29 February - An Extra Day, And The First Podium Of The Year

February 29th. A whole extra day to play with. What should I do? Well, I have a running race in Markinch tonight, but no immediate plans for this morning. It’s not raining and I’ve just woken up in the back of a van at Innerleithen. Let’s go and see what’s what.
I didn’t want to do too much, thinking I really should save something for the race later. I had ridden one of the downhill courses yesterday, Make Or Brake, then down DoubleD and Caddon Bank, in under 8min30. However, I had received a message from George informing me that there was a man on the youtube who did it 8min02. So today’s task was to beat that, starting with the climb to the little hut at the top, which was about 40 minutes, not too bad for what is a lot of climbing.

My first run down felt quick, hitting most of the corners spot on, trying to keep the bike low over the jumps, trying not to loose any time showboating on them. However, at 8min20 it wasn’t good enough.
I collected another bottle of Bikefood from the van and headed for the top again, a 35LB coil-sprung bike isn’t ideal for a climb this long but it coped reasonably well. The next run down didn’t feel as fast, I was a little ragged, pushing as hard as I could, running a little wide a couple of times, nearly loosing it completely on the banked turn on Caddon Bank where the course re-entered the trees. Surprisingly, I was somehow a little better, 8min14 this time.
Getting my excuses in now; it is still winter and the ground was a little wet and slippery, I was on a 13 year old bike with brakes which really could do with bleeding soon, I had been riding for well over four hours the day before, and of course spds and an open helmet may not be ideal for this kind of thing. I’m sure I could think of a few more given enough time… Or maybe the man in video was just a better rider than I am.
I decided against a third and final attempt, electing to save myself a bit for the night-time race at Balbirnie, just north of Markinch.

The start was very fast, I took an early lead, a quick sprint along 30 yards of tarmac. I heard a shout of ‘Right!’ behind me, so I turned into the trees and felt a strange sensation as the ground below me gave way, I stumbled through and out the other side, the other runners in hot pursuit.
Defending champion and current series leader Chris Russell (Fife AC) and I began to pull away from the others, I could see two more lights behind us but the others had faded away within a few minutes. Chris and I ran together for about 8 minutes, with him right on my heels. He eventually got passed and started to pull away.

I’m not used to such short, fast races, the whole thing felt like a mad sprint to me. Running through the trees in the pitch darkness was interesting, just my torch beam waving around in front of me as I careered through the forest, trying not to come unstuck on any of the undergrowth.
About 15 minutes in, with about a mile to go, I realised that I had company, Craig Love (Dundee Hawkhill) was gaining rapidly on me. He continued to close the gap as we made our way along the banks of the stream, across the little bridge and up the hill into the final wooded section. I could see the finish line as he came passed, we both sprinted for the line but he just edged me out.
I was happy with third place, my best result of the year so far, and the first running race I have ever done in the dark. Should be good practice for the big one on Saturday!
And yes, I know there was no actual podium, but if there had been I would have been on it so I'm going to count this one anyway.

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