The Pentland Skyline Race – and what a great big steaming pile of poo THAT was….

I honestly love the Skyline race, I’ve done it 3 times before and really enjoyed it. But it is a bit of an unforgiving beast and on Sunday it chewed me up and spat me out before I was even half way round. This was a shame as I had trained hard and was hoping to better my PB of 2 years ago and get around in 3.45 or so. Maybe that was one of the issues – having a fairly fixed idea in my head of how I wanted the race to go.

The night before I was wracked by anxiety dreams. These involved running a strange version of Glen Ogle ultra where I slogged up endless long ascents while having a massive fight with my husband and frantically searching for my missing son. I woke up completely baffled and in a pool of sweat. Being peri-menopausal really is the gift that keeps on giving.

I was chatting to another runner while we were waiting before the start about the joys of PMS and how much of an impact it can have on one’s running. I think I was grumbling a bit about it being difficult nowadays to even predict where I might be in my increasingly erratic cycle and she mentioned that she usually knows that that special monthly time is approaching when she starts planning to divorce her husband.

“That’s funny” I thought “I really wanted to divorce Mark only last weekend”. I’ll point out here don’t really want to divorce my poor husband and in fact I think he probably deserves some kind of long service award for putting up with me. However I confess that the dark thoughts had entered my mind while we were having a faintly disastrous attempt at Child Free Time (why on earth did we think 4 days away camping in Glencoe together would work anyway?). The planned 4 days were curtailed to 2 after a hysterical phone call from the son on our first night. Day 2 we embarked on a walk which due to my total over-estimation of my husband’s physical condition resulted in his losing his balance repeatedly on a slippery descent into Glen Etive in torrential rain (he loathes walking in the rain), falling over several times, breaking his brand new walking poles and having a massive sense of humour failure. I probably shouldn’t have laughed at him when he fell over for the final time.

So anyway, back to the Skyline where I optimistically started further up the pack than usual to try and avoid being caught up in the log jam going up Caerketton. This worked a treat and Strava informs me that this was the fastest that I have ever gone up that particular hill. I was rewarded by an overwhelming sense of impending doom, screaming legs, shortness of breath and a massive attack of The Boak. Still the first mile of a hill race is usually ghastly but things ease off once you are into your stride. Except they didn’t. I carried on, feeling nauseous and my legs seemed to belong to a ninety year old. It all felt like incredibly hard work to maintain a pace that I would normally find reasonably bearable. By Flotterstone I was starting to feel very ticked off and the prospect of going up Turnhouse didn’t improve my mood. Cathy Henly overtook me, looking as cheerful as always. “I feel DREADFUL” I moaned at her and she gave me the very good advice that I should maybe ease back and concentrate on just getting round and having fun. But things had progressed way beyond that and my mood was past the stage of being salvaged by positive thinking.

I tried to eat going up Turnhouse but couldn’t keep anything down, started having cold sweats and my internal dialogue was getting very sweary indeed. Thoughts of giving up crystalised and took a hold of my mind. “F*ck this shit” I muttered to myself “I want to go home”. Another runner that I would normally beat easily bounced past and I had an overwhelming urge to wrestle him to the ground and beat his happy smiling cheerful face to a pulp.

Going up Carnethy the game was over and all I could think about was sitting down on the cairn at the top and ending this misery. The final straw was near the summit when a couple of young sprightly lasses from the Edinburgh Uni runners came leaping down with swishy pony tails giving all of us words of encouragement. They were going pretty fast so i am sure that they were safely out of earshot when I venomously replied “Just f*cking f*ck the f*ck off the pair of you”.

I retired at the top of Carnethy and had a nice wee lie down for a bit. The marshal there very kindly leant me a spare top to put on and offered me a lift back to the start. What a gent. I handed myself in back at the start and had my wristband removed, then drove home, hoovered up all the chocolate I could find then went to bed and slept for two hours. My period started the next day.

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Catching up…..

There have been a few events since the Chevy which I haven’t got around to writing up. I have also entered an ultra race in the Cheviots in December so am starting to train towards that and trying not to worry too much about the prospect of navigating in the dark or drowning on Comb Fell.

We went back to Brittany in the summer so it was nice to be able to do some runs there without an injured ankle. Being gluten free in France is not exactly easy or pleasant so after 2 days of enduring gluten free bits of carpet masquerading as baguettes I threw caution to the wind and hit the patisserie shops with gusto. It actually took longer for my IBS to reappear than I was expecting. Unfortunately I was enjoying a sunrise run around a particularly beautiful pristine little island at the time.

