Offa’s Or­ror in Chep­stow

Some races don’t need to make a fuss. Offa’s Or­ror is one such event, says Kerry Mccarthy

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - This year’s race will be on April 23. Visit chep­stowhar­ri­

IF YOU’VE SPENT any de­cent amount of time in the past cou­ple of years sign­ing up to races, you may have no­ticed the rise in events billing them­selves as ‘the hard­est’, ‘one of the tough­est’ and so on. In­creased com­pe­ti­tion has led race or­gan­is­ers to pro­mote their events more ag­gres­sively, with many choos­ing to high­light the per­ceived dif­fi­culty of the miles to come as a way of ap­peal­ing to the com­pet­i­tive an­i­mal in us all.

As a vet­eran of more than 300 run­ning events, my ex­pe­ri­ence is that the race ecosys­tem is sim­i­lar to the dy­namic that pre­vails in a school play­ground: there’s al­ways a bunch of loud ones try­ing to at­tract at­ten­tion, but it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.

The tan­ta­lis­ing race name aside, Offa’s Or­ror is not so much a quiet kid as the be­spec­ta­cled one in the corner with Clarks shoes and a Dr Who pen­cil case. With its small field (a no­tice­ably high num­ber of whom were sport­ing comb-overs and wear­ing Walsh’s fell-run­ning shoes), tiny vil­lage hall HQ, proud dis­play of home­made cakes, ab­sence of a goody bag and even the non­con­formist race dis­tance (20km), the Or­ror knows ex­actly what it

is. But here’s where the geeky-kid anal­ogy ends, be­cause rather than wish­ing it was big­ger and cooler, this trail run makes it clear it’s not go­ing to dance to catch your eye.

When you’re blessed with some sen­sa­tional Chep­stow coun­try­side (‘hills, for­est tracks, sin­gle-track foot­paths, steep de­scents, river­bank paths and the beauty of the Wye Val­ley’ is how or­gan­is­ing club Chep­stow Har­ri­ers de­scribes it) you’ve no need for bells and whis­tles.

It’s hard, mind you, per­haps the hard­est race I’ve done in the past two years. The fig­ure-of-eight course takes in sec­tions of the 177mile Offa’s Dyke path, which runs along the Eng­land-wales border, and the tracks and trails around it. (Offa was the eighth-cen­tury king of what is now the Mid­lands.)

There are seven climbs in all and they vary in dif­fi­culty, but – as a cruel joke – the worst, mere sec­onds from the start, was first up. Around 120m of rocky, slip­pery, sin­gle-file hellish­ness, it was the equiv­a­lent of a two-footed Vinny Jones tackle in the first minute of a foot­ball match. And there was no time to re­cover at the top; with other run­ners clam­ber­ing up be­hind

us, we were forced to press on so we did not cause a bot­tle­neck. After a cou­ple of miles of tech­ni­cal wood­land – just tricky enough to make me re­gret that last bit of carb-load­ing at break­fast – we ar­rived at the seem­ingly in­fa­mous Lem­mings Leap. A land­slide of Ly­cra-clad bod­ies duly hurled them­selves down this sheer, 200m de­scent, part run­ning, part ski­ing, part tobog­gan­ing. We bounced off trees, slalomed around logs, caught our ten­der parts on stray tree roots and (ac­ci­den­tally) kicked each other in the back of the head. It was bor­der­line dan­ger­ous and ut­terly thrilling. The down­side was that we’d packed a whole race’s worth of ef­fort into the open­ing quar­ter and there were still 15 kilo­me­tres to go.

What fol­lowed was a run­ning-masochist’s dream: a sweaty kalei­do­scope of ups and downs and left and rights, and never two steps the same. If you’re mostly a road run­ner (as I am), it’s a se­vere test of en­durance but, some­how, the heady mix of beau­ti­ful scenery to ad­mire, chal­leng­ing (and con­stantly chang­ing) ter­rain to tame and the col­lec­tive sense of the sim­ple joy of move­ment among fel­low run­ners made it a plea­sure to be part of. The lat­ter sen­ti­ment was never bet­ter ex­pressed than when an an­cient, leath­ery fell run­ner slapped me on the back­side as he over­took me four kilo­me­tres from the end with a cheer­ful, ‘Giddy up young ’un!’ Giddy up I duly did and we raced each other to the fin­ish, swap­ping the lead sev­eral times be­fore my su­pe­rior shoe grip took me hurtling over the line first while he slith­ered un­grace­fully (and, I feel, karmi­cally) into a bush while try­ing to cut me up round the fi­nal bend.

How­ever, back at Brock­weir vil­lage hall we drank tea and ate doorstep-sized slabs of sug­ary won­drous­ness to­gether, and look­ing around it was clear we weren’t the only two run­ners rev­el­ling in a fine morn­ing’s work. The lawn out­side was strewn with gloop-plas­tered bod­ies ly­ing in var­i­ous stages of con­tented ex­haus­tion.

I al­most never find my­self with the urge to go back and run a race a sec­ond time but this may well be one of the rare ex­cep­tions – in my view the Or­ror is one of the best trail races the UK has to Offa.

COURSE COR­REC­TION Hard to be­lieve it but these two men are run­ning in the same race.

THREE DIMENSIONS The bridge, the blood and the beauty of Offa’s Or­ror

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