Saturday, 14 October 2017

good manors

Manor Water Hill Race 2017
clickbait if ever I saw it

traffic control Jeff

So having sworn off racing ever again, I was back less than a week later to run at Manor Water. Mary's idea, I think her decent time at the Skyline encouraged her to want to do more of the same. Since I had done ok in the first couple of hours of the skyline I thought a 10 miler I have enjoyed on several occasions wasn't the worst idea. And the forecast was pretty decent. (And a LIE. Again.) If I had known the weather was going to be drizzle and low cloud I might have been less keen, but when we left Edinburgh it was fine and set fair.

We arrived in plenty time to register (entry-on-the-day-only-£5 loving it already) change and warm up. As the weather deteriorated I went from carrying a camera to carrying it in a poly bag, to leaving it at the finish line. Best tactic of the day. There was no scenery and I was soaked through the whole way. And the deep boggy mud meant sudden leaps and stumbles and the chances of the camera surviving would have been slim. However it was warm enough for a vest (just) as long as you kept moving. The fire in my lungs and legs kept me plenty warm.

Although a proper hill race, only the Scrape, the attractively named hill at the far end, is so steep you have to march, hands on knees, or run with tiny granny steps, for about half a mile. The rest is runnable. Ish. Although today was the worst conditions I've seen, the previously dry or damp paths reduced to a sucking swamp of black peaty mud and ankle deep puddles in grassy swamp. Fortunately I was unaware of all of this when we set off.

Oh I nearly forgot Nick! Last night on facebook I learned he was planning doing Manor Water AFTER Vogrie parkrun. Excellent! He'd be tired from sprinting 5k and I'd maybe go slowly enough to let him keep up. Ha! First of all anyone who knows Nick knows he likes to get to a race 90mins before kick off. As the crowd was ushered to the start line in the field next door to the car park still no sign of Nick. He was on his way though, just a bit held up in traffic behind some wedding party or something. He jumped out his car with a minute to go and Jim H, who was warned, gave him his number and the w/p leggings I had taken for him (he had lost his own) and while Sandy pinned on his number I tied his shoelace and with 30s till blast off Nick joined the start line.

The adrenaline obvs worked for him as he went past me in the second field and closely behind Brian Marshall set off into the distance. Bugger! The top three were visible for a while, Stewart, John and Michael. Then Brian then Nick and John with myself on my own in 7th. When Brian went past early on I said "shoes today?" and he answered back the same 2 words. He has been known to do hill races barefoot. Not like Vibram 5 fingers. No shoes. No sandals. Nada. He is the only person to my knowledge that has done this for a hill race.

I was feeling remarkably ok. Every time I would get near bursting point there would be a flat or downhill and a moment of recovery. The wind was in our faces which meant it would help after the halfway point on the return. Similarly the gradient would go from bad to good. My suunto bleeped and I looked quickly to see what I assumed would be 3 miles past. It was only 2. Ouch. The soft ground meant having to lift knees higher over the heather. I tried to choose the less wet of the parallel quad bike tracks and when they were both knee deep with water and mud I'd run in the heather to one side. By now the guys ahead were just faint shadows in the hill fog and I hoped I would stay on the right line. There were folk behind but a stone's throw rather than chatting distance.

At one flattish bit there is a Landrover parked on a 4x4 track perhaps near the other lovely place-name Dead Wife's Grave. I think the 2 Breweries goes past here on a perpendicular course. The guys in the vehicle shouted to stay near the dyke. Lots more uphill. Then after a long and arduous climb there was a path climbing round to the left and I saw the Scrape up ahead. Nick and John seemed to be closer but of course it was just the distances shortening because the climb up the steep hill slows everyone to a stiff walk or slow jog. I looked behind - just the quickest of glances - and thought I saw about a dozen dudes breathing down my neck. I tried not to panic figuring if I could summit anywhere near them, I'd prefer the race back down the hill. And none of them seemed to be in my age category.

