Friday, 5 July 2013

Sandy Slither 4/07/13

“Scotland's most scenic coastal race, following a stunning 6.1 mile route from Lower Largo to Elie.” A good summary of this cracking race which is evolving, as is Fife AC (seamlessly moving to a new website though keeping the good stuff – and a photo of Yak Hunter racing Grant Laycock as the poster girl / boy for this race.) The trails through the sharp grasses after the hill were swapped for more beach. And Thursday night rather than Friday. Otherwise business as usual for this coastal point to point.

I took this photo with the zoom wrong but I kind of like it.

I have been doing fewer weekend miles of late and rehydrating a little too much, resulting in about half a stone above fighting weight. With the Tour of Fife fast approaching I thought it's time to get in shape so have been cranking up the sessions a bit. On Monday evening I ran a 9 mile time trial so fast my legs had ongoing issues throughout Tuesday's recovery run and into Wednesday at club where I fought (and failed) to keep up with a recently honed Duncan S. I made friends with the foam roller and hoped my legs would unwind in time for the Slither.

Andrew drove Nicola and myself to Lower Largo and we even managed to stop chatting for long enough to make the right turn-offs, arriving there so early we picked up bib numbers 1, 2 and 3. While Andrew and I sported team colours, Nicola was wearing a suitably beachy lifeguard outfit, this being her third beach based run in as many weeks. She also referred to this race as the Sandy Slipper, which in a way it was.

There was almost a hint of rain in the air at the start but the forecast was good and the strong tail winds promised fast times and the chance they would blow the rain clouds away by the time we reached Elie. Having plenty of time for a warm up we checked out the first quarter mile of tarmac along to where a locked gate barred progress and predicted a log jam through the small gap onto the beach. Nicola and I discussed a prompt start and getting to that gap sharply.

Head for the notch in the trees then up to the aerial.

The start saw Andy Wright give us a brief speech about keeping the sea on our right, then the starter set us off with a marvellously understated “go”. I could see Brian Cruickshank and Nicola off to the left and I was in danger of getting boxed in as the first ten jockeyed for position along the road. It's quite a narrow street so when I saw an opening I eased out left and as we approached the gap I confirmed with the marshal there, we were allowed through that way (and not obliged to descend the slower steps to the beach on the right). She confirmed this and I legged it through the gap in first place. Nicola said afterwards she was close on my heels. I didn't find out how messy it got further back. I had no intention of leading for any further than that and settled into fifth behind Del from Anster Haddies, a regular at the Tour of Fife. 

As an update to the linked article he did 2.52 at Edinburgh. 

The strong wind felt like a hand on your back encouraging a lively pace and the sun was threatening to come out. And beautiful surroundings. What could be better!

The first beach goes on for miles. We skirted the high tide line along the shore dodging down onto wet sand and rocks and occasionally above into the dry sand and dried out kelpy debris. Zac in second moved down onto the flatter compacted wet sand and the other 4 of us followed. There was a large gap between us and the second pack and I wondered if I could sustain this. (I was definitely the weakest link in this leading group.) 

I told Nicola that I thought we aimed for the “notch” in the trees on the horizon and sure enough after 15 minutes or more we moved up onto the softer sand then through a small stream; splosh x 3, and up the other side. The mettled road of the caravan park was almost a relief after all that sand. The pace picked up and I took some more photos, the sun now casting shadows. Davie B and Oscar were at the far end and told me there was nobody visible behind. How long would it last? Over the small bridge (hello Hilary!) and onto the winding trail. I always think the hill is next but there's some sea-level single track and a few corners before the path turns inland and rises towards the derelict buildings and aerial.

I ran the first steps in twos then later on walked briskly but still in twos. The wind had almost been in our faces at the end of the caravan park but was now assisting us up the hill. I took a few shots over my shoulder going up towards the aerial but still no sign of anyone chasing me down. 

spectator in blue - no runners behind?

Course change. Instead of the sinuous trail through the grasses we dropped down to the beach.

