Well – as I had reccied the route last month, I had to do the race.
Unfortunately, many of those who had been interested to run the Two Inns were unavailable:
Duncan (broken pinkie), Hillary (sprained ankle), Tim (marital obligations – anniversary) and Sarah (navigationally challenged :-)).
That just left me and Mike.
So – we left Penicuik around 8am and drove the 3 hours to the start at Creagan Inn. At 24kms (1770m), the Two Inns is part of the Long Classics series and probably is not so well known compared to other races such as the Two Breweries, Pentland Skyline etc. Therefore, at 12pm when the race started, there was only 44 runners and they all looked pretty bloody fit. I had hoped that Mike and I would have had time for a quick half Guinness to power us on our way, but it was all a little rushed getting kit organised for the car that would be at the finish. Alas, we would have to have the beer at the end.
Well, as I said in the recce report, the longest climb is right at the beginning – 2.3 kms (535m). Not the steepest climb of the race, but pretty relentless which took me just over half an hour. At the top, the leading group (at least half the field!!) had already disappeared off into the thin mist. Bugger – they were quick up that first hill. I did not see Mike and assumed I had stupidly ran off too quickly and he would soon pass me when my legs gave up. However, it was not until about 5kms into the race that I heard him huffing and puffing (+ the odd grunt) behind me.
Between the first (Checkpoint 1) and second (Checkpoint 2) peaks, the route (pathless!) goes through nice squidgy bouncy peat and heather. It was MUCH wetter than last month, but not disastrously so, so in fact this was almost pleasurable. The weather was warm with a breeze on our backs and the cloud was just touching the peaks.
Mike stayed just behind me through checkpoint 2 and up (the steepest climb) to the highest point at checkpoint 3 (Fraochaidh). At this point, Mike and I were with 3 other guys in a fairly tight cluster. I told Mike that from Fraochaidh that it was now all downhill – which on average it is, but well – I guess there is the last peak J. Let’s just say Mike was cursing me later. From Fraochaidh there is a couple of kms of ridge with a clear path. This is probably the most runnable section of the race and one’s legs are still quite strong at this point although it takes some time to get them working again after such a steep ascent. At checkpoint 4 (~ 12 kms), Mike finally passed me. I am not sure if he had stayed with me all this time to ensure that he had the correct route, but from this point, you could see the whole route and away he went. Although my knees were behaving (I was admittedly feeling a little sick from all the Ibuprofen), I took a Hillary approach and took my time on the descent as I knew there was still a long way to go and the path would soon slowly morph into a pathless heathery scrub again.
At ~16 kms, the final ascent starts up Sgorr a’ Choise (Checkpoint 5). I never actually counted this as a hill in my mental map as it is not so steep as the three previous hills and is more of a rocky scramble. Well, Mike (cursing for some reason!) and another runner were obviously struggling here as I passed them both. At the top, the kindly Mountain Rescue marshals congratulated me and showed me the way to go – which was a friggin cliff. Last month, we had continued along the ridge a little before descending, but I assumed the locals knew the best way so I went where they pointed. Well – 20 meters below the peak, standing on a grassy ledge with a 10m drop below me, did not fill me with much confidence that this was the best route. I had to side-step to the left and scramble down to get to a more safer slope. Mike had the same problem. Sheesh!
Anyway, after this, I began the descent which had caused me so much problems with knee pain the previous month. Although steep, thankfully, I was not yelping. However, I was aware that the tussocky final descent was going to be difficult. I had spent quite a bit of time perusing Google Earth and OS maps trying to identify a better route, but the reality of being there clearly showed that the way we went last time was probably correct. Bugger – I would just have to grit my teeth and hope not to twist an ankle in the tussocks. Just at the top of the last minor summit, Mike caught me up again. We briefly chatted about a best route for descent and in the end just went for it. Mike was ahead, but was heading to the right (south) as he was trying to follow the next runner ahead in the distance. This did not look right to me, so I stayed left and basically took a compass bearing to the final checkpoint. My strategy obviously worked as I reached checkpoint 6 and the track before Mike. He of course was not far behind and soon passed me again. However, the race route did not stay on the track, and turned off (nicely marked at this point) through a field around some buildings. The track had been “laid” with stones to stop walkers sinking into the bog. I somehow still had some leg strength to skip my way through here. Mike cramped up, and I passed him again. I guess by this point, we had somehow come to an unspoken understanding that we would not stop for each other. Survival of the fittest and all that!
The route then returned to the main track for about half a kilometre and to ensure that runners are not killed on the A82, goes through someone’s garden (literally) and contours around the slope until there is a style at the old car park near Clachaig. Well – this was the only bit of the race I had not reccied and I really should have looked at the map instead of blindly hoping that the way would be clearly marked. After the house, the route was marked by red and white flagging. Possibly blinded with exhaustion, I did not see them, and Mike caught me up and was the one who saw the one near the bridge that crossed the burn. We ran off together, but the ground was tussocky and I tripped. Shite – it was my turn to cramp up while on the ground. I managed to get up and stumbled after Mike, but I had lost valuable seconds. After the bridge, we should have taken an ENE bearing. Instead, I followed Mike and another runner who also obviously had had problems finding the route of this final stage as well. They basically ran north which was clearly wrong as I saw a marshal to the NE waving at me to come his way. I was in two minds. Follow Mike or cut across unknown boggy ground. I followed Mike. The route was easy and we got to the road quite quickly, but then had about a kilometre on the road which was hellishly busy. I was about 200 meters behind Mike and the other runner who were running side-by-side. Cars were flying both ways and I was pretty sure I was going to see Mike get hit. I quite understand why the race organisers did NOT want us to run along the road. Oh well, we know for next time.
Anyway – with semi-functioning legs, we crossed the line in not too sorry a state. All 44 runners made it. Mike and I came in 27th and 28th respectively with times of 3:52:15 and 3:52:59. The winner did it in 2:44:50. Respect!
In the end, we did not have a beer at the Clachaig Inn but a cup of tea instead. How English :-)! After chilling out for about an hour, we cadged a lift with the Glencoe Mountain Rescue ambulance back to the start, and had our Guinness on the way home when we had supper. All in all, a fabulous day. I personally don’t think I could quicken my time much. We possibly could have shaved a few minutes off due to all the shenanigans over the last 2 kms, but that is something for next time. Is this a harder race than The Two Breweries or Skyline? I think Mike and I agreed that it is. Skyline is both longer and has more elevation gain, but we were both much slower in this race. The lack of paths makes all the difference.