Great Wilderness Challenge 22 Mile Race
~ 22 August 2009

The weather up in Wester Ross had been pretty awful in the week leading up to the event, with huge amounts of rain and strong winds, so it was with some trepidation that I drove up to Gairloch on the Friday driving through what seemed like a mixture of all the seasons, perhaps less the winter aspect. Overnight there was a lot more wind and rain though waking on the Saturday morning it was really was not too bad at all, with small showers and a light breeze.

We drove up to Poolewe at about 8:30 to register for the race, it was at this time got the disappointing news that the route was being changed as the two river crossings were impassable for only the second time in the 24 years of this event. Instead of a 25 mile point-to-point from Dundonnell to Poolewe, we had a shorter circular(ish) route starting and finishing in Poolewe, course length approximately 22 miles. This was a real pity as the first half of the original route is run in absolutely stunning scenery but at least I'd had a chance to experience it when I ran it a few weeks ago to recce the course. While we waited in the hall chatting and fuelling ourselves before the start another downpour arrived and it was a pleasant surprise that by race time it was beginning to clear. One of the friendly competitors I was chatting to was Linda Maclellan, although running as unattached is a long serving Carnethy, she says to say hi to Nick Macdonald and the other “experienced” Carnethies who know her!

The 68 runners for the long race all started off at 10:30, heading along a fairly narrow track which was one of the new parts of the alternate course that I'd happened to go along by accident four weeks ago. Any concerns that the modified course meant no boggy running were appeased within the first two miles, by which time I had managed to sink to over my knees at one point in wet mushy ground. Thanks to the recent rain the going was quite tough over this first section, probably more energy sapping that I'd have hoped. We then had a long gradual climb over the next few miles, past the first checkpoint and up through Kernsary Wood and it's midges to the second checkpoint. It was at this point I hooked on to follow an experienced Ilkely Harrier who was running a good pace for me, always nice to have someone to follow. We then had a rather fun flattish/tending to downhill section followed by a brief climb and then drop to the farthest point on the original route, Polt Fraochain. At this point we could look over to Carnmore and see the water cascading enthusiastically down to Dubh Loch, a fantastic sight and such a shame we weren't over there running down next to it.

At Polt Fraochain there was another checkpoint with juice/water/chocolate etc. One of the etc. on offer here was a wee dram of whisky which was just too good an opportunity to pass up. With the extra energy that the addition to my juice gave me I was ready for the next leg which just happened to be the biggest single climb in the race, around 1000 feet up Bealach Mheinnidh. This wasn't in the original route but as we no longer had the major climb near the beginning in it the organizers decided to put this one in after 10 miles of running! It was a slow slog up the hill but much more fun coming down the slippy far side to the furthest checkpoint; I was however ruing my decision to wear my trail runners rather than full fells on the descent.

It was about now I was getting some twinges in my calf muscles, troublesome enough to make me run/walk on slow ascent on the contour back round the hill before opening up again for the run reversing our run past what had been checkpoint 2 and start on the descent back through Kernsary woods and on to the trail and then track to the finish. It was in the woods when I enjoyed a new experience; getting cramp for the first time ever in a race. I was just running through some mud and my left hamstring completely locked up, so after two minutes or so of being an immobile feast for the local midge. Having been outpaced by my Ilkley Harrier pacer (and yes by experienced I mean 60-ish) due to my stop I then able continued plodding very slowly downhill and flat, walking up an inclines for the few miles back to the finish.

All the way along the course we were passing walkers from the other events who were all very encouraging and friendly, I have to say the whole event had a great atmosphere about it. The event was very well organized and marshalled; a pipe band and a wee crowd greeted everyone at the finish with a fantastic feast awaiting the participants of all of the running and walking events (nearly 700 in total) in the local hall. I think jam doughnuts are my new fav after race snack!

Meanwhile at the business end, the race was won by Paul Raistrick (Highland Hill Runners) in 2:34, nearly six minutes ahead of Murray Strain (HBT). Claire Gordon managed to beat fellow HBT Megan Mowbray by a mere 17 seconds to be the first female for an impressive fifth time in six attempts. I sauntered in at 3:42 and managed to only just sneak into the top half (34th out of 68), so I'll put this one down to experience. Think I'll need to crank my miles up a bit more for next time!

There was Carnethy success in the 13 mile race with Adrian Davis winning in a time of 1:27, nearly two minutes ahead of Geoff Simpson (HBT). All in all a grand day out.

Andy Millard

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