Monday, 30 November 2015

Borders XC - Race 3 - Peebles



Nick, in bed, not in Peebles

Thanks for tuning in; see you next time...

Water of Leith Half Marathon

I was very lucky to get on the entry list for the 15th Water of Leith Half Marathon, an invitation-only event run (currently?!) by Porties Peter and Richard.  The route is great, and it is handicapped which makes for a bit of fun – I like races where you have the opportunity to move through the field and see different people.  Oh and, given that it follows a river, it is downhill from start to finish.  I definitely approve of downhill races!

In order to set the handicaps, Peter had requested a predicted time, plus details of any recent halves that entrants had completed.  Hmm, difficult call that – you don’t want to be accused of being a bandit, but don’t want to entirely shoot yourself in the foot either.  It’s been a while since I ran a half, and that was at last December’s Dunbar RC Festive Half – a similarly informal invite event.  I figured 85 minutes might be about right – downhill cancelling out the slightly long (13.55 miles) course.  But told Peter I wouldn’t mind if he made it a little keener to make sure I wasn’t accused of sandbagging.  Sitting at home on Wednesday night I was feeling generous, and thinking that it would be nice to have a bimble with the camera.

Having given Stuart a lift to Leith, I fear that his competitive streak brought out my own, and I realised that I was actually pretty up for giving it a good go.  Not least because the weather forecast was pretty crappy - minimising time in the wind and rain would be a good thing, and photos would likely be grey and poor.  Stuart (a born optimist) pointed out that the south-westerly wind should be at our backs though.

After boarding Peter’s Venga Bus from the finish to the start, the numbers were passed back with the handicap sheet.  I was horrified to find that I was very close to last off, with Stuart, on 83 minutes.  Surely some mistake!  What with the extra length, I would effectively have to run a PB (currently 81:36) to meet my handicap.  A scan of the other names revealed that I was giving away time to luminaries such as Lucy C and Nicola D – both much better runners, albeit that they have respectively taken a bit of a step back from competition, and been injured.  Christ – I was giving Willie J 4 minutes, despite beating him by mere seconds at last year’s Barry Buddon race, and that only because he was suffering with the heat having forgotten to bring a hat!  I definitely couldn’t afford to take the camera.  As you can see, carping about your handicap is also part of the fun!  In all seriousness though, handicappers have an impossible and thankless task – if I can’t work out my own likely time, what the hell kind of chance did Peter have (x65!)?

After the customary group photo on the bridge, I tried (in vain) to keep warm, while watching as wave after wave of talented runners departed ahead of me.

I was concerned that we might accidentally get an even worse handicap when our starter/producer/director fell into a conversation while Stuart and I were on the line.  Erm, how long to go Peter (nudge nudge)?  Oh, um, 15 seconds.

In typical handicap fashion, we blasted away on the first mile – desperate to reel in some of the gap as quickly as possible.  And equally desperate to get the comfort of knowing that we were on the right track, notwithstanding how much flour Peter had dumped on the course.  The first mile flashed up at 5:40, and the second at 5:55.  And still Stuart dropped me not long after we passed Balerno High School – he was a man on a mission!

The course was very muddy indeed from all of the recent rain and I could only watch as Stuart sploshed off into the distance, making no attempt to find a dry line.  I heard one dog walker remark to his wife (after looking at Stuart’s filthy legs) that he should fit mudguards!  Before long I found myself in total (if not glorious) isolation, and began to wonder how long it would be before I was caught by former EAC clubmate (when I was a kid) Drew, himself starting a further 4 minutes adrift. 

The answer came much quicker than I’d hoped – inside of 6 miles!!  Drew was absolutely flying, but still managed to make it look effortless.  But then we are talking about someone who in his youth won an athletics scholarship to a US college.  Shortly afterwards I noted that I’d managed 38:30 for the first 10k, which I was reasonably pleased with. Which meant that Drew had done it in… wow!

Another runner in a blue top (it would turn out to be Martin) passed me on the way into the park at Saughton.  Damn, already 3 places (on the basis that I’d started level with Stuart and was now well behind) dropped.

It wasn’t until the bowling green at Balgreen that I finally passed someone myself – a Carnethy who didn’t quite get the rub of the pelican crossing, allowing me to catch him faster than I should have.

The pace had started to drop pretty noticeably – perhaps as a result of the furious early pace, perhaps as a consequence of having been passed and knowing that I was no longer in the running for the win (arf!), or perhaps as a result of still suffering from over-racing.  In any event, I was still working hard, determined not to throw in the towel.  I reckoned that finishing in 85 minutes was still possible, and that would at least match my pre-race estimate.

