This is attempt #2 of writing this recap. Yesterday, I was minutes, minutes, away from publishing this when I accidentally navigated away from the page, and, not having saved the post, lost everything. The last time I did something like that was in high school, when I lost an essay and had to write the entire thing again. Anyway….
Above the town of Laurencekirk sits a tower on a hill. I see it everyday driving to and from work, yet have no idea how to get to it. Pat, who knows the country roads of the area, has tried in the past to find the tower road, but was unsuccessful. All this elusiveness changed Saturday, July 19th however, because I ran the Johnston Tower Race – a very small, local race up the big hill to the tower. I got to see it up close.
Recently, I wrote about how I was bored of ‘just running’ and how I had made changes to my running and physical pursuits in general. What I didn’t tell you, though, was by that point, I had already run my first hill race. I didn’t tell you in that post because I wanted to commemorate it with a proper recap.
While it’s a hill race – hard on the lungs going up, hard on the quads going down – this was also a local race, a definite treat for me. It was a luxury to drive the seven minutes into Laurencekirk to race, then head immediately home.
I started the morning with a delicious primal breakfast: one scrambled egg, Nom Nom Paleo seared prosciutto-wrapped peaches, and my favourite breakfast fruit parfait (recipe to be posted soon).
I drove the seven minutes into town, registered for the race and picked up my bib. I had quite a bit of time to kill, so I actually went back home to chill out and stretch my tired legs – the night before, my friend Amy and I had gone for an impromptu 16 mile cycle in the hilly countryside where we live. While it was a great way to unwind and hang out, I’m not so sure it was a good idea considering it was the only my fourth time on a road bike and the night before a race. My legs would tell me one way or another.
The field of competitors was incredibly small – one of the smallest races I’ve participated in – and it mainly consisted of runners from the Stonehaven club, wearing their club singlets. It was a very informal race, with no official start or finish line, just a start/finish area.
The forecast called for heavy rain to begin right when the race started, and seconds before the race started, like clockwork, the rain began to pour. This would be my first hill race AND my first race in the pouring rain.
The route took us along the landrover track road to an underpass for the A90 dual carriageway (aka highway). We ran through the underpass tunnel, then began climbing to the tower. The field of runners quickly began to spread out, and my strategy of taking it easy for my first hill race, and due to tired legs, meant that I was already in second last place, in front of a much larger, much older man. That didn’t bother me though. I wasn’t racing against other people, just myself.
The race route itself is completely within private property, which is owned by a local farmer. He opens up his land for the race every year and organises race marshals as well. While it’s a strenuous task to run up a large hill and back down, it’s a treat to get a glimpse into otherwise private land. We ran along landrover track past many houses and farm buildings, with the route either heading straight up the hill or zigzagging switchbacks to make the steepness a bit more bearable. It was at this point that I had become thoroughly soaked from head to toe.
I was still maintaining my second last position when my Garmin beeped one mile; I was also maintaining my easy, uphill running pace, wearing my new Salomon Speedcross shoes obviously. I looked at the racers and route ahead, and began to actually look forward to racers passing me on their way down. This way, I knew that the top of the hill was near. Just after a mile was also when the course got even steeper, and my run turned into a power walk. It seemed that power walking was a more efficient and faster way of getting up that hill. The rain continued to pour.
The tower was getting closer. The route surface changed from landrover track to grassy cow pastures, through which a wide path had been cut for us runners. While it seemed like the degree of difficulty would ease with this nice path, running through the pasture actually became even more difficult. Think about how heavy cows are and what their weight can do to soft ground: cut deep ruts, which creates incredibly uneven footing. I continued to power walk up the steep side, and was greeted with the relief of seeing the top placed runners passing me on their descent. I was still in second last place.
I reached the top of the hill and the tower. A bit of information about the tower for you:
“It is an architectural folly… built on the foundations of what could have been an old Druid tower by James Farquhar, with materials left over from the building of his mansion house, Johnston Lodge. The total cost of erecting the tower in 1812 was £42.” – source
I ran around the tower and its rocky ground, and began my descent. The strain on the lungs was over, but now it was time for my already heavy-feeling quads to get worked. As I began to run down hill, Mr Last Place Man passed me, shouting something about making way for a crazy old man, blah, blah, blah. My goal was to eventually pass him, but having seen a woman wipe out in the cow pastures on her way down, I knew I had to take it easy in this section. By the way, it was still raining.
Having cleared the grassy pasture and now in last place, I picked up the pace on the landrover track. While it’s a very strenuous work out to run downhill, I do prefer the down and the speed I can gain. I continued to follow Mr Second Last Place all the way past the farm houses and buildings (where a worker told me I was crazy to be running a hill race), along the switchbacks, down to the A90 underpass, and through the tunnel. He was at the most 20 feet ahead of me at all times and kept looking back to see where I was. While running through the underpass tunnel, where a large puddle – that spanned the width of the tunnel and felt like a foot deep – had formed, a race marshal cycled past me saying “C’mon, you can get this guy.”
“I’m trying” was my reply. My legs were going as hard and as fast as they could!
The finish line was in sight, and so was Mr Second Last Place. I picked up my threshold pace to a sprint and ran as hard as my tired legs could take me, but it was too late: Mr Second Last Place became officially that, and I had come in last place for the first time. Thankfully, it was a very small, local race.
I had run 3.25 miles in 35:51 (10:48, 15:41 going up, 7:51 going down!) 561 feet elevation.
I grabbed a bottle of water, hearing people tell me “Well done” and walked towards a hungover Brian, a friend from running group, to chat. Mr Second Last Place was standing close to Brian, and turned to me to speak. I expected him to come out with some empathetic comment like “Well done” or “You ran hard,” even “Good effort.” Instead, he said to me
“Tough going, you could probably stand to lose a few pounds, eh?”
My reply was an emphatic “Excuse me??!?!??!!!!” I didn’t even know who he was, and this was the first time I’d ever spoken to the guy, let alone seen him. Never mind the fact that his waist circumference and BMI would put him in the ‘obese’ category.
Surprised, he asked “Oh, should I have not said that?”
No, Mr Anonymous and Now Incredibly Rude Man, no you shouldn’t have, especially to someone who’s just lost (now) 10kg, which I informed him of. Really though, what was the point? I didn’t need to prove myself to him, especially if he was going to make comments like that. Yes, he beat me, and yes, we could say that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t going to stoop to his level. It just wasn’t worth it. Brian also told me that this man was at another local hill race, where he had again offended someone else.
We watched the very quick awards ceremony, and with it still raining, decided it was time to go home and get dry.
This is just to give you an idea of how truly soaked I was.
I went home and took off my completely saturated, and now christened, shoes, and peeled off drenched my clothes. My race was finished and it was time for a hot shower.
And my story with Mr Second Last Place, Incredibly Rude Older Man isn’t finished.
Have you run a hill race before? Or raced in the pouring rain?
Have you ever had a run in with a fellow competitor?