Wednesday, 20 July 2016

St Cuthbert's Way Ultra

The T shirt says 100km, the route maps say 64 miles plus. This year there was a diversion after river bank erosion so about 1 mile less but then I made 4 errors and so probably added the mile back in!
Most of the route would be new to me although I hoped to recognise parts of the second half after last year's Jedburgh ultra which covers some of the same ground. I wasn't worried about the nav as it is a long distance path and well signed (oh yes?).
The weekend started early for us as on Friday we drove to the NE to see family for lunch and then to spend money at the Montane Outlet store. Just as well we don't live closer to this wonderful Aladdin's cave. By early evening we had scoped out Wooler Bowling Club and found a quiet layby for the night.

I never sleep well before a race and this was no exception. The alarm went all too soon at 5.30am and we moved to the Bowling Club to put up flags, banners and display boards.

 I also registered, left my drop bags and had some breakfast.

 The coach of runners from Melrose arrived and I had time for a quick chat with Andy before Bob and I shot off to Holy Island to put up more flags and the Runfurther start banner.

By 7.30 it was much warmer but breezy- a wind we would be running into all day. After a quick speech by the RO Tim we were off.

 I had promised myself to set off slowly but the first 5 miles are flat and mostly tarmac as the race leaves Holy Island over the causeway and then along the estuary.

 I knew the pace was fast and that perhaps I should not be in the top 7 at this stage  (or any stage) of the race but I was trying to shelter behind men and was enjoying a chat with Andy, Neil and others.

 Mr Orange socks (Keith Robson?) was soon hundreds of yards ahead - he would either have an awesome race or blow up. We let him go. Interestingly despite having traveled so far I was running with a guy from Morecambe and even more bizarre Katey from Preston.

We both knew we had met before but it was miles before we could think of where it might be although we only live a couple of miles apart. More of Katey and Mr Orange socks later.

Gradually people settled into their own pace and after the A1 I was suddenly alone. Katey had run ahead with Neil and Andy had dropped behind me. I thumbed the map just in case but the StCW signs seemed OK or the direction was obvious.

 I made a very brief and short diversion to St Cuthbert's cave before enjoying a lovely downhill path to the lanes. Here there was no sign so out came the maps. Then at the next junction my maps showed a CP but there wasn't one? Oh heck. I saw runners ahead on a land-rover track so off I trotted. We were carrying trackers so I hoped that even if I had somehow missed the CP I had proof of being there (somehow I had downloaded last year's map and this CP did not exist this year). I caught the two runners and ran from here towards Wooler with them.

 All was well until the historic bridge over the R Till. I could see Katey up ahead and was determined to catch her. At the top of the hill side a StCW arrow pointed diagonally? I spotted a gate to the right and took it. My 1:50,000 map was unclear and the path seemed suspiciously overgrown but I knew there were not many runners ahead so perhaps they had left little track. After 15 minutes I was in head high bracken and then thistles and nettles. It was too far to go back so I hacked my way down and around the hill trying to get back on route. My legs were on fire from nettle and thistle stings and my language was a bit choice. Running was impossible.

The next CP was Wooler so I grabbed my drop bag and forced down rice pud and more before running off straight into error number 2. This time I was not alone. A huge brown sign pointed left so we took it. Fortunately a marshall spotted our error and came racing after us. More time lost and now I had little confidence in the signs. I concentrated on plodding up out of town and onto the common as fast as I could. Then at the entrance to the woods I met my next dilemna. The sign pointed left but a path clearly went straight on like the one on my map. I went straight on and before long found this was incorrect and that the path must have been diverted to avoid windblown trees. A kilometre or so of threading my way around, up and even crawling under meant even more time lost.
Fantastic scenery
It is just as well that the next section across the northern edge of the Cheviots was beautiful because I was building up to a big sulk! I had lost perhaps 30 minutes in 3 mistakes in the last 3 miles. Not good.

I loved the next section on grassy paths, hill tracks and even boggy sections.I caught a couple of runners that had slipped past me when I was awol and that plus the beauty boosted my spirits.
Scotland!!! we must be getting closer to the end
The CP at Hethpool was very welcome as I was out of water (and wishing I had carried a bigger bottle). More hill track and then lovely grassy paths followed. Somewhere around here Jackie from Helsby was spectating and told me that Andy was only just ahead- bugger, another one who had slipped by when I was awol. I set off in pursuit and caught him before Kirk Yetholm.
Not a happy runner
We ran together for a bit and both admitted to being a bit knackered and to finding it tough. Two evening sprint races in the previous week had perhaps not been my wisest preparation. leaving the village across the river meadows Andy was just behind me but as I hit the dreaded tarmac he was no where in sight and I concentrated on staying in touch with red shirt man up ahead.

