Friday, 11 March 2016

Race Marshall

Forth Inn the registration point

I spent last night marshalling a night trail race, spending over an hour in freezing conditions and then collecting tape and signs before walking back from my marker point, I was last man back to the pub which acted as the registration point and prize giving space. I collected my free beer and gel (do I need to declare these?) and watched as the results were churned out for the three race series. I wished I had entered there was a M60 prize and it would have been less cold than marshalling but I have been down with a heavy cold all week and not running.

It has been a long time since I was involved in race organisation. I had set up an employee running club in Strathclyde in the 1980's and organised a fifteen or so races over a five year period. We had a staff of over 100,000 and the events would have an entry of up to 200 runners. It culminated in us being invited to host the NALGO national championship, which we organised at Strathclyde Park and managed to win the team race. In those days I did the route setting and announcements on the day but not the marshalling because I usually tried to run them as well. I don't think I appreciated the loneliness of race marshals or their stoicism.

The Trossachs Night Trail series was the brainchild of Angela Mudge, who lives locally and is a legendary figure in the hill racing circuit. When she calls and asks you to marshal you don't argue. Anybody who cycles across Europe from north to south because she was injured and could not run is not to be disobeyed. 65 runners turned up for the last race in the series of three. Over five miles round the forest with tricky twists and turns and a fast grassy descent down to the finish. It is not an easy route in the daylight but the hill runners lapped it up with their unbounded thirst for adventure and aided by head torches that strobed the ink black night.

Standing on the forest track waiting for the runners to appear was an eerie experience, there was little light pollution and I had to direct them from the fast downhill gravel track round a sharp bend and onto a steep descent with another marshal at the bottom shining his clockwork lantern. I expected the first runner half an hour after the start and he appeared slightly early, his bobbing head torch visible when half a mile away. Twenty five minutes later the last runners passed through and it was time to gather the tape and signs and make the way back.

After the prize giving I spoke to the winner on the night and of the series. Joe Symonds was the first winner of the Glencoe Skyline race last year and has an impressive palmares of wins in mountain marathons, hill races as well as some impressive times on the road. His father, Hugh Symonds, had written a book in 1991 about his 83 day epic run round the Scottish munros. It was one of the books that inspired me on my first munro round but it took me 92 days over four and a half years. Hugh Symonds had taken time off his work as a teacher and was accompanied by his wife and three children in a camper van; Joe was six at the time. He also had help from the band of fell runners from the Lake District including Mick Walford, an old school acquaintance.

Joe told me that the trip was the best part of his education, it taught him so much about living simply, the environment, and how to set goals. It also nurtured his love of the Scottish mountains where he moved to on leaving school to study and then work. His father has retired from teaching and spends his time cycling round the world with his wife. There was a sense of fulfilment from Joe, not the sort that emanates from an Amazon parcel, but the sort that comes from someone who has set out clear goals and works and plays hard to achieve them. He also has values that are ethereal.

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