Saturday, 19 January 2013

“Feel the Burns” Hill Race 19th Jan 2013

Absolutely brilliant were the words for today's adventure. I was concerned how it would pan out: the recent weather was far from reassuring. However the snow, the course, the comparatively windless conditions, the landscape, the haggis, the company of 137 runners launching out into the great unknown and the relief of all coming home safely made for a fabulous day's racing.

Belt and Braces

There aren't many hillruns on the calendar at this time of year. Its mostly not nice out. Its Baltic up hills. But the brave vision of Graham Henry and Sheila Cochrane was to put on a 13.5 miler in the middle of January and offer haggis afterwards as inducement. Lots went for it, although there was one who emailed to say they felt it should be cancelled given the conditions.

Three Porty Ladies (and all in shorts.)

The snow did a lot to improve the course. Had we just had the ice of the beginning of the week it would have caused havoc on the paths that were running with water the week prior. The snow gave grip. Several inches in general with patches of knee deep on the higher ground. I had tried out a pair of YakTrax (chains for shoes) on Thursday for better grip and wore them on my inov8s. They worked well. Richard D wore Kahtoola MicroSpikes – a mini crampon which turned his Hokas into a snow-shoe – crampon combo that he reported aggressively gripped the snowy ascents.

Registration and a chat from Graham at the Selkirk Rugby Club. Graham showed his many years of hillrunning expertise by describing the route obliquely (don't follow the sign to Broadmeadows Youth Hostel although it is where we're going...) and with humour leaving us pretty much none the wiser. But maybe reassured. His confidence that it would all go ahead was inspiring and sure enough it did all go ahead. It wasn't until about half way round that I began to relax and share his confidence. I had been the main drive behind this being a club championship counter so felt responsible for encouraging PRCers out to their deaths in this wintry chiller-killer. Although it has the greatest objective difficulties of the championship races it may also have been the most rewarding – certainly the most adventurous. All the finishers I overheard were high as kites and saying as much. OK back to the start...

With a minimum of fuss we jogged along to the car park and started just after midday. The first mile or so is on broad tree lined landrover trails up to the reservoir. Turn right onto the hill and a bit of heavy breathing up to the wall and then onto the cairn. Nicola (her first hill race) had a plan: to stick with me and follow. It was a brisk pace and when I turned around I shouldn't have been surprised to see her right there and doing fine. The dozen runners ahead went over to the right and Graham, not far below, shouted to us, to stick to the wall on the left. I dodged left and Nicola continued behind, allowing us to summit a couple of places ahead of that Moorfoot dude, now what is his name? No time to think, shout thanks to the marshals then head into the misty greyness. The 3 Brethren weren't visible from the first peak, but you could follow the lines of footprints across the sea of white and they were all heading in the right direction. Jasmin Paris was just up ahead: I was pleased to be in such esteemed company. Too busy watching my feet, I didn't check behind to see if Nicola was keeping up. There were plenty of runners around and the course was so well marked with hazard tape and fluro arrows that it would have been difficult to go off piste. This must have been a relief to those hoping not to have to rely on their obligatory map and compass. I had meant to write out the bearings from one check point to the next last night (in case of blizzard conditions) but hey, the road to Selkirk is paved with good intentions. Northy Westy on the way out, South Easty home.

Marshals at the turn-around

The long descent - note wiggly wall then wiggly white line which we followed.

I relied on the trusty old follow-the-dude-ahead rule and it pretty much worked out fine. Although I had been out on the recce with GH, course mastermind. So at the wall and stile when everyone else ran on the main path round to the right I cannily carried straight on cutting maybe 20 seconds off the corner. And possibly adding 30 as the untrammelled snow was heavier going. Good fun to score goals – even own goals. The dude behind followed. I think he maybe tried to dissuade me intially thinking I was hypothermic and wandering. Then he caught up for a brief chat and overtook. A Moorfoot did likewise but not that Moorfoot whose name I remembered: Wull Hynd. Absent from the scene for a wee while or maybe targetting different races. Usually has an injury he's getting over. He once spent most of a Skyline telling me how poorly he was running. Glad I remembered his name though: tiles missing in the dark velvet scrabble bag of middle aged senility, jogged around then thrown out by vigorous activity. Sounds like a more widespread name but slightly skewed. That's the man. I fished out his notes from the alzheimer filing cabinet and was pleased to recall he likes the ups, less so the downs. In a couple of miles we pass the highest point and if he's not gone past by then have yourself a pat on the back.

