Having run the Edinburgh Marathon five weeks previously it was possibly not particulary
sensible to then run a 27-mile hill run. However, this was a must-do run and I couldn’t
wait another year!
The race was at 10am which meant an early start and a two-hour drive to Braemar via Perth
and Glenshee. Gee whizz I had forgotten how bendy and bumpy the road up to Glenshee was.
It was actually quite fun in a car for a change that didn’t result in ‘white knuckle’
corners. I did however begin to feel a bit queasy after taking off a couple of times on
the worst bumps.
I arrived at Braemar still intact at 9am and took in the great scenery. As this race was
a bit of an unknown, I had decided to take it easy and make sure that I got to the
finish without any help from Cairngorm Mountain Rescue. I was also determined to take
some pictures on the way. 9:30 and the usual kit check and I also stashed 3 gels,
3 small bottles of carbo-drink and water and my ‘ruggedised’ mobile phone into my wee
rucsac. My phone actually weighed more than everything else put together but it was either
that or a proper camera that wasn’t able to phone the mountain rescue.
It was quite crowded at the start with a record entry of about 200 runners. The pre-race
briefing by Deeside Runners mentioned an extra water station at Derry Lodge (also the
cut-off time of 1:30), we were told not to drop used gels and the mountain rescue team
were on holiday in Lanzarotte (no, that was a joke). We were off at 10:03 and jogging
into quite a hefty westerly breeze towards Mar Lodge. The first four or five miles were
along quiet tarmac roads and I stuck with a small group of about six runners until we got
to the first water station (plastic water butt) and started properly uphill on a
landrover track (good set of 2004 photos on the Deeside Runners website). This climbed
steeply for half a mile and then levelled out through some stunning natural woodland
and through Glen Lui to Derry Lodge. I had a brief chat with someone from HBT who had
already run five races that week, chasing the club grand prix (it’s amazing to what
lengths some people will go just to get a Run and Become voucher!).
Now into Glen Luibeg and rather peaty and boggy underfoot for a mile or so until we
arrived at the dreaded Luibeg Burn. At the briefing we had been told to “wade the
burn” rather than detour 200 yards upstream to a bridge. Someone in front did exactly
that – the rest of us watched them being swept downstream (joke) and nimbly used the
natural stepping stones! I was actually quite relieved as I knew that wet feet would
probably mean blisters later on.
This was becoming quite an adventure and I was in my element as the track became
narrower, rockier and steeper and started to curve northwards towards the Lairig Ghru.
We were now properly into spectacular hills and it was getting windier, drizzlier and
much less pathier. In fact the ‘path’ was just a line of jaggedy stones and rocks with
less heather than the surroundings. I was beginning to get a little bit wet, but as
no-one else were putting on jackets, I stuck it out. Fortunately the drizzle eased off
but not the wind and the path wound ever upwards past the massive hulk of Ben Macdui
(it must be massive as its name is in capital letters on the OS map).
Ah, at last, the Pools of Dee. It was now not possible to run at all and we picked our
way carefully across the granite boulders. It was now high time to take some pictures
and I found my phone and pointed it up an down the path. As the other runners had all
vanished I didn’t linger too long, but long enough to scoff a gel. I also took out a
bottle of carbo-drink to run with. Through the Lairig Ghru proper and along more
intensely rocky paths for a mile or so and suddenly we could see the green of
Rothiemurchus forest in the distance. Another very quick photo stop before starting the
descent towards Aviemore.
The path was very tricky and it took huge concentration to avoid spraining an ankle.
I had caught a couple of runners but was content to run behind them to save my legs
which were getting a bit wobbly by now. The path steadily improved, the woodland and
forest scenery was superb and the sun was out – what more could you ask for? Legs that
worked better possibly. Ouch, things were starting to seize up and the pace was slowing.
Suddenly it was flat and we arrived at a ‘water stop’ burn. I didn’t bother to drink any
water as I was still had my carbo-drink to hand, but I did dither a bit so that I was
still running vaguely with two other runners. Despite ridiculously sore legs things were
going OK until I decided to slacken off and waggle the legs to free them up. Ow, ow,
cramp! I hobbled past some guy at a gate who asked me if I was OK. Yeah, yeah, fine, just
cramp (as my right quad tried to self-destruct). Fortunately I still had a gel left and
hurriedly gobbled it down. Magically it seemed to do the trick and I was up and jogging
after only a couple of minutes walking. I reckoned it was less than three miles to the
finish and I was determined to jog the whole way and on no account attempt to free up any
The last two miles were along the pavement between Coylumbridge and Aviemore and it was
just a case of slogging it out, short strides and keeping some sort of rhythm. At last,
across the river, under the railway bridge and right onto the Aviemore main road. There
was the finish! Excellent!
Deeside Runners had ‘booked’ the Mountain cafe and laid on soup, scones and cake. They
even phoned up someone to bring along extra salt! It was now quite a long wait for all
the other runners to finish and the prize giving before we could board the shuttle buses
back to Braemar, but actually quite pleasant in the sunshine. We met Hilary and family at
the cafe (on holiday) and even my wee brother and his wife stopped to say hello on their
way down to Edinburgh.
I haven’t seen any results yet but my time was 4:03 something and the winner’s time was
3:15 I think. Many thanks to Deeside Runners for staging an excellent event and to
Cairngorm Mountain Rescue for their support. If you want a long-run challenge and enjoy
changes in terrain and spectacular scenery then this run is a cracker.