Saturday, 22 December 2018

Headtorch run for the Unadventurous.

A city centre head torch run
It’s an aspect of winter that I love, heading out to the hills at night after work and running by the light of a headtorch. Following on from the great turnout at Scolty two weeks earlier there was slightly less enthusiasm for this run and understandably so as hill runners like adventure don’t they? But given it wasn’t the most adventurous course, it was flat, and actually pretty well lit from streetlights in neighbouring streets, as well as being in the depths of party season it wasn’t too bad a turn out of “unadventurous” headtorch runners. 

After the Scolty run where there was quite a lot of stopping and re-grouping I thought that this run might be more popular amongst the faster runners as they could charge off without having to re-group and amongst the slower runners as they didn’t have to worry about keeping up with anyone – after all its virtually impossible to get lost on this route. Getting to the correct car park at Duthie park however did prove problematic for some and they had a bit of an adventure locating the start of the run.

A wee group of 6 set off with the plan of running out for somewhere between 25-30 mins and then turning round and running back, that way we would all finish at approximately the same time (and we managed to pick up the latecomers who had gone to the wrong car park) This run was notable however for its lack of 4 legged Cosmics runners, even wee Harry was having a rest day. Probably a wise move though as cyclists shift up and down the track at speed and would struggle to stop for a runner, let alone a dog.

Its been surprisingly mild for December so no ice on the path to contend with and the run proceeded without incident other than the latecomers having to run fast to play catch up. Headtorch run for the unadventurous. It did exactly what it said on the tin.
Post run tea and cakes
Rudolph cakes - it is Christmas after all!
Two weeks earlier we had tackled Scolty as a headtorch run. Amazingly the torrential rain of the afternoon had given way to a bright clear night although there was still a strong wind. Most of this run was in the trees though so the wind was not really a factor until someone had the bright idea of climbing to the top of the tower on Scolty hill where it really was blowing a hooley. 

We stuck to the main forest tracks with no “off-piste” adventures and this was probably a wise move as even the wide tracks were running with water and this allowed a few more stops for re-grouping and making sure that no one was missing.  We climbed up to the summit of Scolty and some took the opportunity of the wee optional side trip to the top of the tower while the others admired the view looking out over the lights from Banchory in the valley on an unanticipated clear night. 
On the top of Scolty
Banchory in the distance

The descent was back down via the race route and there was a moment of nervousness when Martin and Harry didn’t appear, being adventurous they had gone for the “off-piste” option, but they appeared soon after we had got to the car park so a search party wasn’t required. There was a bigger turn out for this run which is understandable – after all we are supposed to be a hill running club. And we are supposed to be adventurous. And even if we are feeling unadventurous there is always cake at the end of the run which makes everything ok.
Tea and cakes

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The Water of Leith Half Marathon

The Obligatory Start line Photo

Well that didn’t go to plan. I will leave out the gory details but basically I had a very dodgy gut during the run which is easy-ish to manage in the relatively rural environs of Balerno and Colinton but much less so in Stockbridge high street on a Saturday morning near Christmas, so quite early on in proceedings I was reduced to slow jogging/walking to avoid juggling my guts around too much. Probably something to do with having my work xmas lunch yesterday, I just can’t quite manage a three-course lunch these days plus booze and the food was still weighing heavily on my stomach which is not a particularly welcome sensation when lining up for a half marathon.
Me looking a whole lot cheerier than i felt...
Meanwhile Simon was being a Bandit (yes, that’s Bandit with a capital B) in this handicap race and, much to my annoyance, he started miles ahead of me but at least he had the good grace to look mildly concerned when I didn’t appear over the finish line for ages…and ages, waddling in at the back of the field. In fact, from my perspective most people seemed to have started in front of me. I think I need to be slightly less optimistic about my handicap time and a bit more realistic about my abilities (or lack thereof) next year. Still, as the Water of Leith Race goes it was actually quite a mild day with no ice on the ground and just a chilly southerly wind but for the most part the race route is sheltered, and the cold wind wasn’t noticeable. At least I wasn’t going to die of hypothermia from moving too slowly.
Heb 3 legend Jim Bruce on the startline
I quickly became aware of the hoards passing me mid-run and that I didn’t actually seem to be catching anyone up but no matter thought I, despite the worrying array of noises and back flips that my guts were doing it was a pleasant enough way to spend a Saturday and it beats hands down the other “sport” of Christmas shopping which seems to be a very popular way to spend a Saturday at this time of year. Yes folks, even a really shit run beats Christmas shopping as a way to spend a day.
With a handicap like that i'd be smiling too...