After a bit the leader Stewart came flying down the hill. He interupted my thoughts on which part of one's body (lungs, heart, throat or legs) the Scrape was describing. Followed at a safe distance by John. I shouted something positive at them and wondered if Stewart could hold the lead. One of those chasing was world class descender Brian M whose long legs were moving at half the cadence of Michael in very close 4th. Still more hill to climb. Then Nick (more shouting) then John. I reckoned Nick would defo crumble anytime soon, with that parkrun in his legs. (Ha! and ha! again)

Then after a long long stomp, run, walk, run, walk, the climb levelled off and figures in the mist and the fence to mark the turn around. I could only just hear the marshals and Lisa talking over the noise of my lungs, something about yes he's Porty but more Carnethy at heart or something inflammatory along those lines. To be fair I probably do spend as much time running with Carnethies as Porties. I was wearing the PRC vest though.

I really enjoyed the first mile at the turn around. I launched myself down the hill sure I'd catch Nick before the finish line. A lot of the descent was safer on the spongy moss and short heather than on the muddy paths. I wanted to put some distance between me and the dozen young guns right behind. I checked out the rough ages of all nearby and didn't see any near 50. I must have missed Damien T and was blissfully unaware of his presence until after the finish line when he said for most of the return he could see my distant shadow on the event horizon of the mizzled hillscape. Well he may not have used those exact words. Less than a minute behind. Yoiks!

Footsteps behind. Happily a Carnethy dude scarcely out his teens. I was enjoying the run now and not worried about dropping a place on the uphill sections between downs. We exchanged a couple of words and he edged away gaining ground for the remainder. The rest was more and more of the same - potentially deadly paths of mud and brick pie with ankle wrenching grooves and slides for the unwary or tired. Sadly I passed a jogging Brian M who had calf problems and had had to slow to a jog. I remarked that it was all the fault of wearing shoes, but it didn't cheer him up much.

Once I got to Phil at the turn a mile and a half from home I risked a look behind and there was nobody. Phil confirmed I had a good gap. I nearly slowed then thought better of it. Nick should be just ahead. Hell's teeth that parkrun had not slowed him down much! I could only just see the Carnethy top in the far distance - there was no way I'd catch him, and with nobody behind I made sure I didn't arse up the last slog over wet and deeply muddy quagmire through the last fields. It was properly atrocious conditions but watching one's feet took your mind off the weather, which had nearly been bright at the top of the Scrape but descended into gloom and perhaps drizzle further down. A token sprint across the grassy field at the end helped clean filthy soaking shoes. 7th place and 2nd m50 to Stewart's winning 1st 50.

As soon as I was out the woods - clear of competition by Phil's turn, I began to wonder how Mary was doing. As I hit the bottom of the Scrape on the return I had passed her and she was first woman. I shouted encouragements but not her position as I didn't want to jinx her. Unfortunately Kathy was very close behind. I knew Mary's strength was going uppety up and Kathy's was flatter or downhill. Although Mary had finished the Skyline ahead of Kathy I reckoned that was due to the number of ups in that race and that their cumulative effect gave Mary the advantage. I felt Kathy might have the advantage today. I put on a jacket back at the car then returned to the finish line to wait for the first lady. 

no not Davy Duncan!

well done Kathy!

Just a minute and 20s behind, Mary in second place.
Good to see the older women give the younger girls a run for their money.

Big thanks to Euan and Jim for organising and all the marshals who 
stood up the hill in the cold and rain. Very smoothly organised and booze prizes
which always goes down well. Bottle of beer for every finisher!

The race is run as an adjunct to the sheep dog trials and there are various goings-on from sheep dogging (that can't be the right expression) to a sheep raffle, to these 2 (above) doing a lively turn behind the bar as the Three Two Degrees to raise money for charity.

