Dizzy, bonkers, slippery, exhausting fun: TrailFest Summer Solstice 12km
It is thanks to several other runners that I ran to a podium placing at the TrailFest Summer Solstice race two on Thursday evening at Mugdock Country Park.
First there was Alison Locke. I recently become friends with Alison through a Hunter Fit circuits class. (At this weekly class we attempt to keep on smiling while we sweat and groan our way through an hour of strength and cardio exercises. These are the places where strong friendships are made!)
Anyway, she told me she had chased me around the first TrailFestSummer Solstice race the week before and that she would be hot on my heels for race 2, the 12km route.
And she was. For the fist few kilometres she was right behind me.
To begin with, I didn’t notice Alison as I raced from the start line at Mugdock Visitor Centre. I was keen to start a bit faster than the previous race and I focused on the trail ahead and making the most of the downhills.
Like last week, we enjoyed a rainbow in the first couple of minutes of the race. Although it was less distinct, it still seemed magical.
Within five minutes of the start at 7pm, the faster guys and a couple of women were already disappearing into the distance. I wished I could keep up with them but the first hill told me I wouldn’t be able to!
For a while, too, I was also overtaken by a few men who seemed to have suddenly found their racing legs some 10 minutes into the course.
Then as we crossed a section of moorland on a wide trail I could hear someone breathing right behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and spotted a Garscube vest.
I shouted back: “Is that you Alison? Are you drafting me?!”
She confessed she was keen to keep up with me and we exchanged a few pleasantries before we ran on together and into the first woodland section.
I was constantly aware of Alison still behind me and this pushed me to keep up my pace and to try to out-run her. I wondered if I would be able to maintain this pace and whether she was stronger over longer distances. But she did give me a great push in the first part of the race.
Heading into the woodland
There were many sections of woodland and I can’t recall each individually but they were all awesome. We wound our way through tall, narrow trees, following a superb in-and-out-and-round-and-about route, which was marked by lengths of white tape.
In places, the course was truly bonkers and at times I felt dizzy as we weaved between the trees. There were plenty of jaggy mini branches to avoid too and at the end of the race I noticed my hands were covered in bits of barks. Was I trying to hold on as I attempted spin around the trees? I can’t really remember!
And with runners spaced out along the winding tree trail, I occasionally glimpsed Alison’s blue-and-white vest from the corner of my eye. I was fairly sure I was creating a distance between us but I wasn’t convinced and that kept me pushing on.
Later, she told me that the trails were a test for her due to a lack of experience while I thrive on such terrain. I love trail running and it’s where I do most of my training.
With Alison still close behind I was keen to run faster. I didn’t want her to chance her overtaking me later in the race when I started to tire.
Cat and mouse with another runner
There was another runner, Kirsty Mcleish, who helped me to run faster.
At the race start I watched from behind as she bounced along ahead of me. She has an amazing running style and I thought she must be aged about 20 as she ran ahead of me seemingly full of energy. (It turns out she is 40.)
For a while she ran alongside Sara Kent, who was second female in the end, and I thought to myself that there was little hope of me being able to keep up with these full-of-beans runners. However, I decided to see if I might…
While Sarah ran off into the distance after the first few small hills, Kirsty was still there, just 20 metres or less ahead of me.
At the wooded sections, where I most enjoyed myself, Kirsty seemed to slow a little and at times I felt like I might overtake her, but then she would find another surge of energy.
A bad runner blames their kit..
I also struggled with my kit. I know you should never blame your kit but I am going to. (It is my blog after all!)
I was wearing sunglasses because I have trouble with bright light and I was quite a bright evening. I can’t see anything in bright light and so I wear sunglasses most of the summer.
The sunglasses have prescription lenses so I can’t remove them and when we ran into the first section of woodland – and the many wooded sections after that – I realised I really couldn’t see very much in the dark trees.
Earlier rain had left the lenses covered in wet splatters and although I tried to clear them they I was basically looking through wet and smeared dark lenses.
My trainers, the only ones I can wear just now due to an on-going Achilles issue, were a nightmare on the slippery mud and wet rocks. They are meant for the trails and they are great in some conditions but on wet rocks they are hopeless.
As I tried to dodge my way in and out of the trees and up and down the muddy, leaf-covered trails I found myself constantly slipping and swearing.
I must apologise to my fellow runners for my foul language at times. I was very frustrated at not being able to get proper traction. At one point I fully slipped over and landed bump on my side. It wasn’t sore because the ground was so beautifully spongy but it did make me all the more cautious.
On another section of downhill I had to pick my way down the wet rocks oh-so-bloody-carefully. I wanted to race down but at every step the trainers threatened to throw me on my back.
