After such an epic weekend I’m not sure where to begin! I think the best place to start is with Rat Race as a company. As we’ve heard in previous press releases RR as a company have decided to head towards adventure events rather than competitive racing. Coming away from the competitive side means they can concentrate more on the experiences their customers have before, during and after the events. Its clear to see RR has a mentality of making sure everyone from experienced athletes, weekend warriors and people raising money for charity all achieve their personal goals no matter what they are.
Now to the inaugural Rat Race Adventure Challenge. Set in beautiful surroundings of Glanusk Estate, Brecon Beacon, South Wales. It was clear this was going to involve some hills! This weekend felt like a homecoming for me as Glanusk Estate was the site of my 1st Tough Mudder 6 years ago and the start of an amazing journey that has led me here.
Anyway enough of the nostalgia, on to the event.
Similar to Runstock, The Adventure Challenge is a looped course but with 3 disciplines. Running, Biking and Kayaking, but with a 10 hour time limit instead of 8 hours.
Unfortunately due to the amount of rain we had in the weeks leading up to the event, the kayak section was removed as the river was running too fast and too high for it to be deemed safe. As much as everyone in the event village was gutted that the kayak wasn’t in (mainly because we all saw it as a chance to rest our legs after all those hills!) we all understood the reasoning and on seeing the river we were all quite glad they had removed it!
There are 3 difficulty loops Green being easy, Blue being medium and Red being difficult. Both the running and biking sections included versions of all 3 difficulties, with the kayak intended to be just a green loop. For those who wanted an extra challenge there is the option to try and hit 100km in the 10 hours by completing all 7 loops, obviously with the kayak removed this turned into the 98km challenge.
Being as I've had a very up and down year with injuries, I decided against the 100km and instead aimed to complete and enjoy both Red routes. My plan was to head out of the 32km bike 1st as its easier to refuel while running than it is cycling.
We started off at 8am sharp with what looked like half the field heading out on the bikes and half the field heading out on the run 1st. All the routes started and finished together, the bike started with a cycle over the iconic Glanusk bridge, the site of the 1st time I experienced the fun of Tough Mudders Arctic enema! We then turned left up a lane and across a field. With all routes still together we made our way over the field to an opening and on to the 1st road climb. Once at the top, the Blue route split off to the right to complete a loop on a gravel track, to then join back up with the red and green routes again for a long road descent back over the river Usk.
The 3 routes then split again with the red route turning right and both blue and green taking a left back along the canal path all the way back to the event transition.
After turning right on the red route we climbed and descended our way through the narrow country road network all the way to Talybont Reservoir. This is the point the cycle went up a notch. We crossed to the other side of the reservoir and climbed up a gravel track, we then climbed some more, then a bit more for good measure. It was at this point I was regretting not doing enough cycling in the build up to the event.
Soon enough though we were at the top and after having a quick pitstop to have a flapjack and drink I was ready for the descent. A marshal directed us down a very wet and slippery off-road section, which resembled a river more than a single track bike trail! I managed to ease myself down without falling off, while others around me flew down it like it was a tarmac road but others deciding to not risk it and walked down rather than risk injury.
By this stage we were fairly clean, a bit wet from the 1st off road section but nothing compared to what was waiting for us around the next hairpin turn. The rocky descent had turned into a fast flowing mudfest of single tracks with mud flying everywhere. All I could hear was the noise of the mud from my tyres, chain and gears being flicked and thrown off in every direction. This is what we signed up for!
This soon led onto another technical rocky section, this time however with less descent, making it a lot tougher for those of us with only hardtails(front suspension only). As our knees were our rear suspension and power. Meaning it was a balance of trying to keep some speed up but also trying to ride out the bumps and lumps.
I thought I was doing pretty well on this section until a guy with full suspension came flying past me like I was standing still eating a chicken tikka slice. This section led back down to Talybont-on-Usk, where we picked up the canal path and other loops all the way back to transition.
Back in transition the MC’s kept everyone in high spirits and informed on timings for the whole 10 hours.
As I was in no hurry to get back out I took my time refueled and refilled water ready for the red run route. Having bumped into a friend I gave some tips for the red bike and got some tips for the red run. 30 - 40 minutes after finishing the bike I headed out for the red run, by this time the sun had decided to come out for a bit so I was down to shorts and t-shirt with a spare top and waterproofs in my bag in case the weather decided to change its mind again.
