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Beast of the Beacons – Gildas Braine

Last year was a bit up and down for me.

In February, while training for Boston Marathon (April) and UTS50 trail race in Snowdonia (May) I got injured, and thought maybe my season was over before it had really begun.

I suspected I had maybe picked up a stress fracture in my shin; the day after running North Downs Ridge 50k as a training race I could barely walk.

After three weeks of crying I finally went to see Jamal at Spires Physio in West Hampstead

( who told me it wasn’t a fracture, just bad shin splints, and I was an idiot for doing so much running and zero strength work (fair) and how on earth had I gotten away with it for so long, and here were some exercises that would help.

He was right, Boston went ok despite pretty much no running for 8 weeks beforehand, and UTS went really well! So well that I signed up for the UTS100k 2024 a couple of days later as soon as entries opened.

Fast forward a year and training has been going well.

Since UTS I racked up another couple of mountain races: Lavaredo 120k and OCC 55k which both went well.

I did a lot of cycling for my base fitness (and because it’s fun!) in the autumn and early winter as well as carrying on my weekly gym work and that’s really been paying off.

I’ve been trying to get in as much elevation as possible and also building up the mileage, without neglecting speed work either, which is still very important for ultra running (the faster you are, the less time you’re out there!).

I’ve done a few trips to the mountains (including a trip to Snowdonia for a race recce with a handful of other QPH runners and a few other friends), which have been brilliant, and also managed to find some lovely hills in Devon during our family easter holidays last week, which was great fun and a nice change from Swain’s Lane and Gladstone Park!

This weekend I had planned to go to the Brecon Beacons for possibly my last trip to the mountains before my race (it’s closer to Bath where the rest of the family were than Snowdonia) but due to the weather forecast (80 mph gusts at the peaks), I thought it would be safer to not be out there alone. Failing to find someone to come with me, I turned to Facebook and put out some messages on a couple of trail groups I’m a member of.

Someone mentioned there was actually a race on in the Brecon Beacons on Saturday, and could that possibly be a good way to go to the mountains without being alone? It’s also got the advantage of being a bit further east and not quite as high as Pen y Fan so probably slightly less exposed to the elements. So I message the organisers to see if there was any chance of a late entry, and an hour later I get a succinct reply: “Cash please. Parking is at the Coach and Horses pay and display”.

And just like that, I’d entered a 40 mile mountain race with 2400 metres of elevation during a major storm with 16 hour’s notice…

Driving up to Llangynidr Village Hall on Saturday morning I was feeling very relaxed as I was coming with no pressure or expectations, but also wondering if I had all the right gear with me. After all, I’d only really packed for a solo trip rather than a race. Is there anything I might have forgotten?

As I register and check my pack it looks like I’m all sorted (except I haven’t got my belt for my race number so I attach it around my waist with an old shoelace) and all of a sudden it’s time for the race briefing.

Ten minutes later and 51 of us are off for a 20 mile anticlockwise loop up to a plateau including beautifully named tops such as Carn Pica, Bwlch y Ddwyallt and Craig y Fan Ddu, topping out at 760 metres of elevation.

In the valley it’s quite warm, and as we start to climb it’s hard to believe the savage weather warnings that the Met Office have issued for the day, but it’s a good reminder of how different conditions can be in the valleys and at the peaks, and also how quickly things can change.

At the start of the race I started near the back, just getting into a comfortable rhythm and getting to know a few other competitors at a nice chatting pace. I didn’t have any specific expectations, apart from having looked at the results from the previous year and saw that 10 hours was roughly halfway up the field so thought that would be a reasonable target to aim for.

The terrain was muddy grass for the first few miles and we soon moved away from the houses, roads and canal, and into the lower sections of the mountains. As we started the first climb the chatting quietened down as people got into their climbing rhythm and the wind started to make hearing each other a bit more challenging. Within an hour it already felt like we had properly left the lowlands and were heading into the mountains; fields of cows and muddy grass gave way to gorse, bogs, and rocks.

Once on the top ridge, having climbed roughly one third of the day’s total, I felt in really good shape and drifted off the front of a small group of half a dozen runners with whom I’d spent most of the previous two hours. The path at the top was very windy and I really felt pushed around and having to constantly readjust my body position to keep moving forward, but having crosswinds like that on the side of your face is extremely invigorating and I soon found myself moving really efficiently over undulating rocky terrain for the next half an hour or so until the first big descent back into the next valley on the other side.

