At 24 kms and 1770m (1540m on my Garmin??) I guess this can be counted as one of the tougher hill races in the Calendar. In fact, this is just one of the 10 races that make up the Scottish Long Classics series. Still time to get your five in!!
From my point of view, this is definitely similar to the Ochill 2000s and Two Breweries w.r.t. race time. I still believe the Skyline is easier due to the fact that there is a path most of the way which greatly facilitates navigation and speed.
The Two Inns route starts at Creagan Inn on the A828 between Ballachulish and Oban and takes a fairly straight NE line across the hills (mostly along a broad ridge) to Glencoe with the finish line being the Clachaig Inn car park.
There are six checkpoints (manned by fell rescue volunteers – fees from the race go to the organisation) along the route which each runner MUST run through.
While Mike B was busy taking the Commonwealth baton on the Harry Potter train between Fort William and Mallaig, Stuart and I were raring for a challenge.
We left Penicuik has about 7.45am and arrived for registration/kit check at the old visitors centre car park at Clachaig at 10.15 or so. Stuart, finally getting nervous, started faffing around with getting his kit ready, drinking coffee, eating etc while not realising that we were losing lift options down to the start. Luckily, in the end, a late arrival (Hugh and Joe) came and we had enough cars to drive the final runners down to Creagan. As is usual with these long races, the drive between the finish/start seems to take forever and you cannot help keep thinking – s**t – we’re gonna race this distance!!!
We all had plenty of time to wait around at the start before the race started at 12pm. There 30 runners and there was a good deal of banter as nerves started to bubble up – I think the toilet was well used.
The forecast was poor with heavy rain set to come in during the race. Until 11.45 it was dry and mild but then the drizzle started. Luckily I had planned ahead and was wearing contacts instead of glasses. The start was a little different from last year as a rather randy bull had just been introduced to his harem the night before and no one dared enter the field.
After Linda (race organiser) had told us a few route “factoids” and does and don’ts we were off. The longest and highest climb of the whole race is right at the beginning – 540 m in about 2.2 kms. No real path (like most of the race route), but just following the natural NE line of the geology. We entered the cloud around 400m which meant that most of the race was in mist (and rain). Luckily, the temperature was really quite mild and a slight wind was on our backs. There is no obvious path until checkpoint 3 but there is a fence line along most of the route. The fence is mostly in a dilapidated state, but is invaluable to aid navigation. Although it might not always be the most direct route, if in doubt, follow it, and just make sure that when you get to a “T-junction” in the fence, you take the correct turn.
Between checkpoint 1 and 4, I settled into a group of 2 girls (2nd and 3rd place at this point) and 2 guys. Stuart was somewhere ahead in the mist. We all had slightly different speeds and I was a little slower going up, but generally caught up going down (hey – still no knee pain). I think the others clustered with me and a south African (?) bloke as they seemed to think we knew where we were going. No pressure then. As I have ran this route twice before, I actually think that it is not that difficult to navigate in the mist, but for first timers, I can imagine there are sections where getting lost would not be that difficult. Bar the [rather horrible and steep] ascents up to checkpoints 2 and 3, this is a generally fun bouncy heathery boggy section. Conditions were MUCH wetter than last year and I think all of us went knee deep in bogs on a few occasions.
Although checkpoint 3 is not quite half way, it is the highest point of the race and on average it is all down here from here. There was thick mist at this point which was a shame as the route joins a narrow path on a lovely ridge section which is just fabulous in good weather. Alas, we could not see anything and we simply fixed out eyes on the ground in front of us to ensure that we would not slip on the slimy wet rocks. The weather really clagged in at this point and the section to checkpoint 4 seemed to go on forever and even I started worrying that we had messed up. However, the compass bearing was right, the fence was with us and – having faith – we ploughed on hoping we were on the correct route. When the two fell rescue marshals appeared in the murky mist, there was a definite release of tension. I certainly was starting to feel quite tired at this point (14kms in at ca. 2:20 hrs) and I am not sure what I would have done if I realised we had gotten lost.
As if realising that navigation was now not going to be an issue, our group started splitting up on the descent from checkpoint 4. I was definitely flagging and now just concentrated on making it. A 3rd girl appeared from behind and all 3 gals left in a power play for 2nd, 3rd and 4th. On the way down to the low point between Checkpoints 4 and 5, two runners, who probably should have known better, were running back up towards use grinning and trying to make fun of the fact that they had miss-navigated in the mist and had bypassed checkpoint 4.
Compared to last year, I was really very tired on the ascent up to checkpoint 5 – busy munching on muesli bars and drinking like mad to try and squeeze in some more energy into my tired legs for the final few kilometres. The initial descent from checkpoint 5 is the steepest of the whole race and I was all over the place as my legs refused to work properly. At the bottom of the slope, since last year, they had installed a new deer fence and the route went over a huge style – well – it seemed big at the time. I probably could hop over it normally. Luckily, I managed to get over it without the legs cramping up.
Then came the final descent to checkpoint 6. I know this section of old. Horrendous hummocky button grass which would be hellish with FRESH legs – let alone these wobbly sticks. I took my time and fixated on the valley bottom and river crossing ahead. Strangely, I overtook the 2 guys I had been running with the whole race. They must have taken a really crappy route.
With great relief, the final section from check point 6 is relatively flat. The route (track and path) snakes around 2 houses, through a garden, over stony sections and hidden footbridges, but for the first time in the whole race, it was possible to get into some semblance of a rhythm. I looked at my watch and realised that it was not impossible to get a BP if I did not mess up this final 2 kms. I slogged on, trying not to count the seconds.
The last kilometre of the “official” route, takes you over a boggy button grass section (no track) that ends in a style opposite the old visitors car park. Last year, Mike and I missed this and had to run an extra half a kilometre on the road. This time I was forewarned, took a compass bearing and set off. Mein Gott! – although shorter, there was no path and was hell for tired legs. In the end, I gave up and ran diagonally to the road. I still managed to pass the guy in front, but as we ran through the bushes into the old visitors car park, he passed me by taking his own short cut. Damn! I was hot on his heels, and looking at my watch I realised a PB was definitely possible. I pushed on for the last half kilometre – briefly waving at Stuart as he was walking back to the car. Obviously he had made it and would have his own stories (including how one starts a 3-4 hr race (2.5 hrs away) at 12pm but expects to get to work at 6pm for a 16 hour shift while still fitting in a Haggis feast. All rumours of a Honda hybrid breaking down north of Callander are slanderous lies!)
Results: First man in at 2:45:30. Stuart was 9th with a time of 3:30:42. I came in 20th at 3:50:48 – a 2 minute PB improvement on last year. What was strange however, if I compare last year to this, was that throughout the race I was 1 minute slower this year than last. I somehow made up my time over the last 3 kilometres. Huh?
some piccies here: http://lochaberac.co.uk/two-inns-race-picts/