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