Friday, 31 January 2014

In the Dark (kung hei fat choy)

After a busy weekend I took Monday off running, well apart from a couple of miles on the treadmill at Leith Academy where I do a Fitness evening class. “Fitness” is a bit of boxercise and floor exercises and for the first 30 mins we are welcome to ruin ourselves on the treadmills and cycle and rowing machines. I don't know how anyone has the mental stamina for this as after 2 miles I get so bored I crank the speed up to see how fast I can run then have to stop. 2 miles is about twice the most I've ever managed. If this was running I wouldn't be doing it.

Tuesday night and I dragged myself to Meadows intervals where to my surprise I had a good session although the last of the 5 nearly killed me. All within 4 seconds except for the last which was 8 seconds faster. 3 Jims and an Emily are the usual PRC contingent.

Wednesday night was a tough hill session at Coillesdene trying to keep in touch with Gareth and Nicola and failing. And then to Thursday evening and Wintervals with the Carnethies. After the hills on Wednesday I could have done without 5 x 3minute reps on the Radical Rd. Every time descending to the start and the steepest part which is a killer. Oh and then 2 x 1 minute sprints which were nearer walking pace by the time we had done the 5 x 3. Horrible – just horrible.

I took the camera to Wintervals and afterwards, instead of heading home went via the courtyard of the University off the South Bridge where there is an exhibition of Chinese Lantern Warriors. The spectacle was created by Chinese artist Xia Nan (inspired by the Terracotta Warriors) for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Up to 90 warriors built in the style of paper lanterns stand in the university courtyard, and are lit internally making an impressive sight. And you are allowed to walk among the warriors. It makes a very lively visual treat and, coincidentally, a great way to mark the Chinese New Year, today. The heads seem to be fashioned from something a bit more solid which slightly detracts. The discreet cabling for the power source is kept close to the ground and the whole thing is well worth a visit, the multi coloured life sized figures giving off a very festive glow. Towards the front is a horse (well a smallish pony) reminding us this year is the Chinese year of the horse.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Borders Series XC. Conundrum. 26/01/14

Every spare square inch had a parked car in it.

Continuing the excellent Borders XC we went back to within a stone's throw of the English / Scottish border near Berwick upon Tweed to race the fifth of six events. This was a new course and a great improvement on the rather ordinary beach-and-cliff affair they used to have here. Unfortunately the weather was pretty grim – but slightly better than the terrible forecast with the rain and high winds easing off after the drive down the A1 – thanks again Steve for getting a carload of Porties down in plenty time to warm up and check out the first part of the course.

I had not checked the website so had missed the info about short spikes being suitable. I was cursing this on the drive down, however when I saw the hard-packed dirt trails which made up about half of the course I was pleased I had brought Inov-8s. Long spikes would have been good for the muddy parts and fields but probably not so appropriate for the dirt and stony trails. Short spikes something of a compromise. Inov-8s were great and gave good footing on all the surfaces.

Dr Neil

I was rather hoping Stewart Whitlie (after racing well at the Devils Burden yesterday) would not bother to turn up today. The only way I stood half a chance of getting a first-in-age-group-place was if the course was flat or if Stewart was absent. As it happened neither of those things transpired. What can you do? (Run hard and be graceful in defeat.) Stewart was very chipper on the start line and came over to say hello before we got in line, the air horn sounded, and he legged it up the hill not unlike the hare I'd seen crossing a field while warming up.

2 Porties, both in new spikes

Trying not to lose heart I booted it up the track and was glad when we got to the top as my lungs were furnaces and I felt my heart flapping about my chest like a fish in the bottom of a boat. We went along a bit of scrubby ground and I don't recall much more than trying to catch some of the runners just ahead, picking them off one by one. I was probably only just inside the top 20. Then another field newly sown with sprouting greens which seemed to be made with memory foam soil that sank an inch or 2 as you ran across it. It rose on the far side adding to the treachery, lungs going like wet paper bags again.

Then some dirt trail. I had overheard someone asking about the first hill maybe being the only hill and the answer came back that there was another big one later on. I could still see Mr. Whitlie's blue sleeves in the distance alongside Rab from Musselburgh but I knew there would have to be an awful lot of downhill and me going like the clappers to regain any of the ground between. More uphill. I had chosen not to carry the camera as it had been drizzling while we warmed up. As we ran the day got drier and brighter but due to the exertions I was glad not to have to think about anything other than the best line and where to place my feet. About 2 miles into it and I thought we should probably be descending soon. Strangely after summiting the highest bit we started to descend then met a length of hazard tape all the way across the road ahead.

