(posted on behalf of Michelle)
First time in an actual Westie vest and first time reporter. Given my own slight diversion on my own leg and my lack of literary skills , this could be the last time I’m asked to do either of these things.
The Simon Wake Comrie Hills Relay is a 42k relay race with 2110m of ascent , run in 4 stages for teams of 5 runners, leg 2 being made up of 2 runners. Organised by Strathearn Harriers, the race is dedicated to the memory of one of their members, Simon Wake who died aged only 47 from Pancreatic cancer, notorious for being diagnosed late and with a low survival rate.
I’ve done the Devils Burden Hill Relay a few times and although the logistics can be a bit of a nightmare and there can be a fair bit of hanging about for team members, what I love about these sort of relays is the team spirit it brings out and with so many people in a team, anything can happen!
I was delighted to be given the longest leg (3) with 12.6k distance and 712m of ascent although having raced the 35mile Tiree Ultra the Sunday before and having just had my stitches removed (Kilpatrick’s fence post incident!), I was a little nervous about having enough energy in my legs and the possibility of falling on the rough sections and busting myself open again .
Surprisingly only 23 teams were taking part, contrasting with the 131 teams that competed in the Devils Burden Hill Relay this year. I was assured the navigation on my leg wasn’t too tricky but if the mist comes down, navigating is never easy, especially with so few teams taking part. However, with the thought of a burger from the BBQ and lots of tea and cake at the finish, we were all keen and eager to get going (oh yes we were).
The relay starts on the field of Laggan Park where registration was also done and with numbers collected started the chat on the logistics of how everyone would be getting to their various start points and getting back to the finish. This didn’t take too long (we’re winging it) and after cheering off Ewan and Lorna our leg1 runners, the rest of us set off in 2 cars to leg ½ and 2/3 handover points.
Ewan and Lorna both ran very strong first legs (11k, 527m ascent) , with Lorna coming in first female team (out of 4 ) and Ewan 4th out of 9 senior male teams. Next up on the 2 person leg2 were the 2 Johns (Hamer and Donnelly) and Val and Sarah for the ladies. Despite a 5 minute lead over the ladies, J and J were kind enough to take it easy to allow the ladies to catch up and saw them safely over the tricky sections of their leg 😉 This selfless act of chivalry saw the ladies retain their lead over leg2 (7k, 400m ascent) before handing over to myself for the ladies and Rob for the men (12.6k, 712m ascent).
With a couple of minutes head start on Rob, I set off full of enthusiasm (and stupidity as it turns out) and proceeded to go the wrong way round the farm – school boy error but hey I’m an ultra-runner, it just wasn’t long enough! Looking back and spotting Rob on the correct track, I sprinted back across the field and quickly caught up with Rob. Not a good start for me and the couple of minutes lost did, unfortunately, prove costly in the end. Rob and I ran side by side up the never ending ascending track but there wasn’t a lot of chat just lots of wheezy heavy breathing. At some point Rob stopped for a picnic and I managed to gain a few metres lead. As we approached the top of the track, fast walking replaced running and the path gave way to some welcome open hillside. Fortunately, visibility was good enough to see the lovely marshals directing runners to the first check point at 821m. Turning right here on a bearing of 160 degrees, navigating to the next check point was a relatively easy matter of following the fence line and negotiating peat hags and bog. As usual I managed to do a face plant in a bog right in front of the marshal. It’s our duty as hill runners to entertain these incredible people who stand out on open hillsides looking after us. My reward was a fruit pastille and a wave in the general direction of the track to the farm although it’s not visible from the check point. I took a bearing of 200 degrees and there followed a few minutes of rough running until I landed, quite literally, on the land rover turning circle. Happy Days!
From here the track was easy to follow although having tripped on rocky paths like this before I was nervous about going full pelt. Closer to the farm, however, the path became grassy and much more pleasant running.
After the farm there’s a km or so of road (boo) before turning off for some lovely running through bracken and grassy fields to the final handover point. I found the final km through grassy fields a bit of a struggle with the wind in my face and the trod narrow and rough but I was relieved to have gotten round the rest of my leg without further mishap and without being overtaken by the infamous Andrea Priestly from the Ochil ladies team although she had certainly gained a lot of ground on me. Coming in only a minute later, Rob had run a strong, solid leg for the Westie men.
Setting off on leg 4 (11k, 370m ascent), Leanne had the difficult task of trying to stay ahead of the strong Ochil lady, Fiona Kelsall. Leanne ran a tremendous anchor leg and only relinquished the lead towards the end of the leg and with only 30 seconds between the 2 teams, I realised how costly my error on leg 3 had been. Ah well, never mind, a lovely burger and a ton of tea and cake and I felt much better, especially when we were awarded first ladies team prize with Ochil ladies getting the vets prize. Even better, Lorna, Val and Sarah won bottles of whisky for fastest legs. On the final leg for the Westie men, Chris McKiddle ran like a man in dire need of a burger and cake to overtake the ladies and take 7th male team.
Well done everyone, a great day out, good getting to know you all a bit better and I look forward to next year. And thanks for the delicious bread too, John Hamer.