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Falkirk Scottish National XC + Foxtrail 13k

Falkirk – 24th February

Having enthusiastically ‘warmed up’ to cross country, I signed up for the Scottish nationals. They were easy to get to (Falkirk- trains every 15 minutes) and, even better, were 10km long and the same distance for men and women.

The day was bright, dry and sunny. I got there early and had time to potter a bit, peer at the map and jog a lap of the three lap course. It was mostly firm and grassy, with the occasional muddy patch and one or two little steep hills. Apparently this was very benign conditions compared to some other years!

Falkirk XC mass start – so many people!

A mass start saw everyone charge up the first hill. Someone who clearly knew me said something as she passed but I didn’t catch it! (turned out it was my friend Grace). Other members of the club were also cheering on corners which was most encouraging. As we went on, I started to pass people, each time focusing on the next person up ahead.

After 1.5 laps I fixed my gaze on a small group in front who were gradually getting closer. I decided if I was able to reach them and then hold position, I’d be happy! Someone yelled out that I was looking really strong, which made me feel great and sure enough I then caught and passed the little group.

We were now two laps in, but suddenly I felt a bit fuzzy wuzzy and knew I was pushing it just slightly too hard! The only solution was to back off a touch and hope the people behind didn’t notice… They noticed!! I was overtaken again but was getting over my wobble.

Final lap done and dusted and a strong sprint finish saw me finish in 63rd place (out of 271) and a time of 46:04 mins (I recorded the course a little long at 10.5km). Results. Pretty happy with that and think I’ll do a few more next year 🙂

Foxtrail 13km – 10th March

A couple of weeks later and the Beast from the East had been and scattered races in its wake. Andy was heading to the final Foxtrail race of their winter series, a 13km based at Foxlake. I had been due to spectate the first time round as it was the day before a race of my own. However, now I was heading over at a loose end and managed to get a last minute entry.

The weather was no longer white and snowy, but raining and windy! We all huddled shivering at the start, though the fun warm up got us all moving. I did a few of these last year, my best position being 5th, and that in the much longer events. However, as Nicola Duncan sprinted off, I found myself next to two other girls. I passed one of them on a twisting trail through the woods and was working hard to keep up with the other.

I had checked the course map beforehand and had a rough idea where we were going. Unusually, the wind was coming from the east, which meant we had a headwind most of the way out and a tailwind on the way back. I stuck behind this girl (I found out later that her name was Claire), getting as much shelter as I could. I was working a bit harder than I might have chosen, but decided it was worth it to hang on as long as I could. It turns out that her pace was strong and consistent. We steadily caught other runners as we made our way out along the course.

At some point she pulled aside to encourage me to pass, but I genuinely didn’t have the energy to do so! We met a couple of other guys and ran with them instead, turning round a field at the far end and retracing our steps over the bridge I hit my shin on during some other race … The memory of the pain still made me wince!

Now we had a tailwind and I tried to relax. I did eventually pass Claire and encouraged her to stay with me. Through some dunes, rising and falling before turning into the woods. At this point I could hear two girl’s voices behind me, so I knew I had not opened a significant gap. Then Nicola ran past! She had gone the wrong way and just come back on track. I thought I should call out and let her know she was back in the lead, but I had no breath and by then she was too far ahead to hear.

Top three, muddy legs!

I kept working and really loved the section where the route followed a narrow and winding little path along the edge of the coast. I was nimble and my shoes were perfect for gripping the sheen of mud. I knew the course turned back on itself at the far end and was bracing myself for the return of the headwind, this time on my own 😉 What I didn’t know was that it would be on a rough and squidgy track, recently churned up by a farm vehicle!

As I took the final bend into the woods, I glanced over my shoulder. I seemed to be clear of other runners and enjoyed the last stretch to the finish.

I hung around to collect my little bag and stand on the step!

Couldn’t believe I had managed to place 2nd female / 8th overall. Results. A lot of people hadn’t been able to make the rearranged date, so I thought I had just been lucky with who had been able to turn up. But my pace was only a touch slower than that at the XC and when I compared my time to the first 13k in the series it was still pretty good. Think I just love racing when the weather is ‘bad’!

I quickly showered and got changed into all my warm, dry clothes. I just missed Andy finishing, but hadn’t wanted to risk getting a chill. A hot cup of tea and prize giving later, and we were back on the bikes and pedalling for the train back to Edinburgh and a large café lunch 🙂

Large lunch to refuel and warm up post-race

Thanks to those who took photos – from the Edinburgh AC photostream, Andy, a friend of someone at the Foxtrail race and me!

