Wednesday, 28 February 2018


The sun came out and it all looked rather promising. However it was just a cunning trick to lure us out into the arms of the Beast from the East. We were well wrapped up but it was still a bitter wind and when the snow battered into your face it was time to head home. Just time for a circuit of Holyrood and a lap of the Meadows. And as Mary already said the pigeons at St Margaret's Loch were the stars today. 

tufted duck


a long cycle home

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

3 Eildons 10 Mile Trail Race

I had heard this race was fun. And being a PRC champs race I decided to give it a go. I liked the idea of an off road event where you do the hard bit - the Eildons - first. Then run picturesque trails for the remainder. Only one wee problem. It was the day after an epic 30 miler I had already committed to. 

Actually 2 wee problems. The second was getting there. Luckily Ollie and Victoria were driving and had space for Fiona and myself. Big thanks O&V! I was still asleep standing on Leith Walk, wondering if I had remembered my running shoes (wearing them). My legs felt weary but not trashed. The 30 miler was glorious but not done at pace so my racing muscles were probably in better shape than those who had done the Nationals the day before, even though it was about 24+ miles shorter.

After a bit of chat from the organiser we were walked to the start line about half a mile from the Rugby Club. The organiser had mentioned he had a bad back and not managed to mark the route but 3 friends had. A lot later I saw the same organiser, who came across as a really genuine bloke, with a tiny baby on his front. Congrats to him on the new arrival! However I can't help but think that this distraction was linked to the difficulties that nearly caused the race to end before it had properly started. 

start point with Eildon hill behind

and they're off!
Thanks to Mary L for supporting and taking this photo.
All her photos here

I was caught between 2 ideas at the start: hold back and don't go off like an idiot because (being tired) I will no doubt flag and fail later on and the slower I start, the longer I'll last. And 2/ beat everyone you possibly can, EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! The latter is just the caffeine dalek talking although when I saw folk were going at what I considered a reasonable pace I was lured forward, and feeling surprisingly competitive. 

This went on for nearly a mile, point nine three exactly if you want to know, before I heard the words you NEVER ever want to hear in a race: "we've gone the wrong way". One look behind confirmed it. About ten to fifteen of us (led manfully by Mr. Limmer doing his signature dish of leading from the start) had run past the turn-off at 0.48 miles following an undulating road instead of heading towards the first Eildon. Nobody else behind. I was not a happy bunny. 

We were now at the very back (poor David in absolute last place) of well over a hundred runners. The ones at the back were starting up the narrow trails to the first of the summits, taking off jackets and stopping to take photos and have gels. I never normally see these runners in a race and had to squeeze past as politely as possible, while trying to translate the rage into upward motion. A few of the front runners came past. I think David L was towards the top of the first climb though I passed him again on the technical descent off the second summit. 

Due to all the friction I didn't make the effort to get out the camera until mostly up the first hill. There was a strong sense of fuck-this-for-a-game-of-soldiers and it was very difficult not to be thoroughly disheartened by the re-grouping of the first-shall-be-last and the last-will-be-first kind of thing. I stomped up through the crowds, gasping brief hellos to Porty Vests. Looking at the Suunto read out I see I ran .91 of a mile extra. David would have been over a mile extra. And it wasn't a flat mile either! I have not heard an explanation of what happened, presumably a marshal didn't get to the turn-off before the runners. 

On the way to the start line I had got chatting to Willie Rennie. Yes THAT Willie Rennie. Back in the day he was in Kinross Road Runners and I didn't even know he had political ambitions. We knew a lot of Kinrossers through Emma and Ian, and much of the chat with Willie was about those 2 and their Trail Monster lives in the USA. 

Willie and I both climbed the hills together which surprised me as I hadn't remembered him being so strong. I also had expected Harry to go past. He had taken a handful of minutes off me at the Carnethy 5 and so I anticipated him beating me over the hills at least. (He had been ahead for the first erroneous mile and I think the turnaround had done his morale in.)

the second Eildon from the first

The second Eildon was far easier than the first as we only descended about one third of the way before ascending the second peak. The third easier still. All well marked and cheerily marshalled, with excellent views and lovely weather. Then we headed onto rather splendid descending trails.

4 behind: Willie R, then Harry

I began to enjoy myself. I do like downhill trails; just let the brakes off and belt along on decent firm ground (with occasional muddy patches.) I recognised Matt up ahead and took a number of photos, all of which came out blurred. I told him we went the wrong way and he knew, saying "we all did". It would be interesting to know how far through the runners the correct route was established.

