I noticed this race a few weeks ago, after being given a flyer for the Severn Bridge Half at Newport parkrun. Looked stunning, and fits in with a race that I'm planning for May. Nearly gave it a miss as I've never tried Multi Terrain (or Fell Running) properly, and my concerns weren't really helped when in discussion, it was mentioned that Pontypool Cross Country could be classed as a Fell run.
Entries were available on the day, so I went to bed with a thought to run it, and I slept without issues. That meant all was going to go well, and I duly arrived at Brynmawr ready to run.
The Race Briefing was short and informative. As well as the water station bits, I got a few key points (all quoted below):
- The second half is not as bad as the first.
- There's a bit of climb - about 2000 feet.
- You will cross the "Heads of the Valleys" twice, over and under. Don't go straight across as we don't want to be hosing you off the road.
- Route is marked, but it's mainly "follow the pylons".
- On the descent, there are two marked routes - "straight down" and "off to the side". "Straight down" is the one if you're been fell running all of your life, "off to the side" is for those who've been doing cross country all of your life. No other options.
- There's a big boulder. We marked the big boulder with hazard tape. Don't fall on the big boulder.
- "this ain't no parkrun"
Without much delay, we were off. True to form with this type of race, those who start at the front, stay at the front. Lots of dallying around getting over styles means queueing for us others (I started towards the back and stayed there).
Apologies for my lack of technical descriptions. The beginning of the race was across marshy moorlands, with boggy potholes and rabbit hole things meaning a constant ankle twist was in play. I recall some pretty nasty gauze too, which gave me a shock later when Steve, a fellow runner went past with blood dripping down his arm. After a general ascent, we started to go down - this seemed to be where the trouble started. As the runners split out, it was a case of overtaking where possible, but trying to keep the next group in sight to make sure you didn't get lost.
A little bit of tarmac was a welcome relief, but then I nearly got lost. I wasn't just using my overshooting a turn as an excuse to get back behind a runner, but that's what happened (and I apologised to her). Before we knew it, we were passing through a village, I remember a gypsy caravan too, then came a viaduct. There was a narrow set of steps in the middle and up we went - bit steep, dark, claustrophic and tight at the top, but I wasn't looking - just glad to get up and out of there. The first of two water stops came next - I don't mind saying that I stopped there for a minute. Hot sunny day, well worth the stop.
And then, the climb. Started slowly, then single file up the mountain. Continued for a while, before we hit "the grunt". This required special treatment - hands and knees - we literally crawled up. There were a few bits that needed rock climbing ability (and I'm not the shortest), but once we got up to the top, the view was spectacular. Amazing countryside, but not a marker to be seen (or runner ahead of us for that matter). Spent a little time with a local who knew the route, and he kindly guided us across what can only be described as a rollercoaster - narrow path on the edge of a really long steep drop, undulating ahead of us.
Then came the descent... you remember that we were told about two choices - "straight down" and "off to the side". I could see people doing the straight down option, so that was for me - anything else would have cost valuable seconds :) I started the descent, then got a bit scared and landed on my bottom. Still, I needed to get down, so I dug deep and remembered how we done this as children - on my bum, pushing with my hands (like a dog with worms, if that helps). Before I knew it, I was shouting wheeee as my hands scraped on the rough ground and brambles, but behind me, the call was repeated. Turned round and there were about a dozen blokes all following suit - each giving themselves a supreme self-enduced Wedgie. We reached the bottom of "Wedgie Hill", retrieved clothing and continued on our way - or all bar the bloke who fell over the style. He got back up and carried on, much was the spirit of the day.
At this point, a fellow runner caught up with me. Funny as he had started ahead of me, and I never overtook him - he'd managed to run an extra mile and a half due to a few issues with race markings. His toe was starting to hurt badly then - he'd already mentioned the toe earlier - clearly sandbagging an injury - but it was for real. I recall things getting a bit easier from then on in. Technically easier. Problem was that my thighs felt like they'd gone to jelly.
All was a bit of a blur from then until I caught up with fellow parkrunner Steve. We kept one another going, broke away from the rest of the pack. Trouble is, we couldn't see anyone ahead either. We followed the instructions, and took the underpass. We then headed into town - only the race wasn't going that way. After asking a kind bloke walking his dog, we headed back and approached the finish line from a slightly different direction that most others. Checked the time - we had aimed for under 2 hours and 1:57 it was. My watch said 16.9km - 10 mile race. Result!
Often in running, you are told to "Run your own race" - we all did on this one! Turns out that some of the route markings were taken down by some "helpful" souls, and laid in a pile on the ground. This meant that at various parts of the race were a complete mystery unless you either knew the route, or memorised the map. A couple of other parkrun regulars managed to do 19km, but there were no prizes for them.
Back at Race HQ, everyone seemed pretty happy. Especially the chap who said "there's nothing better after a race than changing into a comfy pair of slippers".
There was some excellent tea and home-made cake on offer, and then the prizegiving. This was fun, as the organisers gallantly offered apologies for the vandals that took away the markers (and offered half-price entry on a specific upcoming event), and runners gave up prizes based on others efforts. Lou Summers from Ponty (when did that happen btw) gave hers up twice based on other women that should have won if they followed the course. A bit of celebration for Lliswerry too, as Paul Day picked up best in his age category.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed myself this morning, and vowed to run more races from "Rogue Runs", including taking another look at the Severn Bridge Half Marathon.