Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Goatfell Hill Race


The forecast was jumping around the place leading into this one and it was only on the ferry across that it became evident what the conditions would actually be. (Not good.)

Taking fewer chances was Roy B who encouraged a Porty Posse to head West to Arran then at the eleventh hour jumped ships to a last minute Greek sailing holiday. Leaving us to the choppy waters and sullen grey clouds of the Firth of Clyde. Still, could be worse: the SIPR is always held the same weekend as Goatfell and hearing tales filtering back of mountain rescue call-outs on Mull and sea-sick runners returning broken to Oban, made me feel relatively lucky that we would only have 90mins or thereabouts of endeavour before getting lashed into the beers.

Saturday morning started at 5.30 which wasn't too bad as I had failed to get any sort of deep sleep and was still half awake when it was time to get up, eat breakfast and get up to Waverley before 7am. I met Steve and Craig, and then Michael got on the train at Haymarket. Michael had been unsure of the wisdom of Goatfell but as soon as I started messaging him about the Forth Rail Bridge model at the crazy golf course he was hooked. He managed a convincing sub3 at London but it left him a bit crocked and training has been sporadic. He was compensating for this by wearing road shoes unlike most of the Inov8 shod field, to cope with the first and last 2 miles of road running.

Myself I was wearing these and a bit concerned they might be a bit flimsy up against the high-friction granite boulders of Goatfell. I broke them in on 2 sessions at Arthur's Seat during the week, and on grass and dirt trails they put the light in delightful. I was just a bit worried I was wearing ballet pumps to a rugby match.

We collected our numbers on the boat across and bumped into Alex. He enjoys an island event and we chatted about the island halfs and the proposed Tiree 35mile ultra. Weather will be the make or break of this otherwise splendid idea: running round the coastal road of golden beaches and turquoise seas. But if it was raining with hurricane force winds no amount of golden beaches would compensate.

And with talk of bad weather we could now see the low grey clouds obscuring the majority of the hill we would be running up. We disembarked and made our way along the seafront. Michael reminded me to stop at the crazy golf to take the traditional photo next to the Forth Bridge. Since I started doing this in 2008 I have met Diane Flett whose dad welded this model. (Her husband is Dougie Flett of SRAC.) We were the only people “on” the miniature golf course.

We arrived an hour before kick off so spent the time chatting to other runners and after a bit I changed into the Porty vest and ran up and down the playing fields out back. You can usually get a good photo of most of the course from here but today it was just low cloud and drizzle. Paul the organiser warned that the Mountain Rescue were reporting 25mph winds at the top with persistent rain and 25m visibility. Bummer.

Thanks Sheila for taking the photo

Although a lot of the usual suspects were off at the SIPR, I saw Alan Smith who has run 4 mins faster than my best time here. I managed to resist asking what sort of form he was in: last time we met he was below par and I was kind of hoping, in a not very sporting way, that he might be in similar form today. He is a legendary descender.

orange shoes
photo thanks to SHR

Finlay makes a break for it before we're even out the field.
photo thanks to SHR

After a quick chat from the organiser we set off along the main road out of town. My shoes felt like racers and suitable to the first fast mile in 5.38 which included a run round the grassy field to start with. The light drizzle got heavier as we climbed through the castle grounds and up through the woods. Out at the front Finlay Wild pulled away while I was just on the heels of a pack of around 8. A few more came through although I kind of lost track of who was ahead and who behind. Michael was within shouting distance behind as was Iain G, Thursday night wintervals pal although he also seemed to be in front as well. We are often around the same part of the field.

