Good Afternoon Fellow Ferals!
Summer is in full swing and we aren’t shy of events to fill our free time. After climbing in Croatia and driving back through Europe, we have had a couple of weeks of the most phenomenal weather! We’ve paused the home renovations and instead we’ve been climbing, walking and swimming almost every evening. Affy is a whole new dog from when we first met her and has adjusted well to our routines and lifestyle. She’s a vigilant crag dog, a keen (new) swimmer and a clumsy, yet swift runner. She is still very nervous of new people but we are so so lucky.
A couple of weekends ago I, along with a fabulous group of friends, and numerous other humans, all gathered together to walk 40 miles in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. It was a hot, sweaty day and the horseflies were in full force. Unfortunately, I didn’t cross the finishing line (I grossly underestimated just how long 40 miles actually is). At 34 miles, I was talking to my shadow and every step was like walking on broken glass. The 12 hours before that though, were stunning and full of laughs. Plus, half of our team did manage to finish, which is pretty phenomenal; so I thought I’d write about it all anyway!
65km or 40 miles – not something that should be taken lightly, nor would I recommend doing it alone. Having the support of a great team of recovery drivers and teammates to share in the pain when it all gets really hard is definitely a must. Luckily for me, I had both.
We met at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon at roughly 5:30am to register – luckily we’d all, mostly, slept really well the night before. We were greeted with bacon sandwiches and coffee (important) before all jumping into our event t-shirts (not the heavy white cotton things I was used to, but instead a trim, blue tech top that actually did wonders for moisture management). Our team was huge and a great mix of people – some who intended to walk the full 40 miles, some who would join us on the odd stretch to help out with morale (quite a few just did Pen y Fan) and then our (highly appreciated!) recovery drivers who restocked us at every checkpoint with fresh socks, food, water and some fresh-faced laugher.
Sophie (who I spoke about in The Pembrokeshire Walkies || Part 4) and I walked it together – Both with CF, it’s something the event marshalls struggled with (we were almost each forced into a luminous yellow armband!) but after a brief chat at the start they let us carry on our way.
We set off from the Theatre at around 6am – The first stretch headed out of Brecon and joined onto the Taff Trail, which wound along snug country lanes and across fields along the base of the Brecon Beacons. It took us a few miles and a couple of hours to reach checkpoint 1 which was set up at the bottom of Pen y Fan in the Storey Arms Carpark. It was a phenomenal day, there were only tiny wisps of clouds and the carpark was heaving. There were a couple of other events setting off when we arrived, so with the normal Saturday morning Pen y Fan walkers thrown into the mix too, the carpark felt exceptionally full. Our poor recovery drivers had a hard time finding somewhere close to park up. We refilled our water bottles, grabbed a snack, signed in at the checkpoint and gathered with the others who were due to join us on this stretch up the mountain.
This stretch was a short, tough slog up to the trig point on Pen y Fan – we all walked this stretch at dramatically different paces – Jamie opted for the ‘Just get up it super fast’ approach, I was more of in more of a ‘head-down-steady-pace’ kinda mood, and some opted for the ‘fast-bursts-rest-often’ approach. Either way we chose to tackle it, we all made it to the top in one piece. Checkpoint 2 was at the very top of Pen y Fan which, due to the complete lack of any wind whatsoever, was very hot and covered in midgies. We all signed in at the checkpoint, had a quick breather, parted with the half of the team that were going to head back down to the cars and started the long slog down the rocky mountain path to checkpoint 3.
The path wound steeply down from Pen y Fan and ran parallel to Cribyn and Fan y Big before dropping down into the valley towards the Lower Neuadd Reservoir. It was a tough downhill stretch that ran over streams and rocks whilst dodging runners from the other even that was on. We joined up with the road heading up to the reservoir and trotted down to Pont Cwmfedwen car park where we met our recovery drivers. We decided that this would be the best (and prettiest) place to stop and have so lunch. The car park was nestled in the forest so offered some welcome relief from the harsh sun.
