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 🙂
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!
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!
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 …
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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!
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!
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 😀
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:
With our last swimrun race done for the year, my thoughts turned to mountain biking. Open 5s were coming up soon and my bike was almost gathering actual dust! It was a last minute decision, but I decided to enter the SMBO event in Falkirk. Scanning the entry list, I spotted Jon and hastily messaged him to see if he fancied pairing up. Affirmative. We were on!
The format was similar to one held earlier in the year: 90 minutes in the daylight, a rest for tea and homemade chocolate coconut brownies, then 90 minutes in the dark with the same map and controls but different values.
It was pretty chilly so we hid in the car to come up with two alternative plans, depending on the control values. The maps were 1:50k OS on one side and openstreetmap on the other. On the move, Jon read off the OS and me off the openstreet map. Sometimes one was easier to use and sometimes the other.
Jon started super fast and I was soon working hard to stay in contact. Some spot on Jon-nav helped us find a control in the woods without error. I was glad just to follow and to remember how to ride this bike!
90 minutes is not very long at all and before we knew it we had to start finalising our plans! Up a hill, looking down on the town before flying down and facing a sprint up another hill … Where did they all come from? The low sun shone through the trees, still golden in autumn colours as we crunched through the leaves.
At the last minute we decided to dive into the woods for an extra control or two on some single-track before racing back to the finish. Perfect timing, 2 minutes late. We finished this stage 3rd overall.
Suitably refilled and it was time for take 2. We now knew both the map and the control values, so were able to plan exactly what we wanted to do. Although there was some overlap, we did visit a different area. All around us fireworks were going off (it was Bonfire night), but I had to keep my eyes on where we were going! Jon started counting down; that’s only 45 minutes left. Whaaaat?! How was it even possible?
It all went to plan though, and we even had time to sail past the finish whooping and yelling whilst we did an optional extra little loop and finished … 2 minutes late again!
Final result and we had the highest score on the night stage and finished 2nd overall. I felt sorry for Davie who ripped his tyre on just about the furthest point on the map and had to run back. After admiring some more fireworks and the bonfire we trundled off (and I had the excitement of catching a tram with my bike for the first time).
Many thanks to Marc for organising an event with a bit of spice, Amelie for efficient sign on and Helen for the great soup and cake! A family affair 🙂
After being involved in organising the last Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering (SMBO) event, I was looking forward to getting back on the other side of things. Despite my best efforts to get along with Iain again, I was thwarted by a need ‘to revise’. What are the youth coming to?!
I was only going along to keep my legs spinning as my main races this year are swimrun again. I didn’t fancy the seriousness of racing solo. After a quick message to Jon (who I’ve raced with before, Itera teammate), I had found myself a friend to go round with instead 🙂
The weather turned out glorious and the promise of cloud never materialised. After a trip over the rail bridge and a short spin, I was in Fife and at the event centre by Lochore. We took our time getting ready and even did a bit of general planning from the master maps (without controls).
Then we were off! No debating to start with and we scooped up our first few controls and negotiated our first set of gates and clouds of flies in quick time before pausing to debate our route through the woods. We had planned to go there first as the nav looked tricky and we weren’t sure how long it would take. But we needed to agree the precise order before we set off again. It felt like it took too long, but we didn’t stop again for a while.
Alarmingly, I could feel myself riding in the ‘final push for the finish’ position after only about half an hour. And the hills were nipping my legs. It was fun to be chasing and have Jon metaphorically pushing me hard though! The woods were a blast. We would ride along a wide track, then suddenly dive off onto a little singletrack before popping back out somewhere else. I didn’t even regret the slow rooty option we took at one point instead of the faster but longer route.
After the tricky woodland section I managed to convince Jon to go for an out and back along the road for 10 points. ‘only be 3 minutes!’ I said, cheerfully. More like 6 he said … So I timed it and it was and a bit 🙂 We also got time to say hello to fellow teammate Paul going in the other direction.
Loch Gow had a difficult bit of singletrack that I was pleased to ride a lot of before we were walking again, over a fence and pushing up soft stuff that would definitely be rideable down. Finally we flew down a hill on tarmac and paused again. We wondered whether this meant there was a massive hill back to the finish as we didn’t remember going up one. Looking at our profile later, we had been gradually climbing since the start! (you can see where we went here). Knowing that the forest nav turned out OK, it might have been better for speed to have gone the other way round.
