Monday, 31 March 2014

Deuchary Hill Canter: Mother's Day treat or April Fool?

I'd hummed and hawed for a while about this race, as my running mileage has been pretty feeble recently and I wasn't sure I'd manage the 11 miles without trashing my legs.  I rashly signed up for it just before the SiEntries deadline, then realised it was actually 12 miles. Oops. Still, it was probably going to be more relaxing than looking after the bairns, so I did what any sensible mother does on Mother's Day and made a run for the hills.

The morning started in the best possible way with toast in bed, made by Rosie at 7am (6am "old time"). She even waited patiently for an hour while I slumbered, before bringing it through at 8am. Very sweet. Slightly thrown by the time difference, we only made it out to the car by about 10.15 - just enough time to get to Birnham. We pitched up at race organiser Adrian Davies' guest house to collect my number at 11.40. Pretty much perfect timing, I thought...and this is where my plans started to go awry. I caught Adrian just as he was heading out of the door, only to be told that the race actually started about 10 minutes drive down the road from the Dunkeld Hilton. Argh. He very graciously took me in to get my number and pins, and I pegged it back out to Matthew & the kids to get a lift to the actual start. We arrived with a bit of time to spare, and milled about while the weans went feral on the Hilton lawns. I refocused myself: responsible hill runner, well-prepared with an annotated route more mistakes.

We were herded in a highly personalised manner by name and number towards the starting line. I was struck by how particularly "human" this race felt - like it was a group of friends going for a Sunday jaunt. Which IMO is exactly as it should be. We set off up the hill, and I dug in for a couple of miles of ascent. The track wound up and up into woods, never becoming quite steep enough to make walking permissible. As we traversed Craig a Barns the hill fell away very steeply to the left, and I the narrow, muddy and moderately rocky/rooty single track felt quite precarious. I ran tilted to the right, in the hope that any trips or slips would see me crash into the hillside rather than plummet to my certain doom. Aware that I was forming a queue of less feardy runners behind me, I tried to side step into "passing places" to allow overtaking.

The woods and mist lent a slightly unnerving stillness to the route. I was glad to still be in a pack of other runners, as we wriggled our way through the woods, eventually popping out onto a wide track at the 2 mile mark. I had mentally noted that the route flattened out a bit from this point...but wasn't there also meant to be a check point somewhere nearby?  There was brief confusion at the junction as some runners turned nose told me we should be heading right (northwards) but I followed them with misgivings for a couple of hundred metres only to be called back by another bunch of runners emerging onto the track from the woods. Why was there no tape or sawdust arrow?? It seemed strange. We debated for a minute or so, with the general consensus being that we should have turned right at the junction. We politely ignored Matt Grove's suggestion of eschewing the track altogether and plunging straight down into apparently pathless woods. After a few more minutes of running northwards on the track, we saw other runners emerging ahead of us from the woods towards a taped and saw-dusted junction. Arse...

With a sinking feeling I realised that we had gone fairly majorly wrong at some point on the wooded single-track and had missed a turning to the Rocking Stone check-point. I had to make a quick decision: carry on regardless and face disqualification, or trek back up to the check-point
 and lose all hope of a reasonable race time as well as subject my poor legs to even more miles than I'd planned for. I gritted my teeth and headed up into the woods, sheepishly greeting the more navigationally adept runners as they ran down. It was a fair way - about 1.5 miles "round trip", which cost about 15 minutes.

Back on track at last, I tried to get into the racing vibe again and picked up the pace on the flattish 3 or 4 miles towards Deuchary Hill. Despite my fanatical tape-spotting, I came close to venturing off route again in the approach to the route crossover, ignoring the tape in favour of a tempting looking road. I was called back by a (slightly incredulous) guy behind me, just as another small bunch of wayward runners trotted down the road bemoaning their detour. Feeling impatient with myself, and beginning to flag despite not even being halfway, I vowed once more to be a competent hill-runner. And then promptly had to stop to re-tie my shoe-laces. Grrr.

At last the route became steep enough to make walking permissible as we ascended Deuchary Hill. The top was spookily atmospheric, with great grey boulders looming out of the fog. I picked my way down the first short steep section, and settled in for six miles of gentle descent. I had buddied up with Davy Duncan of Ochil Hill Runners during the ascent, and stuck with his reassuring presence on the way down through the fog, until I hit the main track back to the finish. I tried to pick up the pace, mostly out of a sense of wanting the running to be over. The track was unforgiving: slightly heathery and uneven, then somewhat rocky and muddy, and finally foot-hammering tarmac. I caught up with a springy-legged bloke and conferred about the distance to the finish. I guestimated 3.5 miles, and he thought it was a bit further. Both options sounded uncomfortably far. We oscillated a couple of times along the road before he edged decisively away. Lacking any confidence in my ability to cover the last stretch without getting lost, I was determined to keep him within eye-sight, although I did resign myself to the occasional walk.

At last (and in keeping with my 3.5 mile guestimate) I saw the springy-legged bloke nip into a taped turning. Phew! The end was nigh. I followed him and was greeted by familiar shouts of "Go on Mummy!!" as the path suddenly twisted through some trees and rhododendron bushes before spewing me out feeling disorientated onto the finish line at the car-park.

My route with cock-up areas highlighted.

My total distance was 13.5ish miles - almost double the distance of any runs in recent months, so I was fairly pleased with my time of 2:05ish.  We headed back to Adrian's house for tea, cake and home-made soup. Adrian was remarkably serene, apparently able to organise a three day race series, put in some excellent running, and knock up refreshments for several dozen in his kitchen without so much as breaking a sweat. Respect!

During the kettle-boiling/cake-cutting chat it transpired that the route markers had actually been tampered with in the first couple of miles: the sawdust arrow and tape had been removed, and (I think) a log had been placed over the crucial turning up to the Rocking Stone check-point. The ensuing chaos meant that a significant number of runners (particularly those too slow to keep up with Adrian :-D ) had wonky finish times, either "too fast" from taking a short-cut, or "too-slow" from backtracking to the check-point. Adrian offered an "honesty policy" for those who knew they'd gone wrong, adding 10 minutes to their time. Bah - in hindsight I should have crashed on rather than backtracking! The prize-giving was understandably a bit confusing, and I'm intrigued to see the overall results.

Thanks again and well done to Adrian for organising a race despite very limited marshal availability and naughty race-tamperers! I'll be back again to try and get it right :-)

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