Friday, 26 February 2016

Foxtrail 20k

FoxTrail Winter Run Series
Race 4, 20k

This was the second of this year's Porty Championship races and a great choice. Not sure who proposed it but it was a terrific (and really quite tough) course on very mixed ground in a place of outstanding beauty. What more could you ask for? (Well, we'll come to that.)

Mary had been ill for a couple of days midweek, throwing up and feeling achy, so was unable to run. So I managed to get a lift with Steve. He drove Andrew, David and myself down to near Tyninghame at the crack of dawn. This is the first of several complaints I have about this race and the organisation. Although I loved the course, I have a couple of issues, and the first was WHF was the organiser thinking starting the race at 9am? I had to get out of bed at 6.30 and we live just 40mins away. So unless you were prepared to get up in the middle of the night this excluded everyone travelling any distance to the race. The only excuse I can think of is the tide times. In fact the tide was coming in so quickly that what was an ankle deep stream crossing for the leaders was fast becoming a full submerge for those at the back.

I did actually check tide times the evening before. To gauge where the water would be when running up the beach. About halfway in/out was the answer so we would be running on damp sand and thankfully not soft dry sand above the high tide mark. Because that would influence what shoes to wear. Hokas are the best for difficult sand as they have a bigger footprint than any other shoe and work like snow-shoes. I opted for my new Salomons because there would be a lot of standing water and mud. Even though there were no hills. I know the area well and last January had cursed extensively while pushing my new bike through yards of filthy mud around these trails. Max grip would be required. I was proved right in the first couple of miles.

We arrived plenty early which was good. Because we had to slowly drive about a mile or more of deteriorating tracks then dirt paths round fields until we came to the parking and registration. It was centred around the Harvest Moon holiday huts. Now my previous with this company is not a particularly happy one. When I have run the great trails and paths around here in the past I have come across many signs saying stuff like “private land, Harvest Moon holidays” and “keep out”. Unfriendly and of the geroff-my-land variety. Now I can understand them wanting to discourage dog walkers and non-paying guests from wandering nosily through their little paradise here, but the main feeling I got from the signage was “see you; fuck off”.

However the welcome was a little better than that today, although when we picked up numbers and Steve started to fold his he was told in no uncertain terms not to hide the sponsor's name. He of course didn't pay any attention to that but I felt I should (Alex J has trained me well) so every time I ran into a strong wind (about half the course), my number billowed and flapped like a dead seagull in a gale nailed to a fence post. Now the reason we were not to hide the sponsors name was so that race photos (from the non-fee-charging Bob M,) proudly advertised the companies who had thrown their money or products into the hat. Commerce. Filthy lucre enters stage right. Because this race is not organised by a running club for the benefit of the running community, but by a commercial enterprise as a business. Fair enough, this is not a crime and they are not trying to pretend otherwise, but it does colour proceedings.

My first dealings with this outfit was a couple of years back when I attended their headtorch trailrun in Dalkeith Country Pk. The most notable thing on the night was everyone went the wrong way, due to either a missing directional arrow or sabotage. However it was a fun night and there were a lot of good aspects to a bold venture. I asked about course markings when I picked up my number and was assured by the organiser that it was all well marked, with the look of a dude familiar with the horrors of the whole field of runners doubling back on itself in the dark. And do you know what? It was VERY WELL MARKED. I put that in capitals because some folk went the wrong way but it was NOT the fault of the organiser.

Meanwhile a trip to one of the 3 portaloos revealed they were using hand sanitiser more like washing up liquid than alcohol rub and all around people were rubbing their hands waiting in vain for the slime to evaporate. Shortly before 9am we got a heads up about the course and what to expect. Due to the previous, I was carrying a printed map of the course folded in a ziplock bag in my shorts. (Once bitten and all that.) The organiser went through some basic stuff and said to follow the arrows, and in between them the red and white hazard tape. He explained there had been a motorcycle enduro recently and that it overlapped our course and they hadn't removed their tape, but to follow the red and white tape and NOT the white tape. We would enjoy the churned up bike course. Unfortunately not everyone paid attention or retained those simple instructions. (Shery.)

straight on ignore the white tape

9am came and went as we hopped about in the utterly Baltic wind waiting for who knows what before setting off. I had anticipated a sprint start and wondered how much I would be able to pace myself. Mr Limmer was sharpish out the blocks but my other 2 teamies, Andy and Richard, ran at a surprisingly moderate pace as we headed South toward the Tyne estuary. There was even banter and selfies (with so much good scenery I HAD to carry the camera) and as I overtook Andy I was taking photos of him over my shoulder.

