Slight drizzle and sky as dull as ash could not deter the 71 runners from adding the splash of colour much needed to this
summer evening in Llanferres. With the sun a lost friend hiding behind the comfort of cloud we were still treated to a
rainbow of vests lining up near the Druid Inn to test their legs and lungs against the hills of north Wales. A golden
glow of yellow showed that Tattenhall were taking this race seriously.
On my journey into Wales as my window wipers swept a rhythm I could only hope to achieve as a runner,
it made me question who or what were the Druids? With the advent of the internet I felt slightly guilty
googling an answer later that Wednesday night, rather than using the encyclopedia received from the
grandparents as a boy aged in single figures.
The answer: An ancient Celtic order of priests, teachers, diviners, and magicians; but there is always
magic on the fells, that is a given, so even without the Pub name, the Druid is a very apt moniker for
a race. The name itself is thought to relate to an oak tree (or drus). Other information found states
Julius Caesar reporting that the Druids met annually at a site believed to be the centre of Gaul (I am
sure Ceaser would not have minded the fell fraternity remapping the location of the centre of Gaul
for one night, he would have appreciated the beer and wine too). There is also mention of a Chief
Druid. We would not know until 35 minutes later who the Chief Druid was to be this night.
Would Ian Houston retain his title?
There was lots of talent on the line, eager to challenge each other as well as themselves. One of
the beauties of fell running is to stand at the start of the race with some of the most talented
people in the country in their chosen sport. Which other sport allows people to do that? Names and
faces are familiar but each race and event is unique. Could any records be broken on a night like this?
Thanking Martin for my number, running back to the car and quickly putting on my swoops I then prepared
to do my full thirty second warm up and make my way to the start of a race I had been looking forward
to for some time, well, at least since the week previously when I had for the first time missed a race
I had tried to get to. I had managed to find a pub with the same name as the pub a race was actually
starting at! Here I was at the Druid, happy at last that I was running upwards rather than in loops
around the streets of home.
Saying hello and noticing familiar faces and smiles, customary glances at peoples footwear and
then the questioning of what am I letting myself in for, we began walking up the path that would
lead us too the start.
There was obviously a keenness and spirit in the air as we were called back to where the actual
start was, many runners following the towering figure of Martin a little too far up the road. Maybe
it would be a fast race in the conditions with the evident infectious enthusiasm.
A brief talk to say we’d be running through someone’s garden and then the pounding of rubber soles
on tarmac, a brief road introducing a small climb, stirring the body from its relaxed Wednesday
ponderings. A few minutes later and the green fields opened up as much as people’s lungs. Runners
were finding their positions in the race and already the fluidity of Jackie Lee picking off places
as she would all race set the precedent for those of us who could only admire from behind. Anna
Frost was already high in the pack. Would Jackie catch her?
Unfortunately after a few corners the race leaders were out of sight and I was wondering how Dave
Alexander, who told me after his first fell race at Llantisilio “never again” would fare, knowing
his fitness would keep him at the front of the pack on the climb but his new fell legs still looking
for confidence on the downward stretch might lose him some places. I bet he wonders what took him
so long to find the hills! With some more races behind him his growing downhill experience might
see him as one to watch in the future.
There were gates to open and another runner kindly waited a few seconds until I reached it also.
It was a nice gesture and I wonder if the same would happen at the front of the race. The climb
still felt gradual and runnable as ahead lay a dark opening signifying the woods we would head
through. I had been jokingly pre-warned to take my head torch even on one of the longest days of
the year but there was just enough light to make an interesting interlude in the race but I still
found myself ducking my head in case an imaginary branch hit me. The smell of pine was intoxicating
with its freshness but it was still nice to break out into the midst of a wet summer evening. With a
more styles to traverse and a damp Freddie (Paul Aird) pointing the way the main climb would soon
be upon us.
Back into the windy light and a delicate spot of rain the more serious climb was welcomed as the
brave photographer Dave Pinnington (http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepinno/) worked wonders in the
wind and rain to photograph the pulchritudinous fell runners showing smiles that hid the reality of
gritted teeth. The legs began working harder, hands on knees showing how well the body worked in
unison to defy angles and gravity and push towards the person in front. Oxygen debt began to play
the part it always does, legs feeling heavier, the heart questioning what it had done wrong in a
past life but I felt more in debt to nature, looking round at the panorama of summer on an evening
that was free of barbeques and singing birds. It is this dichotomy of suffering laid parallel with
beauty that makes me feel alive. A runners high can be spiritual as well as physical.
Druids studied ancient verse, natural philosophy, astronomy and religious lore; their principal
doctrine was belief in the immortality of the soul and the transmigration of souls. I did manage
to say to myself ‘oh God’ as the stairs were taken two at a time, heavy breathing behind me,
energy and power with the legs of a runner in front and maybe if I pushed just a little harder
I too would see stars. I will have to admit at this part of the fell race I was in no mood to
create some ancient verse, or even a limerick but I would suggest that fell running on all levels
is a philosophy in itself. (Maybe there is an article in there somewhere?)
I had arrived at the summit and passed the stones and now it was time to test the core strength and
natural balance I know is hidden deep inside, destined to suddenly appear at a race sometime. Sadly
it was not this one as two more runners passed me downhill.
Carrying no watch and reflecting on the race now I even have a poor memory or my mind had
drifted into another place due to the concentration that downhill running seems to take from
the resources of my body. Back in the woods it felt almost like a respite knowing the end was
not too far. Hearing another runner behind it was time to push on to the finish. The red and
white tape and the leaner and fitter runners standing round chatting was a welcome sight.
One thing I will have to mention is how the eventual race winner Ian Houston was offering great
support as the runners came in thick and fast. Tired legs and pounding hearts, a finish tape
nearby sometimes its hard to verbalise how nice it is to get encouragement like this.
Shaking hands and talking about the different part of the race, the heart gradually slowing down
to a tempo it likes, watching people come in, the relief on their faces and then their eyes lighting
up with personal achievements is a drug in itself. Luckily, cans of red bull awaited us back at
the pub to provide the incentive to stay up all night writing race reports.
The pub welcomed the runners and a table full of prizes, drinks, chocolates, sleeping bags and
flasks were waiting for the deserved winners. It had been another great race and of course I should
mention that records had been broken. Anna Frost took nearly half a minute off her previous record.
A great run from Neil Ashcroft placed him 3rd overall, and as always his friendly smile was as much
deserving of a prize as his fantastic run. Neil Parry was first unattached runner, and he just keeps
getting better all the time. Well done to all other prizewinners.
Many thanks to the marshals who do a great job in the conditions, to Martin and John for consistently
good organization of races and to the Druid Inn for welcoming disheveled fell runners into their warm
pub for the night.
See you all at the next one