Off to Paxton House on the Scottish/English border. I've run here a few times and feel in terms of horses for courses this is one that works well for me. Certainly more so than the only Borders Series course I've run this season, at Dunbar. I'm not sure why I go comparatively well here, and why not so on the beach at Dunbar – it may be that there is often a strong breeze on the coast, whereas at Paxton you run around fields with the wind blocked by surrounding trees.
The grounds are beautiful and the course follows well managed dirt trails along the river Tweed and up through the trees. The second lap today was tougher – through heavily churned water logged grassy fields that sucked the shoes off your feet and made it feel like you were wading through knee deep wet cement.
Colin Jackson this ain't.
We picked up Tony on the way, Stavert having decided one cross country (at Broxurn yesterday) was sufficient per weekend (family obligations.) Light snowflakes occasionally fell but no sign as yet of the Arctic monkeying of recent forecasts. The day was cold but like yesterday once you got going the lack of wind made it feel ok. 2 pairs of gloves again but only just. We arrived in plenty of time for a decent warm up and to shout hello and wave to all the extended running family. Mary and I recced the lower section of the course along the very picturesque riverbank. We had found some sections very muddy in the field at the start but the next fields and route down to the river were in splendid condition – with no ice and only a couple of muddy puddles.
We got back to the big house in just enough time to remove warming up clothes then very quickly we were underway. Instead of the usual warning of how we would be started, the starter just blew the airhorn and we were off. I wondered had he been testing it, but there was no calling us back as we set off at a blistering pace. I had meandered over to the left hand side seeing the first bend turned left and since nobody stood in front of me, got a cracking start. I had been comparing notes with ND about how we both often felt boxed in at the start of bunched races and were not forceful enough to barge through. I often drift back until the race thins even though my habit is to start fast. Today with nobody blocking the line I shot forward, and being warmed up well, was able to hold a place in the top dozen or so for a bit. Enough to see Michael Reid go off like a greyhound (the hare surely?) and establish a healthy lead, while young Ally Robertson was shouting “its not a 400 metres” and yelping as we tried to get purchase on the slippy ground going round the left hander.
I was breathing hard by the first field which was nicely churned up with deep foot prints into the shin thick mud. Ally went up the left near the fence but found no better ground there than the red mud we sploshed and slurped through on the other side of the taped corridor. We followed the field edges until a delightful path took us rocketing down to the riverside. Oh and a small jump. Having been this way already with Mary I held back while the three bunched ahead fumbled it then I had a clear jump and it was behind before I had even decided with which foot to take off. Quite a long riverside stretch with points of interest dotted along the path. No time to admire, it was along the flagstones then a wee jump down over a wall to gain a couple of steps on the guys next door before the wooden bridge which signals “gather yourself for the climb.” The climb is worth swinging arms and racing up as it turns quickly left onto a shallower ascent and you watch for the guys ahead slowing – road runners, not hill runners.
Mind a bit blank here but then we came out at the front drive of the House and were marshalled right for lap 2. It didn't follow the same route but after entering the same first field turned right and headed to the other end of the field where we shot down a steep leaf and mud slide into and out of a stream before you had a chance to think I'll get some of the mud off my... and up the other side. Cutting the corners of the estate roads we zoomed down then back up to the driveway where the marshals were turning the back of the field right and the front of the field left. A couple of years ago the frozen hoof tracks in the muddy field here caused havoc. Today the mud just got worse and worse. It was tough trying to look around for a flatter less chopped up path, while staying on your feet. Pace dropped from faster than 6 minute miling to slower than 8. Then a marshal wisely directing runners to keep to the outside of the markers. (No cutting corners here as we squelched down the field.) I saw what looked like flat leafy ground along the bottom by the fence but it proved no easier than the lumpy cattle trodden gunge of the race line. Through a gate then a hellish climb albeit on more solid earth. A shout of encouragement then back into the main “front garden” again. I had looked at my watch and thought there must be another lap as we're only just over 20 minutes but we turned towards the finishing chute. A young Carnethy I had been swapping places with upped his game, just as I did, so I had to settle for coming in behind him. (Looking at the results it was Harry's lad. Well done him!)
I was pleased with how I ran. There was just one sore point – a grey haired runner had gone past just after the stream. He was going strongly and had I realised we were nearly done I might have bust a gut trying to stay with him. He looked to be my age group. And shook my hand afterwards with (I thought) a knowing look. Oh well. However maybe my mind was a little raddled after all that maximum heart rate but the results (much to my delight) sometime later, showed I was first mv fifty. Whoop-de-do! However it's all about who shows up, and who (S. Whitlie) doesn't. Two more in the series and I have to attend both for the requisite 4 of 6.
I got the camera out and took some pics of the people. Mary was several minutes down on where she should have been. Some of that no doubt due to yesterday's 3 hr hilly session au Pentlands, some of it is about the recovery process from her heart reboot. I knew she was less than pleased but she put a good face on it though its tough when hopes for an immediate recovery are not materialising. However things are quietly on the mend and with patience we will get back to form I'm sure.
Tony always works his socks off and was raving about how full on a course it was. He was comparing it to the unadventurous nature of the tepid Holyrood xc course. Not the runners, but the course setters and how tame it was to be running round the flattest part of the park with only tree trunks for obstacles. Paxton is a brilliant venue – boasting a stream crossing, fence jumping, flagstones, tarmac, shallow mud, deep mud, bastard mud, dirt trails, roots, branches, flying downhills, steep climbs and all manner of twists and turns round a beautiful scenic estate. Proper cross country.
The shoe wash: a good chance of a soaking and muddier shoes afterwards.
Instead of soup and rolls in the cafe as previous years we walshed our shoes in the stream and headed to the car to change. The mud was most reluctant to come off and we brought quite a bit home. I have various shoes on the drying ladder currently. Just about every run makes a soaking pair and recently I had to buy newspapers solely for the purpose of shoe stuffing. Didn't have time to read them. We were weighing up which journal gave the most bulk for the least cost. It seemed to be The Sun but I couldn't buy that on principle. Some things – even just stuffing shoes – can leave your hands too dirty.
Torness, where the good stuff happens.
In case Jill you wondered who the paparazzi were taking pictures of your morning run (looking good and fair zipping along), it was us - saw you, and didn't want to break your stride hollering out the window!