Beautiful scenery, forest trails, following the river; definitely my happy place! For me, this is what running is all about, experiencing nature’s beauty, exploring new avenues and adventuring off the beaten track as you push your body to its limits.
Organised by my running club (Chepstow Harriers) for over a decade, Offa’s ‘Orror is a hilly, off-road, multi-terrain, almost-half-marathon race in the stunning Wye Valley. Named after one of Britain’s National Trails, the route follows part of the Offa’s Dyke. This historic earthworks was built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD, and the path follows the entire length of the Welsh-English border (side note, it’s on my bucket list to one day run the whole length, and maybe even the Wales coastal path!).
I started out, as usual, too eager and too fast (for me). Impatiently getting stuck behind people on the tiny paths, I attempted what I dub “the Grubby technique”.
Grubby, a.k.a Andy, is a member of our club who excels at race cunning, seizing windows of opportunity to gain valuable time and position. So, for example, in many races, when runners reach a stile, a very polite and very British orderly queue forms as everyone forgets they are racing, take their turn and enjoys a moment to catch their breath. Grubby, wasting no time, will jolt to the side and belly crawl under the barbed wire or hurdle the fence. Other racers might look on disapprovingly, but have neither the volition nor courage to follow suit. Grubby is also known for his mountain goat agility on downhills, and why slowly follow the lemmings on the path when there is ground either side that is free for overtaking?!
So, to get back to my race story, rather than waiting behind those delicately tiptoeing down a muddy descent, fearful of slipping, I skipped around them, hopped over logs, and jumped the “queue” by scores of places. “We’ll have to watch that one”, I heard one bloke say. Slightly embarrassingly, moments later I slid through the mud onto my derrière. Only 4km in and I’d have a brown bum for the rest of the race!
When I first took up running, I hated hills and wanted to punch anyone who said they’d take hilly over flat any day. Who even are you that you’d willingly choose to fight gravity with the full force of your body weight, calves burning and head spinning, rather than a nice, flat, straightforward section?!
Well, I’ve become “one of them”. After the glorious forest fun of huffing uphill and freefalling downhill, we then hit a very long, very flat, very beautiful, but what very quickly became very boring section next to the river. Only a quarter of the way in, this part of any race is mentally most challenging for me: the excitement of the start line has worn off, but the end is nowhere near. The fields next to the river seemed never-ending, and I found myself waning and moaning. I was losing the time I’d made in the first section, and I was going nowhere fast, quite literally. Mentally, it was TOUGH! I hoped it would end soon.
And end it did, as we then ascended onto Offa’s Dyke path again, and I momentarily wished I were back on the river! But the trail was interesting. If I got a bad attitude or found something difficult, I reminded myself of my recent Sugarloaf revelations. I’m trying to train myself to fight the pain barrier. I also kept in mind the victims of sex trafficking I am running for.
Along the top of Offa’s path, above Tintern, feeling a bit dizzy, my energy was lagging. I don’t know what happened, whether I half fainted, or if I didn’t lift my feet high enough and sort of tripped, but one moment I was running, and the next, splat. I lay there, dazed, for what felt like forever, and I could hear the men I’d slaughtered myself to overtake fast approaching. I spat out a bit of twig and peeled my face from the muddy path, hair catching on branches as I did. Shakily getting onto all fours, my nearest rival closed in, asking, “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” He told me after the race that as I wobbled to my feet, I’d replied, rather nobly, “I’m okay! After all, I’ve got a race to finish!” Turning on my heel, I resumed running, with bloody elbows, muddy knees and hair looking like some backcombed eighties style.
I was on the home stretch, just a third of the race left to go and (almost) all down hill from here. (All downhill: biggest lie runners and marshals tell. See Kymin write-up for explanation!). I plodded on, ignoring the throbbing of my … Knee? Elbow? Head? Whole body? What exactly hadn’t I hit in my trip and tumble? And like the drama queen I am, I thought to myself how fortunate I was to have tripped forward onto the path, and not sideways off the edge and to my almost certain death…
A couple of short sharp final uphill kicks are Offa’s sting in the tail, but forewarned is forearmed, so I tried to keep the pace as much as possible with my fading strength. Where was the finish? I knew it should be soon, my Garmin was telling me I was at about the 20k mark, but I couldn’t really hear or see much to indicate it was time for the final spurt. And then, all of a sudden, I rounded a corner, saw a few folk at the finish line, and it was done! I made it! My longest ever trail run to date! And I got a nice mug as well as a few cuts and bruises for my effort.
Challenging? Yes. Did it cost me, physically, emotionally, mentally? Absolutely. Could I have tried harder? Maybe, along the river. Building mental strength and stamina is my biggest goal at the moment, and learning to push as hard in the second half as the first. I never know how much to push myself. If I go too hard at the start of the race, I deplete myself and completely fade. As many of these races are getting progressively more challenging for me, they are all new experiences and so each one I give my all to, but I try to do so sensibly, so that I can sustain the effort and finish the race.
As Offa’s Dyke is a border path, it made me think a lot about borders and trafficking. Although internal trafficking within countries can often happen, often victims are moved between countries between what are known as source, transit, and destination countries. In Europe, borders and countries are an important element in the fight against trafficking. With the historic collapse of the Soviet and iron curtain, unequal wealth distributions from East to West, poverty, lack of job opportunities in many source countries (countries that have high levels of people trafficked), sex trafficking thrives in Europe, with language barriers and lax border controls with the expansion of the European Union adding to the complexities. The UK is most commonly a destination country for trafficked persons to be exploited for sex work.
So what can you do? It’s good to educate yourself about sex trafficking and know how to spot the signs of someone who might have been trafficked. If you have any questions, I’ll gladly discuss with you and point you in the direction of good sources of advice. A21, the charity I am supporting through my running challenge, have some great resources to learn more about sex trafficking and how we can combat it.
In case you missed it, I’m running 30 challenge races to celebrate my 30th, raising money to aid the incredible work of A21. If you’d like support my challenge and donate to A21, please click here. Thanks for listening, over and out 🙂 x
P.S. Confession: this race report is nearly a month late! Apologies. I made a commitment when I launched this challenge to be disciplined not only in running but also writing about each race, and why I care so much to run 30 races to fight sex trafficking. This commitment hasn’t changed; but as can sometimes happen, life threw me a few curve balls. Different responsibilities vied for my attention and assignments pressed in, deadlines looming. I lacked the time, emotional energy and brain space to write something worth reading. And since I’ve done a couple more races since, the race reports have been stacking up, along with my stress levels! So please bear with me and I’ll keep chipping away 🙂
P.P.S. Header photo taken by Tosh Simpkin