Thursday, 19 July 2018

scurry to the sea

When I heard about this race I thought it sounded like something I could make a decent job of. One mile uphill then 10 down. A bit of off-road running and a lot of roads, but scenic roads, right through the centre of Edinburgh and finishing on a beach. Also a PRC champs race. So I signed up.

2 double deckers to take everyone from the finish to the start
photo Kate Freedman

The other thing about the race was it was a suggested route with checkpoints, meaning you could take shortcuts if you could find them, as long as you hit the checkpoints: 1/ top of Allermuir; 2/ entry to Hermitage; 3/ entry to Peffermill Ind Est; 4/ obligatory run along beach from Edinburgh Road to finish. 

Reminiscent of the 7 Hills. Better get out and do a recce. So the Sunday, the week before, I caught a bus out to the Pentlands and ran the route. I had planned it on the Suunto movescount webpage that lets you programme a specific route into your watch and then track it like a sat-nav. I could see that the 2nd and third checkpoints determined most of the way but there were possibly a couple of refinements that would be worth looking at. I drew as straight or short a distance between points as I could see on the map and then checked it on the ground. I took photos on the recce (which I'm posting here) but didn't carry a camera on race day (needing both hands for climbing walls!)

photo Kate Freedman

Although Nick was recovering well from his huge endeavor and success at the West Highland Way race, he had unfortunately been taken hostage by his work and made to eat rich hotel food in London for a couple of weeks with expenses (free films and beer.) What one of us would stand up against that sort of insidious corruption? I have been taking a bit of a (fine weather) sabbatical from work and find it helps immeasurably.

photo Kate Freedman

On the start line there was a reluctance to step up. Given I follow about sixty to a hundred folk up the start of the Skyline, I was not anticipating a need to start at the front. Mr. Limmer was happy to start there and maybe one or 2 others. The rest of us kind of held back until (after a nicely brief speech) we were set off. I had warmed up on the first 200 yards, and was in no hurry to do it again. At least there was a small recovery along to Allermuir proper before the gradient rose up again and we spent the rest of the first mile sweating up to the summit. David turned first, a good way ahead. It must be the Thursday night hill-training; because I was in second place at the turn with Nick and Roy coming up behind. Actually I suspect a lot of the hill-runners stayed away from this event due to there being no further hills beyond mile 2. You can lose a lot of tread off your hill-shoes doing 9 miles of road.

Talking of shoes: I wore Speedgoat 2s. Great trail shoe but with plenty cushioning to run on tarmac. On a dry day like it was this year you'd be fine with road shoes. I know the Speedgoats have a tendency when running downhill fast to remove 2 circles of flesh off the knuckles of my largest toes. To combat this I put sports tape over the spots and tied the laces tightly. It worked for the left toe but I must have braked or cornered a little enthusiastically on the right foot and managed to blister the knuckle, removing a small patch of skin. It wasn't too bad though. In the 7 Hills I'd worn 2 pairs of socks and this is maybe a better solution.

my kind of race profile

a small heath on the recce

Now was it Karl at the summit viewpoint? I think it was, I was breathing so hard I would have had trouble telling you my own name. However I was pleased to be in second. David had said, as we passed each other, something along the lines of he expected me to catch him on the descent. (I replied I hoped so.) He is a tremendous runner but has, funnily enough, 2 Achilles heels. One is descending, especially technical stuff. The other is navigation. 

The descent wasn't technical. I enjoyed exchanging pleasantries with ascending clubmates. I had looked, on the recce, for a more direct line to Swanston, but someone had made a fence across the trail, so I opted for the line we came up. As I was approaching the trail to Swanston David appeared from the left and as I took the lead I asked did he have to climb over a fence. If he answered I didn't hear. 

looking back from the bypass flyover

I was feeling pretty comfortable through Swanston and across the flyover. It was reassuring to have done the recce and not have to worry about where the route was. I hadn't set my Suunto to sat-nav and it was pretty straightforward. David caught up as I was slightly slowed crossing Oxgangs Road. He took the lead back and ducked into the least likely named throughway in Edinburgh - Cockmylane! I wasn't sure whether to try to keep up with David or run my own race. I suspected it wasn't going to be my choice. As we went into Braid Valley park he was maybe 30 or 40 yards ahead. 

Small Tort on recce.
I didn't stop for butterflies during the race

Now Braidburn was the first of my cunning plans as Baldrick might say.  I didn't see which way David went but I took this bridge right at the start, to be on the East side of the stream and slightly climbing. The path runs out but I continued on grass, parallel to the burn before climbing to the main road at a point opposite the Braids Hotel where there is a gap in the fence. The organiser had suggested we do the steps there but I found another way to get to the Hermitage without so much ascent. 

cutting the corner

so instead of the steps....

I went through the Shell Station and behind the car wash...

there is a handy stone  (midway between fence and tree) halfway up wall
helps you vault the wall and you are in the right street...

for the Hermitage checkpoint

At this point I assumed David was ahead and increasing his lead. So it was quite a surprise when I heard footsteps about halfway through the Hermitage and he came past. (I thought I saw someone else catching up but I think it was not a competitor. However it kept me focussed.) I also realised that although David had done a recce his nav might let him down.

We popped out onto Kirk Brae briefly before a left hander onto Doubles Hedges Road. I had looked on the map at a line parallel but to the left through the fields but couldn't see a gap in a fence required to make it feasible. 

