Well, it’s over (for me at least: at the time of writing there are still five stages and nearly 33 miles left to run).
The day started early. I woke up at 4.27am, three minutes before my alarm was due to go off (why does that always happen?) and leapt straight out of bed.
By the time I left the house for my 20-minute warm-up at 5.30am, the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was just right.
I travelled to Skenfrith with fellow Lliswerry Runners member, Nick, and his lovely family: wife Karen, daughter Ally and younger son, Jamie, and thanks to Nick’s superb navigation skills, we arrived with plenty of time to spare.
It was strange being arriving in this tiny Monmouthshire village for the second time in three days – I probably won’t go there again for years but such is life.
Karen and I were delighted to discover that the Bell Inn was kindly allowing runners to use their outdoor toilet (we both hate portaloos!).
Before too long, Skenfrith was positively bustling with bare legs and running vests. I haven’t done many races but I’m already starting to recognise people from other nearby clubs like Fairwater, Islwyn and Chepstow.
I don’t know if running clubs simply attract really nice people or whether running makes people much nicer. Whichever is true, I do know that the running community is an incredibly friendly environment where, despite the obvious competitive nature of races, everyone always supports one another and has a warm welcome for newcomers.
And then we were off! Remembering Howard’s words of wisdom – don’t try to keep up with the faster runners or you’ll wear yourself out in minutes – I decided to take things easy.
I was proud that I’d made time for a warm-up before setting off, but in the two hours between finishing that short run and starting again, my legs seemed to have seized up.
All too soon we were climbing the endless hill from Skenfrith and my legs were not impressed. They grew heavier and heavier until somewhere halfway up, I had no choice but to start power-walking. It was really disappointing to have problems so early on – and a bit embarrassing marching up the hill with an ambulance tailing me (for safety purposes, not because I was on the verge of collapse).
The important thing was finishing – I’d known from the outset that it was unlikely – nigh on impossible – that I’d run any faster than the cut-off time (nine minute miles). That’s fast over any distance on the flat and this was anything but flat. Nick, who was running the same stretch for Team Carthorse, has renamed this stretch of the Rack Raid K2.
It did get easier – and harder – as the miles progressed. The aching in my calves (no doubt caused by the tough climb up Skenfrith’s ‘heart attack hill’ on Friday afternoon) gradually subsided and I managed to run some of the undulating sections at a reasonable speed.
Unfortunately, the British summer, hitherto reluctant to arrive, decided that 8.30am on Sunday 2 June was the perfect time to burst forth. In just a vest and shorts I was wilting and very thankful for the stretchy band keeping my hair off my face.
And then right at the end was another steep climb. By now there were no other runners in sight, and I kept thinking of the film title, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. (Damn, just checked on Lovefilm and it’s only available on Blu-ray.)
Fortunately, at just the right moment, Chris (Fillies – first stage runner) and Ceri (Fillies – team organiser and one of the longer stage runners) drove past and stopped to provide some much-needed encouragement (and offers of water).
My legs finally functioning I ran as much of the remainder of the stage as possible. At the turning to White Castle (and the beginning of the climb to it), I passed the next group of runners who were covering the 7.51 miles to Abergavenny. Each and every one of them smiled in my direction, called out a greeting or offered words of encouragement (this is what runners are like).
I didn’t run up the hill – it was too steep and I was just too tired – but I’m getting quite good at this power walking lark (which is probably just as fast as running slowly) so that’s what I did.
As I passed the field where cars were parked, Nick (different one) spotted me and joined me for the last few metres. We ran straight into the grounds of White Castle, where two days ago the Cadw woman refused to let me enter for two minutes without handing over £3.20, and there were more lovely runners to cheer me over the finishing line, including several team members.
We munched Jaffa Cakes (or are they really biscuits) and relaxed, while another 20+ runners were already going through their paces, heading in the direction of Abergavenny.
All afternoon, the roads of Monmouthshire will be teeming with athletes. Many will be running much greater distances than me. Stage 6, from Monmouth to Raglan is 12.6 miles and the Usk to Tintern Abbey stretch (Stage 8) is the equivalent to a half marathon over undulating terrain.
There’s no doubt, the Rack Raid is a tough race; however the amazing camaradie of the runners and the spectacular scenery makes the pain well worth it.
Roll on 2014!!