The alarm woke me at 06:00 after a short but deep sleep. After breakfast, I made up my bladder of drink and was away at 06:35. I forgot my running shoes but, fortunately, remembered them just after Leadburn so had time to get back for them. It was very cold: -3.5 on the Moors. I got to Glentress with ten minutes of registration time left but, back in the car, I discovered that my Garmin hadn’t charged overnight so I had no means of checking my pace other than by doing calculations with the time and dodgy GPS of my FitBit. After the shoes and this, I did wonder whether I should do the race since my shins were still rather tender from the two 49″ and 56″ Estate 10k runs I’d done on Thursday in an attempt to make up for not having run for 2.5 weeks. What would a 50k trail race do to my shins – if I finished? I’ll give it ago, I thought. At the start, I soon found myself up at the front. Four guys shot off, and I was 6th, soon dropping to 9th as a group of four got away from me by the time we got through the Glentress section. One was a young Polish guy, with whom I chatted briefly, and he gave me a high-five when he discovered that this was also my first Ultra. To Cardrona and into the forest, they were still in sight. On the descent to the Traquair road I overtook the older guy with the stuttering cadence, bringing me up to 8th. At Traquair village hall – which we had to enter as a check point, I snatched some jelly babies and a banana, so was out before another of the group, and must have overtaken the Pole, too – so 6th. The tall skinny guy was still ahead of me on the climb, and the runner with the stuttering cadence caught me up – particularly when I got my phone out to take photos. The weather had been stunning. Early on there was low light on the frosted fields below us, and then beautiful sunlight on the hills. At the top of the descent to Walkerburn I put the phone away and thought “Back to business”. The tall skinny guy was 200m ahead of me, and I thought I’d catch him easily, but he was also well equipped to make the descent at speed. I was also wanting to be careful not to run too fast, as I had on my recce three weeks earlier, when I did the 6km descent in 26.5 minutes. I caught him towards the end and we ran together for a couple of kilometres, chatting about races. Once we got onto the grassy trail by the Tweed, he couldn’t keep up with me so I found myself 5th. From there to the Innerleithen car park it was fine, I could feel a little tightening in my hamstrings – particularly the left, but was running better than three weeks ago – and with 11 kilometres more covered. I grabbed a piece of flapjack and two chunks of cut banana and carried on. From there to Cardrona was tough – once over the Tweed, the first half was a grassy trail and then the interminable tarmac trail of the old railway, but I kept it going. Just before Cardrona I overtook someone who had been going well, but cramped up. No time for sympathy, and I didn’t see his number to know if he was a “50”, but he must have been, so I was 4th. This took me to about 40km in just over 3:45. It was hurting to keep up the pace, but I knew I was running a good race. By now I was thinking that there would be the odd 65km drop-outs to overtake, so when I saw two runners ahead of me I wondered if they were too. However, they were moving only a little slower than me. When I finally caught them, I saw their white numbers. It was a real lift and I made an effort to run through them so was soon well ahead – up to 2nd, although I was starting to not want to believe I was so well up the field. I eased off, but still didn’t see them. Passing two officials, they confirmed that I was second. By then I’d entered Glentress forest and the final 200m climb. Although I could run up the easy angled path initially, I had to walk as it steepened. My hamstrings were raw and, even when the slope eased off, it was very hard to run. At the end of one open straight section I looked back and saw nothing, so I felt confident that I had sufficient lead to hold off the two behind me. Finally, I got to the downhill and, although it was easier to run, I couldn’t stretch out on the gentler sections, and didn’t have the control to run fast down the steeper parts. I could tell that it wasn’t far to the finish, and even my Fitbit was approaching 50km. The finish was 20m up a steep hill from the Peel Centre, and I managed a pathetic jog, but made it, and second was confirmed (4:37:33). Within seconds, third (4:37:38) and fourth (4:37:44) arrived. I didn’t know whether I was glad I didn’t know how close they were or not! Although I was in a mild state of shock (and some discomfort – even in my arms!) places 2-6 chatted amongst themselves. Eventually we identified the winner, and it was sobering to learn that he’d finished over 50 minutes ahead of me (3:46:37). Cold and uncomfortable, I made my way to the car to change and let my wife know I’d finished OK. Then I verified that prize-giving would be no earlier than 15:00 and retired to the warmth of the Peel Centre café. I sat alone and wrote my account of the day, drinking a large mug of coffee, then wandered up for the prize-giving. This was shambolic, and ended up with folk collecting their prizes as they turned up. I was asked whether I wanted 1st M50 or 2nd Male, and chose the latter since it’s more prestigious and worth £15 rather than £10 in Run-for-It vouchers. I’ll use these to get a new pair of gloves, since I lost one from the mesh pocket into which I’d stuffed them once the day had warmed up a little. So, I collected my prize and “trophy” and drove home.
Am I converted to trail running or Ultras? I have to say “no”. Although Glentress was pretty, the best part of the course was from Cardrona to Walkerburn – the bits in the hills, surprise, surprise! The trail running in the Tweed valley was rather boring, so I’d want a race in more interesting terrain than that. Anything longer than today’s race would need a lot of training to be able to attack it the way I did today – when I treated it a bit like the Edinburgh Marathon and “hung on” for the last 8km. So, even though I might be better suited to flatter races [and Mountain Marathons, which are completely different, being fast hill-walks with sporadic running on the tops and descents, and route finding plus navigation being important.] my heart’s still in the hills.