A marshall, Beardy (Graham Kelly), told me at the bottom of this section that I was the fifth lady. I thought: “Wow. Really?!” That gave me a good boost although I was still cursing my trainers as he told me.
It’s good to feel someone at your heels
There was a guy running close to Kirsty and I, too. I am not sure of his number and he could have been David Paton. Did I imagine it, or was he running while listening to the radio?!
Anyway, he was running with us and sometimes he was ahead of me and sometimes behind. At one point, on a particularly tough uphill section, I asked if it would be okay to overtake him.
He let me pass and that meant I had to run harder to ensure he did not get frustrated by my speed. This is exactly the sort thing I like about racing; everyone pushes you on whether you are ahead or behind.
For ages, it felt like we were the only three people in the race although I think we did see the front runner Calum Oates running the other way at one point as he headed for the finish line.
Following on someone’s heels
I want to thank Kirsty for something else, too. While she was running just ahead, I was able to follow in her footsteps. She was doing all the navigating, making choices about where to follow arrows and markers. She had to be quick thinking at many sections to work out the right way to go.
She sometimes lost the winding-all-about trail but then she would suddenly jump back on to the route and I would be surprised by how close we were together.
The route finding can’t have been easy especially with me hot on her heels. But, then, perhaps I was pushing her to run faster? It’s always like this in races, isn’t it?
The perfect race
And I have to say I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I am never keen on the build up to a race because I get nervous. I always worry it will be too hard and make me feel sick.
I worried at the start that I had gone out too fast and that I would not have the energy or strength to finish in a good time.
But, strangely, I felt like this was the perfect race for me. As other people struggled on the trails I relished them. I loved the twisting and turning, the ups and downs and the need for thought as well as physical ability. It’s great to take your mind off the exertion by concentrating on balance and where to place your feet
Later in the race, I looked at my Suunto watch and thought: “Only 4km to go. Should I run a bit harder?” Amazingly, my body responded positively. I think this must be the first time that has ever happened. Usually, my body says a big fat sluggish no.
And again I caught up with Kirsty. She was never really out of sight but this time I was very close behind her.
We were heading though another series of fairy-tale style trails, winding around trees, heading up and down small banks and with the general feeling of running through a maze.
I have only admiration for TrailFest founders Ryan and Jo for their superb route finding and race planning. It was an extraordinarily good trail race route.
Kirsty and I popped out of the woodland again and along a wide track. As we ran, I kept looking for more signs and arrows to show us which way to go. It was only about 2km to the finish line according to my watch.
I saw Kirsty run on ahead but then I spotted an arrow to go left. Kirsty had missed this.
As I turned left I shouted out to tell her she had gone wrong. “Quick, turn round. Run fast and catch me,” I told her. I felt heart sorry for her that she had been running so well but now she would need to retrace her steps.
Now it was my turn to be in front and I followed all the markers I could find. It wasn’t easy at this point and I could see only small bits of white tape hanging from trees every so often. I heard later on that some idiot had sabotaged the course, removing long lengths of white tape. Why the hell would anyone do that?! It seems so selfish.
I tried to stay alert and run as hard as I could. I passed Matt Hunter of Hunter Fit, who was also marshalling, and he told me I was third lady. I couldn’t believe that but it gave me another wee boost anyway.
I was aware of Kirsty being just behind me and I thought she would surely overtake me with her fantastic bouncy running style. But then suddenly I could see what looked like the finish line. Could it be? Yes it was!
I heard Ryan cheering me on – and I broke into a sprint. I have no idea where the energy was coming from but I felt good and strong.
I crossed the finish line and then looked back to see where Kirsty was. I felt genuine sorrow for her because she had been so close to beating me.
I was told I was indeed third lady. I was overjoyed to say the least! I think I may have jumped up and down like Tigger because I was so happy with myself!
It is a very long time since I have won a trophy for running and having just turned 50 I was even more delighted because it wasn’t an age group placing but an overall third lady.
Praise for a great route
After the race I spoke to many other runners who all had great praise for the TrailFest race route. While the participants had been tested on the muddy and winding trails they had all throughly enjoyed the challenge and the novelty.
Rudy Romain, who was second male, said: “The route was good. I enjoyed the trails very much.”
Carolyn O’Dwyer, 13th female, said: “I really liked the route and the trails were great. It was challenging but also very enjoyable.”
Alison Locke, 8th female, said: “I really enjoyed the race. I need to do more training on the trails because I found it tough but it was a great route and a very enjoyable race. I just couldn’t keep up with you once we hit the woodland trails!”
On the podium
Top 3 females
Nicola Dawson 59:59
Sara Kent: 1:00:22
Me: 1:02: 47
Top 3 males
Calum Oates: 48:49
Rudy Romain: 49:00
Andrew Carr: 50:00