So man of the match has to be Nick arriving parkrun-ed at the very last minute and coming 4th in seasoned hill running company. How did he do it? Can he do it again in Frankfurt Marathon with only a fortnight to train. (I think he can, but maybe only if he arrives late?) So Mary and I go home with 4 beers and a decent bottle of wine between us. For a fiver each. And nearly enough mud to block the shower drain. Times ridiculously slow due to soggy course. Just by way of example last time I ran here was in 2010 and my time (which was 2mins shy of a pb for me) was 2 full minutes faster than today's winning time. All that gloop slows things down considerably. Great training for the cross country season though!

10 miler - uppity up, downy down

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

fly by

I wanted to get the Skyline report out pronto so I skipped over Saturday's entertainments: as part of a week long taper for the race on Sunday, which I think was reasonably good preparation, I opted for a small cycle to Cramond and a chat with the birds. Most of the chat was about bread, and some was about photography. None of it was about running.

The birds, Black Headed Gulls (in their winter plumage which doesn't involve the titular black heads) know the formula and are quick to fall into a pattern. I turn up at the estuary near the flagpole, padlock my bike and get out a bag of bread. They assemble on the water close by and start flying in a large clockwise circle, while I stand by the small wall and chuck bread into the air. It never hits the sea.

"Is this bread at least 50% wholemeal and with lots of seeds", they ask, for they have been on the internet and know that nasty white bread is bad for their chakras. "Why, yes it is", I reply, "but just in case anyone is watching I have only brought about three slices cut into fingers and anyone hogging the handouts will be sent to the back of the queue". "Yeah", one replies, "we hate that nasty white bread", and winks.

After a bit we all have a rest and wait for the sun to come out again.

I had originally planned to try out some of the features on my new TZ100 while taking pics of the birds. There is a 4K photo mode where you can shoot a short amount of 4k video then flip through the stills to choose the perfectly timed photo. This seemed the sort of situation appropriate to experiment in this mode, however the reality was that I could have done with an assistant. I was breaking off bits of bread with my left hand, or just holding a stick of bread out for the gulls who would peck a bit off the end often pecking my fingers too, and trying to aim and shoot the camera in my right hand. Timing wasn't that vital as the gulls were more than happy to repeat the process until I ran out of bread, and I just shot loads of pics knowing that although many would be less than ideal, there would be the occasional lucky image.

It was a reminder that the birds really do work on a different timescale to us sluggish humans. They stood and watched from the little wall near to where I was standing. I could break off a bit of bread and throw it in their direction. Their reactions and on-board computers were so quick they could judge the trajectory of the snack and launch off the wall, catching the bread mid-air, nimbly in their neat beaks. Time and again. And when flying in a group they rarely collided. They seemed aware of each other in the air, although they would also call out a harsh squawk if someone got in the way or loitered on the wing, taking up their airspace.

I think this juv gull was wondering why she had to sit down right there to have her photo taken making him feel all self conscious while having his pic taken.

That gull has no foot!
(How can he stand it?)

On the cycle home I stopped to take photos of the Granton Riviera.



with kayaker

Monday, 9 October 2017

skyline - the hurt locker

According to the writer-producer Mark Boal "hurt locker" is a military slang 
that means "a bad and painful place" 

Last time I did the skyline was in 2014 and I was fairly unhappy to do a painful 3.05 (placing 32nd). It was the third slowest of 7 finishes across ten years of skylining. My blog from then recalls the pain and trauma of relying on road and trail fitness rather than doing proper training. This year I thought I'd side step that pain and trauma by doing a few weekends prior to race day on the course, running up and down the hills like a bastard. It sort of worked. Well for about three quarters of the event. But I am getting ahead of myself.

This was the first year that Joel stepped into the role of organiser and hats off to him, it all went very smoothly. It is a large and responsible undertaking and there were only a couple of teeny tiny glitches on an otherwise perfect day. Well done and massive thanks to Joel. (Orange trousers above, doing briefing.) 

we were all given wristbands ostensibly to count off runners at finish, 
but I suspect it was just to help identify any corpses found next day 

Joel explained in lieu of kit checks Mark would be looking for small bags.

