by Ali Wyllie
It had been a rather stressful week (new role in my day job & house sale). I needed The 16k Foxtrail Race to unwind and navigate back to my mental equilibrium. A few nights before the race I scanned through the start list and was delighted to see plenty of my friends from both Cani-Sports Edinburgh and Race Fitness were racing. I also noticed a very strong female field - again! Having won this race in the 2015 series with a time of 01:10:13 I knew I had my work cut out if I wanted to beat this time, let alone achieve a podium. I recalled that last years race I had worked beyond my ability level and ended up with a small calf tear.
As is standard, I was the first one on site. I figure if you are early then you are on time. If you are on time then you are late and if you are late then you may as well not turn up.
John and Mandy were all set up at the registration, ready to welcome the crowds and address any last minute questions or concerns. There was the usual hustle and bustle of the start of an event and as racers flocked around the start I chatted with a few friends. However, I really am not very good company before a race, I am distracted and jittery, I flit around like a butterfly and I am certainly not a good conversationalist. So I apologise now to anyone who has ever had to endure me during the morning build up to a race. In fact I apologise to anyone who may have to endure me in the future. There, apologies done.
I needn't have worried too much, after all I had at least remembered my trainers unlike one of my friends (not mentioning any names, ehm, Cath Dolliver) AND I had remembered my watch this time. I'm sometimes proud of myself for just rocking up to a race in one piece with everything I need (I can be such a liability!).
I stood on the start line repeating out loud "don't set off too fast, don't set off too fast", a few folk chuckled at me, but I sometimes need to give myself a stern talking to. I was hoping this message would subliminally filter through to the front line of racers, which would stop me feeling the impulsive desire to tear off after them. We set off 2 minutes before the canicrossers (running assisted with dogs), I knew the speed merchant Fiona Ramsay who was canicrossing, would pass me at some point, and I was curious as to when this would be. I set off steadily and reduced the urge to stay with the front pack. Within the first kilometre I overtook Julie Oswald, she looked strong and composed and I wondered if I was pushing it too much. Running back through Foxlake HQ James shouted after me "You're first female and in the top 10". The elusive top 10 spot - "was it attainable" I wondered. By the 5k mark my watch read 20:01, I felt good, my legs were light and my breathing was settled. I knew if I could maintain this pace I would have a strong race.
I was bouncing along one of my favourite sections; the small single track on top of the mini cliff top adjacent to the sea, when I heard Fi behind me, talking to other runners warning them of her passing with the dog. She left me for dust, I swear Fuzzy was smiling, her big tongue was hanging out and she was clearly enjoying her run.
I clocked Bob Marshall, sitting patiently, waiting to capture each and every racer's experience in a single freeze frame. I summoned up a bit of cheery banter, gave him a wave and tottled off towards the bridge.
No matter how many times I have run across this bridge I always think it is slippy when it is most clearly not!
Just before the trail took us into the woodland, a lone tree stood out on the horizon, as I drew closer I could see it was decorated like a Christmas tree. It made me giggle. I wondered if it was embarrassed and if the other trees were mocking it (did anyone else wonder this? No? Just me then). It certainly gave me a spring in my step and a smile on my face.
The next woodland stage was simply awesome. It was bouncy and a bit more technical with a few twists and turns. This is my kind of trail and I giggled out loud as I danced along the trail totally engrossed in my surroundings and oblivious to the stresses of my week. All too soon I was on the beach, this was a very tough section and is certainly not a strength of mine. I take my hat off to anyone who runs desert marathons. I opted for the firmer sand and ran close to the tide. My orange tinted glasses made the beach and sky look magical and up ahead I could see the silhouettes of several runners all in their own space, scattered along the beach. I wondered what everyone was thinking about and how they were feeling. Me - I was reminded of my emotional Tiree Ultra earlier in the year, but for most of my race whilst I was on the beach I thought of my Carlsberg job in Broome, Australia, where I worked with camels. My role was to lead a team of 18 camels along the beach whilst the sun set.
After crossing the bridge to nowhere, I knew I was over half way. Each time I felt my form collapse I picked myself up, ran tall and ensured my foot placements were underneath my core and not jarring my body with unnecessary braking action. I think it is fair to say I worked my ass off and was delighted to come in with a time almost 3 minutes faster than last years race. The clock read 1:07:18, placing me first lady. But I was even more delighted to be 10th overall. I had finally conquered a top 10 finish.
I am often asked for running tips, which I find quite humbling and sometimes embarrassing as I feel a bit of a fraud, I see myself as a slightly better than average runner. I have good days and bad days like everyone. I work hard and play hard and I don't do anything by half measures. Do or do not, there is no try! For me, I love trail running and I love the person it has made me. If you don't already love trail running, embrace it, let it captivate you and enjoy the journey as you slowly fall in love and once you love trail running, I mean REALLY love it, the world is your oyster for your running.
I always take time to reflect after each race. What worked, what didn't work and what I need to improve on. This has caused me to become quite superstitious in terms of my warm-up, race attire, food, routine, timings etc. My orange glasses are a godsend as my eyes are pretty sensitive and are prone to streaming when I race. I have an array of glasses ranging from expensive Oakleys to £7 children safety glasses. Can you guess which glasses I chose to wear during this race? Big thanks to Allan Ramsay for sharing these glasses with me!
There were some outstanding performances out on the trail with runners smashing through their personal best times and conquering personal goals (Chiara!!!). As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe everyone is a winner. Perhaps testimony to the spirit of these events several folk who were unable to race for one reason or another made the effort to come and soak in the atmosphere and lend their support to all the racers; just a couple of mentions - Lan; my personal guru & Sarah of the fab Life and Lifting blog - who I had the pleasure of meeting before the race (Sarah - see the comment above about my poor communication skills prior to a race).
Events like this do not organise themselves. They take a huge amount of work. So a big shout out to John, Callum and James and their amazing team for all the work they continue to do to make this such an epic series.
It's always great to see friends old and new and put faces to names. It was fab to finally meet Owain Williams of the Running Beside Me blog, who also had a strong run, coming in 3rd.
I would like to leave you with a top tip. Following the race, I discovered the best way to revive tired legs. Sod ice baths, rest and massage - 5 hours dancing like a fool in silly girly heels is the best medicine - and has left my legs fresh as daisies :-). You have to love a Christmas night out.
See you at the next one on 21st January - in 2017!
p.s no I did not take the pics on my way round. I took the hairy kidz for a run after the prize giving, which allowed me to capture some of the highlights. Princess Jasper was aghast that I wasn't taking photos of her, so just to keep her happy I took this of her at the start of the beach section.
Why walk.... when you can run!