Friday, 28 February 2014

Tri Trail Dakeith Country Park 10k, 26/02/14

a lark in the park in the dark

Persevere: continue in the course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no indication of success.
Leith's motto and an appropriate one. Persevere. What else can you do? I was thinking about this earlier today when my bike fell over. It was outside while I was in the paint shop. It fell over on the side with the panier bag holding some jam jars of paint. I didn't check at that point but continued on my way up the road. Just before I arrived on site I bumped down a small kerb and either landed on a bit of glass or gave my rear tyre a pinch flat. I wheeled my bike to the job and got out my lock, covered in paint (right into the heart of the lock mechanism) and spent some time cleaning it before locking the bike with flat tyre and then going into work. About a half pint of paint had decorated everything in the bottom part of the panier. Luckily the electronics (phone, mp3 player etc.) were in the other side. And it was only one of the 3 jam jars broken so it could have been worse. (Broken glass half full.)

I didn't have a puncture repair kit, pump and levers as they were all stolen a bit back. So after work I rolled my bike home on the rear rim lifting it over kerbs. Persevere.

On the upside Gareth offered me a lift to Dalkeith for the race. I jogged a couple of miles to his flat trying not to get too sweaty as I correctly predicted quite a bit of standing around in the cold and dark after picking up numbers and before warming up. The jog took me through Lochend Park, which in the arse-end of a winter's day is about as desolate a place as you will ever find. The Stygian gloom and drizzle putting off even the most ardent of paedophiles. Ellie says there is an urban myth that the YLT (Young Leith Transvestites?) roam the park wearing balaclavas where they have a weapons cache. And that the eerie ambience comes from the submerged objects and people lying at the bottom of the black waters. “According to sources there is even an ice-cream van down there. If you stop and listen you can hear its child herding tune...”

There have been a few Tri-Trail races and largely they seem well received. They are the product of the folk from the Tri Centre, and the race venues are almost all places I rate highly. After last year's race in Dalkeith Country Park (in the dark) and the positive reviews, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something different for the PRC club championship. I get a childlike pleasure from going out running in the dark away from street lights and in challenging conditions. The weather was pretty much ideal although underfoot was always going to be very muddy after such a sodden winter. Its a brave thing to do – encourage members of the public to go out into the dark and run round the maze of off-road paths at points nearly knee-deep in mud. It would be the easiest thing in the world to go off route and spend the rest of the night wandering!

As well as giving us numbers we were given a wrist dibber. However the only place we had to dib was the finish line. I'm not sure there was sufficient numbers to justify this (159) – there seemed plenty of marshals at the finish who could have taken timings and probably been more accurate – I was wearing a garmin and a normal watch and both showed the electronic print out was 10secs fast. Tri-people just love kit. I was quite surprised I didn't see anyone wearing clear cycling shades.

We started just after 7.30pm. It was quite a narrow path up a gradient to begin, so we started quite briskly to avoid getting stalled in the squash. I was carrying my camera. I tried to take pics but the camera struggled to focus in the dark especially with all the movement. It was good to have Bob M out on the course somewhere taking photos. I think he goes to more races than I do. The first couple of miles passed without incident. There were hard pack trails, dirt trails and mud trails. There were undulations and the dark added to the fun. The trails continually twisted through the trees and it was impossible to keep a track of where you were in relation to the Big House which was about the only landmark. Apart from the Dalkeith Bypass which we would pass under, do a loop and then return by.

By the second mile Johnny led the field and Gareth was keeping him in sight. I had been in fifth but thought it would be cool to have a Porty 1,2,3 so on a gradual downhill cranked it up and passed a couple of the guys. I reckon I have done more headtorch practice at maximum effort than most: every Thursday I meet the Carnethies for Wintervals on Arthur's Seat and we sprint up hills in the dark, away from the street lights. So I should have been feeling very comfortable. I did have a small problem: my lamp seemed to be not as bright as usual. I have had the excellent headtorch (bought from Mark F) for ages now and use it a lot at work to examine paint on walls in poorly lit rooms. The rechargable batteries are losing their capacity to hold a charge for so long, so I put in some Tescos “extra long life” batteries. There could be a reason they are not as expensive as Duracell and I wasn't sure if it was the dingy-ness of the surroundings or the guy directly behind having more impressive equipment that was making the trail difficult to see. I turned the power up to full but it still seemed less powerful than normal and I was cursing not using the rechargable batteries.

This, as a problem, quickly became insignificant. Because we came to a junction where there was no arrow. Every 100 meters and every junction there had been small arrows on posts and marshals and now there was nothing. We turned left and I followed Gareth and Johnny and gained on them as we ran parallel to the boundary wall. It occurred to me it would have been useful to study the map of the route before running, however everyone who did it last year said that although you were continually unaware of where you were, it was all very well marked and you couldn't go wrong. Only we just had. The reason I was catching J and G was they were scratching their heads and wondering how to retrieve the situation. This was all a bit deja-vu. We had a bit of a summit and decided to run round till we found an arrow. The turn (we thought) must have been to the right, only we went left. There were no arrows.

Morale was low. I was really hacked off that this had happened yet again, and Johnny who had started with a spring in his step, was gutted and may have felt since he was at the front that it was his fault. We ran round in a loop. We came upon the mid-pack runners and started to overtake them. This would be going down the long straight in a North East direction. Now we knew we had made a mistake so you can be sure we would be looking for clues. However we took the same turn left and made exactly the same mistake again returning to the unmarked junction. On reflection I remember a broad left turn that you could cut the corner of, on a worn path and I recall the arrow in the right side of the path pointing us in this (wrong) direction. If it was that junction. I will never know for sure. It all looked the same. I could see Gareth and Johnny up ahead and felt I really had to stay in touch with them otherwise I could be going round this loop all night. When we got to the unmarked junction there was still no sign of an arrow but as there was only one other direction to take (right) it had to be that way. About this point the number 4 who kept with us asked did we know if it was the right way. I shouted back that we appeared to still be lost.