I saw David cross the road and into Inch Park a good bit ahead. I had opted to stay right but on the grass, then cut the corner and head for a bench then another wall climb and drop into Old Dalkeith Road opposite the cemetery.

high on grass - head for the trees

another wall climb

Now do not be tempted by the Cemetery. It would be disrespectful to the Sunday visitors. And you would be heartbroken to see the collection of mourning toys (below.) But mainly because it is surrounded by a tall unclimbable green fence. (Pics from recce.)

The correct route is this lane next door - there's that fence on your right by the way. Don't know where David went at this point - as I was going up this path he appeared from the allotments on the left of the path.

Coming up is checkpoint 3. This is crucial. I had emailed the organiser to ask where the checkpoint would be, because I could foresee problems. The best line into the Industrial Estate was just over the rail bridge and turn right up a small pedestrian lane. However the email that was sent out to every competitor before the race showed the checkpoint was about 80 yards further along the main road and if you took the best line - up the lane - you would miss the checkpoint. Rachel and I had already discussed this with Mike who had done the race last year. Just as I was coming onto the main road I saw David disappearing up the lane. Too distant to hear my shouts. 

map showing greater distance left to checkpoint
at Kings Haugh rather than line through Industrial Estate

As I went through the checkpoint I shouted my number and that the leader had gone the other way, and then deftly put an index finger into one of the water cups and pinched it off the table while not slowing down. I even managed to get some water into my mouth. I hadn't taken a drink at the Hermitage: I was past the table before I saw it. So this was very welcome on a day that was getting very roasty-toasty. I had no idea if they understood my message about David, nor what they would do about it. My own feelings were, if we finished in the current order, I wouldn't welcome getting a win off David's disqualification. I'd prefer to see maybe a time penalty. He didn't cheat deliberately and has a history as far as nav goes. Re his 8 or maybe even 9 hills of Edinburgh race. Winky smiley face. 

So this is as far as the recce (and photos) went. The rest of the route follows the Innocent Railway and Brunstane Burn cycle paths to Musselburgh. And I checked out the route onto the beach. So instead of running those miles the week before I just went home through Holyrood as I had to go home and cook dinner. And I knew those paths, right?

Only I hadn't run them in months. I could feel that I was slowing but the thought of dropping any places this late, spurred me on and I checked my watch to try and keep the pace sharp. (Mile 10 I dropped to 7.10 pace having done every mile after the first couple, sub7. Mile 11 back to 6.40 pace.) Then up ahead I see David. He is definitely slowing. I caught him coming out the underpass into the car park around 10 miles. He is bitterly disappointed, he knows he missed the checkpoint and is anticipating a DQ. He says he is throwing in the towel and will only jog the remainder. I feel gutted for him.

Luckily he is right behind me as we leave the Brunstane car park and head to the riverside walkway. I go the wrong way and he shouts me back. I then nearly miss the second turn-off, and as David keeps me right, I realise I have been running so hard I have worn my intelligence down to a tiny little stump and have barely enough left to write my name. David has just yanked my bacon out the fire. I am about to rob him of first place. Teary sad face emoji.

The last mile is nearly a pleasure. It passes fairly quickly and painlessly until I hit the beach at which point it goes into slow motion and I stumble across the dry soft sand, heading towards the sea to the wet firmer sand. Roly is cheering and shouting encouragement. What a welcome! And what a relief it's finished! I sit on the wall and can't speak for a bit till I get my breath. David comes in a short distance behind.

me with David just behind
photo Kate Freedman

Rachel made 3rd and first female.
photo Kate Freedman

good to see a strong Porty turnout

another Buchanan in Hokas
Roy was third male

David in second

The organiser was uncertain how to deal with David's missed checkpoint. He asked me what I thought and I said as it wasn't deliberate, a time penalty might be the way forward, something that would put off anyone from doing the same in future years. Since the lane might save 30 seconds, a 2 minute penalty would be sufficient to discourage anyone taking the short cut. Looking at the result timings I think this is possibly what happened. I have been given 1.20.44 and David who looked to be less than a minute behind has been given 1.23.30.

Hurray! I won!
(photo thanks Nick W)

I must say I was delighted, that in my mid-fifties I can still beat some younger dudes. I prefer running downhill to up and it helped that there was a bit of off-road in the mix too. The inaugural event last year was won by Robert T and I was very pleased to get within 3 mins of his time. (He is a pal, (I painted his kitchen recently!) and I was going to pick his brains about routes but felt I could probably work out the best line myself.)  And to get a bottle of wine (best prize!) and an Active Root bottle and sachets. There was a much appreciated barrel of it (a ginger based sports drink) at the finish of which I had about 5 cups. Just as well I like it!

I have been smiling ever since!

Big thanks to Peter Ness, the Active Root team, and all who helped organise and man checkpoints. (Incl. Kate Freedman, Nicky's daughter who took photos and video.) It was a great race and deserves to grow in numbers and popularity. Quite expensive if you don't get an entry in early but I think that might be to pay for the buses from Musselburgh to Hillend. Also quite an early start for those travelling to the start (or lazy slug-a-beds who live locally and don't like early mornings!). Otherwise I heartily recommend this race. But I might be a bit biased! Winky smiley face.

I made it 11.39miles

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