Fife Coastal Path Relay 2013
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Fife Coastal Path Relay
5th October 2013 

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fife coastal relay

Back at the start of the year my interest was piqued in attempting to get a team together to set a fast time for the entire length of the Fife Coastal Path. Initial checks with the Fife Coast & Countryside Trust, who are the guardians of the Path, revealed that since it had only opened around a year earlier at its new, full length of 116.5 miles (it had previously been a shorter beast from North Queensferry to Tayport) there weren't any recorded efforts to run its entire length in a oner, either from a team or an individual.

After a bit of scratching around, a team was put together fairly quickly. This was initially Jim Hardie, myself, Phil Humphries, Graham Nash, Ally Robertson and Neil Burnett. Legs were allocated fairly randomly, although I wanted the leg including Kirkcaldy, where I went to school and my mum still lives. I also decided to make the first and last legs shorter and split the other four as evenly as sensible transition points would allow. We also decided that the rougher, rockier section around Fife Ness would suit Graham Nash down to the ground - whether he liked it or not.

The next steps were to fit in a free weekend day (we reckoned early on that we might need 18-20 hours), then all try to get out and recce our own individual legs.

All was fine until, for various reasons, the initial date slipped and then time seemed to tick towards summer and autumn. We then found a window on 5th October that was light on races (apart from Ben Venue) and we settled for that. Jim Hardie, who was committed to holiday plans, had by this time been replaced by Gregor Heron and we knew Gregor would give us a flying start. Ally Robertson was carrying an injury and reluctantly withdrew to be replaced by new member Lisa Gamble, who has been going very strongly in the Long Classics series. So we were all set. Recces done, weather forecast good, tide times checked and re-checked - and start times adjusted a couple of times! And we were off.

I'll let everyone talk about their own legs, but needless to say it all came together and we had a memorable day. Whether the record will last for long is debatable. It depends which club or group fancies it, whether they can get 6 good runners together, get the logistics sorted, choose the right time of year to get the best out of the weather, the tides and the light etc. I would certainly hope that we can find a very fast team from within our own ranks to set a new record that will be extremely hard to beat.

Until then, 15 hours and 10 minutes is there as the goal.

  Carnethy Relay Record Attempt
No Leg, runner & start grid ref Start Point Miles Cumulative Miles Elevation climb (ft) Time Split Cumulative Notes
1 Kincardine - North Queensferry
Gregor Heron
NS92748727
16.8 16.8 666.0 05:06 02:06 02:06 Dark for entire leg.
2 North Queensferry - Dysart
MIke Lynch
NT52870167
20.8 37.5 1035.0 08:05 02:59 05:05 Dark until Kinghorn.
Met at Burntisland.
3 Dysart - St Monans
Phil Humphries
NT30779371
20.8 58.3 435.0 10:53 02:48 07:53 Met at North Leven.
4 St Monans - St Andrews
Graham Nash
NO52870167
21.8 80.0 546.0 13:41 02:48 10:41 Met at Kingbarns.
5 St Andrews - Wormit Bay
Lisa Gamble
NO50561712
20.9 100.9 385.0 16:14 02:33 13:14 Met at Tayport.
6 Wormit Bay - Newburgh
Neil Burnett
NO39172597
15.6 116.5 1503.0 18:10 01:56 15:10 Met at Brunton.
Finish - Mugdrum Park   Total 116.5
Gregor Heron - Leg 1 - Kincardine-on-Forth to North Queensferry

leg1

My job was simple, drive to North Queensferry, drop off my road bike, drive to Kincardine Bridge and run to my bike as fast as I could to ‘pass the baton’ to Mike. It was eerily quiet at the start, only the noise of roosting geese to break the 02:58 quiet. I tried to visualise a ‘normal’ race start and took some deep breaths before the planned start time of 03:00. GO!

I ran off into the night trying to get the pace right and not set off too fast, the route was fairly flat but I knew there were a few twisty/short steep sections to save for along my leg of almost 17 miles. I am sure the security guards at Longannet Power Station and Rosyth Naval Base could have seen my light as I passed but I didn’t wait to check, nor did I hang about in the villages I ran through silently, trying not to wake the residents. What happens if the Police stop me?

