Wednesday 29 February 2012

The hills are alive with the sound of...runners' feet

Perfect North Downs
View from North Downs just West of mid February!

Sticking with theme of offroading in new and exciting places in and around London took me and the other half to Dorking to run on the Surrey Hills.

I'm in love with the place. There is something about big open spaces that I'm drawn to (hoping this will add to my enjoyment of marathon des sables, being rather big and open).

Added to the beauty of the place was that the sun decided to join us. Positively balmy! Running past vineyards made me feel like I was in France, not Southeast England in February.

For the marathon des sables training plan I'm trying to fit in more challenging runs than flat roads in London, so the North Downs was perfect. It has hills. It has mud.

What hill training happened?
Saturday was an extremely hilly 10km up and around Box Hill. Now most people generally take the well marked trail path or road up to the top of Box Hill. Not me. My other half decided the right path was one that looked suspiciously like a wrong path. We ended up scaling the sharp end of Box Hill instead.

I could go on about men and directions, but I'm not going to. I'm just going to put this paragraph in bold instead.

Climbed up this steep Box Hill!
Climbed up this. Rock climbing equipment not to hand.

On the plus it worked my calves out like nothing else. It was probably coming up for a 65-70% incline so it was a case of scrambling and holding onto tree roots to scale it's heights...

And not looking down.

Considering I've now heard some of the sand dunes on the marathon des sables are pretty scary to climb, I reckon this "training" we did (aka got lost) was probably a good thing. I just wish I could get used to not being scared of heights!

Sunday was more of a horizontal affair, though still hilly. More like rolling woodland than in-your-face vertical incline which was a little more pleasant. We ran 20 miles west from Dorking along the North Downs Way.

Why should runners do hill training?
I've posted on my hill training previously, but to recap I'm trying to concentrate on hill training to build my strength, build my running fitness in general (so I can run further before I get completely worn out), and get my legs used to running up hills, as there are going to be a lot of dunes to crawl over in April in the big sahara race.

So I've been a lot of running in places like Ally Pally, Queens Woods and Hampstead Heath, but it's always good to get out of London sometimes - particularly for me at the moment. I am suffering from a severe case of LACK OF ENTHUSIASM FOR RUNNING.

The North Downs, I am glad to say, has revitalised my love of running. How could you fail to be happy out in somewhere like this? In mid February as well? Happy days.

Monday 27 February 2012

Off road running around London: backpack wanted!

Knackered in Wimbledon Common
Best if you can at least stand upright Kate

So for the last couple of weeks I've started introducing a heavier backpack to my training.

Dear lord! It's heavy!

Some concerns floating around my head. Will my centre of gravity be altered so I fall over backwards? Will my shoulders fall off halfway round? Will I be able to even manage a shuffle anymore to beat the camel ok? (you get overtaken by the camels on marathon des sables and you are out!)

Who in their right mind would voluntarily add 4x packs of tuna and 2x cans of tesco value beans to their back to carry each day? it seems.

Because my left leg has been shouting at me the last couple of weeks I've been walking to work most mornings with said backpack. It's actually been rather pleasant. I generally plug myself into my headphones on the work route as its dull, but walking means you are going at a slower pace so see more London life and notice more things.

That said, you also get given the word of the lord too, but gives a bit of interesting reading along the way.

Walking with a heavy bag is one thing. Trying to run with one is another thing altogether. Last weekend the other half and I trekked over to Wimbledon on the Saturday and Epping forest on the Sunday. We didn't measure mileage, we just "ran" for 2 hours.

I'm not going to lie. I found it tough and I'm a bit nervous about doing that for a week. You get puffed out far sooner, your sense of balance is slightly knocked off course and your shoulders hurt to buggery. And that was just for 2 hours.

No matter. I will have to grin and bear it. Going to run a marathon this weekend with the full backpack to carry on trying to get used to it.

It was rather lovely running in new(ish) places. Both Wimbledon and Epping are offroad and a little muddy and a little hilly - about as good as we're going to get in London to mimic the desert conditions!

Was bitterly disappointed though that failed to spot either a womble or a TOWIE. Boo.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Why do we run? Philosophy and the treadmill

Dean (left) poses for some pictures
Dean Karnazes. Big chin. Big muscles.

My colleague gave me a torn out article about ultra marathon man Dean Karnazes the other day. In the article, Karnazes is asked the ultimate question: "why do you run?"

