Friday, 2 September 2016

St Cuthbert's Way

St Cuthbert's Way Ultra

Trail Outlaws

Saturday 16th July 2016

Holy Island to Melrose - 100km

Fittingly for a cross border run, I have failed to write my blog due to being in several countries. There was a wedding in Seattle, a beer festival in Portland, some rock hiking in Vancouver, a sister's wedding in Wellington, some cockel collecting in rural New Zealand, a beach holiday in Fiji, some burger tasting back in Wellington and finally some volcano climbing in Vanuatu. I did write this originally sitting in a Fijian airport waiting for my friend Mareta to arrive. Unfortunately, my first effort got lost in the cyber ocean. 

Initially there was some confusion over St Cuthbert's Way and St Oswald's Way. I was not actually sure which event I had entered, nor the difference between the two routes. I was after the July event. Fortunately, the event organisers can tell their religious dudes apart. We started at Holy Island and ran to Melrose. From my limited knowledge, I believe we were running it in the opposite direction from St Cuthbert himself. Earlier in the year, I had the privilege of visiting Holy Island on a school trip to learn about Vikings. The upside of this meant that I knew where the toilets were. A key advantage.

I was pleased to enter the event a few weeks before, a rarity in the overpopulated ultra field these days. An event that still allows last minute entries ensures it is a low key one; just the kind I like. The cut-off time was also generous. It was going to be a slow slog for me and I do not like a time pressure. We hang out on road, get told to take it easy at the start and then we trundle off.

Holy Island, St Cuthbert's Way ultra start

Holy Island is the starting point so that the tide will not be an issue for finishers. Although that would be a laugh and the double is tempting. A few runners sprint off at the start but most of us take it easy and enjoy the view as we run across causeway in some classic British sunshine. I snap some photographs and appear on some runner's video. That video is likely to be a global hit now. Scott drives past and passes out my sunhat; Tour de France style. Halfway out is an emergency hut, in case we have misjudged the tide. It would have been funny to cram all the runners in there. We pass a few signs telling us to turn back if our tyres are submerged in water. I look down. I've forgotten my tyres.

Once on the mainland we take a left and duck behind some giant concrete cubes for a game of pretend paintball; pow, pow! Across a railway track, plod up an incline. Stop and look at signs with people. Turn in some circles. Stop and look at some other signs. Have a laugh. Look at maps with people. Not my own. The compulsary kit list includes a compass and map although I cannot competently use either so it is a waste of time for me. The kit list is slightly excessive which means I cannot carry enough liquids or food in my pack. There are waterproof trousers (and let's face it, no one can run in these), a waterproof jacket (I usually pack this anyway), hat and gloves (even with my Pacific blood I'm not going to touch these during a summer 100km), a whistle (fortunately attched to my bag) and a bottle opener (no wait, I just added that myself).

A road crossing. Bramble bushes without brambles. That is my main food source for today wiped out. At some point, a checkpoint. Maybe this is Wooler. The organisers very kindly let me register at the race start rather than drive the extra miles on the Saturday morning to register in Melrose or Wooler. This means that I do not have drop bags but fortunately Scott is here with some sushi and a Lucozade. He knows how to please a lady. My tracker that I was given at the start is not tracking me. It is not turned on. So we heave it out of my over packed bag and turn it on. Now all my fans at home can track me as I run across the border.


The villages are cute and initially I think that one may be holding a tea party for the Queen as there is so much union jack bunting. Ahh, still in England. Later, two guys come flying past who were already ahead of me. They got lost in the British jungle somewhere. You have to look carefully for the signposts, analyse them for a while and then wait for another runner to analyse also. A group of us run up a hill towards a signpost so that we can then run across the hill, following the route correctly. Unfortunately, one thing I found in this event is that not everyone follows the route, so a bunch of runners just cut across instead.

There is a nice variety of terrain and we bounce over tufts of grass. While the lads about me are friendly enough, one of the guys overdid the cola at the last checkpoint and is burping some belters in quick succession. I decide to move on; not a musical concert I particularly need to stay for.

I catch Alan, running in those tiny shorts of his. He's not doing the double today but will be running another ultra tomorrow. Half a night of sleep; plenty. We take a wrong turn and bush whacked our way for a bit until a tourist told us to enjoy our view of the waterfall. Err, maybe an additional scenic hotspot is not currently required. So we backtrack and another group of runners call us to the right path.