It was magical at the midway point to see the lights of the bridges in the distance and hear the water lapping/wildfowl/yacht bells chiming next to me. Running in the dark always brings unexpected encounters with wildlife and on my section I saw deer, foxes and some rabbits (but no humans until Graham at Rosyth). He drove past and at first, I wasn’t sure if it was one of the team or an early morning heckler (he later told me he wasn’t sure if I was a runner or someone on a bike!)

My run goes well as I ‘high five’ Mike right under the Forth Rail Bridge with 02:06 hours on the watch. A quick change/drink and a slow bike back to my car - job done for me.
Mike Lynch - Leg 2 - North Queensferry to Dysart

leg 2

Graham and I arrived at North Queensferry around 4.30am, knowing that Gregor wouldn't be too far away, but still giving me time to get myself ready and, most importantly, have head torches checked and double-checked. We parked under the shadow of the Forth Rail Bridge and all was quiet, save for the lights and noise of a freight train coming over the bridge above us. Graham drove off again to see if he could spot Gregor, and was soon back, telling me that he was around 1.5 miles away and running fast!

I decided to go for Graham's 150 lumens 'rabbit scarer' head torch and dispensed with mine, which seemed like a faint candle in comparison. Gregor charged down the hill towards me, we high-fived and I was off into the darkness.

My leg has a fair incline for the first bit before settling down and you immediately feel that you are on a coastal trail, before skirting Carlingnose Point Wildlife Reserve, West Ness, past a quarry and a scrap yard before coming in to Inverkeithing. I had settled into the run by now and my eyes were adjusting fine to the (lack of) light. It was a perfect morning, weather wise and the Hokas I was wearing were gripping nicely in the dark. There was a peaceful calm and all I could hear was the lapping of the waves and my breathing.

Through Inverkeithing and along a longish section along St David's Harbour brought me into the residential section through Dalgety Bay, out past Donibristle Bay, past the ruin of St Bridget's Kirk and onto a long tarmac-ed section down into Aberdour Golf Course. From there I ascended some steep steps down into Silversands Bay. A quick check of my watch indicated I was ahead of scheduled pace - good news. The next section, along the railway line to Burntisland was extremely dark and I tumbled on wet leaves briefly before emerging into Burntisland and along towards the Beacon Leisure Centre where Graham was waiting with supplies. A quick flat coke and shot of energy drink and I was away along the beach towards Kinghorn.

There followed a long drag up to Pettycur Bay Caravan Park and down into Kinghorn, passing the Lifeboat Station, and at this point I went through my rough patch, stopping to rub the cramp from my calves. I pushed on on a stunning section from Kinghorn into Kirkcaldy, past Seafield Tower - daybreak had arrived and I hauled off the head torch and buff and wrapped them around my wrist. Entering Kirkcaldy gave me a lift (how many people can say that?) and I was met with familar sights -Stark's Park, home of my beloved Raith Rovers, then onto the Esplanade - at a mile long I felt every yard - and up the steep hill past Ravenscraig Castle, through the paths in Ravenscraig Park and out towards Dysart. As I ran past the Quartermaster's House in Dysart (the administrative home of the Trust) I knew I was almost there and ran past the Dysart heritage mining cottages and up the hill towards the Mine Head Gear of the old Frances Colliery (where my grandfather was a miner) and up to the memorial plinth where Graham and Phil were waiting. A bit of faffing and an exchange of my Garmin and Phil was off. My target was 3 hours and I came in at 2:59. I slowed quite a bit after 12 miles through cramp and more undulating terrain, but I was happy enough with that. I reckoned we were around 10 minutes up on our schedule at this point. It was time to get in the car and enjoy the rest of the day as a spectator!

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Phil Humphries - Leg 3 - Dysart to St Monans

leg 3

The alarm clock goes at 5:45 I check my phone and a group text message informs me the FCP relay is well under way and Gregor has completed his leg ahead of schedule. I start to panic and decide to catch the earlier train just in case.  I consume my breakfast/coffee to go on the train arriving at Kirkcaldy at 7:05. After a quick pit-stop at the station I meet up with Graham and we drive to a small car park by the Frances Colliery Memorial in Dysart. We have plenty of time to wait for Mike, but it is good to be ready and in place for the transition. The weather is perfect and we witness a fabulous sunrise – the omens are looking good for a successful day. Mike arrives ahead of schedule and he quickly resets his garmin and I transfer it to my wrist. I sprint off full of energy along the path, but after a mile or so I notice the garmin is not recording and is telling me the memory is full and I need to delete old activities. Down the steps at Blair Point I slow to walk, get the garmin sorted then set off again determined to catch up on lost seconds.