His reply is interesting. He says "there is magic in the misery." Karnazes feels more alive when "struggling to persevere against insurmountable odds and untold adversity."

He goes further to state that the Western World is conditioned to link being happy to being comfortable, and avoiding pain. Yet this comfort is not bringing the happiness people thought it would.

Now I'm not religious, but these type of thoughts that Karnazes has relates well to the concepts of Buddhism.

The four noble truths contain the essence of what Buddhism is about. The first noble truth is about suffering. It suggests that humans are susceptible to cravings and desires (Karnazes' reference to us wanting to be comfortable all the time).

To rid oneself of suffering, we must remove ourselves from attachment (get out there and run!). Enlightenment is reached when craving, and thus suffering, ends. The Tendai monks of Japan go as far as running extreme lengths to reach Buddhist enlightenment.

Now, where Karnazes statement deviates from Buddhism thought is his attachment to pain to make him feel more alive. Though this seems a rather warped way to live a life - going from one extreme (comfort and luxury) to the other (pain and constant challenge), I can understand what he is talking about.

There is nothing like taking on and achieving a challenge - whether it be a 5km or an ultra marathon - that will make you feel more alive, proud and happy with yourself.

As John Hanc, running writer said "I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible."

There is magic in the misery.

But there is also the opposite. There are times when running just lets your mind be. No mindless chattering, no worrying about what you look like, no wondering what the time is. Just you, the sounds of your breathing and your feet stamping out that oh-so-comforting rhythm on the ground.

With all the current buzz around mindfulness - could running be considered a form of meditation?

It certainly works for me. There are nigh on nil times when I can get my mind to rest, other than when I'm on a run. I can just be when running.

Karnazes also highlights this. Sticking with the pain theme (you sadist you!) he suggests that the pain of running forces us to live in the moment. "In life, we can get ahead of ourselves, which can be demoralising. Those times when you think: "I'm so tired, how am I going to get the the finish? Don't think about the finish, just be in the present."

Certainly when running endurance races, the first half of the race is physical, the second half is mental. There would be no way I could have completed the Country to Capital 45 ultra race without some mental preparation. You cannot let your mind wander to where the end may be. It has to stay with you and just not think.

Why do I run?
Well, it's just for those reasons above I guess. I run because it makes me feel like I can achieve anything. I run because it helps me focus my mind. I run just because I can and I love it.

And one more zenlike thought before I go...

When I was mindlessly (mindfully?) jogging along on the treadmill I thought to myself this may look like a load of runners going nowhere on a dreadmill, but it is in fact the opposite - we are all pursuing dreams or goals, and are running fast towards them.

Friday 10 February 2012

The love affair with running is over (for this week anyway)

I'm having a small argument with Running. Nothing major, not a deal breaker kind of row, but a smaller you-haven't-put-the-rubbish-out-again type of thing.

Why? It's probably a number of reasons including:
It's rainy and cold and icy and snowy
It's the dark months
I'm in the heavy training period for marathon des sables
I seem to want to sleep for 12 hours a day
I can't seem to find any inspiring routes to run

So my Mr Motivator plan to tackle this lack of motivation for running is this...

When you are lying in bed imagine you are out that door running. If you are lucky your legs may move a bit if you are asleep.

This is exactly the same concept as burning more calories if you eat standing up or are drunk while eating.

Voila! Your run is done and you can reward yourself with more lying in bed but eating kit kat chunky too.

A different sort of lie. Lie to your legs. They are stupid. They have no brains. Sneak to the door and before they have worked it out, you are out pounding the pavements. Ha!

They may fight you but you are in control of them. Your feet cannot shout at you because they are already stuffed up tight into your trainers. Your legs are sausaged up in leggings and there is nowhere for them to hide.

Ignoring yourself
Actually found yourself actually out running? Nice one. Then Mr Pain joins you. Now what?

Just ignore him. He's boring and he's not your boss so you can give him the finger. Or even better, start shouting at yourself "Is that all you've got Pain!! Huh!! Well I've got something for you" and take off faster down the road, avoiding frightened pedestrians who are eyeballing you like you are wierdo runner or something, till you collapse in a hedge and vomit over your shoes.

And more seriously? How to inspire motivation and a love of running again?

