Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Foot & Mouth

No need to worry, this is not related to farm animals and the countryside isn't about to be shut down all over the UK, No, this is about an unerring ability I seem to have for saying the wrong thing to someone, when I have no idea of who they are.

Back in the days when I was starting out in "proper" fellrunning, I headed up to the Lakes one day to recce the Old County Tops route off Helvellyn. If you've ever done the race, you'll know it's possibly the best descent in any race...1500ft of steep, fairly even, pathless grass and heather, designed to be done in just minutes but to trash the legs for the rest of the race.

I descended through the trees and trotted into Wythburn car park, stopped and, hands on knees, recovered my breath amidst the exhilaration of having flown down off a 3000ft peak.

A young Asian lad chose this moment to approach me and asked if I'd just come down off Helvellyn, and what was it like up there? We chatted some more and he asked about the pathless route down, and how long did I think it would take him, because he fancied going up there himself.

Now, in this moment, I made one of those awful assumptions (and to be fair, fellrunning is not a sport greatly frequented by the Asian community) and told him he needed to be careful, Helvellyn was a big mountain, there was a wee bit of clag on the top and the descent was rough if you didn't know where you were going.

After chatting for a couple more minutes, he started to tell me a few of his race times (17 minutes for 5k!), the fact that he was 19 years old and, as we went our separate ways, he told me his name.

A few hours later, having travelled back down the M6 to Shropshire, I googled his name and realised I'd been telling a member of the GB Junior fellrunning team and a junior fellrunning champion that he needed to be careful on the hills!

A couple of years later, now well into my BG training, I was down at my usual Wednesday night run with the Newport gang. There was a new lass there that night, I'd not met her before but she certainly was a decent runner. I didn't get to talk to her (the usual suspects had collared her!) but it was noticeable that she was right at the front of a decent-paced pack.

Back in the pub later, Noel came across with this lass and introduced her as "Kate", who wanted to chat to me because she was really interested in having a go at the BG one day. We ended up sitting chatting for a fair while. She seemed really keen to listen to details of my training exploits and what I thought it would take to get round.

In particular, I told her that two keys (I believed back then) were to get out training on the route and to get a good team around you on the day. On the latter, I suggested to her that, if she didn't know the right people, I'd be more than happy to introduce her to some and, via reccies etc, she'd get to meet plenty. She thanked me for the offer but also mentioned that her brother, Simon, had done parts of the BG and knew a few people who'd done it.

On the first point, she expressed an interest in coming out on some of my reccies and I said that I'd let her know when I was going and it would be good to have some company. So, as we got up to go, she gave me her number to be able to contact her, which I duly entered into my phone as she said, "and the name's Kate, Kate Bailey".

It took me about an hour, having driven home and cooked my tea, to suddenly have a "lightbulb" moment and realise that the lass I'd been sitting in the pub with was the sister of Simon Bailey, one of the best fellrunners in Britain, mates with just about every top-class fellrunner out there and, indeed, Kate herself was a pretty darned good athlete, who'd won plenty of races in her time.

I immediately sent a text to Noel confirming I was correct with my assumption and asking why on earth he didn't tell me, before I made a fool of myself telling her she could tag along on my reccies, that it would probably take a few years before she was ready to have a go and that I could put her in touch with folks who could help her!

And so to 2013. The latest Lochaber AC winter league race....The River Bank Splodge! A 7+ mile route around Glen Nevis, heading initially up the glen, but then all the way down the burn to finish at Claggan. We were surprised to be told, at the start-line, that there was no set route and no markers.....not helpful when you don't know the area at all and no route-map or details were up on the website in advance!

It's a dreich morning, new snow on the higher slopes, and I've only decided to run at the last minute. A nagging knee problem has sidelined me for the last few days and the extra weight I've been carrying since Christmas will undoubtedly slow me down. The omens aren't good, I'm not going to trouble my "nemesis" in the placings today and, just as importantly, I suspect that this will be the first race where I'm beaten by the fasty Lochaber lass who usually finishes just behind me.

Off we go, initially uphill on forest tracks and, immediately, the people I usually run alongside are gone. There's no trying to tag them today, I just settle into my own pace. To be fair, I never start fast and so I'm not too disheartened....maybe I'll catch them later.

After the initial up, there's a quick descent through the trees back to the starting point and, here, I go flying past a lass who'd been 1st lady on the initial climb. As I go past, she says "I'm rubbish on the descents" but, sure enough, as we head back onto more even ground, she's away past me at an excellent pace.

We head off road again, and up a rough track and I start to reel in the first 3 ladies, who are just ahead of me and only a few yards apart from each other. As we reach the highest point in the glen, we turn down the tarmac road for about half a mile. As much as I dislike tarmac, I'm not losing time and places here and settle in running side by side with one of the lasses, trying to match her fast pace.

