About the Race
The Exodus Race is a 100 mile single-stage race in the Brecon Beacons. It starts on the west of the Beacons in Llangadog and travels east along the Beacons Way to Abergavenny.
The timetable for the event was as below:
I drove to the finish at Abergavenny and left my car in the car park there and took a coach, laid on by the race organisers, to the start in Llangadog.
The race allows each competitor to leave a drop-bag at each checkpoint. The important point to remember is that after the drop-bag have been accessed at the checkpoint it is then moved to the finish, not to the next checkpoint like in some races. So, this means you potentially need more drop-bags and maybe more kit.
The route was along the Beacons Way, west to east, except for the checkpoints that were in buildings like Youth Hostels, just off the route.
I know the Brecon Beacons quite well but have not been on all the route. I probably know the central section the best, then the western side and have not spent much time on the eastern side.
My plan was to take this race fairly steadily and not to push things too hard. I knew that the weather was forecast to be bad; very wet and windy, so I was prepared for this. I assembled all the kit and food according to the plan I had produced.
My checkpoint strategy was to try to minimise time in the checkpoints. I would just get something to eat, change batteries in my electronics, change socks (and possibly shoes), reload food and water for the next leg and set off.
Check-in was a simple process in Llangadog. I deposited my various bags with the race organisers and got my race number, GPS tracker, map and a hi-viz jacket! Then there was a race briefing before we walked outside to the start of the race.
Leg 1 – Llangadog to Llanddeusant, 22 miles
The start was at 7pm on Friday evening. Given it was December it was dark and the forecast was for wet and windy weather. As we walked to the start I fired up my GPS unit and my watch.
For some reason my GPS was playing up and would not load the route. As I fiddled with it, the race started and everyone ran off.
So I was jogging along fiddling with my GPS whilst watching the line of head torches disappear up the hill in front. I then realised that my watch’s GPS did not appear to be working either. This was not good!
So I decided to reboot all electronics.
I think I must have loaded the wrong segment on my watch (I had loaded each segment as a separate track on my watch) as this time all seemed good. I have no idea what was wrong with my GPS unit, but the reboot seemed to fix things and it was working normally now.
The first section was muddy footpaths through farmland. We were climbing as well. Llangadog is in a valley, and we were climbing up into the Beacons towards the Black Mountain.
There was some road and paths before we got into the Beacons park proper. The weather was still OK and there were a few people around. We went past the village of Bethlehem and continued south towards Trap. As I got near to Carreg Cennen Castle I past a farmer walking with his three sheep dogs. I got a nip from one of the dogs which was not good.
From here it was climbing up onto the Black Mountain. There is not much path here and it was eyes down onto the GPS for much of this section. The rain had started by now and as we got higher so the wind picked up.
After a while we came off the hills onto road and started descending. It was a few miles of undulating tarmac to the first checkpoint at Llandeusant. As is always the case the first checkpoint was quite busy but I found a seat, got something to eat and changed the batteries in my head torch and GPS.
I went to change my socks only to discover a packing failure. I was wearing toe socks where left and right is very important as you simply cannot wear a right sock on the left foot and vice versa. I pulled out the pair of socks from the drop bag to find two right socks. So, all I could do was change the right sock.
I was not finding the poles I was carrying very useful so I left them in my drop bag.
Leg 2 – Llanddeusant to Brecon Beacons YHA (near Storey Arms), 25 miles
I did not stay long at Llandeusant and was soon out of the door onto the second leg. I was with a younger guy who was not very confident with navigation so we were moving together.
We had a small amount of tarmac at first, out of Llanddeusant, before some muddy paths over farmland before we were back into the Beacons proper. The route was staying low around the northern side of Llyn Y Fan Fach and Llyn Y Fan Fawr, avoiding the higher ground of Banau Sir Gaer and Fan Brycheiniog.
We could just about see the water in Llyn Y Fan Fach as we crossed the northern shore and headed over to Llyn Y Fan Fawr, skirting the northern shore before following the water’s edge south, along the eastern side.
Then it was south off the hill into the Swansea Valley and across the A4067 just north of Pen Y Cae and the caves at Dan Yr Ogof. I made a slight navigation error here and missed the turn off through the graveyard, but soon corrected the mistake.
There were some reasonable paths here as we first traversed some lowland areas along the Swansea Valley, before starting to climb again. Eventually we joined the old Roman Road, Sarn Helen, that took us northeast.
It was starting to get light now and along the Sarn Helen we passed the Maen Madoc burial stone.
We had caught up with Iain who I knew from other races like Cape Wrath and Dragon’s Back. So we talked about these races a bit, as well as races we had coming up in the future.
We dropped down to cross a small road and then climbed back up to Fan Llia. It had been raining hard all morning and my waterproof gortex gloves were now waterlogged. The wind was strong causing my fingers to go numb with the windchill, so I took the gloves off which did improve things.
I was on my own again as I circled around towards the A470. I know this area quite well but had never seen the underpass beneath the road near the Storey Arms. But it was there!
Checkpoint 2 was off the Beacons Way in a youth hostel back towards Libanus. Initially the path was good but there were some seriously muddy fields to cross to get the CP!
