The Hartley Cup 2017 was my first experience of racing for, and with, a Running Club. I’d only joined up about 6 weeks prior to it and, as such, had nothing to prove. Though somehow I’d managed to get myself into the mixed team rather than a female-only team due to the (lack of) availability of a couple of the faster female runners in the club to attend. It was an interesting day and the food afterwards was excellent. So when Tina emailed all club members to ask who wanted to participate this year, I was one of the first to sign up.
The Hartley Cup covers a large area of East Central/ North East Scotland and was founded in 1985 by Kinross Road Runner Graeme Hartley. It’s a fairly unique opportunity for road runners (who typically race 5k distance and upwards) to test their one mile speed, and a chance for several clubs to come together for a bit of inter-club camaraderie and good-natured rivalry. It’s invite-only, with around a dozen clubs participating. Each club takes their year hosting the Cup, and it must be a fairly onerous task: finding a venue big enough to hold 300 – 400 runners with suitable parking facilities and enough land to set up a 1-mile lap, finding enough volunteers to set up, marshal during the race, and clear up afterwards, and of course catering for all those hungry runners post-race. The hosting responsibilities are passed around in a round-robin style, which is very fair and means you could potentially start planning (and budgeting) for it several years in advance. This year’s event was hosted by Kinross Road Runners at Loch Leven Community Campus, and the event ran very smoothly.
I drove through to Arbroath for just before 09:00am and Reg and I got a lift through to Loch Leven with my relay teammate Steven. Some of the other Footers had already arrived, and Tina was getting us all organised with clip boards and race cards. (Last year I hadn’t realised the clip boards were Tina’s, and had handed it in to the volunteers along with our completed card – thankfully they still had it when Tina came looking for it and I realised my error!) Tracy wrote our team number (26) and position letter (A through E) on the provided A5 cardboard sheets to act as race numbers, and we got down to the important business of choosing a team name. Steven had said on the drive through that Alan would already have suggestions. Alan insisted he hadn’t been planning for this, but he and Tracy were the ones coming up with the most suggestions, and we settled on Smokie and the Bandits. Smokies for obvious reasons, Bandits I’m not so sure about: Maybe we were hoping to steal the Cup from another team?
There was the usual banter, and copious amounts of photo-taking of all the Footers then all the separate teams. The Footers rarely seem to enter male-only teams – probably as we are such a female-dominated club in terms of membership numbers. Unlike last year, though, we were entering a few mixed teams this year and only one female team. We also had one each of Under 16s and Under 13s teams. By the time we got around to taking photos of Smokie and the Bandits, Steven had already headed outside to recce the route, so our team photo is 80% complete. We made sure to get a full team photo afterwards though. At some point during this Graeme Watson from Forfar Road Runners passed by, and we had a quick chat about their plans for next Sunday’s trail run in Glen Prosen. David had wangled an invite for BRR the last time they had done this a few weekends ago. It was a fantastic day and the scenery was stunning. And running uphill was fine. But there was snow and ice on the hills and I held everyone up on the descents. However, despite me being such a wuss, I obviously didn’t irritate them enough to get uninvited. As it’s my birthday weekend (and the underfoot conditions are also likely to be worse than last time) I probably won’t go, but it’s great that the local clubs are so friendly towards each other.
We headed outside around 15 minutes before the start, into the clear but chilly day, and got our first view of the course. The start and finish area was on grass, and a route had been taped out much the way they do the finish funnels at Parkrun, to ensure there was no cutting of corners or going the wrong way. After a 360 degree loop of the football pitch nearest to the Campus, it then took you out of the campus, right-hand turn onto a very short tarmac section, then a shallower right-hand turn onto the trail segment. This section was very narrow, and slightly muddy (unsurprising, given the time of year). It loops around the perimeter of the campus, then back onto the section of grass at the furthest end from the building. There were a couple of short sections going uphill just out of the trail section, as you loop almost back on yourself to follow the grassy section of the perimeter anti-clockwise, then down some wet, potentially slippery grass before having to climb a steep 6 or 8 foot grassy bank before heading clockwise again back into the main grassy area containing the sports pitches.
