Kassios Dias “Twin Peaks” Trail Race

 

The Kassios Dias running festival takes place on the Greek island of Corfu and features a number of trail races of varying distances, all held on the same day, that showcase the mountainous forest terrain.  This year was the 9th running of the event, but the first time with all-new extended routes: a 35km “Twin Peaks” trail, 19km “Erimitis” trail, 9km charity race and a 1200m children’s race.  I was taking part in the longer race, described by the organisers as: “a total of 35km and 2,100m elevation. It will combine the North-East side of Corfu, the two highest peaks of our island, traditional hamlets, forest footpaths, alongside the coastal area of the pure and unspoilt natural environment, our own ecosystem, Erimitis, which is abundant in flora and fauna, rare and distinct in this area only, there are three lakes (home to the otter Lutra Lutra) and remote paths which will make the event an unforgettable experience. The runners will have the opportunity to try out their ability and strength in what is considered to be a demanding race, on a variety of terrain, constant ascents and descents, constantly challenging the runner.”

 

 

The night before the race was quite stormy, and the rain was still falling along with a chilly breeze as we gathered by the harbour at Kassiopi for an 8am start.  I had been fearing hot, humid conditions and a battle with dehydration, but ended up with some very Scottish-like weather which probably suited me a lot more than it did the locals!  The route took the main road out of town and then headed for the hills, following tarmac for about a mile before turning off onto trail paths.  The terrain from here on out was truly epic, probably the most technical I’ve ever seen, winding round dense forest and scrambling up (not-quite-so) dried up riverbeds, past abandoned villages and grazing goat herds, all the while climbing continuously for the entire first half of the race to reach the two highest points on the island.

 

 

The “Twin Peaks” were shrouded in cloud, so we were robbed of the views but the course was very well sign posted with orange markers, meaning there was no risk of getting lost, even on the more “vague” sections of trail.  Once the mountains were out of the way, life became a lot easier as we headed back down to the coast, but roads were still an endangered species and it was fairly slow going navigating the slippery stones and mud.  The final 5 miles hugged the coastline as the sun finally made an appearance, taking us along some pebble beaches before returning to the town and back to where we started.

 

I was intending to use this race as a stepping stone towards the Highland Fling and Cateran 55, but it quickly became an endurance test in its own right as the difficult terrain combined with the rapid early ascent to make the first 10 miles some of the most brutal I’ve ever run.  The gentler second half made it easier to enjoy the race and the relatively slow pace meant that I crossed the finish line still feeling pretty good, ending up in 6th place overall and 3rd in my age category (full results: https://kassiosdias.gr/en/apotelesma/2019/ ).  I would highly recommended this event, and Corfu in general, for anyone who loves hills, trails and good food afterwards!

 

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Kielder Ultra and 20 mile race 6th April 2019

Never having been to Kielder before I was excited to see what it was like and experience the ‘dark sky’ I arrived the night before with Billy and our dog Skye. We drove up to one of the top carparks where you are allowed to park overnight for a tenner. The skies didn’t dissapoint and we were treated to a spectacular view of the stars amongst the high conifers. We settled down for a kip in the back of the van and after a bit of barking from Skye whenever there was a strange noise we were able to get some shuteye. It’s been a while since we have slept in the van and I had forgotten how cold it could be, after getting up and putting more clothes on I was able to drift into a sleep. We were disturbed quite early however as the 100k race registration opened at 5.30AM at the castle just down the road from us.
I headed down at 7.30 for my registration and after the usual faffing was ready to go at 9.30. I met Alan and Lynne who were doing the 20 mile race, I also bumped into Nicola Duncan who was the only other person I knew, she of course went on to win the ladies race.
The route is beautiful and rather hilly. It reminded me of Glentress marathon a bit which High terrain events also organise. There is alot of mountain biking at Kielder and much of the route was on these trails, There were also some nice sections by Kielder water. There were many people out walking or fishing and just enjoying the scenery.
We had planned to stay another night in the van but after the race I was eager to just get home for a hot shower, some homecooked food and a good nights sleep. I would like to go back and explore the area some more although I have been told the midges are vicious there so I will have to pick my timimg carefully.

Results:
50K
Sadie Kemp Finish Time 05:16:09 Overall 36 / 143 Gender 5 / 51 Category 1 / 20
20 mile
Alan Thornburrow Finish Time 03:58:14 Overall 40 / 78 Gender 27 / 41 Category 12 / 14
Lynne Stevely Finish Time 03:58:58 Overall 42 / 78 Gender 14 / 37 Category 4 / 12

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Loch Katrine Marathon 14th March 2019

After missing last years race due to snow it was great to find myself at the start of this years race. Big thanks to Alan who drove most of us through. Although the weather was wet and wild and windy the race was very enjoyable. It is an out and back route so we all had the pleasure of cheering Adam on as he steamed past us to win the race. It is hillier than I had anticipated, being around a loch. Michael Philp was the official photographer and captured some fantastic images of the marathon and the half and 10k which were also on as part of the Loch Katrine running festival. The races are in aid of Alzheimers Scotland. At the end of the race we all received a reusable cup which I thought was a great idea.

Photos: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipN6jaftB7CkweQoupV8jFgLBVqAve2j_cHRGbaP6DMehIQGaL62IOGVPjlnh37pyQ?key=alQwVjkzNGJ6dXN4QUR3NzFBXzBaSWxEdmtaSFJ3

Results:
Time, position, gender position, gender/category position:

Adam Gray 02:55:04 Male 1 Senior 1 1
Sadie Kemp 03:56:16 Female 6 Veteran 14 1
Tracy Philp 04:14:36 Female 12 Veteran 22 5
Mark Dawson 05:05:00 Male 60 Veteran50 22 17
Alan Thornburrow 05:05:00 Male 60 Veteran 38 31

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Kielder Dark Skies 26.5

Saturday 23 March 2019

I entered this race as a practice night run ahead of this year’s big one, the West Highland Way Race. The race is organised by Trail Outlaws, who always put on a fantastic event, with an army of cheery marshals to pamper you along the way. The race is based in Kielder Forest, Northumberland – a ‘dark sky’ park, as there is very little light pollution due to its remote location. Race HQ was Hawkhirst Scout Activity Centre, where I had booked a bunk in one of the cabins to crash in after the race. I also persuaded my Project Awesome buddy and fellow WHW race first timer, Chiara Franzosi, to chum me along and we drove down together, chatting excitedly about the night ahead.

The race starts at 17:30, so it is still daylight for the first hour or so. As we gathered at the start line, fiddling with head torches and trying to calm pre-race nerves, Chiara and I agreed that a successful outcome for this race would be to ‘finish without face-planting’! I guess I should also have treated the race as a long training run, but as soon as I pinned my race number to my Harriers vest, I knew I wouldn’t be able to! Race mode was on, and when the start gun went I picked my way through the crowd until it began to spread out.