I did the usual at the CP; got something to eat and drink, replaced batteries and loaded up my rucksack with food and water for the next stage.
As I pulled a pair of socks from my drop bag I found, unsurprisingly, two left socks. So I changed my left sock. At least at the next checkpoint the socks in the drop bag should be a left and a right.
Leg 3 – Brecon Beacons YHA to Crickhowell, 26 miles
I left the checkpoint fairly promptly and slithered back the way I had come across the muddy fields until I was back on the path. Feet were soaked again so changing sock was a bit of a waste of time.
From here we climbed up to near the summit of Corn Du, before breaking away and going up Pen Y Fan. It was very windy now, so when I got to the summit, I quickly got across to Jacob’s Ladder on the far side to start descending.
There where two routes advertised. A normal route summiting Fan Y Big and a bad weather route keeping to the Roman Road along the Neuadd Reservoirs. We were advised at the last Checkpoint to follow the bad weather route.
From the Roman Road I headed round to the eastern side of the Talybont Reservoir before heading east towards Llangynidr. From here Crickhowell is not too far away to the east, but the route we were following took us on a big detour to the north before swinging around south and back to Crickhowell.
It had got dark again long before I got to the Checkpoint. I did the usual checkpoint admin process and then closed my eyes and put my head on a table for a few minutes cat-nap. This didn’t work, so I found some camp beds behind a screen so I laid down for a few minutes. I did not sleep for very long, just a few minutes I think, but I was dawdling at the checkpoint.
My feet were starting to show a few signs of becoming waterlogged, which was not too surprising at they had been constantly wet since the start. My shoes were starting to hurt as well. I did think of changing from the Scotts to Hokas. I knew the Hokas would offer a little more cushioning but would not be as grippy as the Scotts on the mud. So I stayed with the Scotts.
After that, I got ready, changed both socks, and set off into the darkness again.
Leg 4 – Crickhowell to Abergavenny, 27 miles
This section was a big loop, firstly north, then east and then south back to Abergavenny. I was not very familiar with the majority of this section although I did know the final hill.
There was a sharp climb out of the checkpoint through farmland, before I dropped down to cross a couple of small roads. Then a repeat as we continued to travel north. We dropped off the hill into the village of Llanthony. Somewhere around here was an unmanned checkpoint. We were advised we did not have to dib into it, as it had some sort of proximity device to record us passing.
It was getting light and the weather was improving.
The next climb was up to Hatterrall Hill. I was now moving south towards the finish. I dropped off the hill and there was a bit of a lowland road section to traverse.
I was somewhat familiar with this area. The last hill was Skirrid, which I knew. In the past, I had taken a wrong turn off the road onto the hill and for some reason (tiredness probably) I did the same again. This was annoying and it took me some time to retrace my steps to sort it out.
Skirrid is quite steep so it took a while to get to the top. There was the second unmanned checkpoint somewhere at the top. I did not see it. I came off the hill through a wood and was now on the outskirts of Abergavenny.
There was a couple of miles still to go. This was a combination of roads and a golf course. And then I was at the finish!
I made it 107 miles in 41 hours 17 minutes. I did make a couple of navigation errors that may have added an extra mile or two.
Statistics for the race were: 55 signed up; 43 showed up at the start; 19 finished. I came 10th.
Things I Learned
- Its Wales in December so its going to be wet and muddy. We had pretty bad weather with a lot of rain and high winds.
- Take as much kit as you can, its good to change into fresh kit at the checkpoints (all my waterproof gear leaked to some degree).
- The Beacons Way is sign-posted but in places not that well. Most of the route has a reasonable path to follow but there are some less used section like the Black Mountain where there is not much of a path on the ground.
- Terrain is undulating and generally not technically difficult. It is mainly hilly rather than mountainous.
- There are not many places outside Checkpoints to buy things so you have to support yourself between CPs.
- Pair up toe-socks carefully to ensure a pair really is a pair!
How did the Kit Perform?
- Shoe choice of Scott Kinabalu was good at these perform well on mud. Feet were quite painful at the end though.
- Injinji mid-level toe socks were fine. I’ve used these many times.
- UD Fastpack 15L backpack worked well and was plenty big enough.
- Waterproofs. Montane Ajax jacket and Montane Trailblazer trousers. Wore the jacket for the whole race and the trousers for the second half. Both leaked to some extent but given the amount of heavy rain I was happy with both.
- Sealskinz hat. Worked fine.
- Trekmates gortex gloves. Became waterlogged and useless. Changed to Sealskinz gloves and the same thing happened. Simply need multiple pairs.
- Garmin eTrex 30x. Worked fine after the initial problems at the start.
- Garmin Fenix 3 HR watch. Worked well.
- Organiser map. I had a couple of looks at the map inside at the checkpoint to get an overview of what was coming up but did not look at the map on the course. Navigating by map and compass would have been very difficult given the weather and the fact that a lot of this race occurs at night.
- Headtorch Ledlenser H14.2. Heavy so need to get used to it but worked well in the conditions. The light beam is big and bright and the batteries last all night.