Pentyrch Hill Race 2009
Despite murky weather for a couple of days, and dire predictions of the race being blighted by horrendous weather, it turned out to be the most glorious evening imaginable - cool, clear and with very little breeze. I had a lot on my mind so I didn't socialise beforehand - it was just a case of nipping into the rugby club to register then meditating and warming up on my own near the start, where there are some lovely trails to jog on with views over the hills and fields Pentyrch is a lovely spot - a rambling village in the shadow of the nearest real mountain to the capital - the subject of the Hugh Grant movie about the Englishman who went up a hill etc. etc. (though only the last bit was actually filmed at the Garth - the rest was shot in mid Wales).
The start line was a jovial place - 120 very animated runners bouncing around waiting for the off. When it came, I optimistically hung on to the back of the pack, only to see them disappear quickly on the steep downhill section. The plus side was that I had got through the alleyway (with a tight chicane around a cycle barrier) without much of a queue, so I had saved myself a little time. The downhill section is on a road and it seemed to last a heck of a long time - it's a bit of a bone cruncher. Fortunately the road had dried out nicely and there was no problem keeping upright and taking long strides. Finally, the turn-off came around and we began the long slog up to the Garth - running became jogging became walking with hands-on-kness then jogging again and after a few minutes we were bursting out of the woods, hauling ourselves over a style and looking up at the grassy slopes that culminate in a tumulus & trig point at just over 1000'.
I was feeling pretty good, and thinking I might even make the top 20. As we came over the ridge at the top of the climb, Ron Morris called me 21st, so I realised there was work to do - I usually lose a place or two on the descent so I'd have to nip ahead of a few to hold my place. Mmmm...why does that matter, I wonder? Well of course it doesn't, but without a goal I'd just spend the race sightseeing and feel a bit empty at the end of it. So I give myself a target, even if it's just "don't let the guy behind overtake" or "catch the bloke in the purple vest" or whatever.
From the summit ridge there were awesome vistas out to the north, and across the Taff Vale to Mynydd Eglwysilian. No time to enjoy them though, as it was time to test my downhill running on the sheep-cropped turf. The descent is not too steep, and my trail shoes were more than enough on the short, damp grass. On the road at the bottom I realised I was about half way round and still feeling strong. Ish. The next climb was a tester as usual, steeper than the first but shorter, and I managed to nip ahead of a couple as climbing is my stronger suit (well, least weak!). As we gained the ridge for the second time the views were even more stunning - it was so clear that I could see a large section of Somerset across the channel, all the white buildings of Cardiff sprawled around its bay, and a superb sunset gathering in the clouds to the west.
I was able to pick up the pace along the ridge, which was really encouraging. My fell running fitness has definitely improved. Coming down, after a brief visit to the summit trig, I realised I was slowing, and the approaching footfalls of the guy behind told me I was going to get overtaken just a quarter mile from the finish. The run-in down the roads from the Garth to Pentyrch Rugby Club seems so long, and I was spent. Still I managed a brave surge to try and hold my position but it lasted only a few seconds before I broke down with 200 yards to go and could only jog the last bit around the carpark to the line.
As I was around 20th I was sure I was out of the medals, and I wanted to get home to speak to a close friend who has been going through a hard time, so again I was a bit antisocial and nipped straight off. I felt good, althouugh physically a bit battered by the strenuous downhills, and well satisfied with how the race had gone. When I got home I looked up last year's race and found I had nocked about 3 minutes off my time - I was totally chuffed with that! And it got even better when Andy Davies popped into the shop to present me with a mug for being third Vet 40. I'm sorry I didn't hang around for the presentation now, but I had my reasons. Still, the race organisers and marshals (who turn out in huge numbers) deserve my heartfelt thanks for putting on such a superb race.
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