Highland Cross 2018 – Race Report

It is now Monday night and your legs are still sore from taking part in a 50 mile duathlon on Saturday. It was worth it however because you raised money for charities that do brilliant work in the Scottish Highlands. You also thoroughly enjoyed yourself and pushed yourself to the limits of endurance while travelling through some awe inspiring scenery.

Now its back to washing dishes though and your still pretty tired. So how did you get to this point. Well, 36 years after its conception the Highland Cross is still going as strong as ever with a field of over 700 taking part every year. Some choose to walk and cycle the distance while others, including you, choose to run and then cycle it. This is actually the second year you have taken part in the crossing across the Highlands from Morvich to Beauly, passing the stunning Sisters of Kintail and running through Glen Affric.

Organisation is a word you have always feared and has never ever been a strength. In fact its likely the reason teachers at school often became frustrated with you. Unfortunately a significant amount of organisation is needed to compete in this awesome event. Though fortunately the race organisation itself is top notch. To anyone participating in this event it is recommend to make a weekend of it. Take the option of dropping your precious bike in Inverness on the Friday evening to be transported to the transition point of the race after 20 miles.

Arriving in the capital of the Highlands, you will wrap your almunium bike, that you love dearly, in copious amounts of cardboard and bubble wrap while watching fellow competitors  wheel their carbon frames about. Its okay though because you’ve always believed its not at all about the bike and that the totally worn out tryes on your steed don’t make it easier to puncture. Basic science isn’t important right?

With the bike now at the back of your mind, as no last minute repairs can be made, you drive to Beauly where you will be spending the night with your team mate/mother in a hotel room. You have convinced yourself over the last week that the reason you couldn’t find anyone else than your Mum to join your team is that you are a maverick when it comes to running and cycling. You go it alone. Maybe its actually because you look shit in lycra. Oh well.

Anyway on arrival you meet with your team leader who you raced with last year. He is a strong athlete and therefore deserves his carbon bike (please write in), and has given you the great opportunity to do this event again. See you do have some friends in the athletic community.

The night before is less stressful than it was last year when you spent the wee hours pacing around your room and hoping you wouldn’t be using the bathroom as much when the morning came. Last year was more stressful as you really wanted to put in a good shift for your team leader to help him record a sub 5 hour crossing which you managed with 20 minutes to spare.

This year isn’t as stressful as you are purely racing for yourself, being given free lease to see if you can beat your previous time of 4:40. Training hasn’t been ideal and your health has been bit sporadic but you feel confident you can beat 4:30, not using excuses in a desperate attempt to provide a safety net for massive failure.

Feeling sick with nerves the next morning you force down some lumps of porridge which you are sure is actually a living organism, and head of on the 2 hours, 30 minutes bus journey to the west coast. This is where sheep have free will and the roads curve through towering mountains shrouded in low cloud. It is also where you will start the race.

Now standing on the start line your bladder gives it usual last minute reminder that its there, before the starting gun is fired at 11am. Your off at a storming pace and you feel great, strolling along a nice wide path through the beautiful countryside. At this pace you’ll get there in under four hours and you won’t even have to worry about finding a tree to take a piss behind.

Soon you hit the first climb and the legs aren’t the happy, reminding you there’s the best part of 17 miles remaining until transition. Slowing down you take water from every station you pass, commandeered by enthuasutic  volunteers with loud and encouraging voices. Taking it easy to the high point of the race you take in the amazing waterfall below and finally after an hour, relive yourself behind a small wall.

The descent to the halfway point is great fun and you revel in ploughing through deep streams which cross the path. Suddenly you are over two hours in and are still going well. You have munched through half an energy bar, finding out how hard it is to keep running while eating. Others are taking in gels and other food, but you think this will give you a sore stomach so keep going. You will regret this when your blood sugar levels drop through the floor after the race.

Its not long until you can hop on your bike and your getting excited about getting a seat of some sort. Your lycra is beginning to become uncomfortable and you want to start wearing it for its primary use, to protect your fruit and veg from the exertion of cycling. When running its heavy and feels like more of a hindrance than anything else. When thinking about all this you find yourself on the “Yellow Brick Road”, a seemingly endless hell of undulating double track which leaves cramp in almost every part of your body.

