Tintern Trot July 2008


It was my day off on the day of the Tintern race, so predictably enough I got there feeling tired after stacks of running round town sorting out stuff for the Self-Transcendence Race, printing Sri Chinmoy team kit, working on stuff for ouur sponsorship of the Nos Galan Races and all the usual palaver I pack in to that day of the week - and as usual I got there way too early to avoid the traffic. I pulled into the layby at Wyndcliff just before Tintern and wandered around enjoying the peace of the early evening. I chanced on a picnic table with an amazing view out over the Wye to the hazy fields of Gloucestershire, and I just stood there on the picnic table, arms folded, gazing over the hazy valley into the fields of England nestling in the river bend, feeling the peace of the place and remembering Sri Chinmoy's talk with Leander Paise in which I'd heard him describe how all power in sport comes from silence....

I think there were well over a hundred runners gathered at the start in the warm evening sun on the field by the Anchor Inn - almost in the shadow of the ruined abbey. The briefing was extremely brief - and why not? The course is well marked after all. Made me realise I say too much at the start line when I'm the one organising the race. Once off, we had a lap of the field then took to the road/pavement for a short dash to the wooden bridge over the Wye to the English side, where we got stuck into the long, straight section on the railway line. This, the first chapter of the race, is much like a road race if conditions are dry. There was the odd patch of black, half-dried mud to sink into, but I picked out the footprints of faster runners for some firm footing. Ahead I could still see the all-conquering Angela Tyrrell so I knew I was running fast by my standards! It all felt good, and fast, and I thought about maybe a top twenty finish being a good result. The railway went on and on - a good couple of miles it seemed like - before we finally reached the marshal sending us back around a tight bend and upward on a sloping track for chapter two - the long, steady climb.

We were still in the shade, and grateful for it, with the branches of the trees hanging down with leaves at face height and going still good underfoot. After climbing steadily there were some exhilarating downs and then some challenging ups as we gradually made our way back northwards towards the abbey and upwards to the ridge. Chapter three began with a marshal sending us a genuinely steep climb - here the terrain became rougher and I walked a few steps on the climb before breaking back into a run on the twisty, hilly trails that form the hardest part of the course. About then my legs turned to jelly, and my breathing was getting laboured, so I had to dig deep to hold my position, trading places with a couple of other guys on the intricate course of slopes and tight turns. The route just got more and more technical, loose underfoot in places and with millions of tree roots, the path snaking along tricky edges and weaving between the trees. In my exhaustion it was a real challenge to stay on my feet. I felt really "on the limit" too borrow a phrase from my team mate Dayalu.

Chapter four was more of the same, only now it was down hill, steep in places, with more and more and endless tree roots to negotiate before the path came out into some open fields which offered a fast and easy descent in the sunshine - still uncomfortably hot even though it was now well into the evening. Back into the woods, there was a sting in the tail, as we passed a sign warning of a "dangerous descent". It gets more dangerous? You cannot be serious! I had really tired by this stage and the legs were not responding properly, so I concentrated on my breathing and tried to really concentrate and keep my legs turning over at a decent rate, even though my stride had shortened and my pace had slowed. I had estimated my time at 47 ish minutes (I did 47.27 a few years ago on this course) so I knew from my watch that I was in the last mile. At the bottom of the "dangerous descent", which I took cautiously because I knew I was too tired to descend fast without risking an accident, I squeezed between some metal posts and found myself back on the railway line with about four minutes to get to the finish. Soon I heard faster feet behind me, and I guessed I was about to be overtaken, but I hung on to my place up the road and when a marshal said those magic words "come on now, only 100 yards to go", I was able to push hard at the end.

Total exhaustion and a time of 46.15 (by my watch, a PB) greeted me at the finish. I tried to take a drink, and succeeded only in coughing and spitting for a minute or two as my throat had other ideas. Once recovered I chatted to a couple of runners I knew from our Sri Chinmoy AC races before claiming my free drink (a bottle of smooth, cool, J2O), spreading a towel on the seat of my car as I was still soaked in sweat, and driving off - I had to organise a race myself the next day so I couldn't hang around. I pulled in at Wyndcliff again for a few moments - a pretty amazing spot - and stopped again for burning-hot chips at the Chinese in Chepstow. I drank about a gallon of liquid in an attempt to replace all that sweat but I weighed myself out of curiosity when I got home and found I was still a good pound or two lighter from dehydration. I knew I'd run my heart out, and it felt absolutely great.

The post script came the next day, when I got a call to say I'd won the Vet 40 prize - some cans of beer which I was presented with on the Friday night at our relay. After all these races over fifteen years, my first ever prize! Slightly embarressed I hadn't stayed for the presentation, but there you go. This season just gets better and better for me, I'm really enjoying the races and, above all, avoiding injuries! Then, to get a win in my new category, well that's really something for me (don't laugh, I mean it!) so I'll never forget this race. I found a willing taker for the beer, as I don't drink, but the memory of earning it is mine to keep.

Sacred Steps Home