Anyway, moving swiftly on (which is exactly what I did after launching a sizeable offering to the Sea Gods off the nearest cliff) a couple of months ago my sister and I ran the Clennell Trail Half marathon. We both agreed that the southern Cheviots really take some beating – they may not be the most rugged of hill ranges but they have a wide-open beauty and you can roam around for hours and barely see a soul. There are reminders everywhere that they used to be quite populous with hill forts, stone circles and if you know where to look, some ancient and mysterious stone inscriptions known as cup and ring markings. The half marathon was around 15 miles and followed a lot of very runnable tracks. My sister kept up a good pace and we both placed reasonably well as far as we could tell from the very confusing results. I enjoyed it a lot and wished I had entered the marathon but judging by the state of the ultra runners at the finish who were covered in mud and talking about falling in bogs and getting lost I was slightly relieved not to have done the ultra. Although maybe it would have been good practice for December.

Next up was the Baddinsgill Round Hill Race. This is a lovely wee race so long as you don’t mind wet feet. It is only a fiver to enter and the organiser set it up because he really likes this part of the Pentlands and thought it would be nice to get more folk running here. Well, I have never been in that part of the Pentlands and very scenic it is too. I should really go back there and appreciate the views a bit more because it was so rough and boggy that I really couldn’t take my attention off foot placement most of the time. Navigation wasn’t too tricky which is as well because my pre-race plan of “follow Digby” went tits up immediately as he disappeared off over the horizon. So I opted to just follow the bloke ahead – apart from the point where he took a very unfortunate line through one of the many bogs and disappeared up to his shorts. I congratulated myself on a) not going in over my ankles except on the very last hill and b) wearing my roclite boots to avoid the risk of them being sucked off. Baddinsgill has a very pleasing runner to prize ratio which of course played no part whatsoever in my choosing to run it but I was, of course, very happy to be fourth female and to snag a bottle of beer and £10 Run & Become voucher as 2nd V40.

Last weekend was back to Alwinton again for the Cheviots Challenge. What with Baddinsgill then some decent mid-week Pentland runs my legs were feeling it a bit and I had only entered the short route with the intention of hiking it. Becky however had entered the long route and was planning to run. It took about 5 minutes of “persuasion” for me to decide to join her leaving my dad and brother in law to walk the short route. Unfortunately my dad was full of the cold and not feeling tip top so pulled out a short way in. We really lucked out with the weather, which was sunny and warm and the long route goes up to the border ridge before heading back down via Barrowburn so the views were just spectacular . My legs were knackered. Sadly Becky’s weren’t so for most of the way I was treated to the sight of her yomping off ahead of me although she did wait for me to catch up from time to time. The odd thing is that when I got to about 16 miles I stopped feeling tired – that bloody took long enough but meant at least I kept pace with Becky and we had a good chat. Once we had finished and collected our Cheviots challenge mug we had time to sit in the sunshine in the pub garden for a cider before heading back to see how my husband and mum had survived looking after all of the kids. Apparently they had cracked open a bottle of wine at lunchtime, which helped.

Chevy Chase fell race

I might possibly have mentioned once or twice how much I like this race. It is so well organised, the distance (20 miles) and terrain (endless bog and tussock) seems to suit my running and the coffee and walnut cake afterwards is good enough to tempt me off the gluten free wagon.

This year I had it down as my main racing target, especially after not being able to do the Fling. So my aims of the race were to beat my previous best time of 4 hours 26 and get into the top ten women. And enjoy it of course. My sister was doing it as well. She has done the Chevy walk several times and always placed well but this year there was no walking race. So officially this would be her first proper fell race. It was a shame in a way to lose the walking element as I always quite liked the camaraderie but the race organisers will have had their reasons and undoubtedly it will have greatly reduced the amount of time that marshals had to spend stuck out on exposed hill tops.

It absolutely chucked it down throughout the week before the race so I was a bit concerned about the state of all the peat bogs. My sister reckoned that they might not be too bad as it’s been a very dry spring and as it turned out she was right. But it was still very wet underfoot in all the areas where the run off from the hills hadn’t drained. We were really lucky with the race day weather – sunny, good visibility and a nice cooling breeze.

After registration at Wooler Youth Hostel we hung around waiting for the start before everyone ambled over to the start on the road to Wooler Common. I decided to take it fairly easy on the outward run to Broadstruther as I have often massively run out of steam in the final few miles of this race. This first leg is 3.5 miles and a gradual climb with some good tracks. Afterwards I wanted to run the bulk of the way to just beyond the next checkpoint at Cheviot Knee as it is virtually all runnable but the narrow paths can make things tricky if you get stuck behind a load of folk who have decided to walk. That all went well and I felt good on the climb up Cheviot. It is very steep coming off Cheviot down to the burn and I was a bit wary of my ankle. It feels completely back to normal but I really don’t want to sprain it again. Even so I made a reasonable fist of the descent and overtook 4 or 5 folk. Going up Hedgehope took a long time – lots of long grass and bracken, not much of a path at all and too much walking. I made the mistake at the top of fishing my phone out to check the time – I was quite convinced I would be up on my previous time but it was exactly the same so I felt a bit deflated about that. I rationalised that I could still make up time if I kept a better pace from here to the finish and in other good news I hadn’t seen any other women at all since I left Cheviot summit.