The climb went on for an age. At first on smooth dirt trails with some stepped blocks then after the deer fence the cascade of granite boulders crowd the path and you are hopping from one to the next; the dirt path only appearing intermittently as you bounce from stone to stone. The good news is that the granite is extremely grippy and even wet, my ballet shoes were getting good traction. The bad news is if you fall the same harsh surface will shred your knees and elbows. This isn't too serious on the way up but the gradient on the return encourages you to hurtle down the path at full tilt and the results of catching a toe can be a trip to Lamlash Hospital. Tony the Tiger (as seen on tv) knows all about this. I had warned the team several times about taking care on the upper stretches and saving the speed merchant stuff for after the deer fence on the return. It was Craig's first hill race. I was worried that one of the team would have a spill. I thought it might easily be myself. This was my fourth run here and I reckoned there is maybe a one in 4 or 5 chance of some bloodshed. (I was wearing cycling mitts to cushion the instinctive hands-out-to-break-the-fall. Then when we met Alex on the boat I relaxed a bit – he has a way of attracting all the available misfortune and absorbing it. Whether a falling rock on Arthur's Seat or an unexpected aspirin allergy that nearly did for him. We are still in shock he returned unscathed from a long trip to India.

After the deer fence there were a few folk wearing their obligatory rainwear. I decided not to bother putting mine on as I was in danger of overheating trying to keep up with Michael who had shouted at my orange shoes to spur him on then scuttled past. I kept him in my sights and saw him get out his jacket, wrestle with it in the wind, then decide against it and stow it away again. I knew he would be keen to summit ahead of myself aware he would probably lose his advantage on the descent. A guy in a Dundee Hawkhill vest went past and used the cunning psychological ploy of calling me by name. It worked, I was unable to respond and seeing his advantage he used similar cunning and guile to get past Michael. He didn't look over 50 but I felt I should try and catch him on the way down just in case.

In order to pass the time while on the conveyor belt upward, this inverted stairway to hell, I would assess runners by what they were carrying or wearing in order to judge their likely experience and ability. This judging-a-book-by-it's-cover was almost entirely 100% misguided. There was a guy in a compression top I followed and overtook and thought I wouldn't be seeing any more of. His top, from behind, showed a bra like understructure that surely no self-respecting hill runner would be seen dead in (a sports bra f'goodnessake?) I had him written off even though he turned at the summit several minutes in front (and unaccountably stayed ahead!)

My three previous here had produced times of 1.29 ~ 1.33. I had forgotten to note the time at the summit from previous blogs but it would be just short of the hour. By 50 minutes I was well tired of climbing but still there was no sign of the bamboo canes traversing over to the right and curving up to where 2 marshals stood bravely in the 25mph wind and persistent rain writing numbers on wet paper. It was ludicrous to think here we were in vest and shorts (and ballet shoes) and that if you stood still you would be dead from hypothermia in about 6 minutes.

As we did veer over to the right (Michael still just in sight in the 25m visibility) the runners all began excitedly jostling in anticipation of the turn around and descent. I ran round the back of the trig point, possibly the only competitor to do so, I thought that was the rules! No scenery whatsoever and I was glad for the hundredth time I didn't carry the camera today. I began down slowly. There were some steep drop offs and I was bearing in mind I needed my lower limbs not only to walk back to the boat but also for next week's marathon. After the initial clambering I warmed to the task and began to run. I think a couple of folk went past and I said howdo to Alan Smith ascending, who was wearing his waterproof. I was glad I had a lead of a minute of 2. Just round the corner and onto the path and I could see Michael. Before I caught him Alan Smith went past as if on wheels. I felt something between admiration and chagrin. How can he do that? I followed in his wake but in no time he had blasted over a couple of tricky bits where I virtually stopped to get my zimmer frame placed before lowering myself down the next step. I went past Michael and then was overtaken by Iain and another guy. As the path was now getting more runnable I managed to up the pace and keep them in my sights. It was deadly to try and watch other folk and the ground. People were coming up the same path but you just had to just aim for them and hope they had the good sense to see an old guy in dainty shoes, patently out of control hurtling towards them and get out the road as I clattered past. Most did. I kind of like this video game section – the rocks are flying under your feet and you have virtually no time to process the information which almost travels from your eyes to your feet without taking the time to go via the brain. My shoes were better than I expected and the lack of a substantial rock plate didn't seem to impact too much. I realised I was catching a couple of runners on my periphery vision but it was a while before I got close enough to see it was Iain and Alan.