I was feeling a bit stressed about how far from the finish we were, but we polished off a handful of road kilometres in no time at all. At ‘the steps’ we found a number of abandoned bikes at the bottom … But we were on our way somewhere else, so I hoisted the bike onto my shoulders in the way that Elizabeth had taught me and up we went. Before the top we could ride again and we soon flying down in ‘finishing stages’ mode.
Unfortunately, leaving some urban streets we rode straight past an easy control. I was too busy looking out for a building that I had noted as a landmark … But it had didn’t exist any more. We were slow to correct our mistake, costing a few minutes. We would definitely be late now! The final descent had me squealing as it was steep and dusty (!) and there were walkers to negotiate.
We flew into the finish, 8 minutes late. Good enough to win the mixed pairs but missed out on 3rd overall by just 1 point. Darn that error!
I had a jolly time though, just the thing to blow away a few cobwebs, get out in the sun and enjoy the company of friends. I can also add another spot to my list of places I can easily go mountain biking car free within an hour of Edinburgh! Thanks to organiser Campbell for a great day out. Full results here.
A couple of weekends ago, it was the first SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) event of the year. I wasn’t sure about entering because of my dodgy knee. It was complaining about cycling so racing didn’t seem too wise. However, I then persuaded Iain (14) and, more importantly his dad, that this would be an ideal event for him to come and do with me.
And so it was that I turned up at Iain’s house 5 minutes late, and we scuttled off to get the train to Falkirk. Pedalling to the venue from the station was more uphill than down, but we arrived in one piece. Lots of people I knew were there, including Jon, bearing a spare map board for us to borrow.
The twist in this event was that it was a day / night. Clue in the name. The total race time was 3 hours, but it was split into two. 1.5h to ride in the day time, then all the control values changed and we had 1.5h to ride again once it got dark!
Iain is great on a bike, but he doesn’t get much practice. He is also more than competent with a map, so we set off on the day stage with him navigating and setting the pace. There were two versions of the map – an OS one (which Iain had) and an openstreetmap one (which I had). This was handy as sometimes one had better information than the other. We wound round some fun singletrack and blasted down a hill to the canal. We were moving fast! A detour into some woods, where there were some grumbles about a ‘hill’, then back onto the canal and to the long tunnel that looked a bit dark and spooky!
We went another way, aiming for a ‘fast’ route on some tarmac, missing the turning, riding across some grass and getting tangled up in the Scottish Cross County Championships. That part might have been my fault. Iain did spot a bit of the Antonine Wall on the way though. Then off to a mausoleum. We were looking for the gate and were at the perimeter wall, when we realised we had gone the wrong way round. “Shall we backtrack on the path, or just go straight up through the woods?”, I mused. Up we went, and then down, which was a bit of a laugh, as when we got to the gate we’d gone round about two thirds instead of one third, which Iain was only too quick to point out to me.
1.5h doesn’t last very long and suddenly, when we were as far away as it was possible to be from the finish, we found we had only 24 minutes left. Unfortunately, this was also the point that the trail got really technical, then disappeared under a pile of felled trees and branches. We had to bash through to the main path then escape onto a road. Time to race to the finish! Hey, but maybe we can get that control on the other end of the canal tunnel? We started off to it, before realising it was in a deep cutaway and it was a long way round if weren’t prepared for a vertical jump.
We had already started off to it but turned around and pedalled like crazy for home. It was a good time to teach Iain the adventure racing art of being towed. His lesson took 5 seconds: ‘hold this with your hand, let go straight away if anything goes wrong, pay attention to what I’m doing!’ and off we went! Turns out he was a master at it.
We got back over 7 minutes late, which was disappointing as it meant we lost 20 points. Luckily, we still had 155 left! This is another thing I like to teach; you should always get best value for money by riding longer than you really should. ‘Oooo, my legs are all wobbly’ Iain said, as we queued to download!