Vary your sessions
Both length of run and pace, but also "treat" yourself to treadmill sessions where it's nice and warm. It's never going to be fun if you just stick to running 10km at the same pace every session. Snore. Speed it up, go further, do hills. Surprise yourself.

Treat yourself
I've booked myself in for a sports massage this weekend. I'm also looking forward to getting through the next month and spending most of march in the sauna, doing yoga and enjoying the returning light.

Just another excuse for spending money on running porn really - yes I DO need a new pair of shorts.

Buy some more tunes
I like listening to music on some runs - generally uplifting trance music - but whatever floats your boat. Having shiny, new music to look forward to losing yourself in should help get your leggies out the door again.

Write down what you run and how you feel
I often fail to appreciate how far I've come when I'm training. I'm a bit tough on myself at times so I find it helpful to just list what session I've run each week, how I felt, how far I ran and how fast.

When you are bogged down in the middle of training and the end is not yet in sight, I find this a good way to reflect on where I was to begin with and give myself a big pat on the back.

Remember why you run
Remember when you had that lightbulb moment about running, had a really, really good endorphin run, or got to the finish line of your first race?

When it's rubbish outside or you're tired, remember that, and remember how good you feel when you have finished. Yes, some runs are hard - they are supposed to be - but I always, always, always feel better physically and mentally after I've finished a run so I try and keep that in my head if I'm having a tough time running.

Sod the schedule
Don't worry about being a slave to your schedule all the time. Just go out for run to enjoy it. Don't think about times, or distance, or technique. Just go for a run to enjoy it and stop when you've had enough. And don't feel guilty about it. Though obvs you can' t do this all the time ;-)

Right, who's for a run.....

Wednesday 8 February 2012

The equipment kit list for marathon des sables

MDS kit
My kit all laid out

This is a biggie for all newbies and old timers of marathon des sables - what equipment to take!

Marathon des sables is a self-sufficiency race, with only water and tent provided. Everything else needed to survive, you must carry.

There is a set list of essentials you must carry with you including torch, compass, lighter, anti venom pump (gawd help us!) and survival sheet. The full list can be found on the equipment page, with links to where I bought the different items from.

The biggies in the essential kit include:-

Sleeping bag - Down sleeping bags are lighter and warmer than synthetic sleeping bags, so choose this if you have some spare cash. It apparently can get extremely cold at night in the desert. An alternative, or extra, includes taking a silk sleeping bag liner to add warmth. This is also extremely light so won't add much weight to your pack.

I haven't decided on this yet so watch this space! And ideas welcome too...(I do get very cold easily so am wanting a well insulated one :-D)

Rucksack - I've gone with the Raidlight Runner R Light 30L. I tried the OMM Classic 25L as well but it didn't fit me as well.

The daddy of choice is the Aarn Mountain Magic, but at a whopping £120 plus, it's also the most expensive! I've heard good things about it though. It loosk a little odd, but I've heard it's very comfortable.

It seems that most people end up carrying 10 kilograms plus in their bag. Some of the elites get it down to about 7 kilograms. A 30 litre rucksack is about the right size for beginner MDSers who will end up carrying 10kg+. Some bags do reduce in size, which if you are worried about the bag flapping around towards the end stages (when you will have eaten most of your food), this could be a good option.

Other essentials include:-
Headtorch - I bought the Petzl headtorch as it's really lightweight too. Headtorches are a must over regular torches as you will use it on the long stage to see. They are also very helpful around the camp when you may need two hands. Don't forget spare batteries!

Compass - Kind of feel I should learn how to actually use a compass if we're required to carry one, just in case I have to use it!

Knife - Again lots of choice here. The more lightweight the better. I've gone for Victorinox Jelly Swiss Card, as it has a number of other useful bits and bobs like scissors and tweezers, and and is lightweight. Scissors are also going to be far more useful for cutting tape, food bags etc.

The non essential kit is the tricky part as there is a huge range of stuff out there that you could take, plus a huge range of choice within items.

Also it's whether that stuff is really needed or not as it's all got to be carried by your good self!

The big items which need some thought are:-
Footwear - this is one of the most important buys so I've dedicated a post just on what footwear to wear in marathon des sables. I've gone for Brooks Cascasdia 7 - maybe slightly different to what seems to be the shoe of choice - the inov8 Roclite - but I tried them both, and the Brooks just felt better for me. I run in Brooks on the road too. That plus the fact Scott Jurek wears them, but I figure he's probably paid to do that!

