Talybont-on-Usk to Pontnedfechan
Kick-started with caffeine and oats we set off on the penultimate stage across the ‘Brecon’s. I think we’d all been looking forward to this stage. The iconic ridge of the Brecon Beacons was used in the promo video and looking spectacular was all-new to me. The weather felt good too; a distinct cold, misty autumnal feel to it but with the prediction that it would clear up later in the day.
It wasn’t long before we were discarding clothing as we warmed up in the sunshine and the brisk pace we were setting. The route followed the main summit ridge of the Brecons and the weather was allowing us to make the most of it. While the wind blew, the sun was shining and despite the odd brief shower we made good progress. It helped that the team relieved me of my pack for a good proportion of this route, the pain in my feet was obvious for all to see. In the past I’d have fought off the help, it’s in my nature to be completely independent and self-sufficient. I’d have thought it a failure not to carry all my own gear. Now it was welcome, and while I briefly thought those old thoughts again I realised that this was for all of us and letting others help is as important as helping others.
Dropping down off Pen-Y-Fan on the tourist route we must have looked a sight to those on the ascent. Some were interested enough to ask what?/who?/why? and then looking aghast at our explanation. The car park at the start of the trail, alongside the A470 was populated with a few fellow competitors and more importantly a burger van selling hot food. Coffee and bacon rolls ordered and a brief sit in the sun was enough to re-fuel us again for the next section. The route climbed up to the top of Fan Fawr for another checkpoint before dropping down steeply to the Ystradfellte Reservoir and then following the valley down to the first of two special stages; the caves at Porth-y-Ogof.
Porth-y-Ogof – Caving
The caves at Porth-y-Ogof provided another opportunity to grab a powernap in the sunshine on the grass. Marshals at this stage were Andy and Susan, great friends and always enthusiastic and encouraging to everyone.
The caving, not difficult by any standards and short, just 15 mins was my least favourite part of the race. I’m very claustrophobic and the falling ceiling combined with the noise and lights made me very uncomfortable. I’m sure I’d have dealt with it better in my own time, but the emphasis was on us all getting through the stage together and quickly. One thing we all agreed on was the fact that the icy cold water we had to wade through worked magic on our aching legs and maybe claims made by proponents of ice baths post exercise had some merits.
The next check point was at the Waterfalls further down the valley, the route to which was a pleasant wooded trail. The CP was actually under the waterfall, the path itself taking us behind the curtain of water. Several other teams were here to trying to find the control; once it was spotted the knowledge was shared, after brief hesitation and a thought to keep it secret.