It got cold quickly as darkness fell. We ate soup and cake. And a bit more cake. And maybe another piece. With our lights all set up I asked Iain if he had ever ridden at night before. No. Well, a race is as good a time as any to learn! We still had the map from earlier, but no control values. We had a guess at where the good scoring ones might be as we knew they would swap around from the day stage. We also planned two possible loops that were a bit more conservative than our first attempt! I measured them, counting as I moved my finger along the route. ‘What distance is each thing?’ ‘A thingy’ ‘What’s a thingy?’ ‘It doesn’t matter! This afternoon we rode 25 thingies, and this loop is only 22 of them!’ 🙂
Off we went, pedalling hard to warm up. Back down to the canal again the direct way, and we moved as fast as we had in the day on the first part, which was a repeat. Iain remarked that this time, his legs didn’t feel like they had only just started, and his bum was sore! The ‘hill’ in the woods put in another appearance, to more groans.
Then we approached the tunnel again. Now, at night, the inside looked less spooky than the outside! We rode along it, admiring how it is hewn out of the rock, dodging the big drips of water and trying to concentrate enough not to fall in.
We were now on unfamiliar territory but were following Iain’s dad’s signs for the John Muir Way. Round an estate and across a pond, up a hill with views out to the lights of Falkirk. The ground was getting frosty and we rode through a few Slush Puppy puddles. I was doing more navigation this time, with Iain keeping an eye on things. Once I told him to go ahead and get the control so I wasn’t ‘taking over’ all the fun bits, and he rode straight past it!
We used the tow a little bit, but Iain was feeling good again. We got back near the start and were on a road when I heard a clatter behind me, then silence! Alarmed, I stopped, expecting to see Iain in a heap, but in fact he was still riding along. ‘What happened?!’ I asked. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I was just looking at Orion, swerved to the side a bit and hit this plastic thing in the road!’ … panic over.
We actually had a few minutes left, so although we were almost back, we popped into the woods to get two more controls we had saved up. They were tricky to get in and out of, as there was a little maze of forest tracks and mountain bike trails. We debated a bit which way to go to get out, but ultimately the answer was ‘towards all those lights!’.
We got back just 38 secs late, which was much better than stage one. In fact, our night performance was better all round, as we scored 224 points!
We were cheered by the tales from other people – who had got back as late as we had in the day, or gone the wrong way, or got lost. It just goes to show it can happen to the best, even my Itera team mates! 😀
Points tallied, and we finished 3rd generation pair (adult with an under 18). Excellent work. This category was the second biggest on the day, with 10 entrants! Great to see so many families out. We missed out on the lights prize for being back closest to time on the night stage by 37 seconds … Never mind. Results are all here.
Time to cruise back down the hill and catch a train. At that time on a Saturday the passengers tend to be quite merry, and it turns out there were already bikes in both bike carriages. We comically ran along the platform twice before choosing our spot, jumping on, and wriggling into two spare seats.
By the time we got back to Edinburgh it was 21:30 and we were pretty peckish. Luckily Papa John’s was perfect as we could wheel our bikes right inside and sit in the warm to wait for our order. The only deficiency was that their pizza sizes were measured in slices (‘since when has a slice between a unit of measurement?’). We ran up the hill giggling, with hot smells wafting out of our boxes. Before long, we were camped in the living room, telling our tales, eating pizza and swigging coke (despite parental disapproval)!
I can’t ride the next event in April, because I’m organising it. But Iain already wants to come, so his dad will have to do the honours instead!
Many thanks to Marc and his team of helpers (young and old-er!) for putting on such a fun and accessible event.
I was searching the events calendar for a trail race of about 20km. I liked the look of one at Glentress, but it sold out before I entered, as had everything else! So my eye alighted and rested on the No Fuss Events ‘runduro’. This is a running version of a bike ‘enduro’ race. The format is that there are a number of timed stages in the race, with linking stages in between where you can relax and recover. It sounded fun, and we decided it was worth the trip up to Fort William. I tried to get a big gang together, but was happy enough with Izzy and Glen! I knew a few other people who would be there too.
The drive up took longer than expected. We finally made it to the youth hostel about 22:30. Compared to the week before, our room was spacious and the beds less creaky, so I slept fairly well. Next morning, looking out the window it was just a bit wild, with the snowline in sight but higher than we’d be going.
