Thursday, 3 December 2015

Trossachs Night Trail Race

Gilmores enjoyed it!

There aren't that many things I'd ditch club training on a Weds night for, however the opportunity to race on trails near Aberfoyle last night was one. Mike was driving there and due to a couple of late cancellations there was a seat or 2 available in his car.  I said yes before I'd fully appreciated the amount of travel involved: 25mins bike to Mike's then 90 mins drive for a dark 36 minutes run then a long drive home and finally a bike down the road. Not for the faint hearted. Big thanks to Mike for driving myself and Jeff there.

Angela Mudge is behind these 3 races, and this is probably the reason that 79 folk turned up in the dark and cold to run the first of the 3 night series races. I thought there might be any number from half a dozen intrepid adventurers to maybe 50 max. 79 reflects the respect for Angela being outstanding in her field (pun intended) and that she would show us a good time. That said there were "access issues" and the route was changed from what I suspect was more challenging and muddy single track to wider flatter landrover forestry trails through the woods. It was kept to the same distance of 5.4 miles and if I'd seen the trails beforehand I'd have worn Hokas rather than Inov8 hill shoes. 

day and night

Now there are a couple of downsides to racing at 7pm in December. It is dark and cold. I know that seems kind of obvious but much of all I enjoy about trail running is the scenery and being in that place. I have chosen one of the attractive photos off the Carnethy page advertising the series and photoshopped it to appear as it might while running quickly through at night wearing a headtorch. There is a frisson of added nightfun but on the downside we could have been running five figure 8 1mile laps for all scenery available, with a far greater chance of twisting an ankle on tree roots.

We arrived at the Forth Inn Aberfoyle in good time to register, pin on numbers and strip down to racing kit. I had taken a number of options. Although the night wasn't cold and it wasn't raining I went with a long sleeved Helly with thin Gilet over the top. And shorts, gloves, and buff on head under headtorch. I have a particularly strong headtorch and know from previous that the brighter the headtorch when racing the better. Especially off road. You really want to be able to see where you are placing your feet. If you are hoping to get away with a £15 job (Alpkit are good) then the minimum you could do is have brand new (or well charged) batteries.

Behind the car park there was an impressive rolling mist coming off the river and fields that was near impossible to capture because it was too dark.

We started next to the car park. After a briefing from Angela she said ready, set, go and we went haring down the cycle path behind the lead bike. The pace was very quick and I was blowing hard in no time trying to stay in the top ten. There appeared to be a woman up ahead although I couldn't see who. I had spoken to Edel before the race and thought I probably would be finishing behind her but I was fairly sure she had started behind me and hadn't overtaken. It was difficult to see who was at the start line as it was - you guessed it - too dark. The flat tarmac cyclepath went on for quite some time and I was praying for something else if only to break the hectic pace. 

There was then the most challenging ground of the course: pretty flat through the woods but with lots of roots trying to trip you up while you tip-toed over them. A few sploshy puddles and patches of mud then onto broad forestry trails for the remainder of the race, except a small section around thirteen minutes (2miles?) where we were directed off the main path and up some quite steep muddy single track. You could see the headtorches of those ahead as the distances compressed. Towards the top (about a minutes climb?) I was hands on knees marching, before coming out onto more broad hard pack gravel and dirt trail which undulated but never really changed much from there to the end of the race. A couple of Central guys had gone past earlier and disappeared and then a guy in a blue jacket who stayed about 25 yards ahead. I was glad of someone to do the route finding and keep an eye out for hidden turns, but in fact the whole route was very clearly marked with arrows on boards and hazard tape. Big thanks for that as it would be easy to go off piste running in the dark. Ask the organisers of that notorious Tri-Trail in Dalkeith Country Park. 

I noticed a 4 at the side of the road. A km marker presumably as we had done about 16mins. As there was little else to do with my brain other than follow the dude ahead and enjoy the distant torches through the trees, I worked out that 5.4 miles was probably less than 9k and so we would be running about 35minutes. 

The Forth Inn.
Their hall had the feel of a medieval banqueting hall with old portraits and suits of armour, where a boar on a spit wouldn't look out of place.

There is nothing much more to report. The route was very well marshalled, which was reassuring although there was a natural tendency for the marshals to look at the runners and inadvertently blind them with their headtorches. I tried to thank all the marshals as I ran past. I had no idea of the direction we ran in. In daylight you might notice the sun. But there was little in the way of anything to get a fix on and as I said we could have been running figures of 8 round the same paths. 

A bit after 30 minutes there was a sense we might be near finishing. There were some distant lights of civilisation and we began a long gradual descent. Unfortunately although I was catching up with the blue jacket ahead I could hear footfalls of more than one closing in from behind. We all began to speed up which didn't improve my outlook. I had had a background stitch for some time: I suspect the cold air on my front. And could do without a hectic sprint to the line. I felt I was a bit outside the top ten but could imagine dropping another handful of places if I didn't push on. I was wishing I was wearing Hokas as we belted down the stony track as it became tarmac. I overtook blue jacket but someone else overtook me. Up ahead suddenly a double line of officials and folk who'd already finished. I was well ready to stop running. I think if there had been more variety of terrain (perhaps as the original route) it might have seemed more engaging. I forgot to wear a Garmin but Mike's output below shows the twists and turns (and profile) of the undulating course.

I was surprised to see the course route. I thought it might have been a long narrow loop having no real sense of sharp turns and bends.

Big thanks to Angela for putting on this event. And her team of people standing out in the middle of nowhere just to make sure nobody went awol. VERY well marked - you'd've had to had your eyes closed to miss the turns and markings. And all those bits of reassuring tape hanging from branches along the way would have to be taken down afterwards, so really, a big thanks for that. Afterwards we had a bowl of delightfully salty soup and a (christmas) mince pie. Very good value for a £5er!

Carnethy page info here
Results will be here
Also keep an eye on the facebook page Trossachs Trail Running
next races in this series 27th Jan and 9th March

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