Monday, 29 February 2016

Fine Fife Day; and a National Disgrace

Not Cannes, but the Fife Riviera

I am going to ignore the convention of chronology, and tell you about the good run of my weekend first.  For those of you desperate to hear about my outing at the Scottish National XC Championships, you’ll need to wait until the end.  Although I must warn you that that segment contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing.

The benefit of having the race on the Saturday was that Sunday was wide open for a long run.  It also had a favourable weather forecast, which got steadily better the closer it came.  A couple of ideas coalesced into a plan. The first is that I enjoyed the recent expedition along the Berwickshire coastal Path, so fancied another Coastal trip.  And, secondly, I’ve been taking the train to work recently as my car is goosed.  Walking along Princes Street I spotted the statue of Wojtek the Bear.  I’m not sure how (perhaps simply because I don’t go to Princes Street very often), but I had missed his installation last November.  He is fantastic and the story of his life is like something from a Disney movie.

He was adopted as a cub (his mother having been killed by local hunters) by the Polish Army in Iran during the Second World War.  Travelling with them through the Middle East, he learned how to carry heavy mortar shells during battle.  As well as developing a fondness for a drink and a smoke.  When the Poles were due to be shipped out of Syria on a British transport, they were initially refused permission to bring Wojtek.  So they enlisted him as a private in the Polish Army (he was later promoted to corporal!), and the British were forced to let him on board.  After the war ended, he demobbed out and spent the rest of his days in Edinburgh Zoo, where he would be visited regularly by Polish expats who would throw him bottles of beer and cigarettes (which he was forced to eat as he didn’t have a pocket in which to store his lighter), much to the chagrin of the keepers.  He died in 1963 at the age of 21.

So I decided that I’d do my Tynecastle Bronze (or Tynecastle Brązowy) run for March – a minimum of 30 miles which must take in a war memorial – from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh, along the Fife Coastal Path, finishing at Wojtek.

Having tried to drum up business on Facebook and via email to little effect, I was resigned to the likelihood of flying solo.  But a combination of spectacular weather (if we get a better day in the rest of 2016 then we’ll be doing very well) and concern for my well-being saw Steve join me shortly before 9am at Waverley, to catch the 9:10am to the “Lang Toun”.  Which was a most welcome surprise – his company improved the day still further.

Steve, looking ready for business

We started off by visiting Volunteers Green in Kirkcaldy, which I’m afraid to say was actually rather underwhelming – a pretty unappealing metal plaque on brutal concrete our only reward.  

But the path itself was mainly stunning.  With the tremendous light really bringing out the colour in its eyes.  We made our way through Kinghorn, Burntisland and Aberdour, which included sections that we recognised from the Black Rock 5 race, and which Steve recognised from the Donkey Brae race.  But most of it was new to me.

Seafield Tower

THAT hill from the finish of the Black Rock 5

Steve trying to set off the speed camera on the approach to Burntisland

Not sure if this is Starley Burn, or just a waterfall nearby

Silversands Bay, Aberdour

St Bridget's Kirk, Dalgety Bay

As well as St Bridget’s Kirk, Dalgety Bay has some pretty scary signs warning about radiation, instructing you that it is an offense to remove seafood or bait from below the high water mark.  We thumbed our nose to the authorities by flagrantly having a sandwich and a pork pie in the immediate vicinity.  Steve reckons it isn’t that contaminated anyway – there were some aircraft control panels dumped in the sea there at the end of the Second World War, and the stuff they used to make the dials luminous is (mildly) radioactive.  So Steve and I weren’t exactly glowing like Ready Brek kids after passing by.

Danger Danger!

Getting close to the M90 was less fantastic, given the noise and fumes from traffic, but the views out over the Forth were some compensation.

After a further war memorial in South Queensferry, we returned to the trails, making our way through the Dalmeny Estate to Cramond Brig.

Dalmeny House

Cramond Island

With our 30 miles not in doubt and tiredness setting in, we took the shortest route through Barnton and Blackhall, along Queensferry Road towards the West End.  The Garmin signaled the 30 just before we got to Dean Bridge, so we congratulated each other then and took a selfie, before walking on to visit Wojtek.  We weren’t the only ones – we had to wait our turn to have our pictures taken with him.

Wojtek! (Polish soldiers are all 8 foot tall)

Big thanks to Steve for coming out.  Ditto to the sun!

(For those tempted to do some or all of this run, I can confirm that the path is predominantly flat, well-marked, and easy to follow.  More information, including maps, is available HERE)


And now a flashback to Saturday and to the nightmare that was the Nationals at Callendar Park in Falkirk. 

Although that is slightly unfair.  It was a nice enough day out, save for a period of approximately 90 minutes commencing at around 2:20pm.  The drive through with Anne and Stuart, the weather (cool, dry and largely bright), wandering through the nice grounds, taking up station in the TEL gazebo, recce-ing the course, and watching the other races was all perfectly pleasant.  And my fears about the course being a muddy quagmire were ill-founded.

(photo: Stuart H)

Good to see Alex
(photo: Stuart H)

Ready and raring to go (I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol at the Club’s annual dinner the night before, and took the veggie option so that I wasn’t weighted down by half a pound of red meat sitting in my colon), I was having a trot to keep warm ahead of the 2:30pm start.  When suddenly something urgent caught my attention.  You know that bit in "Dumb and Dumber" when Lloyd doses Harry with laxative and it starts to kick in? That. 

Except 10 minutes before a race.  With a snaking queue for the portaloos. 

At 2:25 I got into one.  And at 2:27 discovered that there was no bogroll.  It is best to gloss over the two minutes which followed.  Suffice it to say that I arrived at the line with seconds to spare, extremely rattled, and towards the very rear of the pack.

Now I don’t know what your mental approach is during a race.  Maybe some of you have a mantra that you repeat.  Maybe some focus on specific instructions from your coach.  Or perhaps you just zone out a bit and try to concentrate on your breathing.  Whatever works for you.  I can advise however that reminding yourself over and over again not to wipe sweat out of your eyes with your right hand is not conducive to a stellar performance.

Enjoying myself
(photo: Anne H)

Post-race you may have wondered why I was shaking hands with my left.  Now you know.  At a conservative estimate I must have washed my hands at least 4,368,942 times since then.  For at least three of those washes I even went so far as to use soap.

You can find the results below, although you are guaranteed to lose the will to live long before you have scrolled down to my name.  If you must try to find me, I’d suggest starting from the end and working forward.  It’ll be far quicker.