I had imagined that after turning 50 I would be a more relaxed competitor. I thought that the pressure to keep up with younger, fitter people, would dissipate and I would become a new, calmer and less competitive, racer.
With this at the forefront of my mind I turned up for the first race in the TrailFest Summer Solstice Series last week feeling ready for a run but without putting any pressure on myself.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the great mix of people who were registering at Mugdock Country Park for the 7km race. I spotted all kinds of runners, from the eager-to-get-going racing whippets to have-a-go first time trail racers.
While a sudden rainstorm had soaked both volunteers and runners, the atmosphere was up-beat and cheery. I chatted to a few people that I knew already and exchanged a few pleasant words with those I didn’t.
What is the TrailFest Solstice Series?
The series culminates with the longest race on the Summer Solstice.
The races are the vision of TrailFest founders Ryan Scott and Jo Cowper, who are two of the most enthusiastic promoters of trail running that I have ever met. Their regular social trail runs in and around Mugdock, as well as the longer running tours further afield, have become very popular in recent years.
I was invited to take part in the TrailFest Solstice Series as a “running blogger”.
Back at the 7km race start line
So, to get back to the start line, I had it in my mind that I would jog around the course, take in the views, chat to fellow runners and reach the finish line feeling calm and happy.
I had not trained for a 7km and, in fact, I have been teaching myself to run longer and slower.
But as I stood at the start outside the park’s visitor centre with the other 92 runners around me I could feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I took a conservative place in the last third of the group so that I would not hold up people who wanted to run fast at the front. I tried to calm my nerves by chatting to people around me.
Then the countdown began, 3, 2, 1, and we were off.
As it turns out, I was born competitive and that doesn’t go away. It seems that whatever my age, I will always want to run as fast and as well as I can. I ran across the start line and immediately tried to weave my way through other runners to get ahead.
I cursed myself for starting so far back and this only made me more determined to overtake others. I was polite but firm with my requests” “Sorry, just coming by. Thanks.”
Very quickly the runners began to string out in a long line and I could see the runner whippets already quite far ahead on the winding trail. I wasn’t being so competitive that I couldn’t appreciate the wonderful scenery.
Despite my desire to push on, I still enjoyed the superb vista of rolling Mugdock countryside beneath a rainbow. For, as the race started, the rain gave way to sunshine and a spectacular rainbow formed across the evening sky.
It was magical.
A great route in a brilliant location
I often run at Mugdock and I have followed TrailFest Jo over many, many miles of different routes during chatty training runs but I am always surprised by how varied the terrain is. Jo frequently surprises me with new trails that she has found or an alternative detour.
I thought the race route, devised by Ryan, was excellent. It took in a wide variety of trails and introduced some people to Mugdock’s brilliant off-road routes.
After the race, Liam Cavin said: “I have never run at Mugdock before and I thought it was a cracking route.”
Rachel Hunt said: “Having run near here on the West Highland Way so many times it was great to discover many new paths and routes in Mugdock. I will be coming back to run here again.”
Nicola Dawson said: “I run at Mugdock all the time but there were sections of the race that were completely new to me. That was brilliant.”
3km into the 7km race
Glancing at my watch I was surprised to see that we had run only 3km. Not even halfway! I cursed myself again, this time for setting off too fast. I wished I could have stuck to the plan to jog around the race.
At another hill – the hills were never too long but when you are running fast they always feel tough – I wondered if I should slow down a bit.
But then I heard someone running up behind me. They were breathing hard as they overtook. I felt someone else at my shoulder and saw it was a woman. She did look a lot younger than me but as she flew past me I became more determined not to give up on speed.
This young woman became my beacon for the rest of the race. Her running style looked so relaxed and easy and I felt like a rickety old Collie dog compared to her sleek whippety stride but I decided not to give up.
I think a couple of men passed me after this but no more women. I found out later on that a friend from Hunter Fit Circuits class, Alison Locke, had been trying to chase me down for most of the race. I had no idea she was behind me and she finished very close indeed.
The final 2kms of the TrailFest race
The final kilometres are never easy. I was tired and I just wished I could be at the finish line. I passed a few more people who were also struggling. It has been a hot and muggy evening for racing and, like me, I expect they were feeling the effects of dehydration. I tried to make my mouth feel moist again but it was very dry and I had not brought water with me.
A hill in the last kilometre almost reduced me to a walk but I pushed on and tried to make my legs work properly. Then I suddenly recognised where we were and I knew the visitor centre and the finish line were not far.
I enjoyed the cheers of the marshal volunteers on a seemingly never ending path across the moor. We entered what I call the fairy hill woods and started a descent to a pond. A runner, wearing an Antonine Trail t-shirt (Anthony O’Donnell), stepped aside to let me pass. He must have heard me breathing hard behind him.
At the pond I would normally turn right for the quickest route to the visitor centre but the race sent us left for a longer way to the finish line. I knew there was one final incline and then the finish line would come into sight.
I could feel Mr Antonine Trail close behind me and that spurred me on, forcing my legs to work harder when they really didn’t want to. The last 10m was a steep-ish hill to the finish line and I ran that as hard as I could. I did beat Antonine Trail but only just!
As I crossed the finish line I felt horribly sick. A race volunteer told me later I did not look too well!
I have no idea why I felt the need to run the race as fast as I possibly could and to end up making myself feel sick but that has always been my way.
I had no real interest in where I came in the race, although it turns out I was 7th female. I have no idea how old everyone else is and whether it was a good-for-age finish but I was happy that I felt I was still able to push myself hard.
There were others that ran a much better race than me including those who won podium places and many other runners further back in the race who were far less experienced than me, including those taking part in their first trail race.
The final runner, Jill Pigeon, was awarded the biggest cheer of the evening as she ran towards the finish line in a brilliant 1:05:42.
I chatted to a few runners after the race
Stella MacPhee said: “It felt quite tough for a 7km race and very warm but it was a good route.”
Innes Petrie said: “I have come from Cupar, Fife, to do the race because it looked different. I have never run at Mugdock before and I really enjoyed the variety of trails. The rainbow at the start was an added bonus and I loved all the technical sections. I hope to be back.”
Frank O’Donnell said: “I wasn’t really prepared for the race but I loved it.”
Alison Davidson said: ”What a lovely route. What a great race.”
Mandy Crawford said: “It was quite hilly but a nice trail and I enjoyed the combination of grass and paths.”
TrailFest 7km race results
There were some very fast runners.
Top 3 men
Calum Oates 28:57
Andrew Carr 29:26
Andrew Gibson: 29:47
Top 3 women
Gillian Stokes (14th overall) 34:07
Julia Maclean 35:02
Sara Kent 35:10
See results download.
Can I still race the series?
The next two races, a 12km and 15km, are full up. But you could join the waiting list. See TrailFest Scotland and find out when the next race series will be run. I bet there will be one!
There are plenty of TrailFest social and group runs to join.