I went past Matt and chased the next runner. I was still feeling far too good and keen to make up the lost ground. Matt had said something about only 12 ahead. I had no idea where I was in the field up till then and thought there must be dozens still ahead. His wife Mary was taking photos on a very pleasant stretch of downhill grassy loveliness. I found all the downhilly bits ludicrously easy. Sadly when it got a bit flatter I began to run out of steam.

As soon as I past this guy in blue there was nobody visible ahead and I had to pay very much closer attention to the arrows and tape. We had been told the route was marked only there were various places unmarked that were making me a bit nervous. You assume if there was a major turn off the straight ahead it would be marked and most were but now and again I would wonder if I had gone the right way and you get a rising panic until the next marker appears. 

Somewhere about 5 or 6 miles Willie R comes alongside and goes just in front. We said hello but there was considerably less chat than earlier! It occurs to me he will most likely be in my age group and that maybe a 30 miler yesterday wasn't the best preparation. I try to stick with him not as competition but so I can follow his route finding. A riverside trail goes onto a bridge but there are no clues to which way you might take off the bridge, left or right? I caught a glimpse of W R going right and further along the river. I hope he is right. He is well on the way to Liberally Demolishing me.

[Quite a bit later I noticed how come he is in such good shape. He recently turned 50 and is doing a sponsored run along the entire Fife Coastal Path over a weekend. (Check it out on the link and give him some encouragement!) He also recently took first 50 at Devilla. Probably the closest thing to a politician with integrity. Certainly one of the few who can run and run.]

As predicted I am ready to finish about 2 miles from the end. My Suunto did a weird thing. It became loose on my wrist. It never does that. I saw the twisted buckle fall to the ground so took it off my wrist and put it in my Inov-8 race vest pocket which I am wearing to take the mandatory waterproof (and camera). I still hear the Suunto bleep every mile but I don't know if that was mile 8 or 9 or even ten since we added some extra. There is allegedly a sting-in-the-tail towards the end. Every incline I hope it's the sting. There are 2, and the route seems to go on and on. Willie is now too far ahead to see.

At the top of this second hill (above) there is a choice of following the tractor tyres into the field on the left, going down the narrow path to the right or along the gravel path ahead. I choose this which is the right way although unmarked. There is quite a lot of mud just before the gravel which sticks to my shoes. The muddy shoes then pick up handfuls of gravel like a kind of off-road millionaires shortbread. Happily there is nobody just behind as I pass the last marshal at the end of the gravelly bit who tells me just head down the tarmac to the finish. It still seems a long way to go but it is downhill and so I coast down past Mary L taking photos. Turns out I am fifth. 90mins and 20s to do 10.9 miles of a 10.3 mile course.

these 4 photos taken by Mary L - many thanks!
full set here

This is an intriguing race to summarise or come to any sort of conclusion about. We had another day of splendid cold bright weather which definitely coloured the race in a positive light. However there were a few things, not the least of which being the dreadful cock-up at the start, that made me angry. But it IS a good route. Most of the race I was really enjoying the terrain. Looking at the course profile this is undoubtedly due to the descent from the hills to about mile 8.5. Couple of other points of note: £17 is pretty steep. Especially when you don't give any age group prizes. Prizes were 1,2,3 male and female only and just those cheap looking plastic figures from the low end trophy shop. There may have been envelopes as well but I didn't see those proceedings. Perfectly acceptable for a £5 hill race but this wasn't that. (And Willie R was first m50 so I'm not complaining on my own behalf!) If it was up to me I'd hand out a bottle of beer or wine to first 3 either sex and first in age groups minimum. And mark the course a bit more comprehensively. There was talk about saboteurs but you can't eradicate flour arrows so easily. The C5 route was checked directly before the race. It cost £17 also, but there was a bus ride to-and-from, a school dinner, and a bottomless swamp!

