Friday, November 06, 2015

Jedburgh Running Festival 2015...

By Frank

The Jedburgh Running Festival consist of numerous events being the wheelchair challenge, canicross (dog cross country), quarter marathon, half marathon and of course the Three Peaks 38 miles ultramarathon. This year also saw the introduction of the relay for the ultramarathon. The event holds close to my heart as it was the first Scottish running event that I participated in last year when I first visit this lovely country. I knew no one and that time but it’s through this, that I have befriended many Scottish friends such as Helen, Mike, Alan, Wullie, just to name a few. And of course not forgeting the 2 lady race directors Angela and Noanie who had been very supportive and that we had become close friends now. And that was the main reason I flew once again across the continents to participate again in this year’s edition. I signed up for the dirty double again, a back to back event which consisted of the ultramarathon and half marathon.

First, the Three Peaks Ultramarathon which is a 38 miles (60.8KM) long trail ultramarathon near the Scottish borders which takes runners along the St. Cuthbert’s Way following the old Roman Road of Dere Street and along the River Tweed before hitting the Three Peaks of Eildons.

Despite going into this race with fresh legs, I was under trained for it due to the very bad haze situation back home. However, I am definitely more prepared especially in the clothing department where I’ve prepared thermal and water proof gears. Besides, my aim is just to enjoy it and to snap photos along the way as the beautiful scenery wasn't captured last year. This time, I had my GoPro!

Myself with Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and little Xi Ning departed Aberdeen by train to Edinburgh on Friday afternoon. Arrived a couple of hours later, picked up our rented car, picked up our take-away Kampung Ah Lee Malaysian food for dinner and off we drove for an hour before finally arriving at Jedburgh. The place hasn't changed and everything was just so familiar. Made our way to our self catering cottage at Larkhall Burn which was very nice. The only main problem was it was located up a hill and the main access was blocked off due to some construction.  Quick dinner, unpacked, gear up, clean up and it was bed time for it will be a long cold day tomorrow.

Event: Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2015
Venue: Jed Thistle Rugby Club, Jedburgh, Scotland
Date: 24 October 2015
Time: 8.00AM
Distance: 60.8KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 5

The weather forecast was showers till late morning hence I know that it would not only be cold, but a muddy and slippery race. With a thermal baselayer, a Saucony RunWarm long sleeve mid layer and my trustworthy Saucony RunShield waterproof Razer jacket and Saucony RunWarm thermal long tights, I was ready. And not forgetting the Saucony Peregrine 5. After an all Scottish breakfast which consisted of bread, bacon and black pudding, we left the cottage.

AYE! I am back and thanks for the warm welcome!

Angela doing the briefing.

The race was to start at 8AM and we found ourselves at the race briefing venue Jed Thistle Rugby Club 45 minutes early. Proceeded to collect my race bib and soon met up with Angela and Noanie who both despite being very busy, still had a smile on their face. With everything checked, it was a little wee briefing by Angela before we proceeded to the field across the road where the race is to be flag off. Some photos around as the rest of the runners were busy doing warm up with the squirrel mascot doing the YMCA dance.

Better have a selfie with Chee Kong first as he will not be seen during the race at all!

The race was flagged off a few minutes passed 8AM and while all the runners were busy crossing the start gantry, I took the opportunity to have a wefie with Noanie who was standing by the side. And then, it’s off I went under the rain. The first 2KM or so was on the streets, or rather pavement. While the fast runners are making their way to lead the pack and I believe Chee Kong was one of them, the rest was just starting to warm up trying to settle down into their comfortable position. I was one of them.

Zooming into the trails.

