The Valleys 100
Having said ‘never again’ for the last 2 years, I was off to South Wales for this years event! Two things concerned me about running in Wales – the place names and the weather. Navigation is difficult at best of times but having to ask for directions to Maesycwmmer or ‘is this the right way to Pentwyn Berthlwyd’ doesn’t sound good. As it turned out, it was the weather that presented the problem.
Race day started with the sound of rain hammering on the hotel window and it was still the same as we started to congregate at the start in Pontypool. There was a noticeable reluctance for competitors to leave the comfort of the school sports hall but after a bit of ‘persuasion’ we gathered in the pouring rain to listen to various presentations, background speech about the work that had been put in, followed by another speech from the official starter telling us all about the beautiful sights we were going to see (if only!).
Then it was a shout of ‘off you go’ and we did. The school is built halfway up a steep hill and so, after about 5 yards, it was turn right and go up. What followed then was typical of the rest of the day. A sharp climb up to a ‘vantage point to admire the beauty and history of Wales’ (couldn’t see a thing due to the heavy cloud and rain) followed by a mudslide down the other side. The only visual sights were of fellow runners disappearing into the mist. I knew things were going to be tough when, after only about 4 miles, all I could think about was the nice hot bath waiting for me back at the hotel.
There is a saying about seeing all 4 seasons in 1 day. Well we had the Welsh version – Light rain, Heavy rain, Torrential rain and Monsoon! It never stopped raining for the entire day – the best we got was when walking in the clouds, when it was just wet!
As the day wore on I started to realise that completing this event was extremely unlikely – it was just a question of how far I could get before quitting. I can honestly say that I can’t remember enjoying any part of the trek but nothing could compete with the misery of the night section. This was mainly over the high moors and, to give credit to the organisers, was very well flagged with reflective marker poles every 100 yards or so. The conditions however were almost beyond description. By now it was back to heavy rain with a cold wind but this was bliss compared to the terrain. Every step was through ankle deep mud, bog, water or all 3 in combination. The top of the moors had already been churned up by 4x4’s and the heavy rain had made it worse. At times it was easier to simply walk down the middle of the stream rather than risk the evil mud and slime round the sides.
By the time I reached the breakfast stop (56.4 miles) I had made the decision that enough was enough. However, it was a bit early in the day to pack up (I couldn’t get into my hotel room for another 9 hours) so I decided to keep going for another 2 checkpoints and then call it a day. Any chance of changing the decision was removed by the last stage I completed. A very steep ľ mile drop down a hill (very painful by now), a 2 mile slog uphill through a forest followed by a 3.9 plod over the muddy moors and ‘wandering round a hillside with dramatic views into the valley’ (saw bugger all except more cloud). Another long, tortuous downhill section and into the checkpoint (70.1 miles) where I announced my decision to retire. “Do you want 5 minutes to think about it?” asked the marshal. “No – I’m daft enough to change my mind and I don’t want to”
I joined the 5 others who had decided to call it a day and waited for the body bus to pick us up and take up take us back, going via the breakfast stop checkpoint to collect the latest batch of 10 who had stopped at that point. From the looks of bewilderment of the faces of the officials back at headquarters it was obvious that things weren’t going well and the preliminary results bore this out.
Checkpoint Mileage Retirees
1 8.3 4
2 18.3 4
3 25.9 14
4 32.4 19
5 37.3 9
6 42.8 25
7 46.6 14
8 52.8 14
9 56.4 48
10 62.9 12
11 70.1 37
12 79.9 18
13 84.0 4
14 89.5 9
One last sting in the tail – when the competitors got back, there was no hot water for the showers. The school had turned off the boilers for half term!
It was a pity that all the work over 4 years that had been put in preparing this event was ruined by the appalling conditions. I have nothing but admiration for those who did manage to complete – it really was quite an achievement. Nothing compared to one on the finishers who had done it back to back i.e. 200 miles. How he managed this is beyond belief.