The Ochils 2000s was on the day before and although this race is tagged on to the other to make a double bill there are few people tough enough to do both. I have had a curious August's running - although the Tour of Fife was busy there were very few miles run that week and since then my days have been spent recovering and working far too hard to manage much running. Last week's total was a massive 10miles and I even wimped out of Thursday's hill reps because I was feeling tired. I wasn't the only one. Joanne and Hugh had planned on a recce of the Ochils on Wednesday followed by the race on Saturday. They managed neither! Similar to myself Joanne said she was working too hard and just not feeling like it. I think the cooler weather and grey skies add to the feelings of fatigue. However both J&H turned up to (in my opinion) the far more entertaining race. I do not have happy memories of the Ochils 2000.
photo Mike L
The upside of all this work malarky is a bulging wallet and I set out on Saturday to try and buy several pairs of shoes to replace the dead and lame ones I am currently running in. Then a disaster: the small notice on Run and Become's door saying they were on holiday till the 30th! AARRRRRGHHHHH. How could they desert me? I stamped up Lothian Rd to Run 4 It where they didn't have the right size of Fellraisers and then stamped along to Tiso's where they had a lot of chat and NO hill running shoes. I was busy stamping home when I saw a new outlet of Cotswolds Outdoors just along from Tiso's. They didn't have Fellraisers but did have a lot of things on which to spend money. Including a pair of Speedcross 3s. Now I have edged away from Speedcross 3's in the recent past because the colourblind designers at Salomon seem to be catering for the young-and-gaudy market and I really can't offend the hills by going into them in purple and blue or yellow, orange and red shoes. However I spotted a pair of all-black-with-only-silver-stripes speedcross and when trying them on they felt even better (snugger) than the Fellraisers I had tried at the recent Salomon marketing day. They have bomber grip on the soles and are almost identical to (probably a bit heavier but £40 lighter than) Steve's lavish Fellcross2 shoes. The day was saved and I also bought a couple of Rab tops that are excellent. I was so pleased I even signed up for the loyalty card.
Steve, me, Maddy - gaitered up.
Steve picked me up at 10.15 and we stopped on the North Bridge to pick up Maddy off the train. Normally she would have been travelling with mum Michelle but both had done the Ochils and Michelle had a sore ankle. Maddy had fallen as well and twanged a finger which was slightly swollen and coloured but she is a trooper and has an enthusiasm second to none (actually there is one exception and we'll come to him in a second) so she asked if anyone could give her and her finger a lift to Baddinsgill. Steve obliged and when we got there we realised we had all taken gaiters - as a precaution against the amount of heather and bruck that tries to get into your shoes over the soggy and rough ground.
The other person as nutty keen to hill-race as Madeline is Michael G. In between injuries MG does every race at every opportunity, the longer the better, the more hills, the more enthusiastic he is. Unfortunately most of the time he is damaged or on his way to another wonky knee. Otherwise he would be, like Maddy, racing at least twice a week. I don't know anyone else who would even consider the Scottish Long series while living in London, a viable choice. Currently living in Macduff, another remote outpost of civilisation, he has been travelling via the Beveridge Pk 5k series (2nd overall after a number of Friday night races), nicely breaking up his journey from Macduff to Edinburgh. Having last week suffered the Race the Train race (much overrated in his opinion) he was delighted this week to be doing a race that featured only a couple of hundred yards of tarmac, and could barely contain his enthusiasm.
Now, technically I did carry the camera - zipped away in the small shoulder pack I ran with to carry the obligatory kit. However I took it because the finish isn't that near the start and I wanted to get some photos afterwards. If you want to see photos of the course check out the recce here. I saw from the line up on the start, that today would be testing and I would need my hands free for floundering over the rough ground and swimming across the swampy bits. Michael noticed that my chances of being first fifty might be a bigger ask this year than the last 2 with a nod towards Steven F. Having recently done an interval session with Steven, I knew I could be faster on the flat however as there isn't actually any sustained flat sections on the course I expected more of a battle.
Nick (organiser) was very laid back at the start telling us a bit about the route then setting us off. It is a long enough course that nobody sets off at a sprint and it was only after we had left the tarmac and climbed through the first fields that I got up to maximum puff and blow. As I began to slow - inevitable on a sustained climb - I was passed by Michael and the first 2 ladies, Joanne and Charlotte who would shadow each other for most of the course. And a few others. My plan was not to knock myself out on the first hill but to take it easy and slowly work through the field as I did last year. I think Steven passed me and then after the trig point I passed him back and caught up with Michael in time to see him belly flop into the first swamp. I mostly tried to nimbly jump the deep bits while Michael seemed to prefer the headlong dash and bulldoze through, approach. Both worked as well although I think he carried a little more soil and bogwater above the waist.
Steve C also took a swan dive into a pond.
