Notorious Night Runs - The Mighty Deerstalker

I think some of you were doing legends and not sure if anyone is doing Horseplay this coming weekend, but here's my review of  "The Mighty Deerstalker" which happened last weekend in the Scottish Borders

The Mighty Deerstalker 2012

Starting and finishing in the grounds of Traquair House in the Tweed Valley the organisers had a wide choice of countryside for the evening’s shenanigans including some very LARGE hills, numerous stretches of river and lots of mud. Billed as 10k Adventure run, the 10k is somewhat misleading, with various GPS devices putting the event at somewhere closer to 10 miles and the MC for the evening actually telling the crowd this year it was 17 km!!!

Lining up at the start line, along with another 1619 idiots, in the spring twilight, I was glad to see that most people were donning their Tweed with pride and everyone was smiling, something that the course would strip them of very shortly, either the smiles or the tweed BUT very possibly both!

Personally I had decided to opt for very technical running gear and saved the kilt for apres course wear (in fact I’d been wearing the kilt since arriving at the venue 6hrs earlier). After more than a week of being sick, I just couldn’t see how me and fancy dress could both reasonably make it to the finish line and settled for no fancy dress and a finish instead – turns out that this was a very wise idea, although SealSkinz waterproof socks turned out to be a seriously bad idea… but more on that later.

The start was uphill for 70 - 100 yards to a straw wall, two? or was it three bales high? Anyway, a bit of a pile up ensued, but I got over it albeit a bit slow.

A jog downhill followed, which led us out of the estate onto a country road, with a brief detour back into what can only be described as a muddy field. Fortunately my keen vision spotted that in the middle of the track there were a lot of short people, no wait they’re not short they’re stuck up to their asses in mud! I managed to skirt around the bog and began my journey towards the first of the two hills – turns out later that my team mate, who finished in an impressive 2:08’ was one of the short people and lost a shoe delaying his time by around 5-10 mins and putting his entire race at risk had he not found it!

The trail headed skyward, zigzagging up Innerleithen XC mountain bike trail, with the gradient easing after a few hundred yards on to a forest road. Unfortunately for me, just as the gradient eased into something which might have been runable, the trail headed away from the road, straight up the hill.

I think this might have been the point I had an extreme coughing fit and my body finally let me know, that really had I asked for medical clearance to do this race, I would NOT have been granted it!

Anyway, not one for DNFs, I decided to compromise by agreeing with the “saner” part of my personality that I would WALK all the uphills and run whatever else I could - time was no longer important to me but finishing was.

Through the dense woodland, I slowly made my way on the trail which then seemed to double back and rejoin the road only about 100 yard further up. No sooner than that had happened, were we then back off the road, up a steep stony gully and heading upwards across a clear-felled moor.


  • Footing was distinctly dodgy here, rough, weather beaten outcrops of heather; hiding tree roots, stones and stumps and then back into the woods via singletrack. Still going up we come across some obstacles - a few balance beams and then a cargo net tunnel – not too difficult except my headtorch got caught in the netting which tried my patience slightly and wasted about five minutes – exit onto the road again and finally the turnaround!

    I think it was about this time that I heard the firework go off, which indicates that the first runner has summitted the second mountain and lets the town below know that the “deerstalkers” are starting to come home – that was at 52 mins FFS!!

    It was now, that I was able to consider moving at speed for probably the first time in an hour and it was a fast descent following a wide mountain bike trail; complete with jumps, berms and table-tops. Running them was pretty scary, I wondering what that would have been like on a bike, pretty mental I’m certain!

    The track continued down a very steep and densely wooded hill, it was fast, narrow and slippery and that's when I started to really eat up some places. I was enjoying myself so much, I just felt reckless and careered down through the trees, bumping and cutting my hands as I tried to slow down on the trees. Suddenly I could hear music and then flashing lights, Snap’s “Rhythm is a Dancer” was pumping out in the middle of the forest in the dark, ingenious a night club in a forest, my smile just got bigger!

    Flat road and then riverbank felt odd after all the up and down in the woods. The first dip in the river came soon, short and sharp, knee deep, not too bad I thought and then the second came… by this point I’d realised the FATAL error in my kit choice, with regards to socks!

    You see waterproof socks and shoes do their jobs very well EXCEPT when you completely submerse your feet i.e. once filled with water, the clever material you pay a fortune for doesn’t let the water back out, since in fact it was designed to stop it from coming in, in the first place! So now running is a very strange experience indeed - If I’d brought Bob the Goldfish with me, he would have been very happy sloshing around in the nice Scottish stream water encased in my shoes, however personally I was less convinced about running with two water balloons at the end of my feet knowing that I was probably only a little over halfway around the course and one mountain left to climb (please note there is a certain irony in that very thought coming soon!)

    I'd guess at this stage we went about half a mile upstream, yes we’re actually running in the river now, knee to thigh high in ever glorious Scottish river water in March (i.e. it was bloody freezing). You didn't know where your feet were going so slips, trips and falls are now common place, but don’t worry since this is the section of river that runs through the town, EVERYBODY is watching you make a fool of yourself… The town folk were awesome, soo supportive and encouraging and by the end of the half mile my spirit had been re-lifted and I could get on with the job at hand (even though by now a combination of the really refreshing Scottish mountain water, temperatures approaching zero and waterproof sock encased feet has resulted in a running version of a upside ice lolly – good news though is that pain from freezing appendages is quite hot, so that was a plus…)

  • A bit more running through the town and now we are off up a hill again, grassy, good going, back to more walking than running, but progressing well. I think it was at this point I could see the full extent of what lay ahead as the headtorches of the runners illuminated the mountain – staggeringly beautiful, but menacing at the same time, the sheer steepness of the rope of light draped over the mountain cannot be described or photographed, it can only be experienced. It was at this point that the scree started to become visible and ever present - to start with it was mainly across the hillside and started to limit everyone to traversing in single file. A few people tried to nick some places, but it just wasn't worth it, since the hill just forced them back down onto the same single track, but now with a concertina effect much to the frustration of the rest us… it was pretty much like the muppets you get on the motorway charging up the outside lane, only to have to wait to come back in when they realise the lane is closed, adding more time to everyone’s journey.

