Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Out of my comfort zone - Feel the Burns Hill race

I could tell this race was a proper hill race as soon as I drove into the car park at Selkirk rugby club!
The distinctive hill runner body shape stands out, wiry, lean and with huge calf muscles add in the 1970's style running shorts and a complete absence of flashy trainers and you get the idea. I felt like a hippo at a ballet dancing contest!

Fell the Burns Hill race is one of the longer early season hill races, covering just over 13 miles with 3000 ft of ascent and descent.

A colleague at work, who is one of the aforementioned proper hill runners had suggested this would be an ideal race to lose my hill running virginity on.
I run loads of trail miles with lots of climbs so this should be right up my street, right?
3000 feet in 13 miles, not a lot different from the 2000 feet on my regular Mabie and Ae forest runs, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong

At the risk of sounding big headed I think I'm pretty fit, okay I know I'm not at the sharp end of the field, but I'm no slouch, in most races I'm usually in the top 20% but on this race I didn't even make the top half!
The Start

Donning my usual Ultra runner kit comprising multiple clothing layers, hat, gloves and everything in my back pack bar the kitchen sink, I felt increasingly out of place as hill whippets all around me emerged in shorts and vests, after all there was only snow on the hills, Northerly winds and several big hills, why wouldn't you wear a vest?

The start line was in the middle of a field...literally and with little formality we were off up a slippy muddy grass slope. The first 2 miles or so was on forest roads and gave the field of around 200 an opportunity to thin out before the hills proper began.

This first stretch had a deceptive 300 feet of climb, which probably explains why by the time we hit the first "proper" hill, I had gasped to a fellow runner that "I'm blowing out my hoop" and we're only 2 miles in!

The first of three defined hills to be scaled was Peat Law which gave another 650 feet of climbing, before joining the well defined path of The Southern Upland Way following the ridge line to Three Brethren and the second hill at Brown Knowe.

The snow on the ridge was probably nearer 5 inches deep and with a biting wind from the North, I don't think I've ever felt so cold during a race, dropping down to the turn around point it was a welcome relief to gain the lee of the hill and respite from the arctic wind.

Skinny people beating me downhill
There followed a good downhill section where even though I managed consecutive 7:35 and 7:34 minute miles I was left feeling like a slouch as the fearless hill runners careered downhill with all the abandon of a fat guy heading for the buffet table.

Skirting round the former Broadmeadows youth hostel, the sting in the tail of this race loomed large, the appropriately named Failshields Hill with around 750 feet of climb in just under 1 mile, it may not sound much but it felt like i was going up a near vertical slope and definitely feeling the burn by this point.
More skinny people

Whilst I was genuinely racing I was in reality more concerned with not taking a tumble so was happy to push myself but equally unconcerned about being overtaken. To put the downhill speed of some of these folk in perspective, I was side by side with a chap at the top of the hill pictured to the left, he hit the water fully 80 metres ahead of me.

Through the water and it was back onto the metaled road and around 1.5 miles to the finish, now I was racing!
Throwing caution to the wind I logged a 7:12 min/mile for the last full mile and for the final sprint/slide back across the finish field managed a brief stint at 5:02 min/mile pace whilst my legs slid around like Bambi on ice.
Over the line in 2:17:53 117th out of 194 finishers with 3015 feet of climb and descent in 13.1 miles. A mere 43 minutes slower than my half marathon PB and a very tough day out.
Walking on water
Certainly a baptism of fire for me and a demonstration of what a very different type of fitness is needed for hill racing.

Back to Selkirk Rugby club for a welcome hot shower and a substantial plate of haggis, neeps and tatties, no messing with medals, mementos or t-shirts for the hill whippets, but still great value.

Yes, it was certainly out my comfort zone but it wouldn't put me off either trying this race again or even having a bash at another hill race.


NB Photo credits all go to Fiona who was marshaling just after the burn crossing (sorry I didn't get your surname).

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