Sunday, 29 September 2013

2 Brews or not 2 Brews?

2 Breweries Hill Race 28/09/13

On the one hand I was fit, road fit. On the other, the 2 Breweries Hill Race takes me half an hour longer than a marathon and if you haven't put in the hill miles it can be a crash-and-burn affair with wall to wall cramp and some of the harshest miles in the running calendar. There are a number of folk who express profound love for this race, Michael G frinstance, and so I signed up fondly remembering the free beers, the pre-race banter, the post race pizza, the FREE beers. And hoped that too many coastal runs versus not enough time in the Pentlands, wouldn't catch me out. Too badly.

Senior moment number 1
Graham was designated chauffeur today and arranged to meet Richard H and I at Meadowbank. I prepared a rucksack of kit and provisions the night before and left in plenty time to bus it to Meadowbank. As I sat down on the bus I realised with a curse I hadn't packed a running top – I planned to let the weather vote which shirt I ran in and had forgotten to pack anything. I was wearing a long sleeved cotton top, wholy inappropriate so in a flash jumped off the bus next stop and ran down Easter Road, dashed in, grabbed a t-shirt and changed out of the now wringing wet cotton top. I jumped on the bike and cycled to Meadowbank making it, just, for 10am, leaving my poor bike padlocked up a side street.

Graham took the scenic route to Innerleithen and the hills and countryside were looking brilliant in the sun and Autumn colours. He could be forgiven for shouting about Scotland being the best place in the world, because today, it was. We arrived at Traquair around 11 missing the faff with the shuttle bus from the finish to the start. Graham had arranged a lift back with a Gala Harrier. This is the difficulty of a point to point. The upside is instead of running a contrived circuit you feel you are on a journey over hill and dale from one place to another. From hell to high water? From a rock to a hard place?

Richard had boldly decided to use the race as a counter for some other long hilly event that requires experience of similar. He doesn't even own hill shoes. Treating the day out as an extended exercise in survival he would set off moderately and employ a fair bit of walking. He was amused that nobody at the start was doing a lot of warming up. In fact everyone was eating and drinking coffee and standing around in the sunshine chatting.

A brief kit check and chat from race director Peter Baxter, and we were off, running up the picturesque lawn of the impressive Traquair House. I was trying to hold back. After last week's refreshingly well paced start at Dumfries I really was trying not to start like a maniac. But a combination of an easy downhill road mile, certain runners I wanted to keep in visual contact, and the double jag of caffeine from the energy drink AND a coffee, were conspiring to make me sweat like a bastard as soon as we hit the first of a huge list of unpleasant uphillyness.

If you know you are having a photo taken why make a face like that?

When Jesus was handing out the uphill talent to the likes of Michael, Gareth, Angela, David (HBT), Stewart etc. I was in the other queue for the business of downhill. OK we don't really get to choose where our natural inclinations lie, it's more a matter of discovering the path of least resistance. Some go up well, some overtake on the downwards slopes, some start fast then slow down in the final miles, others push through the field in the second half. Some never look at a distance beyond half marathon, while others never race anything as short as a marathon. I recently attended a superb talk by William Sichel, one of the UK's finest ultra endurance athletes who will be celebrating his 60th birthday in the next few days. In the “any questions” at the end I asked what was the shortest race he had done in the last few years and although he didn't give a concise answer I think he was thumbing through his events and reckoning it was a 24 hr race. In summary, those who do well at a specific event don't tend to spread themselves thin. William travels half way round the globe to run 6 day events, ignoring the shopping week 10k on his doorstep in Orkney.

Meanwhile I am slogging up the first long rise in the race. It is relatively gentle with a run walk option as I watch Queen Mudge disappear over the next false summit. She hasn't run the breweries for a few years and while not showing signs of nerves as such, she was perhaps cautious and focussed. If I make a pig's ear of this nobody will notice. If you are the record holder then the spotlight shines on you more brightly and there is a greater pressure.

Meanwhile I am busily making a pig's ear of it. Well maybe not until later. I followed a red Carnethy shirt up to the first checkpoint thinking it might be Iain Gilmore, brother of Andrew with whom Gareth and I ran the only proper session I've done in the Pentlands lately. It was Iain and as we came off the top I veered left reminding Iain and another dude that the unmarked route goes this way, pathless through the heather until you pick up a track at the shooting stances down to Glensax.

Descent to Glensax. Ascent is directly above Iain's right shoulder.

I am a fan of dry feet so dodge right to step across Glensax Burn. Another runner wearing a Lochaber vest came barreling past and it is the first time of many that we swapped places today. Ahead of us is the immense climb up to Hundleshope Heights; a thousand unhappy feet of slog and sweat. There is nothing for it but to get the head down and march, hands on knees up this horror.