So, something was wrong. Difficult to know where we had gone astray. Maybe someone had tied the tape in the wrong place. I did what you do in those circumstances and just followed the runners ahead who made the best call by ducking under the tape and going into the field next door, then travelling back up the field to loop past the rest of the runners. I passed Fiona M who said “you make it look easy” possibly one of the best things anyone has ever said to me. It did not feel easy. However it wasn't raining and there would now be the downhill part, which I was looking forward to. I overtook someone and set my sights upon Rab who seemed to be getting a bit closer. I followed him round the field through which we had come then just as we left the the original route for a diversion, made a bid for going past.

I was now one place behind Stewart but could see he was not getting much closer. I also saw him look over his shoulder, and felt flattered that he may have been looking for me. I tried to crank it up as we headed down a particularly slippy steep slope and found myself jumping from one rut to another only just in control. I would catch glimpses of Stewart and Fergus up ahead but unless either had a catastrophe I wouldn't be catching them. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a building below and left and assumed that was the Conundrum Farm Cafe Shop from where we started out. However the runners ahead were going over a small partially submerged bridge (knee deep splosh through waterlogged bit) and up into a rising field on the right and continuing parallel to the A1. I was surprised but followed suit before seeing the farm cafe building was further along in this direction. I had a quick look to see if Rab was chasing me down, no I seemed safe enough, then gave it all I could to come in 24s behind Stewart.

I felt I had done a reasonable job – I rarely keep up with Rab, and hadn't realised until I saw the results later that I had overtaken enough folk to climb to 7th place. Just one event left and it's not particularly hilly so I'm looking forwards to that.

That said I very much enjoyed the course today. I struggled on the hills going up but you don't get to zoom down the descents unless there is a bit of a climb before. And the weather cleared just in time for the race. The puzzle of the tape over the road was explained by the organiser in an email thus (in reply to Digby's Carnethy report)...

One of my marshals, for reasons known only to himself and which we are unlikely ever to determine, having sent the Juniors the right way proceeded to send the Seniors the wrong way. The marshal involved is an experienced coach and athlete and was put in that particular spot because of his experience. I can only apologise for his error.
The positive of all this is that all the runners went the wrong way so there were no inequalities of distance and, in fact, it would appear most of the route was run as, after "the blip", everyone regained the proper course. To date feedback on the course has been overwhelmingly positive and, of course, next year we will ensure that this mistake is not repeated - as you will appreciate this was the first time a XC has been held in this venue.
The course was properly marked / signed and, after the gales of Saturday, it was walked and checked yesterday morning by myself and my husband - everything was in place before the start of the race and, had the marshal in question done his job properly, then the race should have gone off without a hitch. I personally feel absolutely dreadful as this marshal is, in fact, my brother - someone I would expect to rely on 110%.
I would be grateful if you would extend my sincere apologies to those club members who ran yesterday and experienced the difficulties. I do hope they will all return next year and run the proper course !
With best wishes
Caroline McDermott

Red marks route we ran. Orange is what we should have done on the way out.

So well done to the front runners for retrieving what could have been a disaster. And everyone ran the same route. Many thanks to all those out on the course (even those who should have gone to specsavers!) as it was a cold day for hanging around. The course was well marked and had a good selection of surfaces and challenges. Even a bit of a water hazard towards the end to get your shoes clean. A lot more entertaining than the previous course which was just a long haul over the beach and a mile or 2 of cliff top trails.

Bonfire on the beach

I think it was later when we were having refreshments at the cafe Steve mentioned he was going to go for a run after we got home as he has lost a certain amount of marathon training to illness over December/January. The xc had been 4.4 miles and another one or 2 to warm up didn't make for a long enough day so I decided to go with him. We did a nice route from Easter Rd down to Seafield along to Joppa, back round Brunstane Burn Path to Arthurs Seat with a lap of the Queen's Drive then home. Only getting one shower of rain. We clocked up another 14 miles. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Sometimes you have to know when to pack it in.

M was reluctant to leave the good for the bad.

Mary had us up and out early today trying to catch the weather window. However it slammed shut on the way to Pentlands and the rain was already tipping down by the time we stepped out the warm car into the chilly misery.

The plan had been to run up from Balerno via the Drove Rd. to the Kips and then some other tops and down to the Howe and then back up Carnethy – something like that. Medium distance with maximum hill training.

The wind seemed to pick up towards West Kip and by the time we had got to the top it was so strong it was pushing the lashing rain straight through the Montane so-called waterproof jacket I was wearing. I could feel the cold water soaking into and running down the 2 layers underneath and my back and kidneys were getting very cold. I waited for Mary on the other side and said I wasn't liking it. I was hoping she would warm to the idea of cutting the session short. By the other side of East Kip I think she also was feeling the cold and we decided to head away from the high ground.

