This was the 12th and last of the 2015 Runfurther Championship races, and it really was a belter. The start location was in Jedburgh, and the picture above shows the view of the abbey from the race headquarters. Noanie and Angela (the race organisers) put on a great event, so many thanks to them and their team. There were marshals and supporters everywhere, and the reception at the finish was quite something, with everyone cheered in by name over the PA as they approached the finish, to a chorus of cheers, yelps and handclaps.
The route has great views, and is mainly very runnable. It starts with an offroad half-marathon, predominantly on an old Roman road and then along the banks of the River Tweed. That is followed by a stiff fell race over the Eildon hills, then another half-marathon back, mainly on the same route you came out on. Conditions were good, despite the poor weather forecast: there was a spell of rain early on, but it soon cleared, and we even had a bit of sun later on. It was a bit muddy in places, but we’re used to that aren’t we?
Ian Symington (2nd) & Ken Sutor (3rd), with RO Angela Barron
So, to the results. First home was Lee Kemp, sponsored by Beta Climbing Designs, who was intending to try to beat the course record, which stood at 5:01:48. He succeeded in fine style, with a time of 4:56:36. Beta Climbing Designs are the UK distributors for Injinji and Ultimate Direction, who sponsor Runfurther, so they clearly know a good thing when it comes along. Second was this year’s Runfurther champion Ian Symington in 5:00:01, also beating the old record. Third was Ken Sutor in 5:06:53 – Ken wasn’t able to keep up with Ian’s pace in the final stages. This year’s Runfurther runner-up Kevin Hoult finished 5th in 5:22:27. First woman home was Lorna McMillan in a great time of 5:58:33, beating the Elaine Omand’s 2013 record by 10 minutes. Caroline McKay was 2nd woman in 6:11:00, and Elaine Omand 3rd 11 minutes behind her. Other noteworthy Runfurther finishers were (1) this year’s Runfurther MV50 winner Martin Terry, who came in 22nd in 5:58:54, and was 2nd MV50, (2) me, 51st in 6:53:26 taking the MV60 trophy. And of course our two Grand Slam contenders, David Wilson and Karen Nash both finished, despite multiple injuries between them. Many congratulations to both of them. It’s hard enough running 12 ultras in a year, and a lot harder if those 12 races have been decided beforehand, so you can’t duck out of one if you’re injured or ill.
One last performance I ought to mention was Rob Reid’s run in 8:05:52. Rob is the RO of the Kintyre Ultra, which was in the Runfurther Championship 2014, and this year he was the first ever MV70 finisher at Jedburgh. Everyone was happy for him except possibly our own Bob Nash, who’d been hoping for that honour himself.
The full race results are up on the race website here. Karen’s written up her blog with a few photos, and you can find that here. I’ve pinched a few of Karen’s photos for this news item. My own race report is just below. I’ll post a separate news item shortly with the full Runfurther 2015 final results shortly. The updated Runfurther leaderboard is here.
Andy Robinson’s race report
I was looking forward to this race, despite the poor weather forecast. Many years ago I’d walked most of the route as part of a trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and I’d remembered it as a particularly scenic part of the world. I wasn’t disappointed.
I woke up in my tent suddenly, in a panic that I’d set my alarm wrong and had overslept. I checked my watch. It was 5:50 exactly, which was the time I’d meant to set my alarm for. I’d actually set my alarm for 6:50. It kept going like that all day: everything kept going right, despite my best efforts. I got up, ate my breakfast custard tarts (what else?) and drove down to town to help Karen put the Runfurther flags up in a stiff breeze. We walloped the poles in a bit harder than usual, thinking we could be in for some rough weather. Half the flags went up in the rugby club grounds by the race HQ, and the others over the main road on the Grassy Knoll, where the race started and finished. I looked round but couldn’t see the book repository or the ghost of Lee Harvey Oswald. Then it was back to the race HQ to register and catch up with a few friends, amongst them Ian Symington, Ken Sutor, Kevin Hoult and Carmine De Grandis. At 7:50 there was a short race briefing, and then we were off across the road to the start for a warm-up to the sounds of the Village People. I didn’t get where I am today doing warm-ups, so I skulked at the back hoping nobody would notice. And at about 8:05 we were off.
The first two or three miles were mostly on roads, following Jed Water north to its confluence with the River Teviot. So we were jogging along easily, chatting, and sooner than I as expecting we were crossing Jedfoot Bridge on the A698, and climbing over the metal barrier onto the footpath that led down to the Teviot. We were now on the route of the Roman road Dere Street, but for the next mile or so you can’t tell that, as the Roman line was obliterated by Victorian landscape design, in Tory politician Michael Ancrum’s Monteviot estate. Instead we ran along the riverbank to the suspension bridge, which may have been runnable with only one runner on it, but got interesting when two or more tried it. Still, we got across, and followed a winding route through the estate, carefully avoiding the main house, of course, through plantations, and eventually rejoining the line of Dere Street on the lower slopes of Peniel Heugh.