We actually set off on time at 11am

The slight benefit of starting further up the first hill was offset by log jams on thin steep bits. This wasn't much of an issue where I was, but Mary said there was some hanging around where she was. The inexperienced would waste energy overtaking through long tussocky grass. I put in a decent effort but was aware of not overcooking the first few hills.

Rich, in the white shirt was much less far ahead than he'd normally be - even on Thursday evenings he puts more distance between us. I went past him before Allermuir and didn't see him for a long time after that. I was going steadily and reckoned all the preparation was paying off. I had done a few weeks of consistent hill training and noticed the benefit on Thursdays. I had lost a few pounds along the way. One reason being lunches of salad when not working: a bowl of grated apple, grated carrot and grated beetroot makes an excellent filling lunch together with a handful of oatcakes. I was wearing the best hill shoes, fairly new, and carried the lightest mandatory kit. (Mary had bought me a pair of Inov-8 waterproof trousers for my birthday that only weigh 86g/3oz.) The only extra things I carried were 400mls of tailwind infused water, 3 gels and the TZ35 camera. It was such a nice day, might as well.

photo Harry G

photo Harry G

(note orange shirt)

I dislike the first hills - Caerketton and Allermuir. Particularly on the return. On the way out they passed fairly painlessly and I wasn't pushing the pace. I nodded hello to Matthew (was it?) at the trig point where most folk were going through the stile to take the left side of the fence line down towards Castlelaw. Mary and I knew from recces that the right side appears to be longer but offers you a smoother descent while those on the left have a muddy technical and off camber ride on single track before having to jump the gate at the bottom. The right side does have a cattle grid but I went past at least four (including orange short) by taking the easier route here. Don't know if many more behind took the better line.

Castlelaw is a stinker of a hill. The ascent is testing although again it passed without incident. Nicola Duncan and I had been swapping places (her going up ahead, me overtaking on the descents) and I overtook her again on the nasty rocky steps that descend to the unpleasantly gravelly trail. We exchanged chat and I said I expected her to go past again on Turnhouse. She did. Around this point I hooked up with Jamie Thin and we chatted a bit. In fact I missed a corner you can cut across on grass just after the hill fort to the gate as I was blethering with JT.

Since I last ran here, there has been a superb innovation. Bottles of water rather than cups at Flotterstone. I squirted one down my throat in 3 seconds to wash down the first gel. I had in the past taken 2 cups to get me across the S Ridge. This was a huge improvement and about twice the dosage in half the time. Thumbs up! If I ever do this race again (unlikely) I may carry less water.

There is a faint path round to the left of this small hill. Certain canny runners knew this and saved themselves a few seconds. Again I suspect a few behind might have noticed and done likewise.

Turnhouse is the longest continual ascent and never welcome. However having trained here for the last couple of months meant there were no surprises and again it passed without putting too much of a dent in my armour. Seeing Ross (in red top above) up ahead was inspiring. He was just ahead for the whole of Baddinsgill and being an ultra star and a good bit younger than myself I reckon things are going well if I am anywhere near him in a race. He had a worse day than I though, and after a while I went past him and eventually finished 9mins ahead. 

He designed the fab Skyline Buff on sale this year. I bought one each for Mary and myself. They were kind of expensive. I happen to know because I'd been checking out prices with a view to getting more for PRC and got the name of a company that will do printed tubular polyester bandanas (so romantic sounding) for something like £3 cost. They perhaps wouldn't be as good quality as an official Buff but they might have sold better than the £15 jobs.

Nicola D and that dude in the orange shirt I overtook coming off Allermuir

Jamie T in the corner

descending Carnethy I overtook Nicola again

On South Black Hill Eoin L was marshalling and I had the chance to congratulate him on being 3 mins ahead of Murray Strain at the Doon Hill Race the day before in Dunbar. An outstanding piece of running. I had been tempted to go along and run there as it's a great event but I knew I'd trash my skyline, which I managed without taking 10 miles out of my legs the day before. (Free medal and tubular polyester bandana for finishing!)