I stuck with the overtakers, up and over the stile at the high point. Plenty of room for slipping off those narrow stiles and rearranging your face on the iron hard deep-frozen wooden posts. Then some nice downhill. I knew we had well over a mile of the best descent in Scotland up ahead and I was aware that my 2 colleagues, while going fast, were maybe just a tad not quite as fast as I would like. They must have been surprised to see me suddenly take off like a mental through the deeper snow to the side just to gain 2 places. But I wanted to hit the turn first and have a clear shot at the narrow line down to Yarrow where overtaking would be nigh impossible.

Down to Broadmeadows (Paris visible from here.)
Also the last climb up the centre of the hill.

The last hill 

After shouting a thanks to the marshals (who had been moved from the high point to the junction to ensure we all made the turn – nice touch,) I made good way down the mile of excellent descent which was now in much better condition than during the recce. Towards the bottom I checked behind and there was nobody for ages. Onwards and through a gate then a big rolling hill which had a few molehills and tripping obstacles judiciously hidden under the snow. The snow was doing a great job of smoothing the majority of bad ground – but like a rug over a chunk of lego you could still get caught out.

Skipping across the last field taking photos with my pink camera!

I could now see Jasmin up ahead again which was a reward in itself. Less rewarding was the stream crossing. They changed the route to facilitate a better line just before Broadmeadows Farm. I rather hoped the crossing involved a smidge less contact with the water, but it was not to be, and so I immersed my dry warm feet in the icy river with the enthusiasm of an open water swimmer. There was a photographer capturing the action. Up the hill and onto the half mile of non-off-road before a hill round the back of the Youth Hostel and the ugliest part of the course. The mud, contorted by hoofs and hillwalkers, was now a corrugated cattle grid frozen hard and trying to trip you up. I think Wull went down a couple of times. I wasn't sure if it was an improvement on the shin deep squelch of the recce but it didn't remain on your shoes so probably an improvement.

No hat, gloves or trousers - proper hard.

Past one trial and straight onto another, the last ascent. But the sun was peaking out and shortly we'd be past the worst. That (not that) Moorfoot went past again. I nearly asked if Wull was close by. Nearly as bad as looking over your shoulder. I think I may have done just that and seen an army close behind swarming up the hill, the gaps shortened by the gradient. No sign of Wull. Didn't mind how many non-50s went past. “Help yourselves” I ushered them past. (Hmmm – just had a look at the results and it would seem that Wull is not yet 50. I have been chasing ghosts again.) Neil B of Carnethy did most of the climb in my vacinity, initially behind then forging ahead latterly. He disappeared on the subsequent downhill which I'd been looking forwards to but which turned out rutted and icy and alarmingly perilous.

Haven't heard yet why Ally R was so far behind.
From the looks of it, team Carnethy were using his frozen corpse as a sledge

Everyone's footsteps left the descent at exactly the right point. I didn't see any marker here but had my eyes glued to the ground so there might have been a belisha beacon just to the side. It was an important but easily missed off-shoot so it was good that word had got out, by whatever means. From here we crossed some rough heathery ground that was easier going than the previous tourist path and dodged across past a marshal to the gate and another marshal. Home straight from here but not before a field with the snow like a giant duvet blanketing the uneven terrain again improving things from the recce. I took pictures in the sunshine. Out onto the same trail we had started up and a delightful downhill sweep to the finish. Up ahead was Jasmin again, possibly protecting an injured foot on the hard rocky path. Like a true gentleman I ran hell for leather and beat her to the line. Well you (I) don't get a chance like that very often. Behind for the whole race except for the first and last 200 yards.

Sheila C, Kathy and Nicola

Everyone I spoke to thought it was a top quality event. Hot showers and haggis afterwards. Many thanks to all the marshals who stood out on the hill in cold weather, the catering folk who laid on soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and Sheila C for dreaming up this brilliant event. Graham did a splendid job marking the route yesterday, running the route today (hot on my heels), then de-marking the route tomorrow. What a legend!

Results here
Digby (Carnethy) also carried a camera. His photomap here


  1. I picked my way across the burn on stones and kept my feet dry! Mind you I was barely racing.

  2. And you got better photos for not racing.
    Kate Jenkins seems to have managed both - good photos and good time. You can judge where people were in the race by which point the sun came out in their photos.
    Any ideas where the proper photographers out on the course are going to publish?

  3. Great stuff Peter. The gamble paid off and you had a stunning day. Itching for an adventure now!

  4. The snow made it feel much more adventurous.

    If you have any days off towards the end of the week and fancy a trip to Lammermuirs / Pentlands etc just shout. Also Michael G up this weekend coming but Berwick XC cancelled so we are considering alternative adventures.

  5. Off on another trip unfortunately. Back Sunday I fear.