Race report: Uni-Lite Night Trail 10k

Race: Uni-Lite Night Trail 10k.
Location: Afan Forest, start/finish at Bryn Bettws Lodge (follow the signs to the main entrance, not your satnav).
When: 6 May 2017, 7.30pm.
Organiser: Challenge Wales Events.
Course: Hard trails with long sections of up- and downhill and loose rock.
Kit: Head torch and trail shoes.

Way back in January, I volunteered at a trail 10k in the Afan forest, north of Port Talbot. It was a great event, with stunning scenery and monster hills. It also felt great to be back in this neck of the woods, having lived in Neath Port Talbot for a number of years.

So when organisers Challenge Wales Events offered all volunteer marshals free entry to do the same course in May, I leapt at the chance.

Aside from the season, the only real difference at this event would be that it's held at night, and had a different sponsor, Uni-Lite. I hadn't heard of a night race in May before, and wondered if we'd actually be using our head-torches, which were listed as a requirement for the race.

Because of other commitments that day, I made the journey to Afan Valley by myself and met up with fellow CDF Runners there. Some were staying overnight at Bryn Bettws Lodge, which was the start, finish and base camp for the race. It's a beautiful place and geared up for people who want to camp and spend their days mountain biking the criss-cross of steep trails.

Parked up and ready to go!

Although well organised, the organisers themselves were pretty relaxed people. There was a chilled-out, fun vibe. The race isn't strictly 6.2 miles (if you want to be technical, it's around 6.4) and there's no medal at the end, so even though it's chipped and timed and winners are recognised, this didn't have the fastidious seriousness of some races.

The start/finish.

CDF crew, pre-race

Instead, organisers put on a party for us. It was brilliant. There was music, food and beer - although I didn't end up sticking around too long, as I needed to make my way back to Cardiff (it certainly made the lodge more appealing for next time).

I'm always a little bit gutted when I don't get a medal for a race, but the goodie bag included a his/hers t-shirt, food voucher (for those sticking around), and a finisher's mug (my first race mug!).

There were two things that made this race really, really great for me:

1) The stunning scenery. There's a steep climb at the start of the race, which pays off when you reach a sweeping vista. This is a gorgeous part of Wales, hidden away in a valley steeped in history. We're then taken down, down, down, deep into the wooded trails until a final killer hill at the end. It's now that I realise the head torch is necessary, when I'm stumbling up this never-ending hill with loose rock and tree roots.

2) The supporters. I've been on some amazing races lately and it's the crowd that usually make a race extra special. This race went above and beyond anything I'd experienced. The marshals and mountain rescue teams on the course were awesome and it was great seeing so many kids helping out, too. It looked like the mountain biking community and campers were all out to cheer, which gave it a wonderful, great-big-family feel.

The climax was well and truly at the end of the course - right at the top of that monster hill. I battled with that hill. Not long ago, I had managed to complete the Forest of Dean Half Marathon, with all its many hills, without stopping once. So I'd convinced myself I could take on this infamous hill on a 10k route, even if it meant slowing right down.

It got steeper and steeper and steeper. I was pumping my arms furiously while my legs began to protest. As I turned a corner, it got steeper still. It felt physically impossible to run at this gradient. Before I knew it, I was 'running' so slowly I was crawling. But I didn't stop to rest, I kept going and felt pretty thankful it was dark enough to hide the anguish on my face.

Me vs Hill

Then I heard it. Then I saw it. A crowd up ahead, screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs, urging me to keep going. There were so many people, all cheering me on as I battled with myself and this hill. I reached them and the crowd was deafening. I picked up my pace and they cheered even louder. I turned the corner to the finish line, absolutely elated. I was elated I'd finally finished. I was elated The Hill was over. I was elated as a marshal handed me a giant box of jelly beans. But more than anything I was elated that, while I battled with demons on an enormous personal challenge, strangers made the decision to stand around in the dark cheering runners on with such passion. It was the best atmosphere at a race finish yet.

They very well may have convinced me to take on The Hill again...

Bunk beds! The CDF crew, post-race, in one the rooms at the lodge.

Not-so-much love for:
The Hill At The End.
No medal (my favourite race souvenir).
The Hill At The End.
The queue for the ONE ladies toilet on site.
The Hill At The End. 

But I did love:
Lots of free parking.
Camping/lodges available for those who want to stay.
The idea of a free food voucher, which included veggie and vegan options at the lodge cafe.
A finisher's t-shirt that actually fits, because the organisers provided ladies sizes and gave me the size I'd ordered.
The amazing, screaming crowd at the end.
The relaxed, fun atmosphere.
The music, hype and guy on the PA at the beginning and end.
Stunning scenery and trails.
Friendly marshals and mountain rescue team. 
The Hill At The End.


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