The first 7 miles to Leven are on easy trail/tarmac and I run hard knowing from my reccy earlier in the year that I will on slower terrain later on.  Mike and Graham meet me at the far end of Leven.  I stop briefly to gulp down an energy drink – the weather is warmer that I was expecting.  The golf course looks busy so I run along the beach, then up the hill and through Lower Largo.  The next 10 miles are really scenic and a joy to run.  When I reccied at the start of April I took the alternative high tide route through the dunes at Dunbarnie Links, but this time they are overgrown with long coarse grass and scratchy undergrowth that hide the many pot-holes. This is slowing me down, so after a mile of dune bashing I divert on to the beach, which is a lot easier.  At the end of the beach is where the Cocklemill Burn meets the sea.  I see the wooden footbridge in the corner of my eye, but to save a few tens of seconds I try to leap over the burn.  The sand give way under my take-off foot and despite my flapping arms I land a foot short of the bank with a huge splash into shin-deep cold salty water.  Six Carnethies on a coastal relay run – someone is bound to end up the sea at some point!

Rather soggy from the thigh down I plough on past Shell Bay, up and over the hill at Kincraig Point, along the beach at West Bay, round the headland at Earlsferry and then back on tarmac through the attractive village of Elie. With another 2 miles to go I start to fade, but an energy gel and the last of my water keep me going to St Monans.  Along the seafront I bear left too early and have to back track about 30 yards back onto the harbour and then finally sprint up to the car park where Mike and Graham are cheering me on.  Still ahead of schedule I handover to Graham who is eager to run...
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Graham Nash - Leg 4 - St Monans to St Andrews

leg 4

Mike had first suggested an attempt at the Fife Coastal Path relay record back in the Spring, but a busy summer for everyone meant the earliest we could get a team together for it was 5th October, and that would mean some legs would be run in the dark.

The previous 2 weeks had been a frenzy of last minute recce-ing by the team and everything was set for a 6.00am start. On the Wednesday, I checked the tide times as part of my section were not accessible at high tide. Disaster; high tide was due at 15.23 (Anstruther) – bang in the middle of my section. Worse still, it’s a new moon and that means higher than normal spring tides. Without hesitation Gregor agreed to bring forward his start time to 3.00am, which should give enough leeway for me to pass through my section before high tide, if the runners on legs 1 to 3 kept to the schedule.

4.00am and Mike is outside my house waiting to give me a lift to North Queensferry for the start of his leg, where I would take over driving responsibilities until St Monans. Gregor had already been running for an hour, having started with Leg 1 at Kincardine. It was eerily quiet and dark at NQ, but also mild. Gregor came storming in at 5.06am, 9 minutes ahead of the schedule and Mike ran off into the darkness. After a chat with Gregor, I set off to meet Mike at Burntisland leisure centre. Mike soon appeared running quicker than I expected, collected the flat coke and energy drink and then again ran off into the darkness. Next stop, Kirkcaldy train station to collect Phil Humphries. Whilst waiting, I chatted to a group of Warrington rugby league fans, with massive carry-outs who were off to watch a match down South later that day. They were planning their own endurance event the same day – all day drinking.

Phil and I headed to Dysart, our early start rewarded with a great sunrise. 8.05am Mike re-appears and hands over to Phil and we agree to meet him at Leven to check his progress. Phil is running strongly and after a quick stop we head to St Monans for the start of my leg at 11.00am. Checking the tide it looks a long way out and we’re ahead of schedule. At St Monans Phil arrives and we’re still 7 minutes up, the tide is however advancing up the shore.

