2nd place (215 finishers)
1:29:22 (course PB by 6:13)
I was in two minds a fortnight ago as to whether to even do this race. Since Glenmore I have been battling a slight left knee niggle (now gone), a right achilles tightness (now gone) and last Friday I went over my ankle when running, a belter which resulted in me hobbling like Kaizer Souzee from Condorrat to Croy at 5am.
Plus, my training has been good since G24 but I wasn’t prepping for this as an A race, so missing it wasn’t going to be a big issue. Then, after doing the recce runs I host with a great bunch of folks, I decided I would run it. Not race it.
Then, on the morning of the race I was standing at the front of the start line looking at the fine collection of runners around me and thinking, ‘I wish I was racing…’
2kms later, I was racing.
I started relatively steadily and by 2k I passed through the mud section onto Croy Hill proper and was in 9th place, having a fine wee natter with Team Nathan’s Grant MacDonald, when I decided that I might as well just put the boot down for a couple of miles and see where that left me at Auchinstarry.
You see, I had trained hard in the week leading up to the race, in the middle of the peak period as I ready for the last race of the year, Glen Ogle 33. On Monday, I was up Drumgoyne with some #teamPyllon buddies, Tuesday I had a tempo effort and Thursday I did a speedwork session which was one of the best I have ever done, but also bloody brutal. Then 10 hours after that I ran into Glasgow (21k) to work. All of this before going to see Hayseed Dixie (Blue Moon and Guinness ahoy) on Friday as well.
I didn’t think anything special would be on at the ATR. But I felt good. 9th became 8th, 7th, 6th and 5th very quickly and into Auchinstarry I overtook #teamvambo alumni Graeme Connolly and up into 4th. Graeme was operating a ‘bawsoot’ strategy that would eventually see him take 5th place in an incredible run.
Hmm… 4th place after 4 miles, I might as well as keep going eh? That’s what I thought. Only issue was that the three guys in front of me were quality runners. Two Garscube vests and Connell from Killie.
Connell Drummond is a charming chap and fine runner. Just coming off of the back of a 2:43 marathon in Lyon, he casts a big shadow metaphorically. After the trail section at Coach Road he was maybe 50-100 yards in front of me all the way to Drumbreck Marsh. I had to shout directions to him a few time. It was as he took a wrong turn around mile 8 I caught him and took 3rd place. I could see he’d been toiling slightly and I knew that I held mini-advantage over the last 5-6 miles as I a) knew the course, b) ran the hills regular and c) was probably slightly better than Connell on the terrain. I put in a wee burst on the canal to open a gap to give me something hold on to.
I passed through a trio of smiling supporters who told me I was in 3rd place, as I suspected. I could see a Garscube vest in front of me (Donald McPartlin) about 1 min ahead. He went down the stairs to go under the canal, I followed, chiefly as this is the right way to go.
I then got to the bottom of Barr Hill, the first big climb, to see Davie Gow standing and telling me I was about 2 minutes behind. Eh? Donald must have flown this bit, but as it was, he’d done that most bastard annoying thing you can do in trail races, and that is he went the wrong way.
It was only when I boosted down the hill off of Barr Hill when Skoosh – marshalling at the road crossing – told me I was in 2nd place. I shouted back I thought I was 3rd. But I know Skoosh can count. Then Davie was at the bottom of the next hill and repeated I was 2 mins behind and in 2nd. Del Young was in the lead, running like a dream this year after his 4 previous trail race wins and 1:12 at GSR, I knew he was probably out of sight.
Nevertheless, I tried to run Croy Hill over and down as fast as I could. Connell was coming up the hill behind me like Michael Myers in the Halloween films, so I couldn’t relax one iota. I put in a boost on the way down and into the last mile I reckoned I had about a 30s lead and with Del over the hills and faraway as he headed towards a new CR, breaking Neil Renault’s amazing time from last year, I eased off and enjoyed the final stretch; delighted to finally podium on my home race after finishing 8th, 7th and 4th in the three previous runnings of the race.
It was a glorious day on the trails and that was shown in the number of finishers, a record 215 (up 48 on last year) and the fact that the top 3 all broke 90 mins on the near 14 mile course of hills, mud, trail and grass. To put that in context, Neil Renault’s 1:27 and change from last year was the only time under 90 mins in the race’s history till now.
The top 3:
1st: Del Young, 1:26:43
2nd: James Stewart (me!), 1:29:22
3rd: Connell Drummond, 1:29:45
Congrats also to Fionnuala Ross who was 1st lady in a brilliant 1:37:20 (and 9th overall), and John McLaughlin who was first V50.
On a personal level, I am ecstatic with how things went. I take a wee bit of pride in a race which goes around the hills and trails I spend a fair bit of time on, and to perform well is equally nice. Credit has to go to Robert Sanderson and his team of merry volunteers and helpers who make these events happen. I get the easy gig doing 4 recce runs beforehand and getting to meet great new people, all while doing something I love. These volunteers give up their day for us. If you are involved in racing, try volunteering and helping out if you can. It’s brilliant from the other side of the ropes too.
And lastly, to all my friends new and old who came along on the day – helping or running – it was great to see you all. See you next year!