Of course, Gordon Donnachie, who very kindly volunteers his time and photography skills at several races, chose to stand at the top of this steep bank to take photos. Having tried myself to take action shots of sprinting runners and usually failing miserably, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the choice was made as it offered the best camera angle and also more time to focus as runners would invariably be slowed down by the steepness of the embankment (some more than others) making it easier to get good, sharp photos. As you can see from one of my photos though, it also gives the opportunity for capturing some hilarious or terrifying facial expressions as people struggle up the hill on heavy quads and don’t look too happy about it. Once you turn left at the top there though, it’s all flat and a nice clockwise perimeter loop back to the finish. The final straight was maybe around 50 – 60 metres, so it was perfect for attempting a sprint finish.
Maybe half of the other teams have their own large tents/ marquees, which were all set up on the pitch to the right of the Start and Finish stretches. The Footers didn’t have one of these, and the grass was damp. Anna got her survival kit mat out of her bag and was getting that arranged for dumping our bags and coats on, when Alan reappeared. He’d spoken nicely to the Kinross contingent, and they’d very kindly agreed we could use a corner of their tent to protect our stuff from the elements.
Tracy and I decided to do a warm-up lap of the route, and as noted above, I was a little concerned about the narrowness of the trail section. I always slow down on trails and feel really pressured if someone is right behind me, but I also hate getting stuck behind people. Other than that though, it was a nice leisurely lap at around 8:10 pace and we’d done it with our down jackets still on. We had started it about 10:51 though and had been warned that we didn’t really have time to do the lap before the race started. Sure enough, we completed it only very shortly before the first 65 or so runners headed off, and had missed the race briefing.
Steven was off to a flying start. But not quite as flying as the lead male, who got round in a stupendous time that was comfortably sub 5 minutes. It always amazes me when distance runners can sprint like that. I know it wouldn’t be a particularly competitive time on a race track, but these are distance runners who maybe do a couple of interval sessions a week. My one mile PB is 6:37, which was a downhill mile in the middle of the Smokies 10 Road Race. I’m a regular listener of Marathon Talk and so have of course pondered what my Magic Mile answer would be if I somehow managed to get interviewed for the show (not going to happen, but you’ve got to have dreams). Basically, it’s what do you think you could do a mile in if you had 6 months of perfect training optimised towards running a mile. You’re guaranteed an injury-free 6 months, and everything that gets in the way of training will be removed from your life. I’d like to think I could manage to scrape a sub 6 minute mile under those conditions, but I suspect that’s hugely optimistic. At least it’ll never get tested and I’ll always have excuses. A couple of the guys on the team can already run sub 6 without needing that perfect 6 months, though, and Steven was back in 5:59. The way the course was laid out you couldn’t see the runners easily on the trail section, but you could monitor the progress of your team mates at most other points of the lap, so Tracy had plenty of warning for when to get into position on the Start line before Steven completed his lap.
Tracy looked really comfortable, and got round in an excellent time of 6:26. Dayle set off in the middle spot. He was a bit of an unknown for us as he works offshore and only makes it to club runs occasionally. He also says he doesn’t do treadmill training whilst offshore, so his training is a bit inconsistent. He’s got raw talent and youth on his side though, and I knew his Parkrun PB was about 90 seconds faster than mine, so I thought he would probably be doing 6:20 – 6:30 for the lap: to everyone’s pleasant surprise, including his, he ran an exceptionally fast 5:42 for his first lap! Of course, I knew he had been fast, but as I was waiting to start my lap as soon as he crossed the finish line, I didn’t find out just what a stormer he had run until I returned.
I headed off on my first lap at the same time as Gillian from Dundee Road Runners. Tracy said she thought I would manage to stick with Gillian. And despite going off too fast at the start (5:11 pace according to Garmin) I did stick with her round the sports pitch, even overtaking her before heading out onto the tarmac section. Of course, within 20 metres of the trail section I realised this had been an error and I was now holding her up. I’m just a bit too cautious on trails (as you may have gathered from earlier in the report) and also find the soft mud saps the power in my legs. My pace dropped to 7:20, and was heading in the wrong direction (i.e. even slower). I know it’s a race, but I didn’t think it was fair to go with the “elbows out” advice and cost Gillian several seconds by making it hard for her to get past me, so I said “If you want to overtake, go past now”, and kept to the left hand side of the trail. I felt relieved when she immediately went past, but was less happy when another two runners also went past me in fairly quick succession. I tried to pick the pace back up, but was very thankful when I saw the trail emerge back onto the grassy section.
