Monday, 18 January 2016

Feel the Burns 2016

photo Mike Craig

Steve drove the Porty crew (minus Richard) down to Selkirk for this superb hill race. We arrived (despite Andrew's un-asked-for navigational tips) in plenty time to register, kit check and warm up in perfect conditions - sunshine and snow. Having a serious hill race mid January is, one year, going to end in tears, blizzard and permafrost corpses in shorts and vests strewn around the rolling Borders hills. But this year we got lucky AGAIN (how do Graham and Sheila do this?) and it was perfect weather for this fab race. The race has grown in popularity and sold out this year, the fourth year of it's running. I have done all of them. And this year was the best yet. (For photos and conditions, rather than my personal results.)

I warmed up with Richard round the playing fields of the Rugby Club. The club has hot showers and a hall for afterwards and is a great bonus for the race. The big pre-race question is how much to wear? I have done this in a vest but also in several layers and you have to judge the conditions on the day. The answer seems to be dress so that you feel a little underdressed on the start line. There are several miles of up-hill to start with which will put a sweat on your forehead and a glow about your being. Several folk afterwards admitted they should have worn less. But you have to bear in mind you are going up into some hills and there could be a blizzard raging there. (Hence the obligatory kit to carry.) I wore a Helly long sleeved base layer with a t-shirt over it and a small back pack that acts like another half-layer. Main thing is to keep extremities like ears and fingers warm. I took off the buff a couple miles in but kept on both pairs of gloves.

I have loads of hill shoes that are past their best. They look ok but have lost their stuffing and the nubbins on the bottom have seen better days. Because I am a skinflint I can't bear to dispose of them thinking there might be a few more miles of training runs in them. I really should put them in the recycling bins at Duke St. Tesco's. Road shoes I recycle as work shoes. I had noticed Fellcross 3s had plummeted in price from a laughable £140 to £70. I had some tokens for Run4It and thought I should match all this up for FTB. On Tuesday I visited R4I and ordered Fellcross 3s which they said would arrive in the shop from their other branch in a couple of days. I felt this was a safer option than online deliveries and I could try-before-buy. By Friday I was beginning to panic and they weren't answering the phone when I called. Eventually I got through and they said the shoes would be in the shop Saturday. I was nervous until I had them on my feet and had been mentally going through which pair of worn down hill shoes I'd be skidding about in at Sunday's race. I put the Fellcross through 2 hrs of snowy hills on Saturday with no blisters or hotspots and dried them out for Sunday, matching them with a pair of Inov-8 gaitors to keep the snow out. I am very impressed with the Salomon shoes after 4hrs this weekend. No negative comments about them. Very grippy on the snowy climbs. Very light and great quality build. They are narrow but have a lean feel about them rather than toe pinching. I required a half size bigger than normal as does Steve who got a pair of the Fellcross 2 a while ago and has been enjoying them. First shoe I've had in a long while that I'd rate higher than Inov-8s for hills and xc. And they look great in minimal black and red - Hoka designers and colourists please take note. 

On the way to the start line with Jim, Rich and Seona.
Sadly this was as close as I got to Jim all day.

Warming up Richard and I ran from the start line to this point and were both trashed - something about the rise and camber of the field and the soft ground. Not a good sign.

Nearly a team selfie.
Andrew had wandered (nothing new there) and sorry Steve for chopping off your head.

After the festival of mud in the field we were out onto decent trails but not for long. We turned right at the ice cream van and marched up the steep hill. You'll notice I didn't have the energy for this AND photos. Nick W set off as if he meant to win the race but very early on (about 200 yards up the hill) we jogged past him walking. That was the last I saw of him all race which surprised me as he went strongly at the xc last weekend. "Had the cold all week." That explains it.

After a long hot climb there is a delightful descending gradient of snow covered heather. I caught a couple of the guys ahead and we exchanged places on the subsequent climb up to the Three Brethren.

Jim H in the red Carnethy vest spent the first half of the race about 10~35 secs and a couple of places ahead. I could have hit him with a snowball. I should have.

The Three Brethren came up so fast I didn't even get the camera out in time and had to settle for a shot or 2 over the shoulder. Big thanks to the marshals who stand around in the cold. 

Then this glorious road. The snow made for an excellent surface and covered over most ice, stones and potholes although there was an occasional icy slip and wobble. It was difficult to take your eyes from the path going at full tilt but it was worth a glance up for the spectacular scenery. 

By now I was frothing at the mouth like a horse. I have photoshopped this out mostly. Note the red leash bottom right which is attached to the camera and stops it hitting the ground if it jostles out my chest strap pocket.

After a good bit of descending there is this long slow climb round the corner.

Then down to the gate and another long drag up the hill to the highest point around halfway.

Jim H had been WAY ahead but at the gate I could have hit him with another snowball. I really should have. He was just about 6 feet away although by the time I got the camera out he had got this far ahead and it increased all the way to the stile at the top of the hill where he was about 30s ahead.


Full froth ahead.
Now I didn't know it at the time but I was being caught by Des Crowe, the bastard. He had beaten me last week at Paxton and was definitely on my list of things to do.

more sparkles

I was trashed after the climb but happy to be past the worst. I always enjoy the next section.

