Thursday, 16 October 2014

Pentland Skyline Hill Race

Pentland Skyline 12/10/14

The hateful hilly hamster.
I always think the route looks like a hamster - but I tried to photoshop one in and it looks more like roadkill

All I'll say is that there is nowhere on a race like that to conceal a lack of hill running fitness!
Brian Davidson.

Brian hit the (toe)nail on the head right there. I think this is why I have been finding the long hilly races troublesome. They were always tough but I used to spend nearly every weekend in the hills and before the race I'd be looking at lines and working the route; spending proper training time in the hills. Come race day it would be challenging but not hateful, tough but not tearful. Well maybe just a little.

Dougie Vipond tries to get Michelle's phone number.

Joel photobombs the Porty group shot

Some of team Porty (thanks Joel for taking photo)

Last of the good weather.

I had given myself the excuse that if the weather was iffy I would go along and marshal and wouldn't have to race. In the past I have been grateful and surprised that anyone would help out rather than run. This year I would have been mildly pleased to swap the chore of running for the less vigorous activity of supporting and taking photos and video. However the weather promised to be glorious. Something that didn't actually transpire much beyond the starting gun, but it ensured I ran rather than snapped. Actually I did both, carrying the new camera, which sits happily in the front pocket of the Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest which as well as the camera and obligatory kit (yes gloves and hat also!) was carrying about a litre of fluid, 1 gel and a Fruesli bar. (Supplies were low in the Ultra Box.)

Graham cleverly covered his bag in waterproof roofing compound.

I should have stayed up later on Saturday night and sorted everything. Instead I was still packing stuff into my bag when Steve buzzed the buzzer at 9.40. If someone is coming to your door to chauffeur you to the start of the race it is only polite to be standing waiting on the step before they arrive. Apologies Steve for being upstairs throwing compass and map and stuff – WHERE IS THE COMPASS – into my bag. The day I have to use a compass on the Skyline route, well I just can't actually think of an occasion when I would use a compass during the Skyline. There would have to be a 5 yard visibility and someone just popped my eyes out with a spoon. And even then how would a compass help unless it had a fliptop Braille lid. Anyway I kept Steve waiting. I think this reflected my keen-ness, my enthusability for this event. Maybe if I glug some of the caffeine juice stashed for the second half, I will get excited about this. But no.

There are always lots of lovely people to chat to at the start. Possibly due to the sunshine or the Adventure Show being there, there were even more than usual, which made parking tricky.

Eventually after some humour from Shane the organiser and 10% random kit checks we were set off. Somehow, and I don't know how, I got way up the field. By the (new to me) convoluted route to the the usual track above the ski slope I was well inside the top thirty. I probably dropped a dozen places in the next section and reminded myself not to start racing in the first half. Lots of familiar faces came by and we said hello. Eventually I settled into a comfortable position and held that up and down Castle Law an unpleasant tripping descent. To prove the point someone took a tumble (no damage done) immediately ahead.

2 Winterval-ers cheering us on. How come they are not running?

People not paying attention went left at the farm instead of across the car park and through the gate. They caught back up but I was warming up and tried to raise the pace for the flats and tarmac downhill to Flotterstone where Mary L was manning the water station and had a trained child taking rather good photos of the runners. The next climb up Turnhouse is one of the longest and I was concerned about just how much my legs were already trashed. However, like all things, it was eventually done. 

I think he might have done Manor Water.

I took a photo of Chris (Westies) and Diane (Lochaber) at the summit – they would travel along the Southern ridge with me. In fact Diane was within sight till the end of the race. I chatted with Chris going up Scald Law. We spoke about being in the same team for Nottingham XC. He has done this race over a dozen times and today would be his slowest. (He was racing well at the xc yesterday.) He felt his legs weren't in shape and would wobble if he ran rather than just the hike we were reduced to. I could certainly sympathise about the wobble – just the mention of it, and us not half way, – and my legs would go all jelly.

Lucy and Kipper.
I was out of breath and failed to say anything - and didn't manage to get a decent pic either. 

Lochaber off Scald Law

I think this dude knew my name, so he gets a photo, alongside West and East Kip.

Onwards, however, and upwards, and I actually ran S Black Hill. Diane (I had begun to think of her as Lochaber now) (2nd lady) was doing a very solid job of pacing and I was never more than 5 steps ahead and often many more behind. She summited West Kip just ahead of me. I put the camera away and got out the singular gel I had brought from the ultra box at home. I hadn't taken the race seriously enough to restock for it. By the time I had consumed my gel and then had a glug of the caffeine juice to fire up the second half, Lochaber had swept down W Kip past the checkpoint and was haring down the drove road. Funnily enough I thought I would perhaps get ahead of her here but she made a very good job of the reverse and soon I could hardly see her in the distance. Oh well, so that's how it's going to be.

I didn't see Morag chasing until Hare Hill

West Kip.

Bill Gauld who is 80 got a headstart and finished in a little over 5hrs. Ok, how many of us will still be doing the Skyline in our 80's? Hands up? I intend to be running but suspect most will be drooling in hospice beds or worse. Nice shorts! (Photo thanks to Digby.)

