PENTYRCH HILL RACE 2006
The Pentyrch Race takes place on the last Tuesday in April and involves two climbs of The Garth, a grassy ridge north of Cardiff with an imposing eastern face (seen in silhouette from the bus on the way to the race, above) and a highest point at just over 1000'.
I'd had some bad transport karma hit me that week - first my car engine fell apart and the car had to be towed, then my racing bike was thieved in Clifton Street (miraculously it's been found, but being "under investigation", it's still down the nick!). This left me needing to rely on public transport to get up to Pentyrch after work, but fortunately the timetable was favourable and the affable bus driver dropped me by the turning for the rugby club.There were plenty of quick guys already there - including Julian Baker who was not in his running kit - presumeably he'd done London Marathon two days before and wasn't going to defend his course record.
The evening was bright and blustery, and after jogging up to the village hall the gathering runners sheltered in any nook of the building's outside walls that they could find to stay out of the chilly gusts. Once the starter turned up (John Gough I believe?) there was the most minimal of pre-race briefings ("the course is the same as usual, there's algae on the road surface the other side of the mountain, and watch out for the burn't out landrover") the whistle was blown and we were off.
A short weave between the houses and we were out via an alleyway onto the lane for some steep ups and downs - the road section is a mile or two long and involves my least favourite thing - really steep descent on a really hard surface. I hammered down the slope trying to stay with the pack but my old war wound (soft-tissue running injury between the metatarsals on the left foot) was protesting by the time we came into a forestry car park and hit the muddy climb. My fitness was definitely below par - I had been due to run London but bailed out due to lack of training after a virus - so things just weren't flowing as they should. On a good day I would be able to stay in sight of Phil Adams for a few miles at least but on this occasion he was pulling away from me rapidly and I couldn't change up a gear to stay with him. Later he told me he was still recovering from being first Brit in the Marathon Des Sables and normally does this race considerably quicker. Well, racing is partly about seeing what shape you're in, and in my case I was obviously down at 70 or 80 percent.
Lack of form aside, I was enjoying being back out racing on the Welsh hills for the first time since November. The long first climb brought us out at what I usually consider to be the foot of the Garth near Soar - from there a quick chicane around the houses brought us on the final climb and I struggled up to the summit area, trying to find the breath to thank the marshals as I passed. There were loads of people out there wishing us well and keeping us on track - as ever I was very grateful for their presence and pleased that this event recquired no navigation whatsoever. Views from the Garth were stunning, and for once I was able to enjoy them while racing as the going underfoot was easy and you could take your eyes off your feet just long enough to catch a glimpse of Cardiff and the bay. To the east, Craig Yr Allt and Caerphilly Mountain showed their beautifully sculpted slopes, and to the north wooded hills flanked the Taff valley up towards the Beacons (sadly out of view in the gathering gloom). Bypassing the brooding tumulus with it's prominent trig at the summit, we headed over the ridge and down the fast, smooth, grassy descent on the north side. The road came into view and as my feet clattered on to the tarmac I noticed it really was slippery just as John had warned - short strides and arms out for balance and I was soon hauling round the many turns on the narrow lanes.
I was behind the leading pack but ahead of the main field so I found myself alone with just the sound of my own footfalls and labouring breath for company. The course took us through a farm at the end of the lane and on to a narrow, muddy climb up the shoulder of the Garth's eastern face. It went on for ages, as final climbs always do, but there was plenty of encouragement from the marshals. The weather had turned and our second visit to the ridge was dramatically different to the first - blustery rain in the face and visibility down to twenty or thirty yards. I came up to the burial mound for the second time and was surprised to see the course carry on westward instead of forking left back to Pentyrch - of course I'd forgotten that there are several tumuli on the Garth and this wasn't the summit at all, just a midpoint on the ridge. I ploughed on, trying not to lose the guy in front and vainly attempting to stay ahead of the rapidly gaining runner behind. Soon the real summit came up - this time instead of heading straight past the route took us right up the tumulus where a marshal by the trig waved us down towards Pentyrch. The youth of Pentyrch cheered or jeered, I'm not quite sure which, as we belted down the road through the village to the bleak but welcoming sight of a rainsoaked rugby club.
If you don't mind a fair bit of road in your fell race, give this one a try. It's so well marshalled by a legion of selfless helpers that you can't go wrong, and the views are stunning.
I'm told that this year two runners beat the old course record, but so far I've not been able to locate the results online. I think I did 58 minutes but who knows?
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