Pen Y fan was the South Wales contribution to the British Fell Running Championships, but having not competed in any other champs races I wasn't there for the points - just for the challenge. In my last fell race outing four weeks earlier I'd come in 7th from 42 runners, mostly local. In a field of visitors from Dark Peak, Cumbria, Calderdale and all the other fell running heartlands I was pleased to manage 51st from 90 male starters - a British Champs race is of a decidedly different standard to a low key valleys race.
The start was fast - up a runnable grassy slope from a point just south of the Cwm Lwch car park (reached by a dead-end lane from a turning near the youth hostel just off the A470). Cwm Lwch is a punchbowl type valley with a jewel of a lake nestling below the scarp slope from the summits of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du - the race route climbs steadily up the flank of a spur from the main beacons ridge, bringing you out on the ridge itself alongside a small standing stone. I had heard some contestants returning from a long warm up / recce declaring that "the whole climb is runnable" but this didn't apply to me - I was soon reduced to a fast hands-on-knees walk and ran intermittently until I reached the ridge - here the fast start caught up with me and I still only ran in short bursts up to the first summit - Corn Du. This race is not marked on the way up, but there is only one obvious route - no navigation was required nor was there any need to carry kit. A major rainstorm before the race cleared up just in time but left the surface slippery.
Once at Corn Du and in the grip of lung-bursting effort I managed to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings which took the edge off the pain a little (as did the word of encouragement from fellow Barry 40 runner Phil A as he passed me). On this ridge from Corn Du to it's higher neighbour Pen Y Fan you get gorgeous views both ways - the glacial valley of Cwm Lwch falls away to your left while to the right is the vast dip slope of the beacons, with the Neuadd Reservoirs mirroring the natural lake on the other side. Marshalls saw us onto the right route on both summits - the relief of finally arriving on the stony summit of Pen Y Fan was tempered a little by my first view of the way down - the marshal directed me to what looked like a cliff - the steep scarp slope of the beacons' north side, covered in super-slippery freshly rain-soaked heather. I had to slow down to stay on my feet - even then I had a couple of slips and slides - everyone seemed to be at it though so I didn't feel too bad. It was an attritional descent for the quads and ankles, and I rubbed a layer of skin clean off one heel, though it didn't bother me at the time (only later, after crossing the line, did the endorphins wear off leaving me limping a bit).
As usual my ascent had been better than my descent, but I only lost a few places on that steep initial drop - three or four more sure-footed guys with studs digging well in to the heather flew past. A row of markers showed the shortest route back, so I stuck to their line and got more speed up as the slope eased off. I even had a fast finish left in me! Mum-in-law Pat had a camera and grabbed af inishing photo (to be published as soon as I get it from her). Pat and Fran had been sheltering in the car some distance from the start but came up the hill after the rain eased off, so I had someone to babble at after finishing - just what you need after such an intense race :) Pen Y Fan is the summit of South Wales and a mountain I have often run up, but this northern approach is by far the most dramatic and makes the trog up over Y Gyrn from Storey Arms look ordinary by comparison. Great race, great course. Only took a few days for the feet to heal up :)
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