Regular readers of The Antisocial Runner will know how much I love trail running. Living in the Midlands though is not the best place for a trail/fell runner to reside. Therefore, I generally have to ‘make do’ with an occasional mountain adventure day out when time permits. When this doesn’t happen for a while, I tend to get a bit itchy for an off road fix.
Recently I had a rare free Saturday, so I planned such a day out. My default for a mountain day out tends to be Snowdonia. For an inexperienced fell runner, it’s quite difficult to run, but the area is beautiful and, at the right times, it can be wonderfully quiet. However, I wanted to try somewhere a bit different. I had done similar earlier this year during a birthday outing to the Peak District, where a pre-planned route downloaded to my Fenix 5X meant that I had a fantastic day exploring the Castleton/Hope area of the Peak District. So, following a continuous recommendation from an ex work colleague, I decided that this time around I would venture to the Brecon Beacons.
As I’m not one for big crowds (hence the name of the site), I like to get out and on the mountains as early as possible. Living so far away from such areas often means early mornings out on the road. With the Beacons around 2.5-3 hours away, I decided to get up at 4:30 and aim to be on the road for 5. This hopefully meant for an 8am start.
I had pre-planned the route, as I had with the Peak District, and downloaded it to my watch, 16 miles. I went to bed on the Friday evening questioning my sanity on such a distance. It’s been almost a year since I’ve ran that far on the modest hills of Rugby, never mind on mountainous terrain. When I woke up in the morning, I logged on to my OS Maps and altered the route to a more manageable 13 miles. It still included the peaks and sights that I wanted to take in, but cut out a large section that was just there to ‘make up the miles.’
I got up on time, set off on time, and arrived at the Pont ar Daf Car Park on time but, by the time I had sorted out my kit, it wasn’t until around 8:30 that I began my ascent of Corn Du. Again, with such occasions coming maybe every six months, I am not entirely practiced at such inclines. Therefore, before even setting off, to prolong my day and prevent an early blow up, I decided to walk the inclines and run the flats and declines. Given the elevation profile, according to OS Maps, I set myself a target/estimation of an average of around 15 min/mile.
I set off up Corn Du and it was suitably quiet. There were a handful of parties but it wasn’t too bad at all. I set off from Rugby wearing a pair of shorts and a long sleeve running top, but started to get a bit worried as the temperature just wasn’t rising. On the journey down, there was a lot of sitting mist and the temperature was hovering around 0-2 degrees. It wasn’t too dissimilar in the car park as I set off with a thermal baselayer and a jacket as well as the aforementioned. I needn’t have worried though as half way up the first climb I had to ditch the jacket due to overheating.
I reached what I thought was the top of Corn Du and took a look over the Beacons, it was beautiful. I’d struck lucky with the weather as I had planned the trip a few weeks previously, it wasn’t like I had saw that the weekend was going to be nice and so decided on the trip. I stood there for a few minutes to take it all in before scaling the little bit extra to Corn Du.
I reached Corn Du and decided that now was the time to stretch the legs. It didn’t last very long though as a short drop was followed by a short, sharp rise to Pen y Fan. Remaining disciplined, I walked this short section to the top. Again, I stopped to soak up the breathtaking views before taking on a bit of fuel (a Cadburys Brunch Bar) and setting off towards Cribyn.
As much as I’d love to say that I ran this section, it was rather steep so It was quite slow as I was watching my feet, conscious that one trip would see me land on my face. I really admire the bravery and skill of proper fell runners who leap with huge strides from one rock to the next, nothing of any sort from me today. At the bottom of the bowl, the path split into three directions. I had to do a double and triple take on the map that was on my watch. Straight ahead it said, but the path looked really steep. I reduced my pace to fast walk before stopping for a breather and another chance to take in the views at the top.
This was the highest point until the climb back up towards Corn Du at the end of the route. 2.5 miles of mild undulation followed off the top of Fan y Big, allowing me to properly open my legs for the first time. This is where I had cut a section out of the route so, instead of heading around to the next peak, I went straight across a grass section. The path was undefined in places and I had to keep checking my watch to ensure that I was on path as I was leaping over grass that was shin length. This section was nice and quiet. I went through a number of miles only seeing a handful of people. So peaceful, it just felt like myself and the Beacons.
I dropped onto the road in Torpantau as the next 2 miles lead me across the type of trails you would expect in a country park, easy underfoot and well defined.
When shortening the route, there was a particular section that I wanted to keep in. I had seen some pictures online of the Lower Neuadd Reservoir and it looked rather special, so I wanted to ensure that this stayed on my itinerary. Sure enough, given the excellent weather conditions, it was beautiful.
I passed through a gate and began heading upwards for the first time in a while, back up to the ridge that would lead me across to Corn Du. My watch buzzed to inform me that I was off course. As a result of cutting out some distance, I had changed the route from the clear path to go straight through the middle of a large field. There was no path and the grass was knee length as I struggled through the field towards a steep, rocky section that would rejoin the ridge at the top. Given the recent wet weather conditions, the ground was soft and boggy in places. I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet and ended up completely losing my foot in a bog. Luckily my laces were tight enough to keep my shoes attached to my feet. The rocky section was the hardest climb of the day. I stopped several times to catch my breath, with genuine sections of scrambling. It was good fun, but I was completely spent when I reached the top and, despite trying a few times, I just couldn’t muster any more running as the ridge gradually climbed back towards the start.
In the image above, you can see where the clear path is off to the right. I headed straight across the middle of this field, almost as the crow flies. You can see how much of a struggle this could be, both trying to stay on path and trawling through the grass.
I cut across before reaching Corn Du to rejoin the path that I began on. It was now a highway of people heading up towards Corn Du and Pen y Fan. The path was more trail than rocky and I picked up the pace to run in to the finish, dodging hoards of hikers in the process. I even saw an abandoned double buggy part way up.
I finished at around 12:30. 13.44 miles in around 4 hours. I stopped my watch when taking on fuel and taking photos, so moving time was 3:18, a pace of 14:44 min/mile. I had got up, driven to the Brecon Beacons, took in almost 13.5 miles and was back home by 16:00. A good Saturday spent in my eyes.