A Westie, (Alan Gilkison?) comes up behind Lochaber and says “Can your f---ing fancy socks not go any faster?” I hope they are aquaintances as this is fighting talk. Fancy Socks holds onto Westie's bum bag as he goes past. A few younger gents are making good headway up this long escalator to heaven but Lochaber and I are watching them pass, gasping, full speed with burning legs and lungs and at least one of us is not enjoying it at all. My lack of hill training is becoming apparent.

Stob Law

After a lifetime of up, eventually the hill levels off. I hardly have the breath left to thank the marshals at the gate over which I climb. I often run along left of the fence before hopping over and searching for the contour around Broom Hill. Today the fashion seems to be to climb the gate and begin the traverse. I have no idea why we contour round Broom Hill – perhaps the path we pick up is more dynamic, I am not going to complain about missing a summit. Myself and Fancy Socks hunt for a decent trod through the heather but singularly fail to find one before the groove and well pitted contour. It's a tricky piece of single track and Lochaber races to get on to it before me aware of the no overtaking once embedded. He is very similar in pace to me so it's no problem to follow the bucking ride along to the climb up Stob Law.

Riding the bucking single track to Stob Law

Descent to Glenrath. Photo thanks to Mark Hartree


The next hop over the fence and long descent to Glenrath is well marshalled and flagged. I make up the ground I had dropped to F Socks who takes a funny line towards the bottom through the trees as another hurtles down the steep rocky ground. I try to pick it up to match this and the result is the first twinge of cramp in my right leg. I ease back but the damage is done and the cramp story has begun. 2 things make my legs cramp. Lack of hill fitness and sunshine. Bad news. The legs sort themselves out on the road to the waterstation but less than half a mile on and I have to ease up again, climbing the scenic path up to the wooded section. I know what's coming and my heart is filled with dread. However again the legs ease off and I catch up with Fancy Socks who has been joined by another Lochaber vest. 

We are all keenly anticipating the tricky turns through the woods which lead to the firebreak. Since the omnishambles 3 years ago when a load of runners all missed the duck under the trees, the route at this point has been a well marked funnel of hazard tape. After a pleasing mushroomy interlude you pop out at the firebreak and a vertical corridor of pain appears ahead. My legs always cramp at this point and this year I began to realise that eating might well be the trigger. Blood rushes from your legs to your stomach and the legs seize and buckle. I often saunter up this green ladder eating a sports bar. The jelly babies from the aid station have been throwing spasms of stiff legged pain and I stop to let a Westie past. He gives me the impression of youth (although my eyes may have been squeezed tight in pain) and says “see you at the finish.” It is not meant aggressively but it annoys me and I take it as a challenge.

Mushroomy interlude

The firebreak vertical corridor

In the zone - the BAD zone

Presumably when my digestive system is finished its snack it lends me back my legs and I find myself finishing the vertical hike at normal pace. As I run along the soft ground at the top I pass Dick Wall and dog. He will have started the route a good way ahead of the gun (last night?). But top marks for taking on such an arduous adventure at all. (He only has himself to blame as he is the originator of the route.) I say hello, he asks how I am, and I use a solitary f word in the past tense.

Graham Henry's Scotland

Descending towards Stobo

I like this section. In the shade of the trees cobwebs are marked with dew and I nearly get down on hands and knees to take a photo. I have a word with myself. Flat leading to downhill over choppy but soft ground. Then through the gate and the long descent towards Stobo. I catch up with Fancy Socks, say hello as I scoot past, and see that the other Lochaber has got out ahead. The bottom part of the path becomes unfriendly rocks hurting tired feet.

I see Lochaber2 stop to stretch legs then follow him out onto the road and up to the aid station where I eat more jelly babies and glug water. I treat this as an F1 pit stop and head out quicker than Lochaber2. He passes me a minute later because I am nailed to the path by giant staples that go through both legs (upper inner thigh) and down into the ground. I am shouting obscentites and yowling animal pain as the 2 Lochabers and the Westie go past. Westie says “are you running tomorrow?” I want to answer him “I'm not fucking running today!” chase him down and barge past. I try walking without bending my knees. I try running without bending my knees. It is not pretty. My stomach loans me back my legs. OK point taken I will eat nothing nor drink till the end. Only an hour or so. Suck it up.

I can see the Lochabers up the trail. There is a pretty but rising mile of trail before a left turn off and slope down to a picturesque bridge and lochan. I know if I pound down here I get cramp. So I shuffle down taking the steps before the bridge like a pensioner. I run along to the stile unplagued by cramp. I see a chain on the gate and open it – all the other years climbing over has resulted in cramp and wrecked legs. Now its decision time.

"Nose" of trees in front of Trahenna.

The last obstacle in this race is Trahenna Hill. To get from the lochan to Trahenna you must cross the swamp. It is probably less than a mile but if you take the wrong line it can take 20 minutes. I took the wrong line last time and had to apologise to those that followed me, wading through lumpy marsh and boggy swamp on wrecked legs. I feel I have always taken the wrong line and that somewhere there is an optimum line that crosses this tussocky wilderness on smooth fast trails. Previously Chris Upson has gone from several minutes behind to as many in front over this section. Given there is a limited number of wrong ways, I have to hit a better line just by the law of averages, if I chose a different route each year. This year: straight ahead up the tussocky bank and head toward the copse of trees.