I got a huge boost from reeling in Alan – I thought I wouldn't see him again. Iain went past him but as I knew we weren't far from the deer fence I thought I would shadow him till safer ground. It was while trying to overtake another runner that Tony smashed his teeth on the rock and won a visit to Lamlash. 

It was just before the deerfence (when you relax and think you are out the woods, taking your eye off the ball) that Steven F, a few years back, took a tumble over the rocky ground and had to be bandaged up, while the marshals steered us round the accident scene like a motorway wreck.

So with this in mind I held off and re-grouped until I saw a niche as the path widened just by the fence. I blasted through and didn't look back but heard footfalls immediately behind for the next quarter mile. I put the foot down and went for it realising there were a number of tricky stepped sections still to trundle over before the dirt path eased off and it was a zoom through the woods. I couldn't hear anything behind after a while but maybe because of the thumping of my heart and wind-noise in my lungs. I was fast catching Iain ahead and once we hit the tarmac of the castle grounds I could even see the Dundee dude and a couple more up ahead. Maybe in my superlight racers I could catch them too? Just to bring a bit of reality into the fantasy, Iain then went past again and I realised the shoes may have it, the legs do not. I still felt I should be capable of some fast mileage on the road – all those miles of road running I'd done recently – but the legs disagreed and asked the eyes to confirm there was nobody behind and therefore no life-and-death struggle absolutely required. So I relaxed and enjoyed how Arrany Arran was.

This one seems to have put his tent on back to front in the race to come fourth.
photo thanks to SHR

I puffed back to that grassy damp field and after the begrudged perimeter, crossed the line in 1.31.30. Of the four I have run this was the second fastest (hurray) although at 14th, the lowest position (boo). Worst weather by a good margin. I resisted the urge to ask Steve Matthews (Dundee) what age he was (2nd mv40) and watched Michael come in a couple of minutes later. Great to see him finish strongly after his last appearance here where he damaged his ankle quite badly then walked from the deer fence doing even greater damage to his SHR percentage. So obviously road shoes are the way forward. I must apologise to Steve, Craig and Alex for not seeing them over the line but my teeth were chattering and I needed to get changed. GREAT hot showers, then tea, sandwiches and home-bakes and I was pleased to see the team made it off the hill without bloodshed. Although Alex had wrenched his knee jumping over a marshal's beagle. And he spent the rest of the day dragging an invisible ski on his left leg.

The highlight of the prize-giving for me was not Finlay Wild and hearing how fast he went. (Very!) Nor was it me winning “First Man 50” although I did enjoy that too. The best moment was seeing just how utterly gobsmacked and delighted Sheila Cochrane was to win first fv40. Coming in 110th she wasn't expecting a trophy, however there was nobody in her age group ahead. Well run! I had spoken to Sheila earlier. She recognised me from the Feel the Burns race which she organises. Although a reluctant runner (a title she will no longer be able to sustain) she saw this event and decided to tackle it as a brisk hill-walk. Good on you Sheila, hope to see you at another, and soon!

It was only on the way to the ferry that Goatfell came out from the clouds.

photo thanks to SHR

After prize-giving and before the ferry we had a pint or 2 in a pub. Then another on the ferry, then stopped in a pub in Glasgow under the excuse that Michael's brother was a few miles away although we didn't actually meet, but had another pint anyway. I was woken (drooling and senseless) in Haymarket where MG said goodbye and the passenger beside me made a hasty exit; with Steve, Craig and myself travelling back to Waverley. I did a half hearted jog from the top of Leith Walk with the remains of my legs. Somewhere in among all the pints I had agreed to get picked up by Steve at 8.35am to join Bert and company for the Sunday run.

next day

We did the Duke's run from the Quayside which was a good hangover cure. Robert picked up the pace before 9 miles and when Martin started chasing him I joined in and raced the last 4 miles at the sort of pace I should be doing the latter miles of the big one next week. Hopefully I won't feel quite as bad but I suspect I will feel quite a lot worse. Splendid, if tiring weekend.

We saw this one coming in the opposite direction.

horse whisperer

second home


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