The route follows the Lakeside Way clockwise round the shoreline of Kielder Water. The trail is very runnable, but also very undulating, climbing more than 2100 feet over the distance. I was glad of my recent hill training, as it seemed I was either running up or downhill at any given point, without much flat. This explained the slower finish times from previous years compared to standard marathon times. Plus I also figured that running in the dark would add an extra challenge. I had pondered a sub 4-hour finish, with 3:45 in my head as a gold target. As I reached the top of the lake the light drizzle that started when we set off turned into a proper rain shower. Sadly, it looked like we were not going to be blessed with clear, starry skies that night (there was aurora borealis forecast too), but the rain soon stopped and gave way to a spectacular bright pink sunset. At this point I had been steadily moving my way up the field, picking off a few female runners here and there. I had no idea who was ahead of me or how many, but as I was admiring the sunset one of the ladies I’d passed earlier trotted past me again. I kept pace with her for a few miles, but lost her again once the darkness descended. I popped my head torch on as we headed into the trees on the north shore, and tried not to trip over the branches and twigs that littered the forest floor.

I was feeling pretty good as the sun disappeared over the horizon. I ran every hill as hard as I could and used the downhills to make up some speed. I had Tailwind in my hydration pack and some Kendal Mint Cake in my pockets for an extra boost. The Tailwind was mixed a bit too strong though, and started to make me really thirsty. As I approached the third checkpoint at the dam at the east end of the lake (the first one I stopped at) I downed a couple of cups of water. I must have drunk them too fast as when I headed out across the dam I got a terrible stitch on both sides and had to run for a while with my fingers jabbed into my ribs. This was 17 miles in so told myself that I’d broken the back of the race and I could relax a bit from here. I looked back across the lake and saw miles of head torches bobbing along the shoreline, which was really cool. To my amusement and shock I also got hit in the head by enormous moths a couple of times, which I presume were attracted by the bright lights!

The route had been very well marked with reflective tape, but the south shore had lots of roads and other paths crossing it, and you had to concentrate on where you were going to stay on track. It was very dark at this point and I felt lucky that my head torch was holding out and not bouncing about too much, as I’d heard that you can get motion sickness from running with them for a long time. There are a few dwellings dotted around the lake but all in all there’s very little to help orientate you except the reflective tape and your watch, which I was now struggling to see in the dark. I decided not to keep looking at my watch after 22 miles, but having passed half marathon point in around 1:45, I was sure I’d be close to a 3:45 finish.

The last checkpoint on this route is less than 2 miles from the finish line, and was lit up like a theme park with fairy lights. There were a few spectators milling about too, which was lovely. As I stopped for another cup of water the marshal told me I was second lady, so I decided to get a shift on if I was to hold that position to the end. I’d passed one more female runner a mile or so back, so pushed my speed up a little. Everything was beginning to hurt but I told my legs to shut up and that I’d be finished soon. Half a mile out of the CP I glanced back and was satisfied that the head torches were sufficiently far behind me not to panic. Just then I spotted a runner sitting at the side of the trail clutching his legs. I stopped and asked if he was OK and in a broad Northumberland accent he asked if a piggyback would be out of the question! I politely declined and went on my way!

The road back up to Hawkhirst Scout Camp had been strung with blue and white fairy lights, leading to the finish inside the Race HQ. Once inside I had my wristband scanned and my kit checked to make sure I’d not scrimped on anything. The mandatory kit list is quite extensive, but there for your own safety. If I hadn’t had everything on the list I’d have been disqualified and my time removed from the results. As it happened though, I was confirmed as 2nd lady and also 1st F40, which was a lovely surprise. I spotted the lady who’d passed me on the north shore and we shook hands and chatted about the race and about Penicuik – which she and her husband had visited recently to climb the Pentlands. Not only was she 1st lady but also 1st F50! A young Norwegian lad won the race in 02:52:00, a crazy time for that course.

I nipped back to the cabin for a shower (or should that be nippy shower due to back-pack induced chafing) and just got back in time for the prize giving, where I bagged myself some impressive bling (beer: model’s own). Then I headed to the canteen to refuel with a humungous plate of chilli and a slab of Victoria sponge. My buddy Chiara appeared soon after. She’d had a bad run and had been sick several times along the course. But, in true ultra runner style she kept pushing on and finished the race in under 4.5 hours. What a champ. WHW we’re coming at ya!

Result: 03:44:45, 2nd female, 1st F40, 20th overall

Full results here.

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Lasswade 10 Mile Road Race

An amazing day for the Harriers with a great turnout and prizes galore being won, with the club claiming overall race winner (Adam Gray), 1st male team (Adam, Ritchie Thomson and John Gibbs) and (eventually, after the results had been subjected to scrutiny) 1st female team (Gemma Towersey, Jan Dawson and Edite Gailite), making this one of our most successful days on the roads ever!

 

 

The race is nice and local, organised by Lasswade Athletics Club, and according to the official description:

 

“comprises a ten mile loop set in a scenic, rural location, run mainly on ‘B’ and ‘C’ class roads, and unclassified routes. Starting at the west of Rosewell village, the route follows a gentle incline to Gourlaw Farm before dropping down to the bottom of Roslin Glen at two miles, followed by a steep rise for 400 metres, after which it is nice and easy before dropping to the four mile mark in the village of Auchendinny.  There is a climb between the fifth and six miles thereafter, apart from a small hump at around seven miles, the route is generally downhill into Rosewell.”

 

It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and sunshine, but a strong wind threatened to make life a bit harder than it could have been (a definite improvement on the previous year’s weather though, when the race was called off due to the Beast From the East).  After registering and spending too long in the warmth of the clubhouse, we set off into the chilly breeze towards the start and debated how many layers we would need to wear.

Nearly 300 runners were taking part and we all assembled on the road at the end of the village, facing into the wind, for the start at high noon.  The first half of the race was the hardest by far, with two significant climbs made all the harder by being against the headwind: the descent into Roslin Glen was enjoyably speedy, but there was an instant price to be paid for it with a steep slog to get back out (thank you to Gillian and family for providing much needed support at this point!); then came Auchendinny and the longer climb, which felt like it would never end (more great support at the crossroads from Bill and Billy!).

Once that was over, things got a lot easier in the second half, with the wind (mostly) at our backs and some downhills on nice quiet roads that zig-zagged through farms and the abandoned (haunted?) hospital at Rosslynlee.  Running back into Rosewell, it seemed like the end was in sight but there was a little detour of about a mile out towards Whitehall House, with the road becoming a bit rougher, muddier and more trail like which may have caused a few slip ups for people in flat running shoes!