I was pleased my legs seemed to be in remission and allowed me up the initial bank. From there I could see a very handsome quadbike trail which I followed for a bit. Just at the point I thought “I've cracked it” the path ran out and I stumbled over some bad ground. I aimed for the convergence of some fences hoping there was maybe a path alongside. I climbed a couple then headed over reasonable ground towards the nose of the trees (if trees can have a nose) after which I found excellent single track that took me to the foothills of the T word. I noticed one or 2 Lochabers and friends headed behind the trees, and was pleased they had given themselves some extra distance and a bit of up and down before they got into line behind me.

final hill

Probably the best crossing of that terrible ground I've done. One year I really must recce it from Broughton backwards and find the optimum line. Now just the Trahenna problem. Again nothing for it but to muster the last of the remaining leg juice and steadily attack the hill. Slight veer to the left, otherwise just climb the steps and avoid flocks of gorse. I noticed a red Carnethy shirt and as it got closer recognised Neil B. Curses! He did this at the Feel the Burns race, out-climbing me on the last hill and holding the lead to the line. Another of those up-hillers! It gave me the encouragement I needed to keep chipping away at this monster which seems to grow as you slowly work your way up. He said later he kept with me to the top but lost sight of me over the other side and descent and, I suspect, took the longer slower route off.

I must admit to the folly of checking previous times. In looking up past reports you can find quality tips like wearing gaiters to stop the heather untie-ing laces. I was also reminded it's about 20 minutes from summit to Brewery, so I was clock-watching my pb come and go and knew that today was going to be a pw no matter what I did. So why keep the needle in the red? Well, Neil B was one reason, and up ahead was that Westie. Was I racing tomorrow yet?

Up and over the stile – I have developed a fence hop that doesn't require bending legs. Over the summit where a gang of marshals tempted me like sirens on the rocks to eat and drink. I gave the thumbs up but ran past unrefreshed, gagging for a mouthful of water. I noticed a Bella running high, WRONG, while the Westie took the proper quicker direct but more challenging single track down to the nose. I carefully climbed the fence, then set off knowing I was making ground on my yellow friend. To be fair he heard me coming and stepped off the path. “Let's hope you don't get any more cramp” says he and I'm wondering if saying the word can invoke it's presence. Can't complain about him stepping off the path though. I went past and while I imagine I flew down the hill I suspect independent observation might have seen an old tired man hobbling gingerly down the hill.

Thanks to Allan G for photo

There is a video clip on Deborah Macdonald's facebook of Angela M doing this section very nimbly and like she hadn't been running for 3 hrs already. She is going like the clappers and although a runner whose forte is going up, not down, she makes it look easy. To further enhance the video just as she approaches the camera she slips and lets out a quiet “oh fuck” before quickly finding her feet. Quality.

On the way through the last field there is a guy at the metal gate. I shout does the gate open? but he says no, it's tied. As I climb over I look at the canvas strip with a loose knot, thinking a pox on you sir that you do not have the strength of character to untie that feeble knot and make life easier for one hundred people about to arrive here. He asked was I having a good race and I blanked him. It's a knot I wasn't prepared to undo.

With no pb to chase and nobody in sight either in front or behind I jogged (© Chris Upson) the last mile of road through Broughton to the blessed finish line. Broughton seems full of pretty flowers and sunshine. After drinking my own weight in water and juice at the finish I walk back along to the village hall and the eternal trial of trying to remove shoes, gaiters and socks from cramping legs. I had taken a J-Cloth and it was excellent, soaked in the hot water, in aiding a basin sponge bath. Then onto soup (good 'n' salty) and venison burger (excellent) and there, the 30th running of the 2 Brews is over. Except the generosity of the prize list goes so far down the results that I get 5 bottles of beer for 3rd v50 the first time I have ever won a prize at this event. Result!

Richard survived and looked none the worse for his adventures. He seemed to navigate the course fine and wasn't last. We blagged a lift back to Edinburgh from Allan and Charlotte. Charlotte came second to Angela and only 2 places behind. Well impressive especially as she was also troubled by cramp towards the end of the race. Colin Donnelly, well into his 50's, won the race ahead of Fergus Johnston.

Very big thanks to all those who stood up the tops of hills for half the day, although it was kinder weather for that this year. And those doing the catering and the results and the route marking. And thanks for the beers. A great day out, and a classic race, although I must make a note to train for it next time.

Senior moment number 2
It was only when I got in the door I remembered my bike was still padlocked at Meadowbank.

Finished (well and truly)
Thanks to Mark Johnston for the photo

Results will be posted here eventually
Allan Gebbie's flickr page here

Photo Allan G

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