As with the bike routes, the run routes all started together and split after about the 1st mile. The green and blue staying within the grounds of the estate. Both continued towards the bridge then took a left to do a loop through some woodland and back to the bridge. At this point the green headed back to transition and the blue split over the bridge for another roughly 3 mile loop along the river and through some more woodland. Then it was back to the bridge and transition.
Meanwhile the red route split from the others after around 1 mile, it crossed over the road and climbed up towards the canal via a gravel track, through a storm drain and looping back over the canal to join the canal footpath.
A few miles on the canal were ahead so you could get yourself into a nice rhythm and take in the tranquil environment of the canal.
The next few miles after the canal were taken up of running through the town of Crickhowell, at this point I thought I’d never get on the trails as the roads just kept coming. Eventually I got to the trails. Having done a few trail and mountain runs, this is very common place as it allows access to different routes and it also can get the locals involved.
Once we got out of town we were hit with a monster climb, through stinging nettles and brambles with hedges either side there was no views to take your mind off the pain of power hiking up hill. Eventually we came across a small wooden bridge over a creek, which lead to a field crossing with amazing views across the valley.
This is the point the course started to become a lot more runnable, open fields turned to single track technical running, which in turn changed to single track woodland running.
From the creek all the way back in to transition was by far my favorite section, it just flowed and wasn’t so technical it was going to scare off the not so experienced trail runners. Plus there were no more big uphill climbs! There were definitely sections that were a bit more treacherous due to the weather conditions. The ground was soft and slippery in places thanks to the rain but had it been dry and warm it would’ve been pretty accessible for all runners.
On balance I thought all the routes were spot on with the ability they were aimed at.
Green bike - Was challenging due to the hills and distance, definitely nothing technical. If you can ride a bike you can do this.
Blue bike - I would say the same as the green route, challenging due to the hills and distance, but again nothing too technical.
Both green and blue you could comfortably complete on a standard mountain bike.
Red bike - This is where I got confused. The 1st 8-9 miles was pretty much all on road. We then got approx 4miles of amazing off road then another 8-9 mile cycle back along a canal. I understand setting a course that's both safe and challenging is a tough ask, especially while trying to get land owners permission, but we are in the brecon beacons surely there must be some other sections available other than road?
I wasn’t the only one to have this conclusion, after speaking to a few people who had just completed the red bike and to those who were midway through the red bike and were wondering where the off road sections were.
Full suspension was definitely a benefit on the route once we got to the off road section, but hardtail (front suspension only) was adequate as most of the cycle was either tarmac or compact gravel.
If you are considering RRAC 2020 the minimum you should have on a bike is decent off road tyres, decent brakes, front suspension and make sure its fully serviced before you go. The last thing you want is your brakes failing on a fast descent. There was a bike mechanic in transition if required, which was very handy for some people who were having issues.
As for the run routes:
Green run - Easy 5km run, if you can do a Parkrun you can get round this route.
Blue run - Fairly similar to the green route, but with more woodland single track. Nothing too demanding.
Red run - Once the roads and hill climbs were out the way the trails were really runnable and enjoyable. Were definitely achievable for intermediate runners. Also don’t be afraid to hike the uphills!
For RRAC 2020 I think the addition of an aid station at the reservoir crossing and if possible somewhere on the red run route would be perfect. I know this could be difficult on the run as once out the town it becomes quite isolated.
A course map would be of benefit as we were all clueless as to where we were going before the event. Event signage was 2nd to none. All routes were clearly marked even when the cloud and rain came over on the red run the markers were still visible and easy to follow.
According to the essential information guide emailed out to participants there was mandatory kit that needed to be carried for both red routes, however there was no check carried out on either mine or my friends kit. I am aware some people went out on the red run wearing road shoes as there was no kit check to tell them they would need some form of trail shoes with lugs. I was very surprised by these considering the amount of other evenst RR organise where they are very strict on mandatory kit.
I was also concerned that only the 100km entrants were given GPS trackers, while everyone else was just given an emergency contact sheet. With both red routes being so remote and no mandatory kit check someone who was pushing to make the cut off or someone who was not as mountain savvy could’ve found themselves in a bad situation.
Other than these small things that can be easily rectified, I had an amazing weekend, despite the best efforts of the weather.
Would I come back? Definitely, its a great chilled out weekend or its a hardcore sufferfest. Its entirely up to you and what you want to make it. Just remember your wellies!!!