I took some more photos looking down from the cliff top single track enjoying the vistas across to Elie and the finish. I knew it would seem further away once we descended. I thought I might make up some ground on the tricky route down. It is stepped and would be faster if it wasn't. You can either belt down the rocky steps hoping your feet find purchase or you can take the grassy trail to one side and hope there aren't any hidden surprises. I did a mix of both but the 2 in front seemed only to have got further ahead by the time we met Andy marshalling us at the bottom. Instead of going left through the dune grass single track were went right along to steps down onto the beach. I quickly headed for the darker firmer sand and had a look over my shoulder at the opposition now appearing above. Craig Love. He was surprisingly far behind me at Red Moss and generally does better on the longer events. If I had taken the time to look up previous results I would have been more concerned as he has had a couple of very strong Slithers.

Back off beach number 2 and onto the familiar trail that leads up to the Western end of Elie. The 2 ahead are no longer visible as we reach a long wall that I remember from previous. I told Nicola this was the only place I had had navigation problems with before, and that you go onto the road heading into Elie for a bit before a right turn back onto the beach. However as the path swept round and up there seemed to be 2 options and I had no memory of where the correct route was. I looked over at the right side but as there was no red tape there and the course was well marked I figured it was left and as soon as I hit the road I saw the marshal waving her jacket and realised this was the road, and she was standing at the right turn back onto the beach.

This beach is a killer. Or has been in the past. The wind to our backs made this last long mile a lot less arduous than previously. My usual memory is of lung ache, leg ache and a pitiful pace over the sand as steps behind get closer and I drop several places in the closing moments of pain and humiliation. Sure enough I can hear Craig approaching. (The camera stays off.) The same wind is carrying his laboured breathing to my ears and it sounds like he is 3 yards behind. He is actually about 30 or more but the misperceived proximity keeps me on my toes. I see a shorter route round the right of some rocky islands in the sand; a straighter line across the curve of the beach. I am about to follow the runner ahead who took the left line but can't see any obstacles to the more efficient line and dodge that way. I wonder if a massive lagoon or acre of seaweed will appear on the other side of my short cut but it doesn't and I congratulate myself as I pick up the pace in order to discourage any last minute skirmish.



I cross the line and after a moment or 2 leaning over with stars and lens flares in the corners of my eyes I have time to take Craig's photo as he crosses the line and I realise he was not that close. It is only later I realise just how wind assisted the race was. Despite the extra distance of the dogleg back onto the second beach I am a exactly a minute quicker than Gareth Green posted when he won this race in 2010. Much as I'd like to say that it was down to training, it was, let's face it, the following wind. And what a delight – normally on a circular route you will have some help and some hindrance from the elements. Here on this point to point, the breeze was behind us for virtually the whole race.

The downside was it did make hanging around at the finish a bit chilly. Prize giving was held indoors and featured the choice of (homebaked) cake or bottle of wine for winners. However there was something, someone missing. David B reported Nicola was close to Craig at the caravan park. She didn't appear at the finish behind him and initially I thought she maybe lost some ground on the descent from the aerial. Minutes past and my concern grew. Then 2 Fife girls came in and I knew something was wrong. Nicola appeared and although going strongly she said something as she went past and I realised she had gone the wrong way.

Sure enough after she finished in third she explained that getting to end of the high wall on our left she – faced with the option of going right or left – recalled the race instructions of keeping the sea to our right and headed right for a considerable distance before it became apparent that the path which was overgrown and difficult, was the wrong way. There had been no marshal there and this was an oversight of the organisers. Had the lady with the waving coat been stood at the wall end she could have easily pointed runners the right way and mentioned the turn in 80 yards which was well marked with red tape. It's one of these small things that can get overlooked by people so familiar with the course they forget to look at it with fresh eyes for potential hazards. It cost Nicola first place and although she was accepting of it, I could see she was fighting with her competitive self to control the frustration.

Andy Wright was very understanding and not only apologised but at the end of prize giving made a special prize for Nicola as compensation, which went a long way to sort the damage. I was very pleased to pick up 1st v50 cake in 5th place and to finish ahead of the first v40s. Excellent event!

Web/results will be here 


  1. That is a bit of coast i have wanted to go ride for a while on the Fatbike Peter. Looks good!

  2. I don't think it has the same variety as E Lothian but I've only ever gone past at race pace! Nice flat beaches but not sure about the same quality of dunes and rocky stuff. There's also the Fife Coastal Trail and lots of nice places along the East Neuk - undoubtedly worth a visit.
    I wanted to race with the camera last night to capture more than just the warm up and finish.