Suspension bridge over the River Teviot
If you look at it on a map, the next stretch looks like it might be really boring, as it’s a dead straight line for miles. It wasn’t like that though. It was undulating and varied, with wooded bits, open bits, bits running between lines of scots pines. Some of it was grassy path, some a narrow trod through thicker undergrowth. It was all runnable as well, making for fast running. Some of the time we could see the Eildon hills ahead, knowing we just had to get there, climb them and come back again. We ran past the famous Lilliard’s Stone, although I doubt many English runners stopped to read the inscription:
“Fair Maid Lilliard
lies under this stane
little was her stature
but muckle was her fame
upon the English loons
she laid monie thumps
and when her legs were cuttit off
she fought upon her stumps.
Anyway, back to the race. This was the bit where the rain came down, quite heavily for a bit. I took the risk of leaving my waterproof in my bag, as it wasn’t really that cold, and I thought the rain would probably turn out just to be a shower. Luckily I was right, and although I got wet through, when the rain stopped I warmed up OK soon enough. Soon after the rain stopped we hit the road and turned right down it towards the Maxton checkpoint. I say “down”, but I didn’t notice it was downhill at the time…
I drank water at the checkpoint and headed off through the woods down to the River Tweed. There were sets of steps everywhere, but I was still fresh enough not to be bothered by them. And then delightful stretches along the river meadows, and along here somewhere Karen caught up with me, as she always does on those races I go off faster than is good for me. We ran more or less together from here, up towards St Boswells from the golf course, back down to the river again via lots more steps, and then we got to where there was a choice of paths, below Newtown St Boswells. And there was no sign. Up to now the route had been very well signed by the race team, and we’d been on the waymarked St Cuthbert’s Way for most of the way in any event. Now there was nothing, so about 6 of us went the wrong way. We could have looked at our maps, and we’d probably have sorted it out quickly, but we didn’t. So it was up loads more steps, thinking we had to head up a sidestream to a bridge, when we should instead have crossed the bridge lower down, which we’d seen, and for no good reason, ignored. Oh well, we soon realised our mistake, and only lost 3 or 4 minutes. As we headed back down, loads more runners were making the same mistake. Of course there had been a sign there, but it had been pinched.
Back to the Tweed then for a bit longer, before we left it to head steeply up a track through the woods to join a disused railway line and then to cross the A68. This is a busy trunk road, and I was lucky in only having to wait a few seconds before the marshals waved us across. I’d pulled a little ahead of Karen by this time, and she was held back while she watched me disappear into the distance…
Then we were heading up the Eildon hills. Gently at first, up a track to the Rhymer’s Stone checkpoint. Then it was a proper fell race, steeply up Eildon Hill North, and of course Karen caught me up again here. It’s a stiff climb, worthy of many an AS fell race. The weather was much better now, and the views were tremendous. How could they not be in clear weather, when you can see the Eildons from just about everywhere in the Borders? From the top, a scamper down to the col, then another hard climb up Eildon Mid Hill, the highest of the three at 422 metres, followed by an easier scamper to Eildon Wester Hill and down to the village of Bowden, where a marshal and the local kids were on hand to make sure we crossed the chain bridge in the play area. On the descent David Wilson came past us. I’d assumed he’d been ahead, as he’s generally a lot faster than me, but he’d started cautiously, wanting to make sure his Grand Slam was in the bag. He seemed to be going well, and he soon disappeared into the distance.
On the road section heading towards Newtown St Boswells, Karen was starting to suffer. She was carrying a lot of injuries, and the important thing for her was to finish the race and so complete the Runfurther Grand Slam, not to try for a fast time. I told her she’d still meet the cutoffs if she walked the rest of the way, and she slacked her pace off. I pulled away from her from here, just hoping she’d finish OK and without doing herself too much damage. Through Newtown and down past the sewage works I rejoined the Tweed and the outward route, and retraced my steps along the river. The meadows were fine, but the steps and stiles were murder. My knees haven’t been recovering between races lately, and they were tired before I started. By now I was OK doing the ultra shuffle, but anything that required a foot to leave the ground by more than an inch was a different matter.
Reaching the Maxton checkpoint was now in my sights. Please, don’t let there be too many more steps. But there were of course, far more than I’d remembered on the way out. Eventually I found myself winding up away from the river, and I could see the churchyard behind the wall on my left. Round the corner, and there was the checkpoint. I’d even caught up with David. A quick drink of water then off up the road. And this was where I realised that the road down into Maxton earlier really was down. A mile of tarmac uphill is no fun when you’re knackered. I put my brain into low gear and managed to keep trotting my way up, and at least most of the people who passed me were relay runners, which is fair enough. At the top of the hill I turned left with relief off the tarmac and onto the muddy path of Dere Street once again.
The rest of it was fine really. None of it was steep, and I managed to keep trotting along. I was glad the stiles weren’t too steep, as my knees really didn’t want to bend by this stage. As I got nearer to the Teviot I started thinking I might have a chance of getting under 7 hours, which I hadn’t thought was even a possibility, given my current decrepit state. Climbing the crash barrier at the A698 without bending my knees was tricky, and I was glad no photographers were on hand to witness it. I had 35 minutes to cover two and a half miles, virtually all on tarmac. Surely even I could manage that. So I pushed on, only running out of steam for the last mile, although I still kept a shuffle going even here.
I finished in 6:53:26, 51st out of 183 finishers, first MV60, and with a big smile on my face. I just hope Karen’s photo of me needing help to get onto the winner’s box for the trophy presentation stays in the archives.