Archive for March, 2008

Criffel Hill Race – Alex Drain

Wow! This is what it’s all about. Beautiful weather, beautiful village, beautiful scenery.

The start takes place in the village of New Abbey a few miles south of Dumfries on the outskirts of Mabie Forest. A straight forward race of 11km, up and down. Conditions were near perfect with a light breeze and perfect visibility. On the way down I glanced up and the views were quite simply, breathtaking.

48 started and finished with the winner coming in on 54:26. I was happy with my own time of 1:20:58. From my point of view, anything under 1:25 was going to be ok. This time, to try to avoid the leg cramps I loaded up on salty crisps and made sure I warmed up well. There was a bit of a worry on a few occasions but I got away with things, mainly I think because I wasn’t under any real race pressure. It’s something I’m going to need to be very careful about.

Hill running can be tough but the rewards are immense. Road running can be great fun and can take you to places where you think, “this is nice”. However, until you’ve done a few hills you simply won’t know that words such as “this is nice” simply aren’t enough.

Next up which I’m hoping to go to is the Screel hill race on 12 April at 1pm. Screel is just a bit south of Castle Douglas. The race is around 4 miles and the course is fairly unchallenging AND the £3 registration fee can’t be complained about.

FOR THE DIARIES – KAIM HILL RACE, FAIRLIE – Wednesday 30 April at 7pm. The first Ayrshire hill race of the year. A short 5.6 km dash to the top and back. DON’T MISS IT!

Chaplegill Hill Race – Alex Drain

Could things get any worse? Hmmm, well I suppose they could. How they could, I don’t know but I suppose they could.

I hate the drive from home to the motorway but once you’re there, it’s a lovely day out. Arriving at the venue which incidentally is in the middle of nowhere at the end of a minor road. Surrounded by the sort of hills that give Scotland its reputation, Chaplegill rises straight from ground level on a climb of 1,400 feet to its summit of 2,250 feet. Not the highest of hills but with the climb taking place in only 1.2km, it makes it possibly the most unrelenting slog on the calendar. A £2 entry fee makes a bit of a mockery of the races that charge 20 and a civilised 3pm start allows everyone to get there in time. It even meant that I missed the rugby – oh joy!

There’s no set route in this race and the rules are simple: get to the top, make sure the marshall has your race number, go round the cairn which is a tiny pile of stones that raises the height of the hill by no more than 6 inches, then get back to the finish without dying on the way.

44 of us set out with Brian Marshall, as usual, taking the lead. Not trusting my well known sense of direction, I stuck with the pack, even when I saw some of the ‘locals’ taking a totally different route. Oh how I wish I’d followed them, it’d have saved me about 200 yards. It’d also have brought Brian Marshall’s time down to below 20 mins had he done so too.

However, onwards and upwards. Things weren’t too bad for me and I was in a small group that included the girl who eventually became first lady. Disaster has a habit of returning when least expected. I haven’t suffered badly from calf cramp since the Kaim Hill race last year but return again it did, and with a vengeance. The groups that had taken different routes all came together about 250 yards from the top. I noticed that Ian McManus was within about 30 yards of me and I realised he’d taken the better route; however, when cramp hits, it hits. Both legs at once and I didn’t know which to grab first. I lay on the ground writhing in agony as I was passed by the rest of the field. Eventually, I was in the glorious position of last, having lost a good 4 to 5 minutes. As things eased off, I hobbled up to the top and round the miniature cairn. On the way down, I managed to pass 4 of the backmarkers, including Ian, but it was an ignominious finish.

Not only was this my worst performance in a race but salt was added to the wound by the race organiser who published the results showing me to be over 40 rather than over 50. It’s very nice to be considered younger but it doesn’t look good in the stats and I doubt if it was meant kindly in any case.

One of the strange things was that, as with the rest of the country, everywhere seemed to be waterlogged. However, Chaplegill itself was dry as a bone. Not only did I not get my feet wet, as I lay on the ground at the top of the hill and then at the bottom, I stayed dry. Maybe there is a god after all and he was just having a laugh!

Greenmantle hill race 08 – Alex Drain

This race is aptly portrayed in the Scottish Hill Racing web site as follows: “Starts with a mad sprint from the Broughton Brewery to hurdle a stonewall, across playing fields, hurdle fence, wade river, negotiate marsh, cross road. Breathe. Then up through turnip fields before hitting the base of the steepest hill. Struggle up this and turn with juddering legs to hurtle precariously back down, and wind up for the final dash along the road to the village hall. Then catch your breath again.” However, before we get to the mad sprint at the start, I think I’d better describe how my day began…..

Up nice and early for the 12 noon start. Lesley and Sarah (youngest offspring at 16) for the 80 mile journey to Edinburgh to drop them off for shopping before the 30 miles to Broughton for the race.

Oh dear. M8 closed and a diversion set up.

AAAARGH! GOT LOST! …. Phew back on track.

Edinburgh…Traffic…Edinburgh…Traffic…Byeee. See you later.

25 minutes to do 30 miles… Pleeeeze no speed cameras.


Two miles to Biggar.


Biggar at last. 11:53. Five miles, country road, Lesley’s car so might make it.

Hairy five miles but only 11:57. In hall – WHAT! – they’re off to the start line (1/2 mile away)

Into car, along road, jump out, throw off jacket, pull on hill shoes, grab watch, grab gloves, no time for vaseline on feet, no time for contact lenses, start running.

AAARGH! There goes the start hooter and there are now 90 folk careering towards me on a very narrow path.

Dodge, dodge, ouch, dodge, get to the start. Pleeeeeze. Brilliant, got a number. Tie laces, strap on watch (along side good dress watch), run after the pack.

As they say, the rest is history. I caught up with the very back markers on the way over the playing field. The river was a bit deeper than last year but I didn’t really notice as I was still in a complete panic. In this phase I overtook a lot of runners. Unfortunately, when I came to the hill itself, my panic was replaced with a dose of reality and the old legs decided to remind me who was really boss.

I struggled up the hill losing a few places but at the turn I took them all back. This was possibly the slippiest downhill I’ve come up against for some time and I think the reason for the very slow times. I managed without falling and must have been one of the few who didn’t. The trick is, keep a flat foot, that way there’ll be the greatest area meeting the ground (if Andy had been there I know which part of his body would have been in negotiation with the ground).

The final few hundred yards were painful in the extreme. Like many hill races, Greenmantle finishes with a road section. The jarring on screaming muscles is excruciatingly awful. (wonder if I could have got any more naff adjectives in there).

So, I was slower than last year – but then so was everyone else. My percentage of the winning time last year was 150.4%. This year it was 146.18% so I have to be pleased, even at 73rd out of 91.

Lessons to be learned??
1. Get there in time
2. Get there in time
3. Get there in time

Finally, I couldn’t return to Edinburgh to pick up Lesley and Sarah as mucky and smelly as I clearly was. Unfortunately, there’s no washing facilities. Hmmm. The river! Very cold, very wet but hey, I can’t feel my extremities in any case!