Saturday, 7 May 2016


All photos thanks to Mary
(except for one by Gordon)

To Hell and Back (even though it was a point-to-point)
After a tough week I was seriously considering just not turning up. Last year there was a headwind and the forecast for this year was at least as bad. 20 miles of running into a strong wind. I don't even enjoy road runs these days. I don't do enough specific training on roads so they feel under-rehearsed. So either I have to stop them altogether or start doing more. With a road marathon in July the current prescription is for more, and what was today if not a supported training run in what could be alarmingly similar conditions. (July's race is in Orkney where the wind blows a lot and the race is a point to point running East to West. My bet is headwind for 26 miles.) So today would be excellent acclimatisation. Just not any fun. None.

How many years in a row has the wind been in the wrong direction?

Rather than drag my heels huffily along to Porty and just pout, I did everything possible to minimise the pain. I cut toenails; I chose comfy trainers over racers; I put tape over bits likely to rub (wee toes); I lubed aggressively; I wore 2 vests (and gloves) to guard against the cold front; I poured talc into my socks as the camber between the Pans and Gullane has, in the past, blistered the lateral side of my foot; I carried 2 paracetamol (unused) and a couple of gels in my shorts and I ate some Mrs. Tilly's fudge just before kick off. Even though I wasn't taking this seriously, I was taking it seriously. 

Pacing would also be crucial. I knew I should be aiming for about 6.30 min/miles. What with the excitement of the gun going off I started a little quickly at 6.24 for mile 1, but the gale force winds before Joppa like a large invisible hand on my front, made 6.44 for the second. And it did not feel relaxed. The shelter of the houses at Joppa allowed a 6.30 but every mile afterwards was slower. By mile 4 I was counting off the completed fractions, a habit I have copied from climbing the tenement stairs carrying a bike with 10lts of paint in the panniers. There are three stories. 2 flights of ten steps to each. I grit my teeth and after ten steps tick off a 6th. Next ten, a third. Next ten halfway there (and breathe); into the second half change grip and two thirds and five-sixths in one go before the final push... and relax. Similarly in a race of 20 dreary road miles, 2 miles marks a tenth done; four miles, and a fifth of the way there. A mile later and that jumps to a quarter and when I hit six I let myself off with nearly a third. Because road running is kind of boring. Too few distractions - you could close your eyes for 100 yards and it wouldn't make any difference. Nothing to do apart from try NOT to look at the Garmin which is taking the piss pace-wise, while only saying 8 miles run and I'm already spent.

Here I have to say a BIG thanks to Chris O'Brien. He caught up with me about mile 2 and after running behind me for a bit, then at my shoulder for a while, adopted a place just in front of me which was pretty much ideal. Chris is a big lad and does as good a job of windshield as one can hope for on a day like this. To the casual observer it may have looked as if I ducked in behind him, put my feet up and opened a newspaper. However every now and then I would rush out into the airstream and try to at least run beside him - it was far too gusty to actually overtake him and give him the benefit of drafting myself, but I manfully struggled on at least trying to dry my vest (and lets face it, tears) in the howling gale. Chris isn't even mv40 - it's community service, helping an older gent across the road. <Shrugs and looks at feet.> 

Also in my entourage was Dunbar-ist Paul M again. We spoke before the race and I was pretty sure he would be one of the many finishing ahead of me. Because he was younger and almost certainly keener. I couldn't be less keen, and he is new-ish to this business, so after our mutual success as thirds in the JMW Ultra 2 weeks ago, I reckoned he'd be keen for more glory, even windswept, miserable, tear-stained glory. Plus he was cannily just to the back of me. Not like the way I was glued to the back of Mr O'Brien, but a non-cheaty ten yards back in the full brunt of the storm. Unfortunately I only noticed while gobbing out a mouthful of feathers roadside, then noticing Paul directly behind. I mumbled an apology. The roar of the wind prohibited conversation. There was another in our group but I didn't have the energy to spit or turn to my left so I never found out who he was. The four of us ran on in formation for quite some time. Seven miles - over a third even if they've measured the course with a doughnut on a stick. Eight miles - only 150% of that to go.