    Next came the bit that previously had only been visible as a line of illumination up the side of a mountain, it was “the straight up” bit, there’s no other way to describe it, you have to see it, to believe it. I estimate about 550 – 650 ft of hands and feet, vertical ascent, climbing over scree of all sizes (I mean all sizes, from stones as big as golf balls to boulders the size of small cars, all loose and it MOVED, CONSTANTLY!).

    Let me paint you a picture, a conveyor belt of rock, no wait, ever tried walking UP a DOWN escalator? Right, picture that, in the pitch black with a head torch, the escalator is 600 ft long, at a angle so steep that hands and knees are your only option, the steps vary in size, bits of the steps above keep dislodging and sliding towards you, occasionally you need to move to the side very quickly as a result and all while you’re cold and freezing. Perhaps you grab the handrail, except it’s not a handrail it’s some Scottish firethorn plant which immediately draws blood and stings like mad and you make a mental note not to be fooled into that scenario again… I've no idea how long it took but it felt like FOREVER, and it was HARD, but weirdly ENJOYABLE – Nope, I haven’t worked it out either, perhaps one for the psychotherapy chair.

    Anyway, the summit is just ahead and then, wait, what’s that, another cargo net? Are you F'ing serious? after all of that? You think we need yet another psychotic cargo net? Much f'ing and blinding later, I get stuck in the cargo net again, yet you would have thought I would have learnt the first time… oh well at least I can feel my feet again. Don’t worry Bob would still be safe, the water is still very much still there, but now my body has warmed up the water and it’s a bit like travelling with a private bath at the bottom of each shoe.

    Now it's down, down and down - I went fast, It was reckless abandon, it was a “feet in the clouds” moment, I was elated, my head torch picking spots I hoped my feet would find, hmmm maybe I could get used to this fell running malarkey, it certainly had it’s highs in more ways than one.

  • After I little bit of flat terrain, where I managed to regain some composure we had a mud slide, well I don’t quite know how else to describe it? Basically the side of the hill where the tree line now started, except it was very steep and as I approached it I heard the marshal say "use all three ropes". I decide to grab the one on the left, since it seem to have less people using it, perhaps they knew already what I was about to find out…. About two thirds of the way down, Houston we have a problem - the rope stopped! Whereas the middle and right hand ropes clearly went all the way to the bottom, the left hand rope just stopped. The band of merry warriors behind me decided that despite the steepness of the hill, they were now going to try and traverse onto the middle rope - my issue with this was that if that were possible, why did we need to use ropes anyway? I decided to go for the far more sensible option and not try to traverse to rope 2, but rather to throw myself down the mountain in a sitting/sliding position, this worked very well! I reckon I reached the bottom in about 5 - 10 seconds and made up about 25 to 30 places! Result!!!

    We then had a very slippy, muddy, single file track along the river to encounter and strangely for the first time in the race I’d found some clear space to run (all due to my ingenious slide down the hill tactic) which eventually released me onto tarmac road.

    I can categorically tell you that I was pretty relieved at this stage, knowing that I would now be heading back through the town to the finish. Once again the people of the town were fantastic, giving me the energy and boost I needed to dig deep and finish in style, well some sort of style anyway.

    But the fun wasn’t quite over yet, there was the small matter of another few river crossings, including a storm water drain tunnel underneath the road (GOOD NEWS - this year it was only just above waist deep!). Whilst in the tunnel I tried to get a bit of a sing song going on with the rest of the competitors, but alas it was only me singing “I love you baby”, perhaps they didn’t know the words?!? Maybe they were just shy? However, it did bring it home to me how much I was loving this, the mud, the madness and the sheer insanity of it all. The rest of the run was pretty much flat, muddy and therefore slippy, just then a noise filled the trees and I realised I could hear the arena…. I’d made it, I was there, Gary Smith you are a “Deerstalker”

  • It was at this point that reality kicked back in and I remembered that those b4stards at Rat Race had decided to put a few extras in the finishing arena, a 20ft pipe, a cargo net and TWO six foot walls to negotiate in the last 100 yards or so, but fortunately they happened without further incident and I crossed the line smiling in a rather more tortoise than hare like time of 3hrs and 3mins.

    Elated, exhausted, excited and very, very dirty!

    Would I do it again? You bet I would! Except next time I’m hoping I won’t have a chest infection and be able to run the ups as well as the downs… I’ve already got a time in mind, I’m going to beat 2hr30 mins and I’m not bothering with the stupid ropes either!

  • Most amusing - well done mate, sounds like a fun evening out wish I'd been there, he says putting his feet up in front of the fire, sipping a large glass of vino!!

    Edinburgh will be a doddle now!

  • Fab write-up gastank. You are indeed a deerstalker!
  • TimeaJTimeaJ ✭✭✭
    Wow what an adventure! Thanks for sharing.

    My fiance and I are doing Rat Race in Hambleden (Horseplay) this Saturday. Having read your account of the race, it has now slowly begun to dawn on me what we have got ourselves into!! As long as I don't break any bone in my body, I will be happy! (Especially just only two months before our wedding and a week before the Reading half...)

    I will make sure to post an update about Horseplay in my blog.
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