I also wondered what everyone else was up to. Here we were running around in the dark and nobody with a clue. What did the midpackers think or do when they saw most folk going left at that junction and some faster runners overtake and turn right? Up ahead I could still see Gareth. I suspect Johnny was disheartened by the experience of 2 races in a row in the lead and finding himself off piste and very pissed off. His headtorch lit Gareth meaning Gareth had taken the lead. I suspect that if we hadn't got lost Johnny would have given Gareth a closer run for his money. Gareth said later he found it really hard to keep up with Jlaw early on. He was on fire. Anyway, in case we all had to hitch a lift a home from Ormiston I thought it better to try to keep the boys in sight.

And then an arrow and another. I had stopped taking photos and battened down the hatches for a night of misery: it was potentially quite a gloomy, damp and muddy environment when one's spirit floundered. I had no idea if we were back on track or if we were out doing some loop in the wrong order and had gone back to the start or what. Or maybe I was dead (internally a jar had broken) and I hadn't noticed, just kept persevering and that this now was purgatory, and that the night, the race, would never end. We would just do loop after loop and every 10k Bob would take a photo until he was photographing just skeletons rattling round the haunted House.

However, I thought, just stick in there. Just in case this all works out just keep going and hey maybe nobody took the right route and we are still in 1,2,3. Whatever happens don't lose sight of G and J. Long after I had grown weary of the splish splosh of my footfalls I saw a marshal. I asked which way we went and was there far to go. You are more than half way says the marshal and I was thinking “I fucking hope so.” We had been running for 33 minutes.

I think this might have been near the Dalkeith Bypass. We ran a loop round here then on the way back had the sight of runners coming towards us, them coming up the road as we ran down it. I took some very poor photos, the camera waiting till the pretty torch-lit procession was past before firing off the flash. It looked quite nice though and I could see why people would huddle together in groups for light and human comfort. Gareth, who was now leading, had to warn them of his approach as they were chatting and running 5 abreast on the trail. They were over to the side by the time I was going past but their bright headtorches and my dim one was making for poor visibility and I was anxious not to miss an arrow.

Then we were back into the grounds next to the Big House and I recognised some of the paths we had been on – or ones very similar. I think that was the problem, it all looked very much like itself. Then the outline of the House and a couple of bright but small explosions of light. That would be Bob taking photos of G and J. Sure enough a bit later and I shouted hello as Bob snapped away. My spirits were rising: I knew that in a short while we would take a left and drop down the path to the finish. It had been a while since the bobbing light of the fourth runner had cast my shadow forward but I lifted the pace going down the last descent to ensure the 1,2,3. The runner behind turned out to be Michael McMoorfoot – a dude with whom I have run large portions of the 2 Breweries and quite a few other races. I hadn't recognised him at all earlier, what with the dark.

It was almost an anticlimax – dibbing the dibber then going into the courtyard to find G and J in discussion with the organisers studying maps and trying to make sense of all that dark and mud and 10k of trails, that measured on my Garmin 7.56 miles (should be 6.21 although folk said last year it was a bit over.) Just under 48 mins! (Average pace of around 6.20) Mostly quite good fun. I was going to rib Johnny about going the wrong way or being a jinx but I didn't as I think he was already unhappy about it. It was only the following evening at Wintervals that someone (thanks CM!) suggested in fact it may be myself that was the jinx since this was the third time this year I had attended races where we had not followed the proper route. I had forgotten Conundrum. Jlaw wasn't there. Looks like I'm the hoodoo! I'll try not do whatever it is I'm doing. Persevering probably.

On reflection I can't imagine running past an easily visible sign when you know you've already gone wrong. We took the left off the long straight twice; would we really have done that if there wasn't an arrow there? Maybe? I can't be sure. The rest of the course gave no problems. And it would appear that nobody took the correct course. It definitely took the shine off the evening although most of the runners were cheerfully accepting of it. I heard there was one person upset with Nicola for leading him astray which I'm sure (hope) was just heat-of-the-moment albeit wildly irrational. The organisers radioed about to confirm markers were where they were supposed to be, but the race had definitely gone astray and no amount of telling us the markers were all there, would sort that. Johnny reckoned it was the extra distance we had lost in Devilla that had turned up here, and spookily it was an almost exact match.

On the up side the tea and cake was good and very welcome. On the down side the prize giving was pretty poor. What do you mean am I going to look a gift horse in the mouth? Well yes I am. If they had given out Silva headtorches as prizes I would have been very cheerfully vocal about it. However Silva were there to sell headtorches not give them away. The prize list was quite short – just first three males and first three females. I was third male and got a kids balaclava type head thing that is also a buff and an unlikely hat. It fits my head but it's not really the sort of thing I'd run in. Or wear. In fact a cynic might say it looked a lot like something the Tri Centre had failed to sell in its shop so given away as a prize. The entry was £15 for a 10k. Now I know we got extra distance for our money but come on guys, no age group prizes and no team prize is a bit steep for £15. I'm sure you have better stock clearance in your lovely shop than some kids hats.

And the website is all a bit jumbly. Which is a shame as I'd like to do some of the events mentioned. (An ultra on the John Muir Way sounds very promising.) Hopefully they will iron out the glitches and continue to improve. Its great to have people organising fun events on beautiful trails.

ps tonight at Wintervals I ran so hard I heard the ice cream van.

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