We were greeted at the finishing line by a very proud Dave, who was in charge of timekeeping.  The person taking note of finishers’ numbers made a mistake with Gemma’s unfortunately, which meant it took an extra day for us to find out that we had won 1st female team.  A very generous buffet was provided back in the clubhouse while we waited for the presentations, which rounded off a cracking day!

 

Thank you to Michael Philp and Billy Dickson for the photos!

 

Results

1 Adam Gray 57.04
6 Ritchie Thomson 61.14
9 John Gibbs 61.51
38 Gemma Towersey 68.11
58 Raymond Richford 70.41
64 Allan Dunbar 71.16
109 Jan Dawson 76.17
120 Edite Gailite 78.05
123 Rachel Drummond 78.19
160 Gordon Campbell 81.17
171 Tracy Philp 82.31
217 Alan Black 88.22
231 Dyane Harvey 90.49
264 Scott Cairns 101.31
279 Sylvia Hamilton 114.33

Full results: http://www.lasswade-ac.org.uk/club/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Results-Unscrutinised3.pdf

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Devils Burdens 2019

The leg one runners got all our teams off to a great start, with only one minor hiccup. Adam finished his leg without the orineteering card needed to mark the checkpoints, this was quickly rectified and their race continued well with Michael and Rob. (The image below of them running was taken as they ran the leg 3 route as a cool down, notice the lack of number!) The conditions for the race this year were challenging with cloud over the peaks. This lead to a few navigation problems for Kevin and Mark and cost them a bit of time.

I on the other hand didn’t take any wrong turns this year (unlike last year) and enjoyed my run with Gillian and Romana. Unfortunately Juliane had to pull out of the womens team as her little dog needed some TLC so I ran 2 legs as I did last year. Susie pulled off a fantastic leg 4 for us and enjoyed ribbing Charlie over her victory.


The Old Gits seemed to run without any dramas so I have little to say about their team other than ‘I bow down to your greatness’. They produced a fantastic team effort and walked away with the prize of first in their category. I am told this is the first time a Penicuik Harriers team has one a prize at this event so this was very special indeed. 🙂

Results:

Pos No Team Category Total
22 155 Penicuik Harriers Old Gits Open 50+ 03:27:20
72 84 Penicuik Harriers: PeniDevils Open Senior 04:05:40
131 85 Penicuik Harriers: PH Devil’s Bird’ens Women Senior 04:39:04

Leg 1: Falkland to Strathmiglo 7.5km, 200m climb
Leg 2: Strathmiglo to Kinnesswood 11.5km, 700m climb
Leg 3: Kinnesswood to Maspie Den 11.5km, 420m climb
Leg 4: Maspie Den to Falkland 5.8km, 390m climb

22 Old Gits
Leg 1 Derek Newport 00:28:49
Leg 2 Duncan Ball & Des Crowe 01:16:27
Leg 3 Raymond Richford & Stuart Sanderson 01:06:36
Leg 4 Julian Hall 00:35:28

72 PeniDevils
Leg 1 Adam Gray 00:25:32
Leg 2 Rob Wilson & Michael Greens 01:21:50
Leg 3 Kevin Anderson & Mark Denholm 01:34:42
Leg 4 Charlie Crawford 00:43:36

131 PH Devil’s Bird’ens
Leg 1 Elizabeth Tudhope 00:40:18
Leg 2 Gillian Cairns & Sadie Kemp 01:46:02
Leg 3 Sadie Kemp & Romana Garjane 01:30:37
Leg 4 Susie Maxwell 00:42:07

Full results found here: http://www.fifeac.org/events/fife-ac-events/devils-burdens/1315-devil-s-burdens-2019.html

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Feel the burns 2019

Distance 21.4 km
Climb 800 m

Feel the Burns is a hill run that includes Peat Law, the Three Brethren, Brown Knowe and Foulshiel Hill. Last year the route was shortened due to the snow so it was great to get to run the full this year in a cool but for the most part clear day, with low cloud over only one of the peaks. Haggis pies were enjoyed post race. 🙂

Second lady and first FV40 for Gillian Cairns

Full results on SHR https://www.scottishhillrunners.uk/RaceResults.aspx

38 Michael Greens M 01:52:17
65 Gillian Cairns F40 01:59:03
89 Rob Wilson M40 02:07:13
132 Sadie Kemp F40 02:16:37
137 Gregor Gorjanc M 02:18:33
176 Susie Maxwell F40 02:31:04
179 Gilly Marshall F40 02:32:08
199 Chris Downie M50 02:40:41

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Harriers start the year at the Greenmantle Dash

This race is always well attended by Penicuik runners, this morning eleven Harriers, one Junior and one boyfriend of a Harrier made it to Broughton this morning for the Greenmantle Dash.
We also had Dave Cairns officiating at the race and Billy Dickson and Duncan Ball doing the results 🙂 Not forgetting Bill Bennett who was there to support us all and possibly his grandchildren too.

The freezing temperatures made this a cold one but not once we all got moving. The stream was freezing, the bog was deep, the hill was really steep and the road back was too long with an ice patch hazard – but we all loved it!
The whole team got in the stream afterwards for the customery dip in the burn, many thanks to Scott for taking photos of us.
Thanks to Kate for taking the photos up on the hill just as we reached to top 🙂

https://photos.app.goo.gl/isAQNsUSDhj3YzBs9

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Glen Ogle 33 Ultra Marathon

Glen Ogle 33 is an Ultra marathon that sets off from the McLaren Hall in Killin. It’s roughly 33 miles in a figure of eight through beautiful forest trails and cycle tracks. There’s a long switchback section in the centre as the route passes far above the A85 and A84 down towards Lochearnhead with great views over to Loch Earn. It then heads down to Balquhider next to Loch Voil, and then onto the ‘Shoogily bridge’ crossing before Strathyre.

The main reason for wanting to run this race was the spectacular railway viaduct which I’ve often looked across to when passing on many a trip up north on the A85. You run across this on the way down and again on the way back, so sounded fantastic. The race is run by BAM Racing who organise the race brilliantly. There’s a pre race briefing and a fantastic group of marshals along the route as you pass various check points. The route is marked really well so there’s no need to worry about navigation. It’s a great race to do for anybody who is thinking of running their first ultra, as it’s about six and a half miles over marathon distance and not too hilly or too flat. There’s a few road crossings but they are well marshalled. I’m very glad I took road shoes as there’s a lot of tarmac on the mountain bike trail sections and the forest tracks were not slippery enough to need trail shoes. The cushioning of the road shoes were greatly appreciated as there was far more tarmac than I had trained for. All my training had been for the Lakes in a Day race three weeks earlier, which is mostly on the mountains and then trails.

