Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Goatfell 2013

It's a cold, dark afternoon in February. I'm sitting in Starbucks dodging my essay writing, frittering time on Facebook. A little red flag appears...a message...a kosher distraction!

Jim Hardie: Are you or Matt entering Goatfell this year? It's one of the championship races, and it's filling fast.


So I quickly and obediently signed myself and Matt up. Within days Jim had secured himself a watertight excuse for bailing out of the race. Splitter.

In the ensuing months, we convinced our ├╝ber-neighbour, Gillian, to come with us for a “fun weekend in Arran”. She would look after our rabble for a few hours as we raced, and in return she'd get to enjoy a million rounds of I-Spy, and be appointed Managing Director of the tent.

My race preparation consisted largely of looking at photos of boulder fields and bloodied runners from previous years, and fretting about whether the route was 15.5km (as per SHR website) or 13km (as per SiEntries). A brief chat with a sporty looking couple on the ferry to Brodick threw a third possible distance of 17.5km into the mix. Pacing strategies were abandoned at this point in favour of a more modest plan of not falling over.


 Goatfell looked every bit as ominous as I'd anticipated: a sodden lump of granite looming over the bay as the ferry sailed into Brodick harbour. The sullen weather demanded anxious swithering over legwear. Digby recommended longs, not least because it might offer the “Gordon Effect” whereby partially severed limbs are held in place by fast-wicking fabric.

Legwear vacillations.



Kids despatched with Gillian, we gathered in the sports field of the Ormidale Pavilion for a pleasantly low key start. Well, as low key as it can be with 200 odd runners: roughly double the turn out of non-SHR-championship years. Matt ran with me around the lap of the sports field and for the rest of the first mile along the road out of Brodick, then gradually edged away. Alarmed at the unsustainability of a 7 minute mile pace, I settled into a steady “I'll be running for two hours” speed. Some kindly spectators cheered us on at the end of the road/beginning of the forest trail. They said I was “doing really well! Good running!”. I have my suspicions that they say this to everyone.

I found myself running behind a guy with an orange top and rucksack, and decided to stick with him. We meandered upwards, and I surrendered myself (too early, as always) to walking interludes. I still haven't worked out if it's a Bad Thing to be walking at the same speed as slow runners. I have a niggling feeling that it's better to maintain a running momentum, albeit at walking speed, but hey ho.

The trail led up over a wooden bridge and past the deer fence, and at this point the views seemed to really open out. A burn gushed down through the granite boulders, and we were serenaded by a very relaxed sounding cuckoo. I kept forgetting to run. The path grew ever rockier and slabbier, and I experienced a mounting dread at the prospect of running back down. It looked lethal. After another mile or so I edged ahead of OrangeTop and found myself leaderless. The nearest runners were quite far ahead. Some bloke seemed to be deploying a curious strategy of sprinting ahead of me, then yelping with pain and lagging behind. I considered offering him my iffy first aid skills, but then realised that injured or not, he was intermittently faster than me, so could fend for himself.

Artist's impression of the ascent.

At about 50 minutes Finlay Wild descended past me. I still had (I guessed) nearly a mile to go before reaching the summit. Andy Fallas sped past a minute or two later. A trickle of fast descenders turned into a steady stream as I hit the final scramble up the ridge. I was pretty sure there was some sort of hill-running etiquette regarding which way to throw yourself out of the path on on-comers, but couldn't remember, and settled for flattening myself against the nearest tractor-sized boulder and bellowing my apologies.

The weather by this point had taken a serious turn for the worse, with gale force winds and hail. I reached the summit at about 1.09, and braced myself (after the briefest of glances at The View) for the descent. Now it's at this point in a race that I usually get overtaken by all and sundry. I clambered down over giant slabs of granite and resigned myself to herds of goat-like people leaping over my shoulder. Astonishingly, it didn't seem to happen. The occasional runner edged passed me, but I actually managed to overtake other people! As the descent became less precipitous and more “technical” I gathered pace, picking off a runner every couple of minutes. My MudClaws gripped the abrasive granite and I gained confidence. It was exhilarating and (I never thought I'd say this...) FUN! With visions of last year's “Hammond Head”, my concentration was maxed out, watching my feet hopping from boulder to boulder, sneaking between slabs, focussing no more than 10 feet ahead of me. It was like dancing downhill.

Unfortunately this joyousness came to a screeching halt as soon as the track flattened out. Without gravity on my side, my legs felt like lead. I'd noted the route to the summit was just under five miles, and realised I had about three miles to go in 24 minutes if I was to achieve my desired sub-two hour time. I pulled out all the stops and ran a 6.44 minute mile (yay!) but deteriorated on hitting the tarmac. Even the cheers from those same kindly supporters (“Great running! Well done!”) failed to add vavavoom to my legs.

The last section of road into Brodick was just awful. My legs were killing me and I just wanted it to be over. The section was very well marshalled (to stop wretched runners from hurling themselves under cars, I suppose), and I had to refrain from pleadingly asking every marshal if I was nearly there yet. During the final straight stretch I could see that I still had at least three minutes running ahead of me, followed by the cruelly enforced lap of the sports pitch. I was close to sobbing, but the sub-two-hour time was in sight so I stiffened my upper lip and pressed on.

The sports pitch was squelchy and heavy-going. I dragged foot in front of foot and heard Carnethy voices urging me on. “Hurry up! She's catching you!!” I was aware of a runner gaining on me on the final hundred metres or so, and Could Not Care Less. By this point the only thing keeping me going was momentum. The idea of increasing my speed was laughable. The runner turboed past me, and I fell through the finishing line in 1:57:18.

Post-race chat (over several cups of tea and some tasty home-baking) established that Matt had relished the descent and achieved a magnificent finishing time of 1:42:43. Finlay Wild had managed a near course record of 1:15:56, thereby screwing my SHR percentage. Cheers Finlay. And so, my quest to nudge my way into the top half of the field continues...

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