Jamie stayed close by until the Kips when he forged ahead
This pic and next on East Kip taken by John Busby

Jamie rattled off West Kip at a great rate of knots (trying to get away from crazy dude Yan H with the drum?) although he then stopped to chat and have a biscuit at the Drove Road teashoppe (very casual and relaxed!) and I caught back up to him. I glugged my caffeine gel coming down the slope and had a cup of pink mouthwash before haring off to Hare Hill. (I was pleased to be only a couple of minutes off schedule for a 3hr Skyline, so far as I could tell.) I pushed in front of Jamie again but it did nothing to bother him and we climbed and waded through the splosh together. I had summited the Kips ahead of Nicola and didn't see her again, though she finished less than 4 minutes behind me.

We now faced (after the summit of Hare Hill) the only marked part of the course. The landowner had required us to not erode the descent through the unpleasant Green Cleugh and so we were sent off on a bearing of 70' across the wilderness of Hare Hill. There was a marshal keeping us right and bamboo canes with hazard tape on top every 200 yards, or so. When you got to one you could see the next. There was a faint path running nearby and I shouted to Orange Top that it was over here, feeling a cameraderie having run close by for so long. Jamie was behind for much and I had the feeling I was maybe gaining ground and floating over the worst of the shin deep splosh and tussocky hell.

Then Joel ran out of bamboo poles. He had taped a grouse butt or board (Mary's description) but we never saw it. I was race-furious, a condition like road rage that would pass if I took 3 deep breaths, but seemed overwhelming mid-race. It felt like we had been led to the middle of nowhere then dumped like an ugly date. I was shouting f-this and f-that and why couldn't they mark the effing route. Truth was we'd recced at least 3 different ways off here and there was no good or easy line down the steep crag without a bit of shunt and bumslide through the bracken. At least we came out opposite the gentler line up the start of Black Hill. (And what markers there were off Hare Hill were much better than in 2014 when half the field couldn't even see the taped tent pegs and just reverted to the old line.)

orange shirt behind

Now, at the top of this path and the start of Black Hill proper, there stood Rod D. Joel had asked him to suggest runners go to the gate but it wasn't an absolute order or course requisite. He mentioned to myself many hadn't bothered. I knew the line we had followed every recce and for the last few years went right on the diagonal rise almost immediately off the flat at the corner. It goes up to a substantial fence post where you can step over the fence without touching it if you have a 31 inside leg or longer. Trouble is there is going to be a certain amount of collateral damage if 200 tired runners hurdle a wire strung fence, hence the request to go to the gate. Many did and enjoyed a scenic tour of the hill. Jamie did and when he eventually caught me up (and I wasn't going super quick by any stretch of the imagination,) he admitted my line was much better. Despite my cheating he was still matching me and keeping up a cheery conversation, to my one word gasped answers.

top of Black Hill

More splosh, which is testing but at least flat, and then a long downhill on shorn heather and a sight of the remaining course. Nearly there! Not on your nelly. It's just getting interesting. There is an easy-to-miss turn off near the bottom of Black Hill and I thought if I could outrun Jamie to this point I might have got down it before he noticed and he might have taken a longer route. So I upped the pace, but to no avail, he was still nearby when we took the small track down to the watery gulch then began the long bastarding haul up what becomes Bell's Hill. (Hell's Bill?) In fact it wasn't all bad having company and Jamie said something about chatting taking his mind off the steepest and therefore least enjoyable march of the second half. It was a long way from being a hoot and nice cup of tea though. At this point there are usually the spent bodies of cursing and dehydrated runners littering the place but we spent much of the second half only catching glimpses of others up ahead, or too distant to catch. 

