Monday, 29 January 2018

Devils Burden: Lost in the Woods

I arrived at 10am in Falkland and stalked around the Fife village looking for a parking space. The first priority is to find a suitable slot, a spot that doesn’t leave your rear end poking out into the street or impinge on some grumpy residents drive. I drove down the south end and found a space outside a weary looking semi. With some curtains still closed and the residents, no doubt, still cosy in bed, I grabbed my woolly hat and donned my 'silver' Salomons. They are described as silver in the adverts, but have always looked grey and abit on the drab side in my eyes. They are looking decidedly dog-eared now. I stole out of the estate and jogged down to the Hall. It was busy, but not overly so. In the backroom of the hall a few buddies were sat buttering the largest pile of deformed morning rolls I had ever witnessed.  The huge vats of soup couldn’t be far away.

Some weeks previously, I gleaned that the Hawks were struggling for runners to make up teams for the Devils Burdens Relays and I threw my woolly hat into the ring. This event is the January season club-opener in the hill running calendar.  A tasty come as you please event for teams of six runners.  The weather is always a factor and, today, there was a gloomy blanket of murk around the hills. Squally.  

There are two solo legs and two legs for pairs. It attracts most clubs in Scotland. This year there were 150 teams. That’s 600 athletes on a Saturday morning converging on a village with little in the way of transport links.  Plenty cars. There are two waves at the start; the oldies, some female and some mixed teams go first at 9:20am: then the younger faster striplings set off at 10:30am.

The Hawks ‘A’ squad (‘A’ in the loosest sense) had set off at 9:20am and were in the Over 40’s category. I was running the last leg. Eager as I was I wandered around the hall looking for a silver bag which had my number in it and after the 3rd revolution and staring at various chair legs, I found it, to my relief.  I pinned the number on and, pulling my beanie over my forehead, left the hall and jogged through the town to the woods where the start of leg 4 was.

It had been suggested that my leg 3 duo would be coming by at around 11-11:30am. I jogged up on a woodland track through Maspie Den. Other than a few dog walkers there was no one around. Not an ounce of lycra, not a studmark or whiff of wintergreen. I continued up the track. As I came out of the trees, I was passed by a young bloke. A quick conversation confirmed that he was on leg 4 as well. I jogged a mile with him and was nearly dropped in the process. As he began to move ahead I tried to clarify if the start was up where we were jogging to; ‘No’ he said, ‘its back down there through the woods’ gesticulating with his thumb over his shoulder. I then realised he was a leg 4 runner from the second wave and was out doing some reconnaissance.  

I high tailed it back down to the start and still there was no-one there. No voices, no red tape. Nought. By this time my garmin read ‘4 miles’. I had a sweat on. This was no good at all. Not being able to determine the starting point for an event that involves, to some degree, map reading skills, was less than convincing.

I phoned Dave H. He was back in the hall after running leg 1. He suggested he might have been a bit off with the times and thought 12-12:30pm was a bit more realistic. He advocated a return to the hall. I duly ran back and chatted for 20 minutes before returning to the start, by which time some officials and a handful of leg 4 shufflers were congregating. I chatted with a couple of Falkland Trail runners who suggested that the Hawks were ‘well up’. I hoped not. Didn’t fancy the pressure. However, it was nearer 12:40pm when the lads rounded the trees and I got my hands on the cardboard control punchcard needed for the last 3 checkpoints. 

My 5.5km route with 400m of ascent would take me up one side of East Lomond and straight back down the other side.  I had kept my orange wind jacket on as I ran. It was very mild for January, but the jacket is thin and I thought there might be a wind chill up on top. I passed a woman runner quickly and then ate up a Westerland runner as we came up to my first checkpoint. This is always good for morale.  The sweat driven, rain soaked exertions of my  team-mates had resulted in the erasure of most of the checkpoint  numbers on the card. It was beginning to resemble a soggy papier-mache affair. It was pot luck which square I clicked.

I left the shelter of the trees and caught a 3rd runner half way up East Lomond. I thanked my stars I had my jacket on as a burly, rugged westerly blew me up the steep slope. However, at the top I could see the Trig point but no flag with the punch.  There were no marshalls present. I struggled to remain standing. Bent hard into the wind, I looked around the top for the checkpoint. Chris Russell, running for the Las Vegas Club (the fife branch) appeared about 20 seconds later and went straight to a shallow hollow below the Trig point and was off like a shot. Realising where it was, I punched my card and took off after him. The steep descent took 12 minutes, 2 minutes longer than the ascent as we combated deep tussocky grass and moss. As we descended the wind rescinded and I reached him on the lower slopes just as the first runner from the 2nd Wave, a Westerlands runner, screeched past, bee-lining for the last checkpoint. Momentarily, I was right up with Russell, but the Vegas runner had other ideas along the final half mile of track that led back to Falkland and he put a good few seconds into me as I felt the residue of the ghost of Christmas Pasta weighing heavily on my normally mercurial quads and calves; but before you could say ‘calorie controlled diet’ , I turned the corner and there, in front of me, was the finish line. Just a touch under 37 minutes, but a better descent and less gormless wandering at the top of the hill might have got us an extra place. Next time, eh?              

Monday, 15 January 2018

Edinburgh XC Festival

We made an appearance at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh on Saturday. Speedy Joe was selected for the West of Scotland after a very buoyant cross country season. She's no doubt hoping to improve on her 29th place at the Nationals next Month. We were in attendance as supporters and general hangers on.

The Inter-District race is one within the Great North running festival where there are some international racers in their crisp new matching tracksuits and shoe bags. The organisers encourage people to pay a 'robust' sum to run round a 5k course in the park. I dare say, no doubt, that all the marshalling and organisation costs money.

