The Iron Trail is a 5 mile trail run starting and finishing in the old mining village of Pwll Du north of Blaenavon. The village is long gone and all that remains is the village hall (now an outdoor pursuits centre) and the Lamb & Fox pub. The pub, one of the highest in Wales, stands on a bleak landscape that bears all the hallmarks of its coal mining past. This bleak landscape is where 77 runners will be raising money for North Gwent Cardiac Rehabilitation.
Now in its fourth year, the race gained a bit of notoriety last year after sudden change in weather brought rain followed by a hypothermia-inducing hail storm. Despite being pushed back from April to June, the outlook for the evening was potentially grim with rain clouds lurking in the distance. The prospect of rain didn’t appear to dampen the spirits of the runners from a variety of local clubs who were keen to get out on the tough trail.
Starting at the Lamb and Fox pub, the course was approximately 5 miles and involved a long 180ft climb along a disused tram road to the summit followed by a circular route littered with ups and downs and the odd cow to avoid. You then returned via the the same steep incline which translated to a fast, technical descent to the finish…and the pub.
A mixture of rocky paths and off-road trails offered a nice mix of terrain to run on and with only a short boggy section was largely mud-free. The hills were all runnable but for less experienced trail runners some hills would require walking.
With my running club dominating the field with around half of the runners wearing green vests, there was a very friendly atmosphere. Prior to the race, some of us gave our excuses – “I ran the Blade Runner yesterday”, “I’m just going to use this as a training run” – but we knew that as soon as the race started, our competitive sides would make an appearance. I had used the training run excuse but when I found myself at the front of the starting lineup I would quickly discover that this would end up being anything but a training run.
Shortly after starting and by the time I had reached the steep incline I realised I was near the front of the field and in fifth position. The three front runners were the club’s fastest runners so there was no point trying to maintain their pace but I found myself sticking close to an experienced local fell runner. He’s a lot faster than me on road and no doubt a lot faster than me on trail, especially one that he knows like the back of his hand, but I figured I gave it everything I may be able to keep up with him. One advantage I would have is that I could let him do the navigating around a sometimes featureless route.
At times I was running alongside him, others just behind him, but I always had him in my sights. I was paying for it though and was breathing heavily almost the entire way around. I felt good though and was constantly being spurred on by the fact that I had a real chance of finishing 5th. At times my legs were tiring on the hills but I had to resist the strong temptation to walk.
With 2 miles to go my shoelace had come completely undone and my shoe was becoming looser but I was in full flow and there was no way I was going to stop. It did mean that I had to make a conscious effort to make sure I didn’t lose it!
On the final descent to the finish fourth position gained some speed but by this moment I no longer needed his services as a pacemaker so switched focus to focusing on running at speed on the technical terrain. Concentration was crucial and at one difficult spot I was close to descending face first but managed to recover.
I finished around 20 seconds behind fourth position and finished in the highest position ever in a race. I was even part of the winning men’s team – a real honour!
This was one of those races where everything felt just right. After completing a race you look back and try to analyse what you ate, when you ate it, what you didn’t do this time but it’s difficult to find patterns. Sometimes everything just falls into place and you race well.
The course offered just the right mix of terrain and ascent with it being a distance that you could race face. It was the type of race that reminded me why I love trail races over road.
Over £550 was raised for North Gwent Cardiac Rehabilitation and the local pub benefited from a spike in trade on a day that it would usually be closed.
Photographs: Nigel Pearce