Ensuring that we would not get roped into helping Susie move house, Mike Brooks and I decided that it would be much less effort to go running in the Borders for several hours.
The Two Breweries is probably one of the nicest long hill races and is a pleasant mix of different terrains. It is 30kms in length with 1500m elevation gain. The first half is a more traditional hill race, while the second half is a mix of tracks, roads and woodland. The race finishes off with Trahenna Hill above Broughton – a final sting in the tail which often reduces runners to a mess of cramp (speaking from experience!).
The forecast was excellent (sunny and not too warm) and we arrived at Broughton at 9.40 to catch the Brewery’s bus that would take us to the start at Traquair House. At first we were worried about being at the start 1.5 hrs early (start: 12pm), but the weather was so pleasant that all the runners lounged around in the sun soaking up some precious late summer sunshine. Mike drank coffee and stuffed himself with scones.
After kit checks, the race started at 12pm with an initial 1km sprint on the road until the ascent into the hills. I felt awful at the beginning. Normally I am sprinting with the pack (which I always of course regret later), but this time, my legs felt heavy and individuals I normally I am way ahead of for the first half of a race were easily passing me by. Perhaps my legs were still heavy from last week’s triathlon. No idea. Anyway, I persevered – the weather was too good to consider stopping.
The route constantly rises from ~150m to 600m over the first ~7 kms of the race. By this time, I did seem to get some energy back into my legs and decided to push a little and made up quite a few paces, especially down into Glen Sax. Unfortunately, I lost most of these places on the steep ascent out of the valley where my legs turned to jelly again.
In many respects, the rest of the race is really quite runnable. From Hundleshope, the route is quite pleasant all the way down into Manor Water valley although my legs started to cramp a little when I hit the tracks. The route was very well marked so the climb up to Whitelaw Hill was a little more pleasurable than last year when many of us were worried we had gotten lost. Many runners around me were suffering around the top of Whitelaw Hill with one guy screaming and cursing as his right leg cramped up and he was reduced to holding on to a tree while he tried to recover. With some guilt (what could I do?), I continued. I took it fairly easy on the descent to Stobo Castle. Unfortunately, I also cramped a little when I hit the road and it took me some minutes to rub the back of my leg to get it to behave. After briefly considering that Stobo Spa might have been a better choice to get over the cramp, I stumbled on.
From Stobo, the next 3 kilometres is probably the worst and most frustrating part of the race. The route is a pleasant 3 km forest track with a very slight rise over the whole length. However, at this point, I was exhausted, my legs were like jelly and there was no juice left in the tank. I alternated between walking and jogging and spent the whole time stuffing myself with jelly babies and crisps (from the last drink station), a muesli bar and drinking profuse amounts of electrolyte. In hindsight, this was a good strategy as Trahenna was rearing its ugly head above the trees. Last year Trahenna was excruciating with my legs cramping in the thighs going up, me pulling something in my groin coming off the summit, and then cramping in my calves on the way down. This year, although I cannot say it was easy, I was able to climb steadily and even managed to pass a couple of people going up and descended at a good pace (no groin injury this year!). The final descent is the steep hill that those who have run Green Mantle Dash now so well. I ran surprisingly well through the last field – dodging the bullets of a young kid with a stick who was trying to shoot the runners as they passed. However, again, when I hit the road, my legs suddenly tightened. I don’t understand what it is about roads, but I had just ~1 km to go and I was not going to let cramp get the better of me. I tried to settle into a comfortable slow pace and gritted my teeth. On the high street about 500m from the finish, I saw Mike walking towards me shouting that I might make it under 4 hours if I hurried. I did not look at my watch. If I had tried to up the speed, my legs would have gone. I just kept at the same pace. Weirdly, as I crossed the last 50m, my legs decided that they had had enough and when I finally crossed the line, my right leg completely spasmed and instead of yelling in celebration, I held on to a wooden fence post and groaned for about 3 minutes.
Last year, I ran the race in 04:06:57. I had hoped to improve on that and in an ideal world go sub 4.
I crossed the line in 03:59:47 (76th) – a 7 minute improvement. Perhaps the moral of this story is that a slow start is a good start for these long races!!!
Mike finished in 03:44:02 (55th).
Perhaps the best thing about the Breweries race is the large spread of food and drinks at Broughton village hall – and of course, the apparent limitless amount of beer to be consumed. Luckily I was driving.
Mike and I did consider popping around to Susie’s on our return to Penicuik to help with some final boxes, but somehow we did not feel up to.