It’s been a few months since the Devil and I’ve been able to train, uninjured, so I was thinking that I might be in half decent shape. Training has been going ok, considering the arrival of Martha (# 2 child) nine weeks ago, I’ve managed to keep running, albeit with an overriding tiredness that only a new baby can provide!! The arrival of baby Boab #2, essentially, took the running of the GO33 race out of the equation for me. Reduced mileage and sleep and a calf injury that kept me out for a couple of weeks wasn’t the best prepration for a 33 miles off road ultra. Anyway, excuses in, here is my report for the Harmeny Pentland Runners 7R half marathon held yesterday, 7th December 2014.
Steven (it’s his fault again) had informed me some months back that this race was about to open on Entry Central and I duly entered. Popular race, it filled up in about half an hour, but I had a space and forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago, when I suggested to Steven that we should do a wee recce of the route.
The race is called the 7 reservoirs as it skirts the 7 Pentland Hills reservoirs that sit above Edinburgh: Threipmuir, Loganlea, Glencourse, Bonaly, Torduff, Clubbiedean and Harlaw and is a cracking wee route around the hills. There are no summits in the race, but there are a few tough climbs on mixed terrain. The weather was variable, to say the least. In true Scottish fashion there was sunshine, rain, wind and blizzards!!! Shoe choice was always going to be a critical factor considering the underfoot conditions on the hills and to a certain extend my own choice was my undoing.
The race is excellently organised by Harmeny Pentland Runners, my old club when I lived up in Colinton, and race director Iain used the local amenities to their full advantage. The post race fire around the back of the bothy where you could get a roll and a cup of tea was superb and even having the bothy to change and leave bags was a great wee addition.
Both Steven and Paul had entered the race and with Steven rolling out the man flu excuses and pulled out the race, kindly offered to come along and give Paul and I a lift up to the start. The start is about a mile south east of Balerno between Harlaw and Threipmuir reservoirs. We arrived in plenty of time, collected our numbers and parked the car in the local farm yard. We sat in the car while it got battered by a blizzard. This was going to be a tough day, the westerly wind was very strong up in the hills and with frequent showers of rain and snow meant we were going to have to be wrapped up well.
Warming up was a bit of a struggle, the coldness didn’t allow for me to heat up properly before we were off, and after a short race briefing from Iain the horn went. The pace started off quite sedate and I joined a group of about 5 or 6 people. The first mile skirts around Threipmuir reservoir and into the strong westerly and joins the tarmac road to Bavelaw castle. This is the first climb and it is a toughy, a 400m steep climb that is known locally as heart attack hill. Hugh McInnes had pushed the early sedate pace and myself, Dessie Flanagan, from Musselburgh, and Graham Nash from Carnethy followed. When we got to the top of the hill there is a gradual incline to the first gate. We then join the trail that runs through the centre of the Pentlands down to the Howe. This is a rough little track with 2 or 3 styles to climb, a burn in spate to cross and then joins the service road for Loganlea and Glencourse reservoirs. Dessie and I had opened up a small gap on the others by the time we reached the Howe and I was feeling pretty good. On the road down past Loganlea and Glencourse I was leading with Dessie on my shoulder. His breathing seemed harder than mine and we reached the turn for the Cleugh under 6 minute mile pace. I felt that if I could make it to the top of the Cleugh before him, I could go on to win the race. I certainly felt strong enough, but the ascent up the Cleugh to Bonaly reservoir was really tough and Dessie has been running very well in the hills and cross country this year. The first 100m of the Cleugh was a total mud bath and it became clear very quickly that I had picked the wrong shoes. On the recce run, I had worn my Hoka Rapa nui trail shoes and I slipped around on the Cleugh that day. The choices were my Inov8 mudrocs or Brooks Pure Grit and I opted for the latter given the amount of tarmac and trail there was in the route, but they were useless. I couldn’t get any grip and I was running up the Cleugh like the Roadrunner on ice (meep meep). I lost 100m to Dessie in the first minute of the climb and I knew I was in trouble, spending too much energy staying upright and picking my footing in an attempt to avoid more slipping. By the time I reached the top of the Cleugh, Graham had caught me and I was drained. With 8 miles in, I was in for a tough last 5 miles. The steep descent from Bonaly reservoir to the car park was treacherous, my shoes were slipping on the stones and I was getting a bit nervous of a fall so I was glad to see the two marshalls at the water station. Graham and I got our numbers marked and we headed around the back of Torduff reservoir, over the bridge at the dam and onto the service road. We were then running into the strong headwind and Graham drafted behind me, each time I moved across the road he would follow me and while it’s a tactic I have used myself I was hoping he would overtake me to give me a breather. He didn’t, and I slowed the pace down a bit to try and recover a wee bit, but on the wee incline up to Clubbiedean reservoir my lace came loose. So I stopped and Graham ran into the back of me!! No harm done, but I had to now tie my lace with essentially frozen hands. I had two pairs of gloves on!!! Over the last few years my hands have gotten progressively worse in the cold, they go solid and I loose feeling in them. Moving fingers seem to take ages, it’s a strange feeling and difficult to do anything in a hurry, so a loose lace couldn’t have come at a worse time.
I lost ground on Graham as I struggled to tie the lace back up and I lost more ground on him on the incline up the cobbled road with about a mile and a half to go. I was really struggling up this road. It’s really rough cobbles and running water covers it, making it very slippy. With the sun now out and shining on the surface water, I couldn’t see in front of me until I reached a gate at the top. I could see Graham ahead of me, but there was no way I was going to catch him and a quick look behind confirmed that I could take my foot off the gas for the last mile and run it in.
So I crossed the line in 1:25:39 in 3rd place. I think that was quicker than last year’s winning time, but Dessie had already crossed the line 2 minutes in front of me and Graham a minute in front. Paul came in just in front of the lead lady, narrowly avoiding being ‘chicked’, but had a good run considering his recent lack of miles and injury issues.
On reflection, I should have gone with my Inov8’s. Would it have made much of a difference to the outcome? I’m not sure, Dessie and Graham are running very well at the moment and this terrain is their domain. I’ve always said that hill running is a different sport and I’ve never done well on hilly road races never mind hilly off-road or mixed terrain courses. If I want to run the west highland way race, I am going to have to get used to running off-road and on the hills. Fitting in hill sessions and long runs in the hills is challenging at the moment and so next year will be the year of road marathons and flat ultras. I might venture into the hill next winter, we’ll see……
Many congrats to Dessie and Graham, and a big well done to Harmeny for putting on a great wee race.
Results can be found here http://pentland7reservoirs.org.uk/