Offa's 'Orror 2009


5 Days after a marathon is certainly not the perfect time to tackle a really hilly trail race, but you have to grab your opportunities when they come around, and in this case I'm really grateful that I did! What I gave in terms of effort on tired legs was little compared to the reward of such stunning views and such a compelling race.

It turned out to be the most beautiful day that 2009 had offered thus far - fair and hazily sunny, with a cool nip in the air while we warmed up - but which disappeared suddenly before the start when the breeze disappeared, the sky cleared and it was suddently seriously warm. Everyone was so animated at the start that we didn't hear a word of Colin's race briefing, but we were soon heading round the field in the shadow of Tintern Abbey (now, thankfully, without the ugly scaffolding) and then down the road single file to the bridge.

We were spreading out now - 200 or so runners from the 250 or so who had signed up - why the other 50 didn't show on such a glorious day is a mystery! I was running pretty conservatively, but as usual I spotted one or two runners I wanted to keep pace with so as not to go off too slow...and as the railway path through the woods unwound (dryer than usual underfoot) I was slowly moving up the field. There was no sound but for the babbling of the Wye below us, the song of the birds and our own thumping feet and rasping breath. A really peaceful way to spend your Sunday morning :)

Like the Tintern Trot, this race turns sharply up a sloping track at the end of the railway path and the climbing / undulating begins. You pretty much follow the trot route before a second set of climbs kicks in, the trail alternating between broad bridleways and narrow twisty paths between treacherously rooty trees. There are gates, styles, fields, short bits of lane...just about everything. All the while I was struggling to hold my place and keep the work rate up - at one point the runner in front of me heard from a marshal he was 20th, making me 21st, and with a shot at a top 20 place if I stayed strong and others began to tire. Or...if I sped up and others just held their own. Next thing I knew we were at the top of a slope which I'd seen plenty of photosof in the slideshow in Run and Become - Lemmngs Leap!

With my legs still heavy, I took it slowly, weaving between the trees on this muddy and awkward descent. It was over without incident and without too much loss of time, when the scenery suddenly changed - we were out of the woods and into sun soaked open fields by the Wye, turning back southwards to follow the river downstream back to Tintern. I thought this was just the "run in" but I later found out that this flattish section is around 1/3 of the race!

With no more significant climbs to save my legs for, I pushed as hard as I could and gradually moved up a place or two as the miles crawled by - a "2 to go" sign appeared, then after a long while it was "1 to go" and again we had to pick our way down a tricky slope to the bridge and cover the final yards to the field by Tintern Abbey. Apparently I was 17th - but the real achievement was how much I enjoyed myself while pushing my body hard for 1:35 - I have to say the scenery was a big help!

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