My only concern at this stage is that the Roclite's gave more toe protection from rocks, but on the negative they did seem to feel more solid and chunky than the Cascadia, so I hope I've made the right choice for me.

I've tried them out on a number of runs. They feel great - a little big, but they are a size larger, so I hope they will do me justice.

Gaiters - I've gone for the longer gaiters from Sandbaggers. Equally good and silly-looking are the Raidlight shorter version. I just figure, the higher up the gaiter, the less chance the sand has of getting in.

The gaiter needs to be somehow fixed to your trainer. I've posted on this gaiter issue. I've resorted to using heavy duty glue to stick the velcro onto the trainer. I cut the velcro into 5cm pieces and stuck it along the margin of where the fabric started. I'm going to trial this first before attempting to then stitch the velcro on firmly as well, as I think glue on it's own will not suffice for a week in the desert.

Even though they aren't technically an essential item, I would have thought everyone would be wearing them. Stupid not too. Foot care is just as important as training. I just can't imagine how devastating it must be to not finish because your feet are torn up, rather than you have not trained well enough.

Hydration system - There are a few options here - in bag or bottles, and if bottles, whether they are kept to the front or side of your rucksack. I've not heard great things about the bag option, as it becomes irritating and time wasting to keep stopping and refilling at the checkpoints. I also think hygiene wise, bottles are safer.

I'm sticking with the bottles. I've got them set up in the side holders at present. I just need to decide whether to go with the frontsack or not (see below). I find the bottles at the sides of the rucksack a little annoying. They tend to make me fall forwards and hence I get a bit of lower back pain.

I also am struggling a little with the Raidlight bottles. They have a long straw part of them which I keep pulling it off rather than just opening the vent. Must be my brute strength! I also had one of them leak on me on the first trip out with them, but since I have had no problems with them, and nothing that a bit of gaffer tape wouldn't sort out. I may try these too.

Frontsack - I've yet to try this out, but my other half has one, so I am going to trial this. I've heard a mixed bag of opinion about the frontsack. Some say it gets in the way. Others say it's much more convenient for snacks and water on the move. I must admit carrying the bottles on the side of the rucksack makes getting snacks out of the side rucksack pocket a little awkward, so the frontsack may end up being a preferable option for me.

Sleeping mat - Another item I've not yet decided upon. I was umming and arring about whether to take one or not, but have decided yes I am, as it's a little bit of luxury I think my body will appreciate. The mat also helps keep your body warm too. The only problem is I don't think I can afford the daddy of them - the Thermarest NeoAir small, so I may go for Thermarest Z Lite. Though the air versions are lighter, they also have the disadvantage of being able to pop! So it's another thing to consider. The closed cell foam mats are a little more bulky but can attach under the rucksack if necessary.

Pillow - Not taking.

Walking poles - I haven't decided on these yet. I've read varying reports on their usefulness. Some love them as they help take the strain off your legs, especially going up and down the dunes. Others say if you haven't trained with them (I haven't) then don't use them.

Running top - Ooh well I enjoyed buying all this stuff. The stuff above I tried to get excited about, but failed. But clothes?! Oh yes.

Anyway, so again there is a huge choice of what to wear and as to stereotype I ended up with a pink Under Armour top. Under Armour and Montane seem to be the labels of choice, though I think as long as it keeps you cool and is comfortable, you'll do fine.

The main decision to make is whether you want a tight running top or baggy, and long or short sleeves. I've gone for baggy, as I usually like running wearing baggy, not tight clothes. I've also gone for short sleeves, as I don't burn easily and think this will also help to keep me as cool as possible.

I'm still unsure whether to suck it up on one top, or take two.

Running bottoms - More pink. I've gone for Under Armour again, but am trialing both compression and loose fit shorts. Again I'm not sure whether to take both, or just one pair, and if one pair, which one. I think compression shorts are less likely to cause any chafage, BUT..only as long as no pesky bits of sand get in there. Whereas loose fit shorts may cause more chafage, but allow sand to be more free roaming.

Again the main decision to make is the same as the tops - short, or long, tight or baggy. Most people I've seen pictures of opt for shorts, for heat reasons. The baggy/tight option is down to choice.

Socks - Another biggie in my opinion, as it's all about the feet! Time after time, I've seen rave reviews about Injinji toe socks. Look odd, but work really well to prevent toes chafing against each other.