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Foxtrail Nocturnal Ultra – Relay

Race three of five in my pre-Christmas splurge was the Foxtrail night ultra, which we entered as a 3-person relay team. After first persuading Izzy, Marie got the call. And after convincing her that it was not an all-nighter and was not on Sunday, she was in!

Dream team, ready to race!

The race course was 4.9km laps on trails in the dark. Some people were doing it solo, but I am saving my first ultra to be a big loop instead of many little ones! We arrived in good time and got set up in the start / finish / handover / party marquee. The plan was to start on single laps, monitor our pace and adjust as necessary. The goal was to finish 15 laps within the 6h time limit, so that we could fit in a final 16th lap. There was no published start list, so although I knew we had a dream team, I did not have a sense of whether it was dreamy enough to be gunning for the win!

Marie speeding off to a fast start

We decided to go off in descending speed order, which meant Marie started. I knew she’d enjoy the bustle of elbowing her way through in the mass start! I warmed up and waited anxiously at the handover. In she came, in a fast time and second lady. I flew off and soon caught the other female team in the woods. Up ahead I could see my friend Neil, who had joined a male team at the last minute. He was wearing something luminous and easy to spot! I couldn’t catch him, but was pleased to see him as he can run a straight 5km a lot faster than I can …

Handover to Izzy who was ready and waiting; that set the pattern for the rest of the night. I had set up a spreadsheet to check our progress and make sure we were on target. Everything was going to plan, so I couldn’t be happier 😀 In between laps I updated the numbers, ate, chatted and made sure Marie was ready to go. She always was, despite her tendency to suddenly undress or run to the toilet 3 minutes before Izzy was due back!

I knew my first lap speed was unsustainable. The second felt better, but I dropped more time again on every lap (about 5s/km on average every time). That was a bit disappointing, but I realised others were dropping more. We got an update after 6 laps and we were leading the women’s field! This brought a beam to my face. On lap 3 I overhauled Neil just after I whooped my way through the mid-lap DJ rave barn. I wondered if I’d regret it, but didn’t – our pacing was better and we finished a lap ahead of their team 😉

It was not as cold as it might have been (well above freezing) and the forecast rain was little more than light showers. This meant I survived by throwing on a big coat between laps and getting progressively stinkier in the same running kit …

Lap 4 was painful although I overtook a couple of other relay runners, including internet / Newcastle Glenn who seemed to have breath to chat to another runner! We were, of course, lapping the solo runners at regular intervals. I felt a bit bad to be speeding past knowing I was doing a fraction of what they were, but everyone was so polite. Some said well done and I’m sorry I had little more in me than to grunt a reply.

At some point I knew that barring any disasters, we were safe for getting in 15 laps before the final fireworks. However, I offered to Izzy that she could do 4 laps and I’d do 6 if she preferred (Marie was already lined up to do 6!). She gamely decided to go for the full house. So I set off on my 5th with an all-out last effort.

I was rewarded with a stitch, nausea and a final time slower again than lap 4!! After that I was rather relieved not to have another one to go, and managed to shower and change whilst Izzy ran her last lap. We yelled Marie out, grabbed some food, admired the firework display and waited for the finish! Great sprint into the tent.

Podium – all determined to fit on one step!

All our efforts were rewarded with 1st female team and 5th overall, as the last team to squeeze in 16 laps. Event video here! I had a jolly old time and still had energy to chat to Marie on the way back to Edinburgh. I’m a night-time sort of person. Next morning I dragged myself out of bed to meet for a sea swim and extended cafe stop – a delayed reward from the night before! Mind you, I was exhausted by then. Turns out doing 5 x 5km intervals is harder than it looks on paper.

A great race which I am sure will be back on the calendar again next year. Thanks to Foxtrail for organising, Bob Marshall and Andy Kirkland for photos, my team mates for being awesome and all the other racers for the friendly vibe.

Foxtrail Harvest Moon Trail Half Marathon

I had been looking forward to this event, as compared to the 10km, the distance was more to my liking! By Friday night, torrential rain and gale force winds were forecast, I still had DOMS a week after the Open 5, work was nuts so I was tired and the effects of my cold lingered on. On the plus side I had an enormous pizza for dinner, which I thought might cancel everything else out!

Another early start and Izzy and I were heading over towards Tyninghame, where we had done some fabulous swimrun training last year. Leaving the car, it was indeed wet and windy. After registering we were back to sit in the car and put off getting out again. Soon enough we decided it was time for a warm up. I needed the toilet though and queues were such that my ‘warm up’ was done on the spot!

