Thursday, 6 March 2014

Bishop Hill Race 2014

Bishop Hill was my first ever hill race back in ye olde 2012, so I felt fairly confident I would be faster this time around. I was hoping for a few minutes off my time (28:36) and, position-wise, to drag myself up from the bottom quarter to the middle of the field...ahhh sweet Mediocrity, how I aspire to you.

On the drive to Scotlandwell cheery sunshine gave way to swathes of grey drizzle, and my optimism wavered. A very unexceptional road run on Friday from the kids school to Arthur's Seat had battered my lower legs, and a morning of stretching wasn't making Bishop Hill look any less hulking. Matthew deposited me at the Village Hall and took off with the kids to find a place to wave and cheer, and I found myself a bunch of Carnethies to hang with. Gordon's call to arms had been successful, and the room was awash with vibrant yet tasteful yellow hoodies. It was great to see Jane Jackson make a return to racing, albeit without her mandolin. How about this bumbag-sized one for next time? For the racing minstrel.

The rain had cleared, but the overcast skies and caffeine-swigging made for a shivery, jittery wait in the woods. I peered at the little gully beyond the start-line - what a cruel way to begin a race. As we set off, the seventy or so starters scrambled down and up the other side of trench to the sound of strangled yelping (a child? My child?? A dog?? Who knows!). The route begins with a steepish slog out of the woods, and as I couldn't remember if the track narrowed to single-file, I did my best to weave my way up through the field. As ever I experienced a wave of genuine affection for whichever runner ahead of me resorted to walking, thereby letting me off the hook. I'm sure my up-hill "running" is slower than my walking, so I'm not sure why I persevere with it, but hey ho.

The terrain flattens out for a stretch as you contour round the hill. The views would be amazing, if you weren't blinded by sweat and seeing stars. Alan cheered me on at this point saying something like "second lady is just ahead of you". It took me a few oxygen-depleted seconds to process the words into meaning, but it certainly gave me a renewed vigour. I overtook a couple of runners at the base of the next steep climb, and then dug in for a short hand-on-knees push up to the first summit. The short descent before the next climb was welcome respite for the uphill-muscles, and I caught sight of Tinto Hill Runners' Julia Connor just ahead. I wondered if I could catch her up, before hitting the plunge down off the hill. I couldn't.

I was bracing myself for the descent, replaying memories of the 2012 race: I'd been very pleased to tuck in behind Joan Wilson until the summit, thinking "Hey! I'm keeping up with a Real Hill-Runner!", only to see her disappear into the distance at supernatural speed on the way down. Herds of other runners overtook me at that point, springing over (what seemed to me) lethally rocky sheer drops, as I gingerly crept down, clinging to grassy tussocks. It wasn't quite as terrifying this year, but I was nevertheless left for dust by several fearless mountain-goats, including Jane Jackson who nimbly and cheerfully skirted past my flailing arms.

Andrew Gilmore on his way to winning.

Charlotte hurtling to her win.

The whole Gilmore family raced - surely there should be a prize for that?

Jane staying vertical where many found themselves horizontal.

Me running gaily.

Glad to be past the "danger-zone", I pep-talked myself into a fast blast along the flatter stretch of the descent, and pattered through the slightly boggy track by the wall. I caught up with Jane as she negotiated the kissing-gate, and took advantage of her deft choice of line on the muddy descent. I think we oscillated a couple of times along this stretch (it's all a bit of a blur) and both overtook Julia. The final dive into the woods resulted in an inelegant wipe-out, and I expected to be hurdled over by the sure-footed ladies on my tail, but it didn't happen! A scramble down and back out of the little gully made for an exciting finish, and I hobbled off to the side to nurse my immediately cramping shins. Shins! Not the easiest bit of the body to stretch out, it transpires. They really were very sore, and I was, at least temporarily, unable to empathise with Jane's exhilarated cries of "OMG that was so much FUN!!".

Charlotte (who had also had great fun, but alas due to her excessive speed a mere 21 minutes of it), came over for a chat, and (with the insouciance of a seasoned prizewinner) said that we had probably managed a Carnethy ladies' hat-trick with positions 1, 2 and 3. If my shins hadn't been so crampy, I'd have jumped for joy.

We made our way back to the village hall where rumours abounded about Bob Waterhouse who'd been struck down within feet of the starting line: he'd twisted his ankle...No! He'd twanged his hamstring! It was a badger wot dunnit. Assaulted by a family of delinquent badgers! (This may not be true - but sympathy to Bob the Hobbling Badger Botherer anyway).

I warmed up with a curried parsnip soup, and waited for my progeny to come and witness the momentous (quite possibly singular) event of a "podium place". Unfortunately Matt had deemed them "too muddy" for the village hall and had hustled them off to the car, but the two bottles of plonk for 2nd place, plus another for the ladies' team win took the sting out of their dereliction.

Returning to Bishop Hill reminded me of all the bits I love best about hill-racing: it's low-key and friendly, offering a real challenge to the speed-merchants, beautiful views for the more sedate runners, and finishes with soup, scones and smiling faces. Thank you to Lomond Hill Runners for a great event!

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