I was very pleased to leave the road and the next hills were some of the best on the route- short grass, no tussocks and soft ground. Up over Crookedhouse Hill and then Wideopen Hill.

 We were now certainly more than half way and had a great run down to Morebattle on grassy paths with little wooden stump signs guiding the way. The CP staff here were amazing and nothing was too much trouble.
Struggling but smiling
A cup of tea (apparently I was the first to ask for a hot drink), cheese and more water filled a hole and let me run on again. The next few miles to Cessford were all on tarmac and my legs and feet were complaining. It should have made for easier running but I found it mentally tough and slowed compared to even muddy uphills. It was only a few miles but it seemed more. A few field paths followed and the descending to the river only a spit from Bonjedward (I always think of two bad singers with daft haircuts?) I spotted Katey again. I was so pleased to have made up for lost time that my brain turned off and in my enthusiasm I missed a vital sign post. I couldn't see Katey or the guy on the lane. Odd? Could they really have raced that far ahead? I set off in pursuit when I should have stopped with alarm bells ringing. I asked a local if they had seen two runners. Yes (but sadly not the right two I was soon to find out). I reached the main road and realised my mistake. More time lost and more tarmac- all my fault. I was so cross with myself that I ran hard and Katey was only just leaving the CP when I arrived. Along the first river bank we ran together and having had no rest I  thought I was beaten. Once we hit the undulating woodland paths I felt better and more importantly I knew the way here. I helped Katey and a small group of 45 milers as we headed up onto Dere Street. Katey had admitted to never having run this far before and I was enjoying being off road again.

 I pushed the pace as hard as I dared and towards the end of the woods I had pulled ahead and caught Mr Orange socks. He had been suffering stomach issues. I don't know what he ate at Maxton but it certainly revived him and although we ran the next miles together I was struggling to keep up.

The diversion section was very well signed but the next meander seemed to take forever and the up and down sections of wooden stairs were taking their toll. Leaving Newtown St Boswell I used two more 45ers to pull me along as we headed up along side Bowden Burn.

I crossed the village alone and set off for the woods glad to be on mud paths again. I knew the way through the woods and was happy that we used the col and did not need to climb any of the three volcanoes that make up the Eildon Hills.
Looking back to the col the next morning
I kept getting glimpses of Mr Orange socks all the way up and out onto the open land and even up to the col (and apparently he kept turning and finding he had had dropped me, no, I was back again). It was a bit gloomy in the beech woods but not really dark and still very warm even though the sun was going down fast. The end was now literally in sight (or would have been if I had known exactly where to look).
The Abbey the next day- no time in the race for pics
I spotted the Abbey and enjoyed the descent. The final descent is on wooden steps but they are nice and even, not greasy and so I kept up my pace. I found the self clip at the Abbey and the Trail Outlaw signs that would guide me to the finish at Darnick village hall.

There were two uphill sections but I plodded on the best I could. I declined the offer of champagne at the last road junction and concentrated on spotting Trail Outlaw and Runfurther flags which would mean the finish.

 What a relief to see the hall and to creep under the 13 hour 30 barrier that I had set myself.

It was just as well I did not stop for champagne as the second lady finshed fast only two minutes behind (I had not seen her all day so she got her pacing right) and then Katey was only another 7 minutes behind her. Not bad at all for her first 100km.

So, another 1000 Runfurther points, two trophies and some wonderful prizes. Plus medals and a Tshirt.

 Bob had worked almost as hard as me. After taking down flags at the start he drove to Wooler to collect the display boards. Tim brought the rest of the flags and banners which allowed Bob to enjoy a run in the Eildon Hills and along the river before he went to Darnick to put up yet more flags, banners and display boards. He then still had the energy to give me lots of TLC with cups of tea, sandwiches and two trips to the van to collect my recovery drink and then my wash bag. I eventually staggered out to the van and bed but Bob stayed up for more finishers before bringing all the RF kit back to the van.

A big Thank You from RF. He was too tired to wait up for Dick, but I am sure he will understand. Sunday was a day of rest- a lazy day of slow walking, sleeping and eating. We did manage to explore Melrose and Berwick though. What do ultra runners do for recovery?

Two days of hard climbing on the worlds biggest climbing wall on the two hottest days of the year so far. End result blistered hands, a lost toe nail but yes, we had fun.

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