The marshals at Roseburn Terrace were fantastic with their lollipop sign that absolutely didn’t exist, and certainly wasn’t being misused.  Oh no.

I had a moment of concern at Dean Village where I was sure I had missed a turn, as the path seemed to be leading directly into the water.  Happily I pressed on and found a flour arrow marking a sharp left that had been obscured by a bridge. 

On the run down to Stockbridge I passed Porty Jim R and Maureen.  Jim was extremely apologetic when he timed a nose-blast perfectly onto my leg.  As I told him afterwards, there was likely to be much worse on my legs given how well-used the paths are by dogs and horses.  And I was now back to evens (or so I thought) in terms of places lost and gained.

I saw Michael G between Stockbridge and Canonmills, and he quickly realised that I was struggling.  7 minute miles were about all I could muster at this stage.

But I took another runner (an HBT I think) just before heading into the park at Bonnington Road. 

Joining the main cycle path parallel to Ferry Road, and now into the final mile or so, I could suddenly see 5 or 6 runners laid out ahead of me.  Finally some hares to chase!  I managed to get by them before we rejoined the river, but could then hear the approach of some very fast feet from behind – Martin and his blue top again!  He must have gone pretty far wrong somewhere to have lost that much time to me.  He was still much fresher than I was though, and there was simply no point in trying to sprint to hold him off.

I crossed the line in 1:29 exactly.  Which was disappointing given that I felt I’d worked quite hard.

(photo: Peter)

Happy Porties

Speedy Drew

Speedy David (non-runner today, other than his customary ParkRun win)

Muddy Stuart

Happy Stuart

I enjoyed the chat and the excellent free food afterwards (the carrot soup, parsnip soup, scones, and fruit cake all hit the spot), before moving on to the pub for the prize giving.  Where we were treated to a very amusing speech by Jim from Stornoway, one of the originators of this race.  I get the impression that he had plenty more material he could have called upon if required!

Big congratulations to the prize-winners.  Lucy won, going almost 7 minutes better than her handicap!  Fastest run of the day came, perhaps unsurprisingly from Drew.  First team (taking over from Dr Neil and his fellow FUDS) was a team which included Peter’s friend Ben, who had had a brush with serious illness early this year – great that he is back running and winning.  Stuart had a good run, making a much better fist of matching our shared (aggressive!) handicap.  Dr Neil was, quite rightly, handicapped to oblivion given his win last year.

A great event this, and one which I’d love to do again (and do more justice) next year, if I’m lucky enough to be invited back.  I wonder if the handicap committee is open to bribery…

Saturday, 21 November 2015

High Jinks - 7 Hills, 7 Beers and 2 World Records!

There can have been no better antidote to my recent runner's blues (too many long races, too little training, and too many underwhelming performances) than the 7 Hills.  I LOOOOVVVEEEE the 7 Hills!  Such fun, and there will never ever be one definitive best route, no matter how much anyone tells you otherwise.  I am happy to spend hours on researching minutiae but, in this year's June race proper, was amazed to find that Dessie (and the rest of the top 3 ) went a radically different route along Haymarket rather than the Modern Art Galleries.

How could you make it better?  

Jim H knows! Re-institute a race that had lapsed since the 80s, and ask teams of 2 to run the same course, but stopping between each of the hills to drink a pint of beer.  Everything is better with beer!!!  The constraint being that you weren't allowed to double up on the pubs.  I'll let that sink in, and wait for the penny to drop when you think about East Corstorphine Hill, Braid Hill and Blackford Hill...

This was its second year back, and last year Gordon C and partner had set a new best of 3h 08m - the previous record holder from the 80s on hand to verify the feat (trumpet in hand).  Which makes it a WORLD RECORD surely?

Jim thoughtfully organised the best weather you're ever likely to receive in Edinburgh in November, even if it was a little cool standing still.

I'd gratefully taken up the challenge of finding pubs that fitted neatly along the route with the minimum of detour but, oh balls, that ECH-BH-BH segment really was the spanner in the works.  My first effort (based upon a Google Streetmaps recce of the course) was to hit the Sitting Room just before Craiglockhart Sports Centre (before ECH), then the Hermitage Bar in Morningside (before Braids), and then the Braid Hills Hotel (after Braids and before Blackford). Partner Peter thought we could do better.