I had noticed we travelled first to the treelined headland at the estuary (just along from the iron bridge I explored recently) – one of my favourite places. Then we dodged through the woods near where the motorbikes had carved a muddy gorge. We followed our own trail for a while then joined the enduro for a bit – a mini rollercoaster of mud, in and out the trees. I was in fourth and the guy in third had nearly got drawn into the whole white tape mistake before clambering off his motorbike and rejoining the runners to mild applause and cheers from those cheeky Porty boys immediately behind me. Apparently he was the first of many, but as I said earlier it was a REALLY well marked course and mistakes were all down to oxygen deprived brains and not organisational issues.

Through the woods coming out at St Baldred's Cradle. And you get the superb reveal of Tyninghame Beach all the way up to the Bass Rock. It was a pity it was all rather grey though we were working so hard you didn't notice while running. In fact I was pretty sure the sun was blazing, or rather somewhere, a sun was blazing. David obviously though so too as he threw away his gloves. Or was that the last mad act of a hypothermia victim? Many of us ran past them probably going through a mental check list (white tape? red and white tape? fluro arrow? Nope = just ignore.) Until Gav picked them up, to return them after the race. What a gentleman!

I believe David had lost the lead by now and had to remind the number one dude not to head for the beach as his instincs told him, because we now returned to the start/finish area (for the second of 3 times through there) before doing the inland section. The good thing about coming through here a lot was they could position a water table that runners could use twice during the race. I took just under 90mins and didn't need any water. The next section was challenging because the wind would be in our faces for much of it and it crossed fields and roads I was not familiar with, being inland of the better scenery along the coast. However I was feeling pretty chipper. Andy and Richard had both been substantially quicker than myself a couple of Wednesdays ago doing hateful reps on the prom. Richard had even enquired why I wasn't out the front pushing the pace. I was still hurting from this but as I increased the distance between us, me in front, them behind, that pain was receding. We ran along roads then turned off into waterlogged fields to squelch through and I saw a person behind who was neither A nor R, but didn't seem to be getting any closer. The guy in 3rd up ahead wasn't getting any closer either and I wanted to keep him in sight. We had been urged to not blindly follow the guy ahead just in case he was going wrong, but it was reassuring to have a guide and to know which direction we might be going in. As we covered more of the course I began to relax – it was very well marked throughout with dozens of arrows and tape along the way. They had done a very good job, and I was never in any doubt. Also at major junctions (and points you could accidentally cross from one section of the course to another skipping a mile or 2) there were marshals posted. Now that would have been a long cold stand as the weather was grim. My thanks to them.

these fields were much harder work than they look

Suddenly we popped out at the first bridge over the Peffer Burn. I often run up from the beach to this bridge if I want to keep my feet dry and the burn is running high. So I knew where we were again. We worked our way back to the start / finish leaving just the beach loop to complete. Someone must have changed the arrows since we set off, as we now turned left rather than taking the initial route south. We climbed up the road towards the log cabin and then followed the lovely trail through the woods and out onto the narrow sandy path that leads steeply down to the beach. A marshal stood there to direct us up the beach. I could see number 3 away in the far distance. The sand was okay for running on – not too sinky or soft. But there was a hellish wind in our teeth and nowhere to hide. Head down and press on. I reckoned I had a decent lead over the folk behind but little did I know that Richard was working through the field.

