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 

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