So in conclusion, would I go back? Maybe. The route was fun. But £17 is too much. (Cancel the medal although some people like a medal.) On the upside there was a very good spread of sandwiches, homebakes and tea/juice/coffee for free which was much appreciated as was the excellent hot shower. So a good race with flaws, rather than a bad race with benefits. And I don't think they'll ever make the same mistake at the first turn again. Ever. 

started at the top, did a little woopsie, returned to turn off, 
went anti-clockwise over hills then round circuit past river

wrong bit, slow bit, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast bit, tired bit, slow bit, slower bit, fast bit, done

Chris the organiser was unhappy about criticisms of the race and of the poor marshal who was really upset about not turning the runners at the proper place. He feels I am being too harsh. I feel I am reporting the race as I saw it. He would like to point out....

"It was Saturday morning when I realised I wasn't able to get round the route to mark the course. The girls (also experienced runners and organisers) offered their help. When they went to mark the Tweed River part of the route on the Saturday afternoon, they double backed and already one of the big correx signs had disappeared. They went round twice more by Sunday morning. Our signs disappear every single year as was also mentioned at the race briefing. Once again I apologise for the lack of volunteer at a crucial turn, it is very unfortunate but what's done is done and I can assure you and everyone else this will never happen again. We raise a lot of money for charity, this year it went to Sick Kids Edinburgh, Melrose Scout Group and of course the Borders Mountain Rescue Team. Other outlays are the hire of the rugby club and showers, all the food and drink, medals, numbers and the trophies which are good quality unlike what you suggest in the blog! I have never had any complaints about markings of this route from previous years or at least no one has told me about it. "

Tweed Valley Social

Mark H asked me a while back if I would lead a run as part of the Carnethy Ultra series he was putting together. He initially suggested the Herring Road but I proposed the route I did as a recce for the Tweed Valley Ultra at the end of last year, as it had been a good day out and had more points of access for people to join and leave if they didn't want the full 30 miles. And cafe stops. It was settled and Saturday 24th was the date set.

out through Gala

Setting dates a long time in advance of a run makes me nervous. Since July 2014 I have run a 30+miler (Tynecastle Bronze) once a month and the fact that only 2 of the 43 have been done in shitty weather is down to planning them around the forecast, which you can't do a month in advance. So it was fingers crossed and be prepared to cancel if there are blizzards on the way. However the forecast was very promising and it looked like we were in luck.

We caught the 08.25 out of Waverley for Gala. I think there was around 10 on the train. Sarah and Andrew met us off the train and there were others (Kate J, Digby and Neil B) joined at Yair taking the max number to 16. Some were running only to the cafe at Walkerburn and back, and some doing the middle section of around 20 miles. The only instructions I gave were to stick in a reasonably close group as there were parts of the route that weren't very instinctive and I'd have missed those turn-offs last time had I not had the Suunto set to sat-nav mode. Surprisingly everyone behaved remarkably well and we regularly re-grouped at junctions if the spread was becoming too extended. Again the excellent weather helped - it was no great hardship standing in the sunshine chatting.

There was hardly any tarmac before we were out onto the Southern Upland Way, through a small wood and up to a cairn on a high point for a quick team photo. Then it was along and down to Yair where we met Kate and Digby and Neil and crossed the Tweed, just under 5 miles.

Kate coming up the path to meet us.

I'm resisting any shortarse comments. (Almost.)

The next 20 miles form the mid-section of the Tweed Valley Ultra Race. I am in debt to them for making me aware of this route, although this is by far the best section of it and if they wanted to really improve their event they would start and finish it in Gala as that would remove the tedious tarmac cyclepath they use at the start and finish. Nobody I have spoken to thought the 5 miles of tarmac at 33 miles was a good idea. However they would have to change their base from Glentress to Gala, but I really think they would end up with a better course and event.

There is a mix of hard pack trails and tarmac running alongside the River Tweed. It goes past a few hamlets and is pleasant running. I asked if people could re-group about 8.5miles in as there is a turn off I worried we'd miss around 9. Point A on the map at the bottom After taking a smaller trail up into the forest we then take another turn-off through the trees coming out onto a forestry trail that winds and turns and takes another couple of unlikely turns before descending into Glenbenna and Walkerburn. I phoned ahead to warn the Caberston Cafe we were on our way. I had to update them that it was not "around 8" but 16 runners to cater for. It helped that we arrived in 2s and 3s and not all at once although they were totally accommodating, letting us push tables together and not objecting to filthy shoes.

descending towards Walkerburn


Caberston Cafe - highly recommended (under a fiver for bacon roll and pot of tea)
We got there (13.75miles) ahead of schedule (2hrs45)

After the cafe some left to catch a bus back to Gala and Digby and Nicola decided to head South from Glenbenna up a steep track that would miss a couple of miles and bring them out ahead of the main group - about 8 now - halfway along the second half of the SUW. Auren, Graeme and Kate headed towards Traquair to make enquires in the brewery. We had a loose plan to meet but didn't really expect that to happen.