The descent off Hedgehope is lovely then there is a very squelchy stretch to Langlee Crags. The path is really faint at points and with strips of heather having been cleared this made it even harder to find than usual so a lot of us didn’t take the best line here. After the checkpoint there is a nice stretch of easy tracks which is traditionally where I start to die but felt OK this time. I stopped at Brand’s corner to have a gel and quick chat with the marshals so a couple of guys came past me then but the field was really thinning out. Still no women on my tail as far as I could see but none visible up ahead to target either.

The path through the Carey Burn valley is tricky with lots of scree then it becomes a swamp although there are duck boards at one point with I think are new. After that is the last climb up Hell’s Path. I was trotting up that when a chap came walking down and said “well done, I think you are 6th lady”. That put a spring in my step I can tell you. So onwards with renewed vigour and the last couple of miles back to Wooler. I caught up with a bloke in a red and white vest where we hit the road and we had a wee chat then egged each other on a bit to speed up and catch the two guys we could see in front of us. I am so glad we did as unknown to me there were a couple of women stealthily gaining on us in ninja mode. We sprinted the last bit of road then it was just a case of gritting the teeth and keeping the pace up down the narrow path to the finish. There was a lass hard on my heels and another close behind her. I got the print out of my time and was really delighted – 4 hours 17 minutes and still 6th female.

I took advantage of finishing in good time to have a shower with warm water then there was the prize giving. Afterwards I sat in the warm sunshine and waited for my sister to finish. She was looking really strong as she came in and had had a good run herself so we were both suitably chuffed with ourselves.

There were a lot of folk retired/timed out. I was 61st overall out of 190-something finishers. I still think I could go a bit faster, there is definite room to improve on the Hedgehope ascent for starters. But a great race and massive thanks to Wooler Running Club and everyone involved.

The 7 hills of Edinburgh

For the uninitiated this is a pleasingly low key race which has no fixed route but you have to hit all seven checkpoints – Carlton Hill (the start), Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill (East), Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat then Carlton Hill again for the finish. No closed roads. What route you take is up to you. Some folk take it all very seriously and have a lot of fun doing recces of short cuts (did Bill Gauld really lay secret stepping stones just below the surface of the Braid Burn the year he won it aged 57?) but sometimes the shorter route can take longer than you think, especially if you try getting up the steep bank behind Craiglockhart sports centre wearing Road shoes. You can either enter the race or the more laid back challenge, which sets off half an hour earlier.

I have always thoroughly enjoyed this race, despite never having found a particularly optimal route. I have never really wanted to spoil the experience by doing anything as stupid as entering the race instead of the challenge, thus feeling obliged to go baws oot and probably still having a crap time tailing off the back of all the fasties. Maybe one year, but this certainly wasn’t going to be it. My bucket of excuses contains – saving myself for the Chevy in a fortnight, no taper, legs still a wee bit tired after that marathon & chumming my sister around. My sister didn’t know the route at all and would have quite justifiably got very cross indeed if I had run off ahead and left her. She is also fairly terrifying when she is cross.

My friend Vicky was doing it for the first time so I had refreshed my memory of the route by doing a recce with her, just as well seeing as how my recollections were slightly sketchy and I even managed to go the wrong way up Gorgie Road at one point.

We are having something of a heat wave just now which has even reached us up here in the Frozen North, so although it wasn’t as hot as in Englandshire it was still a beautiful day for going to the beach. Oh well. My sister drove up from the Borders and seemed quite nervous so I did my best to reassure her, and said how much fun the race was. She said rather pointedly that my idea of fun was often a lot less fun for her. I can’t think what she meant by that. The start of the race is always one of the best bits as a horde of runners pours off Carlton hill, brings the traffic to a halt then does the whole tourist dodging thing up the Royal Mile to the castle. Becky, Vicky & I stuck together until Corstorphine when Vicky said she was going to slow a bit but she kept popping up again so wasn’t going that slow! The bit through Stenhouse is always tedious so I decided we may as well take the water of leith afterwards rather than more pavement down Chesser Avenue. It’s a little slower but a lot more pleasant. Afterwards I “forgot” to tell Becky there was an alternative easy path and we did the steep scramble up the bank at Craiglockhart. She thought that was great fun. I could see the fun written all over her face when she got to the top too. I trotted off smartish before she could hit me.

