A few posts ago I told the story of swimming in Wellington the day the SS Wahine sank. That was swimming’s worst weather day. Today’s post will describe my worst weather day training for running. I have been for runs in several countries – New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. In my last year at high school, I ran everyday through a Wisconsin winter.

That can be dangerous enough. Temperatures well below zero, snow and wind and frozen footpaths were normal fare. But even Wisconsin could not match my most dangerous weather run.

Scotland provided that memorable event. Alison and I lived in the Scottish village of Auchterarder. The town is probably better known as the location of Gleneagles Golf Club. I worked in the nearby city of Perth. My job was to supervise the building of Europe’s newest freezing works – known in Scotland as a slaughterhouse. It was a challenging job. Designed to kill 600 cattle and 3000 sheep a day it also included very modern features in those days, such as rapid chilling, aging, and preparation rooms that broke meat down to the small packs of chops, steak and mince sold in supermarkets. I am delighted to report that forty years later the plant is still there, churning out thousands of meat packs for the supermarket world.

Alison was a runner. She was the UK 1500m National Indoor Champion and had been selected to run indoors and outdoors for Scotland and the UK. Although she claimed to dislike cross country running, she was also a double Scottish National Champion at that event. Before transferring to run for the UK she had broken the New Zealand 1000m record at the home of Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Her time of 2.38 stood as the New Zealand national record for 36 years from 1979 until 2015. She competed for New Zealand in the 800m and 1500m in the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and for Oceania in the 1979 Montreal World Cup.

Alison’s coaching was a combined effort. Arch Jelley, in New Zealand set her schedules and how they should be run, and I went to the track to time Alison’s track work. I also went for runs with her across the rolling hills of Gleneagles Golf Course. There was no way I could keep up, but the exercise was good for me and our two Labradors, Tweed and Kelso. Arch followed a distance-based training programme. Alison’s build-up preparation always involved 10 weeks of 160 kilometers a week. Her best ten-week average was 172 kilometers a week.

Clearly training in the north of Scotland involved periods of bad weather. Events that you do not find elsewhere were commonplace. Occasionally we had to stop training because Alison’s spikes could no longer break the rock-hard ice on the track. I used to have to clear the inside lane of snow before training could begin. On many days Alison would arrive home after her morning 14 kilometer run with frozen eyelashes. That was all normal. The bad one came on Sunday’s 16 kilometer run over Borland Glen.

The Borland Glen run was a circuit I had searched out when we first arrived in Scotland. I was looking for something that resembled the Waitakere Circuit used by New Zealand runners. And oh, what a gem I found – not as long as the Waitakeres but perfect in every other way.

I can do no better than copy a local tourist guide that describes Alison’s Sunday run.

“Takes a bitta finding this one. Best ventured to by going along the gorgeous, little-known Dunning Glen in the eastern Ochils, till you reach Littlerig house. Cross the road from there and follow the line of the burn and forest till it veers sharp left. Keep along the fencing until the marshland levels out and streams fall away both east and west. From here, walk uphill until you reach level ground, then, looking down the Borland Glen, zigzag downhill.”

Notice how the description says, “walk uphill until you reach level ground”. That is an understatement beyond belief. The uphill portion of Borland Glen was steep beyond belief. I am certain that stretch of road was in part responsible for providing Alison with the strength to run away with national championships and records. I don’t know how many times I have watched New Zealand runners today and thought they could benefit from a few Sundays “uphill until you reach level ground”.

This particular Sunday started fine and sunny. We climbed uphill until we reached the top of Borland Glen. Then in five minutes, the world changed. Black clouds covered the sky. Day turned into night. The temperature dropped twenty degrees and wind and snow lashed horizontally across our path. Sometimes you just know when something is dangerous. This was one of those times. We had to get off this Scottish mountain before confusion set in and in the darkness, we were unable to find our way.

We set off down the farm track, running as fast as we dared, unable to see more than a few meters ahead and cold, really freezing cold. And then I wasn’t feeling cold at all. I was aware this was even more dangerous. We had to push on to the safety of home.

Half an hour of stumbling and we made it. Safe in our well-warmed Auchterarder home. Even with the experience of Wisconsin winters, this run was a clearly the most dangerous. It changed my view of how quickly hypothermia could kill. The internet tells me death can come in less than an hour. A few minutes at the top of Borland convinced me that was true.

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