A recce using the car, while Jack was at hockey, revealed that the Sitting Room was closed for redevelopment, but that there were 2 distinct bars at Braid Hills Hotel - the hotel itself and the associated Buckstone Pub and Kitchen.  Swings and roundabouts.  It also revealed that the Council's clubhouse at the Braids Golf Course had no license, nor did the cafe at the top of Lang Linn Path.  And yet, there was something called the Harrison Golf Club...

In the midst of much frenzied e-mail traffic in the week leading up to the race, Peter intimated that he was in the grip of the dreaded MANFLU, seemingly contracted on the way to the Tinto Hill Race and exacerbated near Dunbar at the Borders XC the following day.  He sounded in a terrible way, and I (only half jokingly) suggested to Stuart at club on Thursday night that he might like to put 10 years of teetotalism to one side, just for one weekend.

But a slight improvement towards the end of the week meant that Peter was determined to give it a go.  

A typically early arrival meant that I found myself in Clarinda's Tea Room at 10.30am, waiting for the Kilderkin to open at 11.  A most refined counterpoint to the debauchery that was to follow.

Before the Start: (relatively) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Jim set us off at 3 minute intervals so as not to have us all arriving at the same first pub at the same time.  Which turned out, almost universally to be the Ensign Ewart.  Getting there was more troublesome than usual with the later (Saturday as opposed to Sunday) start, and a diversion round St Giles.  A sober but suicidal dash across the top of the Mound saw me arrive first and get the beers in. 

We then followed Dessie's route out past Donaldsons to Roseburn Terrace and the Murrayfield Arms.  I burst through the doors to find the barman on his hands and knees restocking little bottles of pineapple juice and said, as breezily as I could, "2 pints of Best please".  He looked at me like I'd asked to f*ck both his Mother and his Sister, and asked what the rush was.  I explained that I hadn't meant to seem short, but we were in a race and that every second counted.  And that we weren't interested in picture perfect pints - we simply wanted liquid in a glass and to be throwing it down ASAP.  He eventually warmed to the idea, and started talking about his home town (which sounded somewhere in Eastern Europe - perhaps explaining why there had been a "misperception of tone") and a kilometer beer run they used to do as kids.  Great - we're on the same page! Although, by now, Peter was finished his beer (it barely touched the flipping sides!!), and I had yammered my way to only half way.

We emerged back into daylight, blinking and belching, to be passed by Ross and Michael, who had set off after us - bugger.  But hastily recovered when they admitted they were only on one pint versus our two.

As they peeled off into the Murrayfield Hotel, we made our way up Murrayfield Road towards the path at the end of Ravelston Dykes.  And were greeted with the sight of Jamie and Stewart, and another pair (the fog of drunkenness means I can't recall who - sorry!).

We passed the mystery pair after a bit of traffic shenanigans at the top of the road (I managed to hold things up by accidentally finding myself on the wrong side of the road and running in the gutter), and got quite close to Jamie and Stewart near the tower.

My guts probably felt as bad as they did all day on the next, speedy, descent off Corstorphine towards Stenhouse. I cautioned myself and Peter not to confuse sober daring for drunken recklessness on the crossing of St Johns Road.

Before long we caught up to Gio and Rich.  And then set off in pursuit of Jamie and Stewart, who had gapped us again.

We had the most amazing stroke of luck at the Corn Exchange when Jamie and Stewart headed into the cafe, rather than "The Pub" despite being a 100 metres or so in front.  There was only one, very nice, but very slow, bar maid on in The Pub, so it made a huge difference.  By the time that Peter and I had finished our beers, things had concertina'd and there was a long queue forming at the only hostelry available this side of ECH.  Game changer!

The run under the bridge before Allan Park was even more ballsy than usual - I seem to remember raising a hand to indicate that a BUS should slow down to let me pass,  Thankfully it did, although my memory doesn't record the gestures I received from the driver.  

On the run up to Craiglockhart Sports Centre I remarked to Peter that I was having "just the best time".  He seemed less enthusiastic given the amount of phlegm he was regularly evacuating from his lungs, but was absolutely working his arse off.

On the run down towards Greenside, I was doing my best to say hello, thank you, and sorry to walkers (with or without dogs) that we encountered, and explained to Peter that I considered this my penance for being a little short-tempered with the tourist hordes while heading up the Royal Mile. Peter pointed out that bar staff were finding me a little curt as well.  Damn, I really thought that I had found the right balance of polite but not wanting to dawdle.

At the next stop (the Buckstone Pub and Kitchen) we encountered record-holder Gordon, who said lots of nice encouraging things, despite acknowledging that he really ought to trip us or spike our pints.  Fourth pint down.