Off into town and we registered and picked up our dibbers. The wind was gusty and chilly, and just as we got ready to start the rain came on. We huddled under the roof of the public amenities, putting off the moment, with Andy urging us to ‘just get on with it!’. So eventually, off we went. There was no obvious ‘start line’ as the first timed stage began up the hill somewhere. We touched the flag instead, and set off.
King O’ The Hill
0.99km / 180m ascent / no descent / 10:05
Not a great warm up, as my heart was thumping just walking up the steep slope! In no time at all, we were looking at the dibber post and conferring with a few other people about the route. ‘Straight up to the radio mast there’, they said. Off we went, running at first but soon slowing to a speed walk as the path got steeper, rougher and then boggier. My feet were now wet and very cold, as I splashed through the flat top section and found the finish dib, obscured by another competitor just standing around!
I thought I should get the camera out to capture Izzy and Glen finishing, but suddenly I felt very sick and was struggling to keep my breakfast down! It was pretty chilly up there, so as soon as we all regrouped, we set off at a jog to the next stage.
1.92km / no ascent / 214m descent / 8:40
My stomach settled back down and I peered at the route guide. There were some instructions about a rough track to cut the corner, but the marshal was non-plussed. ‘Just follow the main path!’ she said. So we did. Izzy and Glen ran away and I wished, not for the last time this day, that I could run downhill better.
They both beat me, but waited for me to finish 🙂 . As we jogged to the third stage, the sight of the marshal came far too early. We all groaned, stopped running and started walking. And we weren’t even halfway through yet! I was thinking that perhaps some interval training might have been good prep for this race.
1.81km / 103m ascent / 78m descent / 10:33
The printed guide and the marshal agreed this time: 1.1km, uphill then down. I was dubious about the stated 103 vertical km of descent though.
Off we went and I was pushing hard. 500m came and went. Then 700m … it was well over 1km before we turned downhill! At least I’d had far enough to get a nice cushion on the others and was able to cheer / take some snaps of them arriving.
One of the nice things about this race was how sociable it was. People would appear from behind, run with us, then leave, and vice versa. Here we met Rachel, former Edinburgh resident, who chatted with us to the feed station and the next, ominously named, stage.
To Hell and Back
1.78km / 136m ascent / 117m descent / 14:37
I was really thirsty by this point, but the best I could get was a juicy orange. It had started raining but we had to come out of the little shelter and face the hill in front of us. It was steep and rocky, and Rachel easily pulled away. I don’t know how she kept on running.
At the top, we turned onto the main Ben Nevis tourist path and headed back downhill. I had caught another girl, who was now leading the way, showing me how to skip from rock to rock! I began to trust my shoes and as it got easier, we sped up. She nearly came to grief sliding on the grass, and we had a chuckle as we flew into the end of the stage. Along with The Descender, this was the stage I lost most time on. Darned downhills!
I said hello to Jac from work, who I found at the finish dib and was just leaving whilst I waited for the others.
Up, Up and Away!
2.61km / 183m ascent / no descent / 16:30
Off we jogged again, rummaging in our pockets / bags / belts for snacks. The next stage would be the longest and was uphill all the way. Perfect! I needed to take a trip into the bushes but Izzy and Glen weren’t waiting for me to finish and gave themselves a headstart 😀 . Just as I emerged a lady appeared in a van with water. I think it was for her friends / relations who were with the girl I’d ran with earlier. I was so relieved to get a drink and downed two cups before starting the climb.
It was a tough one, as first I passed Jac, then Izzy, then another friend, Fiona. She spoke to me but all I could do was grunt back! As I looked ahead I thought I could see Glen’s red rucksack as a target. I could feel the blood pounding in my head and despite telling myself ‘it’s just half a parkrun’ I was wondering if I had set off too hard. There was no turning back now though! On and on, popping out of the trees and seeing the end sooner than I expected. Glen just got there before me, but as I dibbed I could hardly breathe, let alone speak!
Short and Sweet
1.03km / no ascent / 90m descent / 4:09
We regrouped and head up the hill for the last 3 ‘easy’ stages. First, a downhill, but on a big wide track. I tried to keep up with Glen; failing, but minimising my losses. The lady with the water appeared again, and said I was cheating the system getting some twice! I was gasping though and eyeing up the muddy puddle. If I’d known there was no water en route I’d have carried a bottle.
