I’d been meaning to do this one for a while, having dodged a bullet in 2013 when I decided to skive it due to the inclement weather forecast (close call, as it turned out to be a mercilessly wild day out on the hills for the brave souls who did run). With a forecast of patchwork sunshine, gentle winds, and excellent visibility I had no excuses this year.
I arrived at Strathyre about three hours early (Matt was going to get a head-start with the kids to rendezvous on Beinn Each) and bagged “lucky” number 13. My race pack must have weighed more than 2kg (spare clothes and lots of sustenance), but pre-race chats assured me that I could ditch a fair amount of this due to the ample water stations and sweeties en route. Loads of Carnethies started to arrive, and I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one feeling daunted by the day ahead.
Matt had done the race a couple of years ago and had warned me “not to go off too fast” along the first 5k of forest track. The “new” (since 2015) route cut this section short, but the ground was extremely boggy and peppered with slippery felled tree stems. It had the hallmarks of an anxiety dream – trying to run, with malevolent forest spirits tugging at your ankles. I inwardly wept at the prospect of the return through this section. Out of the woods, we schlepped alongside a deer fence, and with the narrow cambered slushy trod I found myself repeatedly bouncing off the fence. On the bright side the views were opening up, which offered a welcome distraction from the heavy-going.
The vista across Glen Ample towards Beinn Each was neigh bad [Gaelic pun: Each = horse], but a fellow runner blurted out the words in my head, “We’re not seriously going up that are we?!”. Indeed we were. The climb was extremely steep and banked by heather with a rusty wire fence. As I hauled myself up with fistfuls of heather/fence I wondered how on earth I was going to get back down, and prayed that the descent route took us over kinder ground.
A quick hug from Win at the top of Beinn Each, and onwards along the lumpy bumpy ridge towards Stuc. It was much trickier than I’d anticipated (there’s a definite theme developing here), so I picked my way carefully though the snow, rocks, and sloppy mud. At about 1hr:40 Finlay Wild came bounding past, and after a bit of a gap the trickle of returning runners increased to an avalanche of men and women leaping and bum-sliding down Stuc. I reached the summit just as a sparkling snow shower swept through.
Having dreaded the return leg, it really didn’t seem so bad. I think I’d been so careful on the way up that I still had a reasonable amount of juice in my legs. Swigs of water and fistfuls of sweeties from the many marshals (including veggie ones – how civillised!) probably helped. I didn’t need to use any of my own food and only drank my own water to reduce the weight. The route off Beinn Each was a lovely grassy traverse, which allowed for decent running, and I could hear my fan-base (who had abandoned their ascent of Beinn Each due to it being too slippery and dangerous) cheering me from the valley. The widely reviled climb back out of Glen Ample wasn’t actually too dreadful although I managed to inhale a slurp of water at the marshal point at the top. Embarrassingly I’d suffered the same experience at this point on the way out, so the marshals there have no doubt marked me out as having a drinking problem.
It’s just over three miles from this point back to the finish, and some of it seemed easier than it had been on the way out. I think I took a better line (a few metres away from the deer fence) which allowed me to stretch my legs out a bit. I’d been oscillating a bit with Gio and Colin, and reckoned I might have enough in the tank to edge ahead of them. However a group of about five of us came to a grinding halt at the edge of the forest – the guy in front had lost sight of any tape. We all bumbled around for a good few minutes. I shamelessly enjoyed the respite and waited to follow anyone who had a bright idea. We ended up thrashing through an unlikely bit of brackeny wilderness and got back on track. Strava “Fly By” indicates that Finlay Wild had a similar experience! The final couple of miles were absolutely relentless as every few paces I seemed to sink knee deep (or higher!) into mossy swamp. I was haunted by the memory of Joan Wilson’s Franken-knee, gorily wounded during this race a few years ago, so was on high alert for woodland potholes. It was a relief to burst out of the woods into the sunshine at the finish line, still in one piece!
It was pretty much a text book example of what doesn’t suit me in a race, and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to do it again. It’s definitely a race to sort the men/women from the boys/girls, and the results make for impressive reading. Really strong runs from lots of Carnethies! Massive thanks to the race organisers and marshals for an incredibly well-managed race – getting all that water up into the hills is a very impressive feat.