When you find yourself thigh deep in a bog in the Brecon Beacons at 8pm on a Saturday night you do have to question your sanity. Especially when you’ve voluntarily ended up there and are doing it for ‘fun’. Although in a strange, slightly sadistic kind of way it actually was fun, I may even have laughed as I tried to climb out of the bog and find some ground that was a bit more solid.
The reason I found myself in this situation was the Sleepwalker night race, quite a low key event with about 45 entrants that starts and finishes in the small village of Talybont on Usk with just the 20 miles and 744m of ascent in between. As the name suggests it’s run at night with the start at 6pm, I’m told the route has some beautiful views but all I saw was the 2 metres of mud and water in front of me lit up by my head torch. That was of course when I wasn’t trying to keep the driving rain out of my eyes or shelter from the 40mph winds. This really wasn’t a race for the faint hearted and I’ll be honest I was glad I was running it with my brother and not completely solo.
It is a great route though, some road sections but majority on trail which varied from muddy bridleways to rocky ascents on riverbeds to the aforementioned bog. Most of the race was spent wet either from the rain or the few inches of water that was ever present under foot. It was tough but not ridiculous and fine for someone like me who is used to running off road but in the rolling Wiltshire hills and has limited experience in the ‘proper’ hills and mountains. The route starts with a nice gentle 5km climb up an average 4% gradient, certainly no issue getting warm after the start!
We kept a steady pace up this long first climb and somehow found ourselves near the front, after a short descent there is another 4km climb before the route levels off on the top of the hills. You drop down near a reservoir before the final 4km climb to the highest point of the route. This final climb was where it started to go a bit wrong for me, my quads were burning and I don’t think I’d got enough calories on during the race. It’s hard taking on fuel when you’re wet and cold and basically running up hill for 10km so my pace started to slow. On the long descent back to the finish I found myself actually going slower than on the ascent and started to bonk. A couple of gels seemed to do the trick and got me back to the finish, but it’s hard work concentrating on the pool of light in front of you and trying to place your feet in what is basically a muddy river.
A hot coffee and a piece of cake welcomed us in the village hall at the finish and were much appreciated. I always find after a tough race like this that strong milky coffee is exactly what my body wants. Such a perfect combination and the chocolate brownie didn’t hurt either.
I’ll give a quick mention to a few bits of my kit too; first my shoes, I’ve been using Salomon Fellraisers for my trail running for almost 2 years now and love them. They’re low to the ground and light, but really come into their own on this sort of terrain where the grip was perfect and really dealt with all the mud and water. The second item I’ll mention is my jacket, a Inov8 Race Elite race shell, this was actually its inaugural outing and what a way to test it. I’ll do a full review at a later date but in summary it was awesome, extremely comfortable to wear with its slightly stretchy material and it kept me dry and warm even in such horrendous conditions.
It’s quite strange finishing a race so late in the evening, we got back to our b&b around 10pm and it took me a good 2 hours to really wind down and be ready to sleep even though I was exhausted. I find my heart is racing for a good while after these longer races and I’m hot which is not surprising given what your body goes through. Quite a treat to have a peaceful night to myself though and no children waking me up in the middle of the night, I even got to eat breakfast in peace.
This really is a great race, in a running world that is filled with big glitzy city marathons it’s nice to do a race that is put on for the love of running with marshals stood on the mountain side in horrendous weather cheering you on and competitors who come back year after year because the just enjoy being out in the mountains. It was well organised and run with very little fuss. I also liked that it challenged me, not only physically but also mentally to do a race in conditions that were challenging. Definitely not a race for someone inexperienced though, I’ve done enough endurance events now to know I can do the distance and look after myself plus of course have some basic map reading skills which were needed with little route markings.
If you’re looking for something a bit different I would recommend considering this race, I may even see you back there next year!