0.97km / no ascent / 48m descent / 3:44
A big group formed here and we all walked to the start of the next stage. I was chatting with Fiona, an adventure racing friend, about race plans for the rest of the year. The 7th timed stage was undulating with a downhill finish. Again, I chased Glen. My legs were burning though, and my right quad was hurting! Izzy had been mostly taking the race ‘not seriously’, but even she found her competitive edge as she jostled for position 🙂 .
0.72km / 17m ascent / 18m descent / 2:56
We decided to jog to the final stage, as we’d all got a bit chilly walking. Suddenly the others disappeared and it was just us three, negotiating the streets of Fort William and the Morrisons car park. The final sprint was the pavement along the shore, into a headwind. My gps stats are definitely a bit weird here, as there was no ascent or descent that I could see.
As I debated what order we should go in, Glen dibbed and ran off! I gave chase, catching him quickly. But every time I came alongside with the intention of overtaking, I felt the brunt of the wind, changed my mind and dropped back behind. He took a funny route, squeezing between the benches and the wall. I had to copy him, which Izzy found most amusing! He put on a final spurt and I couldn’t match it.
Finally, we limped back to Cotswold Outdoor to download and get our result slips. Comparing times, Glen and I had a dead heat on the final stage! My printout said ‘currently 3rd’, so I was in for a long wait until prize giving to see if anyone else had come in faster behind me.
After free soup and warming up in the pub, bumping into more people we knew (hello Julia!), scones and hot drinks in a café and a pleasant half hour browsing the outdoor shop merchandise, it was time for prizes. I was super pleased to have held onto 3rd senior woman, even if I was only 4th woman overall (with a vet sneaking in in front of me!). Even more pleasing was that my time was quite competitive – 28secs behind 2nd (Rachel, who we’d met on the course) and 1min54s behind 1st.
I always surprise myself if I do well in running races. I’m not a runner?! Am I runner?! I’ve had a few (probably) bike-related problems with my knee since Christmas, which is frustrating. After such a strong set of training and racing last year, it can be difficult to deal with niggly setbacks. So it was nice boost to do well.
Off we went, this time taking the scenic route back through Glen Coe, snapping snowy scenes and getting to the Green Welly Stop just in time for macaroni cheese and cake.
Many thanks to No Fuss Events for putting on a great race and making sure the weather wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Also to all the marshals who probably thought the weather was quite bad enough, and to the lady who saved me with her water supplies!
All stage stats come from my gps logging and I do not claim any accuracy, but they are probably as close to the truth as the route guide 😉
Post race report: owwwww the sore muscles that lasted 6 days! Maybe I really should have done some intervals / downhill efforts in preparation. If you plan to enter this race (or any like it), be prepared that it is harder than it sounds, especially if you’re someone who specialises in starting off at one pace and sticking to it 😀 .
Less than 3 weeks after finishing Ötillö, we were on the start line for Loch Gu Loch, a Scottish Highlands version of the same race. Why? Because we wanted to do at least one of the new UK races this year and this is the only one we could make. Plus, it was run by the same people behind Celtman, so we knew it would be a good event. It’s always nice to be at the first edition of a race that could become iconic 🙂
Our accommodation and race HQ was at the stunning Highland Club, an old monastery at the southern end of Loch Ness. Sadly, we had to leave our cosy beds far too early in the morning to make our way blearily to the boat that would take us to the start, leaving at 5:30 am. Our table top doubled up as a full ‘info board’ and another time I’d have pored over it. Sadly, we couldn’t see anything outside because it was dark, and I was too preoccupied eating last minute snacks (BeetIt bar), queueing for the toilet and smearing myself with chamois cream.
Urquhart Castle was the majestic setting for the start. Now it was just about light and we could admire it perched on an outcrop overlooking the loch. Once bags were dropped and photo shoots were done, we got into the allegedly very cold water. I was ready to go, but there seemed to be a long gap between getting in and the starting horn …
The general route of the race is to cross Loch Ness, climb the hill on the other side, then work back to the start, covering various smaller lochs before a final uphill sting, a trip via the many small islands of Loch Tarff and a descent back to cross Loch Ness to the finish. Total stated distance about 8km swimming and 47km running (we measured it 7.5km / 50km).