Numerous cars come towards us on a small road. A wedding. It seems my invitation was lost in the post. Those delivery drivers are never paid enough. I'd be pinching all the mail and attending strangers' weddings if I was a postwoman too. And then there is a checkpoint but no Scott as it is not that easy to access. I am well thirsty due to my limited water supplies and throw back cola.

Alan and I head out of the checkpoint and climb up some gravel hills with another friendly lady. A fork confuses us but after some thought we head through some woods. I get ahead a bit, enjoying the rolling undulations until I come to a T-junction. I am running on the St Cuthbert's Way but neither arrow has that particular path listed. Hmmm. I turn around, hoping to see Alan and the lady coming. No one. I jog down to some walkers. Have you seen runners? Yes. Lots of them. So, are you walking the St Cuthbert's Way? Yes. Excellent, I am nailing this navigating.

Weeeee down some hills. I see some children playing in a river so I call out an excuse me as I splash through. I glance to my left; bridge.  What a dickman I am. Some not-so-locals are having a party. I walk up a road anxiously looking for arrows and signs. And then down. I have been by myself without seeing anyone for a while. Relief when I find a village and ask some locals which direction to go in. After trotting where I think they are pointing, they call out, as I clearly cannot even run across a road without getting lost. A few hundred metres on, I again attempt to go the wrong way. Alongside a river, over the bridge and then I am in some trouble as I wander next to a pretend loch. Where are the runners? I wander around a bit, deciding to just stand still until I see some runners coming in the same direction. Phew.

The trail only has one major hill and it is the one I am starting to go up. The committed photographer has placed herself on a steep slope and informs me that no one has run up so not to worry. I wasn't considering running myself but am happy to smile. I pass the first 45 milers during the climb. They started at Wooler a few hours after the 100km runners and are in great spirits climbing the hill. The view is great in each direction. It is a hot day. We'd be pushing for 20 here. Half the runners will be sunburnt.

I only see one runner on the descent into Morebattle and he is feeling bust. Morebattle is another cute village and the checkpoint is in a hall. It is buzzing with all the runners I haven't seen for hours. Scott and I scoff crisps and custard. Well, I do. Scott fills my bottles for me. The organisers said that we should start slow, go slower and then once we get to M-something, we can see what we have left. I figure that this is M-something and I feel good so I jog on out of the town. Scott has successfully erected the tent in Melrose. What a team.

Trail Outlaws photo at Morebattle

I pass some cheery 45 milers, a runner who asks me if I am in the relay (no but I am flattered) and a few slightly more bedraggled 100km runners. A castle to the left, encouraging 45 mile runner to my right. It was a good day to get the day off from work.

Paddock full of cows. Such big cows. They are all around an arrow that I need to run to. Killed by cows would make such an embarrassing read on my gravestone. I tiptoe to the edge of the paddock. I am now the furthest from the bridge I need to be crossing and have to walk the entire way around the paddock. As I cross the bridge I see other runners cutting through a bush rather than wrestle with the cows. Wish I'd seen that path before.
Another checkpoint. I'm all by myself. A sign post pointing UP. Hmmm. One side of the fence has a stile; the other a ramp and bridge. Do I cross a bridge? Stile. No. Back over the stile then. I start up the ramp. It doesn't feel right. Climb over the stile. Run along the river. The track runs out. Back up the ramp and over the bridge. Arrow on the other side. Again, nailing this navigation.

Ahead of me is someone with headphones and hiking poles. Only this could be Dave. I creep up behind him quietly so that he lets out a girly scream in fright. He tries to keep up while we run through some endless desert grass. Although it is not the desert. And Dave is now flagging. Then I'm the other woman while a guy speaks on the phone with his wife and I cheer at him from behind.

Second to last checkpoint. Maybe. The marshals are in disagreement and I am not sure how many checkpoints there were anyway. I do remember that I did not get my Keith Stout from Scott at the last checkpoint. Some lovely villages again; no union jack bunting anymore so we must be in Scotland now. On a main road in a village I cannot find a sign telling me where to go. I approach two young lads clad in grey Adidas tracksuits with strange ear piercings to ask directions. Always a good idea right? They were uber polite but did not know what St Cuthbert's was. If I took a left and then a right and went over a hill I could get to Melrose however. It was tempting but I wanted to make sure I stuck to the official path so as not to be disqualified. After jogging on a bit I looked back and saw an arrow and sign. Right outside their house. To be fair, the sign was quite high.

