Friday, 20 April 2018

Chapelgill Hill Race - "Does your mummy know you're here?"

Race map and profile (c Scottish Hill Racing)

Last month Fife AC lost a club stalwart and a friend. Frank Cation was a larger than life character who was instrumental in my, and many others, introduction to hill running. The number of stories of his antics would make a couple of blog postings on their own as there are stories abound of the mischief he got up to, often with the assistance of partner in crime Tom Ross – from trying to put a donkey into a fellow runners tent and when they failed to extract the, by now somewhat nervous, animal from its field they settled for a duck and a chicken. Or the nights in the pub when Frank would disappear and then suddenly reappear, lurching through the assembled crowd with the pubs supply of toilet roll stuffed up the back of his jumper to form a hump, growling “The bells Esmerelda, the bells” much to the amusement of the Fifers and the consternation of other unfortunate pub goers. This also may have been shortly before his false teeth found their way into the bottom of somebodies pint glass only to be noticed a little later by the lucky recipient. 

And then there was the running, unexpectedly finding yourself rugby tackled to the ground while running uphill on a training run or swimming in the reservoir mid run on a sunny Sunday morning. Frank was an enthusiastic, hard as nails hill runner of the old school and if somebody was complaining on a training run that it was too hot, too cold, too steep, too far, too muddy etc they would be met with a withering look and the line “does your mummy know you’re here?”

This seems particularly pertinent over the last few weeks where people have been giving each other “kudos” on social media for getting out running in the snow and ice and people actually reporting on social media that they are not going running because its too slippy and “dangerous”. I think I know exactly what Frank’s response would be to that kind of behaviour! 

Many races were cancelled in the face of the “Beast from the East” so it was purely down to good fortune that conditions were not so bad that Chapelgill had to be called off and I can only blame an excellent piece of persistent badgering by Jocelyn that saw me drive from Aberdeen to the borders and back in one day to do a race that was less than 2 miles long. I swear that woman could sell ice to eskimos. 

Chapelgill was the first counter in the Scottish Hill Runners championship series but there is not much to say about the format of the race. Run up the hill until the summit where the race marshal directs you back down. Simple as that. There was no doubt about it, it was cold. Very cold. The Beast from the East was showing his claws. It was less than zero deg C in the car park so I’ve no idea what the temperature was at the summit that the summit marshalls had to endure but I know it was very windy. At times the weather seemed to clear, if not warm up, then all of a sudden another of flurry of snow would blow through in the relentless wind. Ian and I quickly registered then sat in the car prolonging the inevitable. I know, I know, what would Frank have said?

Eventually there was no choice and we had to extract ourselves from the nice snug interior of the car to go and run. Happily, there was a bit of shelter from the wind in the valley where the race start was located and after warming up I summoned up the courage to remove the second layer of waterproof clothing that I was wearing all the while staring in bemusement at the folk wearing shorts. If the course was steep or slippy in any point and bum-sliding was a requirement then that is going to hurt!
It looks like the weather is clearing...
......Oh no its not!
There was still a bit of snow lying and the ground was quite hard but not frozen so in that respect conditions were quite good and personally I was happy that there seemed to be no icy cold water to run through at any point. The field of 130 runners set off and I had a good climb staying just behind Michelle Hetherington, slowly losing all feeling in the right side of my face in the strong icy wind as I climbed.  I managed to keep all feeling in my fingers though, always a problem for me when running in the winter. On reaching the summit we went round some fairly cold looking race marshalls and then Michelle took off and ran away from me but overall I was pleased with my descent only losing one place within two hundred meters of the finish as my legs became a bit shaky with effort. 
The start
With people taking slightly different lines of descent it was difficult to know who was in front of me and who was behind me by the time I finished especially as most people were well wrapped up in layers of waterproof gear. Most people scurried off to the warmth of their cars after the race rather than hang around and, as one race marshall commented “race photos? No chance!” 

