Beacon Batch Fell Race 2008
Having decided to try and take part in 40 races between turning 40 this June and turning 41 in 2009, I thought I'd better get my skates on and do some events a.s.a.p! This was race number two, number one having been the Cosmeston Tri two weeks earlier.
I hadn't done much fell running since recovering from knee trouble, so a two hour session in the Brecon Beacons (well, Fforest Fawr actually) on four days earlierr had set me up pretty well, and at least given me confidence that I could still climb OK. Sadly, that session had also revealed that my feet are now much softer (from swim training and lack of fell training) and I came to the start of this race still nursing two major heel blisters that I knew might make life very uncomfortable.
The English side of the channel is so different from the Welsh - the hills are smoother and less rugged compared to the Welsh mountains, and as I drove down the b roads through Yatton and Congresbury I could feel myself merging into the sleepy summer evening haze. Langford was already packed with parked cars for the race (it only takes a dozen or so to make this hamlet look packed) and the pub began to slowly fill with runners registering for the night's entertainment. There was a well signed route of about one long mile across fields to the start - a gentle stroll among the oak trees and a herd of friesians before the climb began up a broad track into the woods on the scarp slope of the Mendips. By the time we had gathered for the off we numbered 107 - a record for this event apparently. Westbury Harriers had come en masse and I recognised quite a few faces from our Self-Transcendence events in Eastville Park. I got a quarter of an hour warm up on paths throught the woods before the marshals were in place and it was start time.
I began about a quarter of the way back (it's a narrow start so you have to find your place in the column) and found I was climbing pretty well - the route took us up a dried-out muddy lane with the climb coming in two or three big chunks with flatter sections in between, and I was passing people gradually without overdoing it. Soon we were out on the open hillside, contouring to the east on the shoulder of Beacon Batch, with the path narrowing and dipping down into gullys to cross some half-dry ditches. The path was twisty and a little tricky - a bit like singletrack mountain biking - and in the short downhill sections I felt I was needing every gram of my co-ordination to avoid putting a foot on a dodgy root or loose stone. We passed one of the frontrunners who was clutching his ankle with his face telling a very painful story - looked very nasty. There were plenty of marshals around and he looked like he was ok to get himself down so I didn't think about stopping - later I wondered if that had been the right thing, but he was in no danger of exposure and I reckoned he would get himself down easily enough.
Turning right, we headed up the final slope across the heath-like top of the hill to the trig, then the race became a mad, flat one-mile dash along a narrow, arrow-straight path along the hilltop. Mountain bikers coming the other way had to wait as there was only really room for single file traffic. Later my Garmin told me I had done that mile in 6.10, off the back of 1000' climbing, so it shows you how fast this section of the course is. My blisters were not aggravating me too much but the soles of my feet were burning up from the kind of friction they hadn't experienced for a long time, it by the time we turned to descend I was in quite a bit of pain. This increased greatly as the slope steepened, not helped by the hardness of the ground, and I found myself slowing not so much from exhaustion as from pain and anxiety about thhe state of my feet. It was at that point that I remembered my mate Abichal and all the others currently racing in Neww York in our 3100 mile race. Thinking of the pain those guys go through day after day strengthened my resolve and I pushed through it as best I could - as usual I got passed by some faster descenders, three or four I think, but I held on to 16th place out of 106 finishers, with which I was mightily pleased. I was also relieved to see the injured runner I had passed earlier making his way down to the finish on two improvised crutches that appeared to be a couple of small trees - he looked like he was managing but still in some pain - poor guy.
I didn't hang around as I had to get back to Cardiff, so I enjoyed the jog back to Langford with my feet apparently undamaged and the evening beginning to turn pleasantly cool. I still had some pretty choice blisters and another race coming up in two days, but that was race number two of a possible 40 done and dusted, and a very enjoyable and inspiring (if at times painful) experience it was too.
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