The last time I did this route as a recce for the Ultra, I continued along the riverside paths and road towards Innerleithen and then continued on the main road to Traquair. Mark shouted us back at Innerleithen (Point B on map) and suggested we take the off-road path which cuts more directly onto the hill and meets the SUW above Traquair. I took some reassuring but in fact it was one of the best suggestions of the day as it was far more pleasant than a mile of tarmac along to Traquair and climbed gradually (therefore more runnable) than the really steep hike out of Traquair. And who should we meet at the junction of the SUW? It was as if we had meticulously planned it! Graeme said they had had a fair bit of luck as well. The brewery had been closed but as they arrived at the same time as a customer who was staying there, one of the staff happened to be there and opened the bar for them. 

Regrouped again!

quite a lot of uphill to the Point of Resolution

a passing walker took this pic on Aisling's camera

approaching Feel the Burns territory

I saw photos from someone who was here just a couple of days prior and there were large patches of snow. Most of that had gone by the time we got there and it was really dry with just small patches of ice and snow. Perfect timing between quite hazardous conditions. The views improve as you climb higher. And in the distance ahead I saw 2 tiny figures. Nicola and Digby waited for us on top of Brown Knowe and then we all descended together as a group. 

Just before the 3 Brethren there was an alley of snow. This was about the hardest going of the day as it had frozen quite solid and was rutted. It didn't last long and I was pleased it wasn't like that over the whole hilly section, which it could easily have been. We sat around by the cairns enjoying the views and warm sun. What a great day!

Auren sent me this photo which is a splendid record of the scenery.

Aisling took this photo.

when Digby hits the ground too hard his airbags go off

After the 3 Brethren there is a long descent back down on winding forestry trails to Yair. Mark had been struggling with injuries - he wasn't sure whether he would manage the run or not, and he was now paying the price for braving it. However he ran on to Yair and then got a very welcome lift back to Edinburgh from Neil. It was fortunate he wasn't forced to cover the last 5 back to Gala. I think he still covered more than marathon distance. And Digby also did more than his usual - about 21miles, and he was looking glad to be stopping at that point too. So we waved goodbye and about 8 of us set off over the last hill, hoping to get to a pub in Gala in time for the rugby.

Nicola (above) had insisted we were not to wait for her. Waiting would oblige her to hurry, doing it at her own speed was preferable. Since we had already covered the ground at the start of the run we trusted her to find her own way back. And we saw her following from a distance. The rest of us enjoyed the lengthening shadows of a perfect day and jogged back into Gala. We went all the way to the station and while some were keen to catch the next train others were thinking more along the lines of pub and rugby.

I felt I couldn't quite relax until all of the team were back. We hadn't arranged what pub to meet in so after seeing the troops head for the Station Inn I went back up the trail to meet Nicola. (I was indifferent about the rugby, but I was very much looking forward to a pint.) I ran back to the corner of the wall where you could get a decent view up to the woods and there was no sign of Nicola. Timewise she hadn't been that far behind so I knew she must have gone another way. Sure enough she had done some individual navigating but rescued herself and was at the station by the time I tracked her down. (All good practice, working with a tired brain, for her whw race later this year!) We went to join the others but one step inside the heaving pub and I knew I couldn't hack it. We went to the one round the corner where there were 3 other folk. MUCH better. It had the rugby on so I texted Graeme and we all had a few drinks at the Glue Pot, only just managing to extricate ourselves in time for the next train (but one) while Scotland held onto their lead. Perfect finish to a perfect day out. Great route and really great company. The whole thing had so many opportunities to go off the rails and yet everything went along without a hitch. And the weather made it amazing. Top day out! This would never have happened if it hadn't been for Mark and his enthusiasm! Big thanks to him.

30miles in total over 7hrs 2mins
Though I prob did another 2 looking for Nicola
and another 2 up and down from Waverley

Digby and Mark have put their words and photos on the Carnethy site along with an excellent zoomable map you can find here. If anyone (High Terrain Events?!) wants a gpx file just shout. This IS a better route than the Tweed Valley Ultra.