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. "

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