Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Devil's Burdens Relay

Dave Francis and his team of Marshals at the Strathmiglo Changeover
This fantastic relay race for teams of 6 always feels like the hill racing season “opener” and over the years it has grown in popularity to such an extent it is hard to see how more teams could possibly be catered for. A brief glance at the results shows that there were 147 teams each with 6 runners (give or take) so that’s about 880 runners out on the hills on a cold January winter day – and who can blame them. It’s a great event (apart from the car parking!) and thanks must go to the organisers for the mammoth effort of organising this monster of a race.
Leg 1-2 Changeover
Waiting for their team mates to finish
John and Mark

Leg 2 "navigation leg" map
It had the makings of a chilly, grey, misty January day on the hill as I reluctantly handed team mate John my nice warm duvet jacket and wandered up to the leg 1-2 changeover point. As it turned out we got there pretty much just in time as Debbie came flying down the muddy slope to handover to myself and Elaine and we started on the long gradual ascent of West Lomond. We clambered over the grass and tussocks getting fleeting glimpses of other runners through the mist but couldn’t even see as far as the dark cliffs above. I was guessing that for once this was really going to be a navigation leg and not just “follow the crowd”. The next checkpoint was located in its gulley and, happy to have located it without mishap, we carried on upwards. As we neared the top of the gulley we were amazed to have climbed out of the mist into a gloriously sunny day with the tops of the hills poking up above the thick cloud below. This was so unexpected. Even the summits of Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich were visible in the distance and I trotted along behind Elaine hoping she wasn’t getting too annoyed with me taking so many photos. In my defence there did seem to be an awful lot of runners who were also stopping to take photos and who could blame them, it was spectacular. 
Off into the mist
Heading up the gulley towards West Lomond
Above the clouds
Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich in the distance

The next checkpoint was at the summit of West Lomond so generally there is no difficulty in locating that one then from west Lomond we started the descent into Glen Vale, possibly heading off a little too far to our right (South West I think?), but found the right path quickly enough. By now I was actually feeling a little as though I was going to overheat, something I had not in any way anticipated and was contemplating removing my hat and gloves but as soon as we descended into the misty valley I was quickly chilled again so the hat and gloves remained on. We followed the line of runners along the wet muddy path to the next checkpoint at the gate and then towards the Bishop Hill. It was quite a contrast once you were out of the sun. On the north facing slopes that the winter sun had not yet reached the blades of grass had a frosty white coating and the ground was frozen solid and slippery, the coolness in complete contrast to the almost blinding sunshine straight in your eyes as you crested the hill to head south. The route had been changed so that this time the runners on leg 2 heading to the leg 2-3 changeover didn’t meet the leg 3 runners coming the other way so by now it was impossible to see where everyone was, all that you could see were figures running along the skyline in the distance.
Looking across to East Lomond from the summit of West Lomond
Mist in Glen Vale
The descent from West Lomond
Heading towards Bishop Hill
West Lomond in the mist
Next there was a slight descent and then the final short sharp pull up to the final checkpoint on White Craigs. By now Elaine was so impressed with the view her camera came out too! 
Punching the card at the final checkpoint
Figures on the skyline
Fife is covered in cloud!
Finally there was the bit of the course neither of us was desperately keen on, the long steep descent to the finish at Kinnesswood. Fortunately it wasn’t particularly icy and as we were in the earlier 9.30am start not enough people had yet run down it to churn it up properly into a mud bath so it could have been worse. A lot worse. Even so I still picked my way down carefully. It’s usually at this point I remember that I really need to get new hill running shoes as the grips on mine are worn away to nothing but this time it was Elaine’s turn to have this issue.

The punch card was handed over to Richard and Mark and they were sent on their way as we made our way back round the event centre in Falkland. John was on leg 4 taking in East Lomond but sadly I was unable to stay to watch the finish but as we seem to appear in the results I think I can assume we managed to get the punch card around the course without incident. Initial results have us finishing 68th out of the 147 teams in a time of 4.05.16. Well done team!

It was an amazing day out on the hills which given the cold claggy conditions everywhere else in Fife was completely unexpected.

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