I found the first leg particularly stressful. Unlike Ötillö, there had been no run to spread us out. I tried to follow the feet of Dechlan and Lyndsey (who were sharing our apartment), but they were just a touch too fast. Not to worry, they had bright green wetsuit arms and were perfect to sight off. I know Dechlan and trusted he would go the right way.
Later I tried to draft a guy with big blue paddles, but almost got whacked in the face. Izzy had been tapping my feet, which is normal. But then suddenly it seemed as if crowds of people had swarmed up and were about to overtake us. I was panicking, thinking I was swimming like a snail, and tried to speed up. I was swallowing water and felt a bit sick. As we came in to land, Izzy swam up beside me. Turns out she was caught up in the excitement and trying to beat some people next to us!
We were on dry land and Paul (one of the organisers) shouted a well done at us. We were off up the hill. Now I had terrible stomach cramps, one ear was full of water so I couldn’t hear properly, and my feet were so cold I couldn’t feel the ground. Izzy was great, running alongside and encouraging me along. One by one my problems subsided. I shook my head a few times and managed to unblock my ear. My feet gradually came back to life. And Izzy demonstrated how to do magnificent burps, so that my own eventually eased my stomach distress!
Towards the end of the first run, a few teams were catching us. We swam a small loch and got a cheer from my coach, Scott, who was on kayak duty. Next run, a few more teams came past. It seems we had been faster swimmers and now the good runners were making their mark.
As we approached the first swim across Loch Mhor, we were ready to go. Our exits from the water still need a bit of polishing, but our entries are slick! We passed several teams milling about zipping their wetsuits up and getting kit sorted. We were straight in and swimming. We passed a couple more teams at the next aid station as we did our usual: drink a couple of cups and grab some food to eat on the way out. The piper appeared here, signalling our approach. Loved him, he kept popping up all over the place round the course!
Next up we reached Andy, marshalling a swim entrance. I knew this was the half way point. He told us what was going on at the front of the field, confirmed that we were first female pair and said we were about 8th overall. We were enjoying the swims and the terrain, which were very similar to what we’d trained on – unlike the trials of the slippery Ötillö rocks!
I think the pressure of knowing we were up front was stressing Izzy a bit. As we got to the next swim a marshal said cheerfully “first female pair!”. “Not any more!”, she blurted, as a mixed pair caught us up, with the chap having long hair! She apologised profusely … 😀
Another run and swim, and we started the longest run of the day: 16km of mixed off- and on- road, with a significant climb in the second half. Logic was telling me that our position was probably fairly secure. No other girls had caught us by the halfway point, the other people we’d left behind weren’t making ground – and if any other female pair were going to catch up, they’d have to be storming through the field to get to us. Our slick transitions and feed stops had given us an advantage, and now our endurance was kicking in.
Still, you can’t bank on anything in racing. We stayed alert to all the course markings. Some teams went wrong at a few places, but we didn’t have any difficulties following the course. Not only were we eagle eyed at every junction for potential arrows, I had also spent a lot of time memorising the map. It wasn’t a precise ‘photograph’, but I knew all the section lengths, major turns, terrain type, elevation profile and general direction.
As we climbed gradually on a section that pretended to be flat, we could see the scar of a road cresting a pass up ahead. I pointed, saying “I bet that’s where we’re going” … and so we were. We approached from a fire road and a nice path that zig-zagged up towards the viewpoint before continuing up and over the high point of the race. I’d been noting our pace and splitting the run into 5km chunks. I thought it was good news when I announced we probably only had 20-25 minutes to go to the swim. “25 minutes?!” shouted an exasperated Izzy, almost stamping her foot … Er, oops, sorry, that was meant to be encouraging!
There were beautiful views, but I was mindful of my footing. I wanted to let loose on the descent, but Izzy was more wary and was having a sugar slump. Luckily, we could see Loch Tarff below us and knew the feed station was right there.
