Not so much thrilla in Devilla, more pain in the rain.


Inevitably, having carried me through the first part of marathon training with no problems, my right hamstring muscle chose to go south just before my first race for 3.5 months. So, after self-prescribed regime of rest, stretch and foam roll, I got up on Sunday morning not knowing whether I was going to be able to run the Devilla 15k or not. Walking around I could feel the tightness in the muscle. What to do?

The devil inside me told me there was no way I was going to DNS my first race of the year, and my first trail race ever. The other devil told me not to be a dick -I’m in the middle of marathon training and now is not the time to exacerbate a strain which would result in lost training miles. And so, of course, I started packing my kit.

Having made the decision to race, the next thing to do was to decide what to wear. The weather did its best to make this easy. Cold, wet, windy. I went with a base layer covered with a thin windproof Madison cycling jacket and shorts, hat and gloves. And new Adidas Kanadia trail shoes, an impulse half-price purchase from Run-4-It when I was getting new road shoes. A good choice all round as it turned out.

The runners make their way to the start

The runners make their way to the start

With the unappealing conditions, most runners left it late to gather at the start point. I was worried about how my hamstring would hold up and, knowing there were some single file sections early in the route, I took a position at the back of the pack, so as not to become a roadblock if things went badly. Off we set. I wanted to take it easy, and, as it turned out, I didn’t have to worry, as the small track width and the sheer volume of runners ahead enforced a slowish pace.

The rain had left a lot of water on the track, collecting in lake-like puddles. It was great fun steaming straight down the middle of these as some others gingerly worked their way round the outside. As we climbed through the forest, the rain and about 400 runners up ahead had conspired to produce some serious mud, and I found myself walking in single file on a couple of occasions with no way to pass. After this I settled into a comfortable slow running pattern. I could feel a slight ache in the muscle but nothing too bad. I thought about pushing on a bit. I started to up the pace slightly.

Mile 1: 9.54
Mile 2: 10.46
Mile 3: 10.09

And then the wheels came off. I felt a pain in the muscle and had to stop. The first thing I did was check my Garmin to see how far I had come in order to decide whether to walk back to the start or continue on. Just under 3 miles. I stretched the leg for a while then tried to hobble-jog onwards. My thanks to the lady who stopped to ask if I was all right at this point – all I could do was grimace in reply. Gingerly I kept the hobble-jog going. I could feel the pain but I did not think I was doing any harm. So, onwards then.

Photo courtesy of Barrie Davie

Photo courtesy of Barrie Davie

Mile 4: 11.27
Mile 5: 11.29

Frustrating as it was to be passed by just about everybody, I settled into a groove and got on with it. The forest track took us up to an exposed section where strong winds pushed horizontal rain into any exposed skin. One of the downsides of jogging along slower than normal was that I felt the cold more, but it was not ridiculously uncomfortable.

As the number of people in front of me increased, the track was churning up more than ever and it got to be v-e-r-y muddy in places. One or two fellow-runners in road shoes were basically mud-surfing. The race was advertised as suitable for trail shoes or ordinary trainers, but in these conditions I was very glad of the extra grip.

Just before the 5 mile marker the 10km sign appeared. What!? I thought for a minute that my brain had gone the way of my hamstring, but a double mental check assured me that something was indeed wrong. Was my Garmin out? I didn’t think so as it was showing a really slow average pace which I figured was about right. Did I miss a pre-race instruction telling us that the 10km marker was not 10km but really the half way point? Pondering that, I soldiered on towards another photographer. As I approached him I prepared my best “I’m usually quicker than this” expression, but as I got to the click zone he decided to pack up. He must have had enough. I looked round to check I wasn’t, in fact, last.

Mile 6: 10.51
Mile 7: 10.24

After an exposed section we came upon a burn bridged by a short plank. This would have gone into resonance and exploded if more than one runner hit it in synch, so we were back to single file through this and a following rabbit trail section. One upside from running slowly was that I had time to look around and take in the scenery of the Moor Loch. It really is a beautiful course through the forest and around the water.

Last section (0.78m): 10.09

I took my headphones out for the final mile and listened to nature and grunting runners instead. The was some encouragement from the few hardy supporters and finished runners as we reached the finish line. A lady passed me saying “you can’t let me pass you just before the end!” I smiled and tried to hop quickly to show her how injured I was. Bad idea, that didn’t help the muscle.

Post race the buzz centred on the distance. Everyone had recorded about 7.7-7.8 miles instead of the published 9.3 (15k). Several theories were offered:

      * The mud was so bad in parts that the race organisers decided to cut part of the course out without telling anyone,


      * (my favourite) A disgruntled former Carnegie-Harrier had set out to sabotage the race by removing some directions


    * (most likely) Someone up front took a wrong turning and we all followed him or her, lemming-like

I quickly realised there was only one thing to do. We needed Rebus.


At the finish I picked up water, a mars bar and a museli bar. No medal, but the bottle of Harveiestoun Schiehallion handed out at reception more than made up for that.





At the registration point I was delighted to meet @Doc Brumble for the first time and get some tips on other trail races in and around Edinburgh. I was supposed to meet up with Jemma as well, but word on the street was that she had flown round and probably had time to get home and watch a movie by the time I finished.

The results were posted shortly afterwards. Not unexpectedly, I broke new ground this time by coming last in the category. The pace chart shows my stop just before three miles and my ensuing slowness. The other spikes are when we were reduced to walking in single file.

devilla pace

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have run the race but I am glad I did. I learned that I can hold a slow steady pace if the hamstring muscle decides to go AWOL in a big race. I found that I really enjoyed trail running, and the new trail shoes worked as advertised. The course is a peach; the organisation and marshalling by the Carnegie Harriers team was top quality (apart from the missing 1.5m).

shiehallionI will be back next year. I have unfinished business, Devilla.

Time 1:22:57
Position: 445/517
Category: 63/63.

By-note: After the race, local media followed up on the race sabotage story and Rebus reference, mistakingly quoting me as “Mike Smith”.

Scottish Police College trail race ‘sabotaged’

Racers run into trouble


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