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!


  1. I was indeed there Peter as my sore legs will attest to today. I was well off the pace clocking 18 mins slower than last time. And I’d done loads more training in the Pentland. Albeit at a very slow pace. Oh and averaging 20 mile weeks.... not a winning combination. But I’ll take it on the chin and use it to motivate myself more. Well done on getting round in one piece. Still a great time.

  2. Hello, Dud in the Orange Shirt here. Was a pleasure to chase you even for a little bit. When i lost contact with you i think my head went a bit and i struggled for a wee while then a very chipper women went past me and her positivity gave me a 2nd wind that carried me to the end.
    Was a great race and a nice crowd.