At 16kms and 800m of climb, the Lomonds of Fife hill race is a relatively tough mid distance race. This year the route was a little different (highlighted in red) due to logging activities, so the route was a tad longer at 17kms.
Having slightly pulled my right calf at training on Thursday (ironically I had not ran Caerketton so I could rest my legs!), I was in 2 minds whether I should run. In the end, having missed enough races due to pulled calf muscles this year, I decided to “be more dog!”.
Chris D volunteered to drive up and we were joined by Sadie who had already ran Caerketton (Wednesday) AND the Cademuir Rollercoaster the day before. Maybe all those tattoos gives her the feeling of invisibility. Tough as nails that lass!
The start of the race is ca. 2 kms south of Strathmiglo along a tarmac path into the woodland on the lower northern slopes of the Lomonds. The results are not out yet, but there was at least 100 runners, all constrained along a meter wide path. At 1pm when the race should have started, the organisers wanted to count everybody through from 1 upwards, so all that initial jostling to get close to the start line on such a constrained path was completely buggered up. Basically, if you had a larger number (we were in the 130s), you were stuck nearer the back – no matter how good/bad you were.
I think the race finally started around 1.20. The forecast was for showers to come in around 3pm although there was a little drizzle at the beginning. However, overall the weather was very good, very little rain, quite a bit of sun (therefore very warm), but a stiff westerly wind, which really only hit you on the peaks. I was all set – new running shoes (a fox had taken one of my other ones), new lycra shorts to facilitate the descent off West Lomond, 2 muesli bars and half a litre of water.
The first 2 kms is relatively fast forest track, but due to my calf, I decide to go “all sensible” and took it easy. This did not help and my calf started pulling quite early on. Uh ho! I did not want to pull out of yet another race so I battled on being very frustrated at all the places I seemed to be haemorrhaging. Once out onto the open ridge between East and West Lomond, I settled into a steady minor hobble. The climb up East Lomond was really tough – the steep gradient really put a strain on the calf and I was just waiting to hear a snapping sound. However, I somehow made it up and then turned around for the descent. This was perhaps the ONLY enjoyable part of the race for me. The calf did not hurt at all and finally I disengaged gears and brain and flew down the steep slope passing a load of people. On hitting the level track below however, I was back to my rather bizarre hobbling technique. Hopefully I did not look too deformed as I waved to Sadie and Chris who were together at that point.
Once we passed the check point at the remains of Maiden Castle, the path contours along the upper northern slopes of the Lomonds. It is a thin and uneven track but is generally easy running. It was along this section that I started feeling tired. I could not understand this at all. I had only been running for an hour or so – and at a slower pace than normal! Starting to stumble, I managed to get the “bite” in the cliff (Craigen Gaw) where the final ascent up West Lomond begins. This is the steepest part of the race. Not only was I exhausted by this time but my calf was now screaming. I almost went up on my knees – very tempting. Above the cliff, the route flattens out a little over boggy ground before the final ascent. I started chomping on my muesli bars – I should have done this earlier. I was about 1:27 into the race but already felt that my legs were not behaving well at all. However, somehow I did manage to pass a couple of people going up the final ascent – maybe they were suffering as well.
The descent off West Lomond is rather special. Basically, there is a thin grassy shoot between the dolerite cliffs which is very steep – so much so in fact, that it is basically impossible to run down and quicker to slide down on your backside – hence the lycra shorts under my running shorts. This is vital to stop mud, grass etc entering your nether regions. So – I flew down, passing several people again. The problem being that finally my legs gave up and cramped. So here’s me sliding down with my legs bending in all sorts of strange directions and me thinking (between grunts of pain), shit – how do I stop now. Somehow I did come to a stop. I managed to stand but in rather a lot of pain and then had to wait until my legs stabilised – losing those places I had just gained. Finally, I managed to continue my stumbling descent. Awful. Steep uneven terrain with my leg muscles rippling all over the place trying to cramp up again.
Finally, I managed to stagger round the Bannet Stane (wind eroded sandstone lump) and with 3kms to go until the finish I started the final ascent back up the same bloody slope I had just come down – luckily not back to the top. I would not have made it. This was a slow affair. I was busying finishing off my muesli bars and drank the last of my water in the hope that some miniscule amount of energy might enter my legs. Alas not. The route basically takes the lower slopes of the Lomonds back to the start/finish. There are a couple of route options with respect to the rock avalanche below Craigen Gaw. This rock fall occurred in 1928 – creating Craigen Gaw – and one can go down early and traverse across the rocky/gauzy run out zone below, or stay high and traverse the steeper upper slopes. I decided to try the high route this year. I still believe this is the quicker of the two options as you can follow the sheep tracks, but alas with legs that were not behaving, this was a rather stumbling mess. However, I somehow managed to get down to enter the wood for the last 1.5 kms “sprint” to the finish. Unfortunately, the style over the fence did me in and I wasted more time trying to settle my legs after they cramped when climbing over.
The final 1.5kms was a rather uneventful slow jog of managing extremely exhausted legs. I somehow crossed the line, did not stop and grumpily walked back to the village hall where I knew a cup of tea and a scone was waiting. Sorry to Chris and Sadie for not waiting.
So – what on earth happened. I have not cramped in such spectacular style since the early days of me running the Skyline. Here are some ideas:
1. my new shoes may have been on too tight, cutting some circulation off – my left foot did go to sleep fairly early on. This happened when I bought the same pair back at Yetholm however, so not 100% sure this would have been the cause.
2. I definitely ate less than I usually do – perhaps underestimating how hard the race would be. I blame this on Andrea as she is away in Canada and her sandwiches cannot be replicated.
3. I ran most of the Skyline last Sunday so perhaps my legs were feeling that 3 hr run but I did not feel tired at the beginning and had rested most of the week.
4. Maybe because of my right calf and I was running in a rather odd way, I was simply using my leg muscles in a subtly different way than normal and they tired more quickly than normal.
Whatever the case, it was a pretty horrible race for me. Despite this, I still completed in 2:04, only 8 minutes slower than my PB of 1:56. So not a disaster I guess, especially as the route was a little longer. Last time my knees were in a bad state, so I know I can do much better on this race. Roll on next year although I first need to decide whether to rest or run next weekend!