I was in two minds whether to write a report about the Deuchary Hill Canter. However, as it looks like the results may never see the light of day, I think some lessons may need to be learnt from last Sunday.
As far as I am concerned, the DHC is one of the most runnable hill races on the calendar. At 19.3kms and ca. 700m of climb, there are few steep climbs and most of the course follows woodland tracks and forest roads. If you enjoy cross-country races but want to double or even triple your usual distance, then this is the race for you.
Being a Harrier’s grandprix race, a few Harriers turned up: Stuart, Mike, Kirsty, Chris, Kevin, me and Andrea. The race started at 12pm although there were slower starts at 11 and 11.30. In many respects, the course is rather convoluted (the first quarter at least) weaving around the woodlands and hills to the north of Dunkeld and there are certainly many opportunities to take the wrong path/track. In the snow of 2013, by blindly following someone in front of me I missed the final turn up to Deuchary itself (so adding a kilometre on to the race) so I was well prepared this time to keep an eye on the map and not be a lemming. Adrian the organiser did advise before the race started that we should run with map in hand.
Anyway 12pm came and there was the usual sprint up the initial incline. Stuart, Mike and I were in the main leading pack although I struggled to keep up with them. By about 2kms, I was effectively on my own with the leading pack about 200 meters in front already out of sight in the murky mist. As far as I could tell, there one no one behind me. It was strangely silent in the mist.
The problems (not for me) started at about 2.5 kms where the route takes a sharp right turn from a north trajectory to almost a 160 degree turn to the SE. Although the route was marked with red/white flagging and saw dust on the ground, this turn was at best ambiguous (I have heard some say that it had been sabotaged). I could not see where the leader pack had gone – had they gone straight ahead, or gone sharp right up the hill? Getting my map out, it was clear that the route was sharp right and up. I set off. The route then went upwards through some wooded twists and turns to the first check point (no one there as far I could remember). However, I got the shock of my life when running back NW down off Craig a Barns I started seeing runners coming up towards me. Shit – had I gone wrong in the mist? It turned out that I was going the right way and that most of the field had gone straight on at the sharp bend and some of them were back tracking to find the checkpoint. Hitting the main track again, I quickly waved at a rather frustrated Andrea who was trying to decide what the hell to do. I shouted encouragement (hopefully) and ran on, running now with people in sight who had obviously not decided to back track. This was helpful as it gave me targets to catch up. Keeping a close eye on the map, I settled into a nice rhythm. Did I say it was spookily quiet in the mist – weird – just the sound of my laboured breathing……………
……….and the crack of snapping muscle fibres. Disaster struck at around 7.5kms. My right calf just went – ping! The same old problem which I have not suffered for over 12 months (thanks to Melanie!!). I knew it was the end. I slowed down to a jog to try and stretch it out, but when I got to the main crossroads, there was no way I was going to make this without severe hobbling and doing more damage. So I stopped and started the 4-5 km walk down to the finish. All I can say is that up to this point, the race was going very well. At 7kms, I was 30 seconds quicker than last year (although that had been a snowy race). Lesson learnt? next time, don’t dance a ceilidh the night before, don’t drink too much alcohol, go to bed earlier and bloody well drink more fluid!!
So I hobbled down the forest road. By the time I got to the finish, only about 4 runners had finished. Of the Harriers, Stuart came in first at around 1:39 with Mike coming in around 1:42 – both looking rather haggard. It is a long final few kilometres down a rather unforgiving track. Kevin was next but I missed him (sorry) as I went to get the car so that Andrea could get changed at the finish rather than having to jog down to the start. I got back to the finish to see Chris and soon after Andrea come in – both surprisingly in good spirits. Apologies to Kirsty, but we did not stay around as I was freezing by this time.
Lots of people were grumbling about the marking of the route and lack of marshals etc. Whether sabotaged or not, I think, is irrelevant. The markings are only there as a guide and I do believe that one should focus on the map and route rather than following someone in front of you. I made this mistake last year, and ultimately, there are lessons here that other runners need to keep in mind.
I will certainly be running the Deuchary Hill Canter again next year. I just need to get that new bionic leg fitted first!