Sunday, 14 December 2014

Borders Series XC #4: Chirnside

Brand new for this year; the Chirnside event. Just this side of the border (10 miles short of Paxton) Chirnside was a great addition to the Borders Series. Perhaps not as hilly as some (nobody complained) but slightly longer to compensate. And muddy. There was plenty of mud. Apparently it was all icy hard until the thaw of the last couple of days at which point the ice turned to mud.

We picked up Willie and drove down the A1. Tradition dictates that we usually take a few wrong turns when Willie comes along, but we kept it to a minimum today. Mary had looked at the map beforehand and kept us right although we probably approached Chirnside from an unusual angle and didn't see the interestingly art deco school until we were on our way home, again taking a bit of a meander before hitting the A1.

Plenty of time for warm up while the juniors ran. It was quickly becoming apparent that there was no shortage of soft ground. The course seemed to be a moderate downhill start round the perimeters of fields then after following a disused railway (flat), a sharp downhill, sharp uphill, then long moderate climb back to the finish. It was cold getting out the car and I thought I would wear a t-shirt under the vest, gloves and a buff to keep my ears warm. However just before the off I dispensed with the t-shirt. I didn't run in the buff either.


As I ran up this track ahead of the junior race arriving the lady on the right (wearing specs!) said well done, then realised her mistake and said "I thought you were a junior". I think this trumps Richard and Fiona getting ID-ed at the booze counter recently

Pretty much bang on time we gathered at the start line and set off. I had been trying to gee myself up knowing this was a crucial race in the series and I hoped to do well in my age group. So when we started I set off promptly as Danielle's photo above shows. Given I finished outside the top ten I shouldn't really have been running with the top 5 here but I was excited (and had had a big glass of freshly squeezed caffeine juice earlier.) After this playing field the route went down the lane in the photo with Mrs. Specsaver and across a few more fields at quite a pace. Because it was fairly downhill I managed to keep up for a bit, or rather, my progress back to eleventh place wasn't immediate. So not too embarrassing. 

I seem to be making this face quite a lot these days.
photo Danielle

After quite a long but gradual descent we hit what must be the railway - a pleasant thin trail, flat but winding here and there. I could see what I thought was Charlotte's shadow and considered moving to one side to let her through. Then a small gap between us although I was judging this by the audio distance of her breathing so not very accurate. Eventually we came to the turn, marked by a sharp descent, across a sploshy field, then up the only sharp climb (happily only maybe 150 yards, difficult to tell really as it rounded at the top) and most of it was spent watching Charlotte pull away - she had romped past on the descent - and then rival Diane, with whom I stayed beside for the climb, but both gained ground over the rest of the course. Having watched Diane twice overtake Charlotte in the last 2 races it was interesting to see Charlotte hold the lead - after a confidence inspiring East Districts last week. 

I had looked at my watch at the turn around and it was 15 something. I was relieved as I presumed it would be less time to the finish: must be a shorter route back; most the Borders courses are around 25 minutes. On the return the wind was in our faces more often and the gradient while not extreme was generally ascending. Which made life taxing and I blew hard and looked for the last couple of fields which we had recced while warming up. Then we turned into a field of potatoes where you could run on a rocky grassy edge that was so unpleasant you jumped down into the muddy groove. Which was so unpleasant you popped back onto the round stones to see if it was really all that bad. (It was.) This (while climbing) went on for a long time. And then (I think it was afterwards but might have been before) there was a hideous field sown with grass and a mix of mud and glue. It stuck to your pumps like someone had tied on manhole covers and it became nearly impossible to lift your knees - best just slide your immense muddy plates over the soggy surface. 

After all of that there were some farm tracks and I deliberately ran through puddles to help dislodge the cement treads. I had a couple of sneaky peaks to see if any oldies were catching me but it seemed safe enough and besides I couldn't go any faster. James from Dunbar edged past towards the end. I had assumed since the organisers had finished the juniors race just inside the start/finish playing field, that we too wouldn't be required to run round the perimeter of the last field. Then I asked myself if that was absolutely guaranteed and found I had perhaps misconstrued reality. The bad news was we did have to run round the field, the good news was they could have made it even further so we got off lightly. And happily nobody was near enough to force me to sprint for the line, anymore than I was already sprinting. I felt I had probably been sprinting the whole race which was, upon scrutiny, over the 30 minutes and longer than usual. Over 4 miles says Mary - I wasn't wearing a garmin. I was wearing quite a lot of sweat so I was glad about the lack of t-shirt. And very glad to be first 50. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

scream if you want to get colder

So with the Borders XC tomorrow we opted for a beach run and plunge today. The weather was supposed to be sunshiny but the best of it was behind us by the time we got out the car. I had thought that some snowy photos in the Pentlands might be the thing (and a bit of C5 training) but Mary was keen to keep her submergathon going. I have missed a couple of swims and was not all that keen. In fact I was dreading it and didn't even name it while we were running - just referring to it as that bad business afterwards.

Mary with her new waterproof camera.

Selfies in the mirror at Gullane public toilets.

It was pretty cold today and took a bit of effort to climb out of warm jackets, get going and get warmed up.

I didn't mind missing out on the Pentlands today when we saw them looking a bit grey, and the wind would have been very chilling.