In reality this section only lasts five miles but it takes a lot of resolve to not start walking or stop. After a section of tarmac which adds to the pain, you arrive at the transition point to your absolute relief. This part of the race is brilliantly organised and you only spend five minutes here, changing into your circa 2012 cycling clip ins (I haven’t really grown) with the help of a friendly and patience race volunteer.

The cycle was great fun last year and you enjoyed it again this year, weaving through groups of slower cyclists and being passed by the quicker ones on the often technical run down to Beauly. It feels like your competing in a clean Tour de France. With your eye on the clock you power through the cycle in 1hour, 23 minutes, meaning your total time is 4 hours, 20 minutes. Success!

This joy at your time is short lived however, as you miss your team mates finishing as you pass out in your hotel room and sleep for the next three hours, obviously suffering from major calorie defiency. Both of your team mates ran storming times and you leave the Scottish Highlands with a great sense of happiness, hoping to return again to a great event for a good cause.

If you have been good enough to listen to my ramblings it would be awesome if you could sponser me a wee bit for completing the Highland Cross 2018. The work the Cross does goes back into the communities which play such a big role in helping the race continue successfully….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/finn-nixon1

 

 

 

 

Heading Home

First Draft – Monday 23rd April 2018

The Positives :

As I sit on the beach in Nadi Bay on the largest Fijian island of Vitu Levu, my emotions are hugely mixed. This evening I am heading home. No not my Fijian home, but my real home in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. A last run along the beach this morning only made me feel a deeper sadness that I would be leaving this small piece of paradise. The sun is shining as brightly as ever through the numerous palm trees and across the blue Pacific Ocean as though the weather gods our rubbing in the fact that I will leave all of this behind in a few hours.

However, I like to think I’m optimist by Scottish standards at the very least. Therefore I want to first list the obvious positives of heading home. One is probably the most obvious, being that I miss my family and closest friends, having not seen or really heard from them for two months now. It will be great to catch up with them and make them feel jealous as I flaunt my healthy tan and blonde hair. I realise these will fade quickly so I’ll actually keep the flaunting to a minimum I think.

It will also be great to return to sunny Braemar, my home village of around 450 people with a real community spirit which could perhaps be compared to the attitudes of Fijians towards the importance of community. It would be churlish to not admit that I have felt a degree of homesickness during the last two months.

As I’ve often said being Scottish is almost a disease. During the cold long winters and following cool, wet summers that we experience I’ll often be desperate to get away to a warmer climate. However, a week away and you suddenly miss Scotland and can have moments where you are desperate to return to the home nation and have to wear layers most days.

I have also of course had a truly amazing experience which I can take back with me and treasure for the rest of my life. It is by a long shot the best thing I have ever done and I would have laughed if someone had suggested I would have ended up in Fiji six months ago. This journey half way across the globe fulfilled my overall aim. To extend my comfort zone to the absolute limit.

During my time here I have learnt a huge amount about Fiji, its culture and its people. Not giving these islands another visit doesn’t feel like it should be an option for me. Although, lets not forget I have many things to look forward to when I return home. I am lucky enough to be returning to my job as a part-time dishwasher and hopefully have a university place lined up.

The Negatives:

On the other hand, there was a feeling of great sadness as I packed up my suitcase for the last time this morning. The colourful people, the wonderful school students, the postcard perfect beaches, fellow travellers/volunteers and the “Vinaka Fiji” team will be greatly missed.

While reflecting on my time in the Yasawa Islands it is tempting to go into great detail about the sand, sea and sun. However, you probably know these things about Fiji already. No I would rather write about what well and truly makes Fiji such a wonderful place, the people. Their overall hospitality, kindness, laughter, attitude and happiness are unlike anything I have ever come across.

In many ways they have made me consider my attitude towards life and the importance of their resilience, especially in the face of worsening cyclones. Most locals to the Yasawa Islands live a much simpler, less stressful life to us. An existence which is seemingly a lot less centred on the importance of materialism.

