Masters Cross Country – Hawick – 1 Feb 2014

The Scottish Masters Cross Country Championships have been held annually since 1971. It’s a chance for athletes over 40 to prove they’re not over the hill. At least not until they’re halfway round the course and have disappeared over it. Teviotdale Harriers celebrate their 125th Anniversary in 2014, which is why this year’s event was held in Hawick and not anywhere remotely nearby.

After seeing the weather forecast, I was clearly several chips short of a fish supper for not pulling out like almost half of the registered field. If, heaven forbid, “I’m a Celebrity…” is ever set in Scotland, Saturday’s event would make the perfect Bush Tucker Trial.

The weather wasn’t too bad when Robert, Peter, Shona and I met at the Ski centre shortly after 10:30. Once on the M8 though, the rain became torrential. Ever the optimist, our Club President assured us that it was always drier on the East Coast. Ever the realist, Shona reminded us that it was always colder too.

Two hours later we arrived at the Leisure Centre in a very cold, and very wet Hawick, and met Greig and Danielle, and Scott and Linda Kennedy but there wasn’t any sign of Hamish. We got our numbers, put our change of clothes in a locker for after the race and looked to get to the start. It was so cold and wet we decided to drive the 1/2 mile or so. A sensible plan if I had the first clue where we were going. After our impromptu tour of every street in the town, we eventually found the course 5 minutes before Shona’s race, up a steep hill and round a narrow farm track between two houses.
The course itself was well designed with a mix of hills, open terrain and muddy farmland, but that was irrevelent.

It was just so cold.
And wet.

The women’s race was won by Angela Mudge of Carnethy Hill RC in 26:06, almost a minute and a half ahead of second place Janet Dunbar of Edinburgh AAC. Shona placed a very creditable 36th in 32:41, and considerately neglected to say how much worse the weather was on the far side of the course.

I thought waiting for the 8km men’s race to start were the coldest 45 minutes of my life, as we kept running up and down the field supposedly to warm up. Only we weren’t getting any warmer. And there still wasn’t any sign of Hamish.

The relief of huddling together on the start line like a bunch of penguins was far too short lived. The first kilometer was ok, steadily up hill with footing that wasn’t too bad and I could see Robert not too far ahead. After that the course was onto the open moor, with horizontal hail and sleet and a wind that cut deeper than one of Malcolm Tucker’s tirades in “The Thick of It”. Foolishly I’d left my hat, gloves and long sleeved top at home (what was I thinking?!?). This meant my arms progressively turned white then purple, and as I lost all feeling in them, I idly mused that at least they were fetchingly co-ordinating with my Bella vest. I really didn’t think I was going to finish the race, but all of a sudden we were dipping down a short incline to give brief respite from the hail.

Onto the second lap and peering through the elements I could hardly believe my eyes. Sitting, cosy as you like, in his car by the side of course, was Hamish. We were halfway through the race and I shouted the most irrelevant thing I could think of: “I’ve got your race number”. Over the howling gale I faintly heard a reply about being late. I wished I’d thought of that excuse, and wondered if this was just a cunning ploy to get out of running the most miserable race of the year.

Second time out on the moor was no better than the first and I was just getting slower and slower. I was so glad to get round that lap and over the finish line, too cold to speak or hardly move.
Kerry Liam Wilson of Ronhill Cambuslang won the men’s race in 30:26.
Greig was first Bella home in 15th place – 33:06.
Peter was 58th in 36:07, Robert was 120th in 40:48 with me 142nd in the coldest 43 minutes 48 seconds of my life.

Greig was so cold he didn’t even notice he was being electrocuted by an electric fence as he was getting changed. And he was too cold to be able to say anything intelligible to the race organisers about the fence either.

Prizegiving was back at the leisure centre. As Robert pointed out, the prize of the day was given to everyone who took part. Simply the warm air that hit you as you walked through the leisure centre doors. Bliss.

With all the tables in the cafe area to choose from, special thanks go to Shona for choosing the one table directly under the leaky air conditioning unit. The occasional drops of cold water down the back of the neck prevented us from forgetting what we’d just experienced.

With at least one competitor treated by First Aiders for the effects of the cold, I’m not just exaggerating for effect. However, everyone I spoke to said it was still much milder than Kilmarnock two years ago. I can’t imagine what that was like.

Next Cross Country is the Nationals in Falkirk on 22nd Feb. If the weather’s bad you’ll be able to spot me a mile away. I’ll be the one telling anyone who’ll listen: “You think this is bad? You should have been at Hawick”. Or I’ll be sitting, cosy as you like, in my car by the side of the course.