By now things are tightening up. Nothing really hurts but nothing doesn't either. To while away the time I do a mental checklist and find that although there seems to be a huge internal weariness it isn't about blistered feet or grungy achilles or trashed quads. It's more the roar of wind in your ears and the extra work required to go forward, and how the lack of respite grinds one down. We go past the second water table and again I take nothing. I am building a thirst for the mile 13 table where a bottle of restoration sits with my name on it. By the time we get into double figures and we scoot past Willie, Roy and others taking numbers at the 10 mile mark I am in a bad place. Within a few miles (certainly before the mile 13 table) I take both gels I am carrying. I felt squashed by the thumb of the wind gods and am using the gels in the false hope they will give sustenance and refreshment of the soul. There is more chance they will confer immortality. But they pass more time, especially the trick of putting the empty wrappers including the tear off tabs (ESPECIALLY the tear off tabs) back into the pockets either side on my shorts while wearing gloves. There is no way I'm going to litter East Lothian. This is no big city marathon.

Things deteriorate. Twice I drop off the back of Chris. For a while I have not been going out into the wind and running beside him, but now 4 yards appear between us like a lifebuoy drifting away from a sinking yacht. Fear of drowning and I close the gap. This might be the point I dropped Paul and the other one. I run scared for a while then the prospect of facing the weather tout seul is preferable to trying to keep up this pace. The second time I let Chris go I look at the Garmin and note time of death 11.9 miles.

We are now on the long straight road into Aberlady. Over the next few miles several folk slowly overtake and edge ahead. I am not thinking of them, I am thinking of my drinks bottle, carving it into my mind and how it will perform a factory reset and I will take off with winged heels and maybe catch Martin F, today's (age group) nemesis. Martin took 3 minutes off me at Alloa. All the money including mine is on him finishing ahead but I have the edge when it comes to endurance. And today epitomises endurance. Clearly it would be wrong to wish crash and burn on a fellow sportsman, so I certainly didn't do that.

We go through Aberlady and my Garmin pips 13 miles. There is still a surprising amount of Aberlady passing by at jogging pace before we eventually come to the repair table. And I am forced to say rather testily to the otherwise lovely marshals "could you please not stand in front of the table". I am annoyed about this as I realise I have only improved things for the people behind and not myself. But 2 girls standing directly blocking the table with everyone's prepped drinks, I mean honestly! I skip between them like a wounded animal, grab my bottle and run on. I put the big label with my initials in my pocket and squeeze the bottle so it shoots high caffeine drink into me like fuel into an F1 car. Almost immediately I begin to feel repaired and continue on with growing vigour. At the corner of Gullane golf course I see Martin's red shorts just turning the distant corner under half a mile ahead. Is that do-able? Probably not but there's still 5 miles and I have nothing else on this afternoon.

At some point slogging into the dreadful wind over the exposed links the first lady goes past. She is tiny and determined and I say well done. I put the bottle in a bin in Gullane and charge fairly slowly up the hill leaving town. Over the brow and I can see Martin ahead. I am closing the distance between us. I am the only person in this entire race who is disappointed we are not doing marathon distance. The wind is brutal. As I go round the corner and catch view of Berwick Law I shout (as tradition, my tradition, has it) "Thar She Blows". I have turned this corner overtaking Stuart Hay who set off too fast and crashed about here (following year he didn't) and I have turned this corner with Scott as George left us for dead. I charged up the short hill into Dirleton and out the other side, my eyes straining to catch sight of Martin's red shorts. He appears to be jogging up the road onto the newly flattened section of pavement into NB and when I get there and taste the wind realise why. I am now losing it and shout at the top of my voice sweary words and blasphemies, in the tradition of Graham H. The wind swallows them up so I shout a bit more. I am catching Martin but not quickly enough. He is still 100 yards ahead. As we come into North Berwick I pick it up on the downhills and somewhere under the curses I realise my legs are cranking ok. I can't see ahead far enough to see where Martin is until the last hill down to the putting greens and some twat is standing right on the path, who let the idiots out? and I have to run round him and see Martin STOPPED and stretching his cramping legs. I think he is just teasing me because he quickly legs it along to the line and crosses it 20 secs ahead of me.

I was so distracted I didn't even notice the dude 3 secs behind me and closing fast. (Thanks to Gordon for the photo below) I don't understand why the tape is blowing in the direction of the running either. All things considered I was quite pleased with the way I ran. And if the course had been another quarter of a mile.... well who can say. Well done to Martin for postponing the crash and burn just long enough. And a big thanks to Andrew the Stav Stavert and the team behind the event, and all the marshals stood out on a blowy chilly day. Three sausage rolls later (and a great hot shower) I was beginning to feel much better and some beer and wine later at home pretty much restored the rest. Almost exactly the same trophy as last year's 2nd m50 (to Stuart Hay's first) (always the bridesmaid, never the bride) and if the weather is any way remotely similar next year I won't be running it.

David - remarkable 2nd place overall

No comments:

Post a Comment