Alan Thornburrow offered me a lift early on the morning of the race which was great. We set off at 5:15 which gave us plenty of time to get there on quiet roads at that time of the morning. We were at registration for about 7:00 where we met Gilly. You can register on the evening before the race but if you register on race morning you have to be registered by 7:30. There’s a very informal race briefing in the hall at 7:45. The main information from BAM Racing to runners was how to not be ‘fannies’. We all then headed out to the Main Road where a very loud horn was blasted and that was that. I had my watch all ready for starting at the start line, but there wasn’t one, so just set off down the village streets, then over the bridge next to the famous Falls of Dochart. The forecast was right with it chucking it down with rain all day. This made the falls the most spectacular I’ve seen them as the river was very high.

I was well covered for the elements so didn’t let the rain bother me. There was high winds forecast but with the race being in the glens it wasn’t bad. As we came to the first ascent of the many hilly forest trails I realised my legs were still not recovered from the Lakes in a Day 50 mile Ultra three weeks ago, and the Scafell Pike trek a week later. I still thought though, if I could just push on as best as I could till at least half way it would give me a chance of an okay time, even if I slowed towards the end. Storm Callum had decimated any course times I had in mind for Lakes in a Day, with heavy rain, high winds and flooding. I hoped to still have a proper run today. As I cracked on up the very hilly first 4 miles or so of forest trail I thought I could hear Gilly and Alan talking behind me. I thought if I keep on like this it’ll be great as I’d be pleased with their pace but I didn’t have the breath for too much of a chat on the up hills. It was a shame to be missing the brilliant views on such a rainy misty day but could still see some fantastic scenery here and there.

 

After quite a push to the top of the forest trails we had a really fast downhill section which zig zagged down on hard tarmac. I had a good run down here which was possibly a bad idea as it wasn’t long after my legs were not too pleased about anything steep. By around 11 miles or so I realised I was going to have to make do with just getting through the race as my legs didn’t have too much in them. I was still enjoying the route though and I was really chuffed to be running across the railway viaduct. The views were amazing as I looked over the glen from the opposite side from normal, down towards the road I usually look up at it from. The background hills were very dramatic with numerous waterfalls after all the rain we had had. There was so much, I had to keep holding my mitts upwards to tip the water out of them! Even in this rain it was not too slippery in road shoes. I kept skipping between the gravel sections of the trail to the central grassy area when it wasn’t too slippery, looking to lesson the impact of the hard ground.

I passed a couple of check points before crossing the highly acclaimed ‘Shoogily bridge’. It did wobble, but not quite as much as I was expecting. I was then into the Strathyre checkpoint where you ‘Dib your Dobber’ (putting your timer chip into the devise that records your time). You only have to do this twice. Once here for your split time and then at the end. I had packed my vest backpack to avoid having to stop for a drop bag. I thought the 2 litres in my bladder pack would be fine to get me round, and if not I’d get some more at the last water station. In the front pockets of the vest I had my phone along with 5 jells, 2 Power bars, some peanuts for getting some salt and 5 small Snickers. This worked out great and although my legs were trashed I had enough provisions to keep me going. From here it was just trying to keep moving and not end up walking. I was getting passed by so many runners now, but I was fine as I knew I’d normally do much better. I just hadn’t had enough recovery time after 21 hours 26 minutes running in the quite brutal conditions of Lakes in a Day (Race report up for this too).

I got speaking to a few people on my way which was good as I shuffled along trying to keep my legs going. My left hamstring felt like it was going to twang so I stopped a few times to stretch it and my right one felt really stiff too. The tarmac was making my uncles really battered, but generally I knew I just had to keep going and I’d be fine. It was brilliant to be going back over the viaduct and the views were still great. It was a pity though how we were missing all the autumn colours under so much mist in the rain. I kept on counting down the miles and eventually I was managing a slow jog through Killin on my way to the finish line in the park. The locals were all very supportive and cheered me on as I passed. Earlier a family was passing and their young son gave me a high five. It was funny how much of a splat my saturated mitt made as hands were slapped. Finally I was at the park and the finish line looked so far away, with the route taking me round the full race track. I eventually got there and again ‘dibbed my dobber’.

I walked back to the hall (just a few steps from the park), and met up with Alan and Gilly. We got our photographs taken just on our phones. This was the 1st time they had been out as it was so wet on the course. The medal and T-shirt are a great design, so are a brilliant memento of the race. It was a shame I wasn’t staying for the ceilidh as it was really good a couple of years back when Jan ran the race. I bought some coffee and cake which were great. The profits go to cancer research. Gilly and Alan had had a good race and we had a chat about the various sections before Alan I drove back down the road. I was home for 5:15 which was fantastic, being up and back within 12 hours.

 

Gilly Marshall: 6:01:18
Alan Thornburrow: 6:10:40
Mark Dawson: 6:41:41

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Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra and Relay 2018

The Jedburgh Running Festival attracts Penicuik Harriers every year, including 2018, where Ngeme, Sarah, Chris and Romana (aka the Peni Possums) and Allan, Gillian, Rob and Stuart dressed as Allan (aka the Peni Pinchers) competed in the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon Relay, while Sadie, Tracy and myself tackled the whole 38 miles.

The registration was very well organised, as were the facilities and the positive and crazy atmosphere the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra is famous for, soon started to take over. We runners tried to carefully divide the remaining time until the start between the toilet and the warmth of the radiators. The weather forecast for the race day was sunny, but cold, and in addition to my usual nervousness before big races, questions about the appropriate clothes were buzzing around in my head: Shorts or tights? Gilet or jacket? Everything? Thanks to Rob’s advice, I was confident with my choice of clothes and could start to concentrate on the hours that were lying ahead of me (I’m being sarcastic here).

After a short and rough race briefing, we made our way to the start in joyful anticipation of the “YMCA” warm-up. In my opinion, this should be mandatory before every race, it diminishes the nervousness, puts you in a positive mindset and of course, warms you up. Focusing on my dance moves, the signal to the start was rather surprising and so I spent the first few metres fiddling on my watch. Unlike shorter races, no one tried to frantically overtake other runners or to sprint away (Rob would probably do that though) and we even started to chat with each other. It seemed a bit weird first, but I liked the more relaxed atmosphere. I tried to keep up with Sadie for a while, but shortly after we left Jedburgh I had to let her go (speedy lady!) and settled into what felt like my own pace.

