This post describes Gregor’s and Rob’s experience of running Durisdeer hill race on the 10th of June 2017.
I was contemplating running the Durisdeer hill race for the last few weeks. While the distance (14.7 km) seemed fine, I hesitated due to elevation gain with several sharp ascents and descents (see Figure 1). I decided to give it a try with a mindset that this would be a very good hill training session. Practically at the same time Rob announced his swapping from Slioch for this race (due to some lurgy). While a group of Penicuik harriers headed to sunny Traprain Law race, we headed into something quite different. Namely, the forecast did not look promising; rain all morning and mild showers during the race. Quite different to last time harriers run this race (http://penicuikharriers.org.uk/2013/06/09/damsel-domination-at-durisdeer/). It turned out the forecast was spot on.
Upon arrival in the small village of Durisdeer (with surprisingly large and nice old church) we registered and readied our kit. It was soon obvious that turnout was small (40 max), which is still more than about a dozen of runners a couple of years ago (according to the local organiser). Albeit most of the rain stopped by race start, clouds and light wind did not go away. Few runners, poor visibility, and my first time being in the area were clear signs that navigation would be crucial. I have done a navigation course this spring and kind of really looked forward to this test, albeit with quite some dread. We set our compasses and were ready to go. Given the weather and temperature of 13C we decided to start with jackets and hats on. I even opted for gloves to make sure I fully warm up.
Start was at the field behind the settlement with a short plunge down to the burn and long climb to Black Hill (see Figure 2). The climb involved quite a bit of walking interspersed with bouts of running where possible. I soon had to take both hat and gloves off due to generated heat. Virtually within minutes the runners were completely spread out. Occasionally it felt like running in twilight with occasional glimpses of a runner on left or right. Already at the Black Hill summit navigation proved crucial – we could only see a few meters ahead and wind was howling (poor Marshalls!). I caught a small group immediately after the top, but soon realised that they were straying off left (west) of my compass course. Should I follow them or my compass? It would be a bit embarrassing to get lost so early into the race. I mustered courage, trusted my compass, and pulled away from the group. (While writing this and looking at the map I realise that I pulled away from them at the last possible moment. Namely, I had hit top of the burn just south of Pettylung hill, which means that I was already slightly off the race route, but the group had to be off even more). The descent was steep with lots of blueberries and some heather that provided friction even in very wet conditions. I was encouraged after I saw a couple of runners ahead on my compass course and dashed down the hill.
After crossing the marshalled main road, we ran on a gravel road past Dalveen farm to a narrow glen with Enterkin burn. (This must be a nice hiking route on a sunny day!). I joined a group of runners and we were overtaking each other depending on whether they were uphill or downhill sections. I got so warm I had to take my jacket off. Soon we reached a marshal and turned right up a narrow pass/col towards Upper Dalveen. Throughout this pass, I kept wondering if I was on the right course as it seemed to narrow. I tried to corroborate my position according to incoming burns on the map, but there were so many flowing from all directions due to recent rain that I abandoned this idea. I put faith in my compass and the fact that marshal pointed us in this direction and there really were no side paths that a runner could stray away. The pass ended with a sharp descent – I admit I was chickening out on running on hilly grassy sections full of water. We finally hit some tracks along the hills where I could run more intensively.
Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle just before reaching the Upper Dalveen house. I think I was too eager to balance the lost time on descent and dashed down the muddy track too quickly. I was contemplating to pull out as there was a steep ascent to the Well Hill ahead of me and the position was just about right for pulling out as marshals were stationed a couple of hundred meters ahead at the main road crossing. While crossing a couple of swelled burns I paused in them for a while, which proved to be very good for my ankle. I retied my shoelaces and gently jogged towards the marshals. When I reached them, the pain was largely gone and I decided to continue with the race.
I took a bearing, powered my mojo, and bit into the diagonal ascent up the Well Hill. Visibility was again getting very bad with each meter of height gained. I could barely see down into the valley (perhaps it was better this way – that hill is very steep). I also could not see the Well Hill ahead. Ankle sprain and adrenalin rush took away quite a bit of my concentration and I was mentally struggling with reading the map. I took faith in having runners both on my left and right and focused on pacing and making sure I took steps that would not take too much energy or even increased my injury. It turned out that this mental focus put me back into the game. I soon gained back the lost positions and even gained some – all while climbing up the hill. I guess the Thursday hill reps are paying off! At the point of Lavern burn split I was ahead of the group and followed the compass up into the cloud. After reaching the top of Well Hill I carefully dashed towards the Black Hill with a new group. Here the rain and wind really took up and visibility was very bad. I focused on where my feet landed and overtook the group with each small climb.
Just before reaching Black Hill, I was about to take the final bearing, when the wind swept away my map. Bummer! Luckily, I met a runner and we took a bearing together and dashed down to Durisdeer. The descent was tricky as there was water everywhere and the grass was wet and I was not sure if there was enough friction. With small fast steps I battled with two runners all the way to the starting burn. There I gathered all my strength and sprinted to the finish. I believe I finished 20th (2h, 24min), while Rob finished 11th (2h, 12min).
What an experience!
Having picked up a bad cold while down in the SW earlier in the week, I had to decide on Friday whether to drive up to Slioch with Duncan, not knowing if I was fit enough to race, or stay at home one extra night and then deciding the Saturday morning whether to do Durisdeer. Even this latter race is not easy and although it is shorter than Slioch (14.7 vs 20 kms), there is more height gain (1240m vs 1180 m). In the end, I chose an extra night at home in the hope that the medicinal wine and whiskey would help.
I woke up Saturday morning with stomach ache and after eating breakfast I decided it was more related the whiskey/wine mix and nerves about not feeling 100%, so texted Gregor at 8.30am that I would run Durisdeer. At only a 75 mins drive away, I felt that I would not lose much if I felt too poorly to run and could pull out. The forecast however was not good, so I was a little more apprehensive than normal and did wonder if I was being a tad foolish between coughing fits.
Gregor has laudably described the race in detail above, so will not go into detail. What I will say however, is that this is by far not an easy race in good conditions. The ascent/descents are steep and in fact, the descent off Blackhill is probably one of the steepest and longest you will find. To add to all of that, the fact that from the 200m contour we were in thick cloud meant that this was quite a serious navigation race, especially as the windy wet conditions really were quite foul on the summits. In fact, there indeed was navigation chaos at the front with many normally faster runners going way off course coming off Black Hill and also from the saddle below Steygail to Upper Valveen. This meant that at quite a few points, much better runners than I kept overtaking me as they had been lost in the mist somewhere behind. My final fairly good place reflects other people’s cock ups rather than my prowess at running.
I must say, hats off to Gregor (and to Steve Fallon’s navigation course he did). These were sordid conditions and having the patience to stop, make bearings and constantly check the map was the secret to a happy race.
I have now done this race twice in rather different weather extremes – hyper hot and clear (2013) and misty, windy and rainy (2017). It would be nice to have average cool conditions with good visibility.