We were both tired now. A kayaker shouted at us – “head for the green arrow!”. But it was a small arrow, and I couldn’t see it! Still, we got there and fought through heather and bracken to get over and into the next bit. We clearly had some supporters here, with one guy singing ‘here come the giii-rls!’ and shouting our names – we don’t know who you were, but thanks!! Also Scott and Judyta were here again. Scott said we looked strong – I said we felt wasted! Later he said, if you felt like that, you should have seen how the people behind looked …
We finished the penultimate swim through a dark swampy, reedy mass, emerging to face the final 6km run.
6km, doesn’t sound like much, does it? But we were soon moving only slowly round the loch across trackless heather. We saw one of the big blue arrows on a white board up ahead pointing left, then could pick out a string of red arrows dancing straight up the hill. A team in front (the ones with the big blue paddles from the first swim!) went straight on, but they were out of earshot as we shouted out to them. As we started going up, they reappeared, having realised their mistake and corrected.
Now I was using my hands and could really feel our cord pulling. Suddenly Izzy had a mini meltdown. There were threats to unclip the cord (“what good would that do?”, I say), I got shouted at when I tried to push, and offers of food were useless as she felt sick and dizzy. We slowed and I just went at her pace. So long as we kept moving, I was happy. It wasn’t far to go. I think we both kept thinking, who might suddenly appear behind us?
We got to the top and the panoramic vista laid out below us was amazing. We could see the finish, and emotion welled up in me! A suggestion to start jogging this downhill bit was met with a positive response, as was a soggy packet of Honey Stingers. We were back on it!
A couple of teams had overtaken, but as we got to the fire road, we ate and drank again, then passed them. We even drew close to blue-paddles team again as they hesitated about the right way to go. We had our doubts too, as we went through someone’s gateway and across what looked like a fancy drive. Just as we started to wonder what to do, we saw a bit of tape in a tree. Phew! Down and down we went, this run was turning out to be longer than the stated 6km. 7.1km according our gps – cheeky!
My big toe joint was killing me, but I ignored it. We jumped into the final swim just behind team 45, aka blue paddles, Jan and Matus Kriska. They were heading off at a funny angle, so I double-checked where we had to aim. We were told: just left of the abbey, the red flag. Well, red was pretty hard to see … but left of the grey towers of the abbey I could just about deal with. “So, not where they’re going?” I asked. No. So, off we went. My calf kept threatening to cramp, and I had to stop pointing my toes. Not very streamlined, but necessary!
Eventually we drew close. And then we grounded. Argh! We stood up and waded a bit, before I decided it was deep enough to swim again (i.e. knee deep). Then we swam to shore. I looked around for the dibber but was told, no not here – run for the finish! Andy was taking pictures. We took our hat and goggles off and organised ourselves for a side by side run up the steps and across the lawn.
Look at that! A tape! I’ve never got to break a finishing tape before! What excitement.
We were soon wrapped up in foil blankets, drinking hot drinks. I was feeling all emotional again, but had to laugh at Andy wearing fine moss hair under his cap. We were astonished to find we were 5th overall. In the end, it was worth almost more than the win in our class, which turned out to be emphatic. Full results here. Short film here – see if you can spot us wading at the end!
Great support from the marshals and people we knew on course. Also to other competitors we made friends with or chatted to along the way. I couldn’t get over how many people thanked me or remarked on our top tips and videos – it’s great to know people found them useful, though I apologise for not remembering or knowing who you all were! 🙂
Quite a few people have asked us how this race compares to Ötillö. I’d say it’s easier. This race is shorter and the swims are less difficult and dangerous. The terrain is more forgiving (providing, perhaps, you’re used to heather and bracken!). For comparison, we finished over 4h quicker despite ‘backing up’ with Ötillö, and our average speeds were higher. There are fewer transitions, so it’s easier to get into a rhythm. Having said all that, Loch Gu Loch has lots more hills, the swims are cold and it still counts as ‘tough’ in my book. I’ve heard it might be in the summer next year, which could make it a perfect preparation race if you happen to be doing Ötillö! It’s also a fine challenge in its own right.
Time now to let my sore toe get better, wait for the tiredness go away and dust down my mountain bike 🙂
For a few years I’ve had the Solstice Triathlon on my radar, but the day or date have never been suitable until this year. Opening of entries was delayed due to issues with landowner permission. But Twitter told me it was suddenly available and I jumped in – it was sold out within a day or two. The race didn’t have anything to do with my swimrun or other racing plans, but I knew it would be fun!