After Craiglockhart we were in tandem with Vicky again and I actually managed to remember all the wee shortcuts and alleyways that you need to take to get to Braid hill. Go me! The view from Braid Hill is really amazing although I could swear Arthur’s Seat always looks twice as big as usual when you know you have to get up it on tired legs. We took the exciting route down to the Braid Burn but I made an executive decision not to bother with the scramble up the far side and we did the easy way around before huffing our way up to Blackford hill. There was yet more great support up here, it really is such a sociable race to do, loads of club members and other supporters are always out on the hill tops with encouragment and bags of jelly babies. All of the checkpoints had buckets of water with sponges which we really needed in the warmth. There is a fair bit of banter between runners too, especially when the racers start to come past the challengers. Coming down Observatory Road there is always a couple with a hose pipe on spraying everyone. There were two more pop-up support points further along – there was a wee boy on Mayfield Road with another hosepipe and his family had got a table with water then on the corner of Blackett avenue a couple had pieces of orange and sweets! They must have all been there for ages, what a lovely thing to do.

You can still take the short cut through Pollock Halls but unfortunately they have fixed the turnstile so you can’t wriggle through it anymore. So you have to go over the 8 foot high wall instead. I *may* have forgotten to tell Becky about this bit too. She loved it, I could tell. I trotted away smartly before she could hit me and up Arthur’s Seat we went, taking the less exciting scramble route as Becky was feeling her knees by then. She muttered something about having wrenched her shoulder getting over the wall too. Once the summit was conquered we kept up a nice steady pace to the finish (I hate that run up Regent’s Road though, it HURTS and you pass by all the folk who have long since finished and are heading home as they give you cheery encouragement).

I really enjoyed it and I am pretty sure my sister did too. Maybe apart from that wall. I am such a lovely caring big sister that I even bought her an ice cream on the way back. Later I found an awesome photo that I had taken of her backside as she was getting over that wall. Surely a nice sister like me wouldn’t put it on Facebook and tag her? Would I?

Women Can Marathon, Tipton, Devon

I signed up for this marathon AGES ago. My friend Carine who lives in Devon put the link on Facebook and I thought why not? Devon being my ancestral seat and all that, nice weekend away, the prospect of clotted cream and a decent run with some friends. I hadn’t given it a lot more thought after that but I must say that the moment I got on the train on Friday laden with books and the promise of a peaceful few hours’ travelling I felt thoroughly relaxed.

My granny’s family all came from further West than where Carine lives so I don’t know her part of Devon at all. Running a marathon is a nice way to get a feel for a place, I like the idea that I am covering the ground in a similar way to human beings who lived there thousands of years ago and it gives a better sense of distance I think. We went for a walk the day before the race and did a loop for 6 miles or so of the marathon route, then had a cream tea with a scone the size of my head and a bucket of clotted cream. Just as well we were planning to run it all off again.

I have mixed feelings about women only events, part of me thinks that surely in this day and age nobody could be put off doing a race just because there might be a few MEN around, what with their Y-chromosomes, hearty banter and tendency to mock us poor females by peeing standing up when they know fine well we can’t. But hey ho, if just one woman was encouraged enough to run who wouldn’t have otherwise got off the sofa then it is worth while. The event was linked to the 261 Fearless movement which has been celebrating 50 years since Katherine Switzer ran the Boston marathon, much to the horror of the race organiser who tried to barge her off the course (clearly trying to protect her from herself, he was simply concerned that her uterus might fall out if she carried on and was not just being a nasty misogynistic twat).

My race plan, such as it was, wasn’t a plan at all. I assured Carine that I just wanted to do it as a social training run and would aim to take 5 to 5 and a half hours. We had a couple of other pals coming along too and all met up the morning of the race so had a good natter before the start. It had been forecast to be cloudy but in fact the sun was out for the first few hours and it got quite warm. For the first 9 miles or so I stuck to my plan and trotted along with Karen and Carine at a nice steady pace, chatting away and enjoying the route which initially ran alongside the river Otter then down the coast from Budleigh to Sidmouth. The coastal bit was pretty undulating and during one of the downhills I started to pick up a bit of speed…..wheeee….and passed some folk…..and suddenly got into that mythical state of flow that only ever comes from time to time but is so ridiculously enjoyable when it does. I knew it wouldn’t last so just rode it out with, I suspect, a slightly maniacal grin on my face. There was a lovely long descent into Sidmouth then came the half way point where I thought about stopping and waiting for the others but decided just to keep going. Typically as soon as we hit tarmac and flatness it all got a bit harder and I went into more of an energy saving ultra-shuffle mode. The field was thinning out a lot, I overtook a few more but most of the time was on my own. The course was very well marked and there were a lot of marshals and water points.

Sidmouth to Sidford was a bit boring, I was kind of hoping that I’d get another burst of energy at some point. I knew there was another decent hill to come to take us up onto a ridgeway before the remainder of the course went back down to reach the river and follow it back to Tipton. At 16 miles we went back onto trails, which perked me up a lot. I started feeling quite good and then it happened again. Energy levels went up, pace went up and oh dear, grinning like a moron again! Ooh look, a HILL, I like hills, let’s see if I can run ALL THE WAY UP AND OVERTAKE LOTS OF PEOPLE HA HA HA! The stretch along the ridge top was through what felt like properly ancient woodland and I enjoyed being largely on my own running there. Then the descent off was really good fun, with some stretches where I could pick up quite a decent amount of speed.