I've also gone for a pair of Bridgedale Trail Light and Hilly Two Skin to go over the top.

The idea of wearing two pairs of socks is twofold. First, it helps keep those pesky sand granules away from your feet as it adds yet another barrier. Second, it gives some choice - so if your feet swell, you can take a pair off, but they give you an extra layer in the beginning to help with the extra large shoe size worn! I'm going to take at least 2x pairs of each sock type.

Windstopper - Just taking an old lightweight windstopper.

Underwear - Nil. Eek!

Buff - Another essential in my opinion. Covers a multitude of tasks including hat, sand shield in case of sandstorm, eye mask for the nightime, and neck guard in the mornings or evening if it is cold. Plus it can be used as a snot guard during the daytime. Pleasant. The thought of wearing a snotty hat...anyway.

Hat - I'm just taking a white cap with neck guard to help protect me from the sun.

Sunglasses - This is a tricky one for me as I wear glasses. I'm currently researching getting prescription running sunglasses that don't cost a fortune and that I can swap inserts with normal glasses. Bloc seems to be a good option. There's also the option of normal running sunglasses and contacts but my eyes can't take many hours of contact wearing. I also need to weigh up (excuse the pun) the weight of taking the different choices.

Camp top - I do have a ratty old North Face jumper but may treat myself to the luxury of this lovely soft, lightweight and warm number from Montane.

Camp bottoms - I'm just taking an old pair of very lightweight and windproof (so warm) Nike trousers.

Slippers - I've heard nice things about Baffin slippers so may well treat myself to a pair of these. They can also double up as shoulder pads for the rucksack. Otherwise flip flops can do the job, but may well be sore if you have blisters around the strap area.

Stove - I've gone for Esbit Titanium folding stove as it's lightweight (see a theme here?)

Lighter fuel - This has to be ordered to pick up once you are in Morocco.

Cooking pot - Esbit again.

Food - I've already written a short post on what foods I'll be taking for Marathon des Sables.

Spork - A fork and spoon in one. Genius!

Sewing kit - To sew up torn bag, clothes, gaiters etc etc

Anti bacterial gel/wipes - An absolute essential. I'm going to be scrupulous with using this. You can buy set kits which is easy but more expensive. I'm going to cobble my own together which will include..
Tape - Another biggie, and an essential. Blog post about foot taping to follow.
Toilet roll
Insect repellent
Talcum powder
Anti venom pump
Alcohol pads

I'm also going to look into these items:-
Glacier Gel

iphone - I'd like to blog/moan/cry/laugh along the way and take some cool pictures and videos so this is a must for me. I've bought a protective cover from Speck to help prevent sand from troubling my iphone.

Solar charger - I don't think my iphone will last a whole week, so I've also got a solar charger from Power Chimp. I haven't trialled it out yet, but will check it works okay before I take it.

Toothbrush and toothpaste - I'm drawing the line at not taking this. I'm not taking any deodorant as there just is no point but I would like at least one part of my body to stay in a reasonable state of cleanliness, so it will have to be my teeth. And smile!!

I've created a full list of what non essentials I'll be carrying on my equipment page with links to where I bought them from.

Post race I'll let you know how they fared.

Below is another list of other stores which may stock some of the equipment needed. Your bank manager will be pleased with you.

Likeys - Also Likeys have a useful desert kit list with recommendations for what to choice for each item.
Racing the Planet
Outdoor Warehouse

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Sand dune training for marathon des sables

Something funny?
Yes it is ridiculous as it looks - but pretty funny

South of the sleepy unassuming town of Bridgend, South Wales lies the pretty sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.

As well as being attractive they are also home to Europe's biggest sand dune - the big dipper. It's 245m long and I reckon 45 degree incline in places.

Which means....great training for marathon des sables!

View Larger Map
Map of Merthyr Mawr sand dune complex - A marks the village of Merthyr Mawr

The map above shows the region. The sand dunes range from about 3km wide to 5km across, so there is great scope for running a few circuits as well as specific dune training.

The dunes range from gently rolling to the huge big dipper. There is also a lovely stretch of flat sand to run across, which is also not very busy, as you have to get across the dunes to reach the sea - so it's just a really beautiful area to go running.

And easy on the old joints too.

Merthyr Mawr, South Wales
Very pretty (nice dog called Rolo too)

I managed three sessions there.

