Well. They call it the Bwllfa Dare for a reason. As Vicky, Gerwyn, Sarah Adams, Jay Goulding and I were soon to find out.
Yet again, Vicky Jones had suckered me into another fell run, now that I had finally thawed out from our previous experience on Craig Yr Allt. Vicky mentioned today that she’s looking for a fresh career challenge: think there might be a few Arabs who could do with some more sand. They just don’t know it yet.
This one was in my local stamping-ground, the Dare Valley Country Park, March 8th. I’m think I’m right in saying that it was the very last race of the Welsh Fell Runners Association’s Winter Series. It actually felt like more like the start of their Summer Programme. The weather was glorious. The sun truly shone on the righteous: I know, because I was stood next to them.
The route was just under 10k, with over 300m of climbing. The race category was described as ‘BS’, which I can only assume means ‘Blinking Steep’. Previous victims of my prose may recall my description of the types who enter in these events. They’ll also recall the dog who beat me home last time, despite simultaneously taking part in his own 6-legged race. He was there again: I’m sure the bit when he cleaned himself was an attempt to pysch me out. But this time I was more prepared. I’d actually read the race pack and brought the proper kit, with some shiny new trail shoes, and even a whistle. An ACME Thunderer for the cognoscenti: nothing but the best. The shoes were the cheapest I could find in Sports Direct though.
Start-time was again a very civilised 14.00 hours, and entry-fee a remarkable £4. These races are amazing value, but with the organisation behind them of far more expensive commercial event. The love the fell racing community has for their sport shines through.
On the hooter, and with absolutely no preamble the race headed north, up the steepest broken terrain. I swore that this time I would run all the way, unless of course scrambling on all fours was required. In which case I’d allow myself to use my teeth as well. I’m proud to say that I met this objective. Admittedly, to the untrained eye it may have appeared a shambling walk at some points, but I never stopped running. Not even when I felt like being sick.
I’d love to say that the terrain levelled off at the top. Running across the heath felt even harder somehow, and not even the views could distract from the effort. We were heading for a Trig marker at the top. I expected a 20 year-old broomstick, with a 5 year-old brush and 2 year-old handle. Turns out it was a big, concrete navigation aid. Who knew? Jay Goulding, evidently. He flew past me on his way back down the mountain whilst I was still trying to make it out in the distance.
If I thought the way back was going to be easier, I was sadly mistaken, The terrain until now had been uneven, slippery, rock-strewn and sometimes boggy: and that was the main path. Now came a near vertical drop, even including streams and railway sleepers (?) to hurdle. Once again, I can’t stress how awesome the regulars are at descending. They seem to flow down like water. I had all the grace of a tumbling watering can. I’ll confess to being relieved to get back onto the comparatively level. Even then, challenges remained. I’d thought that the organisers had slipped up as I’d not gone through every patch of mud in the Park. But then I realised I’d missed a turning. The kind of ground where you don’t check if you’ve left a trainer behind: you wonder about an entire leg.
I wouldn’t like to say I was glad to see the finish and the rest of the gang. It was exhausting, but great fun, and part of me didn’t want it to end. Admittedly, only a small part. Writing this tonight I can’t believe how much the whole of me aches.
But I’ve also got the glow from another great experience. I’ll join Vicky in encouraging all club members to enter one of these events. They’re a great workout, and a great adventure. You might even finish ahead of that blinking dog.