The grass on this section was longer than the Start/ Finish area, and perhaps a bit more damp. It was fine running up the three-tiered slope to the top, but I was a bit more cautious at the other side on the way back down. It was at this point I spotted Gordon, and thought to myself I was definitely going to get unflattering race photos. Sure enough, I look like I am completely unhinged in one of them, with a massive snarl on my face. I wonder if I ever look like that when teaching: I guess I mustn’t do, or most of the class would be terrified of me! However, my pace apparently only dropped to around 8 minute miling so it wasn’t that bad – first time around at least. And there could only be around half a kilometre to go. I picked the pace back up, but it stubbornly stayed between 7:00 and 7:10 until I got to the final two turns. I had been checking the pace on my watch, but not the actual accumulated time, so didn’t know what I was looking at for the lap. Based on the slow-down on the trail section though, I was pretty sure I would be slower than the 6:48 pace I had been running half mile repeats at during Intervals on Thursday evening, but not sure by how much. I sprinted down the finishing straight, getting up to 5:07 pace but tailing off slightly before the line. My watch buzzed 7 minutes slightly before the line, and I may have waited a precious second after Dayle finished before I set off: my first lap was 7:03.
I was pretty disappointed with my time. Last year’s relay times for me were 7:27 and 7:17, so 7:03 sounds like an improvement. But the route last year was long – around 1.1 miles, and I got what was at the time a 1 mile PB of 6:48. After a year of training, it looks like I’ve gone backwards, at least in terms of speed over short distances. I also wasn’t keen to do the second lap as I was sure it would be much slower: apart from my legs feeling heavy, the mud was starting to get churned up and would only get worse, and the shortest possible path on the perimeter grassy section was starting to look like it might become rather slippery/ stream-like. At this point though I was cheered somewhat by discovering just how amazingly Dayle had done, and went off to get my jacket and camera and take my mind off having to run the loop again. Alan made it back in 6:04 I think (I may be out by a few seconds as I stupidly didn’t remember to take a photo of the completed race card before we handed it back in, but I’m sure he’ll let me know if I’m selling him short).
All in all then, asides from myself we’d had a pretty competitive first leg of the relay, and Steven was off on his second lap. I went and spoke to a few of the other Footers to find out how they were getting on. Chris and Jagoda had both gone comfortably sub 7 on their first laps, and Brian had run a brilliant 7:15, whilst Mary had found time to give Gordon a double V-sign at that embankment. I took a few photos and tried but failed to get decent ones of Steven and Dayle running. I did get an okay action shot of Tracy though. Chris was offering lots of useful advice about Chicago, and booking accommodation for that is something that definitely needs moved up my to-do-list. I also saw and had brief chats with a couple of folk I know from Dundee Road Runners, who seemed to be performing well. One of the younger DRR lads though obviously pushed himself so hard on the final sprint that he got a bit light-headed, and was helped away from the Finish area by a team mate.
There were 65 teams competing in the Hartley Cup and, as such, it gets harder and harder to identify who might be in what position as the race goes on. All the bib numbers are hand-written, and although the letter on the card shows whether the runner is in position 1 (A) through to 5 (E), the bibs do not indicate whether the runner is on a single or mixed-gender team and there is no way to identify whether someone is doing their first or second lap. As a result, I tended just to search for the distinctive red Footers tops and cheer on all Footers and anyone else I recognised, whilst not attempting to work out who might be winning. The second lap for Smokie and the Bandits seemed to be going well though. Steven slowed a few seconds, coming in just a couple of seconds over 6 minutes. Tracy did an equally impressive second lap at 6:30, and though Dayle slowed down more than that he was still sub 6:00 for his second lap.