After a nice jog along a river, there was another wee village. All speedy tarmac. Suddenly I see a lady walking ahead with a car driving slowly next to her. Initially I was a bit worried that someone was stalking her but it turned out to be her partner. Phew, we do not want a crazy stalker, we will be losing light soon. I encourage the lady to run with me but she is feeling a bit bust so I go on ahead. As I took it easy until M-something, I feel very fresh now and enjoy the trail to the last small hill. Throughout the race I heard some rumours about different coloured medals based on your finishing time. Although I do not run with a watch, I knew it was not dark yet so it must be before 10pm, therefore I could finish in under 14 hours achieving a silver medal. Silver sounds good to me so I push on hoping that my eyesight and mathematics has not failed me. It would be nice to finish without needing my headtorch too! I chat with some Scottish runners completing the 45 mile event; the first ultra for one. Everyone has been very friendly. At the top I take a moment to enjoy the view before the final decent. 

The steep never ending decent reminds me of coming into Inverness at the end of the Great Glen Way. At the top of a gravel path I see another runner at the bottom so at least I know that I am on the right path. As I arrive into Melrose I wander around a square looking for an arrow or markings. When I cannot find any, I ask a father and his son if they have seen any runners. He replies that yes, he has seen many runners at the campsite he is staying at. As the race does not finish at the campsite, this is not greatly helpful to me. When I ask a taxi driver he points to a road which I follow for a block or two. 

Melrose is a small village and the local youths need to make their own fun. On my arrival, their fun was to switch the running arrows so that they faced one another. I run around a church; stopping to walk in case I am being disrespectful. Finally, I give up asking people if they have seen runners and ask if anyone knows where D-something Hall is (I'm great with names). Aha, success! Darnick Hall is thataway. So thataway I run. Past some lovely houses and a few past middle-aged ladies cheering with their Chardonnay spilling from their wine glasses. The youths should get themselves to that party. 

As I step into the finishing hall there are a few shocked faces as they were not expecting me. I ensure them that the lady I passed will make it to the finish (and she does, less than 10 minutes later, feeling much better). Once I am changed, I sit down with a beer and coffee combination while Scott buys the fish and chip shop out of food before it closes. During this time I am told by numerous spectators that I may have been the first lady. I find this surprising as I have already shaken hands with the lady that did come first (I never saw her in the event so never knew what was going on). There is talk of a five minute penalty because of an accidental shortcut on tarmac that a few of the leading runners took (everyone I spoke to went wrong on the course at some point but we just went back the way we had come before righting ourselves). As I was second by two minutes, a five minute penalty for her would put me in first place. Apparently some of the runners who took the shortcut were informed of this and some weren't. I wait and see what the organisers decided rather than getting involved... Nothing happens and I happily accept a very heavy second place trophy. I am not really sure what went on and am mostly focused on consuming the interested combination of deep fried foods I have been given. I have since won the competition of travelling the furthest post race. I'm not sure on the number of entrants for that category. 

Finishing at Darnick Hall

Personally, I was just pleased to feel good throughout the run. I finished in about 13 and a half hours, earning me a silver medal. The times are very slow for the distance because it is a small race still. It is not particularly hilly, nor technical, although I am a bit slow in mud and long grass. I loved the varied terrain. I try not to think about how I could run 20km further, an hour quicker, on hillier terrain 18 months ago! I feel very fortunate that my legs are able to plod around for a day without training. 

And, very importantly, I know you have all been wondering why I have not been doing much running in the last few years (the nonexistent queries have been endless). I have secretly been working towards my retirement and I can now officially announce that I have reached thirty ultramarathons before my 30th birthday. From now on I will eat dinner crazy early, watch the TV too loudly and holiday only as part of a large tour group. It feels great.  

Thank you very much to all the runners, marshals, organisers and Scott! 

And here's a photo of Donald finishing accompanied by an ambulance!

1 comment:

  1. Sushi and fish n' chips. Same diet as me... only I do not achieve quarter of the amount of running.


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