Ffordd Y Bryniau Training Run 2009

Mynydd Rudry - our start point - on a somewhat finer day. John Thorn / CC BY-SA 2.0

Way back around 2004 (give or take a year) I heard about a race from Rudry to the Garth organised by Cardiff Harlequins - I duly did some recce of the route only to find that the event got axed in the aftermath of the changes to FRA rules - insurance was withdrawn from all the "Celtic" races and the WFRA and SFRA were created to fill the void, but this was one event that fell through the cracks. I later found out that the event had actually gone ahead - kind of - as an informal club run rather than a race. And so it's been ever since, I guess, but this year Chris from the Harlequins invited me along as a guest to an event that was certainly not a race, just a club run with a difference!

At Rudry car park there were a couple of dozen of us - Harlequins and a few guests? As it was not a "proper" race, a few of us warmed up then we all lined up in a bit of a shambles and got started at around 10.30, taking a variety of lines up to the little peak of Mynydd Rudry, a climb of only a couple of minutes, and then a much greater variety of different routes down again. We'd agreed at the start to all find our own routes, the only "rules" being to visit all 4 peaks (Rudry, Caerphilly Common, Craig Yr Allt and the Garth) and not to do anything illegal when crossing roads and railways. The weather was clearing after a grim start, with blustery winds and squally showers adding "interest".

My recent form had been woeful - after the Forestman in July I'd continued training only to hit two brick walls within a few weeks - a mysterious forefoot injury (sesamoiditis, believe it or not) and a serious case of post-viral fatigue brought on by stupidly working instead of resting when struck down by one of the Autumn's nastier viruses. That fatigue had been quite a scare - no energy, elevated heart rates just from climbing the stairs, you name it. The cure was a course of ginseng and ten weeks of boredom with no training - after that a gradual return to jogging and cycling seemed to have done the trick. I wanted to get out and have a crack at a race just to reassure myself that I was on the mend, and a low-pressure event that was kind of like a race but without actually being one seemed like a great way to make yet another comeback. I wore my trail shoes (forefoot still too tender for fell shoes) and also a heart rate monitor (with the idea I wouldn't push myself too hard). The latter was soon showing I was up in the high nineties, so that plan didn't really work!

Once off Rudry I was following Chris B and Mick T who were both veterans of the event, but we still managed to take not-the-fastest line off the top. A little contouring though and we were following the pack into the forest, on a firm but waterlogged path at a steady pace - I was pushing harder than I should so I could stay in contact with someone who knew this bit of the route, as I had totally forgotten it. A few twists and turns and we were at the road, over the railway and into the notorious getting-totally-lost territory of The Warren. Here I continued the strategy of follow-anyone-who-knows-what-they're-doing and fragments of ancient memory began to return - where the track divided I remembered a middle path, almost hidden in the trees, that was the straightest route to Caerphilly Common, and later I forked to the right to come out bang on target. Left to myself I would have crossed the road straight, but the guy in front hung a right for a short while then headed onto the common at the elbow-bend in the road, which turned out to save a short unnecessary climb over a tump. Handy.

The climb up to the trig on the common was not too testing, though by now the heart rate was over 100% (based on my age, obviously I'm beating faster than I should at 41!) so any pretence at taking it easy had been abandoned. Flat out pace was not that fast though - was I shockingly unfit? Well, certainly not race fit. From the trig I had my line down off the common planned based on the map - just to the right of the reservoir - but the lie of the land was not what I'd expected and everyone else (I could see a couple of runners up ahead) was taking a line further to the right, which followed the easiest line of descent down to the road junction. Here the old memory began to activate and I remembered the route to the foot of Craig Yr Allt. The only bit I missed was a shortcut I hadn't recced myself, and although the guy in front kindly shouted when he took the turning, I stuck to my own, longer route and only lost twenty seconds or so.

On the ridge of Craig Yr Allt the rain returned, in our faces of course, but by now I was well warmed up. The climb was not runnable in my depleted state so I brisk-walked it, and once on the ridge I saw myself gaining on several runners who must have had a much wiser route from Rudry to Caerphilly Common! As I drew level Pete M took a dive down the steep south side of the ridge into the bracken, but with my clumpy trail shoes on I opted for a long zig zag and it payed off as I followed someone's perfect line down to the Taff Trail. In the woods I lost contact and was on my own completely, but I had a decent map and a fair recollection of where to go and there were only a couple of false turns before I was over the A470 and then the railway, and looking for the footbridge over the Taff. I was chugging along pretty slowly by now, though still feeling fine, and as I began the hard walk up the road alongside the Garth I looked up into a clearing patch of blue sky, the treetops and low cloud swirling together around its brightness. It was one of those great-to-be-alive moments as I was back in the hills for the first time since Llanbedr to Blaenafon several months before. You have to love the Garth really if you love the hills - small and unassuming from most angles, but with a glorious aspect looming over Taffs Well. It's just as well I love it as it's my nearest mountain and you have to climb it twice every April in the Pentyrch race. Thanks to the road, I was able to sneak up on the Garth on this occasion, and although I had no clear plan for the final ascent I again caught sight of runners up ahead, picking their way up the steep flank with the aid of a few handholds. I joined the scramble and also had to use my hands, especially as my shoes were not really up to the job of a wet, grassy climb.

That was just about it - a laboured walk through the bracken and a jog to the tump that marks the summit. 1.22.50 was the final time by my watch, so hopefully I'll be able to come back next year in better shape and knock a few minutes off. Mind you, I always say that....

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