Sunday, 30 March 2014

Largo Training Camp & The Birnam Classic Hill Race

I've been away all week at the Fife spring training camp. For some lucky enough, its Majorca for 10 days. For me, a week in Largo. That said, we had a dinky cottage and the weather was fine; cold, but thankfully the biting easterly had the courtesy to take its teeth out. The location was ace though with beach, abandoned railway lines and the nearby Law to run around. The Neuk should be busier than it was, but many of the cottages are used as weekend getaways and second homes. The quiet lanes were ideal for biking and I clocked up a useful 80 miles through the week to go with about 35 on the road and trails.

We took off to Birnam for Adrian Davis's River Tay nigh time dash on the Friday night and then the Birnam Classic hill race on the Saturday.

It was just after 7pm when we arrived on Friday armed with head torch and double layer of training tops. I couldn't help thinking this event might be better an hour earlier as I registered with a small group present and mulling around in the commodious guest house. After a briefing we trekked down to the bridge at Dunkeld and about 20 of us set off for the 5km along the riverside in the pitch black. A group of 5 got off in the front and after 1km or so I was on my own, occasionally catching glimpses of the torchlight well ahead. You get a heightened sense of speed running in the dark as objects and the road ahead comes within your field of view more quickly and I thought I was clipping along very nicely in a tempo-run sort of speed. At the turn which took us around the sole marshall and through  a narrow field and back onto the track, I passed a couple of the back markers and with only one stop to check my route, I was soon nearing the finish, marked by a gaggle of head torches and earshot of the hushed, echoey voices of organisers and finishers already gathered at the end underneath the bridge arch. It was a quick cuppa and digestive afterwards and back to the cottage for a nightcap and bed.

Saturdays Birnam Race was much better attended with registration of the 70 strong field at the nearby Arts Centre. A few of the lads from the Hawks club were in attendance and after a natter we were soon off into the wood that takes you up the 1200ft climb to the top of the Hill. It was a straight up slog over the gravel and heathery peat and just before the top Crowe and Mathews who I might have stayed close to had
already disappeared from view.

I topped out with a lad from Dundee Road Runners and a Coniston fell runner as we cut our way over the trail and round the back of the hill, concentrating hard on trying to up the speed while taking the best line off the muddy track and avoiding the jagged boulders and cobbles lying in wait. We were soon on the way down where we picked up another runner. I hit the front of the group for a wee while but was flat out and when the gradient eased back into the woods, two came past as we picked up a runner from Perth. He still had some energy left though and rallied and it was me who was dropped as the group split on a series of short sharp and twisty inclines that took us back onto the tarmac and into the village for the finish. About 40 minutes for this event and it was more trail than moor, but I still worked up a sweat. Having a social pre-booked we took off pretty sharpish afterwards but an enjoyable event and a decent turnout. It was much more runnable than Criffel two weeks earlier. Bring on next weeks duathlon.....


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Criffel Hill Race 2014

I took a trip to the west today to run the Criffel Hill Race. Six miles and 2000ft. No probs.
sullied rear quarters
I had consulted the excellent Scottish Hill racing site with regards to the start time, course and likely numbers.  Given my varying form, it seemed dooable and I had to make a proper start to the season at some time.   Coming off at Gretna along the A75 to Dumfries I stopped at a couple of roadworks. The skies were that patchy, petrol grey and barely blue affair with more than a few smoky, belligerent looking clouds stroking the higher ground to the south. As I waited for the lights to change my eyes wandered across a far off hillscape. They stopped when I clocked a pretty hefty looking mound that was head and shoulders bigger than its minions. Was it the hill they called ‘Criffel’. It looked like someone had cut free a piece of the Pennines and floated it halfway down the Solway. Not being too familiar with this patch of turf, I thought there was a good possibility. Snow free, thankfully, but big enough.
Arriving at the wee village of New Abbey, I parked up with the most of the rest of field beside Sweetheart Abbey. I dug out my kit and took a look at my Salomon's. Past it. The soles looked shinier than my bonce after a good polishing. They were ready for the bin. Given its early season, I thought, the route would probably be straightforward, maybe a gravelly path, so I would manage fine.  

After some fun and games by the race organiser during the kit check, we set off with half a mile of tarmac. Half of the field were ahead of me, but I had my camera and the only way was up, so what was the rush. Soon enough we were hitting some early gradient through the woods cutting a narrow path over the red brown clay and kicking conifer cones.
I moved up and settled into a steady pace.  The wood soon opened up as we began to climb and we were faced with a hillside of soft black peat, black mush and a few straw tussocks. Sometimes there were reeds and peat. Sometimes moss and reeds and peat. ...and so it went on.  I saw Ian Sills about half a minute ahead, and a few others. Nice to be in a group, I thought. I had worked out at an early stage that if this soft boggy ground kept up, I may as well descend on my backside as there was no way I was going to stay upright on the way down.  There seemed no clear runnable path up the hill. The best of the peat was soft, but more often than not I lost a foot, ankle or calf.  Very difficult to find any rhythm.

