There are many clichés about following your dreams “life’s too short” “this is not a rehearsal” etc, or my personal favourite “just fucking do it”. Well that’s exactly what we’re doing, I found myself a new job near Swansea and we’re in the throws of relocating from Wiltshire to the Brecon Beacons. Searching out a life lived more outside, in beautiful countryside and maybe even at some point in the future not involving an office (or at least not everyday). Right now the reality of that move is me living in an Airbnb Monday to Friday until our house move completes in the hopefully not too distant future. Let the adventure begin!
Fuelled by the adrenaline and excitement of being here and actually bloody doing what we’ve talked about for years I decided take advantage of not having family responsibilities in the evening and head into the Brecon Beacons for an evening run. I thought I’d keep it simple to begin with, a couple of hours post work in an area where I did my navigation course 2 years ago.
With map in hand and a pack full of the essentials for running in the hills I headed up the Beacons Way from the car full of the joys of a glorious summer evening. Not knowing at that point that it would be significantly more than a couple of hours before I’d be back there again.
It was all going so well, I run/hike up the Beacons way to Fan Foel building up a good sweat in this hot summer weather we’re having. No navigation needed really given the well worn path to this point, the plan was to then take a bearing and drop down to the path in the valley below that would take me back around towards the car.
This is where what I thought were ok navigation skills let me down, I took my bearing and threw myself down the hill dancing over the rough terrain whooping to myself (ok, it was like a drunk walking down a hill but allow me a little poetic license). I ran for a while but didn’t spot the path, then I thought I saw a feature I recognised from my navigation course so went a little further and then a little further still. No path. I checked my map again sure that I knew where I was (not many features up on the moor to navigate by, but was sure I was right). No path.
When I finally accepted I was in the wrong spot and managed to get some 4G signal to check I realised I was at least 1km south west of where I should have been and was faced with a long trek back to get to the path and my car. Not a huge issue if running on trails or fields, but when crossing rough ground in the Brecon Beacons with no path that takes some time. I tried not to panic but did turn the air blue to match the sky.
By this time dusk was fast approaching and I really didn’t fancy being up there in the dark. I spotted a footpath sign that pointed down the valley to a village and decided to cut my losses and head down to the road and follow that back to the car. I certainly felt a lot happier being on the road and near to support if needed rather than on the hill on my own.
It was now dark and my feet were trashed (I kept checking my shoe as felt like a stone in there, got home and checked properly and turned out it was the bottom of my heel peeling off!) so the 3km run/hike back along the road took some time and with only my phone torch to light the way was a bit dodgy at times.
Aside from sharing this as a funny story of what can go wrong when you run in places like this I also wanted to share a few points about what I learnt from this ‘adventure’.
- Taking extra kit with you isn’t just for fun, it’s actually needed. It may feel like a pain lugging around a pack but when something like this happens you realise why you do it. Even on a roasting hot day I took a long sleeve top, a jacket and a buff. If I’d have been up there much longer I’d have needed them. I also had food/water/first aid kit etc. The only thing I didn’t take was a head torch thinking there was no way I’d need it. Won’t make that mistake again.
- Navigating in open spaces like this is hard with few physical land marks to easily use. I need to take more time to think before heading in a direction and also think about distances. If I’d figured out the distance from my bearing point to the path then I’d have known much sooner I was wrong. The other part of navigation is simply doing more practise. As a back up I’ve also purchased online access to OS Maps, you can download offline maps to your phone so only need GPS signal to help you navigate if needed.
- Tell someone where you’re going. I’m in Wales alone at the moment until our house move goes through so no one knows where I am in the evening. I made sure to tell my wife on Whatsapp before I went where I was going and how long I’d be. I then checked in on the hill when I realised I was much later than planned.
- Be aware of your fitness level. I haven’t run that far or for that long in some time and planned a route that matched my current fitness. But having done a lot of endurance sport over the past few years I could draw on that to get me down safely. That may not be the case for everyone and you should think about that in your planning especially in this sort of terrain which is much harder to run on.
- Don’t be afraid to have an adventure. Despite this particular adventure being very stressful at times and definitely painful after twisting the same ankle twice and my heel peeling it was still worth it. Yes you should prepare and plan but don’t let that stop you stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring. Doesn’t need to be every week but planning something different to your normal running is a great way to challenge yourself physically and mentally.
What do you think? Do you enjoy going on an adventure or prefer sticking to routes you know? What stops you running in an area like the Brecon Beacons? Personally I’m looking forward to finishing our house move so I can get on with planning some more adventures. In particular I’d like to run to a wild camp or bothy stop and stay overnight before running back again the next day.