Having had to pull out of Stuc a`Chroin last year due to a pulled calf muscle, I was determined to make it this year. Stuc is the first of the SHR Long Classic Series races (last is the Skyline) and at 22kms (1500m), it is a real good test for one’s fitness at the beginning of the main hill running season.
The weather was stunning in Edinburgh when I picked Tim Doyle up at 10.30 and we made our way north in good spirits. The forecast was to cloud over, but to stay stable with a fresh westerly wind. However, as we drove towards Callander the weather noticeably cooled and I kept having to notch the heating up. On arriving at Strathyre, spots of rain were already starting to fall and as we came out of registration, it had turned to a more persistent mizzle.
Being 1hr early, there was plenty of time to get prepared, chat, warm up etc. Most people however hunkered down in their cars as the light rain fell. It was only about 20 mins before the start that runners started appearing out of the woodwork. Sarah (McKechnie) also turned up for, I think, her longest hill race to date.
In actual fact, at the beginning, the weather was not too bad, and the first few kms were a steady gentle climb along a forest road. I was almost too warm! At the end of the forest road, the route plunged up through a dark dense spruce woodland up onto the open fell. It was at this point that my calf went last year, so as I traversed the contours along the forest edge northwards, I felt quietly happy that the sport massage had done its magic yet again. I could see Sarah about 400 meters ahead of me, but decided to keep a steady pace. Many people have told me that this was a tough race so for once, I put my sensible hat on. At about 7 kms, there is a steep muddy descent into Glen Ample. I had stumbled this far last year just to see the snake of runner climbing the steep slope up to Beinn Each. This time I was part of the snake. The ascent is simply awful – very steep and muddy – but was partly made manageable as Sarah (now just in front) was cursing in front of me about how the hell she was going to make it down. One of the other runners allayed her fears and said that the descent was down a more gentler route to the north. Soon after this, I managed to squeeze some life out of my legs and passed Sarah.
As we climbed, the weather started filling in. There was a stiff wind and constant rain. Luckily I had brought a cap or I would have been pretty much blind with my glasses. I had assumed that the hard part of the race was the ascent up to Beinn Each. Surely after this, the ~3kms of undulating ridge to the top of Stuc a`Chroin would be almost enjoyable. Well – the weather was pretty awful and this section seemed to go on and on and on and on. It was exhausting and I was expecting Sarah to power past me at any moment. As it was so misty it was impossible to really know how far along the ridge I was. Luckily the route is very well marked, so navigation was not really an issue, but that final peak never seemed to appear in the mist. After what seemed like hours, the lead runners started appearing on their way down. This gave me some hope that I was getting there – slowly! At ca. 1:45, I started the final ascent of Stuc. The weather had really filled in by this point. It was incredibly windy, with driving rain, mud everywhere (with snow patches to catch you out) and slippy treacherous rocks. This was my low point. I was getting cold which worried me as this was the first time in any race I felt that perhaps I had not brought enough extra clothes. This was not a place to twist an ankle. So, I stuffed myself with cake and battled my way up to the peak.
Thankfully, on the descent, due I guess to the slow pace going up (and maybe the cake), I still had some juice in the old legs and the run back down into Glen Ample was “almost” a joy although rain and glasses are never a good mix. At least most of the descent was not too rocky and was more of a mud slide. Importantly, I warmed up.
As is so often the case in these longer hill races, there is always one final killer hill and the ascent out of Glen Ample was pretty tortuous. A steep muddy slope. A lot of fun to run down, but incredibly frustrating to stumble up. A couple people were battling cramp at this point, but I managed to get to the top in the knowledge that I had about 6 kms of almost continual gentle downhill until the finish. I took my time over the boggy paths, but once on the forest road, managed to stretch my pace to something that looked more like running than the usual stumble. Gio from Carnethy joined me and we chatted all the way down which somehow was a huge help in those final kms.
It was a huge relief to cross the line. No cramp, which for this stage in the year and after such a hard race, was amazing. The soup at the end was much appreciated – in fact – the whole organisation of the race was incredible. Not only was the whole course well marked, but there were marshals everywhere and this certainly was NOT the day to be standing around over 900m. According to the Stuc website, ” 2 runners and a marshal were taken off the hill near Stuc a’ Chroin summit and several runners were suffering from varying degrees of exposure “.
So – final Harriers results from 193 completed runners (13 pulled out):
Rob Wilson: 95th: 3:18:05
Sarah McKechnie: 132nd: 3:32:59
Tim Doyle: 163rd: 3:53:13 [cursing as he crossed the line about the “#*#&#” weather!]
thoroughly rewarding to have completed such a tough race, but next time, I am going to make sure I have a couple of more layers with me.