Since Debbie is all busy with being all grown up and stuff planning this wedding, she asked if I could help keep those awesome (her words not mine!) blog posts coming in her absence! Well for those who don’t know me I’m James and I’m another one of those weirdo hill runners (again, her words not mine). I don’t own a fancy watch nor did I know (until a couple weeks ago) what those calf guards people seem to be wearing were supposed to do.
Edit from Deb: Espie is SUPER modest and even if he doesn’t have all the gadgets or outfits, he is world class!!
I just love Scotland and being in the hills, blasting ceilidh music in my Seat while driving to and from those hills.
The last 2 years, I have joined Kyle in the Scottish Team for the Snowdon International Hill Race.
Edit from Deb: Wait til you find out how he got on this year!
(From last year’s race. Yes I survived and lived to tell the tale of an entire journey from Wales with Dumb and Dumber!)
Here is my recap of my 2017 race:
My preparation for Snowdon had been quite varied, lots of quality mountain running punctuated with occasional sessions and a sensible number of races. I ran the half Ben Nevis on 2nd July which was an excellent warm up race and confidence booster after an injury struck Spring.
This year the Scottish team was made up of 6 runners, myself and Kyle Greig (a last minute substitute from his sick bed) being the only two returning from the 2016 squad. We traveled down en-mass on Friday and arrived armed with our brand new full Scottish kit supplied from Macron. I went for a quick walk up the bottom third of the race route to stretch my legs and remind myself of the first steep climb up the road and the slightly cramped first section on the hill. We fueled up on Lasagna, baked potato and salad and headed up to the hotel for a decent nights kip.
The race was brought forward to 12pm which meant a healthy breakfast, a team meeting and then pretty much out into the crowds. I kept to myself during the warm up, I was there to do a job and was confident that once we got going my ‘race head’ would kick in and I’d be fine. A bit of last minute panic when I considered taping my ankle- this would be the first serious race without tape.
No kit to be carried so we sauntered up to the chute, white race numbers depicting us as international runners and just a few short words from the commentator before shuffling to the start line amongst 750 others. I knew it was misty higher up and a fair wind was whipping up the flags.
On the claxon the scrum for room began and lasted for a good 400m. I drifted through the gaps, allowing people past and concentrating on starting smoothly. The lead group composed of Italian blue, English White and Welsh red quickly opened a slight gap and pulled a few others along- Too fast I thought to myself, I’ll see a lot of you again!
At the bottom of the steep tarmac out team manager Kenny Richmond appeared beside me, a very well established hill runner at 46ish he was handy to have as a reference point. I got my head down and stuck in up the steep, passed the leading lady and waited for the grind to be over. The sharp rocks, loose gravel and cheering crowds were a welcome relief as we turned left and my race started proper. In front of me were Kyle and Robert the other Scottish men so I tucked in with them and our Navy blue trio began picking off the fast starters and worked into a rhythm on the trail towards halfway point. 3mins slower than last year at half way but I feel like I’m running fast, What’s going on?!
“Forget your time Espie”
Kyle is 31 and just back from the Ultra Trail World Championship where he was 1st GB runner home and 26th overall. His 4 words spoke volumes, this is mountain running, time is irrelevant.
After halfway the path becomes rockier and steeper which suits my slower cadence and powerful frame. Ok, I call it power, Kyle prefers fat boy-slim but really it’s my forestry background that has given me real strength on the tough bits of races. In the mist I left the Scots behind, caught and passed a stream of struggling runners (These guys were probably all serious athletes but were struggling with the gradient, race walking whilst I bounded past them. My climbing legs had arrived. (I now know I was 17th at halfway up.)
By the ridge along the top I was quite lonely, just one English vest visible ahead and a plethora of tourist groups heads bent to the wind. The first runner descending passed me, Italian, Englishman, Italian, Englishman, Englishman, Serpentine! I’m still behind a club runner. The top, in 9th I think, 46:01 3 seconds quicker than last year.
Descending behind the Englishman Tom Adams we flew down through the mist. I collided full body with a runner coming up, shouted at a few tourists, split another group in two and a struggling red vest appeared ahead of me, Mr Serpentine couldn’t run down hill, past him.
“Go on Jill”
Several people had shouted at me but I was gone before I recognised them, Jill Stephen of Scotland was just in a bit of a gap and I shouted my encouragement.
More rocks, steep, loose section, past Tom. Through the tunnel, marshals, runners, tourists, unicyclist – yup you read that right- ‘the cheese grater’, survived it all, flat out across the boulders. Helter-skelter across a scree slope, there’s an Italian, looks like Bamby on Ice, past him, tourist woman not looking, ran into her and bounced off.
Tom was still with me as we reached the trail again, then he wasn’t. He literally disappeared into the mist ahead of me- I really need to work on my leg speed and flat running- maybe It is fat Kyle! Past half way down I was beginning to hurt, not as much as one English athlete who crashed out with a fall and bang to the head.
In the final section on the hill I caught another Italian- this guy was 3rd at the top and the TV cameras included ME in the race highlights!
Crazy times, tear down the road, cowbells ringing in my ears, heals on fire I still expected to be passed again. On the final straight I heard the commentator:
“James Espie of Scotland…he’s smashed it this year”
It wasn’t quite a Brownlee stagger across the line but the highlights cut as I fall out of the picture in 1:09:56 (If you manage to catch the Channel 4 program.)
The team results were:
Men: James Espie 5th, Robert Simpson 10th, Kyle Grieg 14th. Men were 3rd team.
Women: Louise Mercer 2nd, Miranda Grant 6th, Jill Stephen 8th, Ladies were 1st team.
Open: Kenny Richmond our team manager won the V45 race.
We had a fantastic wee celebration at the prize giving, Kenny and the Ladies all got on the podium and I snuck on as they gave prizes to 5th. So there I was, the guy from rural Aberdeenshire that no one knows, mostly self-coached who generally just goes off and gambles about in the hills and calls it training, on a Podium with serious international athletes.
It was a great atmosphere and fantastic to belong to a Scotland squad that looked like a team and one that could get results!
Edit from Deb: 5th! 5th!! To be 5th in a race with an international field is PHENOMENAL! Well done Espie…now for our head to head on Sunday… 😉