Step away from the roped enclosure please
We appeared at the top end of the park from our car parked somewhere across from the now absent Velodrome at Meadowbank; (where's it gone?-what a sad waste of money; all that Malaysian hardwood). We watched a little incredulous at all the bouncing about as the fitness instructor whipped up the 'joe public and some club runners' crowd to warm them up. The music was thumping. A high decibel experience and no mistake. As long as they were enjoying themselves!

We eventually met up with Cat at 10am. She was complaining of an 'underlying cold'. Not sure what this malady is; I said 'if she had a cold I wouldn't shout at her, if she was lurgy free, however,  I would be giving her pelters if she was slacking around the 6k course'.

Nothing to see here
The Inter-District race started at 10:40am and after the daft fast start, it settled down. There were 3 districts, representing the north, east and west of Scotland. Surely there should be a south as well? There were also guest teams from Scottish Students and the North of England. The latter were made up largely from athletes from Leeds and Manchester we were advised. We parked ourselves up on the hill where the athletes double back on themselves and where there are 2 water crossings.
I had my new Panasonic Lumix and nipped into the inner enclosure for a few shots. An older bloke sidled up to me and hovered on my shoulder for abit. I thought he was checking my bald patch or admiring my eighties shoulder pads. However, I was gently asked to leave the 'special area' after he made it clear it was only for 'authorised people'. Given my own self importance, I advised him equally gently as I peered through the view-finder that I'd only be there a couple of minutes. No one wanted any unpleasantness. In fairness, it was unlikely, but some of these folk can be a wee bitty jobsworth. I heard later from Missus Mac that two other spectators were having a good grumble about my taking of enclosure liberties. They had cameras also, but evidently not the brass-neckery to breach the confines of the inner sanctum. FFS is all I can say. Must be getting a bit dangerous in my dotage. Next time I'll bring Aunt Aggie. That'll shake things up abit.
The youngster finished mid table and somehow scraped a silver earn medal as 6th counter, so we were all happy (well, nearly all!!).  I was then for clearing off after the event, but the other half felt she wanted to watch the relay and international cross country. Being less keen to watch the 'stars and starlets', I jogged back to the car and got my trainers on and managed a steady 7 miles with a couple of laps up the hill and around the back of the park. We took off for a light snack up the Royal Mile afterwards and then it was the drive home. I was quite keen to see how the photos turned out and certainly I felt its a much more versatile camera than the other digital slr that we have; so there will be no excuse to hold back on taking a few shots at the various events that we attend. The Flickr site is still up at this link:

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Escape from the Rattling kingdom of Phlegm

I've, at last, yanked myself free from the sputumous stranglehold of the rattling kingdom of Phlegm that is the flu ridden erse-end of 2017. The nasal passageways are clear. The trainers have been dusted off and I even gave myself a 20 mile treat on Sunday with an solo ultra- run in fine crisp conditions. It took 2hrs, 30 minutes which puts me in 3:20 shape for March's marathon.
I was in Beadnall today, just down the coast from Seahouses and the forbidding, historical ramparts of Bamburgh Castle. It was a quick visit and the thought of a run up the coast along the sand had entered my mind. However, I had no gloves and didn't fancy taking on the slicing bitter north easterly which was blowing in from the Scandinavian snow caps of Bergen.

The sky was gloomy, grey and doleful. Spitting. No matter. 'I am made of sterner stuff' I told myself as I drove to Seahouses and parked up; with the heater on (I might add). Across the bare, wet sand whipped tarmac was a shop that sells tat, but this includes a range of cheap gloves and on exiting the bazaar and having paid my £2.99, I was good to go. I strapped on the garmin and it was a slow 3 miles northward to Bamburgh. The cloud was low and the sea angry and green. The breakers had 'no mercy' tattooed on their knuckles; the Farne Islands sat shivering under a dark blue and heavy sky. I pulled my hat down further over my ears and ploughed on. I felt the ipod was shuffling up some apposite tunes; Boston, Tears for Fears...god forbid I actually got out of the 80's. Katy Perry kept trying to get in, but she was cut off at the pass; in the first few bars, in her prime;

The Salomons failed predictably to cope with the slippy wet limestone outcrops that peppered the beach, but I remained upright.  The edge of the water was frothing as it ebbed and flowed and the golden sand fresh and firm underfoot. Other than a few dog walkers it was deserted. Occasional screeches of gulls and parcels of oyster-catchers stood their ground as I persevered into the wind, stopping for the odd photo. There's a whole range of collective nouns for bird species and I fancy I will bring in a further few into future blogs (after all, who can resist a 'conventicle' of magpies, a 'wisdom' of owls or a 'fecoffski' of hopping ravens). 
I checked my watch and realised that I would be pushing it to get back to the car before the ticket ran out, so it was up and off the beach, and back around the imposing castle walls with the whispering gargled voice of Æthelfrith in one ear. It was just the sort of day that he would be laid up, sitting by a fire, swigging ale from a wooden tumbler and polishing his helmet.
The road back from Bamburgh to Seahouses is flat and runs parallel to the coast and with the tailwind behind me, I clocked 3 sub seven minute miles as I high tailed it back to Seahouses, just as the Council van pulled into the car park. The thought of trying to do 6 minute mile-ing is as close to it as I get these days.
 I stopped at Lidl coming home for some mince and tonight its Mince and Tatties. I like it with loads of pepper, but don't tell Auntie Aggie that. I enjoy watching her cough uncontrollably as the innocuous seasoning ambushes her halfway through her dinner. Ahh, simple pleasures!