Because there wasn't much in the way of horrible hills between miles 1 and 3 I hadn't seen Steven for a bit and thought over-optimistically I had maybe left him behind. On the way to East Craig however I noticed he was just behind and then, in no time, just ahead. He caught up with a group that contained Michael and the 2 first ladies and a dude in a blue top. I felt I was notionally in this group but just trailing off the back due to the longish steep hills. It is quite a slog up to East Craig and I wasn't even looking forwards to the descent afterwards as it is on horrendous ground. Nick has hinted there is a path but I doubt there is, or that it is any better than the rough gallop down the blocky tussocky ankle-grave-yard to the path near the fence. I wasn't too far off Steven at the top and strove to follow his line. He has a garmin in his head, or maybe just so many years in the hills, that he has developed a very good instinct for finding the best line. (Nick said later he had seen Steven's strava data of a recce the day before.) The group ahead were taking a diagonal towards the fence and the relative safety of the path, horrible as it is. Steven crossed their tail with a far steeper line towards the bottom of the path hurtling at break neck pace over tussocky grass under which boulders lay in wait for the unwary. I did a tentative version of Steven's route and caught Michael who was towards the back of the spread out group, now being led by Steven. I mentioned to Michael I was now considerably more concerned. I had forgotten Mr Fallon's legendary descending skills. Michael kind of agreed but said there was a lot of race still to be run. And that downhill at the end.
I enjoyed the relative flat along to the drove road checkpoint where a marshal or 2 had laid out cups of water and jelly babies. I threw a cup of water down my neck (I wasn't carrying fluids) and without breaking stride began another hellish long climb, trying to focus on the good fast running beyond rather than the distance my group was now getting ahead. The dude in the blue shirt caught up towards the top. He had taken a bad line off E Craig and paid the price. At the top I could hardly call the folk ahead my group any more but I sort of rallied and set off over the mattressy-like ground as fast as possible. After a while I could see Steven was at the back of the group. This was keeping me going and by the time we left the trail a mile later for the pathless heathery stuff I was less than a hundred yards adrift.
The climb down through the heather is pretty tough. This is the reason I had not wanted to wear my orange 190 Inov8s - I have seen the mesh uppers on other people's damaged from fighting through heather and scrub. The Speedcross were quite a bit tougher and apart from the arduous nature of lifting your knees high to clamber over the stuff without tripping I didn't have any problems. Whoever took the line that we were now all following did a good job. We went right of Wolf Crags then followed a quad bike track with marginally less deep heather all the way to the top of the hill. I had assumed Steven would be well ahead by the top however I suspect being taller I had a slight advantage wading through the heather. Half way up the hill I reckoned he could hear my Garmin bleep, by the top I was a couple of strides behind and shortly after he stepped to the side and ushered me past, no doubt a bit hacked off with my wheezing in his ear. I had been reckoning on trying to edge past once the climb levelled off but just didn't have any oomph for making any kind of headway, so he now followed me as closely as I had been following him. I stepped into an above knee sink hole and shot forward. He enquired was I ok. It was very friendly! As we summited a peak allowing us to see the course ahead, apparently endless, Steven let out a curse of "is there no end to this" or something to that effect. I knew exactly how he felt and resisted saying just another 2 miles. I was feeling the same. However I thought I saw a chink in his armour.
So we slogged on for another long way over tussocky lumpy grass until catching sight of the marshal who was posted to shepherd runners over the fence and onto the last aspect of the race. I noticed Steven, fractionally behind me was already crossing the fence. At various points he had taken individual lines or crossed fences when nobody else did. That garmin brain of his. Mostly good choices too. I quickly climbed the fence and we ran together down some steep and lumpy ground. He put in a huge burst of speed and again I went from "it's in the bag" to "red alert" status. However there was a nearly flat stretch before the last climb and I passed Steven for the final time and he was breathing pretty heavily. I pushed on and turned at the final hill summit maybe 10 yards ahead. We still had to get down off the hill, over a fence and a small rise before the last long smooth descent and I never returned to "it's in the bag" status until I crossed the line. I also overtook another runner, a CAAC guy from "my group" who had been ahead all race.
All of which no doubt helped to make this year's time nearly 3 mins faster than last year. In fact several records were broken despite the recent rain turning what was a dry course on the recce into a soggy swamp-fest on race day. However the weather was ideal - not much wind and pleasant cool temps for running. At the front Fergus raised his game by 7 minutes but was unable to retain his record which fell to Don Naylor with only 15 seconds separating the 2. Great run by both. Graham Nash also had a mighty run (2nd m40 to Don) - I was hoping to let him go in the first half and reel him in in the second however I was only able to realise the first part of that schedule and he finished a long 2 minutes ahead. Charlotte decimated the ladies record; Joanne wasn't far behind.
And both ladies finished ahead of me. Excellent running Joanne and Charlotte. Third lady was Maddy. She caught up with Steve C towards the end and gave him the necessary enthusiasm to get going over the last hill or 2, since she had done all of that and the Ochils the day before as well. She had also been trying to fix her funny finger by falling on it a few times today again. How tough is she? Well pretty damn tough - after a close inspection of the Ochils results (where she was fourth female) it turns out nobody else managed to complete both races. And this her first year running hill races. I think Steve was relieved to finish (just) ahead! Michael had a great run and was very full of good banter in the pub, despite the prospect of a long drive back up North.
After a bit of a chat at the finish line, and then by the car, we went to the Gordon Arms and sat out the back in the sunshine where Nick dispensed (many) beers and envelopes. This is a great event, and the organisation, marshals and everything is brilliantly well run. The course is taxing and testing but neither too long nor too much of a sprint. All in all pretty much a perfect day out. Big thanks to Nick and his crew. Highly recommended.
results (up v quickly) and course records on bottom of CAAC page here