Eek - Lochaber made a dash for it.

As I climbed Hare Hill all fuelled up and far too complacent I heard chatter behind – it was a Carnegie and Morag McC. It was just after the halfway point of the Breweries that Morag went past, and here we were again, repeating the process. However it was Carnegie who caught me up and went past strongly just before the marshals who stood ineffectually before the summit stones giving us no clue whether to go straight on or veer left. (Strangely I heard an elk bark at top volume, but when I turned round only Morag was there. We spoke about this after the race when I remarked it couldn't possibly have been her as she is a Laydee.) Carnegie veered left and I followed him and sure enough there was some red and white tape. I think tent pegs were being used – and their lack of height in the heather made it difficult to see from one marker to the next. We had been told to follow the markers due to the landowner. I think it was about erosion control. And of course we would all follow the rules. Only the guy ahead seemed to be taking the single track trail rather than the marked route which seemed to be off to the right and not follow a path at all, meaning a more arduous stomp over the heather. I swithered between path and markers, largely doing the markers but then there would be long moments of not seeing any. The course up ahead was not very busy but the line seemed to go off to the right but not on any kind of path. The recent rain meant the ground was very soggy and for the first time shoes were waterlogged. I went off to the right thinking there MUST be a path I am not seeing, yet there was no sign of one. How are we going to back track over to Green Cleugh if we go in this direction? I looked back and saw Morag who was clearly not following the taped route but over nearer the old route, step up to her shorts in swamp so it wasn't all fun and games in that direction. (And that was the closest she got to me for the rest of the race.) Still heading right and hating the tussocky pathfree swamp fest I began to think the route had been sabotaged. I was now going at a slow walk and still no sign of a track. I was also approaching the edge of a near vertical heathery slope and all the time searching for a clue, a path, anything. No tape anywhere and a 60 foot slope too steep to run down. I clambered down stabbing the palm of my hand with a stick, a root of heather as I clung on in order not to career down the ridiculous slope. It was much the same angle as the one we usually use to descend into Green Cleugh but without the benefit of a path it was a death trap. “Whose f*cking idea was this?” was largely the conversation I was internalising, however as I struggled down the slope and across the scree I began to blaspheme aloud and for the benefit of the small amused crowd who had gathered at the bottom presumably like the crowd at a public execution. I took a moment to look around to see if I could make out the proper route – nobody would EVER choose this route, and to my growing anger saw a number of runners descending by the former route and crossing Green Cleugh in a civilised manner. By the time Mark J took the following picture I was reduced to spluttering out sexual swear words by the handful without even a sentence for context. Only afterwards did I notice Hanna (in pink, right) and regretted my foul mouth.

I caught sight of a couple of pieces of red tape on tent pegs coming off the bottom of the slope and think my mistake was not travelling far enough right before descending but couldn't see any directional tape at the top and the pull of the course being off to the left was too great a gravitational force. Race organisers (I am one, so I know) have a lot to do and I wouldn't get on their case for something trivial like wrongly measured courses or no hot water in the showers. OK, I lied, I would. But this has got to be sorted. Either post a marshal (and there were plenty in places less urgent than this) and/or have longer bamboo canes visible from more than 5m away. Jim H is not a cheat by nature – he just wouldn't cut a corner deliberately, yet I saw him as one of the offenders following the old route and he was pretty sure it was flagged that way. It wasn't. It is difficult ground off Hare Hill and you can't easily, at speed, take your eyes off the ground.

Coming up the new route we see people coming up the old route.

The old route - very naughty!

The new route - even worse.
I think the real line was meant to be left of the scree - I came down just right of centre scree.

I was fuming, however I tried to use it as fuel in my boiler and steam my way up Black Hill. This hill used to be a 16-abreast random heather stomp. I used to recce lines and hope nobody was on my heels benefitting from my hours of research on the quickest line to the top. However all that has changed and a well worn path up past the bird cage then on to the summit, has removed some of the old magic. Only it's quicker and easier so I won't complain too much. I caught up with a Carnethy vest and kept him in my sights along the top and down the other side despite gaseous emissions (his, not mine) as we dropped into the swamp before Bell's Hill.

Across Black Hill

Descent towards Bell's Hill and that awful groove.

Rising on the other side of the divide a number of folk seemed to be eating gels and sorting kit. Carnegie seemed to be doing a fashion show. I assumed he would be most of the way to the line by now but here he was taking off a shirt and putting on another. Frankly unless it's got a superman logo on it I don't think it's gonna make a difference. (To be fair I think he was taking off a lower layer – with the wind now behind us it was almost warm.) I say almost warm – I ran in a vest with just a greasy layer of cold sweat covering most of me, wondering if I should have worn a t-shirt as well on the way out and slightly better off on the return but never in danger of overheating or even drinking all of my less-than-a-litre of juice. I was enjoying the occasional sip of the diluted squash way more than the Tescos-generic-red-bull. However I squeezed that down me, determined NOT to finish carrying any drink. The soft flask is a great thing – you can bite on the bite valve and swoosh the contents down your neck by wringing out the “bottle” like a sponge. And being soft it doesn't poke you in the ribs.

