"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

San Domenico 5 - August 2022 - Parc Cwm Darran, Bargoed

Just over a week after my run at the Rose Inn I raced in Wales again at Parc Cwm Darran. I arrived at this one in a more ebullient mood, a twisty-turny drive following the satnav in a traverse of the valleys bringing me to the old colliery just over an hour before the start. Straight away I ran into people I knew from over a decade before who remembered my time at Run and Become and organising the Self-Transcendence races, so it was nice to know that those have left an imprint on the local running consciousness. The shop is closed now after 22 years and the races have assumed a new form thanks to Phil Cook.

There was no problem finding space in the car park and I soon realised that turnout was not going to be high for this one, but the plus side of that was the beautiful silence of the park as I warmed up on paved woodland trails alongside the placid lake, graced by a solitary angler. The weather was ideal for racing, cool and with just a hint of fine drizzle now and again. This was a real contrast from the sultry heat of recent weeks and I was optimistic that I could improve my pace from the Rose Inn 4. Since that race I'd aimed to resist the temptation of doing more than a third of my sessions "hard", which meant there had only been time for one really brisk session of 3 x 0.5 miles at race pace of 0.5 mile jog intervals and all my other runs had just been recovery and mileage.

The word was that it was an undulating course, so I wasn't sure quite what pace I'd manage overall, but I was hoping to average something like 6.30 per mile on the flat and finish in thirty-three-something unless there were significant slopes to slow me down. As it turned out there were a few of those, so I didn't hit the target time, but I was more than happy with how the race went nonetheless. I was also grateful for the photos courtesy of Jonny Lam.

From the start I found myself in the first dozen from a field of around 50 runners, almost all sporting club vests. The course was on roadway at first then turned off on to a narrow pavement with lots of tree roots criss-crossing it that climbed slowly and steadily up the hillside - then through the car park - then plunged down to the middle of the valley before climbing the other side for a slow descent. That made up one lap of two and in the space of that two miles I worked my way up into 9th place, spotting runners ahead of me who looked like they might also be in my age category and trying to balance the effort of reeling them in against the need to save some energy for lap 2 and not burn out. I was totally in racing mode and oblivious to the scenery, but my warm-up had given me plenty of opportunity to breathe in the glorious horizon of fields and woodland surrounding the cup of the vale.

Lap 2 saw my heart rate edging up into the red and a slow overhauling of the runners ahead until I guessed I was standing 8th, behind a younger runner from Penarth & Dinas and a fast woman from Parc Bryn Bach who I knew I would never catch. I did manage to ease my way up into 7th by the time I finished, having paced the race well. I was cautious on the steep descents, keeping my stride in check and striking on the midfoot so as not to risk another downhill-injury (of which I've had a few) and that seemed to pay off when I came in as first in category and - more importantly - uninjured.

I really had a great race, loving the intensity and happy with the result - I think that's only the 2nd time I've won an agegroup so although it was only in a very small field, I was still thrilled and it felt like a significant personal achievement. When I manage to keep the injuries at bay the improvements do come and this race was the payoff for that patience and persistence, coupled with the grace that we all need for our efforts to bear fruit. Our progress is in other hands, not merely our own, as I have to often remind myself whether things are going well or not!

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