Exodus is a 100-mile ultramarathon across the Brecon Beacons. I found it as I was specifically looking for an event with a lot of ITRA points. Exodus had the maximum: 6, this meant that it was going to be difficult. Good, I signed up.
I was thinking about it for over a month, finding additional bits of information and preparing myself mentally.
I knew, that I will be spending the best part of 48 hours attempting to run from LLangadog to Abergavenny, following the Beacons Way footpath. The biggest challenges for me were:
1. Being alone
There were only 61 participants signed up: 54 men and 7 women (including me)… I knew, that the field would spread pretty quickly and that I will most likely be running on my own.
The organisers provided 3 checkpoints en route (approx. marathon distance apart), just for comparison – other 100 milers have about 13 of them. This means that I would have to carry a lot of food with me = heavy bag.
3. Drop bag
This is a bag with my stuff (change of clothes, spare food, power bank, head torch) that will be transported by the organisers to a certain point at the race. Usually, you have a few drop bag points, with the first one at 50 miles. At this race, there’s just one, at 73 miles.
4. Running at night + navigation
The event was self-navigated and it started at night. What could possibly go wrong? In the Brecon Beacons? In December?
5. Pacers and crews
Pacers were not allowed at this race and this time I didn’t have a crew. I was, however, allowed to stop at a shop (or a pub) to top up my energy levels. Not all doom and gloom.
Total ascent was just over 23,000ft (7100m). Actually, I thought that elevation was the least of my worries 😉
Everyone likes a bit of stats. Looking at last year’s results 19 people finished and 24 didn’t. I didn’t look at the results before entering this race (note to self for next time)… 😀
I knew that physically I
would should be fine, but these races are really not about strong legs, it’s more your backbone that you need to worry about. My approach was to dissect this race and I had one month to do it.
I read and re-read the website, the instructions, checked the start list, prepared a cheat sheet, but the peace of mind wasn’t coming. I was scared, this was going to be the hardest race I attempted to date.
The compulsory race kit included:
- Taped seam jacket with hood (Highly recommend Gortex or similar NOT lightweight jacket)
- Waterproof trousers
- Map of the route
- Mobile phone with a charge to call in an emergency (Not needed to be on)
- Head torch you can use for the whole event
- Long-sleeved top
- Survival bag (not blanket) OR Blizzard Bag
- Foil blanket
- Food for in-between checkpoints
- GPS navigation device with GPX of route loaded
- GPS tracker (provided by us at registration)
- Comprehensive Medical/first aid kit
In the week of the race, I packed my kit bag and tested it, as the bag was new and I wanted to make sure it was comfortable. I also marked the map of the course and prepared my drop bag.
The race was starting on Friday evening: 19:00, I got up early that day to have a proper breakfast and double-check that I had everything in my kit bag.
And now the series of unfortunate events…
- My hydration pack leaked when I repacked all the kit (I was doing the repacking to triple-check that I had everything). This meant that I had to change my hydration system… before catching a train just after 9 am. Not a relaxed morning I was hoping for…
- I took the train from Godalming to Guildford and then changed for Reading… when I realised, that I forgot my wallet! I didn’t have anything, no cash, none of my cards… Now panic and freak out! I spent all my time at Reading train station trying to find a shop that did cash-back as I could use my phone to get money using contactless. If you are ever in a similar situation, don’t waste your time, nobody does cash-back there and I nearly missed my train to Abergavenny. What have I done to you Karma? Huh?
- I finally got to Abergavenny and managed to get cash out of my bank. Things were turning, I thought. Until I saw this lady with a little boy, who was singing: “Mommy shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo; Mommy shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo; Mommy shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo; Mommy shark!”. Noooooo! This is really NOT the song that you want stuck in your head for 48 hours!
On the way from Newport to Abergavenny, I met Dan and we spent the journey together and then went for lunch as we had some time to kill before the bus was taking off to the start.
At 3 p.m. we got on the bus and after about an hour we were in LLangadog. There were 2 hours till race briefing which I spent having my kit checked, repacking my stuff and being nervous.
I did some mingling before the briefing and met Holly who was there with her mum (thank you for my pre-start hug!) and two Polish guys: Andrzej and Bogdan, who were there with their families.