First Al Anthony (photo Mary)

Second and third - Stewart (1st m50) and Fergus

this cheeky chappy had a very good run.

you can tell I'm having fun (4 photos ^ thanks to Mary)

Mary had said she might be out on Harbour Hill taking photos. I ungenerously thought the chances of her being there at the right time were relatively slim. So it was a pleasure to see her and Scott on Bell's Hill (a whole hill early) taking photos; and was it her or Scott who helpfully said “what's taking you?” Haha. I appear not to be amused however it was nice to see them all the same. From then on I would see the next runner up ahead and slowly reel them in. I suppose this is my ultra endurance kicking in although looking at photos and the results I see Craig Love (who I didn't even know was running) was also doing a splendid job of moving through the field in the second half – and any longer and he would have caught me.

I suspected the best views were back the way looking at the hills we had already done so twisted my arm back to take a few snaps - and it got cramp!

I could still see Lochaber but she was moving at the same speed as I was. There was a turquoise green vest some way ahead and I realised I was catching it up. I thought I didn't recognise the club colours, however coming off Capelaw I recognised it was a Dunbar top and that it must be Ian R. Hmmm he is in my age group. He past me going like a train in the first half. However he was definitely suffering. He might have seen me following him up Allermuir as he was legging it off the other side as I got over the top and it was only really on the way up to the last top that I caught up with him. I said hello and he knew it was me without turning round. “All downhill from here,” I said and he replied “that's what I'm worried about.”


Ian and myself photograhed by Mary L in the last 30secs.

There was a well placed marshal and signs to guide us back down the convoluted way we had come up. Just as well as my brains were mush and I tried to climb an unnecessary mound to get a view of the descent path which was obscured by said mound. I assumed I had dropped Ian, however I see in this photo (again thanks Mary L) that in fact he was right on my tail and I should have been focussed on running not taking useless blurry pics of the finish line. I had assumed the fight for top 3 over 50s was long over but apart from Mr Whitlie who had an outstanding run and finished 2nd overall, this was, in fact, it. However I didn't know any of this until sometime later.

Hugh (whose knee was mysteriously injured in the last few yards) ran with poles which I thought were deemed to be a mechanical aid and outlawed by Scottish Hill Running. However he checked with the race organiser who allowed them. I'm thinking a well positioned (summit) bicycle might be the thing next year.

My strategy of not eating in the second half of a long race to avoid cramp leaves me feeling a bit low blood sugar at the end and I felt pretty awful for quite some time. I had eaten a large breakfast. It should have been an enjoyable indulgence, but it wasn't. Steve tried the same and found the same. I presume the body likes routine and objects to being unduly stuffed. Steve and Amanda both suffered from cramp. Amanda for the first time and I think it was an eye opener. Again I should have been more chatty with the team as they arrived but I was a bit knackered and used the remaining energies to get over to the excellent showers at the ski place. They were almost deserted and I wondered if we were actually allowed to be there. But hey! quality showers with adjustable temperature controls – oooh too hot turn that down just a shade ahhh perfect. I had blistered my left heel and lost a layer of skin and had a hot spot on the right after the 2 Breweries, so put Compeed blister plasters on both before the race. I could feel some friction there during the race but was pretty pleased with myself about the race prep plasters until I took them off after the shower along with another layer of skin off the left heel. Just about down to the bone! Very stingy! And I hadn't brought a replacement plaster so had to hop about until the sock bedded in.

I felt a bit sideways so didn't eat any of the goodies at the finish line tempting though they looked. Mary (and Berlingo) appeared in the car park just as I was leaving the showers – splendid timing – so I got a lift home after a quick chat with Steve and some of the rest of the team. (Didn't realise I should have stayed for prizes.) Helen did a grand job of her first Skyline and boyfriend Scott whipped my ass by about 10 minutes in revenge for me beating him last week at Dunbar. (Horses for courses.) Bernie survived well although I think he loved all those hills as much as I did. Graham was looking far too cheerful for someone who'd done the Man-or-Mouse challenge which includes the Manor Water Hill Race the day before. I was, on reflection, happy to win a prize (surprised, really,) however like a 3.05 marathon, when you've gone sub3, 3.05 doesn't always throw your hat in the air.

I spent the rest of the day and much of the following day trying to work out if I like this race or not. Because of the hills it's never going to be a favourite. I used to train much more specifically for it so it was less torture. These days I spend more time in the woods and beaches and trails of East Lothian and so I enjoy races like that. I am hoping I'll still be saying that during the xc season. As Brian said right at the top of the page it you haven't trained for it, expect trouble. So either I will do more hill training for these long hill runs or stop doing them, and I suspect it may be the latter.

1 comment:

  1. The "dude who knew my name" is Andrew Cox, Moorfoots.