Running the Beacon’s Ultra Marathon by Joe Williams


The 23 mile, picturesque circular route of the Beacons Ultra starts in the pleasant village of Talybont on Usk, follows canals, woodland paths, involves a brutal slog up Tor y Foel then over Cribyn and back around to where you started. However, just as the start/finish line comes into view for the first time and the sound of cow bells and shouts of encouragement from the crowd graces your ears, the soaked to the skin runner that you’ve been trying to keep up with for the last five miles turns to you and says; “not looking forward to lap two!” 46 miles in howling winds and battering rain in a pair of shorts and trainers turned out to be one of the best days out in the Beacons I’ve had to date.

Beacons Ultra Marathon #teamupandunder

Having never even run a marathon before, or half-marathon for that matter, I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to run an ultra-marathon. It may have had a little to do with my colleague George already confidently signing up, and when the invite was extended my way, it wouldn’t have been good form to let him do it without a bit of friendly competition. Shortly after, Lucy put her name down as well, and the unstoppable ‘#TeamUpandUnder’ was created. None of us had run an ultra before, but Lucy is an all round action woman who had just finished demolishing the competition in multiple triathalon races, George thinks he’s the shops’ hardest climber and is one of those annoying people with the ability to pick up any new activity and be good at it, and I have the fairly useful ‘skill’ of botching my way through most things.

Through continuous conversations about training and preparation, and a fast learning curve on the trails of South Wales we all got progressively convinced that the outcome of this endeavour would probably end in disaster. In hindsight, doing as many hill sets as my motivation would allow helped massively!

The 14th of November arrived, the day of the race, and the weather was not looking good. With heavy rain and high winds forecast I was pretty sure running 46ish miles across the Brecon Beacons wasn’t the greatest idea we’d  ever had. However, with a great crowd, and even in the ‘interesting’ weather it turned out to be good fun. The first lap wasn’t as bad as the weather man predicted, with consistent but manageable rain and a little bit of wind on the tops. The friendly and banterful competitors definitely made it worth the while.  The second lap on the other hand was awful! The conditions worsened and the pace for almost everyone running, plummeted. Lucy, in her wisdom, opted for the one lap option, whereas George and myself stumbled into the second lap. George had made brilliant time on the first lap and was in front of me at the start of second lap, but I caught him up on the second trudge up Tor y Foel. At this point, given the conditions, the company was welcome, and although under other circumstances I would have left him in the dust, we stuck together from there on. Plus, there was no dust, only paths disguised as rivers. After a short discussion about why this running thing was a good idea and reaching no reasonable conclusion, we cracked on, both getting very cold (note to self, take more layers next time). The general theme of the second half was pure misery, the kind of misery that if you’re of the mind to run an ultra marathon in storm conditions you’ll probably enjoy.

Whilst I was content with actually finishing the race, there were a couple of pieces of gear that made running that kind of distance much easier. We all opted for compression gear, and whilst it’s been said it’s all about posture these days and calf guards are so last year, we all loved the stuff! I used a little running cap with a peak which when facing gusts of wind a rain, was welcome shelter. However, the star of the show was definitely the Ultimate Direction running packs. I used the PB Adventure Vest and hardly felt it the entire race. I only had to take it off to get a couple of chocolate bars and put an extra layer on the whole day, as everything was readily available on the front straps. Of course, the bag is fully waterproof, so everything was nice and dry, not to mention that you’re not carrying a water saturated sack all day. The comfort aspect of the bag was really brilliant. The last thing you want as you plod over the Roman Road for the second time in a day, after suffering another cappuccino flavour energy gel (I know now why they’re free) is for a shoulder strap to be digging into your collar bone or rubbing your shoulder raw. The PB Adventure Vest was super comfortable, really practical and the right size for this length of race in the prevailing conditions. The last bit of kit to rave about are Injinjitoesocks. 46 miles in the wet and not one blister, enough said, pure awesomeness.

Beacons Ultra Marathon Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest

A 46 mile run in the rain is never going to be the most comfortable experience of your life, but it certainly was memorable! As a first race, the Beacons Ultra provided a fantastic setting and a brilliant group of runners and organizers to share it with. Using the right gear really does make a considerable difference and could save your life if it goes pear-shaped. We recommend you beg and borrow kit to try it out in training then get hold of what you need in time for a few runs before the big day.

Above all give it go, I'm sure you'll be hooked.

Beacons Ultra Marathon happy at the end

Thanks from Up and Under go to staff members Joe Williams and George Lonsdale and friend of Up and Under Lucy Rouse for taking part as #teamupandunder, to Malcom from Beta Climbing Designs for his advice and support and to Kelvin Williams for the photos. Cheers for a great article Joe - same time next year?

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