You come to a sharp left turn, with marshals there to remind you. I always try to say thanks and at the very least give them a thumbs up and a smile. By this point I had clocked Des moving in for the kill. The bastard. It didn't cheer me up and I knew he would be unpacking his legendary downhill skills. The trouble is the path is singletrack and tricky to overtake. I felt the pressure from behind and cranked it up till we were directly behind the runner ahead. He wasn't going as fast as either of us wanted to go but I was reluctant to push past on the narrow line. Des shouts out "we can't be doing this" or something of the like, motivational rather than instructive. The man ahead moved slightly left and we both sped past. Feeling the urgency of Des to the rear (and not particularly enjoying it) I floored it for a bit. I got the camera out - no mean feat as we were now travelling between 50 and 60 mph on a narrow twisting snowy downhill path. I told Des to smile but have a suspicion he already was. The bastard.

Not even sweating.

Tired of taking it in the rear I asked if Des wanted a shot in front. He said he was fine, until we got blocked by the next dude, an HBT. Now this guy spent quite a bit of time just ahead of me and I have some advice: flouro yellow and HBT brown (with green hat) are not a good colourway combo. I know that's not the main issue here and yes you did finish ahead of me but please, that is one hellish outfit!

Des put the foot down and in a flurry of spinning legs and snow he went past. He flew past the next couple of guys (and Jim H) and by the stream had got quite a bit ahead. I was taking a more cautious approach.

Jim H was within snowballing distance again (he had heard Des and I exchanging comments) and I was actually right beside him for a brief moment towards the end of the fab descent off Minchmoor. Then he sped off at such a pace I thought well one of us won't be able to keep that up. And I was right. There were a couple of marshals with castanets and far too much yahoo! giving it salsa on a corner (whatever they had for breakfast I want some!) then it was over the big field before the stream crossing, which was a pleasure this year as the snow evened out the lumps and bumps. Or maybe the moles had moved. Here is a gif from the last 3 years as I always take a squint photo about here. 

We head for the gap in the trees and splosh across the stream. Some years I empty the tank racing down here only to struggle on the rise and climb to the road. I tried to measure it out a bit more and swallowed down a couple of gels hoping the input would help over the next dreadful mile. Another reason I wasn't absolutely caning it down the Minchmoor road was a balloon of dubious content that was rattling around my intestines, no doubt the product of caffeine drinks and some post breakfast snacking. I might have pulled behind some trees had there been any leaf cover but the lack of camouflage encouraged me to press on. 

you bump into all sorts
Nice to get a cheer from Sheila.

The rutted mud around the duckboards was mostly frozen, which was better than soft, but still tricky. A marshal pointed us in the right direction over to and up the last tough ascent which was well marked with tape and flags. If I'd only looked closely at the figures on the hill I'd have seen Jim and Des were more catchable than it felt. I usually drop places rather than catch up with folk here. Maybe the gels were helpful as it seemed to pass slightly quicker than previous slogs up here. I neither gained ground nor lost much. I saw Matthew directly behind but felt safe from those who have overtaken in the past: Neil for one. Richard (another) felt I went from just a few yards ahead of him to disappearing off into the distance but I think it's just mental games as the round top of the hill goes on much longer than anyone wants. Jim H similarly seemed to be an uncatchable distance, although from the results he never got much more than 90s away. 

Having a lovely time.

The ground underfoot is quite testing at the top and on the descent off the aptly named Foulshiels. A bit blocky and choppy and not the smooth path I would prefer. Hence the troubled look in many of the excellent photos taken by Mike Craig (as below). So busy watching the ground I didn't even see him.

Richard came flying past here last year racing his pal Tom and I could not raise my game. I felt slightly stronger this year and the snow cover helped to smooth out the unpleasant surface, though I never let go 100% and launched myself down till we headed off the main path and into the safer heather. A fall here and you would bounce without as much damage. 

I was trundling along at a reasonable pace and happy to be near the end. After going past the open jacket (above) I wondered about catching the flouro brown HBTer but he was going too strongly and getting no closer (and the colours would only spoil the photos). We had been warned about ice under the thin snow on the trails from here to the finish. On the way up they hadn't seemed too bad, and if you kept to the edges and off the tyre tracks you could still keep the pace up. I was coasting in the last quarter mile when suddenly I was aware of someone galloping past from nowhere. I said a few bad words in exasperation but Richard encouraged me to lift the the pace (rather than just run past and claim another scalp) so I kind of forgave him for being so disrespectful of a fellow and more aged team-mate. I hadn't seen him all race and thought I would be getting revenge for him doing pretty much the same last year. Oh well. At least I didn't fall over in the last field which had a really testing camber through some very soggy turf. 

Kathy sent me this photo of my final whipping of the day.
Thanks Kathy!

Graham had a tremendous run. He has an interesting theory about bum bags and carrying them round the front, not like Fergus to the right and the standard to-the-back position. (I forgot to ask Fergus if he really did Broxburn the day before. I suspect from his time he did.) Graham reckons if nature places excess luggage on your belly then there is probably a sound reason that we should do likewise. He was also running in Oroc shoes with metal studs, however I think it was his quality running and not his kit that put him in 7th place. 

It was greatly cheering that Des had a spill in the muddy field. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Sometimes the biggest battles are between club mates. Great to see Keith and John sprinting with all their might to the line. When I saw the Foulshiels photos I realised the sprint for the line had started quite a bit back; when I pointed this out, Keith let me know they had been within a few yards from about 4 or 5 miles. Keith was given the higher place in the results but suggested an honourable draw.
Then back to the hall for haggis, neeps and tatties. (And soup and juice and bread.) And the showers were hot. Although the stone floor of the changing rooms was icy cold and I stood on my shorts till I got dressed. Massive thanks to Sheila for putting on this cracker of an event. The meal afterwards sends you home repaired and even able to put up with the Stavert banter in the car. As always huge applause for the marshals and the caterers and the suppliers of Haggis. A lot of people go to a lot of trouble to make this a tremendous event. Much appreciated!

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