Newbridge fields is closest to home of the Gwent League events and, since changing jobs at the end of August, it’s even closer to where I work. During the weeks before the event I’d reconoitred the course in my lunch break. It’s a straightforward route, three flat laps around the boundary of the playing fields and back alongside the Ogmore, each finishing with a bridge crossing and a short switchback through a wooded meadow.
Late summer and early autumn have been dry, and even the meadow section wasn’t bad underfoot as I warmed up. Yet again, no need for my spikes: I wore my light but grip-less racing flats.
Alex’s school friend, Nathan Jones, was in the Swansea Harriers tent near the race HQ. I’ve been training with him on Tuesday evenings and it was no surprise to see the Welsh gold medal hanging round his neck. Unfortuntely I arrived too late to see his race. Apparently he’d been disappointed to finish a close second, losing out to an English runner — at least he has someone to aim for in the next fixture.
Well over 400 runners lined up at the start of the men’s event. I positioned myself as close to the front as I dared, not wanting to get stuck in a queue around the first corner. We were off, surging forwards at speed. I held my position, using elbows and hands to make space for myself.
Coming into the technical meadow section at the end of the first lap, I was running well. My shoes had barely any grip in the mud, and I would have to rely on momentum and foot placement to carry me up the two short climbs. A Bristol University runner fell, got up, slipped over again; somehow I kept going and passed him. Spike- and stud-less I took no chances on the soft downhill.
I tried to hold my pace in the second lap. My starting speed had put me ahead of several runners who would normally be in front of me. I wanted to stay clear of them. Coming into the race, the first of this season’s league, I knew my form was good. It was the West Wales championships. I had also been told that the selectors would have their eye on the results; a strong performance here would put me in contention for a place on the Welsh team at the masters international in Glasgow. So, some motivation.
Into the third lap now and I picked up my pace again. I recognised the runner ahead, Alex Hamblin, Westbury Harriers. Last time I saw him he had finished maybe 10m ahead of me in torrid conditions at the Blaise Blazer. Today, on a longer and flatter course, I was catching him. I passed him before the bridge. I passed two or three others too.
I dropped a couple of places in the final meadow section — others were attacking the finish of the race, and I was unwilling to take risks in my slippery shoes. I sprinted with what little I had left for the line. I collected my position token and, as ever, a letter from Hedydd Davies iniviting me to represent West Wales in the inter-regional championships. The next two Swansea Harriers to finish were Eamonn and Ifan, two strong veteran runners who normally leave me trailing by some distance: confirmation I’d run well.
The results were published later that week confirming I’d finished 74th out of 468 with a time of 38.27. Even better, I got a message from Bernie Jones, the Welsh Masters team manager. I’d been selected to run for Wales at the home cross country international in Glasgow.