Offa's 'Orror April 17th 2011

After the seemingly endless winter of 10/11, we were well into the seemingly endless summer that started in mid April. What happened to Spring? Not that I was complaining.

While others were alternately shivering then cooking at Blackheath for the London Marathon, just under three hundred of us lined up for the Offa's 'Orror, a half marathon (ish) that has enough climbing to rate as a BL fell race and find itself in the pages of the WFRA handbook. The setting is lovely - the imposing ruins of Tintern Abbey at one end of the field, a village hall (for registration & loos) at the other and the Wye babbling past between us and the forested slopes that make up the challenging first half of the race. Abichal was with me to make a Sri Chinmoy AC team once again. A glance at the archives showed that in my purple patch of great personal results in 2009 I ran 1.35.30 and came in the top 20. I was hoping for 1.40 this time round.

After a reasonable warm up I started in the thick of the pack, but soon nipped round the outside to get nearer the front and avoid a long delay as the course took us through a narrow gate - usually another, wider gate gets us straight on to the road but for some reason it was closed this time. Soon we were heading over the Wye and into the relatively cool oasis of the woods, where a long, flat section on the course of the old railway spreads the field out and gets the obligatory mud on shoes. I got into a rhythm and readied myself for the climbs - they come after a couple of miles, as the course turns back on itself and you wind your way up, down, then up and up again on trails leading to the top of the ridge. The woods were lovely, dark and deep as Robert Frost would say and I remembered just how fantastic this route is - it was not too hot, but all the sounds and smells of summer were filling my senses - the first cuckoo I had heard in 2011 was calling for all it was worth, bees and butterflies buzzed and flitted around us. The trail was awkward in places - narrow and rooty - but very varied and well marshalled at all the turns. There were even a couple of drink stations. I grabbed a drink at both, walking to make sure I got it down me and also walking twice on the steepest sections (don't remember that from last time - think I only walked a few paces at the steepest point in 09).

I was still in trail (not fell) shoes to protect my tendon, so I lost time on the steepest downhill sections, but probably no more than a minute. In fact the loveliest view in the race comes about two thirds of the way through when the last descent begins across a field - as you leave the woods, you are greeted by a broad panorama of the Wye valley and its wooded slopes - it would be breathtaking, except that by that stage you have no breath left to take. After that field came the last tricky downhill and then the long and winding road (well, grassy trail) following the meanders of the river. Here a handful of us were trading places as our energy waxed and wained and I found myself tucked in behind a chap in a pale blue club vest - he urged me to come past and have a crack at the three guys in front, telling me there was only a mile and a half to go. That spurred me on and I went for it, saving just enough for the final hill (the sting in the tail of this race, with a last steep descent to the bridge which is hard on tired legs) and although I couldn't catch anyone in that last phase, it did help me get the best out of myself and record a reasonable 1.37.19, less than 2 minutes down on my best.

This is what racing is all about - the best location, great organisation, all for a tenner :) Looks like I managed a smile for the finish, which isn't bad considering I was totally spent.

Results: 28th out of 274, 1:37:19

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