Monday, 24 February 2014

National Cross Country, Falkirk 22/02/14

It's 2 years since I ran here last. A dismal day back then – hobbled off the course at the finish barely able to walk and no longer able to deny the Plantar Fasciitis that forced the longest injury and recovery since I started running. So today was the comeback. Not sure why I hadn't bothered last year. Bad memories and a lack of a team maybe. PRC doesn't have a good record at turning out for these events. However this year the word had gone round and we had double figures in M and F teams. Well done people. It's not always fun or easy but it puts the club on the map to turn out in force and stand shoulder to shoulder with the best clubs in the country.

Even though this one forgot her running kit she still took part in her vest and pants

And the standard is high. Gareth had a brilliant run and placed 60th, almost certainly his lowest finish of the year unless he has another marathon like his first. (Just teasing Gareth!)

We arrived as the women were halfway round the first lap. I stood at the end of the lap and snapped the runners coming down the home straight before going into lap 2. You didn't have to go round the course to see there was a lot of mud. Runners were wearing it. More mud than any year I've been at Falkirk. There are usually dry stretches between wet patches. This was nearly gloop the whole way round with the highlight being a slippery mud hill up from the loch you would have needed crampons to stand on without travelling, and with a river of mud on the upper slopes. And the juniors, the teenagers and the ladies were churning it all up so the senior men could enjoy 3 long laps of mud-skating. The pained expressions on the photos say it all. (Had to remove the least flattering out of politeness.)

Rhona Auckland moved ahead in the second lap. An outstanding performance given the stellar nature of the line up. Massive congratulations to her and Joyce and Ken Hogg her coaches.

Freya's view up the last hill.

Hanna supporting on the right - a future star.

Nicola, showing everyone how to wrap up properly for the February weather - even some colour co-ordinated tape to keep legs warm.

Susan P showed her quality to get past Rosie S and Elizabeth P

Nicola was very pleased with 7th place, this time ahead of Megan C.

Comedy moment - the Dundee Road Runners tent decides to leave early, exposing their stuff to the elements. What's that tent behind say? Windstopper! I think I saw Danielle G helping fix this, before it threatened to leave the grounds.

Our girls return from battle.

photo David A

After standing around taking photos I felt cold and it took 15 mins of strides and nervously nodding hello to the gathered competitors before I warmed up enough to strip down to just a vest. Shoes: it had to be spikes although I could understand folk preferring hill shoes for the paths round the loch that had 12mm spikes crackling and crunching. 15mm would have been too long for the hard pack but 12 felt insufficient to get a grip on several of the swamps of shin deep squelch. I really like my spikes for coming out the mud, holding onto less gloop and was surprised how much they had shed, or failed to hold onto after the best part of an hour of fun and games. It was still hard, hard work though. The continual check against slip-and-slide combined with the sheer slog over heavy ground made it a test of endurance more than the average xc sprint for a half hour over mixed terrain. (I have a feeling the Big Dickster threw in the towel after 2 laps as there wasn't enough daylight for lap 3.)(He has my sympathies and I called out a friendly hello as I lapped him.)

photo David A

Team photo then over to the start-line. As a complete change to the usual head-out-at-top-speed-and-see-how-long-you-can-hold-it-until-painful-death strategy I was considering the options in the face of certain failure. (And Dave W asking was I going to employ such tactics with a cheeky grin.) Is there any other way to race? I asked, then realised, hmmm actually, there is. I shuffled backwards off the front line as Barry got his gun out and stood 4 rows in, next to Willie J – always a senior and sober influence in a sea of testosterone and damp grass. Luckily before I had a chance to rethink and barge to the front again the gun went off and so did we – across the flat grass and hard pack then up the first soggy hill. I hate mass starts like this and tend to float backwards as people crowd in from both sides. However as it was all relatively easy paced I pushed back where contact was made and couldn't believe how easy it is when you don't sprint at 100% up that hill trying to overtake as many runners as possible to get onto the path round the loch as if that would be your finishing position.

Great photo - thanks to Kenny Phillips who posted a series of excellent photos on facebook. I am bottom right, Willie behind and left-ish with Don Naylor just behind.

There are 3 laps and it is fascinating to see where we are all positioned at the start of lap one versus the end of lap 3. By the time we hit the lochside path Don Naylor is still behind Willie. Yet he is going to finish in 51st and second vet40. He will spend the whole race overtaking people. Is that easier or harder than pushing hard at the start to 51st place and then running fast with your elbows out? I will never know. Anyway I am enjoying not breathing so hard I could cough a lung. This lasts until the mud fountain which we ascend round the back of the loch. You can hear the baying crowds from some distance. I had been running along the turf at the edge of the path rather than crackle along the cinder and gravel. An audience has gathered to watch the christians being fed to the lions. Steve says he caught a lump of aerial mud in his mouth and it was down his throat before he could spit. There can't have been any souls in road shoes or they would still be there. Not that spikes were long enough to catch in the deep sludge. I ran with my shoes angled like cross country skis to catch the edges and slither up with a combination of involuntary gestures and levitation, because really there was no way you were getting up there using the laws of physics. And when you got through the river of mud the angle decreased but you still had another hundred yards before the brow was summited and you began to descend wheezing like someone in a giant foam suit on the greasy slope in It's a Knockout (back in the days when that was still wholesome fun.)

photo Danielle G
"thin line of grass and soil"