All good things come to an end and the running gods deserted me at 24 miles. It is weird going from being able to run effortlessly to it suddenly feeling like a complete slog but there were only 2 miles to go at least. So I grumbled along wondering aloud why marathons were such a stupid distance when 25 miles made a lot more sense. I wasn’t wearing a watch and just had strava going on my phone in my bum bag so had no idea at all how I was going but was very pleasantly surprised when I got to the finish at 4 hours 31. Karen, Carine and Jenni all then came in in turn as well as a lot of very happy looking women, often hand in hand or with their kids running alongside them in the final yards. The winner took a most impressive 3 hours 20 but it wasn’t a highly competitive race – 2nd and 3rd were half an hour later. I was 20th out of 205 and second in my age group. Yay! In hindsight it wasn’t all that surprising that I had a pretty good run. I’d trained quite hard for the Fling but then couldn’t run it due to injury. But the injury that stopped me doing the Fling was short lived and only really prevented me from training for a couple of weeks, so I was a reasonable shape.

I thoroughly enjoyed staying with Carine, she has a lovely relaxed family and they made me feel right at home. Hopefully not too much at home – I wonder if I was maybe a bit like a smaller, Scottish version of the tiger who came to tea – marching in, spending my time foraging through the fridge, buggering off and leaving Carine on her own in the race before heading off again having drunk all of the home brewed cider and cleaned them out of clotted cream. Hopefully not though, I’d quite like to go back!

Spring sunshine

I was signed up for the John Muir Ultra last weekend, which I was looking forward to as it followed many of my childhood riding routes. The weekend before was just glorious, chilly nights but sunny warm days making it a midge and tourist-free delight to visit Loch Lomond. I even managed to pursuade my poor husband to come camping so we booked into the tiny campsite on Inchcailloch Island and enjoyed having the whole place to ourselves (until some poor sod arrived by canoe looking for some peace and tranquility early on Sunday morning and got roundly yapped at by Bertie). Not a lot beats snuggling down with your beloved family after an evening of story telling and charred marshmallows around the campfire, even if your husband snores like a pneumatic drill and your son is full of snotters and shedding adenovirus all over the shop.

Naturally I went down with the cold like a ton of bricks and ended up deciding not to do the JMW. Another race entry fee down the bloody pan. My pal Claire had to run by herself and as she’d forgotten her Imodium AGAIN I missed the chance to have a good laugh at her expense (three visits from the poo fairy this time, apparently). Never mind, it is only a race. I was feeling much better on the Sunday so decided to take advantage of my long suffering parents by dumping the kids on them on Monday and doing a decent run in the Cheviots. I figured out a circular run route, guesstimated it was about 20 miles and buggered off with a cheery “I’ll be back around lunchtime”.

Lunchtime came and went. It was indeed a lovely route. I followed St Cuthbert’s way from Wooler Common to where it intersected with the Pennine Way near Kirk Yetholm. The Pennine Way took me up to the Cheviot then I did the Chevy route in reverse back to the car via Broadstruther. The sun shone, there were skylarks about and very few humans. Bertie was having a lovely time, as was I (although I didn’t yap ineffectually at any sheep). But it was considerably further than 20 miles and with a lot of bog hopping plus stops to check the map it was not the fastest going. I got the “where the heck are you” phonecall as I crossed the summit of Cheviot. Luckily the kids had been fairly well behaved.

In way of compensation for not doing the ultra I joined the Carnethy Alternative John Muir Way which was arguably going to be more fun anyway. There have been 4 club organised ultra-length social runs over the winter/spring which have been great for me trying to do Fling training at a time of year where heading out for long runs by yourself can take a bit of mental fortitude. Rumour has it that taking part in the series could result in a reward in the shape of a beer! The alt JMW doesn’t really follow the John Muir Way but intends takes a much nicer route hugging beaches and coastline from Aberlady out to Tynningham. Then a short way inland to Keith’s house (Keith organises the run) for lunch then onward along the river Tyne to the Garlton Hills then cross country back to Aberlady. A sag wagon is provided and you can bring a bike and cycle all or part of the route (35 miles). It is all a bit of a well oiled machine, Keith really does a great job and his family very kindly provide slap up lunch with grandkids on waitress service.

It was wall to wall sunshine again, the East Lothian coastline looked pristine and beautiful, the company was pleasant and the running mostly pretty easy except for the odd scramble around the foot of cliffs. There was a bit of property porn too when we passed some rather swish looking mansions before we entered North Berwick. We had to perform a few military manoeuvres at Tantallon Castle to avoid getting nobbled for the entry fee which had us all giggling like a bunch of naughty 11 year olds as we legged it through the moat. A few hardy souls even went for a quick swim at Tyningham.