9 miles high and rising!

Which brings us to the most important part of the course. After the trig at the Braids, I had initially thought that we'd have to return the way we came and use the bar inside the Hotel. An e-mail to Harrison Golf Club had been met with a polite, but firm, refusal of our business.  Not unreasonable given it would involve opening outside of regular hours for 2 pints of 70 shilling.

But Jim accidentally uploaded a run to Strava on Thursday night (which I managed to spot before it was deleted 10 minutes later) that suggested that the surrounding environs were worth a second look.  Which led me to the Edinburgh Thistle Golf Club.  Another e-mail was met with the response that we'd be welcome. 

IF they were open, which was weather dependent.

It was such a nice day that we figured there was no way that golf would not be being golfed, and so we threw all our eggs into that basket.  I showed Peter that I literally had both fingers crossed.  After a little bit of fannying around (the guy in the downstairs shop telling us that the bar was upstairs, without telling us how to find the not-particularly-intuitive outside staircase, and then being held up on those stairs by an elderly chap with two sticks - must bite tongue and not rush him; must bite tongue and not rush him), we arrived in the bar.  To find the sole barman deep in conversation with another chap about some pages in poly pockets in a ring binder (must bite tongue and not rush him; must bite tongue and not rush him).

The barman explained that the draught beer was off, but we could have what we liked from the fridge. Two cans if Best didn't fill our respective pint glasses so, in a moment of honesty, we asked for a third to make them up.  And pushed forward the extra £2 for that can.  Which appears to have been missed by the bar man, if the Carnethy home page is anything to go by. Having finished his pint, while I was again yammering and explaining to make up for my pushiness, Peter filled out the visitors book.

We then followed the bridle path round the back of the main Braids clubhouse (I believe used for the Braids XC) which lead nicely back to the top of Lang Linn and back onto the beaten track.

The sleeper steps are always tough, but never more so than after 5 pints

Olly S and friends were on hand at the top of Blackford to provide jelly babies and other assorted treats before we moved on.

With the allotments closed, we headed right towards the Harley Davidson garage, before ending up at Swanny's for our penultimate pint. 

I was slowing up on the beers at this point, so Peter motored ahead (just visible as a black speck on the right pavement in the distance in the photo below).

If it is an offence to be drunk in charge of a bicycle, this face could see me in trouble for being drunk in charge of my own legs...
While I believe that Jim and Graham went to the Salisbury Arms for their sixth, Peter and I were at liberty to take the usual short-cut through Pollock Halls.  I removed my bumbag, lobbed it through the gate, and then performed a well-executed, if ill-advised, forward roll through the bars.

The slog up Arthur's Seat is rather foggy, but I don't think we deviated too much. 

The descent is seared into my memory though, for I took the wrong path off the top (down the right side of the Dry Dam), while Peter bore left towards the Bog.  I heard his shout and prayed that it was simply a warning that I had gone the wrong way, and not a plea for help due to a broken ankle.  Desperate to make up lost ground, I threw myself down the hill more quickly than was remotely sane, and slipped not once but four times (thankfully surfing/catching them on my hands without more serious incident).  

I was delighted when Peter and I were reunited at the bottom and sank our final pint in the Kilderkin.

Peter, in the Kilderkin - honest!

On the way to the start Jim had very kindly shown us a short-cut through a close at the back of the Kilderkin, which saved us running back down to the Parliament, and we employed it again to good effect on our way to the finish at Calton Hill. 

Nearing the finish: bleary-eyed and dog-eared

We arrived in 2h32m, a full 36 minutes ahead of last year's record.  Which made us WORLD RECORD HOLDERS!!!

Peter reflects on his achievement, his delight all too visible

It was a record that we were not to hold for long.  Jim and Graham arriving a mere 90 seconds later, and taking a further 10 minutes off the record.  Very well done!  

Rachel McWhirter was on hand to validate Graham and Jim's record
I was really amused to find out that Jim and Graham had been sure that they were the only ones to know about Edinburgh Thistle, but found our names in the guest book ahead of them.  It must have been a little like Captain Scott arriving at the South Pole, only to find he had been beaten to it by Amundsen.  Although thankfully without a similarly catastrophic conclusion!

A really fantastic day out, in great conditions, with a wonderful bunch of guys.  Special thanks to Jim for organising, and to Peter for his truly HEROIC effort in conquering his manflu - Jim and Graham may have won, but Peter's was undoubtedly the run of the day.  If I am lucky enough to be invited back next year, I'll sign up for it in a shot!