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. 

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