A hill race on a steep slippery hill in the dark in December. What could possibly go wrong?
Not much is the answer Ochils hill-runners came up with, so they put on the second running of this bold challenge and 72 folk thought it reasonable to turn up and run.
Graham Nash offered me a lift and so I cycled over to his yesterday afternoon. I was arsing around in that pre-xmas lethargic mood that swamps December, getting nothing much achieved and suddenly I had 10 minutes to throw my hill-running kit into a bum bag (obligatory kit checks) look out my Inov8s and get out the door. It was a bit of a fankle to cycle up to Colinton and I arrived sweating and late. Not the best prep.
I kind of recognised Alva and the race start from “Run of the Mill” hill race and possibly others. It's near the Alloa Half route and the race heads up into the Ochils directly above. We did the kit-check, registered and warmed up on the first bit of the route which was well marked with red and white hazard tape. It was a “warm” evening and a couple of the runners had stripped down to just a club vest. I wore a long sleeved Helly but removed the t-shirt I had planned underneath and the hat. Unfortunately I kept on the fleece gloves – I had forgotten I prefer bare hands for hill events as you often march uphill, hands on knees for extra push. Fleece gloves have less good purchase.
Without any fuss we were set off and although I hadn't had any caffeine booster I set off in 3rd place as if I had. I just got a good start over the narrow bridge and knew that folk would shortly begin going past. A lot did just that before I got my hill legs going and the next marshal half way up the hill let me know I was in 11th place. The front of the race disappeared into the gloom. The race was timed to coincide with a full moon but what with all the headtorches (obligatory) it was very dark away from the beams of light.
Looking at the previous year's results I reckoned it would 18 minutes up and about 9 down. This was pretty much the story so for 18 minutes I stomped up the dramatically steep hillside, before plummeting downwards as fast as I dared. There was the occasional break into a short stepped jog on the way up but it didn't really level off until just at the summit. There were marshals at strategical corners and bits where we might have otherwise gone haring over cliffs, which was very considerate. It would have been quite a cold stand for those that chose to help out and I tried to say thanks to each one of them between gasps.
On the climb I took a couple of seconds to admire the scenery: there was a rather nice string of headtorches zig-zagging their way up the hill, and beyond, an expanse of the Forth basin dotted with the clusters of orange sodium lights of towns and villages. I only had time for the briefest of looks up from the ground on the ascent and never once looked up on the descent as it was all flying past at a shocking rate.
Towards the top of the hill I overtook number 9 and turned one place behind Harry G. The place was awash with Gilmores – after catching my breath I went past first Harry, then his son Iain. I knew Andrew would be somewhere below but couldn't see the next runners ahead. I hoped to catch up with runners below but really there was no sign and on occasions between marshals I wondered was I taking the right line.
The descent was pretty fast. It was wet and very slippery underfoot. You could feel the build up of yellow grass collect between the studs on your shoes turning them into polished planks. The path snaked left and right and was so steep that it would drop below your line of sight tempting you to slow as you approached the next drop wondering just how steep it was. I kept up a tattoo of short fast steps, all the time wondering if I should or could lift the pace. It's like running with both the accelerator and brakes on at the same time and I noticed my whole body was tense – legs, abs, shoulders, all in anticipation of the sudden slide and tumble. It never came but was very close almost the whole descent. Towards the bottom I could tell I was being caught as the headtorch beam of the dude behind overtook my feet. Nobody had been close for most the descent which meant I chose the pace. Now I tried to up my game and nearly overshot the exit gate off the hill. He got past just before the gate and I thought now that we could run with a proper stride I might catch him but he was going well enough to keep 4 seconds ahead. I chased him to the line arriving in 8th place.
One of the things about running in the dark is not being so aware of what runners are where. I must have been overtaken early on by Steven F and should have seen him at the turn, but the first we knew of each other's presence was at the finish line. Somehow he was 90 secs ahead of me – a huge time deficit over 27 and a half minutes. He won first mv50. The race was won by Al Anthony in a new record of 22.53, again an outstanding run. First lady was Eilidh Wardlaw (2nd year in a row). I suspect familiarity with the course in daylight might help a little.
There was soup and a beer-based prize-giving in the pub, a drive back to Colinton (thanks again Graham) and a 30 min warm down cycle (mostly downhill this time) and back in time for the 10 o'clock news. A brilliant way to keep the training going on a dark December night and a huge thanks to Ochils and in particular the generous souls who marshalled at the dangerous corners saying “sharp right and then left” etc. at just the right places to avoid us going headlong over cliffs. 72 up and 72 down and off the hill safely. Great fun and good to see an adventure like this triumphing over the damp squibs of the health and safety brigade. Highly recommended.
Rather good webpage/blog with results already HERE