Run Walk Crawl South Wales Hundred Recce 

by Mark Aston

29 January 2017

Though it wasn’t a race, I thought I’d write this brief blog post of the recce in case anyone was wondering whether to do the South Wales 100 this year and hadn’t quite decided.  If you haven’t yet visited the South Wales hills and the Brecon Beacons, then you have a real treat awaiting you.  Though I haven’t done the hundred (I did the 50 last year), I have done all the recces, and as such have run the entire route.

It can be wet in South Wales, very wet! And it was one of those days last Sunday when it started raining in the morning and you just knew it was in for the day.  I do hope that this didn’t put any newcomers to the route off on the day.  I can’t see how it would, because despite the rain it was a magical day.
 
For a mountain Ultra, this is a rare one, in that it sets off from a Capital City, Cardiff.  The event starts just off the M4, or 3 train stops from the main line station in Cardiff.  The actual race offers camping at the start and finish, which is nice.  Its an odd feeling starting from a metropolis (albeit on the outskirts) for a day in the mountains.

The route starts gently for the first mile, following the River Taff, along the Taff trail.  Its very pretty and Herons can regularly be Castell Cochseen here.  Kingfishers are also around to be seen, if you are more lucky.  Seeing the Taff in full flow because of the rain, you start to see the true beauty of Wales.  No matter what the weather there is always something wonderful to see.  The force of the water over the weir was quite breathtaking.

After the first mile its up quite a steep climb to the fairy tale Castell Coch.  Once at the top of the woods it’s a run down along the Taff Trail, through a green barrier, ignoring the first sign to Taffs Well, and following the second.

The route then takes you through Taffs Well and across the River Taff. Then begins the stiff climb up the Garth.  This hill lets you know just how tough the 100 mile event will be.  Only 4 miles in and, despite the deception of the map telling that the hill is only 300 metres high, this one is definitely a walk in places.  On the way up the hill you pass the Gwaelod Y Garth Inn.  Excellent food and beer at very reasonable rates, its definitely worth a visit if you are staying nearby.  They do allow muddy boots, as walkers and mountain bikers frequent the place regularly.
 
Y GarthOnce on the top of the hill there is a chance to get some miles under the belt.  Sometimes there are Welsh Black cattle that look significantly scarier than they really are.  Run past some houses with Llamas (I think they were them not the others which look similar), and following the ridgeway path into the woods with some muddy steep sections.

The next section brings you to Llantrisant, via some charming countryside and rolling fields.  Llantrisant has an Arts Centre in the middle of the village, but since the race will be passing here at about 8 or 9 at night, will unfortunately be missed, unless you’re making a weekend of it.
 
LlantrisantPassing the old fort towards Llantrisant

Once across the busy dual carriageway (not nice this bit!) its into Llantrisant Forest.  Its about now you really start to appreciate being in Wales.  It dawns on you that despite leaving the countries capital, the whole route has been hills, woods, pleasant farmland with brooks, and we are not even near the mountains yet.  The valleys, if seen through the wrong eyes, are economically poor and industrial.  But scratch the surface and it is a poor secret that this is an Adult playground that even for someone who has lived their entire life here, there can still be discoveries and new wonders just around the corner.   When I was on last year’s recce, one of the runners seemed to sum it up nicely.  They said it felt like someone had found a way of making their favourite route a race, and couldn’t wait to show others. This is South Wales, always.

The route through the forest takes us up onto the main ridge that leads to Mynydd Y Gaer.  Because of the mist, not much could be seen today, but normally you can see the sea on one side and over to Devon, and the Beacons on the other.  The route now is a very picturesque little track (muddy not stone) through some sheep and cattle country.  Its one of those places that makes you feel like a kid, on a picnic on a warm summers day, blanket out, cattle grazing and sheltering under a tree, listening to the dragon flies darting around.  Not today though, just mud and pretty scenery.

Finding the trig point at the half way point for the day, we are led down through some bracken to the bottom of the valley and the climb back up to Ogmore Forest.  Once in the forest, more wonderful woodland scenes.  Today though, due to the rain, the path wasn’t simply alongside the pretty little river, it was one itself.  Plodding through the mud and trees was quite fun at first, but after twenty minutes of ankle deep running water, I must admit, my feet did get a little chilly….and lets say I’ll keep my unrepeatable mutterings to myself.

 
Ogmore ForestWhich River do I run in? – Ogmore Forest

This was the last long climb of the day, and soon brought us out onto the open moor at the top.  There is some tricky navigation at this point.  The paths are not often used, so no tell-tale tracks (which I’d avoid relying on in Wales as they are usually made by sheep!) to follow.  Today was particularly hard, in the dense mist.  There is a windmill farm at this point and you’d think these could be used to navigate from, but it was really eerie.  In the dense fog, they simply could not be seen from 50 meters away.  All you could hear was their gentle swooshing, which seemed to come from all around.  What made the navigation worse is that this area is littered with relatively deep bog.  A missed placed foot meant knee deep mud, and very cold mud at that! 

I admit to cheating a bit here.  The route follows the public right of way across the bogs.  However some agreeable engineers have laid some nice, solid, firm, and relatively dry tracks to the windmills, which only take you slightly out of your way…..

Once back on the track, again some little bit of navigation work and deduction to find the easiest route which leads to the top of the mountain.  Once on the right path between the wood and fence it is time to relax, for today at any rate.  The route is easy from here, and once at the Cairn at the top, downhill all the way to Ton Pentre.

 
The BwlchAfter about a mile from the cairn we meet the road.  This is locally known as the Bwlch, and is a breathtaking ice age formed valley.  Unfortunately most 100 runners will probably be here at late dusk, so won’t get to see this amazing valley, nor enjoy the ice cream van which usually parks in the lay-by at the point where we meet the road.

If you’re interested in timings, I am normally a 13 to 14 minute miler in the mountains.  And today took me just over that.  Navigation was admittedly tricky due to the mist, but if I was doing the 100 I would certainly be going a lot slower.  The 28 miles of the recce took me over 6 and a half hours.

There are more recce’s of the 100 (and 50) coming soon, and I would advise anyone considering doing them to take advantage of the opportunity.  I used the day as a training run (as I am not doing the event this year) as it is such a lovely day out.  As for Run, Walk, Crawl who lay on the event, they are very supportive, and one of those organisers who, whilst very professional, are nicely laid back.  To describe that in another way, there were walkers on the recce who felt that 40 hours cut off would be difficult for them.  The RDs have as such created a walkers start time.  They are truly there to support you in achieving a very difficult goal, and create that respectful rather than macho environment that I so love in the ultra community.

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