Report by Jo Marriott
‘Savage’, was how I heard the course described by one of the men who finished close to me and I think that pretty much sums it up. This certainly wasn’t a beginner’s half marathon – it was almost half a mile longer than 13.1 miles to start with and over 2500 feet of elevation. In fact, it wasn’t the hills per se but their steepness and positioning that made it seem so hard. And don’t be fooled by thinking the 10k was the easier option. In true Welsh style this was 7.5 miles long and, by crafty manipulation and doubling back, managed to include the two steepest hills from the half marathon.
So, yes it was tough, but despite this it was probably one of my favourite off-road half marathons – and I have run a few over the past ten years.
Firstly, the route was cleverly designed to really highlight the beauty of the area. It started with an upward sweep of road that took you out of the village before turning left onto a farmyard track that remained flattish for a while before a gradual and relentless climb upwards. It was mainly runnable except for a never-ending half mile ‘hands-on-thighs’ hike up a steep scree-filled path (even Kelly admitted to walking this bit!). This ended around the 3 mile mark with a T-junction where the 10k went right and those doing the half were directed left. At this point, I assumed we must almost be at the highest point – but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was almost another 3 miles of relentless ‘up’ on a wide forest trail (which was technically runnable – if you had the energy!). Whether you were running or walking, it felt hard – especially knowing we weren’t even half way through the race yet!
Just as I’d had enough, at around 2000ft and almost 6 miles of climbing, we reached the second water station and the views opened up. Suddenly, the fatigue disappeared for a moment and I felt elated as I ran underneath these enormous, elegant wind turbines rotating their blades regardless of the bobbing bodies beneath. They weren’t going stop their revolutions for anyone and neither did I want them to.
Shortly after, the route descended downhill and I could enjoy a glorious couple of miles letting gravity do the work and take a good look at the scenery around. Unfortunately it was too soon to hope that the climbs were over and sure enough miles 8 to 10 included several more short hauls through woods, track and passed under the iconic commemorative stone ‘Arch’ that sits several miles above Devil’s Bridge. From mile 10, the route turned downhill again and, if I hadn’t been warned about a final hill, I would have assumed that the main climbing was over. It definitely wasn’t. At mile 12, we crossed a little bridge turned a corner and there was the hill that towered over the caravan and campsite. Of course they could have easily routed the race around the bottom of it but no, they made us scramble/walk/crawl, quads and calves screaming, another half a mile to the top before we were finally allowed a dizzying descent down and then briefly up, to the finish line at the Caravan Park. Mine was not the only calf that gave way just before the line although luckily the pain was temporary.
Although only 110 participants were in the half marathon (and 65 in the 10k) there some seriously good runners in the mix, as it was also the Welsh Championships and thus a qualifier for other races. The first two men finished just 8 seconds apart in an eye-watering
1:25:34 and 1:25:42 (did they get a lift up the hills – have they battery-operated quads??). Flora said she thought they were ‘professionals’ from the fell-running world. The 3 rd man was over 15 mins behind them in 1:41:06. The 1st lady finished in 1:45:01.
Kelly was 7th lady (3rd FV35) in 2:01:56
Jo M (me) was 17th lady (3rd FV50) in 2:16:10
Flora was 26 th lady (4th FV55) in 2:22:11
Liza was 2nd FV55 in the 10k in 1:21:34
This is a tough race but I would highly recommend it and there is always the 10k if you don’t want the full half. It will certainly be in my diary for another year.