As usual the path wasn’t too busy early on but it got a lot busier after the road crossing just past Murrayfield and so dodging people, bikes, kids, dogs etc was the name of the game and in parts the path was really quite wet and muddy underfoot but there was none of the ice of previous years that had made sections of this run quite treacherous particularly the timber walkways and steps. The most dangerous thing on this route is people with dogs on those extendable leads, they are just lethal. I wonder if they ever appear in any race risk assessment? Not that there is one carried out for this under-the radar-not-a-race-race. I think the only instructions were “try not to get run over and try not to fall in the river” but too be honest I’m not sure either of these options could have made my race much worse than it already was.

As I plodded along, I really regretted not taking my camera with me and getting a few good pictures, its not as though I was racing fast and didn’t have the time to spare and it might have proved a welcome distraction from the worry of my stomach issues. A few walkers offered a cheery smile and words of encouragement, so I did my best to return the smiles although I fear they probably actually came across as snarls.

All in all though, I had to conclude it really wasn’t going that well. I had stepped off a kerb awkwardly at one point and got a stabbing pain in my knee which meant that more walking was required until the pain eased off. I followed the flour arrows marking the course and then when I got passed by a group of three runners. I started to follow them. One of them offered me a jelly baby, I must have looked as though I was in dire need, but the thought of what effect that would have on my guts at that very moment was almost too much to contemplate. 
Photos taken the following day...
I didnt have time to take photos of the art work mid-run

Sunshine on Leith
I should have stuck to following the arrows rather than the other runners though as the route then had to follow a council diversion through an estate of newish looking flats and soon enough there were no arrows to follow, more walking ensued while looking around for course markings. We all back tracked and fortunately hadn’t gone off route too badly. Ok so bad things always come in threes – that’s my three – dodgy guts, a sore knee and I got lost. Surely nothing else could go wrong? I recognised the last section of the route which for some reason always feels like the longest mile and a half ever and resumed my somewhat pathetic walk/jog by now accompanied with a limp.
Follow the arrows
You can see the finish line on the other side of the river from quite a distance and I had hoped I wouldn’t have to suffer the ignominy of walking in over the finish line but walk over the line I did and was met with the welcome sight of Eric and Lynda’s table groaning with soup, scones, cakes and other goodies but sadly by now I was so fragile all I could manage was a cup of tea.
Re-stocking the calories
Best lunch ever!
The finish line was in a slightly more exposed location and suddenly the wind seemed a lot colder so I swiftly retreated to the pub. Its amazing the effect a huge bacon roll and a pint can have on ones feeling of well being. And fortunately I did manage to hold them down although I did stop after one pint. Quit while you’re ahead. Plus the company and the chat was very good. 
Photo stolen from Mary Hunter..
Simon (the Bandit. With a capital “B”) won the race and now will be handicapped out of sight for evermore in this event. Especially as it’s the second year that he has won it. Due to everyone having to wait on me finishing there’s the possible chance of a good handicap next year….. Every cloud and all that. Amazingly I wasn’t even last, there was some poor soul out even longer than I was (if that was possible) but in his defence he did get rather impressively lost.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The British Fell and Hill Relay Championship (Not the FRA’s...)

Firstly, how to really annoy an official at this event – just refer to it as the FRA’s. Ever since I can remember its been the FRA’s. But now its not to be called that anymore, it’s The British Fell and Hill Relay Championship. Catchy, huh? Presumably it has both “fell” and “hill” in the title because you don’t have fells in Scotland, you have hills and you don’t have hills in parts of England-shire, you have fells. I don’t know about Wales. Anyway, this is most definitely not the FRA’s.

It was a bit of an epic drive down the road on the Friday night, mentally I had calculated it would take about 6 hours from Aberdeen (I guess I now drive like a proper Aberdonian) not the 6 hours from Fife that it actually took so it was very late when we eventually arrived, not helped by Moira’s sat nav appearing to have some interesting ideas of its own. We collapsed into bed in the dorm room at the youth hostel knackered but sleep didn’t come easy, as is often the case in hostels a dorm room on the top floor does a good impression of an oven.