Bob taking photo of number 3

Bob on the other side of the burn

I sploshed through the Peffer Burn just as the runner ahead was on the return, where Bob M was taking photos. I love a race with stream crossings, sign of a fun course. I was very glad to get to the turning point on the beach as it meant the wind should now be behind us. As soon as I turned I saw Rich who had made up a lot of ground and was about 60 yards behind. I stopped coasting and put in a bit more effort. I shouted to Bob as I dropped into the burn. Strangely the wind had moved round and was coming across us in a very unhelpful manner. We ran into the dunes and then onto the dirt road along the back of the dunes. I was blowing hard now as Richard was no distance behind and has a habit of overtaking just before the line (see Feel the Burns). We could see the finish area over to the right but we were not going in that direction. We ran to the end of the road then turned right and up an embankment where the organisers shouted well done and I thought it was the finish but we still had another 50 yards to the actual line. I beat Richard by 9.5 seconds. Ha!

There were still plenty of runners coming through the area and it was enjoyably cruel telling them they just had to run along the beach and back. (Unaware of the sand blasting they were in for.) Too cold to hang about though so after a cup of tea and small piece of brilliant homebake (the only gratuities,) we hoofed it back to Steve's car with chattering teeth and got changed into warm dry clothes. (No showers.)

Invisible woman in second, Dotty in 3rd

David in 2nd

Prize giving was rather disappointing (again). They gave a small bag of stuff to first 3 blokes and 3 ladies. I was fourth: first loser! A rather nice wooden medal was probably the best thing presented. No age group prizes and no team prizes. Compare this with Devilla, which at £10 entry is half the price, and they give everyone a beer plus team prizes and 3 prizes per age group. Porty would have won any team prize with David 2nd, me 4th and Rich 5th. I had been on the podium in darkest Dalkeith Country Park and the prize looked like something left unsold in the back of the Newington Tri shop. Not much difference today. (Spot prizes would be sent out later. Not very inspiring.) And the lack of team prizes etc. speaks of corner cutting and commerce. Which is a shame because there is much that was spot on about this race, and the series seems to be attracting a loyal following. The legendary Scott Balfour was helping out (on the mend after his appendectomy,) and his presence is a sign that these folk are probably sound enough. I went over to the sponsors Honey Stinger gels and bars to see if I could scrounge a handful of stuff for the ultrabox but they only had a few tiny samples to try. “I don't wish to try these, I wish to fill my pockets with them,” was what I didn't say.

So in summary a fantastic course and very well marked and marshalled route, but without the warmth, the friendliness, that you might get from a running club event. And not great value for money, but if you are aware of that going in to it, then an interesting product put on by a team that are keen to get it right. Good to see the results out promptly too. In fact if they had given out a few beers like Devilla, and the sun had come out just a bit (and wind abated) it would be among my top races of the year.

Bob's photos

One of the reasons I am so late posting this blog is that following the race I went to my sister's place to celebrate her birthday. During which I over rehydrated and left my camera there, which I only got back on Thursday. It would appear to have been kidnapped by a couple of monkeys who seem to have used it to take selfies. The evidence is below....

Thanks for looking after the camera Megan and Amy!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Borders Series #6 Gala

Off to Gala for the series finale. 
Sporadic. That would be the word to best describe my running of late. One week, keen as mustard and out and about, never mind the weather, 30 milers and all. The next, huddled indoors drinking red wine and making a mewling noise. And after a poor run at Paxton I was anxious to see if I could do better and put that one behind me. For Gala, Stewart (Mr. Whittle according to the announcer) had reached first place with 4 wins in my age group and nothing would change that. However they hadn't published interim results and I hadn't worked out whether 2nd and 3rd had been decided. I felt I was on for second but couldn't rely on it given my legs were pretty trashed from the C5 the day before.

Weather was mixed on the drive there but the sun came out while we warmed up.

Mary didn't take her jacket off till she was warm.

Now what is that snow sculpture being made....

oh my!

I remembered the route clearly from previous years. After a circuit round the woods over duckboards and alongside a stream, we headed out the back and over a stile and round some fields climbing all the way. Then back down the other side through some more woods with "obstacles" before a sprint to the line. My legs were just about unwound from the C5 by the time we gathered at the start line. We were just about to set off and I noticed the Porties had all stripped down to vests. I hurriedly did the same, removing the Helly long sleeved top and tying it in a tree. I was still putting my gloves on when the gun went. We all shot off and I kept Michael G in my sights as we went round the woody circuit. Adam F (my main age group rival) drifted past early on and stayed 30 yards ahead with Michael. I was breathing hard and felt I was giving it near-to-max already. And we still had the hills to come.