Dayle’s arrival meant it was time for my second lap. I had spotted him heading along the perimeter and had time to safely get my jacket back in the Kinross Road Runners tent and be on the start line in time to see his sprint finish. This time nobody was setting off at the same time as me. There was a DRR guy a little in front of me though. He was very tall, and seemed to have a very long stride length but also not the most efficient running style as it seemed a little bouncy, suggesting he was losing a little bit of energy to going upwards as well as forwards. I overtook him halfway up the grassy stretch leading to the short tarmac section, confident that he would lose power on the trail section. Despite consciously trying to go out a bit steadier this time, I had ended up going out slower but still too fast, at around 6:30 pace. I still slowed down more abruptly on the trail section than in the first lap, and my pace got dangerously close to 8 minute miling about halfway around that section, though, surprisingly, nobody overtook me here on this leg. It had become muddier and my quads were complaining, but I made an effort to drag my pace back up. This was largely unsuccessful on the trail section and outer perimeter grassy section – where there was now a very narrow stream running down the line closest to the barriers. Once I had made it out of that bit and up the embankment, though, I realised I only had about 600 metres until the finish and dug deep. I managed to do this section faster than I had in the first lap, and though it still felt too slow I did manage to get back up to sub 7 minute miling. I could hear some of the Footers cheering me on whilst on the tarmac stretch before the final 3 short grassy sections, and tried to maintain the pace. Checking my watch on the penultimate corner, I saw it said 6:36 with maybe 120 metres to go, unfortunately including a corner (which always put me off my stride). Was there any chance I could dip under 7:00 for this lap? It felt like I was sprinting faster than in the first lap, and, indeed, Strava says I was a full 8 seconds per mile pace ahead of the previous lap. So, a dodgier mid-section but a stronger finish. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to beat the first lap and I finished one second slower in 7:04.
My teammates said I had been consistent, which was a good thing. But the graphs of the two laps both look somewhat like an inverted bell curve, only the second lap had had a faster drop off with a slight rally followed by another drop before hitting the uptick again. I was rather disappointed that I hadn’t been able to go at the pace I’d been doing half mile reps at just a few days previously, or even match my 5k PB pace (6:57 per mile), and had been slower than last year. But last year I’d had the benefit(?) of inexperience and much fresher legs: Strava says I’d only done 14 miles in the week preceding last year’s Hartley Cup. And I was fresh off the back of my first ever First Female finish at Montrose Parkrun. Admittedly in a slower time than I’d managed at Springburn Parkrun the day before this year’s event – but I’d also been stupid enough to run there and back from the Hotel as I hate trying to get my head around public transport. This meant I’d essentially done a 9.5 mile run the day before with a 3 mile hard tempo session in the middle of it. I had then compounded this by going to the Glasgow Games Festival with my long-suffering partner (which was what we were supposed to be in Glasgow for in the first place, but I couldn’t resist a bit of Parkrun tourism) and spent the rest of the day sitting around either there or in a car, causing my muscles to seize up.
We’d also had our sleep disturbed at the Hotel on the Friday evening by some lovely drunken guests who decided to have loud conversations outside our door at 4am, and some other even lovelier guests who must have woken up the entire floor of the hotel at 5am by having a massive screaming match resulting in the lady storming out, slamming the door and stomping along the corridor as loudly as possible. I’d been hoping for a decent sleep on the Saturday night but of course we struggled to find a restaurant to eat in (Glasgow near Christmas is not a time to turn up on a Saturday night with no booking) and ended up having to detour to Stirling for sustenance. I had another late night and of course woke up at 6:30am as usual, unable to get back to sleep. This did give me the opportunity to spend over half an hour stretching, foam rolling and using a massage wand on my legs. This definitely helped make them feel more race ready, but there wasn’t anything I could do about the lack of sleep.
Anyway, excuses aside, Alan, had the tough task of finishing the race for us, and he did a great job. Of the team, he was the only one who managed a quicker second lap. So we were finished in 1:02:54. That’s a pretty impressive time for 10 miles – averaging between 6:17 and 6:18 per mile. To put that in perspective, it’s 40 seconds faster than my 5k PB pace, so there’s no chance I could do that as an individual. We checked in with another Footers team and we were about 3 minutes ahead of their finishing time. We didn’t think we’d be in the running for any prizes though. We chatted to the Footers who had finished already, and cheered on those completing their final laps. I was surprised to see Mary (who had done a pretty speedy first lap) jogging along holding hands with what I thought was a runner from Leven Las Vegas. I thought this seemed very good-hearted and said so to Linsey and Tina. “That’s not a rival athlete, that’s her daughter, Mary’s not that nice!” was the immediate response. Two daughters and one nephew had come along to join one of the teams, having taken up running 6 weeks ago on the C25K plan, and Mary had passed her daughter on the second lap, then decided to support her to the end. Her daughter, perhaps spotting the weakness of her Mother’s love, duly accepted the support – only to sprint off and leave Mary in the dust on the final sprint. Kudos!
