Monday, 18 November 2013

British and Irish Masters Cross Country International

Bute Park, Cardiff. 16/11/13

pic Beth Feechan

pic Danielle Glendinning

pic Danielle

Oldies' Olympics.

The road to Cardiff began at Masters counter Pollok Park 10k back in August. A lot of the same faces transferred from there to the flight South to Bute Park although there were a couple of no shows due to injuries. You get to a certain age and it's all about keeping the injuries at bay while trying to crank out sufficient mileage to get in shape. And this event is all about the oldies although as Billy the Shoe says, the lower age limit now includes M & W35s – Kindergarten Vets. They are only just out their teens although the winner in that age group event was actually 45 so they don't have all their own way.


Its too long since I have been abroad and am out of the way of booking flights, hotels and such like. I should have jumped as soon as the invite came through, but I hid my head in the sand (waiting for an invoice to come through) while the airfares soared. The team hotel was an option I was not happy about as Mary tells me I snore (often waking me in the night to relay the information which seems unnecessary, when the next day would be just as good) and I didn't want to inflict this on another in the shared room. I also felt I could get a B&B for less than the £50 each per night, although as it turned out there wasn't a huge choice as a lot of hoteliers had noticed there was a major rugby event and major football game the same weekend in Cardiff.

Bute Park

After quite some time on the internet (god bless the modern world) I found Ty Rosa, a Gay Boutique b&b whose least expensive room that weekend was £42.50 and included a gourmet breakfast. (By that point this seemed a TOTAL bargain as some “budget” options googled were looking for £385 for 2 nights!) A long time ago I worked backstage in the Playhouse Theatre. The constant round of Lloyd Webber singy-dancey shows provided a fabulous melange of mostly gay men romping around the corridors in flamboyant outfits and attitudes. I thought the Ty Rosa might be similar only with sharper d├ęcor, however I was almost disappointed to find the apparently straight couples considerably outnumbered the same sex couples. I imagined them saying later: “...we only saw one gay guy the whole weekend – seemed to be there for a cross country race?”

In the lead up to the race there was the strange dichotomy of the honour of wearing the Scotland colours weighing up against the hassle of interrupting my training and running calendar (missing the Borders Series xc!!!) for what would be less than half an hour's running and about 4 days lost to travel and taper. Also it was costing a small fortune. (There is a £40 expenses allowance from Scottish Veteran Harriers Club.) However you get to wear a Scotland vest and of course it would be churlish to complain. (So here goes.) In a further effort to stem the flow of non-disposable income I flew to Bristol, a more mainstream airport than Cardiff therefore about half the price by the time I realised these things increase on a weekly basis. That tip from John Blair – and it was a good one. Sadly he dropped out of the event with injuries as I would have enjoyed his company on the journey. Google let me know it was 44 miles (under the hour by car) from Bristol to Cardiff and Paul from Ty Rosa gave me the low down on how to catch the airport bus to Temple Meads and the train from there. My flight got in a bit after 4pm. (Security didn't stop me carrying the spikes from my spiked running shoes onto the plane the way easyJet said they would so the extra set I sent on ahead to Ty Rosa turned out to be additional to requirements.) So quite how it took 1 bus and 3 trains and four of the worst hours of my life, to get there, is difficult to explain. Rush-hour-Friday-afternoon was the main hold up. As the afternoon light fell so did my spirits. We sat on the Sardine Special going nowhere for what seemed like hours. And as much of it was spent sitting down surely I arrived like a coiled beast, fit and aggressive for the fastest run of my life?

Grangetown near Ty Rosa

I felt utterly wiped out and near to tears when I got to Ty Rosa, and it was a huge relief to get a cup of tea and a warm welcome from Paul and Stuart who were lovely and listened patiently to all my moans. I hadn't eaten properly since breakfast although had hastily packed a couple of slices of bread and honey when leaving the house at 11.30. Here I was checking in at 8.30. Speaking later to some of the Irish girls they had booked a taxi from Bristol (at £33 per head (return) x 6) and done it that way. My £11 bus and £19 rail fare wasn't significantly cheaper.

Here's a good idea as an accompanying dish: half rice half chips.
(These are hand cut chips - cross ref Sense of an Ending / book group.)

I slept very well – too tired to be nervous. Also I was full of Indian food. I had been directed to an Italian restaurant 2 streets away but found myself unable to walk past an Indian Restaurant on the way there. I also broke the temperance vow I had vaguely been entertaining for a few weeks as a mark of respect for the Scotland shirt, and had 2 small beers with the meal. The restaurant staff were very chatty and friendly, the food inexpensive and reasonable quality and it really hit the mark after the concentration camp train journey.