Sadie at her best

The tarmac at the beginning was easy to run on, but I was happy when we finally hit the trails, as running on the fallen leaves on the dry (!!!!) paths was absolutely fantastic and felt like running heaven. The first 10 miles to CP1 at Maxton were everything but boring, what looked quite flat was undulating (I would even say it was uphill most of the time) and we had to conquer wobbly bridges (fun fact: I got my HeartFrequencymax here) and hurdling fallen trees. After Maxton, the route flattened, and we were blessed with a sunny run along the autumnal Tweed and stunning views of the Eildons in the distance (another plus of Ultras: you have enough time to admire the surroundings, probably unless the distance broke you and you just suffer and damn your life). What worried me a bit were the numerous stairs and bridges of this section: although they were a nice distraction at this point, they might be treacherous with tired legs on the way back.

After CP2 at Rhymer’s Stone, where Ultra runner legend Gilly and Ultra runner supporter legend Aldo provided us with food, coke and good vibes, we finally reached the Eildons. I was looking forward to the Eildons section, because I love running on (at? in?) them and thought it would be a nice change for the legs and indeed, the views on this clear day didn’t disappoint and it was a nice break from running. However, the cold wind froze my legs and apparently also my brain. It’s funny, how I had the time to chat with others, eat some food at the CPs and admire the views, but not to put on a god damn jacket (the same happened during the Ochils race, I never learn…). So, I shuffled up (slow!) and down (even slower!!!) the hills with frozen legs, stoically following the runner in front of me as I couldn’t think straight anymore and had no idea where to go. The reward for surviving the arctic Eildons was a piper who greeted us with his music at one of the hillside paths, a true goosebumps moment!

(these nice shots were taken by Eoin Lennon)

The next highlight awaited us at CP3: we were cheered on by the wonderful Ellie and the mad but lovely cow Jan and could satisfy the inner child at the famous playground, while Yan and his crew threw a party in the background. And there was coke!

Our very own mad cow <3

CP3 gave me a boost after the strenuous Eildons section, but the boost disappeared on the short bit of tarmac that followed, my legs didn’t like it at all… Somewhere on the way to the final checkpoint at Maxton, I found my running form and strength again. Although I normally don’t like out and back races, it was nice to hit familiar grounds and to know what is coming. Funnily, the numerous stairs felt easier than in the morning (maybe because I didn’t feel anything anymore?) and the roots and rocks were not as treacherous as expected. Also, it was nice to see relay-runner Chris, who overtook me at this section, and to “buddy up” with Chiara, who I know from other races and far too much shopping, until the end of the race. All these factors together with a very caring volunteer at the last CP4 put me in good spirits and I happily started the climb out of Maxwell, ready to smash my first Ultra on this final and what I thought mainly downhill section. Well, it turned out, I was wrong. Somehow, the climb just went on and on and on. This section must be a “magic” section, as it feels uphill in both directions…

On the final few miles, we met Romana who was giving everything for her team, and Gilly and Aldo were at the last street crossing (thank god with coke again!!!) to direct us to the finish line. A bit of uphill running on the road, a few metres of cross country in the woods, and a never-ending tarmac stretch in Jedburgh, before the cathedral finally appeared and we sprinted (Haha!) on the grassy patch to the finish.

Doing the “extra” mile

I thoroughly enjoyed this race, maybe because the conditions and surroundings were perfect, but definitely because of the friendly and crazy atmosphere between runners, marshals, other volunteers and everyone else who was involved. I’m sure this race will remain a constant in the Penicuik Harriers race calendar, no matter if for Ultra maniacs, fancy dress worshippers or tired-runners support enthusiasts 🙂

Happy Harrier

Ultra results:

Sadie Kemp                     06:37:20               8th F       39th Overall         (PB)

Juliane Friedrich               06:47:06               10th F     48th Overall

Tracy Philp                      07:56:50               35th F     123th Overall

(and this crazy lady also did the half marathon the next day)

Smashing the Dirty Double

 

Relay results:

Peni Pinchers                    05:26:06               2nd Combined   3rd Overall

Peni Possums                   06:50:46               8th Combined    12th Overall

 

Finally, in tradition with my other race reports and as this was my first Ultramarathon, here is what I have learned:

  1. Training on the trails/ hills is so much more fun than training on the road
  2. The biggest challenge is not to eat all the stuff you bought for your drop bags in the week leading to the race
  3. Doing an Ultra involves waking up at stupid o’clock (I think I’m quoting one of the Dawsons here)

 

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Flash Mob Hill Run

This is an evening race up Castllaw Hill in the dark 🙂 Adam and I entered and joined a mixed bag of runners with our headtorches on for the dash up and down. The route is really well marshalled and marked with glowsticks, if you got lost on this then you are a worry.
When I was about 100m off the start of the steep climb along came Adam leading the race by a good bit from the lady in second place. The surface has been improved on this steep section so it meant that you could run back down without thinking you were going to slip on all the loose stones.
I got back about 20mins after Adam who was doing a good job of recruiting the 2nd place runner to Harriers 😀
Adam got a nice Stewart Brewing hoody for winning and all the finishers got a t-shirt and beer.
I’d recommend this race, it’s a bit different and good fun.

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Lakes in a Day Ultra Marathon

I entered Lakes in a Day after watching aerial clips from a previous year on Facebook. The runners were crossing the mountain ridges in brilliant sunshine with outstanding views. I had heard it was bad weather last year and knew that the weather could turn out to be vary changeable in the Lakes just like here. I hadn’t noticed how much elevation was involved in the race though, and realised quite far into the training that I’d have to get far more hill ascents done before the race to avoid a nasty shock on the day. Luckily the Pentlands helped me out there and I hoped I had just done enough to get me through, as the 50 mile course has 4,000 metres ascent (13,100 feet).

Looking at the elevation I knew my time would be affected greatly by the number of hills in the fist 29 miles of the course to Ambleside. The race then changes from a fell run into trails along the lake sides. The organisers offer a shoe change at Ambleside which is a great idea. I had missed quite a bit of training and just hoped to finish within cut off times, but I still was holding out for hopefully finishing by possibly midnight. The race starts at 8:00am from Caldbeck in the very north of the national park. The vast majority of runners stay at the end of the race which is in the very south in Cartmel, and get a race organised buses up to Caldbeck at 5:45am, which took about 1 hour 20 minutes.

 

Any hopes of good weather had long gone as we drove down to the lakes during Storm Callum in lashing rain and high winds. Jan dropped me off at Cartmel Race course where I’d booked camping before the race, and I could also stay another night as I’d be back late from the run. I was soaked by the time I got my tent up. Jan and the kids headed off to the holiday caravan site as we were making a week of our trip down there. I didn’t get much sleep just listening to the lashing rain all night and wondering if I was totally mad to actually even start the race in this? I set my alarm but this wasn’t needed and was up well before it. I had plenty of time to get organised and head up to the buses to Caldbeck.

