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A Track Junkie in Scotland, Part 3

John Nepolitan's World XC Champs Blog w/Photos - Day 3 - Fri., March 28, 2008

The starting gates used for Sunday's races


Workers putting finishing touches on the course
Heading up the major hill on the race course.
The trail down Arthur's Seat with the race venue at the bottom.
Let me start off by saying, NO, I AM NOT GOING TO HAVE HAGGIS WHILE I AM HERE. I have been asked by almost everyone that I have spoken to while here and have even gotten an e-mail about that. For those who do not know what Haggis is, well, it is a traditional Scottish dish which has the following ingredients: sheep's “pluck” (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt; mixed with stock and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. I am not an adventurous eater, so I will stick to the basic fare of fish and chips and some other basic things. Today, as I type this out, it is a lunch of a baked potato covered in baked beans.

Last night, while watching the news, the weather man said that the great weather that we have had the two days since I have been here was about to change – and the next three could get messy. Today was supposed to be heavy showers all day with high winds (up to 50 mph), and snow is expected north of here. Tomorrow, the rains are expected to continue, but not as hard, and the winds will die off. Sunday is not sounding good as heavy rains are predicted all day with temps in the 40’s. This is Scotland, after all, what do you expect? So the course by race time Sunday could be ugly – excellent.

My plan for the day was to take a walk down by the course (about 1000 meters away), then climb Arthur’s Seat, the inactive volcano next to Hollyrood Park (site of the championships). This climb is nothing out of the ordinary in Edinburgh, as many locals make the climb each day. Great views from the top are promised and, as long as the rains were not too bad, it sounded like a good time. I had planned to make this an afternoon trip, but when I woke up, and the skies did not look that bad, I figured I better get to it before the weather takes a drastic change.

Walking from the hotel to the park, it was raining just a bit, but nothing as bad as was predicted, and by the time I reached the park it had all but stopped. Workers are fast putting the finishing touches on the venue and, for the most part, things look ready to go. Here and there, along the road that runs next to the course, teams can be seen out for their morning shake out jog. The first thing I wanted to check out was the major hill on the course, Haggis Knowe. The hill is just a small part of Arthur’s Seat, and is in great shape. There is some rough footing, however, and even though it has been covered by a green carpet – which takes away the sharp edged rocks – it’s still far from smooth footing.

From there, it was a climb up Arthur’s Seat. It is amazing that just 800 meters from the edge of one of the busiest streets in Edinburgh, it is completely quiet. It is pure nature. The rains stopped as I started my way up and it was a slow steady climb up. The reward was a great view of the city and the surrounding areas, including a look down on the race venue. Walking down was definately harder than up, as each step had to be calculated.

From the top of the climb, I was able to see the Ethiopian team coming out for their morning shake out run. The teams are staying in housing provided by the University of Edinburgh, which is just a short walk to Hollyrood. After what looked like a short team meeting the group took off for a short jog. Now, from high up, how did I know it was the Ethiopian team, you may ask? It’s those distinctive red/green/yellow warm up suits the team wears.

Coming down the climb, and crossing the street to the race venue, the team from Brazil came running by. They were apparently doing a short warm up before what later looked like some hard 1000’s run on the side of the road that rings Arthur’s Seat, a popular 5000m road loop. Crossing the road and walking onto the course, the footing of the race course seems to be in good shape – for now. With the rains that may still come, and the many races that will be on the course prior to the feature events, things could get ugly.

One thing that I wanted to do for anybody following my travels here, who has not been to a world XC meet before, is show you the starting gates. And gates they truly are. Much different than anything runners in the USA are used to, is that the starting area uses true starting gates/boxes with each team assigned two. Many times, teams will put two runners at the front of a box with one runner behind, something that many teams will practice tomorrow at the official course tour.

As I wrap up typing this, the skies have cleared a little and the need-to-build-an-ark weather the news was talking about seems to have passed us by – at least for now. On tap for the rest of the weekend is as follows:

  • Fri evening – The Scottish Athletics Distance Seminar, featuring many of the UK/Ireland former cross country stars.
  • Sat am – Official course tours for teams and I plan to head down to try to talk to a few of the members of Team USA.
  • Sat afternoon - Following the jog-through, it will be the first races of the weekend as the different regions of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) squaring off.
  • Sat evening – A dinner with friend Jon Rosen; more on who he is tomorrow and who is coming into town for the championships.
  • Sunday – RACE DAY

The opening straightaway of the race course.

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