Friday, 13 May 2016

Race Report: Dumyat Hill Race 2016

Dave: Utterly delighted to share the following race report from our Clackmannanshire correspondent and resident mountain-stomper Kat Welch, as she builds up to her first marathon later this year.

Kat: This year was my second Dumyat Hill Race, although about my eighth trot up the hill since the clocks changed and gave us lighter evenings. I’m ridiculously lucky to have Dumyat as essentially the back garden to my office, and as it’s on my way home I quite often head up there after work. The top of Dumyat is probably my favourite place in the whole world – incredible views, often quite crazy weather, and an amazing feeling of accomplishment having dragged yourself up there on your own two feet. I’d happily head up there every day.

Crikey though, racing it’s a different kettle of fish. I started training with my local running club at the beginning of the year, and Dumyat was only my second experience of a race where the Wee County Harriers have been out in force. It’s the friendliest and most welcoming club imaginable, but it’s definitely a different experience racing as a member of a club. There’s none of the pre-race hanging around on your own, lots more chat about routes and strategy and times, and a distinct internal monologue of ‘I’m wearing a club top, it’s going to look really crap if I’m last’. 

The race had totally sold out, with 400 runners (and a queue for on-the-day entries which disappeared within seconds) and slightly fancier chip timing than last year. We crowded into the starting pen, waved at a drone which was filming us from overhead, waited impatiently through the totally unintelligible race briefing, then were off. There’s a pretty short but steep hill that stops anyone getting too excited from the start line, a bit of a queue to get through a very narrow gap in a wall, then half a mile or so of flat trails, before crossing a river and getting into the race proper. After that, it’s pretty relentlessly uphill for the next half hour or so, which I tackled with a mixture of a) walk-run intervals and b) staggering upwards with my hands on my knees, staring at the ground and trying not to be sick on my shoes.

The club vest proved a massive advantage once we got onto the more open ground for the second half of the climb – loads of the club had turned out to support and many more people shouted ‘C’mon the Wee County’ as I passed, encouraging me to lope back into a reluctant jog – at least until I was round the next corner. It was an incredible sunny evening, and I tried to grab a couple of seconds to admire the view on the way up, especially the sight of hundreds of runners snaking out above me to the summit cairn. There was a rowdy crowd of marshals and runners gathered at the top, cheering and whooping as I rounded the cairn, then it was off for the return leg – a real mix of trails, slippery gravel, bog to sink into, boulders to scramble around and fences to jump over whilst trying to maintain some sort of momentum. I passed at least 3 runners who were nursing sprained ankles as they made their way slowly back to sea level, which helped keep my mind focussed on watching where I was putting my feet. Half way down I heard some banter from a marshal about ‘a good race between the Wee County runners’, and glancing behind me saw Sue - another runner from my club - catching up fast behind me. We met up for a quick photo from another club member who was out with his camera, then it was RACE ON for the finish.

The last 15 minutes were an exhausting mental seesaw of ‘I want to give up right now’ fighting for brain space with ‘there’s no way I’m going to let her overtake me’. We hurtled down the last section of ridiculously steep woodland path, then onto the final stretch, which always seems flat on the way out but is very distinctively uphill on the way back. That last 5 minutes felt like it went on forever, but eventually we slogged our way over the top and picked up pace for the finishing (mercifully downhill) straight. I could feel Sue right behind me with every step, and we both mustered up a final surge of energy for a brilliant sprint finish back onto campus. Then it was hugs all round, photos, and lots of cheering for the runners still heading across the line. I was delighted to take 7 minutes off my time from last year, putting a sub 1-hour finish just about within reach for next year.

Meanwhile, however, I’ll very much enjoy reclaiming Dumyat for my steady evening jogs, with plenty of time for photos, admiring the views and thanking my lucky stars that such a beautiful part of the world is literally right on my doorstep. I can’t wait to get back up Dumyat, but racing it once a year is more than enough for me. C’mon the Wee County!

Thanks Kathryn! Readers with long memories may remember Kathryn from my Dumyat Hill Race 2015 Race Report or even my Mighty Deerstalker 2012 Race Report. Blimey we've been doing this for a while, eh?

Monday, 4 April 2016

That time I kind of got hit by a car

I reckon that in the 7-ish years that I’ve been a regular runner I’ve run somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 miles. And yesterday, for the first time in all those miles, I was hit by a car.

I’ll let that thought linger before I explain.

It gets a lot less dramatic from here. To be honest, it would be more accurate to say that a car was hit by me.

I was on a very slow recovery jog – early Sunday morning around the Tan Track in central Melbourne – unsuccessfully attempting to shake out some of the muscle and joint pain from my 16 miler the day before. The Tan is an almost uninterrupted trail that measures just over 5k from our front door, all the way round and back home again. I do it all the time.

To get to the Tan I need to cross two roads, both of which have traffic lights and pedestrian signals at convenient spots. So it’s probably no surprise that this isn’t where a car got hit by me.

