Monday, 14 April 2014

Short and Sweet.....

.....or do I mean "steep"???

People may look at Screel Hill Race and dismiss it as being a mere 3.5 miles, but when that distance involves climbing and descending >1300 feet you can see that it is not to be taken lightly.

Having enjoyed the banter after Criffel, I decided not to pressure myself with the Scottish 10 mile championships last weekend, and to go and have fun on Screel instead.The race started at 1pm - a nightmare time for me with my love for regular food intake - but at least there was the promise of traybakes/cakes from a local bakery afterwards.

The old route blocked by fallen trees

It was good to see so many DRC members taking part in a local race, even if we're not known as a hill running, and for a while it looked as if the ladies might outnumber the men in the race. While chatting to Charlotte Morgan before the start, I told her that my goal for the race was to finish within 5 minutes of her (I figured that if I was 8.5 minutes behind on Criffel - 10.5km, then that was a sensible target for a 6.5km race).....but she just looked bemused ;-)

After a brief race briefing from Dougie Milligan (a veteran hill champion himself) about the changes to the route caused by massive gales felling trees earlier in the year, we were off. I took my usual few metres to get into my stride as we ascended the rough forest road, but was soon passing many of the fast starters, and so was into the top 10 as we headed off road for the first technical section.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to pass any of the men on this rocky single track section so I was forced to slow my pace until we popped back out onto the wider road again. Working the legs and lungs again I could see the race leader stretching away into the distance, with Charlotte chasing him down. 

Old course - new route cont left on forest road
to where it hits the edge of the trees, then heads
straight up towards the ridge

I didn't quite manage to catch a man from another local club (Rory from Annan) before we turned onto the rough climb. When I say "climb", I really mean climb, as we ascended >150m in half a km. Initially it was runable but then your hands definitely came into play. I was quite strong on this section and reeled Charlotte in, though I could not quite get as close to her as I'd like, as Rory was not for letting me get past him on either side.

At a fork in the trail not too far off the top, Charlotte headed right and Rory left. As he didn't shout her back, I figured the trails would probably just join back together after the next little climb. I went with the left option which meant that I actually reached the summit ridge in 3rd place overall! I knew that as we ran over the undulations of the ridge, some of the better hill runners would start to come past. Charlotte was working hard to regain some lost time so I made sure that I was well to one side so as to avoid holding her up as she sprinted past. 

Although a couple of men did pass me, I reached the actual summit in 5th place, ahead of all my clubmates. This was a major achievement for me (small victories eh?) as Craig and Seb live locally, train on Screel 3-4 times a week, and had passed me on the initial climb on my only other attempt at the race! 

The descent started with a very steep rocky "downscramble" before we started contouring round the side of the hill, across very rough terrain. It was very important to keep your wits about you to avoid falling or turning an ankle as there were bog, mud, bracken, gorse, rocks and tussocks of grass to pick your way through. Craig gave me a shout as he charged past me, very at home on this terrain, whereas I was going rather more gingerly. As I descended back to the forest road (having rejoined the ascending path) I tried to relax and let my legs go a bit more than usual, though I still think if would be easier to descend head first (or by doing somersaults) quickly those fearless "men of the hill" disappear off into the distance never ceases to amaze me!

Happily, I made it back to the forest road safely and, although there was no one in sight ahead of me, it was now time to get the legs turning. Seb had caught me up on the last descent and as he's a good foot taller than (and I think it's a foot of extra leg length) I needed to push away. 

Getting into my stride down the rough trail was fun, but suddenly I had to brake and turn off down the last technical section. I take small steps when descending and try to ensure a solid foot placement between rocks, but the guys seem to just extend their stride and fly over each rocky outcrop taking one step for every 4 of mine.

Unsurprisingly, Seb chased me back down and was just about level me either when we leaped back given onto the gravelly road. All or nothing time to push for home! Seb asked me later how on earth I got my legs to move so fast. It was probably fear, as I thought the steep descent would favour his longer stride, and gravity would also be on his side! In that final short stretch I somehow managed to bring the guy ahead of me back into sight, but 500m wasn't really far enough to catch him.

Team DRC after the race!
Still I was happy to cross the line in 11th overall (I gained 14s on Seb in that final push) and 2nd lady......well within my target as I was "only" 3mins 42s behind Charlotte! 

The rerouted race had involved slightly more forest road, but had meant that the rough ascent and descent was even steeper than usual, so the timers estimated that it added at least a minute to everyone's time. That was an extra minute I spent away from the cakes, cookies and Empire biscuits (yum) provided at the finish!

It's not often you take 37 1/2 minutes to complete at 3.5 mile race, but it gave the weather ample opportunity to change (drizzle as we started and then the sun came out on the descent), it was fun and friendly, I enjoyed a great wee testing course, the banter was great, the food and drink was excellent, and I was back home before the football started!

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