It was a brilliant plan in theory…
Sleep on the overnight flight back from Toronto, grab a little more sleep at the flat in Glasgow, see my daughter before a good night’s sleep and then an early rise to drive down to Osmotherley, rested and ready for the start of the Berghaus Trail Chase.
What actually happened was that I got no sleep on the plane, too much sleep during the day, but did see my daughter before a couple of hours sleep which ended shortly after 1:00 a.m. since I was still on Canadian time. At least the early rise happened since I was already awake!
The upside to the above was I had time for a second breakfast at the Scotch Corner Services before making my way down to race registration.
The format for the inaugural Berghaus Trail Chase felt a bit like a traditional two day mountain marathon event but a with a few key differences. The main one was that the courses were marked so navigation would not be a required skill although close attention to route markers would prove to be important. Another difference was that for the mid-camp, your overnight bag would be transferred by van to the site which allowed only minimal kit to be required during the run. Day Two start times were decided by the Day One finishing times, with the time differences between competitors being maintained. This gave a flow to the overall race and was a unique experience I’ve not previously had in two day stage races. The feeling of being “hunted down” by the runners behind me helped focus the mind for sure, and made the “chase” part of the event really come to life!
Competitors had the choice of three different courses with varying distances over the two days:
Blue Course: Day 1 = 16.6km / 326m & Day 2 = 10.1km / 291m. Total 26.7km / 617m
Red Course: Day 1 = 25.3km / 801m & Day 2 = 17.4km / 582m. Total 42.7km / 1,383m
Black Course: Day 1 = 32.8km / 1,012m & Day 2 = 21.3km / 814m. Total 54.1km / 1,826m
With the 2015 Beyond Ultra Ice Ultra starting to feel close, I opted for the Black Route in an attempt to get hard back to back days with a focus on recovery in between. We were bussed to the start point at the bottom of Hutton Ridge and after one last round of visits to the toilet, we were off. Thankfully the weather was kind and despite being windy, it was dry at least.
The early sections of the Black Route were on double track bridleway with short sections of single track joining them up. Fairly quickly, the field opened up with the racing snakes heading into the horizon whilst others settled down for the day. Because it was not overly technical, this part of the course favoured fast runners and I found it hard work both physically due to pace and mentally due to being able to see the long road ahead. After a bit the route took a jump hard left. I was grateful to see another runner catch this turn and it was confirmed by noting the route markers. Sadly, a group of about four runners including my pal and teammate James missed this and added approximately six additional miles onto an already long day!
The next section included a great wee descent, technical enough to slow some down and with enough bracken to make every footfall a mystery since you couldn’t see where your foot would land next. For me, it gave a welcome break from the bridle path. A short road section followed before a wee climb up to more narrow paths. I was joined by Helensburgh runner Michelle Herrington for a short while before it was clear I was holding her back and she disappeared into the distance along the Rutland Ridge.
Shortly after, Stephanie from Berghaus also caught me and after some more chat, she also dropped me. About this time, I felt a strange twinge in my calf which quickly turned into a mild cramp. In an effort to keep it at bay, I ate some food and a gel which helped in the short term but it was clear with the best part of 10km still to go, the rest of the run wasn’t going to be pretty. I caught up briefly with Stephanie during another descent but on the climb, the cramp returned.
I was over the moon to see the long run down to the finish where food and fluid would be waiting for me. After crossing the finish line, I was surprised but chuffed to find myself in 11th place and stumbled off to find my tent. Keen not to reveal I was in a bit of a mess in front of my teammates and Berghaus folks, I quickly got my tent up and lay down to try and stretch things out. A series of claw foot / calf cramps and muffled yelps followed until I was able to emerge and walk again at least.
We went down to the village hall where hot food and ale were available (beer is isotonic right?). Felt a bit sorry for the live music that had been laid on since the poor fella was trying to play over a room full of runners all buzzing and discussing the day’s events. Feeling significantly better, it was great to crawl into my sleeping bag for another night of broken but welcome rest.
The forecasted rain arrived early and had blown through by 6:15 a.m. when my watch started buzzing indicating that breakfast was calling. Over cereal, egg buttie and coffee, we watched the leading pack leave and the chase was on. Kit packed up and loaded into the van, I set off at 08:07 exactly. Keen not to get lost leaving the village, I took it easy but I also conscious that if I was to hold my position, I would need to keep the pace up at the same time. On the first climb, I looked back and it was clear that I was going to be passed …och well! Up on the ridge line, any thoughts about trying to reclose the gap were replaced with just admiring the views and keeping moving forwards. I did manage to catch the girls on the descent from Cold Moor towards Cringle Moor but that was short lived and I was quickly passed on the more runnable sections.
No doubt about it, the Day Two route was the prettier of the two and the gorgeous wooded trails made me forget the heavy legs for a while. These sections made it difficult to know exactly who was in front and who was behind. I managed to lose another place on the ascent to Limekiln Bank which wasn’t ideal but by that point there wasn’t a huge deal of acceleration left! A short section of bridleway across the moor brought back the pain of Day One but a quick check of the watch indicated the end was getting close. With under 1km to go, I looked back to see my Trail Team pal James closing in on me fast. He had an incredible run, regaining all the time he lost with the navigation error the previous day. Dropping down through the final farm track, I saw an opportunity to regain a place, dug deep and increased the pace passing the fellow only to realise he was on the Red Course, so it was a wasted effort in terms of placing but it was good to know the legs still had a strong finish in them.
As a race format, the Trail Chase succeeded in filling a gap between single stage trail races, mountain marathons and gave access to an awesome experience to those without strong navigational skills. Huge shout out to Shane and the organising team who were out before us and still out long after we had enjoyed the post-race meal.