Monday, 20 March 2017

Criffel Hill Race 2017

Hoping to join in with the Scottish Hill Running Championships (aiming more to ship myself there and back, trying to enjoy the bit in the middle, with no focus on the champion component) this year I ran Criffel Hill Race. This is one of six races on the calendar. Each runner, from 18 to 60, must finish four of the six races - one at each distance plus any other – to complete the series. Goatfell is more of a trek so I opted for Criffel as my ‘medium’.

SHR Championship 2017

19th March
Stuc a'Chroin
6th May
20th May
Trotternish Ridge
3rd June
Strathpeffer Games
12th August
Devil's Beeftub
9th September

It’s a dreich but enjoyable drive through Stobo to Broughton to The Devil’s Beeftub.

Once through Moffat, the trip is unremarkable (apart from a town called Ae and an area of forestry called Cushat Woods - perhaps a fertilization technique from ye olden days?) and I am soon in the quaint old village of New Abbey in Dumfriesshire. Parking is at a local sawmill and registration is simple. There are over 200 entries and the village is bursting with competitors and marshals. I meet some old faces and some young ones – one being Lucas C. He is a smidge nervous but raring to go! Tom H and I have a chat – Tom senses it won’t be too boggy once off the road section. Tom’s senses may need a flush.

Soon, kit checks are carried out and we are given the pre-race safety talk by Ranjit Thomas from Dumfries RC. He jokes that anyone under five feet tall may disappear in the peaty bogs. We laugh. We are foolish.

We are given the off and the battle commences. The first road section is a tad steep – thankfully short and soon the throng snakes up between Mid and West Glen on hard packed roads. This changes to rooty moss-mud through overhanging pine branches which then develops into an uphill footing lottery. It is almost entirely guesswork as to where to place a shoe. A tall tussock , initially, looks ‘friendly’ but then eats your leg and black broth that looks like it leads to Hades, is firm underfoot. It’s an exhausting lottery of stride or slide all the way up to Knockendoch.

Once over, there is a little respite in the form of a small downhill section (pic below).
Courtesy Digby Maass

 On the surface, this looks welcoming - but again - there are slices of peat that shift under feet, waterlogged, bogged and dangerous decomposing carpets of waist-deep man-eating mush. Yelps and groans are the order of the day as almost everyone takes a dive.

Between here and the cairn, the front runners pass me on their way down. Graham Gristwood is in the lead followed by an unflustered Finlay Wild who looks like he is out to pick up his Sunday paper. Lucas C passes me heading down here too – not long followed by Tom H.

I make the turn at Douglas’s Cairn on top of Criffel. I feel good and am looking forward to making up places on the downhill charge. The plan is going well and I start to pick off runners. It’s not long before I am in familiar company. I am passed by a good descender that I recognise and decide to ‘stay on his heels’ – perhaps get past him on the road section.

One moment, all is peachy, and then it goes pear-shaped. I misjudge the depth of peaty puddle and plunge knee first into a pool of black porridge. At one end of the pool is a wooden spike – almost impaled – however, a submerged boulder to the right kneecap soon draws my attention away from the potential impalement.

Painful…painful stuff - Teeth were gnashed and, weeping considered – nausea a close second!  Neither happened fortunately, as realising I was between marshals and therefore equidistant between stretcher bearers - I encourage myself onwards with some strong language – in a positive way of course! Between the blue air and groans, other runners pass me advising me of the nearest marshal position. Between gritted teeth, I say I am fine and bid them onwards. I am happy for them.

I don’t want to be stretchered and I have come this far - so onwards I limp and curse. Strangely, from utter agony, the pain begins to subside and I find myself picking up speed. I pass a couple -then another and finally charge in having passed nine runners on the way down.
Knee recovering through quag No. 37 (Courtesy Alan Gebbie)
Tom coming down (Courtesy Alan Gebbie)

Post-race, I meet Lucas, who says he was 3rd MJ at the top cairn but lost places on the descent and finished 5th MJ in an impressive 1.01.35.

A fresh looking Tom H  (1.05.56)  – who was hoping to do well in the MV50 category, thought he would, but Colin Donnelly, Bill Breckenridge and Adrian Davis showed up and dented his intentions (though Tom was 30 secs in front of Adrian at this year’s Carnethy 5)

I, 1.26.52, had hoped to be around 1.15.00 – 1.20.00…… but that was the target of a man with two kneecaps!
Sums it up...nearly!

First  Lad – Graham Gristwood in 50.51 - (7 secs in front of Finlay Wild)

First Lass - Georgia Tindle in 1.05.58

Results - here
Route - here

The record of 47:34 – was set by Mark Croasdale (1993) – with nearly 25 years of feet and natural erosion on the route, I doubt if this will be surpassed.

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