Saturday's Individual race at Birsemore Hill, near Aboyne, overlooking the River Dee, used an excellent area of runnable forest with a variety of terrain - heathery scattered tree forest with marshes and small hills, contoured rocky steeper forest, and runnable coniferous forest all featured on the day's menu.
Lessons were learned, though: you need a full team as every finisher counts, and we were deficient in the M35 and M40 departments; you have to take the right map at the start, as it is very costly to return to the start to get the right one later; the EMIT electronic timing system "brikke" which you carry can affect your compass; the team needs to be selected in good time; and you can't check things too often, particularly for a relay ...
The gospel for the day of the Relays (Matthew 22: 1-14 here) could be a metaphor for the Irish team: the guests were invited to the wedding feast but they didn't come; the servants went out to the highways and byways to gather the halt and the lame to come to the feast, and come they did - but one of them didn't have the approporate wedding garment and was unceremoniously given the bum's rush: the first two featured but even though we didn't all have Irish O-tops, we managed to last the distance. There was plenty of weeping ans gnashing of teeth too ... and many were cold, but few were frozen.
Saturday night's social beside the old railway station in Ballater (where Queen Vicoria arrived by train on 14th May 1869 as it was and is the nearest station to Balmoral) featured Irish music, lots of food, a spellbinding story telling session that had everyone enthralled, and more music and dance and some RouteGadget presentations: the Vets love a night out!
Sunday's Relay at Coull, also near Aboyne, was our last chance at redemption. Complex rules govern the composition of Relay teams and the best teams were assembled (two men and a woman or two women and a man; the man on the women's team and the woman on the man's team must be M or W45, 50 or 55; the total ages of the team must add up to 150 or more, etc ...: if you think it sounds easy, imagine a Rubik's cube with all the runners' names and age classes on it and try twisting and turning it to solve the puzzle!). The leg lengths ranged from about 2.2 to 4.8 km in a superb forest with boulders and contours, printed at 1:7500 (French World Championships' organisers take note!).
Ten, nine, eight, seven ... They're off! Along the path through the ferns beside the lake, up the hill under the power-line; over the ruined wall and the rusty fence (ouch!) into the forest ... Meanwhile, the leg 2 runners wait. And wait. And wait. The Welsh come back in an unbelievable time ... something is wrong: soon it becomes clear - the right people are not running the right legs.
An unfortunate labelling mix-up in the WMW class has jumbled up the running order so people aren't getting their expected leg lengths. Wales run away with three short legs (luckily the Isle of Man don't have a team) and the organisers meet the Team Managers to consider what to do. In the end the result (England winners with 139 points, Scotland 136, Wales 79, Ireland 61) is decided on the Individual race alone. A great pity for the organisers and runners alike, all of whom put a lot of time and effort into the event. The organisers were suitably contrite and the other aspects of the weekend largely made up for the mistake.
Next year's VHI is due to be in Ireland, so let's hope that lightning doesn't strike twice!
The team was: Hazel Thompson, Ann Savage, Eileen Young, Heather Cairns, Mary O'Connell, Kathryn Walley, Nadine Grant, Ruth Lynam, Barbara Foley-Fisher, Ger Power, Teresa Finlay, Jean O'Neill; Declan McGrellis, Dave Weston, Colm O'Halloran, Brian Corbett, Aonghus OCléirigh, Alan, Cox, John McCullough, Raymond Finlay, Nigel Foley-Fisher, Bernard Creedon. We were missing an M35 and an M40 to complete the line-up.
See the full results and other bits and pieces about the events here.