The inclusion of the Night Sugar Fell Race in this years club championship promised something a bit different for the penultimate round. The route comprises 5.5 miles of running on good trails and paths around the Sugar Loaf above Abergavenny, the catch is that as an evening race in November the event takes place in darkness.
Over the weeks before the event many club members seemed to be sizing the event up, some relishing the challenge and others refusing offers of the loan of a headtorch for the event. It appeared that 7 of us were planning to attend and Sam did a grand job of planning car sharing to get us to the start.
The day before the race it became apparent that the weather gods were not in a benevolant mood with forecasts of heavy rain with snow over the high ground and flood warnings a plenty. Race organiser Paul Dodd announced that he would be inspecting the route and approach roads at 2pm on the day of the race and we all waited for his verdict.
The day of the race dawned to heavy rain and even more flood warnings. As the day progressed it became clear that many of our members were stranded behind rising floodwaters and when the organisers announcement came through at 4pm it declared “Course is set. It is wet, windy and cold. Little snow in gullies on top. Very windy on ridge down. No snow or sleet on roads to car park. Absolutely full kit required. Don’t come unless you have experience of poor weather in the hills”.
Whilst many of our potential contestants were stranded by floods and the rest were possibly discouraged by the pronouncement on experience I was fortunately in a slightly different situation. I was happy that I had the necessary experience and as I was sat in a meeting in Telford a return down the A49 via Abergavenny seemed considerably less hazardous than my usual route home on the B-roads of Shropshire.
As I headed south road conditions improved and on arrival in The Sugar Loaf Car Park it was even possible to see the lights of Abergavenny through the rain. I paid my £2 entry fee and sat in the car waiting for the start, eating Jelly Babies and changing clothes occasionally as the weather outside altered. The call to the start line saw me clad in a windproof top and long trousers, this proved to be a reasonably fortunate choice as the race progressed.
Following a short but succinct race briefing and a few startline photos we were off. After an initial short but sharp climb the path levels to fast uphill running on a good grassy path. The going was bit fast for my legs and with the rain being blown into our faces on a strong wind I was feeling off colour and slow. As the path turned eastwards visibility dropped and the rain turned first to sleet and then to snow. A turn northwards onto a steepening rocky path provided an excuse to drop to a brisk walk as we bypassed to summit of the Sugar Loaf to the north east to reach the top of the Mynydd Pen-y-fal ridge. This offered exhilarating fast downhill running on wide but snow covered grassy paths, with visibility low I slipped my headtorch off so that I could carry it low to cut the glare from the mist and show the terrain and reflective course markers better. This simple trick allowed me to pass 2 runners before I encountered one that I just couldn’t shake off and I was forced to share the tip to remove his headtorch so that we could both see where we were going. We traded places until the route turned south on a stoney track, clearing the mist we crossed a ford and as we tackled the final sting in the tail of a 100 metre climb he finally pulled away from me.
Cresting the final climb it appeared to have stopped raining and the promised views of Abergavenny materialised although they had to be ignored as occasional rocks poked through the grass on the final sprint for the line. Chip timing allowed the results team to work in a dry campervan and ocasionally a category winner was declared. As usual there were no prizes for me but I was very pleased to have beaten last years time by over 4 minutes.
It’s a great race at a real bargain price and I am absolutely confident that any of the Crofties that had hoped to attend would have cruised it. Let’s keep it in the diary and go for a team award next year!