The race started at 7 p.m., there were about 47 runners now… I guess it wasn’t just me who was doubting whether this whole thing was a good idea!
I spent the first few-hundred meters running on my own and following the ‘crowd’. The runners spread out quickly and soon I joined 3 guys, who were running at a similar pace.
The first section was just getting out of the town and running through fields. Gradually the terrain was becoming steeper and I was quite conscious not to burn out all my energy. I was also making sure I ate and I started having my wraps (with carmelised onion hummus and mango chutney 🙂 ) after about 10km from the start.
About 20km in, I was tired and was doubting myself (again). I knew this race was going to be hard but it was pitch black, freezing cold and the terrain was very challenging, to say the least. We were going through quarries, trying to navigate our way through the darkness.
We took a wrong route a few times and had to check where we were going. There were also times when we had to stop as one of us had tripped over and fallen, it was nothing serious but it’s always worth checking. Besides, you need a little bit of time to compose yourself after a fall.
The stops for battery changes were the worst, I was standing around, frozen, waiting… but equally I didn’t want to be alone in the middle of nowhere.
Eventually, we got to an area with big boulders, it turned out that due to rain they became insanely slippery. We tried to avoid them, but unfortunately, we picked the wrong route. We were going around, trying to stick to any grassy bits that were available but it seemed that the boulders would not end. After checking the map, we decided that our only option was to climb over them, going across. We were moving slowly, keeping three points of contact with the ground wherever possible. Finally, we got to the ridge, the wind picked up and it was getting very cold, but I was relieved that at least there were no more boulders.
We weren’t progressing well, it was slow going and we were still far from the first aid stop. I was having second thoughts… I spoke to one of the guys, asking if he was going to continue the race or pull out at the first stop. I was secretly hoping he’d say that this was enough for him and that will give me an excuse to pull out as well. He said he will carry on. Fine, I will do too.
It took us a little while to find the first aid stop and I was looking forward to a shelter and a ‘proper’ bathroom. I knew that the first station was at a campsite, but surely… there must be somewhere to hide… Nope, it was a gazebo… I had two cups of tea and some cake. I also changed my waterproof socks for a fresh pair of waterproof socks.
We didn’t hang around for too long and it was good to start going again and get warmer whilst moving. It was still pitch black when I got a message from my mum saying the daylight is coming. I nearly cried, my mum is in Poland, one hour ahead… so at least another hour of darkness. I had to try really hard to stay focused and continue the run.
When we got to Llyn y Fan Fach dam, the guys stopped for another battery change, I was freezing again, the area was so exposed and I don’t deal well with the cold. I was grateful when we started moving again, especially that the day was breaking. All was going to be OK, I thought.
We were going alongside a canal, I was ahead, checking with the guys at any of the bridges whether we should cross or carry on. When I turned around one time I saw nobody behind me, just head torches in the distance… right, so we should have crossed. I was a bit puzzled as to why none of them shouted to call me. From then on, I decided to navigate the route myself.
I re-joined the track and was going around Picsw Du. The guys caught up with me around Bwlch Blaen-Twrch, but I remained ahead. The distance between us grew bigger and bigger.
I was going around Fan Foel when the sun was rising, and it was stunning. The route wasn’t difficult to navigate, I went down towards Llyn y Fan Fawr lake and then carried on towards Glyntawe. The area is beautiful, especially the waterfalls, so I took a lot of pictures 🙂
I was hoping for a shop or a petrol station once I got to civilization. I fancied some “pick-me-up” food. Something sweet or fizzy, anything. Unfortunately, there weren’t any shops, so I carried on. I did meet a dog though, who wanted to play fetch with me, so we did that for a while, it was very good!
Then I spoke to two walkers, who were asking what I was doing and they mentioned that another girl went passed not that long ago (whatever that meant). Right, that was very good news, I decided to catch up with her!
I met Liza by the Ceaig-y-nos Country Park, she didn’t realise I was taking part in the race. We talked briefly about the route as it wasn’t obvious from the map which way to go (there was a lower and a higher route). She took the higher one and I took the lower one. This turned out to be a mistake on my part and as I got to a pond I realised that there was no way through… There’s nothing quite like doing some extra distance on a 100 miler…
I managed to catch up with Liza again by Penwyllt Quarry. That was what I needed, I had company and it was good to talk to someone. We talked about races we’ve done and ones we had planned. We had a lot of time to talk, the next stretch was quite long and the weather was starting to turn.
