DEVILLA FOREST 15K TRAIL RACE – 26/02/12
OFFICIAL TIME: 1HR 29M 59S
302nd/354 finisher, 43rd in age group
NewRunnerNiall and I decided to do this race on a bit of a whim after a twitter friend of mine suggested it a couple of weeks ago. It is a brand new event run by the Carnegie Harriers and featured both 5 and 15k races starting and finishing at the Scottish Police College just outside of Kincardine with the routes making their way through the expansive Devilla Forest. NewRunnerNiall has been running for about a month and a half now and has completed a couple of Parkrun 5k events but wanted to put his skills to the test in a race scenario. I’m always up for a race and having never done a proper trail race this really appealled. The races were a bargain at £6 and £11 respectively for non-SAL affiliated runners.
We arrived around 9.30am and found parking was more than ample which was a nice surprise. Registration was clearly signposted and found in a big hall where were able to pick up numbers and our bottle of beer. Yes, beer – and good Scottish beer at that! Another reason this race was a good one.
I forgot to take a picture of my bottle so this shot is borrowed from www.roadrunpics.com who covered the 15k event amongst many others around the country throughout the year. Downloads for personal use and admiration are free – it’s a great site.
I felt so happy to be back in race mode again – after all the last race I did was the Fraserburgh Half Marathon in November! Race mornings for me are a heady mix of nerves and adrenaline; the ritual fumbling of pinning on your race number, glancing around for a familiar face or a Fetch vest/hoodie/buff, nervous jogs and strides to warm up the legs, banter between strangers in the endless queues for the ladies loos, that twitching butterfly in your stomach that never quite goes away until you’re about 0.5 of a mile in to the race…
Of course this race was by no means a goal race for me (although an automatic PB as I’ve never raced 15k before) so it was strictly for fun, but there’s something about race morning atmosphere that gets you wound up tight as an elastic band ready to go regardless. Just before 11am we got ready to head down to the race briefing and I attempted to give Niall a few sage words of advice before we parted ways to our respective starting areas:
- Don’t get carried away with the crowd and go out too fast
- Finish strong and push hard right to the end
- …and the old favourite; “Don’t be a dick”
There was a brief race briefing and the race started shortly after 11am. The start curved up towards a forest and we quickly found ourselves on rough forestry trails in a dark wood which smelled divinely of pine needles and freshly chopped wood.
The first few miles were very crowded as the 350odd runners found their place in the pack. After about a mile and a half the route went completely off road and we were running on a path which would only take single file runners. Everyone quickly ended up quite splattered in mud due to the wet trails, but the weather itself was dry and grey with a slight chill in the air. Perfect running weather, really.
It was quite technical running in places – I had to concentrate hard on where I was putting my feet and where the people behind me were. I was wearing road shoes but I think if I were to do it again I would want to be in trail shoes -there were a lot of slippy muddy inclines which if you’re at the back of the pack, like I tend to be, get more difficult to traverse the more runners are ahead of you.
I wanted to maintain sub-10 minute miles as a sort of standard, but as I knew the terrain would be challenging I was happy just to get a good run in regardless (with no knee or blister pain either, preferably!). After a few miles I got talking to a couple of ultra runners who were complaining about the hills and how that in short races such as this one it is not acceptable to walk up inclines! They are both doing the D33 this year and having done many ultras over the last few years, are looking forward to yet another year of SUMS events. I had settled in to my stride now and found that after our conversation had passed I was pulling away ahead of them.
The course was very undulating for most of it; basically if you weren’t going up you were going down. There was a water station at 4.5 miles at the base of a hill and after taking my gel I decided to plug in one ear of my iPod for an extra boost. At this point we were back running on forestry tracks so it was a bit safer to switch off from the world. I’ve been enjoying running with no music quite a lot during this training – there’s a lot to listen to once you turn off the noise. I do still like to listen to some tunes if I’m feeling a bit done in after a few hours though; it never fails to perk me up.
After a steady climb which got quite steep for a while necessitating a short walking period (~1 minute tops) we were high up above the reservoir and could see the neon flashes of faster runners disappearing back in to the woods on the other side after circulating about three quarters of the dammed water. I found going around the circumference of the water the hardest – there was a choice of running on a very rocky path or the grass beside it which was pitted with boulders and looked like a recipe for a broken ankle. My feet and muscles took a pounding here and my stride went all over the place.
Still, I found that my usual steady slow-start pacing strategy for a negative spilt was paying off as usual, as one by one I caught up to the runners in front of me and passed them by. At 7.5 miles we passed the water station again on our return to the finish and after a refreshing cup I was ready to get going.
I think it was a combination of being a bit tired and hungry and just wanting to be done and the confidence boost from passing so many people, but I found that I could push my pace to around 9 minute miles and below and maintain it easily. I always find my shoulders and arms tense up after a few miles of racing; I concentrate on loosening my arms and relaxing my shoulders down and back and suddenly it feels like I’m gliding effortlessly across the ground. The tantalising allure of the finish line growing ever closer only serves to encourage me to keep pushing in a way I find hard to harness in training runs. One thing that crossed my mind was that at some point I am going to have to learn to harness this ability to run this smoothly, fastly and effortlessly and apply it to races in full. Of course maybe it’s all in my race-addled mind – maybe I actually run toward the finish like the cookie monster; but it sure does feel good.
Towards the end of mile 9 I was constantly looking ahead for the break in the forest which would signify the last few hundred meters of the race back towards the College. Runners out to do a few more miles on the trails after finishing their race passed us slow-pokes and shouted encouraging words as we navigated the last parts of the race. As the trail spat us out of the forest and on to the tarmac I gave it all I had and powered down the road, overtaking a few more people as I went. Two male Dundee Roadrunners up ahead started to sprint and I decided to make ‘chicking’ them my goal, I pushed it up a final gear into puke-threshold and heard a couple of unknown voices call my name and say ‘Go Rhona go!’ as I flew past one. I couldn’t quite catch the other however and he finished a second or two before me as we staggered panting and grinning into the finish chute.
There was a struggle to get my utterly caked with mud timing chip untied and untangled from my laces, but eventually I got back on my feet and grabbed some water and some snacks. There was no medal which was a shame, but I didn’t think there would be since this was a new, fairly low key event. I found Niall and heard about his race which he really enjoyed, and he smashed his 5k PB down to 28min 50s which was great work for a trail race.
I was happy with my time – in theory it looks like I’m on a good course for a PB at the Smokies 10 mile race on Sunday since it’s flat and fast and my 10 mile PB is currently 1hr 38. 1hr 30 for 9.3 miles on trails should translate in to a good time should I wish…but since I’m tapering I ought to not push it. Not sure yet – I’ll call it on the day I reckon.
I really enjoyed this event – it was superbly organised by the Carnegie Harriers and would wholeheartedly recommend it despite the journey from Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful course with interesting terrain and I can only see it getting more popular in the years to come. I’m not sure if the trails could support more than 400 runners with the beating they took from 350, so perhaps it ought to stay the size it is. I’ll definitely be bearing it in mind for next year, though who knows what I’ll be up to by then…