I was on the home stretch having just left the Tan to run down a very quiet residential street, picking up a bit of speed on a downhill. I’m running on a narrow pavement – a bit unusual as this road is so dead that often enough I just run in the road itself. It would have been a better idea to do that on this occasion.

The nose of a car pulls out of a concealed lane. There’s an imperceptibly small dip in the pavement, no lines painted on the road, no visibility for pedestrians or drivers. The bonnet appears and then a door and then I’m thinking “Well, this is happening.”

The driver sees me and slams on the brakes at the point at which my chest and arms splay out melodramatically across his car’s bonnet. The car comes to a stop as my right knee connects with the wing, which buckles slightly under the impact. I’ve more or less tripped over his car and broken my fall with my entire self. I stay there a fraction of a second to check whether I’m dead.

I’m not dead, but I am immensely surprised.

In fact I’m not even winded – my arm is a little uncomfortable as I landed heavily on it, but as I take a step away from the car and lean back on a convenient tree, trying to catch my breath, I remark that I really am totally fine. I’m remarking this to the driver as he lowers his window and we both look at each other, wondering who is going to shout at who.

In fact neither of us shouts. He wants to check I’m OK because that’s a good place to start and I want to apologise because I am British.

Luckily I really am OK. Perhaps a little shocked but nothing more than that. He drives off, I wave and jog the rest of the way home. Carefully.

I’d like to thank my brain, which realised early enough that my legs weren’t going to stop in time to avoid a collision, so worked out that spreading the impact as much as possible was the best alternative. For a fraction of a fraction of a second it considered swerving me out in front of the nose of the car – but if the driver hadn’t stopped then I would surely have broken a leg or hit the pavement, maybe catching an ankle or something under a front bumper and leaving myself with a large medical bill and a severe disinclination to boogie.

So what have I learned from this little escapade? Well, not much. I learned that this particular laneway is there, and that visibility is appalling, so it’s worth slowing down for a spot of green-cross-coding. I also learned what I have long-suspected: that being run over – or indeed running into cars – is literally no fun at all. More importantly, as I trotted the rest of the way home, heartrate at 30 or 40 thousand bpm, I resolved to generally be more careful. In an abstract sense, I’d like to get to 10,000 miles, or 20,000 miles, or none at all if the mood doesn’t take me, but I’d ideally like to get there on my own two feet.

Happy running, be safe out there,

(5 weeks, 6 days to 26.2)

2016 to date: km's 442, parkruns: 6, races: 1

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Race Report - Brimbank Park Trail Half Marathon 2016

“The course is marked. But not very well.”

Nothing can better sum up the glorious chaos of the Brimbank Park Urban Trail Run than this perceptive but faintly concerning observation, which was announced with a sheepish grin during the pre-race briefing.

I say ‘the pre-race briefing’. In fact I’m pretty sure I heard this during the briefing for the marathon and the 50k ultra, which were both starting 30 minutes before the half marathon that I’d entered, which was itself 30 minutes before the 10k which would be followed 30 minutes later by the 5k and another 30 minutes after that, the 2k. That’s six races and five pre-race briefings if you’re counting.

With that many races spread across the day, using mostly the same trails, some with loops and laps and switchbacks, to be honest it would have been nigh on impossible to declare the course ‘well marked’. The pre-race instructions, issued by email, contained pages and pages of almost-identical maps, with ominous instructions like ‘runners are expected to have at least some knowledge of the route’ before offering navigation advice, in intense detail, based on a number of landmarks which didn’t seem to be marked anywhere. I’d done my best to understand where I was supposed to be going, and I’m glad I did. In an event with just 300 runners divided up between six distances, there is a very real chance that one could either get totally lost, or (perhaps worse) end up following someone in an entirely different race for a potentially very circuitous diversion.

These are the hallmarks of a race series that does exactly what every runner dreams of: inviting the world to come and have a go on your favourite routes. Trails+ has a shiny website and a headline sponsor in Garmin, but in the real world it’s the mission of one bloke, Brett Saxon, who set up the franchise to raise funds for teenage cancer charity CanTeen. When I stopped comparing it to a big corporate event and start appreciating it on those terms, it suddenly made a lot more sense.

Brimbank Park is a sizable and generally rather picturesque public reserve about half an hour north of Melbourne, defined by a deep gorge and a winding river and spoiled only by the inexplicable stringing of massive pylons across it and the occasional but equally massive noise pollution from nearby Melbourne airport.

After watching the ultrarunners and marathoners set off on their hapless quest to find the right number of kilometres to run, we killed some time mumbling about the weird humidity and pointing out our early favourites (the gent in fluorescent orange taking the marathon at a stern walk was mine). As ever, all too soon, it was time to get going.