Looking around at the other competitors at the briefing in the marquee I felt slightly over dressed in my knee length socks, 3/4 length tights, long sleeved technical windproof and a buff and gloves! I knew I also looked like I had gone overboard wearing my Camelbak race vest. However, the previous week I had felt very dry throated from the lurgy and I wanted to be able to sip whenever I fancied. So I was carrying a modest amount of water plus a couple of snacks. I resisted using the space to add any unnecessary other gear and assured myself I could stow away any bits and bobs I wanted to take off.

Out in the cold and there was some delay as we shivered waiting to start. Then we were off, and within minutes I was feeling too warm! I soon settled down though as the sweat / wind chill balance evened out. The course was 4 loops of different lengths and shapes, all passing back through the start / finish area. This was great for spectator support. I was worried it would be complex to follow, but the organisation and course markings were excellent. Given my state, I had decided to run entirely on feel and ignore my watch, just doing my best.

I loved the route! A total mix of twisting, turning fire roads, woodland trails, mud, stones, narrow paths on rocky outcrops and a generous helping of beach near the end. No getting bored here. The field thinned out over time and a mini group I had been following disappeared into the distance. I was catching one or two people who were fading though, and soon had a man in a blue gilet to target. Kilometre after kilometre he remained just out of reach.

About halfway round it registered in my mind that it was really only spitting and not raining hard at all. I was vaguely disappointed as I love a tough weather race and had dressed to be wet! However, it was still pretty windy and as we hit the coastal sections we felt the full force of it. The waves looked amazing and I wished we had brought our wetsuits for later after all. Izzy on the other hand said that at the same points she was very relieved not to have them, as she was getting brain freeze just running!

Along the beach, blue gilet man was getting closer. There was also a short out and back section, so I got to see where the next women in front and behind were (we were all spread out). For one moment I was sure I had lost my race number and slowed as I tried to find it. How could it blow off attached to a race belt? In fact, where was the race belt? Eventually I located it tucked under my chest, with the number flapping halfway up my back.

Another racer absolutely flew past and it spurred me on to finally pass and leave behind the person who had been in view for so long! I powered up the final climb and into the finish, where the ‘warmth’ of the marquee set off a coughing fit. I ambled back out, cup of tea in hand, to watch Izzy finish. But she had had a harder time than me, falling twice and losing the will to race as a result!

In the final results, I was 5th female, 25th overall and a time just dipping under 1:42. Pretty pleased with that. I was catching 4th but needed a few more kilometres to do it, and 3rd was well ahead! On checking my watch I found that every km had been under 5 minutes and remarkably consistent until kilometres 17-20 …. If I had known that, maybe I’d have stayed more focused and pushed myself like I did in the 16km event to keep under and save myself a minute or so … Or maybe if I had seen my speed at the start I might have panicked and self-restricted thinking it was too fast. So all in all, a good race!

As for the series, it’s best 4 out of 6 and I’m racing elsewhere on the final weekend. It’s a bit of guesswork looking at the leaderboard, but I think I’m going to finish somewhere between 2nd and 7th – will have to wait and see who races next time and how fast they go 😀

We stuck it out to applaud the podium places before scuttling back to the car, changing in double quick time with no modesty and driving round the corner to the secret café with a fire, soup and cake …

Here’s a wee taster video of the event even featuring ‘blue gilet man’ (aka Paul Barry, the results tell me) – looking forward to seeing the full thing.

In two weeks after this race, I’m doing another trail half marathon but one of a very different nature – up a hill the winding way and back down again more directly, with 750m total ascent compared to the 100m of this event!! I’m intrigued to see how I find it in comparison.

Oh, and we didn’t miss out on the big waves for the weekend after all. With an easterly wind still blowing strong on Sunday, we went down to Portobello for some unusually large waves and super fun times on our doorsteps instead 🙂

Foxtrail 10km Balgone Estate

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Having entered three of the other races in this series, I thought I’d get a fourth to qualify for a series result and because, well, why not? Unfortunately, the next 13km clashes with another race and I’d already missed the first one, so it was the 10km or nothing!

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning (Andy Kirkland)

I was lucky to get a waiting list place, as did Izzy. So it was alarm set for 6am (no, no, no) and another early Saturday morning start. The weather was beautiful – mists and sun with a very light breeze and temperatures hovering around zero. We got slightly confused on the way there, but were still fifth to arrive and register. Plenty of time to use the portaloos, listen to the cows’ loud moo-ing and the dogs’ incessant barking, huddle under the heater, watch the mouse and debate going for a warm up!

