It was third time lucky for me on the Pumlumon Challenge. I got the second fastest time in 2007 (Allen Smalls and Matt Davis crossed the line to beat me) and was second in 2008 too (Mark Hartell beat me: I caught up to within 30 seconds of him at one stage, but he pulled away from me: agghhh!). I was motivated to have a good crack at the race this year: it's a lovely race, the first prize is fantastic (a beautiful framed photo of part of the course) and I'd set myself the goal of giving the Vasque series a good crack in the second half of the year.
It couldn't have been a more beautiful day for the race. There was a cloudless blue sky. As we drove up the A44 from Llangurig, we exited the fog to see the beautiful clear mountains of Pumlumon: what a sight! The event centre is the Forest Commision complex and red kite feeding centre on the A44 and is an idyllic spot for the start of a race.
Once we started, someone went off like a shot: really, really fast. I'd never seen him before and was really concerned that this could end up being a brutally fast chase (until someone blew up). I gave chase (with Martin Indge and some others) and we were doing a stupid pace round the lake: 5m30s / mile! Things calmed down after the first little hill, but then it was full pelt again along a forest track: 5m30s / mile again!
We hit the real open country at Dinas mountain. This allowed us to get into more of a rhythm. My local knowledge was starting to pay off here as I was clearly choosing better lines than the others around me. They seemed to settle into the idea that I knew where I was going and was a good person to follow. I'd have liked to shake them off, but this seemed too early for any of that sort of heroics. I was planning on running the race with team mate Martin Indge too, so I was trying to match pace with him.
There followed a steep hill up onto the Plumlumon plateau. A runner, who I later learnt was called Hugh, set off in hot pursuit up this and he was clearly catching me up. I decided that now was the time to go for a big push. The tactic I decided on was to to run as hard as possible for as long as it took: a do or die approach. I knew my lines across the terrain really well and executed them well. I ran all the hills and ploughed on through the heather and the boggy patches (on my secret little paths that were unfortunately being shared with Hugh about 30 seconds behind me). The one place I seemed to make a real difference was on the forest track near the source of the River Severn, but Hugh was catching up with me as we approached the source itself. He finally caught up with me at the north eastern most point of the course. We'd run flat out for over an hour and about 8 miles: it was pretty tiring stuff, especially as the heat was starting to build up.
Hugh was starting to run away from me a bit along the big wild valley that forms the northern section of the race, but I hung on in there and did my best to catch him up. I seemed to catch him in a particularly boggy patch and from there, we ran together and chatted. I found out that Hugh had done a 17h40m South Wales Traverse which I found pretty impressive and made me wonder what I'd got myself into: trying to race someone who was clearly so capable.
The dreaded Drosgol this year was a pussycat. Although the ascent was gruelling, the descent line that I had this year was great. I managed to avoid the tussocks by picking up some good quad bike tracks. Although my line was significantly longer than the direct tussocky line, I'm sure it was quicker and was definitely less soul destroying.
I noticed that I seemed to have the edge on Hugh once back on the track. I was still chatting to him, but I felt I had something in reserve. We stayed together to near the final manned checkpoint (on the Nant y Moch reservoir road) and then up the next hill, but after that, I just decided that I'd run at what felt like a comfortable pace and see what happened. I seemed to ease away ever so gradually. We were still only 30 seconds apart at the final checkpoint (in the middle of a bog!), but I just sensed that the tide was turning in my favour. I had a great line from the final checkpoint (near a hill called Disgwlfa: a checkpoint that many people had trouble finding) towards a ford and the final big hill. I managed to run on a good little path and avoid the nearby tussock field: those sheep know their way around Wales! This got me a little further ahead. I then ran in well along the tracks to the finish to win by about two minutes: a great feeling after two second places in the previous two years.
It's given me quite a lot of confidence knowing that things aren't over when someone catches you up. If you stick with them (whatever the temporary pain is), it seems like you can still regain the initiative. Or maybe Hugh was just being sociable and running with me along that northern valley and I did the nasty at the end. I hope it wasn't like that.
I really enjoyed the race. It's a highlight of the Vasque series for me. What a wonderful place to hold a race. The remoteness should not deter people.
There's now less than a week to get back in shape for the next race in the Vasque series: it's going to be quite an intense finish for me this year!