My plan is to run the first 16 miles of my 21.8 mile section hard to get time in the bag to get past the sections inaccessible at high tide. The first 6 miles go by quickly, passing through the pretty fishing villages of Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail, and I keep checking the shore to my right. The water seems to be getting a metre closer everytime I look. Round the coastguard station at Fife Ness and the sea is definitely advancing. Have I made a mistake with tide time? Not wanting to let the rest of the team down or call out the guys from the coastguard I up my pace. Onto the golf course at Kingsbarns, location of the Alfred Dunhill cup the week before, I hug the fairway, dodging golf balls, some of which I’m sure are targeted at me. I pass the first of the sections that would be difficult at high tide with no problem, the water still creeping onwards towards the cliffs.

At Cambo Sands car park, I meet Mike and Phil as arranged. Flat Irn-Bru and a banana and I head off. Back on the shore the tide has come yet closer. I’m sure its chasing me. At Boarhills the path heads inland for 2 miles, and when I return to shore the tide has advanced even more. 5 miles to the handover point in St Andrews and I’m starting to suffer from the previous miles' fast pace. I reach the high tide warning sign at the section under the cliffs and I’ve beaten the tide. I hop across the rocks under the cliffs and sprint off the beach. I reckon another half an hour and I would have got wet feet.

St Andrews is in sight, but I’m starting to flag. Up and down the steps along the cliffs, down past the caravan site and onto East Sands Esplanade. The hill up to the castle is painful, my legs complaining and calves beginning to cramp. Through the town and then I spot Lisa Gamble running ahead, down to the British Golf Museum, where we “high five” and Lisa departs for her section. The tank is empty, job done.

Lesson learned: If you want a fast run, try and beat an incoming tide.
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Lisa Gamble - Leg 5 - St Andrews to Wormit Bay

leg 5

I spent the morning wandering around St. Andrews downing coffee and eating croissants in an effort to shift a mild bout of whisky induced dehydration (Port Charlotte, 66%, Willie Gibson’s fault).  I decided it was best not to mention this to Mike.  I’d never met the bloke before and he seemed pretty serious.  I shouldn’t have worried however for as I waited for Graham to pitch up at the changeover, adrenaline kicked in and the head cleared.  Mike was also a wee bit ‘worried’ that Graham may have been swimming his way to St. Andrews.  Obviously the concern was that the FCP relay (Mike: “it’s my baby”) may have to be aborted and not about Nash and his ability to swim/drown.
I went for a warm up along the Scores and wasn’t at all surprised to see Graham approaching and powering along.  I ran ahead of him, we did the whole high five thing, and I was off and trying not to take out too many rich American golfers as I negotiated my way past the Old Course, and out of town.
The first 8 miles from St. Andrews to Leuchars follows the cycle path and was on road (blah), but once I got past the airbase (no RAF jets these days) I was into Tentsmuir Forest and much more at home- literally, the route goes right past my dad’s cottage.  After a quick few miles through pretty autumnal forest, I was running along the coast again.  By the time I got to Tayport Caravan Park, thirst had kicked in and I was glad to see the lads waiting with supplies.  Graham threw some water and a bit of encouragement at me and back on the cycle path, I ran the last 6 miles past the Tay Road Bridge, through Newport and under the Tay Railway Bridge.  Finally, down the hill and it was over to Neil, by which point I was wondering where the last 2.5 hrs had gone to. Great Saturday out; hangover well cured.
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Neil Burnett - Leg 6 - Wormit to Newburgh



Given the honour (?) of the 'glory' leg which was originally to be run in the dark, I was delighted when Graham consulted his lunar charts and the TV guide and insisted instead that in order to keep his feet dry (and make sure he got home to watch Strictly), Gregor would have to start at 3am since this meant I would be running during daylight assuming everyone met their scheduled times. As it was, the team was well ahead of schedule so I had a bit less time than originally planned for my 'warm-up' (aka Mike's chat at the transition). The final leg started on a lovely clifftop path before dropping back to sea level after a couple of miles before the long slow (very slow in my case) slog inland towards Norman's Law. I was met by the support team after about 6 miles and then headed properly offroad through forestry tracks skirting the Law before dropping down through farmland only to climb again to the hill overlooking Newburgh. Having finished the climbing, the last 3 miles was a lovely diagonal downhill all the way to the town followed by a final stretch along the waterfront before an unpleasant uphill sprint to the finish where the team awaited shouting abuse (but handing out beer). A lovely route although much more hilly and inland than 'coastal' path might suggest.

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