Coity Mountain Race 2008
Coity Mountain - on a much nicer day! Photo from http://www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk/
OK, race day came and unusually for me it was race number three in six days. I was still a little hammered from the first two, unsurprisingly, but with only some blisters to trouble me and no injury worries, it was definitely a green light to take on this race which was billed at 5 miles and 1000' of ascent.
I arrived at the Whistle Inn in some lovely heads-of-the-valleys drizzle, which the forecast told me was set to clear for the afternoon. With the race starting at midday, it was 50/50 as to how the weather would play out. Runners began to arrive and we registered alfresco, the race organiser even providing a map (which accompanied the numerous route descriptions which experienced runners were giving to the uninitiated - all of them slightly different!). Basically, the route was to be over the ridge, half way down the other side, contour a long way round then follow a line of pylons back over the ridge with what looked like a long, flattish run-in to finish.
We walked down to Garn Lakes for the start, and it looked like a reasonable turnout gathered by the footbridge. Having warmed up, I'd decided to go off in vest and shorts but with a cap to keep the worst of the weather off if it turned nasty later. Some were more pessimistic and had their jackets on already!
Just after the start, the field split as half stayed on the path and half cut a corner through some long grass, but it made no more than second of two of difference. Soon we were running back past the Whistle Inn and heading for the nondescript bulk of Coity Mountain and the slanting pathway heading up to the ridge. The ascent was very runnable - usually I walk lots in a fell race, but this time I was able to chug up the entire first ascent, slotting in behind some runners I knew to be significantly superior to me on pure speed, hoping they'd pull me up (a bit of psychological drafting). Over the top and onto the undulating plateau, the drizzle returning, I was still hanging in there and feeling good. The second bit of climb was short and steep - I walked twenty paces or so before I was up the rampy bit and breaking back into a jog. A lark ascended, singing, to my right. Beautiful. The hard work continued as the pace quickened, always with a path of sorts under our feet, and after a short and easyish downhill we found a marshal sending us left, contouring around along the line of an old fence. This long section skirting the mountain eventually brought us to the pylons, crossing under them then hanging a left to climb steadily on a loose, stoney track alongside a gulley. It was a bit of a grand prix style race, with not much overtaking, as the course had already strung us out pretty well and the paths were narrow in places. I think I overtook a couple and a couple came strongly past me, overtaking with surges I couldn't match. I was still hanging on behind Tony and Sam, which helped me stay in the uncomfortable zone and not relax!
Eventually the pylon-climb ended and we were over the ridge, heading down a short, sharp descent where I got overtaken again by a guy in a beige t-shirt who descended really well and opened up a gap straight away. Immediately after that we were on to the drover's track, a highway by welsh mountain standards, and I fought hard to catch him again, the duel lasting for several minutes as we slowly reeled in the miles back to the Whistle Inn. I glanced at my watch - this was way more than five miles! Anyhow, another steep downhill came and I expected to be overtaken again - in the event it happened a few hundred metres later, and I had no answer, but pushed as hard as I could to hang on behind Mr Beige Tee - I always like a tussle like this, even if it's all to no avail results-wise, as it makes me work harder and run a better time than I would solo. When we got back to the point where we had divided just after the start (remember that?), the other chap went the long way round on the path and I threw myself down the straight route through the grass - this made all the difference as I pulled ahead and just managed to stay ahead to the finish. It felt strange to get ahead by taking a short cut, when the other runner was obviously fitter and faster, but I guess it's within the rules!
Post mortem revealed new blistering on the base of both heels, no further damage to the original blisters I picked up a week before, and no trouble from troublesome knee. With Guto Nyth Bran a week away, I realised I needed to get my feet in decent shape. Race 4 out of a possible 40 done and dusted, feeling happy with the performance I'd put in, I headed off to grab a nondescript lunch in a service station and spend the afternoon canoeing at Symonds Yat in the afternoon sun (which came out as promised, thankfully). I guess you could call that a perfect day.
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