"Warm" up (Andy Kirkland)

“Warm” up (Andy Kirkland)

After the warm up I could feel a small stone irritating my foot. I decided I had better sort it out now rather than be in pain in the race. I fiddled with the triple knotted laces, gave the shoe a good shoogle and got my hand inside for good measure. Shoe back on. Walk a bit. Darn! Still there! Maybe it is in my sock. Shoe off again, sock off and inside out. Everything shaken and back on. Still there! What a mystery …

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

We were ready to start in the huge grain store, but it was a bit delayed – cue some jumping up and down and arm waving before the official arm waving warm up.

Then the hooter went and we were off! I flew through the first km, which was on a good surface and downhill. I was aiming for top 10 and had counted at least 7 or 8 girls in front of me. I was going well. The stone irritated my foot as I hit the hard ground. I started wondering if it was something to do with the actual shoe itself…

On a farm track, the puddles can be deceptive as the wheels often cut down to firm ground underneath. I gained ground on people by just going through the edges when others hopped around in the mud on either side. I couldn’t feel the thing in my shoe on the soft ground and soon forgot about it.

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

After 3km something hit me … not literally! The trail got more technical and the group I was with ran away. Then it was up a hill. I mean, the course could hardly by described as ‘hilly’. But it was lumpy enough to feel like hard work. Out of the trees and the sun was dazzling me, which was nice. I kept losing sight of anyone in front as we twisted and turned, but the course was perfectly marked.

Back through some trees and over rough ground, my vision was blurry with sweat and I almost tripped. I knew I was fatigued already and we had barely gone half way. Next followed some tracks round the edges of fields, rough and lumpy and hard to get a rhythm on. My concentration drifted slightly as I found myself musing what would happen next in the audio book I’ve currently got on the go …

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

I snapped back to attention and told myself to keep working. After 8 km two girls came past me in quick succession. Unfortunately, there was not a thing I could do about it. I kept them in sight and we were all closing on a chap who had appeared in front from nowhere and seemed to be labouring. I was almost on them when we got to the steep downhill. It was short, but I was tentative as I knew I was tired and didn’t want to fall. They all got away! Darn. One final uphill to go. The girls were gone but I was gaining again on the man. Sadly, I ran out of time!

Here are the km by km time splits and blow by blow account:

1) 3:44 (um! it was downhill?)
2) 4:19 (still easy track)
3) 4:31 (getting harder)
4) 4:50 (maybe I went out too hard)
5) 5:14 (small hill, kill me now)
6) 5:10 (vision blurry, stumble in the woods)
7) 4:46 (don’t know where that came from)
8) 5:10 (up and down)
9) 5:13 (overtaken)
10) 5:16 (steep descents)
Extra 230m) 1:04 (why, why?!)

Andy took a photo and I fell over the finish line, heading for the podium blocks just for a sit down to breathe and control the nausea! Shortly after Izzy appeared, and with a cup of tea and a biscuit (custard cream for me), I was feeling a bit better.

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

It was a wait for the results, but when they came out I saw I had just sneaked into 10th position … yay! (29th overall) . 4 and a bit minutes behind the winner, who got 9th overall. Doesn’t sound that great for me, but this series attracts serious runners, and I’m deciding that 10km is definitely Too Short 😀 Really looking forward to the 21km in February! Many thanks to the race organisers and to Sandy and Andy for photos.

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

When I got home I gave my shoes a good wash and wondered about that stone. I started inspecting the sole for some structural damage and found a massive thorn poking right through. I could only get it out with my tick removers!! No wonder I didn’t shift it at the race, but good job it was sorted before the next time 🙂

Foxtrail 16km trail run

There was time for one more race before the year was out and it was back to Foxlake for the Foxtrail 16km trail race. It was in the same series as the 10km night run a few weeks ago, though getting closer to a distance I like! Friends Mitch and Berit had informed me they would cycle there (rather them than me!), but Izzy got a waiting list place so I hauled myself out of bed and was on a bus into town to meet her at 7am. On a Saturday. Whose idea was this?

The drive over was quicker than Google had suggested, so we arrived in plenty of time. Meaning, almost first. We registered, walked a bit of the course, chatted, changed. I dealt with an exploding gel and decided I wouldn’t need one mid race anyway. It felt strange to be ready for a race with no kit other than what I was wearing … We did a jog warm up and headed to the start. Mitch and Berit had set off at 7:30, raced over and practically ran to the start line, nicely warmed up.

It felt strange to be there with Izzy but to contemplate racing all alone … no one to talk to or share with?! I suddenly felt apprehensive! After a funny mass warm up, it was time to go and off we raced. My watch buzzed 1km and it was fast, but I decided to keep running on feel. I heard a voice behind saying “ah, it is you!” – Glenn ‘from the internet’* passed, resplendent in a Christmas jumper running vest. Superb. He was flying, so I ‘let’ him go!

