Another new one for me and 13.1 miles of up and down hills on the trails. This one is talked about in hushed tones with a new extra hilly route this year apparently. Distance-wise having only managed one slow 11 mile run since my return to training I was looking forward to this and dreading it in equal measures, thinking of various ways it could end – in joy surrounded by butterflies spelling out my name as I sprinted home to rapturous applause, or in failure if the legs don’t last, but I must admit that having a hissy fit wandering up Croy Hill alongside a Skeleton while shouting and swearing at fellow runners across a railway line wasn’t one of the prospective scenarios….
I know I’m not race fit or distance fit. I’m also still fat. I had been told that for this race to take your half marathon time and add on a good 10 minutes as an expected finishing guide, so my aim was somewhere between 1.40 – 1.45 but if I was slower I wasn’t going to be bothered as long as I got round it and enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed doing some trail stuff this year despite not having an aptitude for it and having a tendency to fall on my arse or get lost. I got to Croy in good time and was great to catch up with quite a few people including Davie Easton for the second trail run this week. Photobombed the Garscube team pic for no reason as well.
It was a cold morning aye, but conditions were perfect underfoot, wind was minimal and the there was no rain. Aye was right in the mood for this. Off at the start and taking it nice and easily and was wondering what the fuss was all about until we made the first real turning onto the grass and our first climb of the day up Croy Hill. It was a tester alright, already people were starting to slow, and walk, but I got myself into a decent enough rhythm and got up the long slog before we started descending and I started to lose a load of places. I need some bottle for these downhills as I am too cautious as all the real trail runners flew past me. As we descended I noticed some arrows pointing up the way so knew the hill would be back for us later again, which was a nice thought to carry for the next 7 or 8 miles… On the flat and undulating sections I was actually moving quite well and really enjoying the surroundings, so glad I’d decided to run. We were starting to spread out a bit and I was trying not to end up exposed in case I got lost so there was a lot of group working. Along the canal, up and down trails, through high grass, technical single track twisty sections, really enjoying it. Decided to start pushing on a bit as I started to realise 1.45 was more than realistic and 1.40 at a push could still be do-able despite there being a few climbs still to come. Nearly fell on my arse on a slippy wooden section just before these pics, but stayed on my feet. Thanks Nelson Liddle for the pics.
Round the marshes then onto a main road for a wee section
and I was still picking runners off one by one at around the 7 mile point where cheery David Murray told me the best bit of the course was to come. A long climb through glorious trails and I really thought it was breath-taking until we hit the steep steep top section but again I managed to keep myself in a running rhythm no matter how slow that was. Picking off runners, seeing a wee group ahead, a black shirt, a Garscube vest and an Irvine vest, thought if I could latch onto them I could get carried to the finish, still on for a near 1.40. Turned a corner on the trails to a glorious but disconcerting sight. The bottom of a climb, and above the trees you could see the top of the climb, with runners so high above. Aw man, this was coming, Croy Hill was back. I’d love to say that I made it all the way up without walking but the dip and double climb beat me, along with the wind that had also come out and was against me. I had a couple of stretches where I walked fast rather than running up but this was like no other mile 10/11 hill I had encountered. Alloa, you are just a mound in the middle of the road compared to this. The squad of runners still in sight as I descended a lot quicker this time, round the corner, down through the trails building up a good speed knowing the finish not far away. Probably a mile or so to go. A steward shouts instructions. I run harder again. I’m at the railway line and turn right but I can’t see the runners in front of me anymore, man they must be flying. I was sure I had been gaining and start to feel nervous. My watch tells me I am off course and I go to turn back but I see a yellow arrow pointing straight ahead, I follow it. And another one, no runners still. I found out later these are the arrows from the start of the race, but I thought all was well until I dead end and then I’m climbing the hill again. This is not going to plan. I go back the way cursing myself and run into a skeleton running my way.
I am not on drugs.
I talk to the skeleton who takes his headphones out to listen. “We’re lost mate” I tell him. The skeleton persuades me to follow him up the hill, it’s just up here, and we’ve just missed an arrow. I’m now walking up Croy Hill again, get to the top almost and spot some runners. I tell skeleton that I’m going to see them realising that I have ended up in a subplot for a dodgy slasher movie. Now I’m not tripping, with it being close to Halloween some runners were indeed dressed up. He had a number. This was someone dressed up.
I shout to the runner, “How far have you run mate?” About 18k he says. My watch says over 20. I have doubled back on myself. I run down Croy Hill again and see runners on the other side of the railway. I’m swearing at them,”How the f@ck do I get over there?” I keep running back and eventually see a gate I had missed going the other way, a sharp left where I had went right alongside the railway. I’m grumpy as feck as I get to the finish having done near on 15 miles but at least I finished.
Thanks Paul Wilson for the pics
The lad from Irvine I was chasing down finished in 1.40.01 so I wouldn’t have been a million miles off my target. I finished in 1.54 having gone from about 17th to 50th with that major last mile baws up. Certainly got my money’s worth with that extra climb of Croy Hill. Here I am two days later and I can still barely get down stairs, my calves and quads are agony. I went to see Teenage Fanclub at the Barras last night with Microwave Davie and my feet kept cramping. The toughest race I have ever attempted and I got lost and ran too far and I’m not only humiliated but in agony. So here’s the punchline… would I come back to this race?
Oh you had better believe it.
I’m there for next year if I can get in before it sells out. I want to take on Croy Hill again and beat it. I want to go the right way. I want to take in and savour those gorgeous trails again, because it was stunning. Genuinely.
I made an arse of this but can’t recommend it enough. Possibly one of my favourite races now and thanks to James Stewart and his team for a brilliant day, even if I think Scott Fergus got me sent the wrong way for a laugh or a 25 year grudge :). On a serious note though if anyone sees a skeleton wandering round the hills near the Antonine Wall , please take him home, his Mummy is probably missing him. Happy Halloween blogpeeps.
Here’s a video from the day from Davie Easton, I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing, then there’s this blog’s song. By former Beta Bander Steve Mason, Lost and Found.