 
The rain and wind had calmed down a bit by the time the race started at 8:00. There were some great views as we headed up the first set of quite gentle hills, and then down to the river crossing which we had been told there was a rope placed because of the high water levels. This was great as we all crossed and then got further up into the hills. There was then the thought of getting the right route for doing the recommended course which went over the ridge at Blencathra. I wanted to do this and not the diverted version for those who wanted to avoid the ridge. It turned out there was a marshal at the top diverting people to which version they wanted to do. With it being so wet, the rocks were really slippery and my Inov8s slid like I was on ice when I wasn’t careful, so I took it easy on the way down. A guy took a bad tumble right in front of me and was lucky not to hit his head as he went right down over onto the rocks. It had now started raining a lot and I was now drenched but the wind wasn’t too bad at this point. The views were brilliantly moody on this section and I stopped to take a few pictures.

The first feed station is roughly ten miles in at Threlkeld and they had an outstanding amount of great savoury and sweet food as well as coffee and tea. I had a baguette and coffee and then filled up my water for the longest stretch from there to Ambleside. This is over the most hilly section covering Clough Head, The Dodds, Helvellyn, Grisedale Tarn and Fairfield and taking us to 29 miles into the race. This section would be the navigational test. I was very pleased to have done two Munros in really bad weather with my GPS and map as a tester just two weeks beforehand, and was confident now all should be okay. I was still a bit worried about taking a wrong turning and adding miles onto tired legs though. The first section had taken longer than normal with the wet slippery rocks coming down off the ridge. I was a bit worried about slowing down considerably after 30 miles, so I had to keep it going so I could take it easy if needed on the last section without any thoughts of being timed out. I met Sharon Hassan at the feed station who I had ran part of the Ochil Ultra with, so I ran with her and her friend Paul for a while. It was great to chat a while on route. I had to stop so many times to check my GPS against the map as the weather had come in really heavy by now with very high winds and little visibility and I was getting blown over at points. Clough Head was exhausting to get up, really steep! It was great to finally get to the top and again take a bearing to know what direction to head off in next.

There was a part in the route where some runners missed out a peak and headed to the right of the trail. I wasn’t sure if a required peak would be getting missed, so I headed up to do Great Dodd. After looking at the map again I saw they were right and I didn’t need to have done it. I am a bit of a bagger and was pleased to have included it, and it wasn’t that much further to do. It was very misty now and nobody else was in sights, so I took another bearing and was pleased to see I was correctly on route. This went on for ages and I eventually started to descend towards a lochán after getting bashed all over the place by 80 mile an hour winds. At one point I shouted at the brutal weather, “Is that the best you can do!” as I took two steps forward and one step back! My map holder was getting really quickly thrust round and round me, so it was quite tight and restricting my movement, so I regularly was having to untangle myself from it as well as avoiding it battering me in the face!

Most of the hills had been done by now and I had one last push to get up Fairfield, which was a great rocky hill. I realised I had left putting my gloves on till a bit too late as it was quite warm till then. I crouched down to get all the stuff out of my hands, such as GPS and map etc, and get myself sorted out as I was getting quite tired. Three young guys from St Andrews called back to me to see if I was okay. They helped me get my gloves out of my backpack without having to take it off. Sounds like an easy exercise but I get raynauds, so my fingers turn to death claws when they get cold. They were in the race just to finish like myself in these conditions, so I ran with them for the rest of the race. We were delighted to get the last mountain done, but it was starting to get dark and we wanted to get down to Ambleside as quickly as possible. We got our head torches out and headed down the slippery rocks in heavy rain and strong winds. There was a bit of scrambling down over boulders required here, but not too bad.  Unfortunately there was a poor person getting medical aid as we passed. I hoped it wasn’t as bad as it looked, as they had to cover them completely to shield them from the elements. We headed down a trail next to a fence and it was never ending till we saw the street lights of the town. We had trouble locating the feed station from the map we had, but got there after asking some locals. The food was brilliant here at Ambleside with pasta and pizza! We got our change of shoes for the change in terrain to more trail running. I had packed in my back pack a change of top and running tights too which were so good to change into. We had spent a bit of time here, but we headed off now thinking that that’s the tough part done, it’ll be normal trails from here on. We hadn’t taken into consideration the amount of water that was gushing down off the hills and had now flooded most of the trails, as we made our way over and along rivers that had burst their banks and the lakes that were now considerably higher than normal, and were now covering the trail right up to the top of my legs!

 

We were in quite good spirits though as we just treated the race more like an endurance test rather than an actual race. I’ve never ran in anything quite like it. The race however is brilliantly organised and the three feed stations with great food and support kept us going. This last 21 miles is over lowland trails and so was out of the wind now. The rain was still quite heavy but it eased towards the end section. I was wanting to not get totally drenched again as it was getting colder now with it being night time. I was taking care not to trip fully into the lake as my feet hit roots and stones below, which I couldn’t see as my legs were totally submerged. This went on in some sections for some time before going along muddy trails and then back into the lake. As we approached the last feed station at Finsthwaite I was thinking how good this would be if this was the end. Giving up however wasn’t an option, and so we sat down to get some hot soup from the brilliant marshals and I got some cake too. We didn’t hang around here too long but had a good chat with the helpers there. It was very late now but we had hours of cut off time left so were very confidant of finishing fine eventually. The marshal told us that this year’s weather was far worse than last years bad weather. It was windy till mid day last year and then fine without the rain too.

We headed off for the last section, just under 8 miles. There was very little running possible. We were all very knackered at this point and just digging deep to finish. The wind over the hills in the first 29 miles had taken it out of me quite a bit, but I was pleased to have managed the most elevation I’d ever done in one day. There’s not too much I remember about this section other than it was very dark, muddy and slippy and I was thinking night running really isn’t for me. We still were fine though as we talked about other races we had done and wanted to do, as well as places we’d travelled to. With this the eight miles passed and we were eventually coming down off a muddy hill into Cartmel at last! As we approached the finish line we held our hands up together and the four of us went over at the same time. There was a photographer here as well as other various points in the course. These shots were all free to download a few days later. There was a meal token handed to us as well as our medal and I had a fantastic lamb stew. We then picked up our bags in the hall and I headed back to my tent. I had heard the Race Course had since been flooded, so I was very worried on my walk back there, but was pleased to see the area where the tents were, were okay.

Jan and the kids picked me up in the morning and I chucked my sodding tent into the roof box and Jan made me a full English breakfast back at the warm caravan which was fantastic. I had about 5 hours sleep and then went out for a family pub dinner in Cartmel which was brilliant.

A superbly organised race. Just really pleased to have finished, even if it was about five and a half hours later than I was expecting! I took comfort in the fact that I had finished and not got lost like so many had done. Finished at 5:26am, so 2 hours and 34 minutes within cut off time. There were 238 finishers with over a third of runners dropping out with 139 retiring.