I also know it will likely be a long time until I get another opportunity to travel to this part of the world. Maybe I will return one day when I am a little older or perhaps I will have to wait until I am much older. Whatever happens I still have hope I’ll be back on these sun kissed beaches.

At 6.15 pm I start my mammoth journey home. A mini-adventure in itself perhaps, but one I hope isn’t too adventurous. If I make it home (fingers crossed) it will be back to the norm, if there is such a thing. Maybe it won’t feel normal though and it will take time to adapt to Scottish rural life again. I’m not too worried though. If I can travel to the other side of the world solo, then surely I’ll be able to wash some dishes and then roll up at a university less than 150 miles from home. Now how do airports work again?

Good Friday – 30/03/18

20180330_080150

On Good Friday morning my alarm sounded at 4 am, eventually waking me from my slumber. Today the “Vinaka Fiji” team would be travelling to Kese village on Naviti to attend a 5 am church service.

As I finally came to, I listened to the wind and rain which disturbed the otherwise silent Bure 9 (shared accomodation). Maybe we wouldn’t be going today. Maybe the weather would keep us in our beds. Part of me hoped this was true as I struggled to find my sulu.

My roommates and fellow volunteers stirred as I tried to organise myself in the darkness. A short exchange of words later and I realised I would be the only one of us going on this early morning adventure.

In the Main Bure I found the three other volunteers looking as tired as I felt. Soon we were also joined by one of our faithful boat captains, Semmi who was from Kese. Half an hour later we were boarding the long boat in the still pitch blackness.

Elle, operations manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, and Tema, the education team leader, joined us on the boat. Looks like we would be going. Slightly less tired now, I grew a bit more enthusiastic after Tema told me that this was the first time they had taken the boat out in the dark.

The boat didn’t take long to get up to speed and we cruised through the darkness, a slight bump every now and then the only reminder that we were out to sea. On our way to Kese we passed the “Fijian Princess”, a cruse ship we had visited and given a talk to the day before.

About 45 minutes after leaving we arrived at Kese as the rain began to come on heavy again. We winded our way through the village to the church located at the back of Kese, passing the orginal church building. A structure which was a shocking reminder of Cyclone Winston (January 2016) which had totally blown it’d roof off.

Eventually we found the church. By this point it was around 6 am, meaning we had missed the first half of the service. However, we were of course welcomed in and chairs were quickly organised for us.

We watched as the congregation of 30 participated in song and prayer, being led by a Pastor who stood at the front of the church. At some points during the service Elle would stand up and address the congregation, talking about “Vinaka Fiji” and our role in the community as volunteers.

This must have lasted for around half an hour and when the service came to an end each church goer came up and shook our hands. This was quite touching and a lovely gesture.

Following this we re-entered the rain for a short while, walking to the Pastor’s house to have a bite to eat. Breakfast was a huge collection of yummy cakes, toast and scrambled egg. This did the job as I think our stomachs were all rumbling.

Breakfast was served with tea and coffee, and after our plates had been cleared, we sat and talked untill 8 am when we left for base. Fijian hospitality had again proved it was a world beater and the church visit had been a great experience. An experience that the average visitor to this part of the would be unlikely to have.

A Day in the Life of a “Vinaka Fiji” Volunteer

As I might have mentioned in my previous posts I am in the magical Yasawa Islands in Fiji. My reason for being here? Five days a week I am travelling out to three primary schools and one high school to volunteer.

Details about the type of volunteering are in a previous post, but what has happened in the average day for the last month or so. I’ll tell you….

0600 – On weekdays and in fact most days I will wake up now, often being woken by the amazingly bright sunrise.

0630 – After I have  watched the sunrise from the Sunrise beach (adaptly named I know) and perhaps read my book for a while, I try to go for a run. If your not a fan of running up and down the beach then there is the ‘Hike’ up to the higest point of Drawqa Island. This run usually takes about 20 minutes though can take longer if I meet Saki. Read the next one!

0700 – Short shower. All of the showers on the island are set to cold making them a great way to refresh after sweating it out on the run. Sometimes if it’s a really warm morning I’ll go swimming in the sea instead.