The trouble with stopping for lunch is that it feels horrible getting going again and I nearly begged for a ride in the sag wagon before zipping up my man suit and deciding to keep going to the next stop at the monument in the Garlton hills which was supposed to be 28 miles. Well it was 30 so near enough and from the Fling training point of view I wanted to get a few more miles under my belt. Just in the last mile or two I had a vague pain at the front of my right foot which I thought was maybe due to shoelaces being too tight. By the monument it felt like a niggle so I got the sag wagon back to Aberlady. That evening there was some soreness and swelling on the front of my shin and yesterday it hurt to walk so I think infact it is some kind of shin stress reaction/shin splinty sort of thing. Feels a lot better today but continues my fine tradition of injuring myself in my very last long run before an event. Time will tell if it resolves before the Fling or not but to be honest I do wonder about the value of signing up for races when often a social run can be so much more fun with no pressure.

Some great pics and v amusing write up of the day by Peter on his blog here http://bestpartday.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/alternative-john-muir-way-2017.html

Thrunton Thriller

This was run by High Fell Events (aka Barry the Chief Pain Giver) who did the Hedgehope wipeout race that I did in January. I don’t know the Thrunton Woods area well, I think I may have orienteered there in the mid-80s, but got the impression that there would be Ascent, Terrain and Mud to contend with. It’s a popular mountain-bike area and some of the trails we were on looked pretty technical and we felt a lot safer on two feet than we would have on wheels!

My sister had entered as well and we’d both opted for the longer course on offer – roughly half marathon distance. I was humming and ha-ing a bit about whether to race it or treat it as a training run. I managed to completely offend my poor sister by pondering aloud about this dilemma with words to the effect of “I might not race this and just stick with you to make it a nice easy run”. She didn’t actually lamp me for suggesting that her race pace was my easy potter but I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. I decided in the end to grace her with my company as I’d done a long back-to-back on the West Highland Way the week before and hadn’t exactly tapered.

The start was slightly chaotic – the race briefing was totally inaudible even though it was given twice – the only words i manage to catch were “….and if that happens call 999….” so I assumed that there was nothing terribly vital to impart. Then we were hanging around for ages before being set off, not sure why that was. But once underway the course was very enjoyable. Initially we were held up in a few spots due to too many people on a narrow path but once everyone had spread out it was fine. There was a little bit of rain but not enough to need to put on waterproofs and the sun was out for most of the time. The route wended its way through tranquil woodland before the first short but steep pull upwards. Then more woodland paths and tracks before the first checkpoint which was around an hour in I think. They had loads of sweeties and even gluten free flapjack which was fantastic. Then over a stream, or through more to the point and inevitable wet feet. After this came a longer hill which carried us up to the crags overlooking the forest. There seemed to be a lot of runners around at the top and we realised after that the short route had joined the longer one at this point. We skirted along the edge for a while with lovely views towards the coast and up to the cheviot hills. The descent off was very eroded and quite tricky – I passed one bloke who was in road shoes and not having a terribly good time by the sounds of it. It was good fun so I popped down then waited for my sister at the bottom. After this we hit mud, mud and more mud. Sloppy mud. Claggy mud. Deep boggy mud. You name it, we got it. I was very glad indeed not to be racing this bit, the first mile or so in particular was mainly a slight uphill and ankle deep most of the way. We reached another checkpoint which had more flapjack, hooray! The long course diverted away at this point and we had another long stretch of mud but at least this time was mostly downhill. I was wearing gaiters which helped keep my shoes from being sucked off. Becky was just starting to get a bit of a sense of humour failure when the mud finally came to a stop and we headed back into woodland for the last bit of the course. There was another fairly technical descent but otherwise it was quite straightforward running. We weren’t sure how long the course would be so guessed anywhere between 13 and 15 miles was likely but both felt fine to keep trotting on and quicker than anticipated we spotted the finish below us. Of course there was the obligatory “sting in the tail”to come. I’d have welcomed a river dunking this time but no handy river nearby so we were sent on a wee loop back up into the forest before the crossing the finish line.

It was almost 14 miles and just over 2000ft ascent. We took a steady 3 and a half hours to finish. We both really enjoyed it, the course was pretty challenging if you enjoy a lot of mixed terrain and running through mud gives you a bloody good workout. It was very well route marked and marshalled. The medal was crap and went straight in the bin – I’d have preferred another mug myself! I would definitely do this one again, though.

