Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Scurry to the Sea

Presumably this is the view from Allermuir Hill on a nice day...

I didn’t really read the race description with any great care, it all sounded fine, basically run from the Pentlands to the seaside following various footpaths and traffic free routes through the centre of Edinburgh which is pretty much the same idea as the Water of Leith Race. What could possibly go wrong? 
Summer in Scotland at Musselburgh beach
Its name was enough to tempt me to sign up for it – “The Scurry to the Sea” sounds like fun doesn’t it? And besides just about all my running plans for the summer, and maybe the rest of the year, are in tatters anyway so I was looking for something a bit different to keep myself amused and drag me out of my current state of lethargy. It was only the night before the race that I noticed that the race referred to itself as “Urban Orienteering” and the warning bells started to go in my head.

This race is a brand new creation of “Edinburgh Racing” who I think are related to the triathlon club and it was only advertised about a month before the race was actually due to be held. Despite the short notice it attracted a field of about 60 runners. We all congregated at Musselburgh harbour on a dreich grey morning at 8am which had meant a 4am alarm call for me (groan!) to register and catch the bus to Hillend ski centre in the Pentland hills. I didn’t know or recognise a single runner there although there was a few Portobello and Carnethy vests on show. I think the race was won by someone from Edinburgh Athletics club and the winner of the ladies race was a Carnethy runner.
Misty Pentlands
Heading to the checkpoint on Allermuir Hill
 At 9am we were set off into the mist, firstly to tackle the climb to the summit of Allermuir hill. Despite it being grey and misty it was surprisingly warm and I felt ok on the climb but even better on the descent as I passed people who did not seem keen on the wet grassy descent. From the summit a few people disappeared in different directions so I figured that there might have been a quicker line of descent from the checkpoint on the top of the hill rather than the taped course that I had followed on the way up but given I could barely see 50 yards in front of me through the mist I decided to play it safe and stick to the marked route which most of the other runners were taking. Next we went passed Swanston and over the bridge over the city bypass into Oxgangs before being directed up a small footpath. 
Allermuir Hill (c Edinburgh Racing)
This race was described as “urban orienteering” meaning that it was pretty much up to you how you got to Musselburgh (obviously getting the bus wasn’t an option) but you had to pass through 3 compulsory checkpoints. The optimum route was about 11.5 miles and this was sporadically marked with bright orange marker tape, particularly in areas where the footpath or cycle path you were running along crossed a busy road junction. I trotted through Oxgangs watching out for marker tape and other runners and then, slowly, I began to get that sinking feeling. I hadn’t seen anyone in a quite a while, and there was a distinct lack of marker tape anywhere. Oh Crap. There was no doubt about it, I had gone the wrong way. I stopped and took out my iphone and eventually Google Maps flickered to life confirming what I already knew. A quick 90 degree turn and I was heading back to the course but reached the Checkpoint at the gates to the Hermitage of Braid having lost a lot of places and time.
Can anyone spot where i went wrong?
I cursed my stupidity as I ran through the Hermitage and desperately hoped that the sweeper bike wouldn’t catch up with me. I took out my map from my backpack and made sure i carried it for the rest of the way but this was definitely a case of too little, too late. As I reached the end of Blackford Glen Road three other runners caught me up, all who had also been lost. One had managed to get herself lost on the Pentland Hills presumably by taking a different line from the summit than the marked one. I tagged along with these three and we all kept a careful look out for orange marker tape as we went past Duddingston and the foot of Arthur’s seat, the summit of which was shrouded in mist. 
Arthurs seat in the mist
From now on the race was pretty uneventful apart from for the 4th race weekend in a row it was pissing down with rain but it was quite a misty still day so it wasn’t cold at all. The field had now spread out and I didn’t see anyone else at all which surprised me as my legs had pretty well given up and it had sort of turned into, well, not quite a death march, but more of a painful shuffle along the final stretch after crossing the A1 as my legs gradually seized up.  You know how these cycle paths have the little blue sign posts indicating distances? I wonder who decided the distances? Possibly someone with as good a sense of direction as myself. It is a little disconcerting to pass one sign post saying “Musselburgh 3 ½ miles” then to run half a mile to the next sign post which says “Musselburgh 4 miles”. And no, I was running in the right direction this time.
The path along Brunstane Burn
Eventually the course reaches the coast and the final few hundred yards are across the soft sands towards Musselburgh harbour where each competitor received a goody bag on completing along with a really nice “Scurry to the Sea” mug and home baking. It transpired that quite a few people had got themselves lost at various points and that the race winner hadn’t gone the way the checkpoint marshal had expected at the gates of Hermitage of Braid. Clearly local knowledge was a massive advantage. My Garmin recorded the distance that I had run as 13.5 miles, a full 2 miles further than the optimum route and needless to say I finished quite close to the back of the field. Despite the navigational mishaps, all of the runners finished and there were no drop outs. Hopefully this race will become established as it really is a great concept and a nice, predominantly traffic free, scenic, course.
Race finish line
Last couple of hundred yards were on the sand. Note im carrying a map
Sadly, the heavy rain continued throughout the afternoon so people didn’t hang around at the finish. I felt sorry for the race organiser as it would have been quite nice to relax on the beach afterwards and watch the prize giving, that would have really made it more sociable.  Instead I got a burger from the burger van and a cup of tea and hid from the rain in the car while I ate the burger. Summer in Scotland!
Makes it all worthwhile...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Laurencekirk Tower Race