0715 – Breakfast! Best meal of the day. There is a big selection for breakfast I tend to keep it simple with some cornflakes. Sometimes I’ll treat myself with a pancake if I’ve had a particularly hard time on the ‘Hike’. At breakfast we will receive our pack lunches for the day and will choose what we want for dinner that night. So much thinking about food at the same time!

0800 – After breakfast the boat will depart to the next island along, Naviti. Journey time depends on which school we go to, the weather and which boat captain we have. Though in fairness Jim and Sammi are both exceptional. The closest school at Soso usually takes about 20 minutes to travel to, while Naviti District School can take up to 45 minutes to get to.

0900 – Most of the schools start their day at this time and we will usually get our first students of the day just after the bell. As mentioned previously, each session with a student is meant to last 25 minutes.

1030 – Mid Morning Break. Between the start of the day and recess we will likely see about three students each. This break lasts 15 minutes. If I’m lucky I sometimes get to throw a rugby ball around with some of the kids.

1200 – Most of the time this will be when we take a break for lunch and can attempt to eat the enormous contents of our pack lunch boxes which will often contain fish, or rice. Most of the primary schools have lunch at the time, but Yasawa High School students don’t knock off until 1 pm.

1330 – Our lunch break lasts for a long time! It is often very hot and humid by midday/early afternoon so it is nice to take rest bite by going paddling in the nearby ocean after sitting on the beach. Eventually we will start with the students again and will usually see about two each before we leave for ‘home’.

1430 – Mid afternoon we will usually wander down to the beach to catch the boat back to ‘Barefoot Manta’. Sometimes the long boat will be waiting for us while on other occasions we will depart at around 3 pm. Before we leave the high school we will often choose some resources to take with us we know we will be visiting one of the more remote schools the next day.

1530 – Most days we will arrive back at ‘Barefoot’ in the late afternoon and will sit back and relax until dinner. Depending on how I’m feeling I might do the ‘Hike’ again or have a nap. Recently the nap seems to have been the preferred option as the heat and a course of antibiotics for an infection on my ankle has made me feel quite drowsy by this time of the day.

1800 – Will try and catch the sunset from the beach on the other side of the island if there is one! Have tended to be more lucky with stunning sunrises for some reason.

 

1830 – By this time in the evening I’ll make my way down to the Main Bure or to the sunset deck in preparation for dinner at 7 pm which is always top notch.

2000 – Sometimes there will be post-dinner entertainment. Every Friday the staff members will patrcipate in Fijian traditional singing and dancing, ending in a rendition of the national anthem.

2100 – As a result of the heat I will often find myself going to be early during the week. Before I got to bed I like going to the beach with my music. The lack of natural light means there is a stunning view of the stars when there is little cloud cover.

2130 – Bedtime. Ready to do something similar the next day!

Weekends – My weekends tend to be spent chilling by the beach, running and just socialising with the other volunteers. Not a bad way to spend your days off! In recent weeks I have kayaked around the island and last weekend I went to Naviti to watch a local rugby game. This was a great experience and some of the hits the locals put on each other were massive. I couldn’t choose a better place to spend your down time!

 

 

Why Have I Actually Travelled to Fiji?

Believe it or not there was actually a specific purpose to travelling to the other side of the world. As well as enjoying the island paradise which I have found myself on, I will also spend the next six weeks travelling in between three schools on a voluntary basis.

Now two weeks in, I have learnt a lot about the school environment in this very specific part of the Pacific region. The three schools I have been travelling to with two other volunteers are all located on the largest of the Yasawa Islands, Naviti.

From Monday to Friday, we embark on a small boat which takes between 30 minutes and an hour to reach Naviti. This depends on which school we are visiting, whether we need to do errands and the weather conditions.

I have found the boat ride a very enjoyable experience, feeling the cooler air on my face as we speed between the islands. However, a choppy day last week has confirmed that my stomach and I are not fans of rolling and pitching when the waves get slightly larger.

Most days we will visit Naviti Elementary School, a compound which has faced many challenges after a monsoon paid a visit a few weeks before I arrived. With children up to Year 8 attending you would presume there would be eight classrooms.

