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Darren Survives ‘Beastly Challenge’

I want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to all of my clients who helped to sponsor me in running the Preseli Beast on Saturday. Between us, we raised £1,880 (at the last count) for the British Red Cross Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

This year has been a difficult one for my running, as I have not been able to train as I usually would – due to ankle issues. The Physio and repair work paid off, allowing me to take on the Mountain Marathon with some extra ankle support.

As usual, the race set off from the sleepy village of Maenclochog which is nestled in the Preseli Mountains. Some 50 insane candidates attached their water packs and ran through the village to the sounds of horns, cowbells, drums, clapping and cheering as all the locals came out of their houses to celebrate the annual witnessing of pain!

I realised that my ‘Ukraine Man’ costume was going to be a burden for the day – as it is not breathable and wearing flags on the front and back of your body is not ideal for this sort of challenge. But the joyful encouragement from race marshals and local farmers more than made up for the discomfort.

The route headed into the forest and then climbed up to the Rosebush Quarry where the days’ theme of muggy heat met its victims. I tried not to push too hard in the early miles, just letting my body adjust. Munching on marmalade on toast, I tucked in with an experienced group of ultra-runners as we made our way up the steep climb to the common land at around 9 minute miles.

We came across the Bwlch Y Groes car park on top of the B4329 around 7 miles into the challenge and I decided to pull away a little more. The drop down into the Gwaun Valley started to separate the runners as the slightly madder ones risked the maze of gorse bushes at full clip. One oversight at this speed and you are going to take a nasty tumble.

Then down through the bluebell woods – savouring the temporary reprieve from the heat before tackling the long and brutal climb back out of the Gwaun Valley towards Newport. The heat was beating down nicely by now and experience told me to slow the pace a little.

Finally, we spotted the bay of Newport and begun our runaway descent down and down into the town. I quickly ate my way through a bag of hula hoops and a Baby Bell – knowing the torture that was soon to come my way.

What goes down…..

And so the long slog up to the base of Cairn Ingli begun. At this point the group that I had stuck with begun to spread out. Cairn Ingli is one of those climbs you just literally cannot run so it was hands on the quads time and pushing as fast a walk as I possibly could. Drenched now from the muggy heat, I looked longingly at the cooler misty peak where I hoped for some recuperative breeze.

Searching for some reason to not stop, I started to count off and mentally thanks each person who had sponsored me for this important cause. The time passed and I found myself clambering onto the boulders for the summit.

A quick gasp of air and laugh with the race marshals was had, before trying to convince my legs that they could now start flying back downhill. The small group had come back together and I smiled as people wobbled about on jelly legs – chuckling at their own exhaustion.

Dropping back into the Gwaun Valley, we then had to climb the few miles back out, up past the Gellifawr. This was the point where I could really feel the lack of training kicking in, and I slowed, only to find that the few runners around me also did the same. Finally emerging back at the B4329 around 18 miles in, I grabbed a much needed hug with Lisa and threw cold water over myself before the last big treat of the day – ‘The Beasts Back’.

I regularly run the Beasts Back and so I no longer feared it. This was a big mistake! I have learned how to keep running it and assumed I would now be able to pull away up this mile-long brutal climb. Around a third of the way up, I realised that walking with hands on quads again was the only thing my tank would allow today. My costume was seriously playing up by now – and I spent half the time trying to remove my ‘cape’ from my eyes!

Finally cresting the top, it was a brief drop before the Cwm Cerwyn climb which I managed to run and reel in a couple of runners – but these were long hard miles.

Then the beautiful long fast drop all the way back to Rosebush where I started to feel good. The final stumble through the forest and back out to Maenclochog was accompanied by the deep booming of drums and carnival atmosphere of cowbells.

I was greeted by Carys who ran by my side for the last 500 metres or so.

The day was a good one. I managed 9th place which I was happy with. I didn’t manage a ‘sub 4 hour’ but a reasonable 4 hours 14 minutes was enough for me on this occasion.

And there’s hopefully always next year……

Thank you again for all your kind words of encouragement and sponsorship. Thank you as well to Bethan and Katy for convincing me I could do it and finally a big thank you to Lisa and Carys for making the day a special family affair.

I know our fundraiser won’t change everything, but at least we can feel that we tried to do something to help people who currently are going through far more pain and suffering than we could even begin to really imagine.



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