These look like Sequoia to me.

The team photoshoot was at 10.30, my race at 12.15. So I had plenty of time to get over the huge and game-changing breakfast as long as my elbows were in the starting blocks before 9am. There was a choice of everything and anything you could imagine being served for breakfast, and I limited myself to a full traditional fry up after a fruit smoothy and yoghurt just because I couldn't manage cereal as well. I rolled along to Bute Park through Grangetown: slightly shabby but friendly streets of terraced houses looking like a cross between Coronation St and Walford. Nearer the town centre this swapped for a highrise jungle of anonymous hotels and offices crowding round the hi-tech scaffolding of the Millenium Stadium and the jumbled gothic shapes of the Castle. The trouble with living in an attractive city like Edinburgh is that everywhere else can seem less so. The gloomy weather wasn't showing off Cardiff to its finest, but it was nearly perfect for running – cool with no wind. I was very impressed with Bute Park. Even under such grey sunless skies the multitude of well planted beautiful trees was brilliant. If only there had been some sunlight for the camera. All the day's photos were dogged by this and I apologise for all the blurry less than sharp results – mind you, the runners were the fastest old folk in the UK so they weren't standing still.

end of first lap

end of 2nd lap
both these photos by Danielle G

35~49s start

The women and oldest gents were first up and after changing and pinning on numbers I took a couple of photos of them while checking out the course. It was (as advertised) flat and fast. Four 2k laps for us. Running on grass and dirt trails. It was also very dry so you could have worn virtually any shoe. I emailed the organisers to ask if it was spikes friendly but had got no reply. I only took spikes (no more room in hand-luggage,) and was concerned when Paul T said he had recced it the previous night and was wearing trail shoes. There were a couple of carpeted tarmac crossings, both 2 steps wide but otherwise no problems so I settled down, as I enjoy how fast and light my spikes feel. This was the second time I had worn them outdoors. Shortly before the race started Paul decided to run in spikes after all. It was, I felt, the right shoe for me.

Finally we lined up and the gun went. I had got into a bad position on the start line – towards the back, and as there were narrow sections later I went off quite fast to get ahead while overtaking was possible. I was surprised it was relatively easy to get towards the front of the pack and it was possibly this and the Red Bull (first strong caffeine for ages) that encouraged me to push it out for the first lap. I have been trying to avoid this sort of thing of late but when you are wearing a Scotland vest it would be wrong to do anything less than faster pussycat kill kill!

Number one 35~49

Kerry had a great run finishing 3rd in his age group.

Stevie Cairns running for the enemy Northern Irish.

I had been thinking about lap length and how long it would take, since I was going at about 5k effort and it was actually around 8k distance and off-road, all be it fast off-road. So each of the 4 laps was around 2k. Say 3.30 for a km and that's 7mins a lap and 28 mins running. I noticed it was about 6.48 for the first lap and thought well that will be why it's getting warm. I hadn't worn a hat or gloves or anything under the vest because you could be sure the winner wouldn't be. The course was pretty nice. It ran for a bit through a wooded area and then on some dirt paths that skirted the river Taff. (Occasionally thought to be the origins of Taffy although this nickname is more often thought to be associated with the pronunciation of the name Dafydd.) Then round some fields and past the start finish area. Lap 2. Paul had been on my shoulder for some time. I could hear the cheers for him getting progressively closer and although we swapped places in Pollok Park a couple of times, I suspected he was getting back to his more usual form (after some time off for eye problems.) He spent the next 2 laps forging on, increasing his lead, aware that 4th m55 was just yards behind. Great to see him running so well and going on to finish as 3rd m55. At this level that is outstanding running. I could also see Stan up ahead for my team – the m50s. That meant I was second counter and I hoped I could hold it together to finish in that position. I think there might have been a few more went past but I was in the zone and just trying to keep things together and not really noticing much – trying to deal with the roaring noise as the effort of holding the needle into the red goes from bad to worse. Trying to keep decent form, telling yourself only one lap to go, hearing someone breathing hard behind, keeping them from going past.