The weather forecast promised gloom, clouds and rain and gloom, clouds and rain were duly delivered. There was a low-lying mist blanketing the hillside and I lined up for the first leg quite happy that I wasn’t doing the navigation stage of the race. The first stage started on an uphill and then proceeded to climb steadily for about half of its 5 or so miles on a rocky path, the large slabs of rock were slippy in the rain. Its unusual to be slipping going up hill!. It was a pretty uneventful climb apart from passing a female runner who seemed a bit out of sorts. I asked her if she was ok but I did notice that where the terrain was a bit level and easier going she seemed fine but when the terrain involved a bit of technical stuff she seemed very unhappy and a bit panicky. She said she was fine so I picked my way past her and trudged on to the checkpoint at the top. I felt a bit sluggish and tired but I put that down to a very long days' travelling the day before and a lack of sleep but on the positive note I was still ahead of the runner for the Carnethy ladies vets team and that’s what matters isn’t it?

After the checkpoint it was all downhill and that’s when the real carnage began. The descent was treacherous. I ran past one runner who was on the ground with a large group of other runners helping him out and then came across another runner who looked to have fallen. A fellow runner had stopped and was trying to pull waterproof clothing on to him and I noticed he was shaking so I attempted to feed him chocolate thinking he was probably cold and maybe a bit low in sugar. While I was doing this I noticed out of the corner of my eye the Carnthy runner trot past and onwards down the hill…grrrr…

A few other people stopped and eventually someone appeared who did seem to have some medical/first aid knowledge and he sent me on my way down the hill. I guess there was a real risk of anyone stopping for too long getting cold. Desperate to make up time I tried to speed up but then the inevitable happened on the grassy hillside made slick and greasy with the rain and numerous runner’s feet, I lost my footing and slipped, falling heavily, and all of a sudden it was me in the situation where other runners were stopping to assist me. For the most part I was just winded but I had landed awkwardly and wrenched my shoulder. Worst of all though, my descending confidence went and for the rest of the run I picked my way nervously downhill clutching my arm to me as most of the field shot past. In fact I was probably lurching downhill a bit like Quasimodo when I think about it. Bitterly disappointed I crossed the finish line sending Jocelyn and Hilary off on the “long stage” around Fairfield. 

I got changed very slowly as I could barely raise my arm by this stage and went over to the race officials to ask what was happening about the injured runner and was informed that mountain rescue were on their way and that he had a suspected broken leg. So much for my diagnosis of low sugar. I think I was still a bit shaken too, mainly at how it would be so easy to get in trouble on the hillside and it still amazes me that there are runners who skimp on emergency kit when they go out on the hills.

I wandered over to the marquee, rescued my food voucher and then joined the queue for the burger van and to wait for the next 3 stages of the event to finish. Jocelyn and Hilary finished without incident sending Moira and Anita on their way into the mist on the navigation stage. They got round with no navigational bloopers unlike the local Keswick team whose misfortune was the source of more than a little amusement. It had to happen to a local team didn’t it? 

Unfortunately in between assisting the fallen runner and my own fall I had lost so much time on leg one we were now consigned to the mass start and Louise started the last leg in the final group of runners while Hilary, Jocelyn and I cheered her on with a beer in hand. It was a brave move by Louise making this her first race back after injury especially as it featured a brutally steep descent to the finish. As it turned out though arch rivals Carnethy were missing a team member so couldn’t finish a vets team anyway. 

I think though I was the only team casualty of the day and during the evening my shoulder stiffened up badly so I had another sleepless night, this time from the pain. My number one concern was how I was going to drive up the road from Fife to Aberdeen but that was to be Sunday evening’s problem. Fortunately, it was my right shoulder that i had hurt so I was ok for changing gear and could just rest my right hand on the steering wheel while praying that I wouldn’t have to take any evasive action at any point while driving. When I got home I could barely raise my arm up and my shoulder was very swollen but as the swelling subsided over the next two weeks so did the pain – although I did have to explain to work colleagues the reason I was raising my arm up on odd occasions was to test it out, it was not because I had joined the far right or anything like that.

A bottle of wine or two was opened in back in the youth hostel room and we sat and drank wine and ate chocolate and crisps surrounded by the aroma of drying running kit ( even leaving the window of the youth hostel room open did little to improve matters in that respect) before heading downstairs to the bar where the youth hostel served dinner  (my, haven’t youth hostels got posh these days?) 

The next day we went for a nice walk and I dragged my achy carcass along hoping that there would be no climbing or scrambling involved. It was quite atmospheric in the rain and the mist and Bill was the only one who did any climbing. We got soaked and I did feel a bit sorry for the café owner as we trudged in dripping wet and had lunch as condensation streamed down the windows of the cafe!