Day 1 - short, sharp dunes x10
Found a really steep dune and ran/slid/fell up and down it (and how fun is it to run down a sand dune? Feels like you are wearing springs)

Day 2 - medium dunes x20
Up and down a steeper dune in the snow.

Completely ridiculous but pretty good fun as well!

Day 3 - the big dipper x10 plus a circuit of dune network (maybe 2 miles total)

I have no one to compare against but to put into context I managed to jog up the whole way of the big dipper only once out of 10 times. The other nine was a combination of half jogging and half walking. It was really, really difficult.

My other half fared a little better than me, but also struggled to run the whole thing in one go too.

Half way up..still
Come on slacker I finished ages ago. Tsk.

How did the gaiters fare?
I've got Sandbagger long gaiters. Happy to say they worked really well.

I had next to no sand in my shoes after pounding up and down in deep sand.

I only velcroed them to my shoes, and the velcro was only held onto the trainer with superglue, as I haven't figured out the stitching option yet. Stitching is essential though as the velcro would have definitely come off after a full day out there, but it was fine for a few hours here and there.

Merthyr Mawr sand dunes
Happy face with gaiters

I also tried the shorter Raidlight gaiters too and these also seemed good.

I prefer the Sandbaggers though as they are really easy to put on and take off, whereas you need to take off your trainers first to get the Raidlight gaiters on, which may prove a little annoying after a while.

My other half had more troubles with sand. We worked out this was to do with his footwear, not the gaiters (as I tried his). He has inov8 Roclite 285 trainers , which are very lightweight but a little "holey". Whereas my Brooks Cascasdia 7 tend to let less sand through the air holes!

How to run up sand dunes?
Well, it's a bit of an oxymoron but the secret is to walk! Or at least take a slow, controlled jog up there.

I found that trying to leg it up sand dunes gets you nowhere, and tires you out.

The other half and I played around a bit and timed us walking versus "running" up the dunes, and it made a tiny bit of difference jogging up but not much compared to a steady walk. Plus you are exhausted at the top if you try and run the whole way, rather than being able to carry on and recover on the move.

Running up also seemed to dislodge more sand meaning you could end up slipping backwards instead of travelling forwards!

Finally, walking/short jogging strides meant you could work on a better foot placement. Following another's footprints in the sand is much better than digging your own trail up a dune. The sand is more compact where someone else has trodden so you can get a bit more traction and grip.

Position wise I found I couldn't look up as it overbalanced me - yes it was really that high! It also messed with my morale as the dunes look so steep from the bottom.

I found it easier to try and keep upright and maybe look a few steps ahead (maybe 1 metre or so) so you could see the next few strides to take. This was better than concentrating directly on the next footstep, as that meant you pitched yourself forwards too much, and I can imagine that would cause bad backache after a few hours.

All the time thinking strong core! strong core! Abs of steel! Abs of steel! Feeling like Rocky! Feeling like Rocky! Not about to die! Not about to die!

The other point to consider are walking poles. I don't have them, but I did think they would have been really, really helpful to get up the dunes. They help with balance and obtaining some grip.

Merthyr Mawr sand dunes
Yes finished!

Other sand training options for marathon des sables
There is lots of good sand training options if you have more time or scope to train on sand including...

Reps up and down different sized dunes (as per moi)
Create a big circle half way up a dune and run around and around it
Circuits around different sand densities - from stony, sandy ground to deep sand
Circuit type training - side, back running, hops over objects etc

Logistics if you go to train at Merthyr Mawr
You can easily stay in Bridgend even if you don't have a car, and jog the 2.75 miles down to the start of the dunes every day. It's a pleasant jog through the edge of Bridgend, and down a country road through Merthyr Mawr village.

However, I would recommend taking a car if you have access to it, as it means you can solely concentrate on dune sessions rather than spending time jogging there and back. It also means you can do two sessions in a day, as you can leave for lunch and come back later.

All this would be fine as well without a car if the weather is good as you could take a picnic - but it was snowing when we were there and bitterly cold, so hanging around was unfortunately not an option.

There are no pubs or cafes in Merthyr Mawr village, but there are a couple of options in Ogmore, the next village along, if you do stay out there all day and it's too cold to be outside the whole time.

There is a car park for those who have a car, and basic toilet facilities, but not a lot else so make sure you have everything you need!
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