Monday, 3 February 2014

Hawick Balls

Masters XC, Hawick 01/02/14

It was the Masters XC on Saturday or to give it its full title, Scottish Athletics National Masters Cross Country Championships. Which is a mouthful, as are Hawick Balls. Hawick was the venue and as we drove down in the rain I was sure it would lift in time for the men's race at 2.15. However it didn't – if anything the wind got stronger and the rain heavier.

Shortly after arriving we met Graham Henry the fourth Porty who had collected our numbers and was full of cheer telling us the weather was character building and other such disinformation. He presented me with a prize carrier bag – I think I was the only person (other than himself) who completed his three long days out over December/January and I was getting the 3 Piece Suite (Mackintosh design) (in chocolate colour.) This is one of Graham's favourite jokes and the prize is more Rowntree Mackintosh than furniture based. So I got a carrier bag with a Snickers and a copy of the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser and my number. I appear to be jogging in the Selkirk advertiser.

Angela, who strongly denied this was a hill race but no doubt enjoyed the undulating aspects.

So the four Musketeers set off to get their shoes dirty. We had quite a long jog up-hill to a filthy field where we changed into spikes. As we were warming up the ladies race was coming to a conclusion and Queen Mudge finished a country mile ahead of the next runner. 

Great run from Mudgey.

Who was Janet! Now Janet does go well on a hilly course but she had done superbly to stay ahead of the legendary Fiona Matheson who came in third. It must have taken it's toll on Janet as she managed to go the wrong side of the hazard tape at the gate first of all, then headed down the hill when the finish line was off to the left. I shouted “LEFT Janet!” and she changed course, expressing thanks sometime later at prizegiving.

Despite marshal signalling and tape Janet managed to nearly go wrong at this gate! However she had a sufficient gap between herself and 3rd runner to make a couple of boo-boos and still rock 2nd place!

The legendary Fiona M, 3rd.

And it is an exhausting business. Just being out in that grim weather, it does yer nut in, with the wind blowing in one ear and out the other. So much so, that several people were using the electric fence to hold onto while changing clothes.

Michelle of Helensburgh reckoned the jolts from the electric fence might have spurred her on to a medal position.

We ran the nearer section of the course realising it was a tough prospect with constantly undulating lines and no flat sections what so ever. On a sunny day this would be a great course, today it was really tough going. I took some photos of the women then we all lined up and set off.

Mens action photos thanks to Danielle.
(The deteriorating quality speaks volumes of the weather.) 

I put it down to the caffeine drink I had 2 hrs prior; but I set off like a bat out of hell – possibly just relieved to get underway, turning through the gate out the first field in about fourth place. I was having a word with myself about this heading down the next field that this so wasn't the adult way to run -setting off at 5k pace when we had 5 miles to go. However when we turned into the wind and rain and a gradual long climb I quickly dropped about 10 places. At least 2 going past had a 50 on their back.

I tried to shelter behind folk. The rain and hail was battering off our faces in a most unpleasant way and I did question just what the hell we were doing here – there was nothing good to be said about it at all. I was wearing thin gloves and as they became soaked my hands got really cold. After quite a long harsh time in that direction we came upon a steep downhill and then a series of zig-zags descending and travelling back to whence we came. Then a sharp little climb of dirty gravel. The 15mm spikes really nailed this and catapulted me upstairs. Then right turn and down a thin muddy slide and the least likely place to try and overtake folk. Colin F a dear friend and superbad rival elbowed his way through, cheerily saying hello. He had beaten me by a few seconds at the Promathon so I felt I needed to return the favour here. OK time to stop messing about. There followed a long S bend on an inclined field and after the first crowded corner I seemed to manage to pull away on the S/West back uphill.

Running beside Mr Pushy from Dumfries - another Buchanan; always a bad sign!
Also in photo: Greig, Colin and 4th 50 in light blue vest.

Lap 2 and a bloke in a vest edged ahead on the long drag into the elements. I noticed a 50 on the back of his vest but illogically was pleased it wasn't Colin (m55). I trimmed my sails to hold a position just to his right and fractionally behind his shoulder which gave me a bit of wind shade across the miles of turfy difficult ground. When we reached the brow of the climb and began to enjoy the downhill I gave him the opportunity to draft myself. Then the zig-zags and I noticed he had dropped off the pace and there wasn't much sign of Colin or for that matter Paul or John (more Promathon-revenge). This put a lift in my day and I romped down the steep descents nearly losing control on the sharp corners.

(Photo, thanks Danielle.)

Again I enjoyed the spikes cramponing up the gravel ascent and expected to turn right into the last field and finish line but I had completely forgotten the S bend and that whole field. My hands were freezing and I was not far away from hypothermia. I believe a couple of runners were actually assisted off the course and one taken to hospital. I was careful to get through the last muddy gate then cranked it up for a dash to the line enjoying the downhill finish within shouting distance of Greig.

I think that might be me - the blob in the background!

Then straight to my kit bag and out of soaking clothes and into a warm top and jacket. Willie appeared in good spirits but with a frozen face almost incapable of speech. He had taken a tumble (no damage done) and felt he dropped a couple of places when he should have been sprinting for the line. It must have been quite spectacular as a fellow runner slowed (within sight of the finish line) to ask was he ok. It was a sign of my chronic brain damage that I changed and told Willie I was going to head to the car and showers, when of course I had no access to the car and my clothes and towel. Happily Steve was not far behind and as I ran back up the road I met Steve and we got to the car. Trickiest bit was changing from spikes into shoes (no socks so wet muddy feet naked into trainers) before the road.

 Colin and Willie (1st and 3rd m55s)

At last into the swimming pool area and clothes quickly dumped into a locker and under the shower – which was disappointingly tepid. After scraping off the mud and filth I had a lap of the pool then got changed, never entirely returning to proper body temperature until after getting dressed. It was only a 5 mile run but the whole day was really testing. What with the quality of the field I felt we had no reason to hang around for the prize giving. However I was wrong, as both Willie and myself got 3rd in age group bronze medals (m55 and m50). I had felt I should probably try to stay ahead of that bloke in the 50 vest but I assumed there were a handful of 50s between me and the line. Not so, and we were actually battling for 3rd m50 – with himself finishing immediately behind me. 

photo Colin F

Willie also hadn't known for sure he was in line for a medal so was equally surprised and pleased. However the best thing was winning the m50 team prize with Steve. A combination of us all running well and some of the competition succumbing to the conditions. A brilliant end to a harsh event. (And later, looking at the overall results I see Porty team of 4 incl. Graham were 8th out of 17 teams - pretty damn fine!)

Alex J leading the Karaoke (thanks to Sandy W for the loan of his joke!)
photo Colin F

Many thanks to the team of marshals and route setters and timers and Alex J for enduring truly filthy conditions - some of them must have been out in that dreadful weather in a muddy cold field for what must have seemed like a week. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have been put through all of that.