Unfortunately these buildings were torn apart by the high winds, forcing the teachers to set up tents. These temporary classrooms make it very difficult for the pupils and teachers, as temperatures often rise to 30 degrees plus.

Even more recently these tents were blown down and flooded by a  short storm while we were here. This had resulted in two days off school at the start of the week, before six classes were forced into the teachers’ accommodation to study, while the other two remain in the tents in a muddy field.

When we visited the school earlier today we were lucky enough to sit through assembly. During the headteachers’ remarks he thanked the children for showing up to school despite the challanges they were currently facing.

Prayer was also said before he reminded pupils that they needed to follow the strict dress code which dictates that knees should be covered at all times. I have also been following this dress code, wearing a sulu (or sarong).

Going into the volunteering I wasn’t sure what my role would but I thought it likely included helping out in the classroom. Instead, pupils come up to a building set aside for “Vinaka Fiji” volunteers.

This base has many resources that have been donated to the organisation and when the pupils visit we will usually spend one-on-one time with them for 25 minutes. This time is spent reading or teaching them English words that they might not know.

This can be quite challenging with the younger pupils especially because they will usually speak Fijian at home and when with their school mates. There is definitely more translation included than I was expecting. I was also saddeed to find out the reason they put their hands over their heads when they get a question wrong.

The base is located in Yasawa High School which is on the same campus as Naviti Elementary. This is the school we will visit when the elementary is closed. Pupils start high school in Year 9 before leaving in Year 14, often for the mainland.

Although it wasn’t as badly affected by the monsoon, older pupils face many other challenges. As the only high school in the Yasawas, boarding is offered to pupils, a amenity that it has to fork out for itself. Pupils who board are woken at 5.30 every morning before being put to work in the fields until 7. School starts at 8am. Not the easiest start to a school day.

For many pupils who don’t board it is equally as difficult as they leave home at 7am to make a difficult hike over the mountain from their villages on the other side of the island. They must walk up a steep ascent and descent which I can imagine becomes treacherous after heavy rain. Having caught a glimpse of the route, it doesn’t look like a track I would want to tackle bare foot or in sandals. A reality for the students.

We do similar activities with the high schoolers when they visit the base. Some have good English while others struggle to even write a sentence. These students can be very difficult to work with, but slowly reading through a book with them can be rewarding as they start to pick up new words.

On Fridays, or when the weather is too stormy, we visit Apensia Memorial School located in the nearer village of Soso. This is another elementary school of around 80 pupils set in a background of two foliage covered hills. Two rugby posts made of bamboo add to this stunning setting.

Inside the school building there is three classes,  with the youngest students hosted by a nearby building. “Vinaka Fiji” doesn’t have a base here, so we sit on the floor of the school office when reading to the kids.

In the last couple of weeks we have focused on learning rhyming words, with a large collection of Dr Zeuss books coming in handy. Intrestingly the children at this school seem to be much further ahead than the ones we work with at Naviti Elementary. This is surely a result of the many challenges that the Naviti students face on a daily basis.

Friday afternoons at Apensia are fun as they are set aside for “organised” sports. This includes kids of all ages running around throwing rugby balls and footballs, while showing why the Fijians are known for their offloading skills even at a very young age. I try to take part even if trying to pass three balls to like 15 children at the same time can be challenging!

 

Adaptions to Travelling to the Other Side of the World

I have now been in Fiji for eleven days. Three days on the mainland followed by eight days on Barefoot Island, a tiny island in the remote Yasawas. Looking back on my short time in this magical part of the world, I thought I would look into eleven adaptions that I’ve had to make to life literally half the world away from Scotland.

1. Air Travel – Having never travelled by airplane alone, using three flights and visiting four airports was a bit of a thought. However, I quickly learned the protocols that needed to be followed when using this form of transportation. I’m not a particularly nervous flyer, but did become restless when tackling the 14 hour flight from Dubai to Brisbane. Good tips would be to take a good book, watch a few movies, sleep and whatever you do don’t clock watch!