Me running near the start. No kit!

Me running near the start. No kit!

My pace was actually holding up well, I was with it enough to chuckle at the decorated Christmas tree, and soon we got to the beach section. I was stuck with a big gap to the runners in front and seemingly a big one behind as well. I didn’t mind the sand, though it was tough going where it had been left rippled by the water. It was 3km long and the hardest part was staying focused. The view was an endless horizon. I’d find my concentration slipping and have to have words with myself to speed back up again.

Eventually we reached the bridge and two other sets of steps up and down, all conveniently bunched into the same km on my watch, so that was the slow one! I was feeling weebly and banged my shin on one when I tried to take them fast. Ouch!

Glenn - check out that running vest!

Glenn – check out that running vest!

We turned and now faced a headwind. I was determined to keep under 5 mins / km, which I think was the only thing that kept me going. A chap in front kept having walking breaks, but when I eventually caught him I couldn’t use him as a wind break because he seemed defeated and stopped again! On we battered and at last I turned into the final winding woodland section.

Keep pushing, keep pushing and remember this trail is awesome. I glanced over my shoulder on the bends but couldn’t see anyone too close. The final lap round the lake was tough but there were cheers .. I fell over the line feeling sick – and was shortly after given a handshake by someone who had been trying to chase me down and was closing fast!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

I was pleased to come 5th female / 28th overall / 1h15 (my goal was top 10 females / 1h20) (results here). Izzy was buzzing as she crossed the line knowing she had kept the effort up all the way, and was raring to do more of the series. After a cup of free tea we headed back into town where she looked forward to cat cuddles and relaxation, whilst I faced Christmas shopping before allowing myself to be drawn inexorably to the sofa.

Next up in this series, a 10k, but I am most looking forward to the half marathon in February! These are well organised events almost on our doorstep and lots of fun despite the lack of hills (!) – thanks to all involved and to Bob Marshall for photos.

* I do know two sporty Glen(n)s, and in fact the other one was meant to be here, before they realised they were in Australia … so I have to distinguish between them somehow 😀

Foxtrail 10 km night run

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured ...

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured …

Standing on the start line at 20:00 waiting anxiously for the gun to go and not sure how ready I was.

Rewind exactly one week and I was about to ride straight into a trap set on the cyclepath on the way home from work. Someone had tied a rope across at wheel height, which I went straight into, causing the bike to flip over and me to somersault through the air, landing hard on my shoulder.

It could have been worse, much worse. But the physio cleared me to run, carefully, with the proviso that I must not fall over.

The race briefing came through by email:

The terrain will be challenging, please expect; wet slippery conditions with heavy mud in areas. There is also a number of sections with low hanging branches, tree stumps and trip hazards. The route also contains soft mud, rock and some minor drop offs.

Hmm, I’d better be careful! I had been out of sorts all week and preparation was not as I had hoped. I had trouble getting jumpers off and tying my shoelaces, but my legs were working, so all was not lost!

I was distracted by the young piper and then without warning there was a loud horn and the crowd surged forwards out of the large heated marquee. I had positioned myself about right as there weren’t too many people pushing past me or vice versa. In no time at all we were into the woods, lit like a fantasy grotto. I was pleased I had checked this part out as a warm up, because I was concentrating too hard on the ground to admire it much in the race!

On we went, onto a track and a road, looking out for ice (no mud after all). Everything was frozen and the farm tracks had big ruts in them. I was searching for the smoothest lines along the sides and feeling good. The end of the first lap plunged us into the lights and noise of the finish marquee before we headed out into the dark again.

It turned out I was holding my pace quite well, and only a few people changed positions around me. A girl came past, but she was a little stronger or more determined than I was. Despite turning her ankle (meaning I went back past her), she was soon up on me again and powering ahead – well deserved. I was just happy to be here on this occasion!

I loved the final part of the trail, winding on a small path through the trees, twisting and turning until we emerged next to the lake. My foot slipped and I almost went over! Just saved … and on to the finish 🙂 I tried to count the girls already milling around and decided I was probably at least top 10 – and I was, finishing 9th. Lots of proper runners here 😀 Results.

Loads of fun, plenty of signage, free glowstick and cheery marshals. Thanks to the organisers! And to Chris for giving me a lift over and avoiding the need for a mad train dash. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more fighting spirit and speed in my legs by the time we get to the next race in the series in December 🙂

And here’s a funky wee video from the night:

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