Finally we are into the last field. A final effort to raise the pace and dash across the line and its done. All that planning, all the focus and now it's over. I stayed as second counter and this came as something of a surprise. Around 27 and a half minutes and I think the Garmin said 5.53 pace. I had made the mistake of checking out some of the team mates on the Power of Ten website and to my horror they all seemed to be considerably better runners. I appeared to be the weakest link and I was wondering what mistake had led to me being on the team. It had seemed like there would be a far greater probability of disaster and disgrace, than coming second counter. Talking to some of the runners before I knew they were not all in ideal shape and I think out of all of us I was probably in as close to best form as possible. A number said afterwards they felt ok but had lacked a va-va-voom. Perhaps the course being flat suited some more than others. And the pace of those at the front was enough to discourage the strongest hearts. Kerry Liam Wilson was one of the few Scotland vests keeping up with those front runners, appearing in second place halfway through the 35~49s race though dropping a couple of places by the tape.

Great image of the m55 team, bronze medalists. pic Feechan

pic Colin Feechan

pic Colin Feechan

I was glad to be finished racing and changed into dry warm kit then jogged around taking photos of the 35~49s race. I was extremely relieved to be over the age divide that meant I was among the youngest in my event whereas there would be 49 year olds having a much harder time with the youngsters in this race. Although as I said earlier the overall winner was 45.

Some of the spelling was way out.
(Or ffordd allan if you like.)


Then we were done and went back to our accommodations. I went back for a long hot soak, then got some pre-creased clothes out to wear for the “Evening Banquet and Awards Presentation.” (£29) (The food was really very nice.) This threatened to be a bit dull as 400 folk waited a long time between each course before they did the longest prize giving in history with each 5 year age category from 35 to 70, getting 3 male and 3 female team prizes and 3 individual prizes (both sexes.) (I think it might even have been longer than the West Highland Way prizes, back when Dario did individual speeches for every runner.) Fiona Matheson was the only Scottish gold individual medal. She is a legend. There were a few team medals for the Scots but by this time I was pouring drink down my neck by the pint and you'll have to check the results which I have not yet seen. The rest of the evening fades to black, or lager colour with a couple of nice glasses of wine in there somewhere. Here are some trees to appreciate.

There were various animals sculpted round the castle walls.

With the flash picking out his marble eyes this bear now has an expression like he's lowered himself onto a spike on the other side.

There was a game on in the Millennium Stadium

Of note was something Jan F reported on facebook – that the band singer said we were the skinniest audience he had ever had to perform for. And it was apparent – a whole hall full of thin folk, a rarity in these days of gluttony and obesity. Talking of which, on the way home I really should have taken some photos of the World of Duty Free at Bristol airport. To my jaded, hungover eye the unavoidable corridor stacked high with glitter and gold and shiny shallow marketing, chocolate boxes the size of table tops, enough vodka to float a boat; a cancer ward of cigarettes; a lake of stenching perfume; all lit so brightly you felt slightly Chernobled by the toxic atmosphere after running the sleezy gauntlet of shame. If there is a Hell then this is the entrance corridor and it's as classy as an airhostess's trowelled on slap. The good news is they are taxing the right products, the bad news is that a lot of people are still polluting their crappy lives with this trash.

Myself and John S have exactly the same percentage on Scottish Hill Racing: 118.2%!
Thanks to Colin for this great photo.

Only about 7 hours to get home, and it all went without to much of a hitch. 16 hours of travelling in 3 days is more than I want. (And with so little running.) But overall there were many things that could have gone worse and some bits that were great fun. If I am ever in a position to be invited again I wouldn't rule it out. Well done to all who ran and thanks to David F who organised the m50s team and kept me up to speed, and turned up with my vest and number on the day at the right place.

It was remarkably sunny at 34,000 feet

It was a much more modest breakfast on Sunday! I had as much as I felt was safe, then walked across town to the station and more by luck than good judgement caught trains and buses in quick succession to the airport. It's a shame those bloodthirsty religious sorts with their terrorism have made travelling on planes so much less pleasurable these days, taking shoes and belts off and having to drink all your water before security then buy some more immediately afterwards. By this point I had more spikes for my running shoes (the extra 2 sets sent on ahead now returning North in my hand-luggage) than the average sports shop, and security should really have checked why I was carrying the ingredients for a nail bomb. But happily they didn't because I was also carrying 2 pairs of muddy shoes and fermenting sports kit in poly bags.

and home
(Cramond Brig at Barnton)

I didn't think I had much to write about the weekend but actually there was quite a lot crammed into 3 days. I spent a lot of time with a map in my hand or between station platforms scratching my head. And you can't let your guard drop at any moment till you turn the key in the bedroom door. So it's all fairly full on and as a result tiring. And much less running than the usual weekend to keep one sane. Anyway I survived. And it wasn't all bad. And the trees were nice.

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