This is where my quads would really be tested properly for the first time. This descent was much more rocky than the boggy climb, and had some uneven slabs that had been crudely fashioned into steps which made the descent fast but treacherous in the wet conditions, however I managed to skip down quickly, and soon reached the first aid station. Half a banana and I was off.

The next hour and a half had a nice mix of gravel forestry roads and undulating muddy tracks, and that’s where I managed to catch up with a few more runners and chat for a bit before pushing on.

The combination of chasing people down and then meeting new people made this section fly by, and all of a sudden we were heading back down through farmland toward the canal and back to HQ. I took a wrong turn going through a combination of gates through a farm which meant I ended up running in the right direction but along the wrong side of a barbed wire fence but I luckily managed to step over it without injury or really losing any time which was a relief

It was around here that I was passed by the front runners of the 20 mile race who had started an hour behind us, as well as seeing the leading runners of our 40 mile race come back the way we had come. I really enjoyed this out and back loop format which meant that the second half of the race you’ve already been to before so you know what to expect, but because you run it in the opposite direction it still gives you a different challenge and different scenery which is great for a race I hadn’t reccied at all.

As I arrive into HQ (a cute little village hall) I’m told I’m at around 20th, so just above halfway which is exactly where I would want to be, and there’s only 4:07 on the clock so I’m ahead of pace which is great (I was allowing approx 4:30 for the way out and 5:30 for the way back to finish in 10 hours knowing I’m likely to slow down a bit towards the end of an ultra).

The volunteers there help me with my bottles but I don’t need to change any kit so I tuck into a bit of real food and I’m back out in just over 5 minutes, knowing what’s ahead of me and feeling good about hitting my 10 hour target. For the next hour I cross paths with a mix of 40 and 20 mile runners, and it occurs to me that for some this will be the longest or hardest race they will have done to date, and that combined with fatigue starting to kick in for me means I get a bit emotional and it means it’s time to get the French pop on.

I take the first section of farmland fairly steady and after an hour or so I’m starting to feel a real swagger and I start pushing a bit more, hoping to find a few more runners to run with.

I exchange places a few times with a lovely guy who can’t stop talking, and then it makes me realise how awful it must be to have someone like me catch up to you if you’re having a low moment!

Finally after another hour I spot someone else up ahead in the distance and this section of the route is a long slightly downhill gravel road.

The Europop is now on full blast and I lift the pace to catch up. This guy is training for the Dragon’s Back stage race in the Autumn so carrying an extra few kilos in his pack just for fun, and genuinely looks so fresh he looks like he’s out for a stroll.

He stops at the aid station just before we start climbing again and assuming he’s a faster climber than me I push on and try to gain as much time as possible up the rocky steps back to top ridge.

It turns out the climb from this side isn’t as high, because the starting point of the climb itself is actually a lot higher than it was on the other side which takes me a bit by surprise, so all of a sudden I’m already back on the top ridge again. At this point I start doing some running maths (my favourite kind) and realise that getting around under 10 hours is in the bag, barring a serious failure, however I know there are two fast runners behind me who are likely to catch up so I start to really dig in along the ridge.

The wind is now stronger than on the way out, but I’m really buzzing about the fact I probably only have under two hours left of racing if all goes well.

The final big descent to come off the ridge is slippery bog and I’m working hard (unsuccessfully) to stay off my arse but now I’ve finally spotted another runner ahead of me, and still no sign of anyone catching up behind.

I’m starting to feel the really fast descent in the quads a bit now but I’m also buzzing about having someone to chase down.

Just as we are coming off the mountain and back onto a road along a reservoir I can see he’s stopped turning around to check my progress and I quickly catch up and push on.

The last few kilometres fly by with a decent stretch along a canal then back up the road to HQ.

I spend half this section looking behind me but really my finishing position isn’t that relevant as my main goal towards the end was to get around in under 9 hours, so I’m obviously delighted to finish the last section managing around 5:40/km on the last bit of road still feeling really good.

Final time: 8 hours 36 minutes, and 13th place.

Absolutely delighted.

One of the marshals jokes that it looks like I’m going to cry; of course he doesn't realise that he’s obviously right…

Overall a fabulous race by Limitless Trails (

I was super pleased to be able to test my fitness over challenging terrain, and was especially pleased with how comfortably I was running on the uneven ground on the flatter sections.

It was a brilliantly organised race and I’m very much looking forward to doing another one of their races put on by Ellen and her fabulous team.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend entering a 40 mile trail race with 2400 metres of climbing the day before an event, but would 100% recommend this race!


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