Aberfoyle Trail Race

There’s plenty to enjoy about Aberfoyle especially if you find geology interesting. An appreciation of rain and the highland midge also helps. It sits at the foot of the highland boundary fault which means that you can combine some lung bursting hill efforts with a contemplation of the unbelievable forces which have shaped the surrounding landscape. There is still a little geological activity going on – Aberfoyle was struck but a small but significant earthquake relatively recently. Unfortunately there have been some severe floods in recent years too, as it sits on a floodplain and the Trossachs are not exactly known for their arid climate. Trail running around and about is really fantastic, you are spoilt for choice with a myriad of routes all with glorious views when the weather is clement. Even when it is a more typically damp and misty day it is still so atmospheric with ancient trees all dripping with moss. Lately there are moves afoot to replace some of the forestry commission’s horrendous conifer monoculture with more native woodland, which is all to the good.

We were up there for half term so I reckoned it would be good to do a local race.  After suffering from post carnethy-5 stress disorder (symptoms included flashbacks induced by people posting video clips of runners fighting their way across Carnethy summit in a blizzard on Facebook) a nice little trail race seemed just the ticket.

The 7k route utilised the boundary fault with a lovely course incorporating a less lovely climb from the bottom of the fault up and over the top. Sadly the whole climb was completely runnable so no excuses for stopping for a cheeky walk! The race was also open to Cani-cross runners so the start was full of very excited dogs all waiting for the off in their harnesses. The dog runners were set of first at intervals then there was a massed start for the rest of us. Unusually for me I started off in the front row, but it was a very small field and after sizing up the competition (not many club vests) thought I may as well just go for it. One very fit looking older lady shot off and that was the last I saw of her until the finish. A younger lass got ahead but I kept her in view and was hoping I’d catch her on the climb. Unfortunately a lady in a white cap came powering past and I never quite caught the young lass so was stuck in 4th. I could have done with a dog to pull me up the ascent but kept up a run at least. Then a nice fast downhill run back to the finish although I didn’t enjoy that so much as I was pushing hard and all I could think was how much I dislike short fast races. There weren’t many speedy male runners so I think I was fairly well up there overall but the results aren’t out yet.  As I said though, it was a very small field so my position reflects that rather than any great ability on my part. In comparison I was in the bottom half of results overall in the Carnethy 5 and half way down the women.

Cani-cross looks like a lot of fun. I have tried running with Bertie in a harness though and the little bugger just refuses point blank to move until he goes back into a normal collar and lead. I have told him that I’ll replace him with a nice border collie but so far he is studiously ignoring that threat.

Carnethy 5

I may have mentioned that I have somehow managed to dodge the Carnethy 5 bullet until now. No such luck this year. But I was quite looking forward to it especially as by the middle of last week the weather forecast was looking Ok.

Sadly however that all changed and by friday night there were weather warnings afoot of high winds and snow.  When I woke up on saturday morning I could hear the wind howling and blearily thought to myself that it was bound to be cancelled and went back to sleep.  When I woke up properly I remembered that hill races don’t tend to be cancelled and took the dog out for a walk to see how bad things were. Having to wear several layers and full waterproofs to walk the dog in central Edinburgh doesn’t bode terribly well for what was happening out in the Pentlands. Looking at the Kips Cam didn’t cheer me up any either. Soon enough it was time to head off to get my lift out to Penicuik and join all the other idiots who thought that this was a fun way to spend a saturday.

As we were getting ready the voice of doom came over the tannoy “These are the worst conditions I have seen in 16 years, there are 40 miles an hour winds on the summits and it is -15 degrees with windchill”. Oh joy.

The condemned runners then all boarded the buses to take us to the race start, which is in a pretty godforsaken spot beside the A702. There were some marquees up as shelter and I found a corner to sit in and chatted to pass time until my bladder finally drove me outside for a quick warm up. I don’t know quite why the start is in front of an unavoidable bog but it is. So you start the race with cold wet feet as an added treat. As we set off it started snowing and it didn’t let up for the entirety of the race. Nasty sleety snow that was driven like needles by the howling wind.  I’d decided to wear my thick winter cycling gloves and I am so relieved that I did, I didn’t really feel cold for most of the race but was very aware of the lurking threat of hypothermia and how fast one’s core temperature would drop if you slowed or stopped for any reason.  I think the conditions were on the very edge of what was safe for the race to go ahead and there was a cut off of 1 hour 10 at the Howe so any slow runners would get pulled to save the marshals being out on the course for any longer than necessary. The marshals all deserve medals to be honest, all the way round there they were, braced against the wind with ski-goggles on shouting encouragement!

So, first we went up Scald Law with the wind strengthening all the time. I felt Ok going up but started to struggle a bit from Scald Law over to South Black Hill then the Kips. I couldn’t attack the course at all, the wind was so strong and conditions underfoot were just horrendous. I could barely see where I was going and then I got blown off my feet going round the cairn of South Black Hill and deposited on my side on the hard ground which didn’t really encourage me to try and go faster. After West Kip I managed to have a good run (and bum slide) down to the Howe and at least we were in relative shelter there.  Then was the last ascent to come, all the way to the summit of Carnethy.  After the col between Scald Law and Carnethy we were fully back in the wind and the final bit of the ascent was like nothing I have ever experienced with poor visibility, driving snow and runners fighting their way up against the blast. Poor Mary was one of the marshals at the top, plainly she must have done something very bad in a previous life to deserve that. Unfortunately I just couldn’t handle the last descent, it is very steep and through thick heather and my legs were so cold they refused to obey so I could only pick my way down like a total patsy. Then thank goodness a simple run back through that bloody bog to the finish.  Helen Wise had made the mistake of standing beside the finish funnel as I came in and I flung myself into her arms, gibbering. Sorry Helen.

