Mynydd Troed Fell Race 2006
"Well done, you've burned them off" said Shyamala as I arrived in pieces at the top of the climb. "Yeah, burned myself off too" I gasped as she took my picture (the one on the right). How often have I made that mistake? Too often! Anyway, the "them" in question was not of course the rest of the field, as I had plenty of runners ahead of me, but the other members of the Sri Chinmoy AC who were down in Wales for the annual Run and Become gathering and had been duped by an unscrupulous local team-mate into running the Mynydd Troed Fell Race. There were five of us, which was great, as I don't often show up to these things with a team to hang out with and it was nice to have mates to warm up with etc. before the off.
The turnout was lower than I expected for a league race - only thirty something starters - but this was partly due (so I heard anyway) to a gbig turnout the day before at Cadair Idris. It was a beautiful day so I'm not sure why I wore the T shirt as well as the club vest - too many shivery experiences up top lingering the mind perhaps? Anyhow, it was hot work on the first climb, with two groups splitting up at the start (after Dick Finch's laid back pre-race chat) and rejoining when a well-definted path appeared on the hillside near the first summit. As I'd said to Shyamala (our non-racing team mate concealed at the top with a camera - normally a keen mountaineer but under physio's orders not to run downhill) I had indeed burned out on the first climb - argh! I had got ahead of Tarit and Dhavala and a number of others too but once again I'd overestimated my fitness and found myself suffering on the ridge, trying to keep my pace going as other runners who had paced themselves better on the ascent came streaming past. From the soft, grassy ascent we headed along the ridge of Troed through deep heather, often running on sheep trogs a few inches wide which were sometimes soggy but never truly boggy. The ground was springy and the heather was deep, so there was lots of knackering kneelift required, and I hadn't really recovered much energy when I found myself at the end of the ridge following a few tape markers down a taxing descent to the lane.
A brief spell on hard road followed - all marked well enough and with other runners still in view - then it was up the hill on to Mynydd Llangorse. I spotted some runners contouring along the hillside - bizarre! It was my boss, Shankara, from Run and Become in London and a couple of her co-workers out on a jolly chosen from a book of walks in the Llangorse area. I knew they were chilling over at the lake but I didn't for a moment expect to bump into them during the race. "Of all the mountains in all the world, they had to walk on to mine" I said to myself, in Humphrey Bogart accent of course. They gave me a few shouts of encouragement then joined in the climb - a classic you've-got-to-walk-it zig zag up to the ridge. Here I followed my nose and found the trig, aware that I had to push through the exhaustion and plough on hard to keep my place and avoid falling back. I was hot, very drained and loving every minute of it. I downed my 250 ml of water - very glad I'd taken it! After a long bounce through the heathery ridge of Llangorse that mirrored the heathery ridge of Troed, I came - breathless and brainless - to a trig point where John Sweeting greeted me cheerily and offered me a drink. I declined, trying to form a sentence to explain I had one of my own, and sailed on past him. A few seconds later I heard an alarmed "Oi!" as he called me back - it was a 90 degree right turn at that trig and I had gone straight - luckily he had noticed and called me back on course. In my depleted state the detour over thick bushy tussocks and heather to get back on the path was the last thing I needed, but if John hadn't called me back I'd have been way off course with a big extra climb ahead of me, so I was glad not to have lost too much time.
The last descent came - by now my feet were burning a little in my shoes - and I negotiated the gate out on to the road in the coll between Troed and Llangorse - a place I recognised from winter training runs a year or two before. As usual there were walkers' cars parked here and there were a few words of encouragement as I girded myself for a final climb, feeling pretty weak and aware that Tarit was not far behind. Now, he's a GB ultradistance runner and a regular on the West Highland Way race but I wanted to stay ahead of him on a shortish race in "my own mountains" - after all he's a supervet. The climb was sloow and I was feeling as if the stuffing had been knocked out of me - Tarit appeared behind me looking strong and seemingly gaining ground fast. I gambled at the top on following a path round the side of the ridge, assuming it would lead along an easy slope to the trig. half way round I got cold feet and tracked back up on to the crest - I'd wasted time trying to find a shortcut; poor decision making born out of tiredness.
I was half expecting to see Tarit coming up on my shoulder as I got back on the ridge and urged myself on to the trig - Shyamala was there still (as this was the top of the first climb revisited) and she said something inspiring from her new photographer's stance below the summit, which I can't remember, before snapping me again. The last thing I wanted with my exhausted frame and sore feet was a hard descent, I wanted just to jog down easily to the finish, but the joy of competition is that you have to dig a bit deeper, and the thought of Tarit - both a good mate and a team mate - overtaking me in the last few hundred yards was enough to send me hurtling down that last slope with all the speed I could muster - not a lot, but enough. In the end I had about a minute to spare, but as Tarit himself said, "One more climb and I'd have caught you - you were tiring".
One by one the five Sri Chinmoy AC runners came in - after Tarit came his daughter Dhavala, narrowly losing out on second place in the ladies race during the final descent so she came in third by a few seconds. Amelia had a great run and finished looking very happy. It had taken it's toll though, and the next morning she wasn't quite so cheery when her back seized up completely. Fortunately she's back to racing fitness at the time of writing and in all probability will remember the stunning views over the Black Mountains long after all memory of the suffering has faded. Bhauliya ran well but had a routefinding nightmare at the end of the first ridge, losing a lot of time when the runners in front took a wrong turn and she followed.
Still, it was great to have a team and the organiser, Dick F, recognised it by giving our girls some prizes for having come such a long way (Edinburgh and London). There were mumbles of approval when Edinburgh was mentioned and a joking (I hope) rumble of disapproval when it was revealed that Amelia came from London, but us South-Easterners expect that. No-one likes us. We take solace from the fact that everyone needs someone to have a go at, and here in the UK the home counties are an obvious target. Some day I will race on Box Hill or The Nower and know what it's like to be a local at a fell race!
So, that was my second championship race of Summer 2006, my second went-off-too-fast experience, but not a bad result in the end. Next up would be Abergwynfi and Pumlumon - a good opportunity to hold back early on and run a well paced race. Well, I'll probably forget all that and go off too quick as usual - it seems to be a hard habit to break.
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