Laurencekirk Tower on a nice day (c Laurencekirk Tower race fb page)

Having seen some nice summer days through the window of my office during the week the Aberdeenshire weather did its usual and saved it all up for Saturday. It pissed it down with rain. This, however, didn’t put off the 30 or so runners who turned up for the Laurencekirk Tower Hill Race, many of whom were from Stonehaven running club and seemed to be intent on a Parkrun and Tower race “double” that Saturday.
Course Profile - 3.18m/702ft
The Laurencekirk Tower hill race is a lovely low key event, so low key I had trouble finding the registration. The race directions said that registration was at the primary school but what this actually meant was that the registration was at a table placed at the end of a farm track near the primary school. Once registered I had a wee chat with fellow Fife AC runner Bob who pointed out a misty hillside as being where the tower was located but assured me that it was a well marshalled out and back route and that I couldn’t get lost.

The route was up to the tower and back
It chucked it down with rain as we lined up for the start line photo and then we were quickly set off along the track with the small field of 30 runners spreading out quite quickly. A couple of hundred meters in we went under the A90 via a small tunnel (before the race I had been wondering how we were going to get across the road) before following the gently climbing gravel track past the farm. A marshal directed us through a gate and up the final stretch towards the tower over a slightly rutted and grassy field. Once at the top we were directed around the tower which meant tip toeing over the wet, slippery boulders which lay around its base and then it was straight back down the way we had come up.
Getting ready for the start
Startline photo
And they're off
The start was along a farm track
Under the A90
And a gradual climb
 I noticed that on the way back down the girl in front of me seemed not to be enjoying the descent over the rutted grass, to be fair it was a bit of a potential ankle twister, so I gradually gained on her finally overtaking her on the gravel path. I had to work quite hard to keep in front of her but eventually she seemed to drop back as I belted back down the track and through the puddles to the finish line. My quads did not thank me for descent that the following morning.
Soggy timekeepers
Bob Thornton finishing
Prize winners
This race was so low key that you didn’t even get a race number to pin to your vest, they gave you a sticky label with your number on to stick to your front. Runners were appearing over the line with little balls of very damp paper in their hands as the labels got wet and fell off. Mine disappeared completely and I have no idea where or when it fell off. The first 3 finishers got a wee prize each as did the winners of the junior fun run which was held just before the senior race. Every runner got a wee goody bag with a Mars Bar and Crisps along with the ample supply of water and bananas at the end. Perfect. 
St Cyrus beach
The beach was deserted
Swimming in the choppy seas off St Cyrus beach was the afternoon’s warm down activity. I guess the good thing about a grey rainy day is that we had the beach to ourselves.
Simon and his surfboard
It was fine for surfing but less so for swimming
Creature from the deep