Although things did improve going down to the Howe, when we turned to head left to Balerno the biting wind was in our teeth again and it was pretty desperate. I realised I was getting hypothermic and needed to warm up so instead of taking my pace from Mary I ran along and back the trail trying to get warm. My new gloves were totally soaked through and my hands were so cold I couldn't flex them to stay warm.. I wasn't wearing enough and was soaked through. We passed a couple of girls in running kit without gloves on pink fingers and yet they seemed ok. However they did have the wind to their backs. With it in your face it felt like running into tin tacks in a wind tunnel.

I kept the pace going – running back and forwards, until we got to Beach Avenue and some shelter from the wind. It was like someone threw a blanket around me. I had been trying to work out (while up in the hills) if it was ok to continue or best to suggest heading to the car. You have to imagine how things will pan out in the next 30 minutes as the car is at least that far away. I think we just about got it right today and I was glad I didn't just try to tough it out. (And I really need a new waterproof.) Mary seemed not to get as cold as quickly - perhaps her waterproof top worked better than mine, although by the car we were both shivering uncontrollably and it took quite a lot of effort to change into dry clothes and get warm, with the heater turned up to full the whole way home. Not a good day out.

It would be good if the weather improved tomorrow for the cross country although it won't be as high and exposed as the Pentlands. Normally I take 200 photos while out in the Pentlands. Last week in the crappy weather it was 40-odd. Today 13. Mostly the camera stayed in its case and poly bag.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Feel the Burns 19/01/14

2nd year for the Feel the Burns Hill Race. And it's a stoater! Last year we had deep snow, this year it was warmer and wetter. But still fantastic. I was really looking forward to this and the forecast promised wall to wall sunshine. However it was not to be as the weather people got it wrong for at least the third day in a row. Which didn't stop the fun and games on this really well organised and well attended 13 miler.

I have to admit to nearly ruining the day by blabbing so much in the car on the way that Steve couldn't concentrate. (Mary says she understands this entirely and is frequently nearly driving off the road due to my blethering). And we were heading down the A1 instead of the Jedburgh Rd before anyone noticed, while I droned on in the back. Steve rescued the situation by going across country via Gifford to Lauder then making good time to Selkirk with just minutes to spare for a quick registration, kit check and jog to the start line. Which was so brisk that I felt I would manage in just a vest, no hat, no gloves. I took off the t-shirt and put it in my backpack, possibly a bit too keen.

I managed to stay with JLaw until the first steep bit.

After a long hike up the first hill we crossed this heathery pathless patch for the next summit of the 3 Brethren. That's Andrew G just overtaken - getting revenge for Paxton last week. He had a great run and came in 5th.

The 3 Brethren with marshals.

Due to the nature of the course - dramatic climbs and long fast descents - places swapped more than they would in a flat half marathon. Scout Adkin, 1st lady (above) caught me just as we were topping out at the Brethren. Her strength being going up. As this was then followed by some downhill I took back the place but knew I'd probably see her later.

On the drive down there had been some filthy weather. However just before the off it brightened and the rain stopped. I made a last minute decision to carry my camera, but took a polybag to put it in if it started chucking it down. Happily it stayed fair although the light was a bit low and I took a lot of dull grey shakey photos. Although I made quite good ground getting away from Scout, I noticed this dude approaching my ear.

He gradually pulled away on the long drag up to the high point at almost exactly 6miles. I was looking forward to climbing the stile here as the going then favours me (downhill) for the following 2 miles.

The low cloud was swirling over the higher parts of the course.

As we began the fabulous descent I could see Greig G again for the first time since he went past on the first hill. I have great respect for Greig coming along to do hill races. He can run 73 minutes for a half marathon and yet in the hills.... Well I was just about to go past him. Most folk are drawn to the sort of running they do best. Greig comes along for the scenery, the crack and is very sporting about comparatively old fat blokes like myself going past on the downhills.

We were now approaching a superb part of the run - what Graham has called the best mile descent in Scotland. Past the marshals keeping us right at the sharp turn, it is a narrow trail and difficult to overtake folk at speed. I managed to get past Greig although up ahead there was a train of runners so we were pretty much obliged to go at the speed of the front guy. Instead of trying to force a way past I decided to stay in line and take some photos. Last time I had gone down here a little too fast and felt wrecked, up the climb on the other side of the stream.

Lemon sole was a popular dish today.

Towards the bottom of the descent places began to change and before we got to Broadmeadows I had overtaken all the guys ahead including the yellow vest of the Westie, although he would go past again later.

Interesting to compare last year and this, taken almost exactly at the same point - looking over to the last dreadful climb...