As you recovered, and sped up, the bad camber on the slope downwards aimed you for the gate post while you pointed your feet up-hill and made like a speed skater on the turn. Out into the golf course and the search for firmer ground. Again an opportunity to look around and admire the quality of the runners going past. There must have been well over a hundred in front but still one was surrounded by running royalty albeit they were moving forward at a more rapid rate than oneself. Others who had started too fast (huh imagine!) were now jogging and spluttering and making their way back through the field. And we weren't even on lap 2. Down and up the sharp dip then back in front of the Big House then up the next hill. This one was much better and you could almost choose a line that had grass for the complete ascent. There was some relatively un-churned turf (proto-mud) if you went way over to the boundary on the left. The great thing about 3 laps is you get to try different lines each time. Endless fun. Along the back section then into the impressive home straight. I crunched down the cinder path first time but subsequently took the thin line of grass and soil on the left: the difference between eating a sandwich with and without a teaspoon of sand in it.

photo David A, with Mark H in the Fife vest

Two more laps. Don't think about how much pain was left, just do it and don't complain. And certainly don't remember you signed up for Devilla Trail Race tomorrow. Holy Moly! Whose legs are you going to borrow for that? Didn't I say don't think about that; don't think about anything. 15.30 or so for the first lap. Try and multiply that by three would you, and try a different line off the hill down to the loch because over to the left was worse than a week of rain at Glastonbury. 46 and a half. Okay, that sir, is your target. (Not a chance). And all the girls shouting your name. They have finished their run and are now cheering and clapping mainly to keep warm. And taking photos. Wipe the horse-froth off your stupid mouth, no need to smile. No reason to smile, none of this is good. You hear the cheers and try not imagine a picture on facebook: you looking like you got out of a chair in a nursing home too quickly.

photo Devine/Hood.
Mark H going past

Not even half way there. Here's this muddy hill again. This time across the main sludge pile on impulse power, then there is a slightly less gloopy bit on the right hand side, get the edge of one's slippers into the gravy and peddle those knees as you slow to a crawl. Dear oh dear, I nearly blacked out.

photo David A

I think the second lap was a low point. On the third you can tell yourself huh last time I see your pretty face. Last loop round the loch. Last time I speed skate round the gate post. Also as I set out on the third lap Mark H a legend of hill running came past. I had no idea where he was until then – perhaps he arrived late and gave everyone a ten minute head start. He certainly wasn't hanging around and went past with such grace and speed it was inspiring, and so, suitably inspired, I set forth also with grace and speed and it worked pretty well for about 100 yards. Actually a bit more but then the third climb up mount improbable and I was too busy blowing into the bag of my inability to see him run off. Are you drunk? You are running on wobbly drunken legs. Speaking to him afterwards he said he started too quickly (ha-HA!) fell apart in lap 2, saw me go past (he was polite enough to omit what thoughts this triggered) then got something of a second wind and gazelled past round the lochside inspiring myself and others to likewise step it up for the last lap.

photo Scottish Hill Racing

It's tricky when you are at full tilt (and have been for 45 minutes) – at least energy-output-wise if not top-speed-wise, to then raise it a gear for a sprint to the finish. But it would be disappointing for the crowds of adoring ladies trying to keep warm if one did not at least offer up a flourish in the gallop to the line. In fact I was surprised that there wasn't a heap of dudes taking shelter, a quick ciggy and a breather behind the handy trees on the back straight before appearing with puffed chests and pumping arms down the home straight and finish. Most seemed happy to use the muddy ramp down to the corner and the fading cheers of the girls on their way back to the school across the road, to fuel the 100yd dash towards the Big House and the moment we all looked forward to: when we can, at long last, stop doing our preferred activity.

photo Martin Devine / Ann Hood

I again chose the threadbare grassy dirt carpet in preference to the sandy-witch, and did what I could, spurred on purely by the thought that as many places could be dropped here as there were yards left and that potential defeat was well within the jaws of victory. Due to the number of runners ahead and our eyes facing forwards you can never really tell how you have done at this race just by feel. There may be a greater number behind than ahead, but one's eyes face forward. You can only appreciate the crowds behind by either hanging around at the finish and gloating, or (more politely) checking the results later. I decided to adopt the latter policy and although I shook hands with anyone I passed as I slowly recovered my equilibrium, I pretty much decided to get my stuff and see if I could get into the showers before the hot water ran out. I did particularly well at this race (even beat Gareth to shoes-on-and-cuppa-poured) and it was only when Willie J came into the canteen he let me know that he had looked at the results and I seemed to have done quite well. (I was pleased to have done < 3 x lap 1 in 46.23. There were, however, no prizes for age groups (more a shame for Don Naylor and his rather splendid zig-zag through the masses).

spikes: before and after

12mm spikes before and after

The menu in the canteen read like a list of foods runners should try to avoid. That is of course the danger in heading West to race. I had a tray of chips which I have to admit were AWESOME. Willie and Steve had doughnuts (actually they were so awful they might have been donuts) cut in half and dosed with squirty cream topped off with pink icing and hundreds-and-thousands.

Central I think winning a team shield? Wasn't really paying attention as I had AWESOME chips.

Thanks to all the marshals and time keepers and organisers and Alex J and everyone who took photos and everyone who cheered and I didn't acknowledge because I had just got out a chair too quickly! What a terrible way to spend a day. Never mind, Devilla 15k tomorrow – pass the foam roller. 11am start you say, and rain, heavy rain and wind on the forecast? Superb! Lovely! Haha!

Scottish Athletics (all results) page here
Women's results
Men's results
David Allwood's photos here

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