> Rhinog Races #1 Y Llethr (Llanbedr Gwynedd) - 14.25miles 780m - Phil James

18th February 2006

Having grown up not 3 miles from the start I should have been feeling more comfortable milling round the car park of the Victoria pub on a Saturday morning, but the fact that my youthful acquaintance with the local hills was driving the back roads home from said pub to avoid the police on a Friday night and the 50 competitors lining up for the first race in the Rhinog series all looked stick thin and were wearing shorts (in February, in Wales) was making me feel a tad uncomfortable.

The Rhinogs are made up of a range of hills in the Ardudwy region around Harlech. Y Llethr is the highest in the range at 756m. The race starts from the village of Llanbedr where the Artro and Nantcol rivers flow to the sea. At 11:00 prompt the hooter sounds and all of us trot up the road heading up to the valleys of Cwm Bychan and Cwm Nantcol - just 14 and a quarter miles to go. After passing my Grandmother's old house we turn right into the woods, over the river and start climbing up. Several muddy minutes later we emerge past the tree line and pass the campsite at Cwm Nantcol - Moelfre looms large on the right and Y Llethr totters massively above us. Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach bulk up the view to the North. The field is now pretty much stretched out and I am running in a small group of five with two others further ahead - the leaders are out of sight. The marshy ground (where the family once farmed apparently) is well marked with poles and muddy asides await anyone brave enough to be tempted into cutting corners. After several exhausting minutes of running through the rushes the ground rises again and we hit the hills proper. Emerging onto the moor the group has dwindled to two and we set off across country heading for the dry stone wall that leads ever upwards to the summit of Y Llethr.

The wall seems never ending - interspersed with occassional sphagnum bogs where I swear the water, though liquid, is well below freezing. As we approach the stile to cross over to the last 60m uphill to the summit, the leaders start coming back down. It seems I am in tenth place. The last 100m to the summit are fiendishly steep but I arrive and punch my number on the summit cairn. There is no wind and no cloud - the view is spectacular - the Snowdonian hills to the North, Cader Idris to the South, Cardigan Bay to the West and hills of the LLeyn peninsula clearly visible. I take a moment to savour it - might never get to see it again. This costs me a place as an Eryri Harrier bounds up and heads straight back down (I'm sure W.H. Davies would be proud of me though).

The route follows the fence line back down the hill on the ridge between Llethr and Moelfre - it then veers left to skirt around the backside of Moelfre. I head down the hill encouraged by the "well dones" on the way down. A cross country dash through some boggy ground to the track around Moelfre wins me back a place. The day is truly spectacular - sunny and clear. If I was of a poetic mind, I might say it was a day to make you glad to be communing with granite and heather, but I was just glad to be here rather than looking after the kids.

Hitting the bridleway on the South side of Moelfre seems to hit my legs as well, I start to feel tired for the first time. The heat now feels oppressive and I am passed by a new runner not seen before. Momentary thoughts of keeping up with him soon dissipate with the energy being sucked out of my legs by the rising heat. As I head down the hill I start to seriously look for a stream to quench my thirst. Thirty seconds later we emerge onto a road and forty metres away a lady stands with plastic cups of orange squash. I stop, drink and remove a layer of clothing. Encouraged I follow the taped route as it meanders through steep fields towards the woods. From running all the way up in a group I now haven't seen anyone for a couple of miles. I am reluctant to look behind, but careful listening for clanging gates reveals only silence - pursuers, if there are any, aren't too close.

Eventually we emerge in the woods and follow the route back to the main road. Here the final knife is buried in tired muscles as the marshals direct us over the road and away from the finish and up the hill the other side. Knowing there is only a mile or so left I summon some energy to crawl up the hill and a few minutes later emerge on the lane, just a short dash to the finish. I risk a quick look behind to see (to my enormous disgust) a runner hot on my heels. A quick "sprint" makes it down the hill and a welcome view of the finish flag draped across the road. I cross the line at 2:20:11, some 24 minutes behind the course record and eleventh place overall.

Phil James

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