The sun is shining brightly through the trees, the bright blue sky is broken only by a few scattered clouds, it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful summer day except, no, the trees are bare and the crowd gathering at the start line are breathing out clouds of steaming breath. It’s December, it’s -5oC and it’s the first event of the Durty events Bowhill Duathlon series.
The Durty duathlons are run with massive success at the grand Bowhill estate in the Scottish Borders. With 3 events, descriptively called short, medium and long, spread between December and March, the events could hold absolutely anything weather wise and the 2016/2017 season certainly delivered a mix that kept everyone on their toes, and, quite frequently on their backsides.
The shortest of the events began at the beginning of December on an icy cold morning with the mass of runners stand together on the start line waiting for the hooter to sound. The series acts as both winter training for those with intentions to smash the summer season and inspiration for those with less heady aspirations, motivation to lay off the wine and chocolate that is all too easily our friend in the winter months. The mass start is therefore a graduated crowd, running from lycra-clad and stretching at the front to fleece-wrapped and chatting towards the back, I’m somewhere in between the two wearing my FINDRA merino and trying to keep my nervous chatter to a minimum. Everyone is excited to get going and everyone’s reason for being there are as worthy as the next. We head off into the hills for a 4km dash through the trees, gasping for frigid breaths on the steep climbs.
The run is followed by a short, manic and icy mountain bike ride around the estate where positions change as people with different strengths overtake others and mini rivalries develop between friends and club members.
After a 2 month gap, filled with the decadence and over indulgence of Christmas, we amass again, some of us not having fulfilled the promises to ourselves to train for this ‘medium’ length event. This time we’re starting on our bikes so the startline is a little more chaotic with wide handlebars nudging each other and catching on baggy shorts. The ride is a mixture of muddy landrover track climbs, singletrack traverses and slippery, rooty singletrack winding amongst the trees of the estate. Tyre choice and technical confidence make all the difference in the trees as people battle for position in the most friendly way you can possibly battle. Transition in the courtyard at Bowhill is a quick affair on the cobblestones with bikes and helmets jettisoned before weary legs take us up the stone stairs and out on the run.
A mere month later, here we are again and it is a very different day. No blue skies welcome us today, after days of rain and weather that can be described as being very ‘Scottish’ the ground can only absorb so much. It’s a quagmire, a marsh, a bog. It’s wet, slippery and occasionally treacherous but the turn-out is still impressive, we’ve all got this far through the series and we can’t give up now. We don’t need any tough mudder event, no fake obstacles for us, we have natures best. We have slidey roots and narrow bridges and steep climbs followed by steep descents, we have weary legs from the bike that need to be coaxed into running up a hill that seems to go up more than it does down. There is something quite liberating about running through the middle of a puddle because your feet can’t be any wetter and it’s quicker than balancing on the mud at the edges. Spirits were never dampened and the slickness of the ground resulted in a camaraderie, especially amongst the women as everyone encouraged and congratulated each other on the out and back course. Then it’s all over for another year, we’re beyond muddy but smiling as we crowd into the warm cafe for prize giving before going home to start training for December when it all starts again.
As for me, well, my FINDRA merino top was perfect for every condition from below freezing to mud splattered and drenched, never too hot or too cold. I finished in second place in the overall series in the senior women category and left clutching my medal and congratulatory box of chocolates – now that is my kind of prize!