Brecon Fans Races
Back on the fells at last!
Mark, Steve, Tarbo, James, David, Clem, Graham, Christian
Enforced absence hadn't dented the club's appetite for fell running as six of the regulars were joined by two who were new to this type of race: James MacDonald and David Hunter both took to it well and hopefully will be back for more. And to cap it all we actually won something: first team in the Pen Y Fan fell race!
You get to run two races over the weekend, The Fan Y Big Horseshoe, the longer of the two, is on the Saturday: an outrun on road, paths and trails from the village of Llanfrynach; a slog up to the summit of Fan Y Big itself; a long ridge run on rocky paths before the descent back to the valley with the last mile back to the village on tarmac. On Sunday you get to start nearer the hill and you are straight into a lung busting ascent to the main ridge of the Brecon Beacons, follow the ridge upwards to the summit of Corn Du and then along to Pen Y Fan (the highest point in South Wales, indeed in the South of Britain). What comes next can induce a sense of humour failure in the unprepared, straight down off the ridge on what can seem like an impossibly steep gradient. No paths here, and no obvious route. Go too far to the left and you will add too much to the distance you have to travel, but too far to the right and gullies and bogs await those that have tried to cut the corner by taking the most direct line to the finish. This is the race with the "unbreakable" course record of 30 minutes dead.
On both days we were grateful to the club minibus for providing shelter from showers prior to the start, but on both days the rain cleared for the start itself, although we were soon up in the clag and on the Saturday had to contend with rain too.
Battling the elements at the summit of Fan Y Big
In a road race of any length you care to choose you would expect James MacDonald to have the beating of Christian Poulton, but these aren't road races and Christian has built up a wealth of fell running experience, who would prevail? On the longer and less tricky Saturday race James had a lead of half a minute at the summit which he gradually increased along the ridge, on the descent and on the final run-in for a margin of a minute and a half. On the shorter, more technical Sunday race positions were reversed, but perhaps not in the way you might think: this time it was Christian who led at the summit and James actually made up ground on the tricky descent, but Christian held on for a lead of 18 seconds.
One might normally have expected Tarbo to be in contention for first place for the club but it turns out that he has spent more of lockdown changing nappies than training. On both races I had him in my sights all the way to the top of the first climb only for him to disappear into the distance as we started to go downhill, he may be short of fitness but his descending skills are still there, indeed his time for the tricky descent of Fan Y Big was the best of those posted for the club, although incredibly it was still more than double the 7 minutes 10 seconds it took Keith Anderson to get down in 1992 to set up the course record.
Sprint finishes coming down from Fan Y Big
It is a shame that the prize giving presentation was a victim of the covid restrictions so it was not until later, when the results were published, that we learnt of our victory in the Pen Y Fan team competition (our three scorers being Christian, James and Tarbo). Some years ago club secretary Eric Nash (who sadly died recently) wrote in his annual report that in fell running circles the name Cambridge Harriers was "known but not feared", perhaps things are changing! No prizes but a bottle of local beer was available to all finishers and provided much needed refreshment, even for Christian!
Post race refreshments
At the front of the field we may have witnessed the making of a new fell running star. Look up Luke Fisher of Tonbridge AC on Power of Ten and you will see a 5k PB of 15:39 and precious little else. So he is obviously no slouch but there is nothing there to suggest an aptitude for this sort of thing. He didn't just win the Fan Y Big race, he won it by more than 8 minutes, taking more than 3 minutes off the course record! Would the unbreakable record be broken the next day? Well, no, and anyone who wants to get close to it is probably best advised not to run the Saturday race first. Fisher did win, and again by a huge margin of over 5 minutes but he was still 3:49 shy of the record and the £1000 pounds on offer for breaking it.
Thanks to Crispin and all at Mynydd Du for putting this race on at a time when many are still keeping their heads below the parapet.
As always with these weekends the races are the highlight but there was much else to enjoy: camping at the excellent site in Pencelli, the warm welcome at the adjacent Royal Oak, fish and chips in Brecon town square before finding a pub with a big telly to watch England's demolition of Ukraine in the Euros, an evening stroll on tired legs along the canal towpath to Talybont, etc.
Fell races are still thin on the ground but the following are coming up: