It all kicked off back in November, the first of 6 trail races hosted by FoxTrail. Over the coming months I would head down to Dunbar regularly to race distances ranging from 10k to half marathon, all off-road.
The first race was 13k and it was also the same course that we covered on Saturday as the final race of the series.
Looking back on that first race, I've learned a lot about racing over this series. I'm not used to leading a race, I'm an OK runner, usually finishing around the top 10% or so of finishers but, other than Tiree 10k, I've not won races.
Every race in the series was completely different, even the first and last, despite being on the same route; the conditions made both races totally different. Although here was one thing that remained the same throughout and that was the friendliness and community spirit that FoxTrail have at their events. It's something completely unique and I loved it.
To enter the full series it cost just over £100 which, as an initial outlay, I did think twice about. I'd never heard of the series before and didn't know anyone to speak to them about it. Was it worth the money now that I've completed it? Absolutely.
What you don't get.
You don't get a medal for completing the race, unless it's the half marathon.
You don't get a t-shirt for completing the races, unless you buy one.
You don't get chip timing.
I know this might put people of instantly, why enter a race if you don't get anything for it?
Here are my reasons:
You do get looked after.
At each race we were given shelter - whether it was a barn or a marquee, we were kept dry and warm even on the wildest of days.
The big patio heaters were amazing!
We had toilets.
We had somewhere to put our bags to keep them dry.
We had water stations and well marshalled courses by super friendly marshals who always gave support and stood out in some horrendous conditions! Thanks all!
We had great signage all the way around the courses.
We had a disco before, during and after the Night 10k.
We got tea, coffee and cakes serviced up by the brilliant cafe team from Foxlake adventures - life savers at the end of some of the wetter, colder races!
You do make new friends
From the very first race I met some brilliant, friendly, down to earth runners. There was a real mix of people as well. A number of cani-cross runners and their beautiful dogs. A number of ultra runners. Some mud hunters and plodders. Everyone got on so well together and there was no feeling of elitism at all. Everyone was there to enjoy the race and people stayed after each of the races to catch up, chat and enjoy the scenery that was on offer.
I ran in some brilliant parts of East Lothian that I didn't even know existed. I'll be heading back down that way soon to re-run the trails and I'll be putting a shout out on social media to see if anyone fancies joining me.
The final race
I'd been fortunate enough to finish on the podium at the previous 5 races. This put me in a great position for the overall series standings and I went into Saturday's race knowing that I had won the series. I would have been lying if I said I didn't want to finish the series with a straight 6 podiums.
What I have learned over the series is a podium is never guaranteed. The first race, I finished 1st with 2nd close behind me (Craig Taylor) and we had a good lead on 3rd. I thought this might be the way the series played out with Craig and I battling for positions at the top with 3rd somewhere behind us but I had forgotten that people could enter single races.
You only need to race 4 races to qualify for the series. If someone wasn't strong on a distance, for example, half marathon, they could just enter the other shorter distances. Ever race had new faces; new competition! I spent the first mile trying to work out who I was racing and where I might end up and Saturday was no different.
Prior to the race I was chatting with people who had read my previous blogs which was really nice. They were asking how I thought today might go and one thing I noticed myself saying was -
"Ye, I'm feeling good about today's race but I'm full of the cold."
I did have the cold but was I trying to put in my excuses for a poor race before the race had even started?
I went for a warm up and felt okay. Heart rate was maybe slightly higher than I would have liked for a warm up but I put that down to the muddy terrain. I was pretty wrapped up, just trying to keep warm and dry.
I took my position on the start line, enjoyed the usual pre-race banter that had become all part of the race and then we were off.
I put in a good burst and led the race for the first mile but I noticed I hadn't dropped anyone. There were still 3 sets of footprints behind me and then Craig came past me. I stuck with him the best I could but after about 3 miles he was putting down a good pace and I was breathing really heavy, heavier than I would have liked and then 2nd and 3rd place past me. There is a small bridge we need to cross and before we had even got to the bridge I'd decided 4th was my goal today. There were still 5 miles to go and I was struggling but then I crossed the bridge and had a word with myself. I caught 3rd and passed him. 2nd place wasn't too far ahead and then I noticed something, my lace had come undone on my right shoe!
I tried to ignore it but with about 4 miles still to run I had to do something about it. We got back to the small bridge, now with 2 way traffic on it and 2nd place, me and 4th place were all of sudden standing briefly next to each other while we waited to get across the bridge. Craig had managed to get across quickly and was now taking advantage of us having to wait to cross.
I crossed the bridge and decided I had to tie my lace.
2nd and 3rd place were now heading off into the distance but I'd decided I wasn't giving up without a fight and once my lace was tied, I was on the hunt. I went chasing after them like a man possessed. Every time I thought I was catching them they would stretch the lead a bit more though.
After going through the 5th mile and only having 3 miles to go I decided to ease off. I wasn't catching 3rd place. I timed how long it took me to get to a point ahead of me where 3rd place had been and I estimated I was 30 seconds behind him. To just draw equal with him I would need to run 10 seconds a mile quicker than he was and this was just an estimate. On the road, with good conditions, this would be a tough ask but add trail, mud and uneven ground. No chance!
I eased the pace and took in my surroundings. Enjoy the views and enjoying the trail. The pressure was off. That was until I spotted Craig had pulled out of the race! I didn't see him at the end to ask what had happened but this now meant I was back in 3rd place. I gave myself a shake and thought I better make sure I don't lose this new podium opportunity and kept an eye behind me when the course allowed to make sure that I still had enough of a lead on 4th place without overdoing it. Safe running was the key. Don't twist an ankle now!
I am pleased to say I did finish in 3rd in the race and 1st overall in the series, which I was delighted about.
Ali from Run the Sights also managed to secure her 1st place overall which was great. We've shared a couple of podiums together over the series. We both received handmade trophies and a Nathan hydration backpack each! Nice prizes and worth all the mud and sweat.
Free ice bath
After the race my legs were a wee bit muddy to say the least. (thanks Bob Marshall for the photo).
Rather than climb back in to the car to drive home with muddy legs, I decided to go for an ice bath, in the Foxlake! It was really nice, cleaned my shoes while I was there and meant I got all the mud off my legs. Perfect!
Looking back at all the races I can honestly say I'll be back next year. I've still got that 13k course record in my sights but I think the competition could be pretty hot next year. I better get a good summer of solid training in!
The events are great. Nice an informal. I think they have the size of the events perfect as well. Not so big that it causes parking issues but not so small that there isn't friendly competition between different abilities.
I've been thinking for a couple of days now on how the series could be improved and I could only think of one small thing. Every runner who completes the full 6 race series could receive a small token of congratulations. A bespoke medal, a Foxlake buff or something like that. Something to say that they completed the full series. That is the only thing I could think of.
The organisation is perfect.
The routes are challenging but suitable for all, whether you're a trail junkie or just starting out.
The Night race was brilliant - I recommend it to anyone, even if it's the only race of the series you manage to do!
The team at Foxlake are so friendly, Mandy and I have already decided we are going to head to Foxlake during the summer to try some of the activities they have to offer there. I really fancy trying wakeboarding. Check out the Foxlake website to see what else they offer.
Thanks to the sponsors who supplied the great prizes and medals for podium finishers. I love my series trophy, it'll be taking pride of place in the study.
Bring on the 2017/18 Winter Series!!