Merthyr Mawr Christmas Pudding 10k

That race on the dunes that everyone talks about!


Well, Fran and I are in there somewhere, quite near the back of the pack! This 10k starts with a ballistic ascent of the Big Dipper, allegedly Europe's largest sand dune. It was certainly an "interesting" climb, which left a lot of us breathless at the top, where a serious bottleneck means that everyone has to stand and wait for the huge crowd of runners ahead to funnel into the sandy path across the top of the dune. I had decided to run this race with Fran, at her race pace, as my knee - although much improved - was not yet ready for a full-speed assault on a course like this. So, I was content to wait with the good humoured crowd until the way ahead was clear.

Once over the top, the descent was great fun - we could bound down with long strides on the soft sand, as if we were racing on the moon. After that the course came back past the start at the Merthyr Mawr car park and the usual array of photographers and wellwishers were there at the sides of the course taking snaps and cheering or jeering the runners they knew. Then it was a bit of road racing, with the course taking us up the lane, inland, then back off-road to cross fields linked by narrow bridges over the river, one of which bounced alarmingly under the impact of so many runners at the same time. There were loads of marshals at every junction, so getting the route right was never going to be a problem. Underfoot, it was soft in places, but never really muddy. Across the other side of the valley we came back on to a lane and started climbing steadily - Fran had used up a lot of energy climbing the dune, and was just off a long haul, no-sleep flight from Punta Cana, so like most of the runners around us we took the option to walk some of this hill and save a little energy for what was to come.

At the top of the hill we came on to some beautiful, exposed moorland with the path marked by hazard tape, winding between tall gorse bushes. Here we came upon a unique aid station - the marshals were calling out the usual - "water!", and the not so usual - "Mince pies.....mulled wine....". Needless to say I was happy just to grab the water and leave the rest, but it cerrtainly raised a smile and it gives you an idea of the fun spirit of this race.

After the moorland came an incredibly scenic dry valley, an opportunity to accelarate downhill and make up some of the time lost on the climb. Then it was over a bridge across the river mouth and on to a flat path alongside the river back to the dunes. The sting in the tail - and we knew it was coming - was the water feature. I hadn't realised this would come in several instalments, but it was no more than shin-deep and although the water was icey in all the streams, it meant we were near the end.

We came home in 1:12, a time we were happy with under the circumstances, and our Sri Chinmoy AC team mate Amelia ran around 47 minutes. This race is pure fun, but next year I'll be able (hopefully) to take it more seriously and run at full effort over this beautiful and amazingly varied course. No surprise it gets such a high rating in Runners World. Thanks are due to the organisers, Brackla Harriers.


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