This is an off-road triathlon in the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh, where I train a lot. The week before, a group of us went up to ride the course, led by Andreas who is also in my club. We got a good look at some of the best lines and I went home satisfied I had done some prep. Next week we got an email saying the bike route had changed! Oops. Oh well, at least I had made sure everything was working on my mountain bike 🙂
Jo Thom has won this race since it started and I was looking forward to a close battle with her. Sadly, with an on-the-mend injury she had to make the decision to play it safe and withdraw. I think resisting the urge to join in and defend her trophy was the harder thing to do.
I got a lift up from work with Andreas. I could tell there was some tension – this was his first triathlon for 6.5 years! It was colder than I expected and there was a strong wind. We shuttled back and forth between the car and registration, with Andreas picking up a puncture from a massive thorn! Better then than before the race, though now I was paranoid about my own rear tyre which had been slowly deflating in previous days. I hoped the extra slug of sealant the night before would keep it up.
Before the briefing I got right into my wetsuit, jumped up and down and swung my arms around to keep warm. It felt weird to be in a full length swimming wetsuit again. We got into the water and people were oohing and ahhing about how cold it was. ‘I think it’s about 10 degrees!’ someone exclaimed. I said ‘nah, about 13’ … who knows for sure, but it was definitely warmer than 10 😉 .
Off we went, heading towards an invisible buoy. I started off trying to sight but soon gave up and followed everyone else. I did my usual and got into no-man’s land in a gap between two groups. As we neared the finish I just about caught up with the lead group, but really I should have been trying to draft them all the way. Another lap and I’d have been right past 😀 . These 750m swims seem short these days.
My transition felt slow but I was methodical. I was soon off on my mountain bike with the wind at my tail, racing off to the first hill. Andreas passed me here, powering past and away. My glasses had steamed up which was extremely irritating. I had lenses in, so considering stuffing them into my trisuit pocket, but wasn’t sure they’d be secure. Down the other side and I still couldn’t see; not ideal! The next turn was a sharp hairpin straight into the next hill. My calf almost cramped so I eased off for a minute or two. Up this side I was glad it had been very dry recently, as it is rutted and would be hard going when wet. As it was, I still picked the wrong line once or twice and had to jump off. At least I could see again now.
A fast descent on a deep loose stony surface followed. A couple of guys flew past, but I wasn’t taking any risks. I don’t need an injury now! I also slowed for the water bars to make sure I didn’t hit them too hard or at the wrong angle. I think a few people punctured coming down here, but I was soon through and firing on again.
Compared to the old course, this route was more technical and harder going. The climbing isn’t over after the first two hills. There are couple more ‘stings in the tail’ to come. I actually started feeling really good on the last one, which was fortunate as then we turned into the headwind towards transition. I was in a little world of my own, as there were very few other riders about. As I rounded the corner, I was met by loud cheers and clapping and the hustle and bustle of transition. I was a bit taken aback!
Bike times on the new course were 10-15 minutes slower than last year. The run had been shortened to make sure everyone could get home in time for bed. So it was just a 3.5km blast round Harlaw reservoir to finish. This route is really familiar to me as I’ve trained here many times with Izzy, ‘finely honing’ (ahem) our swimrun technique. I felt pretty good. I ran not knowing how close the next lady might be and soon was over the finish line and sat in a little heap.
Final results were that I had won and was 6.5 minutes clear of 2nd place. I was 9th overall. Andreas had smashed it round the bike course 2 minutes faster than anyone else and held on to win the men’s race. An Edinburgh RC win-win! It was suggested we drive home shaking our splendid trophies out of the window and shouting …
A great wee race, well organised and complete with free transition towel, banana, hot food, water and waffle. I’ll keep an eye out for it again next year!
Many thanks to Pentland Triathletes for organising the race, Andreas for giving me lifts, Bob Marshall and Hamish MacDonald for the photos (the labelled and unlabelled ones respectively) and to everyone who cheered, held open gates and helped make it a great event.
Now, back to swimrunning and other endurance adventures …
ps rear tyre has stayed more inflated than it has been for months!