Although it’s the end of autumn now, the view was still magnificent with brown leaves covering the running path and trails. However, one needs to be careful not to slip on those leaves especially when it’s wet. Covered some light trails before entering the countryside via some back roads and then crossing the A68 freeway which then brings runners down along the banks of River Tweed. The misty view with the sound from the river was certainly peaceful and calm to my ears. As it was still early, not many animals can be seen though one may spot some sheep in the distance up early munching on the grassy breakfast. It was all single track here although one can overtake using the grass path to the side. And as I ran, I met Kirsty Archbold here. She was a strong runner and she kept going and going while I was still enjoying the all rather familiar but yet still beautiful to my eyes view. Soon, it was the Monteviot Bridge or rather known as the shoogly bridge which takes runners across the River Tweed. Was taking photos from it before a group of cheeky runners started jumping on it causing the bridge to become very “SHOOGLY”. I zoomed off from it holding tight to my GoPro as I did not want to donate it to the river.

The shoogly Monteviot Bridge.

Across the Monteviot Bridge, the running path started to become more trail and with my body now warmed up, I was starting to enjoy.  And soon part of running in Scotland where we started climbing over steps, ladders and also opening gates which is erected to keep sheep and cattle from escaping. A gentle ascend as I ran through farms after farms along the grassy single track which was tricky with the rain as it made the path slippery with a few muddy patches along the way. And I don’t remember the grass being so long this year where it covers almost the running path.

My face says it all. I was having fun.

After exiting the farms, the muddiest single track came as almost all runners here were running or shall I shall trying to walk sideways. With the mud on the centre part of the path, I ran and tackled along the side with legs on the left and right. It worked pretty well and I was glad I didn't fall.

Anyhow, I made it out safely and was back on the road alongside the farm where I met George who remember me from last year. Had a chat as we ran as I shared my upcoming adventure with him. And soon, we arrived at the town of Maxton where the first checkpoint at 16KM into the race with the squirrel mascot welcoming us. Had a quick wefie with him before I proceed to the checkpoint where I arrived in just about 1.44 hours. I was caught by surprised as I was expecting 2 hours or so as I was busy photographing along the way. Nevertheless, my drop bag was quickly retrieved by the friendly volunteers as I met Lorna Maclean here. And while helping myself with the dried fruits I left here, I was interviewed by the TV crew. It took a while but I was in no hurry hence not a problem at all.

George had already left when I was ready to go with the rain coming to a halt. And almost instantly, I was back into the woods with beautiful trails to follow along the banks of River Tweed. Not forgetting the Neptune Staircase too as it gave the run a whole new dimension. Almost got lost for a moment at a junction with a wooden bridge as there was no directional markers. Took the gamble with other runners who were just as confused themselves to cross the bridge and we were lucky it was the right one. And just after it, we met John Duncan who was part of the organising committee and informed him on the issue. Then came the familiar St. Boswell golf course where I passed by Sandra who was dressed partly in a bride’s dress!

Neptune Staircase along the River Tweed.

Fast forwarding to the second checkpoint at Rhymer’s Stone at 32KM into the race, I met Steve Legge and his friend James Murray here as we shared some of our snacks we left in our drop bag. Also met Helen Munro who is volunteering here. After refuelling and relieving myself, it was time to tackle the peaks of Eildons. And this is where I started to miss Mike Adams whom I ran with last year beginning from here.

Time to scale the peaks of Eildons.

I started the first peak with Steven McKillop and gently made my way up. It was steep and technical but the experience from last year helped a lot. And with a lighter backpack this time, it was easier. But what slowed me down was the spectacular views of the Scottish borders. I was constantly stopping  and taking photos of it. And I was glad I didn't get blown off by the strong wind while doing so.

I was on cloud 9 when I got to the top of the first peak and spent a little time there before making the descent. Unlike the clumsy me last year where I took steps by steps, this time, I literally glided down which makes things much faster and smoother.

First peak conquered!

Soon, I was on the foot of the second peak. A little more technical, a little more steep, but shorter. And just like the earlier peak, I was constantly taking photos before arriving at the top where a TV crew was waiting. No interview this time and yet again, I spent a little time here. It was calm and peaceful with only the wind blowing.

Feeling cold on the second peak.