Top marks to the Gilmores who did very well at the C5 and finished 2nd and 3rd here. Well done to all who did both races at the weekend, although youngsters seem to recover more quickly.
photo Danielle

"thanks" Danielle for this photo: second time past on the way to the hill section. There was a third photo as well but by the time I was approaching the finish I looked too distraught to post here!

I was glad I'd taken off a layer and never felt cold once. Michael and Adam were increasing their lead and I felt I might have to settle for a long way behind. Then as we continued I realised I hadn't seen Mr Whittle. It dawned on me that if I coasted and Adam got points for 1st I might be bounced from 2nd 50 to 3rd. I kind of swithered between "oh well, maybe if I hadn't raced yesterday..." and "MUST TRY HARDER." Only I was going flat out already. As the trail rose we approached a fence and stile and I made a dim move by climbing up and down the 5 steps either side while the runner just behind jumped the fence overtaking me. He also looked about my age group. Cursing myself for not paying attention I took the place back and forged on through the stream crossing and up into the white snowy fields. I could see Michael pulling away from Adam and I was glad he (MG) was having a good run. Adam was staying about the same 80 yards ahead. There were a couple of younger lads running just ahead and behind and I did my best to keep the pace going. I was relieved when we crested the last round top and headed downwards. One of the Bellas saying how he saw me suddenly pull away.

I enjoyed the descents on soft snow and noticed I was making ground on Adam. We had a couple corners and the ground climbed briefly before a descent to a wall where I climbed the stile just a couple of steps behind him. When I went past on the steep climb through the trees he said "well done Peter" which was very sporting. I was glad of the grippyness of the Fellcross as the mud and pine needles gave little traction and you could see where studs had scoured the dirt. While it gave me a boost to overtake Adam I now had to sustain the lead to the end and I knew there were a couple of hazards on the way. After a climb we took a striding path down to a turn and a run along to where we dodged through the trees and jumped down a steep ditch 2 steps through a stream. Then we skated and swam through dangerously deep mud before emerging out onto a path. I listened to the gaps between marshal's applause to gauge the distance of the next runner chasing me while trying to lift the pace and sprint to the line. It took an age but I crossed first 50 and utterly spent.

Dr Neil photobombing from behind, took the next photo, below.

Michael had had a great run and enjoyed some revenge for the C5, nearly catching David L. Joys of youth and speedy recovery! Everyone came in mudsplattered but happy - an excellent course in superb wintery conditions. I waited for Mary knowing she wouldn't be setting any records on the back of the C5 and was glad to see her arrive in style. I spoke to Danielle and Greig who is getting back to form after a long bout of illness. His Borders results reflect this going from 6th in his age group to first. 

Gav had taken a dive and done several strokes before getting out of the mud after the stream crossing.


The snow wasn't finished for the day either.

We went along to the centre where they were doing the food and prizes. Long queues for series medal (nice to see the Pride ribbons) and soup. The soup was totally FABULOUS and well worth the wait. I knew there would be time to spare so found a toilet with a shower in it. Gav was there scraping and showering off the mud and trying to dry himself in a Dyson Airblade. There were only about 3 of us who thought to have a shower so plenty warm water and no queuing. 

Sure enough I did get 2nd 50 trophy. But I also got a boost to know that Paxton was behind me and that it didn't necessarily mark the beginning of the end, the inevitable slide down the slippery slope to permanent decline and age related decrepitude. Must get some consistent training in before the nationals at the end of the month although I think it might be too late to do much about that. I have a feeling that this weekend's doubler - Foxtrail vs Devilla will be more than a little testing, and I may not make both.

Many thanks to all the folk involved in the Borders XC series. All the marshals, the route setters, the results folk and caterers, who combine to put on an excellent series of races. I hope to be back next year.