Making it to the start line proves hard enough. The park and ride is chaotic, coaches blocked, cars queued, attendants overwhelmed. I roll up a kerb and squeeze into a space on the grasss verge to continue on foot. Soon enough I cross the bridge and begin to weave through the crowds packing Mountain Ash’s small centre.
The town is the race course. Barriers separate the track (the road, that is) from the stands (pavement). Getting anywhere is hard, what with dogs, children, babies, buggies, but somehow the PA keeps the agenda moving: the torch, the fireworks, the funfair, the mystery runner, and of course, soon, the races.
A community centre has become a makeshift changing area. I find myself queuing with Eamonn for one of two toilet cubicles. Matt Rees is there too, treating this event as a speed session to temper a fearsome endurance training programme in preparation for next year’s London marathon.
It’s good to escape the crowds and join the runners warming up on the road. The event will be fast, I know, with elite runners at the front pulling the train along; but as I jog round the sharp bends and up the hill out of the town centre, it’s hard for me to figure out how so many manage a PB on such a challenging course so close to Christmas.
Wales football team manager Chris Coleman turns out to be the mystery runner. The torch is lit, fireworks explode, and now we’re being asked to line up at the start. At most races I run, the start line self-organises: the faster runners warm up last then fill the space at the front which the slower runners have left for them. This event is different, and it takes much pushing and shouting to get everyone packed behind the start line before — bang! — we’re off.
Although I charge off like crazy both Eamonn and Nick are ahead of me. I’ve never been so far down the field in a 5K. I settle on the short uphill then stride out on the way back down, listening to the feverish commentary. It’s thrilling to run through the packed town centre, crowds cheering and applauding, and already the first of three laps is done.
Eamonn has a huge gap but I catch Nick on the final uphill, which spurs him on to go back past me. My finishing time of 17:42 is the quickest I’ve run this year, just. Later I learn the course record has been broken by Swansea Harrier Kristian Jones with a time of 14:11.