Like Kenny, I had a cunning – or a simply more common sense plan this year - and that was to actually put in some training for the race. I got familiar with the route and did a little scoping reconnaissance.
I managed the first flattish section to the first hill fairly comfortably and started to ascend. I could see Kenny in front and was soon passed by Colin – looking more than ‘fairly comfortable’.
It became apparent on the uphill to Birkscairn that there was some physical misfiring afoot – excuse the pun – but part way up my right foot went numb - delivering an odd sensation!
I had opted for road shoes as I found my ‘cleated’ ones became painful after 10 or more miles – particularly when on farm track. Back on flatter or downhill sections and the feeling returned to normal.
Ascending Glensax was a bit like a scene from an ‘Everest movie’ – slow deliberate movements, pausing occasionally for oxygen. Feeling returned to my foot as I headed off on the dogleg from Hundleshope towards Broom Hill (much to the dismay of the marshals who did their best to redirect me) with the possibility of running down the saddle and up Stob Law (I had recced this section and timed 6 minutes to my marker on the path and another 1 to my marker on the fence – another 5 to the top to get along the side of Broom Hill.
This is where I soon realised I had made an ERSE (Extreme Reconnaissance Scoping Error) of things. When I had run it previously, things were dry…but not on Saturday! Should have brought my waders!
Change of plan then at the fence marker and over the hill to meet the sheep trod that runs below the saddle to Stob Law. This is tricky at the best of times - but in a pair of Saucony roadshoes - it demands additional focus – particularly when 95 others have churned the path up to look like a long stretch of peaty mush.
I make up a few places on the run down to Glenrath where I pick up some previously stashed nutrients and a pair of cleated shoes - for the run down from Trahenna to Ratchill Farm.
Another few places on the way over to Stobo after numb-footing it up the tough fire break (more ‘Everest’ scenes here – this time with grinning Sherpas handing out Jelly Babies) to Whitelaw Hill. The run down the other side was a treat and the road shoes made a sensible choice.
A few Haribos and a chat with fellow runners around the drinks station at Stobo and back off again. I find this section difficult as by this point my hips ache and even running on the flat is a chore. Onward however, and I make up another 4 or 5 places before wandering in to the reed-breeding swamp that is broadcast like nature’s sentinel at the base of Trahenna. Here be cramp dragons!
Fortunately, on this occasion…not for me. I make up another 2 or 3 places climbing Trahenna – strangely no numb foot. I change shoes during breaks for oxygen. Over the top, tighten the straps on my kit bag and it’s all downhill. I pass 3 runners on the hill – who are suffering from cramp. On the final descent with quads-a-trembling, I somersault downhill for the 4th time on the journey.
Two more runners in the distance to chase to the finish line. I soon pass one, and not wanting to provoke the crampy twinges in my thighs, I arrive a few seconds behind the other - and in better shape than my previous attempt.
I managed to shave a good slice off last year’s time and was able to walk with some dignity (unlike last year) to the village hall – where Kenny was looking relaxed - enjoying a large Broughton Ale.
134 started off from Traquair House with 121 completing the course. First back was Graham Gristwood of Ochil Hill Runners in an outrageous 2.44.04. First Lady was Kerstin Leslie of Dalbeattie Running Club in 3.32.10.
Hope to join in next year and see if improvements can be made – possibly less chat about Haribo preferences around the water stations….it is a race after all!