Once all our teams had completed, we noticed some folk were starting to head inside, and we decided that, rather than waiting on the few remaining runners, we’d try and get near the front of the buffet queue. There was an excellent array of rolls, pastries and cakes, but I had made the fatal error of forgetting to bring a plate as had been requested. I used a napkin and so only took one roll and a couple of mini sausage rolls, thinking I could easily pop back for another roll and a cake or two later. The queue at that point was very short and it seemed awkward to try and take more. Of course, by the time I went back, the queue was considerably longer. I needed to use the facilities anyway. They’re shared toilets with male cubicles on one side and female ones on the other, with shared sinks in the middle. I‘m not sure I liked that and hope my College never decides that is a good idea, but otherwise the Campus is amazing. Anyway, my hopes that this would result in the queue dying down were unfounded and it was actually halfway to the entrance doors by the time I attempted to re-join it. However, my desire for cake is usually greater than my impatience at waiting in line, so after a quick catch-up with Helen from Forfar Road Runners who was in the queue (I didn’t want to be cheeky and cut in line) I joined the back of the queue. I soon noticed there were people eating whilst queuing. Someone had the genius idea of bringing out a tray of sausage rolls and offering them to the waiting runners whilst they queued. I took one and he said “Take two”: so I did. I remained queuing for cake though.
Steven got a coffee whilst I was binging on cake (a delicious fruit cake slice and a lovely square of chocolate tray bake), and a meeting of the Club Representatives was called. The prize-giving doesn’t happen until after that is concluded, but our car load needed to head off as we had to collect someone from Dundee at a previously agreed time. We said our goodbyes, and Alan said he didn’t think we’d win anything but they’d let us know if we did. Steven said he was going out for a 4 mile run after he got home, and I thought it might be a good idea, to clear my head and help process things, and also because we’re on week 3 of a 4 week walking challenge at work and our team has been pushed into second place due to a fall in activity levels. I normally run more than I have this week, and had had a couple of lazy days, so wanted to get my step count over 115k for the week. I told Michael we hadn’t won anything and I’d been slower than last year, and got his usual response of “Get out of this house. Losers don’t belong here.” and “Why didn’t you just run faster?”. I had a nice recovery run though (with a perfect royal flush negative split – though that’s not too hard when it’s uphill on the way out and downhill most of the way back) and felt a bit happier.
I was even happier when I got my phone to sync my run to Strava. I had several Facebook notifications, including one from Tracy. She’d tagged me in a photo with the description “2nd place mixed team at the Hartley Cup”. At first this confused me, as I knew we were the first Footers team by a clear margin. Then it dawned on my tired brain that she meant we’d actually come second overall. This cheered me up no end, and I shouted excitedly through to Michael (I was still taking my trainers off and didn’t want to traipse mud into his study) that we had won second place. Of course, his response was that we hadn’t actually won anything, we were first losers. And I’d already told him I had dragged the team average down, so he reckoned I shouldn’t be sharing any of the glory. He’s adorable, and a really, really, funny guy. I promise. I’ve tried explaining this to my Mum, but you need to know him to understand he’s not being rotten.
It might not sound like it, but I really enjoyed the Hartley Cup on the whole. Whilst I didn’t do fantastically well this year, my team did. It was also a reminder of how much more a part of the running community I am than I was this time last year. It’s great for catching up with people – though somehow I managed not to bump into Malcolm MacTavish who unlike last year when he was taking photographs or videos was actually there participating this year. I only found this out when trawling the internet for information about, and photos from, the Hartley Cup and saw from the photos that he had been there. Oh well, I better send him a LinkedIn message. The Hartley Cup is also great in that you get to participate as part of a team, which isn’t something you get to do often as a runner, and even though it’s Club-only and the competition can be quite keen, most clubs put in teams of varying abilities. The kids teams also get free entry, and the cost per adult team is far less than the cost of the food we eat, let alone the cost of venue hire, so it’s an excellent and cheap day out – at least unless you’re the Club hosting it. Running a mile is tougher than running a 10 mile race – at least for most distance runners – because rather than trying to sustain a comfortably hard aerobic pace for a long time, you’re going out at suicide pace and trying to maintain it, with all the lovely lactic acid build up and lung-burning that that involves. It helps sharpen your running though, and the mile is something every distance runner should at least test occasionally. Next year’s event will be hosted by Strathearn Harriers (unless something changed during the Club Reps meeting) and if you’re lucky enough to run for one of the teams on the invite list you should definitely jump at the chance to sign up for next year.
Close up photos of runners during the race taken by Gordon Donnachie. Other photos taken by myself or other Footers.