We were climbing, then going through boggy meadows with no obvious paths. Liza said that she remembered this bit from last year and that soon we will get to a ridge, follow it for a bit and then get down to the road and to our second checkpoint. That ‘soon’ really wasn’t soon. It dragged massively but we chatted and shared food, so the time went quicker. The wind was picking up, so was the rain and the visibility was getting worse. Hello, December in the Brecon Beacons!
Finally, we got to the ridge and could see the road in the distance, it still took us a while to get there but it was a relief.
Now, where was the station? We knew that we had to do a little detour to get there, but it really couldn’t come soon enough! The route wasn’t that obvious then, even though we could see the lights of the hostel we were going to. It was already getting dark when we reached checkpoint two.
I was wet and cold, so I put my shoes in a dry room. Then it was time for food, I really needed something hot to eat. The marshals were lovely and sorted a lot of stuff for us once we were eating e.g. re-filled our bottles, got us hot drinks. I inhaled a veggie curry, tomato soup, and some biscuits 😀 The marshals also gave us some snack bars and salted nuts for the road.
Liza changed her clothes and I put my wet shoes back on. I was wearing ski gloves, which was a great idea until it rained… I had standing water in all the fingers. It was grim, but better to have wet gloves than no gloves, right?
Liza and I set off for Pen y Fan. It was dark and raining and we went the wrong way, but it’s fine, we were together. Apparently, the weather conditions got much worse and someone was supposed to meet us at the top of the mountain to show us the lower route.
When we were near the top the race directors got us and said that there’s no way we will be going through to the other side. One of them was blown over by the wind twice in the time they were waiting for us. It was too dangerous.
Back we went the way we came, the race directors told us that they will take us to the other side in their cars where we would rejoin the race track. By then we knew that many people have dropped out and there was nobody behind us. The way back wasn’t easy either, the rain and wind were so hard, we could hardly see anything.
I was freezing (again) when we got out of the car. We needed to start moving quickly and have some food to keep us going.
The next section was quite hard with the darkness, rain, and cold. We were helping one another to stay positive and when one of us stopped talking, the other one offered some ‘pick-me-up’ food.
We were drenched when we met the guys from the support team (Mark and Tony), who were driving around. We tried to warm ourselves up by standing close to their car that had the heating on, getting as much warm air as we could through the windows. You may call it desperation – it was!
After that, we got lost in some fields and ferns and gorse bushes had a few battles with barbed wires and I fell asleep (!). Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bored, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep standing, walking and running… I really didn’t think that was possible, well… it was!
I also started hallucinating, instead of leaves I was seeing weird Christmas decorations, that looked quite evil. At one point I also saw Liza in front of me going through a town square into a florist shop, all Christmas themed. At least I didn’t talk to someone who didn’t exist!
We got to Crickhowell with an hour before the third checkpoint (73 miles ish) was closing, but apparently, there was some miscommunication and we had about 30 min to sort ourselves, eat and leave. This is where I had my drop bag. Excellent! I changed all my clothes and put on fresh socks, my feet started to wrinkle from the rain, so it was good timing. I was so pleased to have warm clothes. We ate, had a hot drink and left the station.
On the way out of town we stopped at a petrol station and got Fanta and chocolate 😀 Result!
This is when Rock joined us, he was at the aid station before we got there, I believe this was his first 100 miler! Mad!
We saw a couple of donkeys, which I really enjoyed (even though, they were more interested in what I had in my bag than me).
We started climbing again when the sun was rising and it was beautiful.
I absolutely loved the views, the Beacons are stunning!
Whenever we got to a ridge the wind got stronger, it was quite cold, I was happy that I had my dawn jacket on!
We were running or walking and chatting whilst climbing Crug Hywel.
On the way down we started losing Rock, when he joined us after a while, we gave him some food (wraps). Liza said that it was now her favourite race food, awesome! Soon after we met Mark and Tony in their support vehicle, it was very nice to see some familiar faces thank you! 🙂
Our next challenge was Crug Mawr, stunning, very windy. We lost Rock by then, unfortunately.
The rainy clouds started chasing us as well so when we got to the top, we started coming down as soon as we could.