Finish time: 21:26:06….. Ooofff!

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Glencoe Marathon Gathering 2018

Mark had run this event in 2016 and had praised it highly, so when Sarah Burthe offered her place to a fellow harrier in the event of her withdrawal due to injury (hope you’re on the mend soon, Sarah) I snapped it up. It’s quite a pricey event, which had put me off in the past – £50-60 to enter, NOT including t-shirt, bus transfers and, most shockingly, food at the finish. There are no prizes or goody bags and all you get for the price is chip-timing, feed stations and a medal generic to all the events at the festival – Glen Nevis 10k, Mamores half marathon and Glencoe marathon. They do say they raise a lot for charity though, so I hope a large chunk of that goes to good causes. Anyway, I donated to a charity of Sarah’s choice in return for her place, so will stop whingeing about price now!

The night before the race, Mark and I checked into the brand-new Garrison Hotel in Fort William High Street. It’s a refurbished former police station, and I had originally booked a double-bunk ‘cell’ room, a budget option for an overnight stay. When I asked if there was a kettle in the room, as I was running the race and wanted to make up a porridge pot before checking out early, they upgraded me free of charge to a double as cell rooms don’t have them! The double room was lovely, modern and cosy and it was a struggle to get out of bed the next day at 5:45 am.

We drove to Ben Nevis visitor centre where the event hub and finish line is, so I could catch the shuttle bus to the start at Red Squirrel Campsite. Mark headed off further up the glen to Polldubh, to run a couple of Munros in training for Lakes in a Day ultra in mid-October. The weather was pretty grim already, having rained heavily overnight. Forecast was for showers and moderate winds, so I put my waterproof on and didn’t take it off until the finish line.

When the bus arrived at the Red Squirrel start line, it became clear what a tough race this was by the queues for the ladies loos! There was pretty much no queue for us and a long line for the gents. Nerves kicked in and I visited the lovely queue-free loos 3 times before the race start. Hot drinks and snacks were available for runners, so I warmed my hands with a cup of coffee. The race went off in waves, a couple of minutes apart. Apparently, we’d received an email to tell us which wave – A, B, C or D – but I hadn’t so made a rough guess that wave B would be about right. I’d set a target of 5 hours, based on my previous race times along that section of the West Highland Way, but the climb out of the Red Squirrel was new territory so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Wave B set off at 09:02 and we headed up the old military road towards the top of the glen. The first few miles were fairly innocuous, and the narrow track helped keep my pace in check as I stayed in line behind other runners, negotiating slippery wet rocks. About 3 miles in the route became very boggy, exacerbated by recent rain. There were a few trips and falls (myself included, goodbye nice dry gloves) as we trudged our way through mud, bog and wet grass. 4 miles of energy-zapping bog later, I was so glad to see the Devil’s Staircase – hard ground at last! The route joins it about half way up, so no nasty climb after all that bog. Near the top a marshal shouted “You’re 6th lady, well done!” and I did a double-take as loads of runners had passed me on the boggy section. It gave me a boost though, and I really enjoyed the long, steep descent into Kinlochleven. There was a motor bike race going on near the bottom of hill, so we had to keep our wits about us as bikes zipped up as we ran down. Their race was way-marked in similar coloured flags to ours, which caused a bit of head-scratching amongst those not familiar with the WHW route.

Into Kinlochleven and the second aid station, I stopped for some Lucozade and a handful of peanut M&Ms. I didn’t stay long though as I’d passed another female runner on the descent and was excited about the prospect of a top-5 finish. I’d passed half way in 2:15, so was ahead of target even if I ran a slower second half.

The Mamores half marathon had joined us at KLL, setting off at 10:00, so the route was quite busy now. After an initial climb, the drove road towards Lundavra offers a welcome chance to run without too much climbing, and I settled into a comfortable pace. The route was very wet though, so I trudged straight through the streams and puddles as it was pointless trying to stay dry. The sweeping views of the Mamores were glorious, though slightly dampened by the constant showers. It was pretty windy here too – a headwind, of course. I looked up the valley and spotted a runner coming down off one of the hills. I thought either they’d gotten lost, or had gone for a comfort break. As they got closer I recognised the gear they were wearing – it was Mark! By complete coincidence he had descended into the valley just as I was passing. We stopped for a hug and kiss and laughed at how random it was! It was freezing cold though, so we bounded off on our respective routes feeling really cheered up.

I reached Lundavra in around 3:45 with about 6 miles to go and was feeling positive about beating my 5-hour target. I’d passed one more female I was sure was in the marathon, although it was getting hard to tell now the half marathon had joined us. So, I relaxed and enjoyed the next section, which snakes through deer fences and forestry works and finally breaks out above Fort Bill. Ben Nevis was hiding under a hat of thick cloud, but I felt its presence looming as I hit the descent into the glen. The last few miles were fast downhill, and I was surprised my knees were still holding up. I passed quite a few runners here, and before long I could hear the tannoy at the finish line.

Just as I turned onto the path leading down to the final field, I heard a lady shout “Harsh, but I’m going for a sprint finish!” and the legend that is Jeni Rees-Jenkins sped past me. Darn it! I knew she was in the marathon as I’d spotted her at the start. Oh well, if you’re going to get pipped to the post at a finish line, it might as well be by someone like Jeni! I did consider pulling a sprint and passing her in the field, but didn’t want to look like a twat, so I crossed the finish line just behind her in 4:38:23 – well ahead of target. Mark turned up shortly after having run his two Munros, and we paid £5 for a hog roast roll and drank a ‘free’ cup of tea before the long drive home.

A couple of days later I checked the results. There had been some errors to sort out as runners who had swapped to the half marathon from the full had gotten marathon gun time results, and vice versa. Turns out, by chip time, I was actually 3rd lady. Didn’t need that sprint finish after all!

Glencoe marathon is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a fantastic trail race with a bit of cross-country thrown in. If you’d like to race the WHW but aren’t ready for the distance of the Devil o’ the Highlands Footrace (which is a superb race, by the way), this is a good alternative. Just maybe take a packed lunch for the finish line 😉

Results: http://www.kitst.co.uk/glencoe-marathon-2018.html

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Loch Ness Marathon 2018

I have had a pretty duff year so far with several colds and heatstroke at
the Lairig Ghru, so when my wee brother mentioned he was thinking of running
the marathon, I jumped at the chance of a different challenge.
As it was, my brother injured himself dinghy sailing and couldn’t train!
He’s thinking of doing the Coigach Half (Achiltibuie) in three weeks time
instead.

As my road shoes were about 8 years old, I had to dish out loads of cash for
new ones. And then I had to find some tarmac – euch. Actually it wasn’t too
bad and I ran to work and back once and managed a 20-miler 3 weeks before
the event.

