Sunday 8th February - Carnegie Harriers Devilla Forest 15km trail race
I've ran this race for the past 3 years. Last year it was a bit on the short and very wet side, this year however it was completely dry and fast!
Carnegie Harriers put on 2 races in the forest, both held on the same day, starting outside the Police College in Tulliallan. The 15km race starts first and then the 5km runners head off, tracing the 15km runners steps for approx a mile and then they go their own way and start to head back to the finish, while the 15km runners continue on their way around Devilla forest.
We arrived at about 10am to collect our timing chips, race numbers and bottles of beer, all over 18s taking part in the race got a free bottle of craft beer due to the race being part sponsored by Harviestoun Brewery and since Mandy doesn't drink beer, I was now two bottles of beer better off and the race hadn't even started!
With about 30 minutes to go, I headed out for a warm up and pre-race recce of the first mile of the course. Last year this section was really wet but there wasn't any signs of large puddles or any puddles this year! It was bone dry and frozen solid. A couple of loose branches but nothing to cause any issues. I had considered staying in my road running shoes but thought better of it.
After the warm up I went back to the Police College, pulled on my Edinburgh AC club vest, changed my shoes to my Inov-8 Talon 190's and headed out to the start line.
I still had a couple of minutes to go so did some strides and stretches which we do before a track training session and then took my place in the runners.
I thought I would be brash and just stand with my toe tapping the start line, no point being stuck behind the crowd if I am going for a good time. If I'm going too slow, they can go around me! Usually at cross country I go 3 or 4 rows back but I really wanted to race from the start and hoped I wouldn't regret being so close to the line.
I wished a couple of people I recognised in the crowd good luck and hoped they had a good race, then the countdown started and we were off.
Quickly a number of people sped past me and I had a quick count, 12 people were ahead of me, one of them a lady, so that was 11th male. I felt comfortable with my pace, not looking at my watch, I quickly got in to a good rhythm and. Without trying I started to catch a couple of people but knew it was too early in the race to think I wouldn't see them again and part of me did consider backing off the pace as I was passing people on the first climb, which is basically the first mile and a half, but I still felt comfortable so just kept at it.
Ahead of me now was a Carnegie Harrier vest, they are always easy to spot due to the bright orange and green colours so I decided to make that my next target to get to. The plan was, get up behind the runner and stick with them but I had now lost count of where I was positioned and just concentrated on my running. Relaxed and enjoying the conditions, which were perfect!
Just after the climb, the race becomes quiet technical. You head in to the forest and off the main forestry commission tracks. Here it's sharp turns, running around tree trunks, small ditches and bushes. Not many places to pass people but also not many places for people to pass you. In previous years this is where I tend to take a bit of recovery time from the first mile and a half of climbing but not today. I was now right behind the Carnegie Harrier and I recognised them, it was Iain Taylor, someone I have never been able to get close to in a race before and I'll admit, alarm bells did start to sound. Had I gone off way too fast and was I going to blow up?
Every corner we took I was only a couple of feet behind him, he wasn't pulling away and I was feeling OK. I'd turned the alarm bells off and I was relaxing again, letting the training take over, trusting my body. I could hear someone else behind me and saw them try and pass on a couple of sections but they just couldn't squeeze past, until one wider area and they were off. Putting a good pace down and leaving Iain and I to battle through the forest tracks. I wasn't going to pass him in the forest, I was happy with the pace just now and there was still another 7 miles of racing to go.
We popped out of the forest at about two and a half miles in to the race, back on the forest access tracks and plenty of space for passing. I kept my pace, pulled up next to Iain and then gradually pulled away from him. Again my alarm bells were ringing, I was questioning whether this was a good move or not but I wasn't trying to pass him, I was just keeping my pace and pulling away.
For the next 2 miles I was running pretty much on my own. I could see the yellow vest that passed us in the forest and I knew Iain wouldn't be far behind because at about four and a half miles, where the water station was, one of his club mates dashed out to get a photo, or at least, that is what I presume, either way, I kept on pushing on the hills and using the downhill sections to recover but keep the pace up.
You can see the course elevation above in the grey shaded area with my pace represented by the blue line.
Now, you might notice the big spike downwards in my pace at mile 8. This was the worst part of the race for me. Up until this point, everything was going great. I felt strong, legs were still working and then out of nowhere, I got a stitch and it was the sort that caused me a lot of pain. I couldn't catch my breath and the only thing I could do was stop and try and recover.
I lost two places at this point but there was nothing I could do. I stopped at the side of the course. Got a couple of deep breaths in and tried to get going again but then I stopped again because it was worse than I had thought. Another couple of seconds, which felt like minutes went past and finally, with some really slow deep breaths, the stitch went away and I was able to get going again.
I started chasing one of the guys that had passed me but with only a mile or so to go, I couldn't catch him.
When I finished, Mandy was waiting for me, shouting encouragement and then at the very end she told me I had finished 6th! I was over the moon but at the same time, in the back of my mind I was thinking, that means I was originally sitting 4th up until a mile away from the finish. But that changes nothing. I couldn't have gone on if I had tried.
During the race, I must have been passing people without realising it. I was just focussed on my own race, not worrying about positions or pacing, just enjoying the race and running as hard as I felt I could.
In the end I got a massive PB for the course, previous time was 58:49, this time I was 57:16 which woks out 10 seconds per mile faster.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what this season has in store for me, if this is how I am running so early on.
Mandy had a good race as well, matching her race time from August's JogScotland One Big Weekend 5k at Cramond and Devilla is a much tougher course. Her training is coming along brilliant as well. More consistency with her miles and her Strava stats are showing PB's for segments on a regular basis.
Onwards and upwards for us both!
The next race for me is the National Cross Country event at Falkirk in a weeks time. I'm excited to see how I get on there!