Saturday January 18th's weather was slightly different to the previous years event; there was no snow this time around but we certainly had cold temperatures combined with howling wind, rain and even sideways hail to challenge the near 500 competitors in what promised be a challenging day on the mountainside.
I rocked up to the Storey Arms around 0745, parking up a few hundred metres away and followed the trail of people in to the registration hall. Today's event seemed (& was) bigger and even better organised at getting people in and out of registration quickly and efficiently. I had purposely arrived earlier than required as I didn't want to miss the start of the load bearers who make the clean fatigue entrants pail in to insignificance as they make it look easy carrying a stupid weight on their back over a very tough course.
With the increased number of competitors at this years event, the start was delayed slightly while we waited for everybody to get through the kissing gate and crowd around Ken for some positively inspirational words about not dying out there and have a good time in what can only be described as terrible conditions. Hanging around the start line also has it's negative points as I had the embarrassment of being recognised by some people who had seen the video of me taking a tumble at the finish line of the Summer Fan Dance. It's all in a days work and falling over happens to the best runners or so I'm told!
And so at 0845 or thereabouts the load bearers were off, upwards and in to the cloud that was surrounding not just the tops of the mountains but also most of the bottom of them too. I returned to the car to prepare myself for my little jaunt, attaching race numbers, packing final bits of kit, double checking stuff I'd double and triple checked already etc. Not wanting a repeat of the Summer Fan Dance, I was determined to be at the start line on time and not to have to start from the back of the clean fatigue group so I left the warm car and made my way in to the start.
Almost exactly on time, Ken pulled us together and repeated his warning about not dying out there and keeping clear of the edges due to high winds. There is some irony listening to a briefing about staying warm as the person gives it sups one of the largest brews known to mankind safe in the knowledge he's staying in the warm at the bottom. Without the hooter this time, Ken counted us down and we were off....upwards in to the mist.
A few of the guys got off to a cracking start and soon disappeared over the first ridge line, although I kept them in sight just about until we were halfway up the main drag. Confronted this time with the age old question of do I track around the front of Corn Du, which is longer but has less vertical ascent, or do I go up and over. Given the conditions I decided for the first time ever to track around and it was near here I caught up with Darren for the first of a couple of encounters we'd have on route. Darren is an experienced Fan Dancer and came in a couple of places ahead of me at the Summer event and I was quite surprised to find him taking it slowly up the final piece of ascent. As it turns out, he was caught out with the cold weather later in the race and had to put in a death march to finish the event before warming himself up again with the help of the jacket provide by the DS.
I needn't have worried as we dropped down off Pen y Fan after checking in with the DS, both Darren and my old school buddy Braddan zoomed off past me down Jacobs Ladder. I like to think of myself as being quick downhill but these guys left me for dust and were soon down and heading round the side of Cribyn. I pushed myself to try and keep this guys in sight as we checked in with the DS at the Gap before heading down the Roman Road passing some of the load bearing runners now as we caught up with them.
Nearing the turn around point I had the pleasure of my support crew, Mum & Dad, who were the only spectators I saw all day, so thanks for braving the weather to cheer me on all be it only for two 30 second or so glimpses. As I reached the turn around point I saw the lead load bearer and then started counting the clean fatigue runners to work out what position I was in. With the cold weather and tiredness in my legs, my brain wasn't working and I counted what I thought was 10 or 12 places but that could as easily have been 7 or 70.
Anyway, I had reached half way and now had the joy of returning up the Roman Road. I'd been out on this stretch a few times and knew I could run this entire uphill section at a reasonable pace, which I was quite happy I managed to complete, returning to a very wind swept DS at the Gap. It was on this section that I passed Daren again and after asking him if all was ok, I ran on leaving him to battle the hill on his own. Checking in quickly I didn't hang about and returned around Cribyn to begin the hard slog of climbing the ladder.
This climb is not to be underestimated on a sunny day let alone on a day like today. The wind was gusting to considerable speeds, enough to unsteady me as I climbed and with tiny hail stones whipping in to the side of my face it wasn't a particularly pleasurable experience I can tell you. Reaching the summit for the second and final time, I checked in with the DS and took my leave, quickly crossing the divide to Corn Du. I met up with two competitors here, one clean fatigue and one load bearer, neither of which knew the route and I had to direct them over the short step descent in to the mist. While I don't mind helping out fellow competitors, neither of these guys even got their maps out, they were just happy enough to follow my lead, which in my eyes is somewhat naive especially on a race that is supposed to include some level of navigational skills.
With the final descent going well, the fall during the last event sprang to mind and I was somewhat cautious as I headed down to the red phone box, crossing the finish line in 2 hour 47 minutes. I'd missed my target time of 2 hours 30 minutes which I've put down to a few things; plain old fatigue from the previous weeks races combined with the weather and a lack of focussed hill work. Needless to say with the South Downs Way 50, Lakeland 50 and the UTMB CCC this year, I'm going to be doing a lot of hill work over the next few months, so I'll be ready when the Summer event comes around later this year.