The marathon route goes from the high ground between Fort Augustus and
Whitebridge on the south side of Loch Ness and drops down through Foyers to
the Loch, past Dores and into Inverness. The start was at 10am, but because
we had to be bussed to the start, we had to arrive at Inverness Ice Rink at
7am. If you wanted to catch a bus in the Highlands that day you were stuffed,
they were all in Inverness!

We got to the start at 8:45 – which was just as well as the queue for the
portable toilets was 25 minutes! It was quite chilly at the start and I left my
extra clothes on until the last minute. We could see some of Loch Ness a
long way in the distance and it put into perspective the sheer distance
26 miles is! (OK, for you Ultra runners it’s just a short Sunday morning jog)

I found the 3 1/2 hour post and did some loosening-up with my bin bag on
and chatted to Graham from work. Some attempt at a countdown and we were
off! Although there were over 4000 runners entered, this is a relatively small
marathon and we got to the start line in about a minute. As the start is so
high up, tne first few miles are quite a lot downhill, and the temptation to
go too fast is very great. But as I am very old and very wise(?) I ran at
at a relaxed, easy pace.

It wasn’t all downhill though and in fact there are several quite steep
uphill bits. I was very careful on these and told myself that the few runners
passing me here would all blow later on! I suppose the good thing about
tarmac is that you don’t need to watch your feet much and can enjoy the
scenery more! And the scenery is good.

Six miles in and we were at the loch-side. My GPS watch said I was averaging
7:15 minute miles, but that was probably about right for the net descent.
You would think that beside the water the road would be flat, but actually
there were still a lot of bumps. This part of a marathon is usually very
enjoyable as the pain hasn’t really started yet. I concentrated on a steady
pace and in no time at all hit the 13.1 mile point. A good moment, but my
legs were already starting to feel well-used. Still, only another 4 miles to
Dores and the end of the loch and then only another 9 miles after that.

We had been well-doused with quite cold rain a couple of times, but by the time
we got to Dores, the sun was out, it was warm and there were crowds! Well
at least 20 people cheering. I caught up with the French chap I had met on
the bus (again) and we ran together up the dreaded Dores hill. I seemed to
remember from last time (2008) that there was this hill and then it was all
down hill to Inverness. In fact there was this hill plus several others which
all conspired to lock up the leg muscles and slow the pace. Head down and
steady jogging.

At last we were on the egde of the town (sorry, City) and with only 2 miles to
go, finishing was now a possibility, no probability. The last couple of miles
are always a mixture of non-responsive legs, huge amounts of pain and the
relief of knowing you can get to the finish without any assistance. It is
quite hard to grin and acknowledge the cheering spectators when your quads
are on fire. I managed to pick up the pace in the last half a mile and I think
I crossed the line actually running rather than hobbling. A very good moment.

The French chap came in just a few seconds behind me and I asked him whether
he was still going to climb Ben Nevis the next day (!). Apparently he was!
Adam was also running, but I didn’t see him at all as he was miles in front
and clocked a massive 2:48:12 and 15th!!

Big thanks to the organisers, volunteers and supporters – a lot of hard work.
Although I had a great day I won’t be doing too many marathons – I want the
shoes to last another 8 years! Our times were:

D. Ball 3:28:42 275/2810
A. Gray 2:48:16 15/2810

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Salomon Mamores VK

Ellie did this amazing run two years ago, and since then I had been considering entering as it sounded like a brilliant event to be a part of. So early this year I decided to go for it – for anyone who hasn’t noticed, I do love an  uphill, and what’s not to love about a day off work to run in that part of Scotland! I did consider entering the Ring of Steall race as well but that moment of madness passed. Next year :-).

The Momores VK follows the International Skyrunning Federation format of following a marked course gaining 1000m of elevation in less than 5 kilometres, with runners setting off at timed intervals. This meant climbing the munro Na Gruagaichean as fast as possible and then making our way back down pretty much the same route (steeeep!). Ellie also decided to go for it again this year, so much kudos to her doing this and fitting in training so soon after having her little girl!! The VK was the first race of a weekend of racing, finishing with the mighty Glencoe Skyline on the Sunday. International runners flock to Kinlochleven for these races, which makes it all very exciting for us mere mortals.

The day of the VK arrived, as did a forecast for some pretty changeable weather. It was a slow drive up through Glencoe and the hills were shrouded in mist. I arrived and managed to catch up with Ellie and her two friends at registration in the Ice Factor. Kit check was very strict – they were checking the level of waterproofing on trousers etc, and given the conditions over the weekend I can see why! Ellie was setting off just after 2pm, so I got to cheer her and her buddies off, and then had a full hour to sit and contemplate the madness ahead. I met a couple of HBT ladies too, who were doing this for the first time as well and it was good to see some familiar friendly faces. At 3:03 it was my turn, and at this point the weather was thankfully reasonable.

The run to the start of the climb was lovely trail with some little streams to cross and a bit of mud, but all very runnable. Of course, a VK doesn’t stay runnable for long, and the climb after this was relentless. The route is marked straight up with little red flags, and involved plenty of using the hands to grab tussocks of grass / heather and later the slithery rocks. I can say that I hugely enjoyed about three quarters of the climb, but the  deteriorating weather made the last traverse to the summit anything but pleasant. I had to wrestle into my waterproof jacket and shortly after met Ellie on her descent. The rain, wind and mist on the ridge made it so difficult to see and to avoid bumping into runners heading down again and it was such a relief to get to the marshals on the top. Once there, you plug your clever timing do-dah into a device which reads your time. The temperature up there was low and with the rain and the wind chill, we needed our full waterproof body cover – the problem was trying to put kit on with completely numb hands. Folk were helping each other with sleeves, gloves etc, and it would have been comical if we hadn’t all felt close to hypothermic!

The ‘run’ back down passed in a blur. I have never been that cold on a hill and it was a little scary until further down and when some feeling came back to my hands and feet. Runners were still setting off and I really felt for them heading to the summit in the awful weather. All we could do was cheer them on and marvel at how speedy some of them were! Worth mentioning that the organisers moved to the ‘bad weather route’ for both the Ben Nevis Ultra and the Glencoe Skyline. They took a bit of stick for this from some runners on the online forum but given that there were a number of runners treated for hypothermia at the VK and the severe weather forecast for those days…..seemed sensible to most folks!

By the time I reached registration to hand in my timing device I had recovered and was already thinking about next year. The marshals on the route were all amazing and were so encouraging, the organisation of the event is extremely slick, and there is a great atmosphere to it all. I’d love to manage the RoS race and to stay up there for the  full weekend to see the elite skyline runners!

Gill Cairns 1:09:49

Ellie Tudhope 1:34:34 (PB by 3 mins)

 

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