The paths were flooded and slippery and soon became steeper and more technical. None of the sheep cared, they seemed to be doing very well on that terrain!
We were getting to Llanthony when the race photographer (Tosh) came to meet us. I can’t tell you how good it was to finally see another person! then we met Mark and Tony again 🙂
Tosh asked me if I was Kasia and when I confirmed, he said that there was a dog waiting for me by the priory. I thought that it was very weird that people in Wales know that I like dogs, but fair enough! It turned out that it was Jamie with Ronnie, who came to see me! Awesome!
After a quick stop, Liza and I started going up Hatterrall Hill.
The way up was slow, but we had a very deep conversation (welcome to the world of ultra running), so the time passed quickly.
It was absolutely freezing at the top and Liza’s gloves were soaked. Especially with the wind, her hands got stiff and painful from the cold, I gave her my ski gloves, so she could warm up a bit. It’s pretty grim when your hands hurt and you can’t use them. The sun was already setting and I really wasn’t looking forward to the darkness…
It was somewhere near Llanvihangel Crucorney, where we met Jamie and Ronnie again.
I was a little worried about time, but when Jamie said that we had more than 8km to go and about an hour and a half, I seriously thought that we were not going to make it! After that sort of distance in our legs, it would be hard even on a flat course with a marked route… and we had another mountain to climb!
It was almost completely dark then, Liza and I decided to do our best to get in within the cut-off. It wasn’t easy to navigate, I went ahead using my OS Map app. The adrenaline hit me at the base of Ysgyryd Fawr, I wasn’t going to give up! I was climbing fast, I wanted to get to the top, as I knew that from there I had about 6-7 km left. I felt tired but all I could think of was that cut off, I also felt very bad for leaving Liza behind. When I got to the top, I couldn’t see the drop, which, with a fear of heights was probably quite good! The wind was so strong, I had to crouch down to feel safe, I was scared. I just wanted to get out of there. When I finally started coming down, the wind subsided a bit and I felt better. This was probably not the best time to need a wee either, but maybe in the long run (pun intended), it would make me run the last stretch faster 😉
And then my torch started dying… Argh! I struggled to open the battery pack to put new batteries, broke my nails, but eventually managed it!
Fine! I could start running again!
I got to a car park at the bottom of the mountain and saw the race director and a few other people. They were cheering me on. I said that Liza is alone on the mountain and Jonny (RD) reassured me that she’s not that far behind me. He also said that I should worry about the cut-off and pushed me to go.
This is what I did. I was running through a field and about halfway through it, I realised that I should be on the other side of the fence! Argh! Nooooo! There was a barbed wire at the top of the fence and a wide hedge (probably also spiky) on the other side. Well… I was definitely not going back on myself… I was hoping that the fence/hedge situation will improve. Well… It sort-of did. I went over a gate and ended up in somebody’s garden… Not ideal! I turned my torch off and left through the front gate. Nothing to see…
I was now on the road, all I needed to do was to run the last 4 km in about 40 minutes… I was stressed and tired and desperate. This race had cost me so much already, there’s no way I wasn’t going to make it!
I was running as fast as I could, I met some other spectators who asked if I needed any food or gels. They also said that they were following my dot for a while now, which spurred me on more than any gel would! Thank you.
I went through a golf course, where for some reason, the navigation was quite hard. I had to go over another fence, not entirely sure if that was the way, but hey, I was on the road. Finally. I didn’t have far to go, another 2 km, maybe? I was going as fast as I could, I just wanted to see some part of Abergavenny that I recognised.
Finally, I saw Morrisons and I could see some spectators in the distance. The RD and Jamie came to meet me and ran the last meters with me. I wasn’t thinking of anything, I couldn’t believe that I made it!
I was tired, in pain, hot, then freezing… I was incredibly happy! I made it with 8 minutes, 24 seconds to spare.
I also got a podium spot – 2nd Lady!
Thank you to all the volunteers at the finish, it was amazing to see your excitement for me.
Liza finished about 20 minutes after me, unfortunately, she lost her GPS device and got lost, it was so good to see her at the finish line though. Thank you for running with me ❤
I am so incredibly grateful to the organisers, volunteers, and all the spectators, family, friends and strangers, who were on the other side thinking about me and cheering me along. You made that run possible, it was your messages, smiles, and hugs that kept me going.