soldiers coming back from their own trek; the first chap Tony said was looking strong, carrying pack and weapon and he gave us an enthusiastic greeting.
Over a period of an hour we must have been passed by some 200 soldiers and I mentioned to Tony although I’m guessing they are very fit lads, it was quite surprising the different fitness levels for fit men, the distance between the first and last placed soldier was almost an hour, the continuous hello’s from them kept our minds occupied.
We hit the brow of the incline and Tony once again wasn’t wrong! The 3 miles that followed was a rocky nightmare, with moving stones, rocks, streams, the wind, the rain, the bones chilled was I so glad to reach the bottom, although this was not the most enjoyable part, for about half a mile we followed what I can only explain as a nature made trench, a foot wide, filled with rocky boulders in parts, it was a case of hands on Tony’s pack and follow, carefully!
We eventually hit a gravel road, soaked, tired but pleased to be able to run; at least it gave us the opportunity to warm up. We then moved on to farm land, we followed the fields, through many gates, over stiles, through mud, ankle deep streams, through a wooded area and then an actual road, once again what I call proper running, with only 4 miles to go to the car park and the car! We ran for about 2 miles, through a small village, up and over a stinker of a hill, not a car passing us and not another person in sight, the rain was now relentless.
Over the brow of the hill and we turned left onto the canal, spirits rising slightly as Tony told me just 2 miles to go. I splashed my way down that tow path, Tony running on the grassy bank and as he stated there was only room for one in the continuous puddles that was me! Wet feet, cold feet but every step was a puddle closer, 23 miles and 6 and a half hours, touching the car was wonderful, 30 minutes later in the local pub, hogging an open fire, holding a pint and eating homemade cottage pie was fantastic!
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