Sunday, 12 July 2015

Tal y Fan fellrace- 2015

Another foray into North Wales for the 7th counter in the NWFRA championships. On this particular occasion, the field wasn't going to have too many superstars in it, seeing as the English/British champs race was on the same day - on the Isle of Man, so a strong contingent of Fell runners had gone off over there. It being a saturday in July, a lot of other things were going on too, which drew runners elsewhere- Wasdale was on, and a myriad of other smaller and less well known races around the country.

However, the village of Rowen was having their carnival, and the fell race was on.
Al and I arrived spectacularly early in order to sit in the sun, have a coffee and stroll up the start/finish road section and to recce the final 3 km, to get an idea as to the route finding. The map involved a fair bit of path swapping, and could prove to be a little complex.

By the time we had got back down the fayre was on the way to starting, so we had another coffee, chatted with the race organiser and faffed for a bit before going to pay our £4 entry fee, in return we got a small number with no sponsorship logos to attach to us where we liked.
Kit for the day was reduced to a very sensible map, compass, whistle and waterproof jacket.

Runners began to arrive, with a number of people who looked pretty fast. Some Eryri guys also arrived - these boys are always going to put on a decent challenge as well.
Pretty soon the start area was filling up, Jez and the boys from Buckley had arrived (with the trophy from last year!) so Al and I caught up with them, and tried to get some of their knowledge about the course. Jez was wearing a pair of trail shoes - without much grip, everyone else I could see was in fell shoes. Whether Jez knew something about the race that no-one else did... Not sure.

After being counted through to the start, the race was started in good time by the "bloke on the microphone" with a countdown from 10, and we surged through the field. Jez and Rob Grantham leading the charge, with a couple of the Eryri guys up there, Karl from Ambleside and Mark Davies were making good headway, and I was somewhere in the mix as we went out of the field, through a small estate and turned right through the village and onto the hill.
This first up is entirely on the road, after 500m you pass the "25%" sign and know you're in for a fun one, it steepens and the people around me began to thin out. Jez, Rob and Karl were up ahead, and others that had surged forward were definitely beginning to come back to me. By the top of this road climb, it was only Jez Rob and Karl ahead of me, the road flattens, before rearing up even more, to the true 25% part, twisting and turning its way to the YHA and the roman road.

Karl came back to m, and the 2 people just behind me as we went around the steep bends and we passed him, but Rob and Jez stayed quite far ahead, and I came off the road section and onto the Roman Road in 3rd place.

Roman road was a fun and undulating footpath, which was pretty relentless, though much better running than the road we had just left. There was hard breathing going on behind me. I looked up and saw 3 runners in front of me - 3? No, that can't be right - indeed, I recognised one of them as a runner who had set off 5 mins before us and seemed to be running the race route as well - keeping up with Rob at the front as he started the climb towards the top of Tal y Fan.
Trying to look cool, calm and collected as we go along the Roman Road. Thanks to Lou Beetlestone for the photo

To the end of the Roman Road, a sharp right over a stile with 2-3 runners hot on my tail, and again, an up. On grass and rock, through gorse and undergrowth this time. The trod steepened, and the front runners were now a decent distance away, though it seemed that 3,4,5 and maybe 6th were close together - never looking behind I had no idea who was there. Head down, and keep running, thinking of training sessions where you have to keep running... well, this is a race, if you don't allow yourself to walk in training, why on earth would you allow yourself to walk in a race?!

Up through the Gorse to a stile, I managed to get a little distance on the chasers by keeping plugging away, and the hard breathing wasn't so apparent behind me as I crested the stile. Up again, and to a wall, and a decision - go over the next stile and right to the top of Tal y fan, or stay on this side? I looked up and could see Rob on this side, so began making my way up the steepening hill. Run/walking was made a necessity because of the slightly rocky terrain, and half way up I looked to my left.... Jez had gone over the otherside of the wall and was climbing up that side... oh. Am I wrong?

Breaking a cardinal rule, I glanced behind - a string of runners spread out behind me on the same side of the wall as me and Rob.... well, if we're all wrong, we're all in the same boat. Full speed ahead, and off to the trig point at the top, a hello and thanks to the marshals, over the stile, and....

A descent into Bleak moorland....
From studying the map I knew vaguely which way to go, but could see no discernable track, or even a target to aim for. The runners ahead had disappeared from sight - below a crest - and I stopped in my tracks for a second, digesting the view and thinking... ummm..... before plunging down the hill in (hopefully, vaguely) the right direction.