The third peak which was a little further away was the easiest of the three. With only the descent from the second which was rocky, the journey to the third was mainly grassy single paths. Nothing spectacular happened here as arrived at the top with Steven before he zoomed off heading into Bowden. Katie Hall and Graham Kelly soon followed and I knew I had to move on despite having to bid farewell to the peaks once again.

Third peak done!

Zooming down on the rocky single track and into the brown leaves covered trail, a group of us which includes Mike and Katie got lost here last year. However this time, markers where present and a group of people was there cheering for us. I finally get to run on the correct trails trailing Katie and Graham.

Time to bid farewell to Eildons.

Passing through farms and small villages around Bowden, I found myself back into the St. Boswell golf course. It was getting warm and I took off my outer shell before continuing on. Although I still had the energy to carry on running, my legs were showing some strain. As expected, I lack the leg strength. Therefore, to keep myself safe from tripping over or spraining an ankle, I used the run walk strategy, while still photographing away.

I soon found myself back at the earlier first checkpoint which is now the third at Maxton. Everyone I met earlier from Steven, Scott and James was there. Even Lorna was still there marshalling. However, Scott wasn't in a good shape as his legs were hurting. He was given care by a marshal who gave him some spray to ease the pain. I gave him some words of encouragement before I went off myself, returning from where I came from much earlier.

With Lorna and her team at CP3.

Remember the very muddy single track I mentioned earlier before arriving at the first checkpoint? Well, I am back here again and yes, it was still muddy. And while tackling it halfway, a familiar voice called out to me from behind. It was Scott, and am glad he found strength to continue. Apparently, the spray he had earlier was “magical” as he zoomed away ahead!

With Scott before he zoomed away.

Back at the farms, there were lots of sheep around and it was certainly a welcoming sight. I was still being careful with the single tracks here as most were covered by long grass. Don’t want to risk tripping over a rock or root.

Fast forwarding, I was back at the Monteviot Bridge overlooking the River Tweed. Almost there I told myself as I ran along the banks and finally a flight of stairs which brought me up to the A68 freeway where Helen was there marshalling. Continued on where it’s all tarmac now cruising along the countryside. Took a  glimpse of my watch and quickly noticed that it’s going to be very tight if I wanted to hit a sub 9 hours. Well, I did not have a targeted finishing time as long I complete within the cut off, but heck, I thought I may just give it a go here. Therefore, I ran!

Out of the countryside and back on to the home stretch. I was all alone here but there were cheers from the faster runners driving home. The cheers made me run and soon, I saw the Jedburgh Abbey which then the little hill on the open field where flags and the finish gantry came into view. I was “home” as Angela, Noanie and the rest of the teams were there to welcome me as I crossed the finish line in 8.56.16 hours . I made a sub 9 hours and hack last year’s time by slightly more than half an hour! AYE! But what’s more surprising is that I came in at position 156 out of 201. Those Scottish are really fast!

Chee Kong was nowhere to be seen and I was freezing. Took me a while to contact him as he was watching the rugby game between South Africa and New Zealand, before he came to drive me back to the cottage. Cleaned up, and it was to Belter’s Bar for the post race dinner. The place was packed with runners and it a while for our meal to be served. Also managed to catch up with Angela and Noanie, and also to discuss a little on the West Highland Way before I headed back for some well deserved rest as a half marathon awaits the next day.

Beef burger with haggis for the recovery.

Event: Jedburgh Half Marathon 2015
Venue: Townhall, Jedburgh, Scotland
Date: 25 October 2015
Time: 11.00AM
Distance: 21.1KM
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7

Was lucky I had a good rest. Sleep was deep and I managed to recover, well at least not limping too much nor feeling too tired. And as per any other Scottish race, a hearty Scottish breakfast is a must. It was more or less the same as yesterday but with the addition of mushrooms and some burnt black pudding. Haha… With the half marathon only starting at 11AM, we had plenty of time although we had to check out of the cottage by 10AM.

Anyway, fast forwarding to the race bib and timing chip collection at the town hall where it was swarmed by runners and supporters. Everything went smoothly and we went on to see some performance by the Scottish bag pipers along the streets with the Jedburgh Abbey overlooking everyone. We then proceeded to the start line just ahead and after some really brief briefing, the half marathon was underway.
Scottish bag pipers!