I even seem to have been leaning over at the same angle. The main difference was the moles (or at least the mounds above their holes) seem to have moved to the bottom of the field. Another probably slightly ocd thing I noticed, and wonder did anyone else notice the quality of the safety pins they were giving away this morning? Particularly fine - small but really well built - just how I like my men I mean safety pins. When you see as many of these as I do in a year, well you notice these things. (Or not.)

Another good thing - there was a photographer at the stream (and large deep muddy puddle) at the bottom here. As Greig said, it gives you the motivation to stomp through the middle rather than pussyfoot round the edge. To impress your non-running friends. (He has non-running friends!) I will hopefully post a link when they appear.

Then past a water station (a cup of near freezing water held no appeal.) And along to the oldest hostel in Scotland which Graham tells me has now been sold but the kind owners were happy to have us all tramp through their garden and up the woodland trail behind  to some of the deepest mud on the course.

Miss Adkin appeared again as had Greig who can be seen getting a second wind and heading past a few runners ahead. (I reckoned that was the last I'd see of him.)

Now these duck boards were slippy as hell. Or would have been if organiser Sheila hadn't been out sprinkling ash on them. How kind is that? To access them would mean an obligatory walk over very muddy ground with a large bag of ash.  All included in a VERY inexpensive entry fee. 

Then round the corner and Greig is squatting down having a shit in the mud! Come on man pull yourself together. Oh, hang on, it's only his shoe has come off. "Get your shoe back on Cinderella," I helpfully called out while he cursed, telling me later: of course he double tied his laces meaning he had to take off his gloves to untie them to get the shoe back on. While watching runners go past making cheeky comments.

Now it may seem that Graham had flagged the worst possible line up the last awful climb. In fact he went up and down 5 different lines and opted for the fastest. Last year we went further right (South) to the ridge to avoid deep snow on the line that we took this year which was pretty much the diretissimo over a couple of streams then straight up the front. It only took about 8 minutes from where the steepness started but it was not the best 8 minutes of my day. Scout disappeared ahead, galloping up like a deer. I remembered being overtaken by Neil B here last year (revenge this year!) and although a few of the guys I had just gone past on the descent came past, I felt I made a reasonable job of it. Thursday night Wintervals take a bow. 

One of the Lemon Soles ahead and possibly Scout on the horizon a long way ahead.

Big thanks to the marshals who stood out all day on the top taking numbers and checking we all made it home safely. Quality service. 

The sun came out as we climbed this hill last year as well. 

Now this Westie I had overtaken on the long descent and now caught again after he made a much better job of the uphill. (Horses for courses.) I thought he wasn't carrying a kit bag but on closer inspection he had his kit in the back bike pocket of his top which was then tucked into his shorts. This field wasn't quite the joyful descent it appeared, having a peppering of cattle tracks making the surface a bit more treacherous than it looks. And an off-camber just before the track.

Then out onto the trail for the last mile. I could see first lady about half a minute ahead and wore some rubber off my inov-8s trying to catch her (as I had managed with Jasmin Paris last year in very similar circumstances), but she was far too quick and remained about the same distance ahead, setting a new female course record. 

Thanks to Allan G for this photo.
If there is a slightly confused look going on around my face it's because Charlotte to my knowledge wasn't running and so I didn't expect to see Allan. To further confuse me, his camera was in front of his face, and I wondered if it was himself, only confirmed when I saw his splendidly unique vehicle parked further down the road.

Photo Allan G.
Graham had a great run - especially as he was out till after dark the day before marking the route. 

The sting in the tale was the very muddy ground on another off-camber slope just as you entered the last field. I was glad I wasn't involved in any last minute sprints as you had to go carefully to avoid what could have been very messy. Then onto decent grass for a dash to the line. I was 13th and pleased to have improved on last year's run by a couple of places and over 11 minutes. Partially fitness, partly a shorter course in (mostly) more favourable conditions. The start and finish in the field was to avoid the very rocky trail that would have made for an unpleasant finish at speed. Team Porty all said how much they enjoyed the course (well maybe not the the last hill) but generally everyone seemed to enjoy the day and the excellent route and variety of terrain. Johnny finished first PRCer in 7th a couple of minutes ahead of myself.

Then to round off the perfect day's running we headed back to the rugby club where there were really hot showers, then a big cup of soup, a slice of brown bread and a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties all included in the entry fee. Exactly what you need after a bracing run in the hills. 

I totally recommend this event. It is superbly organised by Sheila, (over £1,000 raised for the local mountain rescue,) and route marked by Graham. Hat's off to the marshals who are hardy as anything to spend most of the day out keeping us on the right course, and making sure nobody comes to grief. The food and drink afterwards makes for a great atmosphere in the hall with a very generous prize giving. I came away with a bottle of red and token for Sainsbury's for 1st m50. Icing on the cake!