The above image is from the 2020 burdens when we could all cuddle together in the club tent.

Race report by Bill Breckenridge

As any off road runner (not to mention a few confused track athletes) in Scotland will tell you the last Saturday in January is a special day, a weekend that needed careful ring-fencing in the calendar at the earliest opportunity. Not that there was any danger this year of a diary clash with the resulting  apologetic phone call to family or friends to say that you weren’t going to make it to that significantly less important event!

For good reason we have become accustomed last year to doing without and the beginning of 2021 is no different, with the prospect of any meaningful athletic competition still just a pipe dream. However this particular void in the racing calendar seems to hurt more than most. I refer of course to The Devils Burdens (DB) relay race in the Lomonds of Fife hills. At this darker time of year this massive event glows brightly in the diary motivating many to get out in the sleet and wind to get some winter miles under the belt.

Shona Robertson running her leg of the Burdens relay in her local hills

The life of a competitive athlete, especially the hill running variety, can be a lonely occupation but on the odd occasion when the offer of a team event is forthcoming it is welcomed with open mits. The DB race is a special event, anyone who has taken part can clearly recall their first sighting…a mixture of bewilderment, pain and joy! Despite numerous changes in route and format over the years the event has retained its allure and continues to grow. Last year’s incarnation had over 150 teams of 6 athletes!

How many times to the flagpole? Looks like even more than during Malcolm’s rep session

On paper it doesn’t sound too promising. Most of the day is spent waiting to run or waiting for your team to finish. This waiting is either done standing in an open field or sheltering in a fruity smelling hall or car. Despite advances in technology it’s still largely down to guesswork to determine when you are likely to start your run. Basically you get about 20 secs notice at best to get your kit off and toe the line as your incoming runner appears out of the gloom or mud! The race consists of 4 legs with 2 of these run in pairs. Each leg has a different challenge in terms of distance, height gain and navigation. However once unleashed this glorious beast never fails to disappoint, hundreds of enthusiastic runners crisscrossing the pretty hills around Falkland giving all they have for some rather underwhelming prizes and a cup (bring your own) of homemade soup.

Despite the lockdown restrictions it seemed almost unforgivable that this event should slip by unnoticed this year and current hill running captain Kenny Richmond made sure it didn’t! No sweaty cars or fusty halls but a great weekend of remote running that reminded us all of why we enjoy running up, along and down hills in the blue and gold…and what we are missing so much!

Robert Simpson sends pregnant wife, Heather on her way and retreats back into the car

There was a record, albeit virtual, turnout for the club at this event with 40 members (and a few future members!?) signing up for race day on the 30th January. Entrants were loosely graded based on their ability to get undressed unaided in a field and split into 10 teams. Each team then allocated their runners a leg each with a minimum distance and ascent requirement. Runners were free to choose their own route and were encouraged to recce this beforehand…with varying degrees of success it would seem!

Jethro and Chris do battle on the Kilpatricks (just within allowed distance and numbers)

It should be noted that with Covid lockdown restrictions in full force trying to find a route with 550m of ascent in 8 miles all within your local authority boundary is not an easy task! But the harriers are a creative bunch and everyone found their own little hurt-locker route to fulfil the brief! Some had it easier than others and former member, and DB veteran, Casey Morgan and wife Katty (now living in exile in Mallorca) had a plethora of hills on their doorstep to choose from… not quite Strathmiglo in January!!

Casey and Katty Morgan competed from sunny Mallorca

The racing began early on the Friday morning and continued unabated till late afternoon the following day. One of the most remarkable aspects of every DB relay is how everyone manages (almost) to be at the right place at the right time to hand over the baton to the next runner. In past events the logistical transport planning required a spreadsheet in itself. Not so this year but to keep everyone in check and correlate live results Steve ‘statto’ Winter slipped on his headphones and mic again and kept everyone up to date via Whatsapp.

A relieved Steph that it is over

As results started to be posted it became quite clear that despite careful planning many runners were overshooting their minimum distance and height gain but more alarmingly a few had undercooked their efforts and come up short! The stewards were going to be busy!! It was a global event with results pinging into the Bannockburn HQ from all corners of the globe…Spain, England, Tain, Ayrshire, Edinburgh, Taynuilt and Inveraray.

Steve Winter in the control room

By the time the scheduled Zoom social/prize giving started that evening there was a clear winner. It seems that experience triumphed over youth with overall winners ‘Shona and the Banshees’ beating  ‘The Dirty Kegs’ by over 10mins in a total time of 3hrs 36 mins & 34 secs. Neatly tucked in just behind the Dirty Kegs in third place was the ‘Burd Runners’. Winning team captain Shona Robertson and teammates  Ali McLeod, Malcolm Patterson & Matt Sullivan were rewarded with a weeks free online yoga courtesy of Mark Russel of Kridaka Yoga…many thanks Mark…I think they’re going to need it!

Fastest times for each leg for the women and men as follows…

Leg 1 (5 miles, 350m climb) Myrtle Breckenridge 49:01, Mark Grant 49:35

Leg 2 (6 miles, 400m climb) CJ McPhail 54:09, Jack McKenna 47:10

Leg 3 (7 miles, 500m climb) Holly Page 58:44, Matt Sullivan 52:45

Leg 4 (8 miles, 550m climb) NA, Ross Gollan 55:51

Thanks to everyone for taking part especially to Kenny Richmond for his organising, Steve Winter for the stats and Jethro Lennox for the slide show

Full results here… And a selection of DB photos past and present here…Yes that is John McKay!

Lockdown has brought Coach Malcolm back to racing having donned the gold and blue vest as much as any of the rest of the Shettleston hill runners

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