Last weekend I got to run the Preseli Beast. A 24 mile fell race with 4652 ft (1418 meters) of elevation, here in my local county of Pembrokeshire.
I’ve posted about the Preseli Hills before in this blog post. They can be surprisingly challenging to run, but are a lot of fun.
A few weeks on from Wild Horse 200 South Wales, my coach had deemed me mostly recovered (after scrutinising a few different runs along with my heart rate data). I was asked to forfit the 30 mile HOWUM ultra marathon I had planned for the weekend (6th May), and step down to something slightly less challenging instead (as Ultra-Trail Snowdonia – UTS 50, was up for me on the following weekend!)
Enter the Preseli Beast!
I signed up for the amazingly great value for money price of £13, and happily drove the 25 minutes to the Preseli Hills (smugly grinning all the way as I drove ‘free’ of charge in our small electric car charged up from solar power!)
Coach Jack was keen on this one as long as I “held back on the reigns and treated it as a training run”.
The Preseli Beast Race
Registration was a lively affair with lots of people arriving from all over the country to participate on the small Maenclochog village green.
I was really happy to see running friends Ben and Cassie on arrival (who had journeyed in from South Wales).
The race organiser, Caz The Hat had everything planned out very well with his army of volunteers. Everything was smooth and efficient and we set off up the road right on time.
The village was alive with residents and supporters on the edges of the road cheering us all on as we made our way up the short bit of road to enter the Beast’s Den (a wooded area before the bigger climbs started).
The Beast’s Lair
This wooded section has a a board walk through, but caution was still required with tree roots crossing the paths in many different areas where there were gaps in the boarded areas.
To the Rosebush Quarry
Next up, we entered the Rosebush quarry. A slate mine quarry with beautiful pools of water at the bottom of the quarries. This bit is familiar to me, as I often come here to do runs around the quarry and up into the forestry above.
Volunteers cheered us on, as well as large scary looking chap, shouting out motivational pieces to us as we passed. Later on he would run back to the start line and run the 11 mile Beast Bach version himself. Kudos!
The open fells and dead marshes
After the quarry and some steady hill climbs, we entered the open fells. This is where difficulty ramped up a notch. By the end of the forestry track climb (and start of the open fells) I was dripping sweat from my cap. I was running in just behind a club fell runner (MDC as far as I recall). I guess I just couldn’t hold onto those reigns, and was letting myself push a bit harder than I should have.
Soon after this, we entered the ‘dead marshes’. This is a bit barren looking, and is pretty much water-logged all year round. Sometimes I’ll park at a nearby road crossing (that cuts through the hills/mountains) and run up this way – its a got some great elevation in certain directions. However, it is always a challenge to run with divots, holes, and deep water, marsh, and mud areas everywhere you step. It’s impossible to keep your shoes dry here.
With this in mind I ploughed straight through the marshy puddles, not concerned with getting shoes and socks wet.
There is a rocky descent soon after this that leads down to a gravel car park and the first water checkpoint on the cross-cutting road before leading up to the summit of Foel Eryr.
Up Foel Eryr and down into the Gwaun valley
I didn’t stop for water, but swiped up a flapjack as I ran through CP1. I ate the flapjack on the flat bit just before starting the ascent up to Foel Eryr. There is a trig point at the top and some great panoramic views. On some days the weather can be totally different up here compared to road level!
The descent down the fells on the other side were quite unpleasant on the feet (with regard to camber), but the Gwaun valley toward the bottom was beautiful at this time of year.
Bluebells were flowering, and there are some brilliant streams and wooded areas to run through.
The route goes really deep down into this valley, and took us through many wooded sections, as well as across the river Gwaun. Lots of up and down bits here, which kept the heart pumping.
Being in a valley meant we had zero wind, so the heat was really bearing down on at this point.
I passed CP2 soon enough though, took a handful of sweets, chugged a cup or two of water, and also filled my cap up with water which I doused over my head. Just what I needed!
The climb out of the Gwaun valley from here lead us toward Ingli common. A chopped down woodland area, which leads onto more open fell, before providing us with an amazing view down to Newport and the coast line.
Down to Newport
Newport Bay looked spectacular on this day. Clear views out onto the ocean and some well framed views with the scattered rock along the open fells.
I barrelled down the fells, following a long winding descent which eventually met up with a tar road, all the way into the town below on the coast.
CP3 and water station was along the town street. Lots of volunteers and spectators lined the area, and some friendly kids were cheering us on through.
I picked up more sweets, chugged some more water, and began the approach to one of the biggest climbs…
The streets of Newport led us up a narrow, rocky path before the climb up to Carn Ingli.
I climbed Carn Ingli with my 8 year old last year, so this brought back fond memories – a nice distraction from the fatigue and sweat-inducing climb!
It’s a bit of a technical trail winding its way up to the top, with a little bit of a false summit. There is some slight scrambling involved right near the very top.
Two cheerful ladies were waiting at the top with a bowl of sweets and words of encouragement. Next was a descent through the “beast’s fangs” (a technical bit of rocky trail with a ‘bite’ leading down).
At this point, the route led across to Ingli Cairn, before heading back down into a different part of the Gwaun valley. More bluebells and green scenery were present to enhance the views and distract from the building discomfort levels!
Cnwc-yr-hydd, a checkpoint and onto the Beasts Back
Soon enough I was back across open fells and technical camber. There were some minor hill tops to cross here where I met running buddy Sanna (an amazingly talented ultra runner, and newly appointed by Welsh Athletics to represent in France later this month) who was there helping out, along with another volunteer. (Thanks for the energy boost Sanna!)
After this section of the race, we headed down some fairly technical mixed trail and gravel track. A diagonal path led across the start of the fells, aptly named the “Beast’s Back”.
This was (for me at least) the cruelist climb in the race. A steep ascent with no real trail at all. Hands on knees, teeth gritted, lactic acid building, sweat pouring, through the difficult camber, all the way up. A few bites of an energy block gave me the carbs needed to get this done.
Our route had joined up with the 11-mile Beast Bach race. These runners had fresher legs, and every person approaching from behind made me anxious. I was wondering if they were a 24-mile Preseli Beast runner. I was now in semi-race mode as I had been told I was in the top 10.
Back down to the Beast’s Lair
At the top I finally reached Foel Feddau. Brilliant views once more, followed by a sharp and painful descent down toward the bottom. At this point I usually hop a fence and join back up into the forest track to the side. However today the route sticks left, a gradually decreasing gradient all the way back to the Beast’s Lair. The same board walk woodland from the start of the race.
I was running in 5th place at this point, but there were two other runners right on my back. They were simply better on the down hills, and soon overtook me. I hung on to them for the final 2-3 miles, always tailing them by no more than 100-200 meters. However my calves had built up lactic acid from running just above threshold pace and were starting to hurt a little, and I just couldn’t muster the energy to take back 5th place.
I entered back onto the village road, still running with some good pace, but not enough to make any further gains.
Rounding the corner into the finish I heard a lady shout “House-name-censored!” (the name of my house!) It was Lesley, a neighbour in my local village who was out spectating. A lovely end to a tough fell race, with 7th overall position. I really enjoyed that.
I picked up my beast coaster (the slate ‘medal’ for finishing) and was happy to see Ben, Matt, and Henry waiting at the finish.
Matt had placed 1st overall, Henry 2nd, and Ben 3rd (1st overall open category). Ben’s wife, Cassy came in soon after to win 1st female open category!
Caz had decided that as it was the ‘King’s coronation’ day, he would do his own celebration of the winners with a crown placing celebration.
Here is a link to the official race site. I highly recommend it!