With two ultras under my belt and my third planned for February 2017, it’s certainly not too soon to be preparing for it. The Brecon to Cardiff Ultra is a 70K linear race from Brecon to Cardiff (Nantgarw) and will be my longest run to date.
Plan, Prepare, Recce
For my first two ultras I ensured that I did a recce run before race day so that I could get a feel for the terrain and familiarise myself with the route. In addition to a recce run I’ll also spend time plotting the route on the excellent OS Maps website so that I can study both the detailed Explorer maps and view aerial shots.
With a detailed map such as an OS Explorer map you can pick out key features that you can keep an eye out for during running and if you are good at reading a map (I’m not quite there yet) you can get a feel for the type of terrain and any steep sections.
Good preparation really does help and come race day it’ll help with breaking down the route into sections which is extremely useful for mentally tackling the race.
The Gower Coastal Trail Series and SBU35 races were a little too far away to do more than one recce but with the Brecon to Cardiff ultra being closer I’m planning on exploring as much of the route as possible. Back in October I completed the Pontypridd to Nantgarw section (but not to the finish line) and for the second recce I was heading from Merthyr Tydfil to the the finish line at Nantgarw. The total distance was to be around 18.5 miles with not too much ascent. I was fortunate to run with a friend that came second in the race last year so knew the route well.
There’s a real sense of history as you trundle down the Taff Trail. Leaving Merthyr Tydfil, once home to the most productive ironworks in the world and by 1851 the largest town in Wales, you pass remnants of demolished viaducts that criss-crossed the Merthyr Vale and follow the long disused railway line once used by Richard Trevithick in 1804 to test the world’s first railway steam locomotive.
The trail is generally well signposted but there are a few spots where you could easily take a wrong turn so having a guide familiar with the route meant I could remember where not to go wrong come race day.
Reaching Pontypridd I was on familiar ground so could judge the distances between key parts on the route. This is why I think practice runs are important when possible so that when you run on race day the familiarity with the route will pay dividends in terms of how to pace yourself and mentally split up such a long route.
Gloves On, Gloves Off, Gloves On
It was a really fresh and frosty morning which always poses a dilemma for me. I usually warm up quickly when running but still need to wear a hat and gloves on really cold days. Consequently, the first part of the run involved wearing gloves in the shaded sections, taking them off when running in direct sun and then having to put them back on when back in the shade. I eventually gave up and just left them off.
Faster Than Planned
My running partner is faster and more experienced than me and despite planning on taking it easy we managed a respectable 8:03/mi pace finishing the 18.6 mile route in just under 2:30. Running alone I probably would have run at a slower pace so I found it useful running that was comfortable running faster. Apart from a pain that I developed in my glute towards the end of the run, I found that I could cope at that pace without too much trouble.
Route Map and Profile