2. A different accent – The majority of Fijians speak English along with their native Fijian. However, there is a minority that speaks Indo-Fijian and most Fijians have a strong Pacific accent which my ears weren’t used to picking up. They are now!

3. Very friendly people – This doesn’t sound like much of a challenge and isn’t. Most Fijians seem to be the most friendly people I have ever come across and take great delight in greeting you with an enthusiastic “bula” in passing. In Scotland we aren’t that big on saying hello to strangers, so it’s important to pay attention and respond if greeted this way!

4. The Heat – Coming from a sub-zero Scottish winter to the Fijian Summer was always going to be a big step. Now in the wet season, temperatures usually hover between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with humidity often upwards of 75%. If wanting to go for a run then you need to get up early. Although the warm ocean is a great place to cool off after breaking a sweat.

5. Mosquitoes – If travelling to Fiji you need to be prepared to wear lots of mosquito spray, ecspecially at night or after rain showers when they are at their worst. I have lots of red bumps and spots, but have become gradually better at not itching them and making them worse.

6. Wearing lots of Sun Cream – On most home-is-best Scottish holidays sun cream is an accessory that can often be left at the bottom of the suitcase. In Fiji however, you need to make sure you are throughly covered in the white stuff.  Two very unattractive shoulders covered in brown and white patches are a reminder that I learnt the hard way.

7. Shared sleeping spaces – Sleeping in close proximity to strangers isn’t something that I’m used to but was a good opportunity to meet other travellers.  Although it can be difficult depending on who your dorm mates are. Despite an intresting encounter with a French couple who pushed the boundaries of what was appropriate in a shared space, I have been lucky. Luck of the draw I guess.

8. “Fiji Time” – The Fijian concept of time seems to be a much looser concept than at home. Patience is a virtue and for things to run slightly late at a more relaxed pace is the norm. Can be a change from the systematic  approach to time in the Western world. I’ve become a big fan of “Fiji Time”!

9. A Kava Ceremony – When being welcomed into a village or onto an island, visitors should be prepared to participate in a ceremony where a drink made of pepper plant root is consumed while sitting in a circle. Although it may look slightly like muddy water is doesn’t taste too bad at all and it was great to take part in an important part of Fijian culture.

10. The Food – No complaints here! Delicious meals including fish, rice and lots of salad are often cooked up for visitors. If you are worried about changes in diet you should take stomach tablets. I have some but hope not to use them. Fingers crossed!

11. Jet lag – Lastly there is obviously a reaction to travelling to the other side of the world. Fiji happens to be 12 hours ahead of GMT, meaning that it can be difficult to get used to this significant time difference. I managed to sleep a lot while flying and went to bed at 8pm local time the evening I arrived. This seemed to help, although my waking hours have changed drastically. I usually go to bed at 9 pm, waking at 6 am, before often napping when late afternoon rolls around. I think it may be the heat!

 

Dess Woods Night Race (26/01/18)

On a chilly Friday evening my Mother and I embarked on another adventure down the Deeside Valley to participate in our second race of the year respectively. This time we would be stopping just short of the village of Lumphanan, the destination being a sizable area of woodland two miles short of where we had ran the detox three weeks previously.

This had been a race which I had wanted to take part in for while, taking place in my old training grounds, Dess Woods. These woods were located on a sloping hill, about a mile outside Kincardine O’ Neil, the village which had spent the first 17 years of my life living in. With lots of different trails to explore alongside steep climbs and technical descents it played in major part in kick starting my running obsession. Many a moonlit night had been spent testing my legs in these woods so I was excited to be returning. I was also excited and partly nervous to see how my legs would fare in a full out trail race.

After the Lumphanan Detox at the start of the year, my training had gone into a slight decline again, before I had reversed this in the ten days or so before this next race. I had been doing a lot of trail running, but had struggled slightly as Braemar had been coated by a relatively thick layer of snow for the last couple of weeks. I knew that I wouldn’t be competing for the top places but had the target of perhaps finishing in the top 10. I had looked at the times from the two previous years and thought this was a realistic target if I decided to really push myself.

