This was the inaugural Deerstalker event, billed by the organisers as a “muddy romp” through the Border’s scenery.
Starting and finishing in the grounds of Traquair House in the Tweed Valley the organisers had a wide choice of hills, rivers, ponds to send the competitors up, across and through. Lining up at the start line, in the spring sun, I was glad to see that most people were donning their Tweed with pride. I settled for a waistcoat, deerstalker and pipe as the most practical running apparel.
The start was uphill for 70 yards to a straw wall, three bales high. A bit of a pile up, but got over on the second attempt. A jog down through the estate towards Innerleithen followed, and then through a chest high pond. I got stuck behind a group of people screaming and falling over. My running mate, Dougie McPhee, sporting a Peruvian version of the deerstalker, was in front of them and the view of him, bounding up the hill like an alpaca, was the last I was going to see of him for some time.
The trail headed skyward, up the zigzagging Innerleithen XC mountain bike trail, gradient easing after a few hundred yards on to a forest road. But just as the gradient eased to a joggable degree, the trail headed away from the road, straight up the hill, through dense woodland, and then doubled back, rejoining the road only about 100 yard further up. Then back off the road, up a steep stony gully and across a clear-felled moor. Footing was distinctly dodgy here. Rough, tussocky heather hiding tree roots, stones and stumps. Back into the woods via a track, still going up, and some obstacles – balance beams, tunnels, ladders. Finally emerging from a tunnel (tight squeeze) I saw the flag that marked the highest point. You had to check in your wrist chip thing into a machine. I later found out that I was 2 minutes behind Dougie at the top. Then it was a fast descent following a wide mountain bike trail, jumps, berms, table-tops, etc. all seem a lot larger when you’re trying to run them, rather than cycle them. You could see some of the obstacles on the upward route from the downward route. People were queuing by this time. Then down a very steep and densely wooded hill, some natural obstacles, fallen tree, branches forming a low tunnel with a wall. Damn, turned my ankle in the thick carpet of pine needles and then back down to the Tweed Valley floor.
Then two river crossings and a trudge through a chest high drainage ditch under a bridge and we were heading back to Traquair House alongside the Tweed. Dougie was just up ahead and I caught up with him just after crossing another river into the estate. Then 500 yards to the finish and a pint of the fine Mighty Deerstalker Ale. Lovely.
I suspect it was a tad longer than 5K – I was 52nd, out of around 250-300 and my time was 1 hour 21 minutes! But whatever it was, it was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, certainly the hardest 5K, but probably the most fun I’ve had in ages. Intend to be back next year, after some hill training and weight loss. As ever…
The 10K started on the 5K course but added a loop in the dark up a scree slope and some of the people coming in from that looked shell-shocked. Some people were taking around 4 Hrs, coming in at about 11:00pm, when it was freezing.
My time was Total 1:21:07 (45:23 to the top, 35:44 back down). When you put your wrist chip thing into the machine at the line it printed out a receipt, with your place, total times and splits. No need to wait for results here. Dougie was 55th a minute later.