I don't even remember the relief of turning at the 2.5 marker stones and grunting at the marshals at the flat summit of Bell's. I think I was too busy trying to keep up with Jamie. I can't remember at what point I threw in the towel but I definitely had the feeling that if we were in 2nd and 3rd m50 place (we were) then it wouldn't be me finishing ahead. There's a point where you are so fucked it no longer holds any import. I was fast approaching that point. But you still have to pay attention on tricky off-camber descents where a careless footplant could twist an ankle and make your day SO much worse. I can't remember where I had my 3rd gel but it was consumed, as was the tailwind water; there'd be little point in carrying stuff to the finish line. However I sipped the tailwind slowly as eating and drinking can give me cramp and I had felt the first snakes of it curling round my hammies and calves going up Bell's. I think that was the turning point when Jamie went, and stayed, ahead.

Jamie and Rich

There is so much open space for thought. You are out for more than 3 hrs. That's a long film and all of it just hills and dirty legs, and not much of a plot. So I was just reflecting on how things were going and how much worse they could get when bang on cue Richard comes alongside (going up Capelaw Hill) (Lucy C did exactly the same here half a dozen years ago. Obvs where I begin the crash and burn!) He kindly offered a gel, and some water and then realising I was trapped in the hurt locker, offered to fuck off ahead, which he did. I was surprised he had pulled through after such a moderate start, although its not the first time he has come strongly through towards the end of a longer event. He said something daft like this would be a really good race if it wasn't for the hills, although my sense of humour wasn't at its most receptive.

photo: family Jones, (not sure who took it)

Then I saw a tent pitched at a giddy angle on Capelaw. Mary and Matt and kids cavorting about having a nice time and taking photos. I was now at the mumbling-obscenities-stage and am surprised I am smiling in the above photo. I knew there was about 15 harsh minutes from the top of Allermuir to the end and since I had not even got to Allermuir and it was fast approaching 3hrs, it was unlikely I would hit my sub 3.06.39 target. This was going to be a personal worst. This pissed in my camelbak so to speak. Why was I even bothering? Shamed to admit it but I let several folk jog past without even contesting it. Why bother? Obviously I was past it and should take up a different hobby.

photo Amy K

So how come I am smiling in this photo. Well it was taken by Amy who was doing a one person cheerleader support routine, dancing about and singing and shouting on everyone who came up that awful hill. I was trying to insist I would not be smiling and my conversation had simmered and reduced until it was just the word fuck repeated to anyone who asked. Amy however was so full of joie de vivre it was impossible not to smile and she got that photo. Bert was there as well which was just bizarre as he has an allergy to hills. I trundled on till eventually I crossed the line thoroughly disgusted with my time of 3.14.33 and a pw by 8 minutes. 

Fergus who suggested Thursday night training wasn't really 
impacting on skyline results and perhaps we just disband!

At the time there was little to console me. It was only after a considerable quantity of beer and wine and a look at the results that I realise it was ok and others, better runners, had had worse results and probably more horrible experinces. And even the top runners were running ten minutes off the normal winning times. So I am walking quickly away with the feeling (I can't be greatly bothered to investigate absolutely if it really was THAT slow a year,) that my best running is behind me and I probably won't be doing many more skylines. Richard L did a pb although if he ever did some long training in the hills he could go quite a bit faster yet. Richard H survived and finished just ahead of Andrew who did an impressive job of nearly killing himself. Great to see him giving his all and coming in well under the 4hrs. He was well spent afterwards, which is a sign he was doing it properly. And Mary, back after 7 years did a time (again under 4hrs) that she can be proud of. Amanda was there but weirdly I never once saw her and she hasn't appeared in any photos yet. 

Results here

the 17 mile hamster of pain

On a completely different note, just a quick mention of a family member who had a better day than I did. My niece Amy Morris, coached by her mum Anne, my sister, won her class in the Horse of the Year Show. I know nothing about horses but this is something special. Very well done Amy!