It’s been a couple of months since my last Demon Run in London and this weekend I thought I’d head on over the Severn Bridge to check out their Welsh offering.
The London course had a mix of terrain underfoot, from footpath, to mud, to road, to dense foliage, but there were only short hill sections. Something told me that their next course near Abadare in the heart of the Welsh valleys would be a different story!
As soon as we arrived in the car park, my suspicions were confirmed. I could see that you were sent up a very steep hill straight from the start line. Having recently faced that kind of start at the Endurer Log Dash, I was maybe a little less phased than I could have been, but that was until I caught up with Dave, Demon Run’s organiser.
Dave was looking a little flustered and started to tell me about how much of a nightmare the course had been to set up. He pointed at the peak of a very mountainous hill over to left of the horizon – apparently we wouldn’t stop climbing from the start line until we reached that peak! If that wasn’t daunting enough, he told me that the amount of mud on the way up had stopped them from being able to get their quad bikes up there, hence why it had been a tough couple of days for him and his crew. As much as I sympathised, I couldn’t help but worry how I was going to drag myself up there if it defeated off-road quad bikes!
I watched the 5 mile runners set off at 10am. Unlike the last event they set off a whole two hours before the 10 mile runners. That was another sign that this was a tougher challenge, with them having to allow two hours for people to clear 5 miles!
I had a wander around, took a few pictures of obstacles and then got myself ready for the challenge ahead. Looking around at the faces at the start line, it seemed like a very different crowd to a lot of other events. It was a little quiet and understated; I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s a super relaxed Welsh vibe or maybe they were all a little daunted looking up at the hill, I’m not really sure. As soon as the horn was sounded I forget all about that, it was business as usual, I burst through the cloud of red smoke ahead of me and started to tackle the hill.
It was apparent within the first 100 yards or so that I couldn’t keep my heavy starting pace up, so I brought myself down to a steady hill-climbing trot. It wasn’t long before even that became an effort, especially when we hit the first section of mud. There really was no avoiding it, spanning the entire width of the pathway. Each footstep jammed tight into shin-high mud and held fast with strong suction. It sapped energy away from you, just when you needed it the most, as there was a lot of hill left to climb. As I turned the corner from the mud section and continued to climb I met the first of the event photographers – a really lovely encouraging young lady who recognised me as the Mudstacle guy! That in itself cheered me up and spurred me to carry on trotting up hill.
At one point on the hill I was passed by a young Welsh lad. We exchanged niceties, as you do. At the time I was puffing my lungs out but I’m not sure if I was hearing correctly because I was breathing so hard, but it sounded like he was as fresh as a daisy. Before I knew it, he had passed the next corner and that’s the last I saw of him until the finish line!
After what felt like a good 15 minutes I reached the summit. I’d loved to have rested a while to admire the stunning view of rolling hills, but I had to focus on the treacherous task in hand. Running uphill may be hard, but the downhill is infinitely more treacherous. You have less balance, you’re moving faster over uneven ground and you’re dealing with much heavier impact. As I winded down over and besides the hills, the terrain underfoot varied massively. As well as grass and mud we negotiated slippery rock paths and gravel. There were also sections with narrow gullies that would twist an ankle if ever a foot slipped in.
The tension of the descent was soon washed away, literally, with two icy cold dips. The first in a shallow river and the second in a 100 yard section of a freezing cold lake. With such a prolonged spell of freezing exposure over my waste, my legs decided to shut down when they reached dry land. It took a few minutes for them to get back to normal, but they seemed to come back stronger than ever, maybe the cold treatment had helped!
Thankfully there was a good distance of flat ground ahead and I really found myself getting into my stride. I was quite alone for a lot of that section, but before long a guy in black was only a short distance behind – he clearly loved the flat even more than I did!
I was starting to feel drained now and I noticed that we were heading back up to the start area again, where we were being instructed to carry on up the same hill as before. I was shocked, there was no way I had conserved enough energy to make it all the way to the top of the same hill! Thankfully though we were told that we would branch off on a different route. I just hoped that branch would come sooner rather than later!
On the second climb I surrendered and had to break into a walk and I fully expected the guy in black to steam on past. It turned out that he saw it as a massive relief and went down to a walk with me. We puffed and panted at each other for a little and then got on with our own races again. After the large section of mud, we were diverted off down a steep hill into some woodland and eventually came up against a tangled spiders web of strings and a cargo net to crawl under.
Having already photographed this area during the 5 mile race, I knew the end was only a short distance away, I just needed to crawl through a little ice and bound across an open, swampy field and I was crossing the line, followed a few seconds later by my friend in black.
Once over the line the three of us stood around chatting for a while and took a few photos. The winner, Jason Bragg, had put in an insane time and had finished a good 5 minutes before me and Sam Milanese (the guy in black). Respect to Jason, he's a hill-running machine! The vibe on the other side of the line was really friendly and relaxed, everyone stood around chatting and congratulating one another. Most of the guys were locals and were just super friendly and chilled out. That's the vibe I picked up on the start line - these guys were just a super laid back bunch. I guess living in such stunning countryside would do that.
Although the course was tough, with all the hills, everyone seemed to have had a great time and had taken on the challenge with high spirits.
Unfortunately this was the last Demon Run in 2012, but they'll be back in March for more demonic fun in Scotland, Wales and across England. Check out www.thedemonrun.co.uk.
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