At this point, having completed the hard mountainous section of the walk, I kicked off my knee brace (that was far too warm now anyway) and swapped out my approach shoes for comfy Nike trainers.
Now filled up on pasta, sandwiches, crips and water, we checked in at checkpoint 3 and set off again following the road down to Pontsticill Reservoir – a lengthy stretch that we were all convinced would be the easiest bit. Well, we were wrong. So, so wrong.
We followed the road for about 1.5 miles before it veered off the main road (which none of us thought was the case.. we’d convinced ourselves that we just followed the road that hugged the reservoir.. but that’s what you get for not checking the map properly), and followed a small access road up the hill and in to the forest. We struggled to handle another uphill, and by this point, we were pretty over it (yea, we weren’t even halfway yet). This 2.5 mile section was gorgeous though, and more importantly, was sheltered from the sun by the huge evergreen trees. The easy-on-the-ankles trail felt like it took us further and further away from the reservoir until it started to drop back down and eventually joined back on to the road. Here, just outside of Ponsticill we were met by a couple of friends who walked the next 4 miles with us.
This stretch took us over the dam (where checkpoint 4 was being packed down) and then hugged the reservoir, winding through trees and next to old railway tracks. The path was crisscrossed with tree roots and I started to regret my decision to change shoes – I could feel everything underfoot, and for already tired feet, that wasn’t a positive feeling. We parted ways with our friends at checkpoint 5 (that was in the same place as 3), signed in and headed up the road to the Taf Fechan Forest Carpark where are recovery drivers were waiting for us (just to note, Jamie had thrown in the towel at lunchtime and gone to get the dog and everyone else who was set on completing the full 40 were ahead of us now, so by this point it was just Sophie and I alone with our mumblings).
Sophie now got her second wind and was full of laughter over the last section we’d done. We’d never pushed our bodies this sort of distance before, and that was starting to become obvious. I swapped my shoes back to my approach shoes (in hope of some extra protection and relief from my achy feet) drank a can of coke and readied myself for the next section.
We continued on up the road; the stretch to the next checkpoint was short but steep (just under a mile) and we’d agreed that the recovery cars didn’t need to meet us until checkpoint 7 in Talybont. We signed in at checkpoint 6 and started the long, gradual descent into Talybont.
This section was gorgeous – stunning views of the reservoir were broken up by shaded forest sections. The Taff trail that we were now on followed a pretty friendly dirt road. Unfortunately, this is where exhaustion hit me real hard; about halfway down the 7-mile stretch, I had a bit of a cry to myself that turned into a full-on blubber. I just didn’t want to be stood up anymore (we have now been on our feet for almost 12 hours).
Sophie was the most supportive human and convinced me that getting to the end of this section was all that needed to happen. Unfortunately, we’d been told at the last checkpoint that this stretch was only 4 miles, so it felt like the LONGEST 4 miles ever (I mean it was 7). We ended up taking a couple of wrong turns that added an extra 20 minutes on to this section (that was already super long).
By the time we got into Talybont, I was full of relief but almost couldn’t see anything anymore (I was very tired and my body was ready to stop moving). I crossed over the bridge at the White Hart Inn and fell into Jamie’s arms. The second I sat down I felt nauseous and knew that it was time for me to call it a day. The rest of the team had waited for her and they were going to finish it together. I apologised profusely to Sophie and wished her luck for the next 6.5 miles – I certainly couldn’t do it.
Sophie, along with 3 other members of the team went on to finish the whole 40 miles and I couldn’t be more proud. As a team, we raised over £700 for a phenomenal foundation and the event raised just over £9000 – WHICH IS CRAZY AWESOME!!
On that walk, in my dehydrated, tearful state I wrote a note on my phone that reads “Sophie will ask you to do this again next year, don’t do it” – but we’re already making training plans to come back next year, stronger (yes, even though I couldn’t physically get out of bed the next day!).
Next week, more travel talks as I head up to North Wales for a couple of days of scrambling and climbing with my colleagues Will and Steve, Contour Outdoor, Andi Turner and Arcteryx.
See you then!
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