This has to be the most remote location in the UK I've raced in. The roads from Cardiff up towards Brecon were pretty empty, as you'd expect on a Sunday morning, and they became progressively more empty as I wound my way up towards Rhayader and on to the Aberystwyth road. A single track across the moorland led me to within sight of the bleak and beautiful valley of the Nant Y Moch reservoir, where a makeshift sign directed me to the Fell Race. A handful of cars were there already, filling the small layby, so I grabbed a spot on the rough verge and went to declare myself as an online entrant - I was surprised to find there had been quite a few. In fact a crowd soon gathered, warming up on the track and down by the lakeside, examining the dummy checkpoint & punch and checking out the course map. I recognised a few South Wales runners and there were a good few from the likes of Eryri etc. and from clubs just over the border like Cheshire Hill Racers and Mercia FR. Kit was mandatory despite the mild conditions, which is fair enough on Pumlumon which really is the very heart of the middle of nowhere.
From the start we headed up a landrover track with a steady but runnable climb around the hillside. Once round the bend and heading towards the lake and dam at Rheidol a great view of the mountain with its classic cwm and lake opened up before us - I was surprised at just how gorgeous and dramatic it was - I'd leafed through a few books like "The Welsh Peaks" and found most references to Pumlumon to be a bit disparaging - suggesting it was a vast and featureless boggy plateau with no redeeming features. Who knows, perhaps the authors all did Snowdonia first then found the Mid-Wales mountains a let-down by comparison? Having made the opposite journey, from south of the Beacons, I was very impressed. Pumlumon is very heart of mountainous Wales, with the sources of the Severn and Wye on its slopes. I was musing on this at the start but soon had to get focussed on the race as w climbed along a broad, firm track, trying hard to keep my speed down to something sustainable so I wouldn't blow up later, and watching every footfall to avoid the potholes. Once over the first (very runnable) climb, a superb view over the cwm and lake opened up - definitely the best aspect of the mountain as the race description on the Nant Y Moch site had promised. Having punched my control card at the Rheidol check I jogged only a short distance further before I was into my walking phase - the only big climb of the race up onto the ridge. I kept my place in the strung-out procession and even had time to take my phone out and snap the view back down to Rheidol.
There's 30 or so runners buried somewhere in that grainy photo - still, at least you can see the lake and the track by which we'd approached it from the other side. Atop the climb I saw the runners ahead dividing - some following a fence directly ahead while others were heading off diagonally to the right, obviously trying to cut the corner and go straight for the second check. As it was very clear still (despite a touch of drizzle) I took the diagonal and within a couple of minutes we saw check number 2 on the "unnamed summit". There were marshals at most of the checks but it was d.i.y. (dib-it-yourself) with the punch and on to the next one. With the main climb behind me I felt ok and happy that I had paced things better than in recent races and had found check 2 - having studied the course I was sure that the rest was easy to follow and if there was to be any getting lost it would have been at the top of that first climb. So far so good. From check 2 to check 3 you follow a fence, so it's nice and easy. The going was rough-ish, with the odd sudden drop of 3 feet or so to negotiate in the dried-out peat, but no major obstacles. Somewhere near the real summit a marshal was snapping photos of all the runners which are on www.nantymoch.org.uk - here's mine (should be able to click for larger version):
There were small climbs still to come, and the odd few seconds of walking where they were at their steepest, but mostly it was runnable and pretty fast going as we headed through the final check and began the descent - over open fellside at first then on to a sheep track that became a "real" path and led us down towards the landrover track. The only dodgy moment came on the sheeptrack when my right foot disappeared down a hole and most of my leg, right up to my shorts, swiftly followed. I went down flat on my face but was back up unworried in a second, in time to see the runner just behind me suffer exactly the same fate! Very "Star Trek", I thought to myself, as we both fled down the hill away from the clutches of the strangely sentient leg-eating hole-beast.
In the end I was blowing up and slowing right down just as the finish came into view - the results on the Nant Y Moch site are rather unflattering as they show the times at check 3 and you can see I lost two places in that descent - one guy passed me in the last few hundred yards but I had nothing left in the way of energy to battle it out. Still, I was well happy with a top 20 finish, even if there were only 50 runners!
This shot shows the finish and one of the finishers who came in shortly after me. Results, pics and route map are all on:
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