Time-wise I was a bit slower than I’d wanted to be but was still under one and half hours and I wasn’t really bothered about the time, I just needed to get warm clothes on pronto. Some folk at the end were saying that they’d enjoyed it! Seriously? It was absolutely horrific from start to finish and the toughest race I have done by a country mile. I overheard someone say that those were the worst conditions he had ever done it in and this was his 20th C5. We got buses back to the High school and there was very welcome hot food available for all. I had chicken tikka and rice and very good it was too, I even stopped shaking once I’d eaten it.

The Carnethy 5 is a big race and I think Olly the race organiser does a fantastic job bringing it all together, it is a huge logistical effort especially when the weather turns nasty.  And I daresay I’ll have forgotten how ghastly it was in a few months time and just remember the camaraderie and sense of achievement. Until I am there on the start line again about to run through that effing bloody bog….

Hedgehope Winter WIPEOUT!

It was the Spine race last week, which has been great fun watching via the marvels of modern social media. The winner is an anaesthetist and the winning woman an emergency medical practitioner which if nothing else shows that working in the modern NHS makes you very tough or maybe just desperate. I am sure Jeremy Hunt is proud. I guess one advantage of doing a race like that is that you can exist in a kind of bubble, just purely focussed on what you are doing and where you are going rather than having to worry about the world at large while the rest of us are watching the TV in disbelief as a bright orange nincompoop becomes the most powerful man on earth.

Since the future of humanity may now be even more curtailed than previously thought it becomes even more imperative to live for the moment before nuclear annhialation fuses all living creatures together and all that survives is a wasteland of radioactive dust and fragments of Trump’s toupe. So I am treasuring every precious moment.

Well, of course I am not. I still shout at the kids too much and grumble if I don’t get my coffee break at work. But I am entering a lot of races.

Today’s offering was a sort of fell race. The route was like a fell race but the race had CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks. And it was organised by someone called “Barry the chief pain giver” according to the 14 page race briefing that was emailed out beforehand. I shouldn’t snipe though, it was good fun and a demanding route, even if the weather was pretty benign for January (much to Barry’s obvious disappointment, he wanted weather with CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!).  The race started in Ingram, just south of Wooler and headed out into the Cheviots, with the half way point at the summit of Hedgehope then you retraced the route back down again. Just over 12 miles and 2700 feet climb so very similar to Feel the Burns distance and climb-wise. Being the Cheviots meant no shortage of bogs, which were freezing cold and I could have done with wearing my neoprene socks. Although they were nowhere near as bad as the man eating bogs on the Comb Fell approach to Hedgehope so I should be grateful. I had a very nice new piece of kit to try as my parents had bought me an innov-8 race vest for my birthday. It was really comfy and swallowed a lot of kit very happily.

The drawback of an out and back is that the fasties at the front come zipping past when you still have quite a substantial amount of uphill slog to go yourself. However, I was heartened that I was well on my way up Hedgehope before the first female runner came past. I counted 10 or 11 women before I reached the summit cairn, which was dusted in snow. Then 6 miles of mostly downhill beckoned, nice and rough and tussocky just how I like it. And there were loads of people still on their way up, so I felt pretty good zooming past them. Until I stacked it and went arse over tit – luckily landing in a nice soft soggy bit of peat. I swore a lot. Shortly afterwards I lost a shoe in a bog and let loose a few more choice epithets as I prised it back out again.

The rest of the descent was uneventful but I was a fair way down when I saw 3 guys still on their way up carrying an enormous log! I think they were raising money for a friend and managed the entire route, log and all apparently. Towards the end we went through some particularly muddy fields and I was thinking that it would be nice to be able to get rid of the kilos of mud weighing down my shoes. Obviously Mr Chief pain giver had thought carefully about this and had very kindly made the return route go through the river before the finish. It was nearly waist deep and bloody freezing. We went across the damn thing three times. That seemed a tad excessive to me but my shoes were lovely and clean. We got a mug at the finish, which I approve of as I don’t see the point of medals and have lots of t-shirts.

Turns out I was 12th lady out of 93 which I am very pleased at. I was in the top half of finishers too. I’d love to think that this reflects my running ability but in fact I was no faster than last Sunday when I was a lot further down the field. My husband outdid me today by winning a hackathon. I have no idea what that is but he was very waggy-tailed about it. I don’t believe it involved exercise though.