As we got higher into the grey, damp and windy clag, a Dumfries runner came past. I stopped to take a couple of snaps then moved on and kept him close.  He went down, I went down. I went down again, but at least the gradient had eased. Next minute, Al Anthony is coming down past me, then a collective of Carnethies (what is the collective noun?) and I’m hoping we're near the summit.
It wasn’t too far ahead and I got the top and turned and had lost Dumfries man sooner than I’d wanted to. On the way down I stopped a few times to take a really close look at the reeds and peat and at one point beside the Mountain Rescue guys, did a double face plant which wasn’t my finest moment, catching my knee on a gritstone cobble.  It added a bit of red to the otherwise blackened legs. What a state.....

The Hill takes another victim
A youngster came hurtling past soon afterwards running for the hardrock hoodlums. A few minutes later, another one came past. This time a runner from the  Irvine club. I was only buoyed up by the fact that I was catching the second female who was making heavier weather of the boggy conditions than me and as I passed her (Dumfries ultra runner Jo Zakrzewski) she asked ‘if there was any more bog’, to which I answered ‘I hope not’. Back onto dry land, I soon had Irvine runner Tommy Begley in my sights, but before I could close the gap, I heard the rapid cadence of Jo Za eating up what little distance I had put between her and me, and she belted past me just before the line. I thanked the organisers and took off. Enjoyed the run out, but need to be investing in some new kit if I’m going to take myself seriously this year. Also: Note to self: find somewhere to practice suicidal descents or stick to trail races.   
(-I'd paste in some photos, but can't find the cable so you'll have to make do with the words just now) - Results on the Dumfries Running Club website.  Great photos at 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Brough Law run out

I was best actor in a supporting role today at the Brough Law Oscars. It was good to see over 100 runners turn out and even better to see the sun trying to break through in a mild but breezy event. Ran around near the back keeping my promise to look after the my good lady as she worked hard around the Cheviot foothills. Grabbed some photos at the start. Might try Criffel next week if the weather stays nice. Need to get the mileage up though and lose some of this flesh.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Shang a Lang at Croft

Yesterday was a re-baptism of fire. Fire in the hole? No, Mr Segal; fire in my quads. Usually after a hard race, I breeze through the next 24 hours with no aches or pain. That is until the covert Doms squad creeps in the back door. This usually happens in the wee small hours, and by next morning I become wooden, animated and creaky. Hauling myself up stairs, levering my body up off the chair or supporting my legs with my arms when bending. Yesterday though, I ached as soon as the race finished...but why? Cause I was racing on a bike.
One of the newer members of the cycling club said he was riding at Croft. Another prospective member was going also. Croft is used mainly for motor racing.  A flattish circuit near Darlington it is (said Yoda.)  I thought I'd better join him (not Yoda, the other guy)
I wasn't looking forward to it. Apart from a short lived comeback 10 years ago on the bike, I haven't bike raced in earnest since the early and mid 80's. The thing about a bike race is if you stay in the bunch you get about 20% benefit from less wind resistance. But once you let a gap open, you lose that and then its 'bye bye baby' (as my once favourite group sang. I loved that tartan look. Which one was your favourite?!)
Anyway, when you're off the back, its a lonely world. Perhaps that's why sportives are so well attended as its easy like Sunday morning. Its not the case in a bike race. Eyeballs out.
After swapping a tube on the Condor, I loaded the crack road bike up into the car and took off, arriving in bright sunshine in good time.
There weren't many there.
It was just above freezing, but frost free thankfully. I met the lads and geared up, paying my £10 and nipped around the 2 mile circuit for a warm up. After the warm up I changed from my calf length tartan trews to lycra and on top to a long sleeve tracksuit. There was a nippy wind chill.  Around 30 lined up. Quite a small field but there were still some proper racers in there. They had shades, voluminous legs and everything stretched tight as a drum, including smiles. 
We set off in two groups. I had blundered my way into the first group and off we went. The others setting off a minute or two later. We managed two laps before our little group split and it was me and Tim M off the back of the first group.
Never mind; we knew, like buses, there would be another along in a minute; and there was. But as we had been lapping at 22 mph, the peleton came past at 24 and it was a short lived charabang. That said, a few others also got spat out mercilessly. Being dropped from the pack can be abrupt but more often its a yo-yoing, longer lingering and snaking demise.
No matter. The ejectees formed a 5 man band. We continued all to take turns at the front and picked up a few stragglers. It was hard but like fell racing, concentrating on slip streaming and zooming in
on the wheel in front soon makes the time pass quickly.
With 27 miles of the 30 mile race completed the leader lapped us. He was flying solo, having decided that 25mph was more within his capability. The last lap slowed as a few caught their breath before attempting a sprint for 18th-23rd places. It was just like old times. Hambleton man jumped too early, I went in close behind and and came out with 50 to go.
va va voom.  Tea and cake for a quid afterwards made this Velo 29 organised event a reet gid day oot.  Celebrated my return by signing a pro-contract and going to see the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra. How much tartan can a guy get in a day?