Monday, 24 April 2017

A newie and an oldie

My training is still going very well and I have had my last two long runs before the Fling, the John Muir Way Ultra 50km and revisiting an old classic which has sadly passed into the lore of ultra-running, The Two Bridges.

This was the second running of the John Muir Way Ultra and a new one for me on April 1st,  organised  by Fox Trail Winter Running Series and Foxlake Adventures, Dunbar, (I’ve never been before and it looks a great day out if you're looking for something different with the kids.) With around about an hour drive away from home, Pauline and I set off fairly early but not at too stupid a time, we registered, pinned our numbers on and then got on the bus to be taken to the start at Port Seton Esplanade for the run back. The race information was pretty comprehensive covering everything we needed to know but I just gave a cursory glance to the detailed route instructions, once I knew it was going to be well marked I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, and what a lovely route it was too with a wee bit of everything.

It was a bit chilly waiting around before the start but fine once we got going, I even warmed up enough to take off my gloves, arm-warmers and peaked Buff, and my long sleeves were pushed up past my elbows, it turned into a lovely warm day. There were regular, well stocked drink stations but I was quite self sufficient carrying a 500ml bottle of water, a couple of gels and a custard in a squeezy pouch, but I did enjoy a wee cup of coke at the last two and topped up my water bottle at the last one as well.

photo from Dave Lochhead

The route although varied was flat for the first half and I had clicked into my no walking groove and decided to apply my marathon rule of no walking if possible, Pauline and I use a term for a hill that is runnable - rolling slog -  if one of us says it the other one usually thinks. Bugger, no walking break then, or is that just me? I was with Rhona and Amanda for some of the time and yo-yoed a bit with them when it started to undulate, running the hills isn’t the best economy for an ultra but I was working on strengthening my legs regardless of the time it took or energy spent, (My plan is to run a bit more of Rannoch Moor this WHW, it’s all rolling slog and runnable on fresh legs but with 60 odd miles in them it’s a different story.) I was with Amanda when I looked up at what I think was around twenty five-ish miles in. (I don’t look at my watch much during a run.)  “Oh bugger, I think I might revise my no walking rule!” Amanda’s reply, “I think you have to run it!” A fairly long steep grassy incline that went on until the ground met the sky. I can’t not run it now! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Yay! I made it! Thanks Amanda, I think I would’ve walk if you weren’t there to encourage me to run it.

After upping the effort for the hill, I kept a let’s-get-this-done pace and worked a strong controlled effort, finally looking at my Garmin for a rough gauge of how much further to go, although never to be believed until you see the finish gantry.  Through woods opening into a tricky deep wee ditch...folk were watching... I didn’t fall back in, yay, and a scamper round the grass to the finish. A great run on a cracking route with lovely weather, a perfect wee ultra to use for training and one I’d recommend for anyone looking for a first race over marathon.  

A week later Pauline and I set off from the Glen gates (Pittencrieff Park for the non locals) in Dunfermline, the start of the Two Bridges Road Race which was first run in 1968 until 2005, I did it five times from 1999 until 2004, Pauline did it thirteen times from 1993 to 2005 and finished First Lady in 1996. (Some race history here)

A blast from the past 
Our route couldn’t be the old classic one, with the traffic of today it’s just too dangerous but by using cycle path and the John Muir Way we wouldn’t end up roadkill. We were able to stick to the classic route until after Torryburn where we joined cycle route 76, we followed it to the Kincardine Bridge and picked it up again after crossing the bridge.

We stayed with the cycle route until Grangemouth where we went back onto the old race route, it’s not the most scenic but good to recall race memories and to pause at the RAF Memorial which wasn’t there in the “olden days” The commemorative wall was unveiled in 2008 and the Spitfire was placed in 2013  

It was now very warm and sunny, my sleeves were pushed up and I even wished I wasn’t wearing full length tights. We weren’t sure how far the run would be compared to the race but taking the cycle route round Grangemouth would make it longer and with it just being the two of us there was no problem taking the direct route running a very short section without a pavement, there was a wide grass verge which was fine.

Just before Bo’ness we joined the John Muir Way and stayed with that all the way to the Forth Road Bridge,  we timed it perfectly for a wee breather to watch the steam train from the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway.

It’s a fairly flat route so there wasn’t much in the way of walking breaks or a change of stride and with the cumulative effect of last week as well, we were both starting to feel the miles but it’s good to practice running on tired legs.  
Those bridges are teeny weeny and far away!
We approached Blackness, my water was getting low, I was just carrying a 500 ml bottle and with it being quite roasting I didn’t think it would last all the way to Rosyth, I suggested having a shandy in the pub, Pauline liked the idea but the thought of getting going again after a stop would be hard, “luckily” there’s a drinking fountain in the public toilets, I could just top up my water bottle, oh joy, I’ll just have to enjoy a beer when I got home then! The path from Blackness is through the large established woods of Hopetoun House Estate, the race used this path under the name of the Two Bridges Challenge in 2004 and 2005 when major motorway construction at Kincardine Bridge prevented the original route to be used.  
Getting closer! 
It’s a lovely run through Hopetoun with some gentle climbs, neither of us called “rolling slog”, whoopee, we could walk and stretch the legs, the Bridges were getting closer and we slogging it out. Finally we were on the Forth Road Bridge and if you’ve never run over it you probably don’t know how much of a hill it is! But we were in the last hour, another twinny rule - you can always push the last hour, it’s also a flaming long climb up Ferrytoll Road and it gets ramped up again going up Castle Road to the Civil Service Club but this was the sprint finish, okay, we weren’t racing but reminiscing, we didn’t walk. We stopped with a wee cheer at the Civil Service Club both looking for an itchy wool blanket and a can of beer, sadly nobody was there to do the honours, happy memories!

Another blast from the past - First Lady 1996
Our run was just under 36 miles, pretty close to the old race distance, we went back the following weekend and did the cycle path route above Grangemouth, it has a few undulations, it’s far prettier with a quite a few points of interest. James Watt’s man cave for one!

Next time we do the run we’ll use the cycle path as it adds just over a mile and would make it a lovely 37 mile run from the Glen gates to the Civil Service Club using a safer route. Our Two Bridges run is just a reflection of an iconic race but it’s still a great route and one we’ll do again.