A trod opened up, and I followed that until it petered out, and then it was bilberry plant bashing and rough descending for a short time before hitting the more or less open moorland. Jez, in his blue top came into sight, roughly in front of me where I expected him to be, the ground turned into a carpet of mounds, heather and bilberry plants, and there was nothing to do but to simply beeline across them. If there was a trod, I completely missed it, and hammered across the terrain with abandon - closely followed by another runner.
Route finding here was amusing, particularly as there was no specific place to aim for, it was more or less run in a direction and see where it pops you out. Trods and paths were not helpful as they criss-crossed the area going in totally the wrong direction. Luckily it had been relatively dry in the time leading up to the race, and what could have been a spectacular bog, was a somewhat drier - but equally spectacular bog.
It wasn't until about 300m before we hit the big path that a small trod appeared which we picked up and ran along to the hard right and down to the Mountain Rescue clad bloke who was marshaling at the stone circles.

From now on it is paths all the way. The guy behind me turned out to be Hugh from Eryri, and although I had tried to distance him across the rough terrain, he was having none of it - and may well turn on the gas as we hit "smoother" trails. We basically ran neck and neck along the trails, downs and ups - with some fabulous views of Conwy bay and beyond, making our way through the myriad trail turnings (no flags here, this is Wales, you know!) past the bloke on the drinks station in apparently the middle of no-where, more undulations... we had to get back up to the same level as the top of the road climb - thankfully, the climbing wasn't nearly as steep, and it was runnable the entire way. Through some gates manned by marshals, and we were coming into the final 1/3 of the race.

A gel went down - and I commented to Hugh that it tasted pretty rank - to which he responded that he couldn't eat them as they made him feel sick. So I offered him my second gel - which unfortunately he declined.

Through a field, and along a wall, and finally we hit the point where Al and I had recced to. The final uphill drag - into the wind. I got over the ford first, and hit the slope in front, and Hugh tucked in behind me. My pace measured out so that I could respond to a surge - and features got ticked off as we passed them. My target was the crest, as soon as we hit that it was downhill all the way. We had run pace for pace the whole way around, and if I couldn't shake him on this uphill, it was going to have to be on the thrash downhill instead. Shouldn't be a problem.
As we ran for the top of the hill I fished around in my bag for a pair of gloves - not because it was cold, but because I'm paranoid about descending with bare hands - a trip and grazed hands will mean I can't work for a couple of weeks. Gloves not in the sides, not in the bottle holder, oh. No gloves. They're on the bonnet of the car back at the start. Bugger.

Legs working harder, we crest the top, I close my bumbag, and without pause, start to head for the stile, we go over the stile, me still in 3rd, him in 4th in close order. I wonder how he descends... have I got my work cut out here? At least this bit had been thoroughly recced and my legs carried me down the hill with wild abandon.
Past the rock, past the bracken, down, down, down. Grinning like a loon, I crossed the boundary into the next field, and could see the marshal, cutting left I thrashed down toward them, through a section of bracken, cut right onto the final bit of track before the sharp turn left - nigh on 180degrees onto the road section.
Downhill plunge, with Hugh in close pursuit. Thanks again to Lou Beetlestone for the photo

Through that gate, and onto the road and because of the direction I end up in, I can't help but see Hugh lagging behind by a good 10-15 metres, breathing hard.
I've got him.
From here its 1.2km back to the start, nigh on all downhill, all on tarmac. Stretch out, take the 25% downhill a little easy, stretch across the flat to the slight hump - 12 strides and over it, and blast down the final downhill.
The only sound is my slapping feet on the road - no pursuing noises at all. Excellent.
Into the village, past the pub - 400m to go or thereabouts. The people outside the pub are cheering, so I say thankyou, down to the turning, a sharp left, through the estate and a right onto the field - and finish with a load of people in the fayre clapping me in. 3rd - and first non-V40.
Best result ever? Perhaps.

Rob came in 1st, beating the V40 record, with Jez second. Hugh was not far behind me in 4th.
Al - the other Glossopdaler in the race was a very happy 10th.

For my troubles I won a pot of local honey, which I will be digging into with wild abandon, and also a rather delightful painting of Tal y Fan in the snow.

What an excellent race - the first leg sapping uber-road-climb, flatter parts, steeper parts to the summit - a bash across no-path-land, hard running along paths, and a final madcap descent both offroad, and then on.
"Runnable" pretty much the whole way. Also, it being a welsh race, sensible rules that take weather and conditions into account, numbers you can wear where you like, and a fantastic atmosphere. Brilliant.

 I'm waiting for some photos to upload, and then I'll put some more up.


  1. Great write up. Not impressed you stole my strava segment though ;0)

  2. great race, and write up tim.