We head off-road again, and Margaret Rose is there shouting encouragement. Or, in my case, shouting "come on Richard, you're being beaten by a 17 year old girl!". Whether that spurs me on, or whether the slightly rougher ground and slight downhill is suiting me more, I move past both her and the fast Lochaber lass, Amanda, and start to gain on the 1st placed female runner, who is just ahead.

The race really moves off-path here, picking up trods across the boggy ground and you're never quite sure which way to go next. Plans to follow a local are scuppered when I turn a corner to find I can't see the two runners ahead - they must have nipped around a corned or over a hill and out of sight.

I've passed the first placed lady now, but she's running just behind, and we spur each other on. A few words are exchanged and it seems she's following me 'cause she thinks I know where I'm going - I put her right on that! But we plough on regardless, having to slow or even stop a couple of times when the way ahead isn't at all obvious. This allows the runners behind us to start catching us, and neither of us seem keen on that idea, so into the trees we go with renewed effort to make sure we increase the gap again.

Eventually, we emerge back near the start point of the race (albeit on the other side of the burn). I stay to the right of the barbed wire fence, she crosses a small stile and nips over to the left. This proves to be a good move on her part, I end up having to backtrack slightly to get over the fence and onto a much more even riverbank path. This slight gap is all she needs and, back on even terrain, she's off.

I try to stay with her, but tiredness is kicking in. Although the knee hasn't bothered me at all, I begin to feel tightness in my right thigh, presumably as a result of having favoured that leg. I glance back to see if I can see runners behind me. They're there alright, but a wee way back.

This is one of those moments in a race that defines how you do on the day.Things aren't quite right, you're beginning to feel the pace. You have two choices. Give in to it, steady yourself down, start to feel every ache and pain in your body, lose a couple of places and just resign yourself to a bad day at the office. Or kick again, put aside all negative thoughts and realise that, with only a couple of miles to go, your body will do what you tell it to. There's always more in reserve than you think there is.

If there's one thing I have taken from the BG more than anything else, it's that ability to choose the latter option, to know that there's always more to give. Plus I'm a competitive old sod, I'd like to beat the first lady! And off I go, digging deep, flowing well, reading the ground nicely and picking a good line along the muddy banks of the river, catching her slightly, certainly enough (with a mile to go) to think I can still do it.

And then we come up off the riverbank and onto tarmac for the last mile.

Anyone who's done the Ben race will know all about the tarmac road heading back towards Claggan Park. No matter how well you've raced up and down the hill, the tarmac will get you. The legs turn to jelly, even the slight undulations leave you wanting and you endure agonies which 4400ft of ascent and descent can't inflict on you.

And so it is today. Up onto the road, looking for an increase in pace, and there is nothing there. The legs, which have been skipping along the muddy banks, suddenly turn to lead weights. The runner in front clearly feels otherwise though, she's off, visibly increasing the gap. I have no choice but to admit defeat on this one and my focus turns towards what (or rather who) may be behind me. I get far enough down the road to turn and take a look, and I'm relieved to see nobody. I'd pretty much have to stop and crawl to be overtaken now.

So I cruise in, pleased to have had a decent race, glad to have finished. I go over and congratulate the lass who finished in front. We have a wee chat and she tells me that she's not the best on the rougher ground, especially the downhills, but I tell her there's no need to be when you have a turn of pace like she has on the more even terrain. In particular, I tell her, what was impressive was how much speed she still had after 7 miles.

We chat a wee bit more, she tells me that she's recently moved to Aviemore but is seemingly struggling to find a club locally. I mention Cairngorm Runners, but she's not sure they are fast enough, but that she knows people like Manny etc who she can sometimes run with. At this point, I'm wanting to head back up the road to see Kirsten in and she's off to get her lift home and, as we go, she "introduces" herself as Lucy and I tell her my name.

Kirsten comes in, looking absolutely shattered, having put in a good effort. We change in the car and head for a wee coffee in Cobbs, before heading back home to take the dogs out and then settle down for an afternoon on the sofa!

I'm not sure how, why or at what point something clicked in my head. My friend Ryan is always on about her. She's some kind of a running goddess to him. I swear a glazed look comes across his face when he mentions her name! Google. What did we do without it? Luckily, John has put some photos of the race up already and I place one side by side with the image that comes up on google and me and Kirsten are in no doubt.

I've just told a GB endurance athlete, the female record holder for the 95 mile WHW race, winner of the 53 mile Highland Fling on numerous occasions, and just all-round top long-distance runner Lucy Colquhoun that she has a "good turn of pace" and did well to keep it going over 7 miles!

1 comment:

  1. Another great example of the modesty of the sportsmen and women of our amazing passtime! - you just never know!