Fife AC fielded a full ladies team which finished second behind Carnethy and I like to think that Frank would have been proud of us for getting out there and getting on with it.
At the Fife AC training camp at Loch Laggan
At the 12 Trig Trog race

Monday, 19 March 2018

Newtonmore No More and the great Lynx Pack Renaissance

The hills above Glen Banchor

Last year it looked as though the Lynx Pack were in terminal decline, and I’m not just talking about running. Their post race efforts too were just becoming lamentable with folk sneaking off to bed early and such like. 
That is not a promising start....
Bert tries to hide the evidence
This time however it’s the turn of the race to go into terminal decline as opposed to the runners as after a stint of 10 years as race organiser Geoff has decided that the traffic, police and marshalling problems have just gotten out of hand and he has understandably decided to call time on it. Yes folks, sadly the Newtonmore 10 mile race is no more. So what to do to fill the gaping void left by the demise of this fun weekend? After all some form of running related activity was definitely required. Unwilling to let the weekend die out the slightly less ambitious target of Aviemore park run was decided upon as the weekend’s race and so off we went.
Mike was just saying how much he was looking forward to the run
I was debating the wisdom of this as I had spent the previous morning skiing at the Lecht and the previous afternoon running (or more accurately sliding around in the snow) around the hills of Glen Banchor but as soon as I started a warm up run the stiffness left my legs and I felt fine. I was starting to regret the cooked food that I’d had for breakfast though. I finished warming up just as the race was lining up for the start and off we went along the trail. This parkrun is a fun low key event on an out and back route along a stretch of the Speyside way starting at the edge of the industrial estate in Aviemore and luckily at least the first part was in the shelter of the trees on this cold windy morning. Happily though the ground was frozen solid and was dry so that there were no patches of ice to contend with as the previous week’s parkrun had been cancelled due to the icy conditions. This week the path was hard and although a bit rutted in places it was completely runnable. The shelter of the trees meant that the wind wasn’t too noticeable for the first half of the race but it certainly made itself felt on the return journey and I felt a bit sorry for the race marshal at the turnabout point which was at just about the most exposed section of the course. I had started out reasonably quickly and had found myself in the lead (all the while mildly regretting the cooked breakfast) before the turning point which left the second half of the race for me to worry about being caught by Bert (and majorly regretting the cooked breakfast) who I had supposed was rapidly closing me down and I was thankful that the path was slightly undulating as I could keep a good pace up. I was quite relieved to see the finish line though. Everyone finished well, the cooked breakfast stayed down – always a bonus, and Geoff did a grand job of taking photos before heading back to the café for the compulsory post parkrun tea and scones while warming up again.

In the afternoon the group dispersed and everyone did their own thing, Hamish went for another run. Yes, really. John went for a trip up to the Cairngorm Ski centre in the funicular railway on what was possibly the windiest day of the year while Geoff headed for the pub to watch the rugby. Feeling that a race of only 5k wasn't really quite enough to justify an afternoon in the bar Bert and I decided on a wee mountain walk and did the loop from the visitor centre taking in Meall a Bhuchaille. Many of the ski lifts were actually closed by Saturday afternoon due to the strength of the wind and it was testing enough at the summit to make me glad that we hadn’t attempted anything higher than a corbett. It was very cold. But despite the cold day there were a lot of people about taking in the glorious sights of the Cairngorm mountains such as the green loch (Lochan Uaine) tucked in amongst the ancient Caledonia pine forest and Ryvoan bothy .
Lochan Uaine

Ryvoan Bothy
A room with a view

I hid in amongst the ring of stones on the summit next to the trig point in an attempt to stay warm and out of the wind while I took in the views and tried to take some photos until the battery on my Iphone succumbed to the cold and finally gave up the ghost. We finished the walk at the visitor centre both feeling a bit washed out, the cold conditions and the mornings run possibly taking a bit more out of us than we realised, but we quickly recovered once we had hot food inside. 

On our return we found Geoff in the bar, looking as though he had been there all afternoon, as the party raged all around him. Scotland had beaten England at the rugby and the bar was jumping. Even the Camanachd Cup was filled with whisky and passed round for us all to share. 
The celebrating the score

He hung in there well...
Still going strong...
It was the kick off to of a very good evening and this year nobody was sloping off to bed ridiculously early. So, is this the Lynx pack renaissance? Have the party animals of old made a come back? Such was the enthusiasm all manner of different ideas for running related weekends away and holidays were being discussed by the end of the evening.

The next morning I woke up silly early for some bizzare and inexplicable reason and decided to try to see the sunrise over the hills, returning in time for breakfast.

Sundays entertainment was more leisurely. A wee trip on the funicular railway up to the ski centre and ptarmigan restaurant on Cairngorm. I had never been on the funicular railway before having always preferred to get up the mountain under my own steam so it was quite a nice novelty trip and a relaxing way to travel as the driver (is there a driver on one of these things?) gave her wee talk about the history and mechanics of the funicular. We went outside to watch the skiers as the wind had dropped considerably overnight (yes I was jealous, the snow looked great), visited the museum and café (yet more coffee and scones) before returning to the foot of the mountain.

Bert thinking about investing in some mountain climbing gear...

A frozen Loch Morlich