As I had often been free during the day in recent months I hadn’t done much night running, an activity which I used to love. The fact that this was a night race also added a tinge of excitement as I packed my head torch along with my ‘Garmin’ watch that I had finally got to work!

On arrival at Dess Woods we met my Auntie and her partner and went about picking up our race numbers and safety pins. With our numbers pinned to our clothing, we studied the race route…

The route would be completed by doing two loops, with the first of the loops being completed twice. At 8.7 kilometers it was as hilly as I expected it would be, starting with a tough climb up from the Deeside Activity Park at the bottom of the woods, up to the gate at right at the top of the woods. After this steep fire track climb lasting about 900 meters, there was a slight grassy descent before a left turn took you up through some undulating fields.

When I had trained here I had affectionately referred to these as being part of the ‘sheep fields’ due to the creatures of a wooly nature which usually habited these parts. Great views up and down the valley where gained from this high point, though in the darkness the lights of Kincardine O’Neil could still be viewed, lighting up the valley floor to the east.

After a short loop in these fields a technical bit of the route would have to be negotiated, with an off-piste jump over a wall and a fence to access Dess Woods again. This was followed by an easier section which completed the first loop, with a long-ish descent, in which the route crosses the climb which the runners will have started they’re race on. The route then returns to being undulating, passing a waterfall which is another place which I used to love past.

Following on from the waterfall, is a very steep climb taking competitors on a windy route between the trees before eventually coming to a forest break. This break in the woodland doesn’t last long however, as after a short descent there the route rejoins the first climb, returning runners to the first loop which they will have to complete again before a long descent to the finish line which they will hopefully reach in one piece.

Having completed a short warm-up and taken part in some pre-race chat, I lined up on the start line, hoping that I would be able to hurt enough to finish in a position or time I was happy with. With my trusty innovates I decided to just wear on layer, a long sleeved top knowing I would warm up quite fast. I was also wearing running leggings to try and keep my legs and their muscles warm. If you can’t tell I’m very scientific when it comes to these details.

Soon enough we were off, with 60 so running being unleashed like a frantic group of wild dogs. It took while to find my breath, but when I did I surprisingly felt good on the first climb, deciding to push myself harder than I probably should have and by the time I reached the gate at the top my legs were already shot. “Damn that was stupid!”, my legs shouted.

Making my way towards the ‘Sheep Fields”, it was good to get out into the open, as the lights in the valley below were joined by a starry night sky. This provided an atmospheric background to some tough running over muddy ground which was as equally hard in some places as it was soft in others. At least ice was minimal! The fields where lit up by runners weaving between the old walls and rocks which littered the grassy surface.

After some undulation, it was nice to then get a long descent, on slightly interrupted by the hurdle section over a wall and fence to get back into the woods. On arrival into the woods I felt that there was another runner close behind and I fell back a place on the latter half of the descent towards the waterfall. I attempted to keep her in sight for as long as possible, but lost sight of my fellow competitor on the hard ascent back through the trees.

I was annoyed at myself for letting this happen but was slightly more sympathetic when I found out later that she was the current Scottish Hill Racing Champion. However, I realised I had to carry on pushing on completion of the second loop, continued to push myself as hard as possible up the final ascent of the race, returning to the first loop including the difficult terrain of the fields.

At this point my legs felt like led and I was hurting physically, but still loving it mentally. Again the view of the stars reminded me why I loved running in the great outdoors and I savored every minute of the squidgy ground as my head torch picked up the eyes of deer, rabbits and other creatures acting as the race’s accidental spectators.

Crossing into the woods for the second time, I pounded the long descent hard, aiming to keep three as the maximum number of people that had managed to overtook me when I reached that finish line. Reaching this target, I crossed the line in 13th. It wasn’t a top 10 position but it would do.

That had been tough but I there was no doubt that I was glad that I had taken part. It had provided me with another boost in my confidence and I was realizing that I needed to stop being so hesitant to take part in events like this one. I had ran the hilly 8.7K in just over 41 minutes, so was happy with my overall pace and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My Auntie wasn’t too far behind finishing in 18th place while my Mother came home well of last position, a placing which she had been convinced she would have finished in.