The beach had a barren deserted feel.

a small but slightly horrifying thing washed up

some louts left their party litter in the car park

long sleeves and tights, gloves (2 pairs) and hat against the cold

We tried stalling but eventually it was time to get changed and do the bad thing. We had discussed possible mental attitudes. Was it possible to fool your senses by wandering into the water and making a face like the water was too warm? What did that face look like and would it wash? 

 a warm up in preparation

 its-too-warm face

I found the best way to embrace the cold was quite a lot of shouting. "FACE INTO THE WAVES FACE INTO THE WAVES" and then jump forward and down like a weightlifter into and through the oncoming wave, repeat getting louder until the cold stops your mouth working right. Swam a few strokes but it wasn't long until feet, face and hands were numb and we had to get out and run up and down the beach. Feet should have been colder than hands but it was the cold wind on thin wet gloves that was as bad if not worse than the water temperature. There was quite a bit of fun and jumping about. Not much swimming.

As always the worst is back at the car getting changed, with fumbling numb fingers all thumbs and struggling to get bootees and wet suit legs over feet. Eventually we are back in warm dry clothes but it takes half the journey home before feet and hands thaw out. Mary stopped off at Tesco's to fulfill a vision she had of ham and dutch cheese toasties, which along with hot pasta soup did a massive amount to restore us. I didn't take my jacket and hat off for the rest of the afternoon. Great fun though.

Monday, 8 December 2014

7 Reservoirs

If this race had been on Saturday I wouldn't have bothered. Always a bad sign when halfway through the week I am wondering if I can come up with an excuse to DNS. I have been working too much and probably if pushed might admit to racing too often and training too little. Except it's such a good race and the alternative would have been a swim at Gullane with Mary and I'm not sure that held any more appeal. I have been getting away with the shorter races but was pretty sure today would find me out. And the weather was less than encouraging. As we got out the car to register, a sleety flurry blew in and nobody was thinking how lovely. Mud and sleet and a stiff baltic wind.

However on the 10 minute walk to the start, the wind blew away the clouds and the sun peeped out. Had I known the sun was going to do this for much of the next 90 minutes I would have carried the camera. I didn't - anticipating precipitation - so the only photos are from after the race. Check out last year's blog for altogether more upbeat pictures taken during the run.

Big thanks to Angus for the lift there.

I had forgotten that it's a long walk in to the start. However they didn't enforce the ten o'clock kick-off and were quite relaxed about waiting on everyone congregating at the line before giving us a few words of warning about the mud before setting us off along Thriepmuir to Beech Avenue. Quickly a group of 4 runners took the lead and I followed behind. I think I dropped to 7th on Beech Avenue then got back to 6th later. The leaders were setting a blistering pace and I felt there was little point killing myself in the first half trying to keep up. The wind was behind us, which meant later on it would be in our faces.

The tarmac alongside the reservoirs went by quickly. Last year Dessie and I had been in the lead here till he pulled away up Phantom's Cleugh. This year he was again at the front. He has had a great year since and recently been doing terrific times at races. By this point the lead pack was too distant to see. I think Steve went past me at the second cattle grid. I felt I might catch one or 2 later in the race but as we left the road for the muddy hill the gaps ahead got bigger. About halfway between the gate and the top of the climb Steve started walking and holding his arm up. He said it was a stitch as I went past although it did look like he was asking if he could be excused. I excused him and kept on chugging up the hill. 

After the climb we ran along the flat a bit on a twisty turny muddy section with deeply scarred bike tracks, then took the turn to Bonaly. I zoomed down the gravelly slope to the car park - the only part of the course I was missing my Hokas, having run in Speedcross. The Speedcross were the right shoe for the day and the reasonable cushioning wasn't too bad on the gravel, the better grip appreciated on the muddy sections. 

At Bonaly I didn't bother with water and waited long enough for only the first diagonal marker pen stroke on my number (I think the lady probably intended a second to make a cross) before sprinting off. I hoped to catch the next guy (6th) ahead. As I reached the bridge across the end of the reservoir I could just see him 40 yards past other end. I think that may have been the last I saw of him. I wondered how Steve's stitch was doing. There are a couple of climbs at the end of this reservoir which I managed okay but after that, around 10 miles I began to feel the weariness and struggled to keep the pace going for the last 3. The guy behind caught up going up the cobbled waterfall (frozen 2 years ago) and I had to really work to keep ahead of the group following behind. The last mile was into a bitterly cold headwind and just awful. I tried to thank every marshal we went past as they looked frozen - it really was not a day for standing still outdoors.

God bless those who stood in the cold half the day.

Very well done Dessie who was first. Graham Nash ran a very well paced race to climb back through the field into second place with Boab Turner in third.

So huge thanks to all who organised this and volunteered to help out. Those who stood in the cold all day I take my hat off to you. (But only once indoors.) And those who made the excellent post race goodies: the white chocolate fudge with cherries and rocky road, both utterly magnificent, the hot spiced cranberry juice and veg soup, heated over the open bonfire, very welcome, very tasty. I will skim over a couple of disappointments because this event is so good it would churlish to pick holes in an otherwise brilliant race. And the goody bag was well above average with a Caramel Log (top marks) as well as the traditional bag of barley soup ingredients. I now have three of those in the cupboard and will in all likelyhood come back for more.

(Just realised it was the 7 Reservoirs on the 7th December and I came 7th.)