Not particularly ready for the off.
I lined up with the other half-marathoners – all 57 of us – and, panicking, tried to set my watch while a local MP started an abrupt countdown. The blasted thing was still looking for satellites when I’d completed the first 400 metre loop, but before too much longer I had it going and started to settle into a rhythm, neatly ticking off the first few landmarks at around 5 minutes/km (a whisker over 8 minutes/mile, for those of you only just keeping up at the back). Despite its tiny size, the field was comprised of a real cross-section of the running world, and in the early km’s I watched people of all shapes and sizes shoot past me along the river trail. I wondered how many of them I might see again.

After a relatively comfortable run on undulating loose gravel, sometimes slipping into fine sand and other times firming up into rockier trail, I reached a bandstand at the 10km mark where a volunteer glanced at my light-blue half marathoner’s bib and declared ‘this is your turnaround!’. I grabbed a cup of water, thanked the volunteers and did as I was told. Feeling fresh and with 11km left to go, I headed back the way I’d come and started hunting down some other runners, overtaking a couple in the next few k’s. I flew past two guys I’d seen shoot off at the start, then overtook a bloke who I’d briefly chatted to in the early part of the race. I was feeling strong and ready to roll, and delighted in the weird experience of conducting hundreds of two-second conversations with runners heading in the opposite direction, still working on the out-and-back. On my way to the turnaround I’d only seen a few, suggesting I was relatively near the front of the field, but on the way back I saw the rest of the half-marathon field plus some of the marathoners and ultrarunners. Everyone assured everyone else that they were looking good and doing a great job and we all totally believed each other. It was great.

Things started going wrong for me at around 16km. It was a humid day and I was drenched in sweat, my vest clinging to my skin and feet blistering in soaking socks. I was running low on energy and the jelly snake I’d eaten was turning unpleasantly in my stomach. Weirdly I started getting goosebumps and feeling chills as well, maybe I was struggling with dehydration, or something else wasn’t regulating itself properly. I hauled myself along on the promise that it was really only 4 or 5, or was it 6km to go? My watch was 400m short, right, but does that mean I need it to say 20.7km or 21.5km? And is this definitely 16km? Have I gone too far? I’m very tired. This would be easier in miles.

An irritatingly well-marked sign turned the course away from the picturesque river path and up a truly massive and fairly grimy hill beneath a motorway overpass. I’d been hovering on a bloke’s shoulder for a while but he pulled away on the approach to the hill and disappeared up it at a fair lick, while I slumped my shoulders and resigned to a walk. It’s far from the biggest hill I’ve ever run but it was definitely placed at the worst point for my mood and wellbeing...

I trudged onwards. Two, then three, then five runners overtook me, including the three I’d caught just after the turnaround. We swapped a few murmured words of encouragement as a weird, humid wind picked up. I shivered some more and wondered whether this whole running thing was still working for me. It used to come so easily, you see. 

By now I was at the top of the hill and intermittently walking and running not very quickly along a ridge on one side of the gorge, scanning the valley below for the event village and the finish line. Was it still 6km to go? Had to be more like 4 now, or maybe even less? I ran on, cursing the very idea of races and finish lines and hills until an aid station came into view at a road crossing, where the course dropped down into the valley below and presumably on to the finish line. My watch said 19k. “No worries, only 4k to go!” chirped the volunteer. I said a bad word and mustered some energy to ride the downhill and into the bottom of the valley.

A few more confused and faintly miserable minutes of jogging later I started to hear the unmistakable chaos of a finish line, and allowed my spirits to be slightly lifted by the noise and excitement. I picked up the pace a little and ran past a few families and couples in the 5k, but quite clearly just out for a nice fundraising walk in the park rather than a race. I envied their decision making.

Moments later I was crossing the finish line, entirely on my own, and ran directly to the Crew Chief who – unable to help herself – had started volunteering by removing people’s timing chips from the back of their race numbers. She did mine for me, and I shook hands with one of the organisers as I accepted a medal and scanned the event village for somewhere that I might do a bit of collapsing in a heap.

Crossing in 1:52:12 (the clock is from the marathon start)
I lay down on a bench, soaked in sweat and still sweating profusely. The Crew Chief found me some water, then some fruit and miraculously a hot dog, which I greedily devoured along with a bottle of Gatorade and a mumbling narrative of self-pity, which she patiently absorbed in a ‘what do you expect me to do about that?’ sort of way. I didn’t expect anything of course, unless she happened to have thought of an excuse that had managed to elude me so far. She blamed the humidity, which I laid into with gusto.

Really very warm. Is this normal, Australia?
As runners continued to trickle over the finish line we slipped away back towards the car and a change of clothes for me – I wasn’t aware how I had done overall but I was confident that my services wouldn’t be required on a podium any time soon. I tried to seek out those few runners whom I’d chatted with along the way to congratulate them on their pacing, but I couldn’t find any of them so I settled for shaking Brett’s hand and slinking off. I resolved to race a lot smarter next time.

Next time is a bloody marathon, so I suppose I’d better.

Happy running


2016 to date: Km's - 347, parkruns - 6, races - 1