This is my Saucony Kinvara 7’s first race and although I was armed with my GoPro to snap photos along the way, I wanted to find out what this new kicks could do. The start was a little wee climb out of town as I spotted Angela and Noanie by the side of the abbey cheering for runners. I've lost touch of Chee Kong but I am enjoying myself nevertheless.

Upon arrival on the main street, Chee Kong came from behind as we took a wefie together before he zoomed off. And not only him, other runners too seem to be zooming pass me. As we exited the main street, there was a climb welcoming the runners as I took advantage of it passing those who passed me earlier. I was better at climbs you see but remembering my experience from last year where I suffered side stitches here, I went with caution before arriving at the beautiful countryside overlooking the farms with sheep and cattle.

Wefie with Chee Kong before he zoomed off.

I was happily cruising as my leg were working just fine. As I exited on to the main street approaching Kelso, the lead runners from the 10KM distance were already making their way back. The weather was cold but manageable as per my standards as I skipped the first water station.

Cheerful volunteers at the water station.

Took a left turn towards Nisbet later on before heading towards Eckford where the wind was horrendous last year. There seems to be a slight route change here compared to last year though, but I can’t make out of it. However, I still returned to the familiar long straight. And just before the climb into the Eckford loop, I saw Alan making his return. No sign of Chee Kong this year though but I guess he should be just right behind Alan.

The entrance to the Eckford loop was a climb which my legs welcome. It needed some gradient change after the flats earlier. The halfway point was smack in the middle of the loop and I made a decision which will determine my finishing time later. I took a turn back to the halfway point marker to snap a photo of it which I didn't do so earlier. It was a few seconds wasted though but no regrets on doing so. Further down, 2 sweet elderly couples were giving out sweet and oranges to the runners. Took some sweets from them before I moved on to exit the loop.

Ran back to photograph this!

Lovely elderly couple giving out sweets at the halfway mark.

Looking at my watch as I make my return to Nisbet, it looks like I may actually run a sub 2 hours or close to it. But with the head wind now, it’s going to make things a little tougher. It may not be as strong as last year, but it did slow me down a couple of seconds per Kilometer.

Thanks Steven for capturing me while I exited from Eckford.

I was glad I survived the head wind it as the next straight was towards Bonjenward as I tried to recover those lost seconds earlier. At the end of it, was the long climb before the downhill into the A68 freeway where the home stretch was just beside the Riverside.

It was about 3KM to the finish I guess as I ran hard on this section. But as we needed to run on the pavement, I needed to be careful as it wasn't even on certain sections. But those obstructions cleared up later as the town became visible and my watch was showing that I was tight on time. I didn't give up though and eventually saw the finish gantry with Angela announcing my name and Noanie presenting me with the medal and the Dirty Double bonus as I crossed the finish line in 2.00.31, just 31 seconds shy of the sub 2. But I was still one happy lad!

Approaching the finish line.

Just before making my way to clean up at the Leisure Centre, I caught up with some Dirty Doublers such as Alan, Wullie and Jeni for a group photo. There were actually 28 of us this year but some have left. And not forgetting to bid farewell to Angela and Noanie too and to thank them for a job well done once more in organising this very nice event.

With the Dirty Doublers.

With Angela.

With Noanie.

For 2 years in a row, it has been an amazing time at Jedburgh meeting friends and making new ones. The distance was just nice, and to add some salsa to it, just joined the half marathon the next day for some back to back Dirty Double action. If you are not into timing though you still can for it’s a fast course, this is certainly one event to consider as the scenery is just simply awesome. It’s just so worth to simply slow down to enjoy it. Not forgetting the fresh countryside air too.

Thank you Jedburgh. Thank you Eildons.

And from there on, we all left for Edinburgh before I took the train to Liverpool for my next adventure around Anfield and the rest of Scotland.

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Thank you.

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