Having done the Llanbedr to Blaenavon fell race last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was keen to do it again in 2017. Also, being in the midst of my Bob Graham training, I thought that it would be a great way to see how I’m getting on. Last year I came 6th with a time of 2:33, so I was hoping to better this, and go under 2:30.
Llanbedr to Blaenavon is a 15 mile point to point fell race in the Brecon Beacons, starting in Llanbedr and finishing in Blaenavon, going over 3 peaks along the way – Crug Mawr (550m), Sugar Loaf (596m), Blorenge (559m), with a total of 4,500ft of elevation gain. Having done the race last year, I knew what to expect, with the Blorenge being a brutal final ascent, and therefore legs like jelly for the final 2 miles down into the finish.
We stayed with our friends James & Lowri who live just outside Abvergavenny, and James was also planning on doing the race for the second time. The race was a 12 o’clock start so at 10am we started making our way over to the finish to register. As it was point to point, we then all trooped over to the start in Llanbedr, with 5 of us piling into my car. After a warm-up, and race briefing, we were ready to go.
I planned to run quite hard from the off, as I thought that with the experience from last year, and the fact I had been focussing on mountain training (whereas last year I was training for the London Marathon), I would be better placed to handle the race, and knew where to attack or run conservatively. However, not long after the start within a few miles when we were climbing the first peak, Crug Mawr, my legs were burning and I felt tired. Not a good start to the race! I’m not sure why, but I can only put it down to the amount of hard training I have been doing recently. I struggled on, hands on knees walking on the steep sections, and running where it eased off. The approach to the summit seemed to go on forever – it was a lot further than I remember from last year! As we approached the summit I was in a group of about 6 guys, in a line all running at a similar pace. After going round the trig on the top, the fun really began. I knew that as much as I had struggled on the climb, I would do well on the descent. It’s a cracking descent, all off path, descending steeply down through bracken, tussocks and occasional bogs – and this year, I knew where I was going! I loved it. Runners were everywhere, however I took a slightly different line to those ahead, and that coupled with how I was running, I leap-frogged about 4 guys. It was a very fast descent, finishing with a mile or so on a gravel drive, and then a short section on the road, before we started the climb up onto the Sugar Loaf.
As soon as we left the road and started climbing again, I started to struggle again. Chris, a runner I know from Mynnyd Du caught me and asked if I was alright as he expected me to be climbing better than I was. From that point on, something seemed to click, and I used that as motivation. I dug deep and started to pull away. I don’t know what changed but suddenly everthing started coming together again.
As we summited Sugar Loaf, Lily, Lowri and baby Cerys were there cheering me on. I said to Lily on the way passed how I couldn’t climb to save my life today, but at the same time the marshall on the summit confirmed I was currently in 7th place (even though Lowri told me I was in 4th!). All in all, not too bad all things considering, and being able to see a few of the guys ahead, I hadn’t given up on a top 5 place.
Thankfully, this year as I knew the route, I knew the line off the summit, and similarly to the Crug Mawr descent, I felt I ran really well, catching the 2 guys ahead of me. However, as soon as we entered the woods, I caught a rock and it sent me flying. I seemed to roll and bounce back up, cutting both knees and both hands, but thankfully, despite a fair bit of blood, it was just superficial. I continued through Abergavenny, occasionally glimpsing the runner ahead of me, desperately trying to close him down before the final climb up the Blorenge.
Like last year, the Blorenge was a killer, however, this year, I was expecting it. From bottom to top it’s 1 mile, rising 1,448ft, with an average gradient of 28%. The final third has an average gradient of 40%! Despite running hard, I had been saving something in the tank for this. After a brief stop at the drink station, I started making my way up. I knew I had a 30 second or so gap on the guy behind, but the guy ahead was out of sight in the woods ahead. I started climbing, and pretty quickly slowed to a walk. I soon realised I was closing in on the runner ahead and soon caught and passed him, with him complaining how hot it was. I continued up and soon broke out of the trees and then the hardest part of the climb began. Ahead of me I saw the next guy and before I knew it I had caught him. He was really struggling, complaining of dehydration so I gave him some of my water as I passed him. Once summiting, my legs were like jelly, but I knew that it was now pretty much all downhill. I tried to run off from the summit, but cramp was setting in, with sporadic spasms in my calves. I was conscious of the guys behind, but knew I had pulled away a bit on the climb. Thankfully, I was able to run the cramp off and descend the final few miles down to the finish quite comfortably.
I crossed the line in 3rd place, in a time of 2:25:14 – 8 minutes faster than last year – a result I was very happy with.
All in all, whilst I seemed to struggle on the first one and half climbs, I was really pleased with how I descended, and how I climbed on the final, and hardest peak. I can’t complain with a top 3 position, and more importantly going under 2:30. It was another really enjoyable, well-organised race, and one I will definitely be back to do next year – sub 2:20 perhaps?!
Up next, the Lakes Mountain 42 Ultra next week – 42 miles with 10,000ft elevation gain. Can’t wait!