Never mind a certain Marathon taking place of a similar name, this was the Baxter’s Two Breweries Hill Race, the first without our Elsie…or was it?
I arrived several hours early in clear blue skies and Traquair House and grounds were a stunning place to prepare, and at registration, for the first time in 30 years, Nick MacDonald handed me race number 1…a good omen? I borrowed a marker pen and added “st”. Elsie laughed.
The buses duly arrived and shattered the serenity, with the multi-coloured masses pouring off and it was clear there was a good turn out from Westies, some running, some marshalling. Peter appeared surprisingly calm given the 175 runners on this SHR Championship counter to be kit-checked and given a right good talking to on the start line, Elsie keeping him right I’m sure. Mercifully a layer of cloud had rolled over and obscured the baking sun; otherwise I would have certainly struggled. In any case, I was already pushing my luck with lack of mileage and very painful Planter Fasciitis requiring a handful of drugs before starting. Slow and steady would be my cunning plan. GO!
The usual stampede up the drive and past the famous gates, and trundling down the road reminded me of Elsie in her Hen-run garb, trailing half a dozen balloons behind her! Turn right and start wheezing uphill past the farm, through the gates into the field where for years Elsie would yell at us all to head for the marked crossing point on the fence – or else! Feeling relaxed I jogged up and through the deep bracken, counting the distant leaders stretch away once on the good tracks heading to Birkscairn Hill, not too despondent to be sitting 25th this early without trying. For the hell of it I tried cutting a wee corner, but it was a steep, deep heather flounder and I lost a minute and five places. Och well, now I know. In my head I could hear a familiar chuckle and “what are you like?” At the top of Birkscairn I gave Elsie a wave on the way through, before the fabulous dive down into Glen Sax, for a good fill of water from the burn and a first feed from my bumbag. The sun was out briefly and it was warm.
The grunt up Huddleshope begins. Not much running going on, no one chatting, everyone trying to eat, drink or suffering silently. Cheery faces at the top and another wave to Elsie, and then I’ve finally caught the five that passed me earlier, now another group ahead of me. They take the usual line via the bog, I try something new…it works! I catch and pass the group of 4 before the top of Stob Law. Jon Gay is hanging onto me and pulls away down to Glenrath, but stops for a pee and I’m past again. Now the race really begins. Cheery Westies at the water stop, although Pat proves she’d make a rubbish barmaid by giving me back a half filled bottled! Quietly Elsie says “get a move on”…Jon is off before me, as is another. The smell from the chicken sheds nearly has me spewing, terrible. Passing both rivals and feeling great now, I pull well away over Whitelaw Hill having another feed as I go….a ping of cramp – it’s far too early for that! Relax, breath, concentrate on stride then roll gently down past Dead Wife’s Grave to the road with only a tiny speck running in the distance. Mmm? At the road the speck has got bigger…bait! Nothing threatening behind me so take on plenty water at the Home Farm checkpoint then trot on, keeping as relaxed as possible.
Suddenly around a bend, the Dixter!! With a two hour head start, he’s bumbling slowly along with his dug acting as navigator, looking up to a screeching buzzard circling above him. I shout abuse instantly, “it’s a vulture waiting for your imminent death and a carrion jackpot!!” he thinks about rugby tackling me as I pass but instead launches “it’ll be better off eating me cos’ you’ll taste like shit you Westie scum!!” I give him the triumphant vickies as I run on. The running speck has come back to me as we cross the dam, I can smell blood – it’s Robbie Paterson of Forres. He tries to hang on to me as we wade across the long spongy grass with the spectre of Trahenna ahead, but soon falls away. My cramp is returning as I trot up the side of the trees, several runners now in the distance ahead, one of them in gold! I hit the hill on a new line up the fence and it’s no fun whatsoever, like trying to climb a giant sponge. Relax, steady, the W of Gwyn is coming back to me rapidly and he’s suffering, but a late surge by Jon Gay brings him level on a lower line but still running! At last the summit – WESTIES!!! A fabulous reception committee with Jane, Al & Isabell (there was another but it’s a blur, sorry!) I insist on a prolonged group Elsie hug – she was there. Jog on fighting the all-consuming cramp now, very slowly around the tricky corrie path, both legs giving me electric shocks and near disaster. Behind Gwyn is still running, but Jon Gay is closing in for the kill – keep moving! I abandon my intended heathery line down the other side instead sticking to the easier ridge. Jon flies past and opens a gap quickly, although he’s shouting and bawling at himself all the way down, just like a certain Mr Upson used to, so he’s hurting – hope…! Cheery shouts from more Westies and others, but Jon has 40 seconds on me at the road…start plugging away, cramp, slap it, punch it, pinch it, oowww! The gap reduces…keep going, I must have looked like a one-man Python sketch, trying to run flat out but probably looking like Charlie Chaplin out for a jog. We turn into the main street almost together and it cranks up but I wait until the school then try to stride out, the cramp has receded, Jon’s still there now behind, then in the Brewery straight I gun it sure he’s close, but I’m clear and cross the line in 14th place, straight into Baxter’s waiting hug, one for Elsie.
Recovery back in the village hall with great soup and food, and of course a fabulous touch with the “Elsie Ales” supplied by the Broughton Brewery. It was tremendous fun catching up with so many Westies again! Pete does a great and high speed race prize-giving before retreating to safety of the beer pumps, before our very own Captain John takes the stage to introduce a very special new award. Donated by Westies and in Elsie’s memory, to be awarded annually to the first Westie Wummin home, this stunning glass pinnacle was awarded for the first time to Val Houston. Phew, a highly emotional moment for many – well done Val.
So, Pete managed the event just fine with the help of his fine team, and the race which is a Scottish Classic – now an institution, went exceptionally well. Whilst runners and marshals may come and go in the years to come, the one person who will always be present, is our Elsie.
Well done Westies.