Small but perfectly formed. This would sum up this short Beacons classic which has now become the traditional kick-off for the South Wales Winter League. It’s one of those ‘race you to the top and back again’ little races which you underestimate at your peril. The route is unencumbered by fences, stiles or similar obstructions, leaving just 2 sharp lung busting pulls separated by a bog followed by a short blast across the summit plateau. For those with the time to look, the high point gives views as far as Camarthen Bay to the west and Plynlimon to the north whilst the whole western section of the South Wales Traverse is spread out around you. No matter, for the race back is absolutely helter-skelter, down a grassy gradient that is at the limit of traction in the dry and hootingly slippery after a downpour. This year, conditions were nigh on perfect with the ground having that post rain tackiness that gives mega-grip and a cool breeze blowing to keep the sweat out of the eyes. 51 runners obviously thought things looked good too, giving up their time to travel from far and wide for, at most, 25 minutes of hard exercise. Not so many years ago, races like this would have been lucky to have pulled in 20 runners so the size of the fields in the last couple of years is testament to the hard work put in by the organisers of the South Wales Winter League. The annual Anglo-Welsh challenge seems to have fired the enthusiasm of runners and encouraged new competitors....several of the field this year were at their first fell race. This is all good news and it may well mean a rethink for the minimalist approach to organisation as I got swamped a couple of times recording finishing places. This led to a bit of confusion at prize giving. Hopefully everyone got listed correctly. Robert Gordon of Scotland but registered and living in Wales came home nearly a minute ahead of second place (and first vet 40) Mick O’Doherty in a very similar winning time to 2005 of 17.42. Previous winner, Andrew Jones, recorded 17.37 last year in slippery conditions, so it’s a shame he succumbed to CBA syndrome this year, recording the only DNF of the day. Neither of these times were anywhere close to Graham Pattens record of 16.02 set in 1991. It was a similar story for the ladies where, despite improving her 2005 time by nearly 2 minutes, Eluned Salisbury was still over 3 minutes shy of Jill Teague’s 1991 mark of 19.16. Obviously, tectonic shift has resulted in the damned hill getting bigger!
The hottest competition of the day came in the V60 race with Dick Finch and John Henry Collins locked in battle right to the line. They were so eyeballs-out that they damn near knocked the time-keeper over! With the nice weather, the ever dependable Kay Lucas had a much safer time as summit marshal.
So, thanks to all those who turned up, sorry about the traffic, lack of parking and slight confusion at prize giving. I think the running and the views made up for all that. With the rest of the league being finalised as I write, keep your eye on WFRA.org.uk for details of the next race and, of course, all the results as they happen.