It has taken me four years to gently persuade Andrea to run a mountain marathon (MM) and the final Highlander seemed like a good opportunity. As Andrea’s first, and my second (I ran the LAMM B-course in 2009 with Julian Hall), we decided to start with the “easy” course – D.
There are five course options, D through to A and Score. At about ~20 kms and 1000m climb per day, we felt that this was enough for a first time 2 day running event. Distance, height and navigation gets longer/harder up towards A. At ~£90/team pair, it might not be the cheapest race on the planet but as it includes food on the 1st night and at the finish, plus a ceilidh with fabulous organisation and camaraderie, I can honestly say that the last 2 days were the most fun I have had for ages.
All we knew for the last month was that registration would be up in Cannich (near Glen Affric). We blitzed up there on Friday evening, registered and went for a leisurely beer at the one bar in the village – already full of runners buzzing with chat.
Day 1 – 19kms, 1010m
We decided to go for the 8.30am start, allowing some time for my creaky old body to unstiffen from camping. It was while getting ready and having a Latte at the campsite café that we bumped into Tim and Kate Darlow. Arrgh – they were doing the D-course as well. What started out as a leisurely 2 days jog through the hills, suddenly got a tad more competitive. Game on!!! They were starting at 9.30, so would be an hour behind us. Hopefully they would not overtake us. Kirsty Loudon was also running the D course and was a tad nervous.
Runners were bussed to the start – at this point, we still did not know where we were going, but it was soon clear that it was not Glen Affric and we took the windy road up into Glen Cannich – being dropped off up near the dam.
The way these MM’s work is that your time is electronically tagged at multiple way points which you must navigate between. Miss a point – disqualified! This is therefore not simply a hill run, the navigation is crucial and the terrain is rough – few paths. You also need to carry in food, stove, tent etc, so you cannot think – och – just like Dollar – no worries – under 2 hrs.
At the start, you are given a waterproof map, and a list of waypoints (OS coordinates). A quick frantic marking on the map of the points, check with your partner that you both agree – berate Andrea for getting 3 points wrong and then sprint off up the hill towards the first checkpoint (CP) and 19kms and 1010m of hopefully problem free running.
Now – you might have had lovely sunny weather these past few days, but Saturday morning in Glen Cannich was overcast and grey with low cloud. Already CP 1 was in the cloud and as we got higher the mist just got thicker and thicker – visibility being 50-100 meters. Far from ideal when one is trying to find a small orienteering kite. I will not go into a lot of detail, but finding CPs 2 and 3 was really tough in the mist. Andrea would put it down to my navigation skills, but to be honest, there was a luck element. However, with only minimal discussion and double checking, we hit the CPs bang on. At CP4 the weather started clearing up, the cloud burning off and by the time we were down in Glen Strathfarrar, it was pleasantly sunny but not too hot. The final 5 CPs were straightforward as most of the climbing had been done earlier. Like any long race, the key issue is nutrition but I think we both did a pretty good job on Day 1 – certainly only minor cramp at worst. The final km descent to the campsite was a nice grassy track and after the bogs and tussocks was a nice end to the day. We still had juice in our legs which was important as not only had we a second day ahead of us, there would be a ceilidh in 6 hours.
Overall, we did rather well. We came 3rd in the D course in 4:58:30. Tim and Kate had problems on one of the CPs in the mist and came in 6th in 5:16:07. All to play for in Day 2. (Andrea: Oh no – could see Rob’s competitive eyebrow twitching when he saw our time. I knew day 2 would now not be the same leisurely cruise. Treated myself with 2 beers to psyche myself up). Kirsty and partner came in at 10:12:05, but not last so I think she was happy.
Unlike the LAMM, the Highlander is a rather civilised affair. There is a huge marquee with food and a bar, tables, chairs and space for dancing. There was plenty of space for the 100s of small 2 person tents (> 500 runners) and the weather was lovely. The wind was stiff enough to keep the midges away while not cooling the air temperature down. We all lounged around drinking beer, eating copious amounts of pasta, chips and burgers (trust me, you cannot eat enough!) and when the sun went down behind the hills, we gravitated back into the marquee for the ceilidh which was a laugh although I toned down my usual energetic approach to dancing as I did not want to injure myself 🙂 . I tried to get Tim drunk, but he was adamant on having only a half – secretly, I think he was taking our little battle seriously – I know I was!!
Day 2 – 16.5 kms, 960m
So – me, Tim, Kate and Andrea (Andrea: Why did he put me last? Subconscious mistrust in the running partner?), being within an hour of the leading pair were in the chasing start. What this means is that from 7-8am, the bulk of the runners start off at their own leisurely speed, but we started in reverse order at specific times relative to our time behind the leaders. So the leaders started at 8.30am, Andrea and I at 8.09 am (a nice lie in actually) and Tim and Kate ~16 mins before that. Andrea only got one point wrong – getting better!! 🙂
The first kilometre was flat and quick and I was amazed how good my legs felt (Andrea: Great for some. My legs felt like 2 well rooted tree stumps). We caught Kirsty up around CP2 and missed it by accident because I was busy saying Hi. Luckily we realised quickly and backtracked and then started the scrubby climbed up the first hill. This was probably the toughest part of Day 2 as we climbed up through mixed pine/deciduous woodland with copious amounts of deep heather. After shredding our legs for about 15 minutes and getting quickly tired, I found a deer track which took us to the edge of the woodland and the ascent was much easier and we soon started passing multiple D course participants. We again entered the mist, but it was already burning off by 9.30 and by the time we got to CP3, patches of sun were already breaking through.
Just as we got to CP3, Tim and Kate came loping towards us – somehow we had caught them up – they had again gotten a little lost – Game on indeed. The pressure was now on them. At CP4, we were above the cloud and the views were amazing with mist still down in the valleys below us. However, it soon became clear that it was going to be a hot one. We managed to keep just behind Tim and Kate until CP6, but Andrea was starting to flag a little with the heat (Andrea: and the extremely hard effort I put in that day! When I finally caught up with Rob – too sick to even utter a word, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind speeding up a bit. “Are you not even a little bit competitive?”) and T+K slowly edged away. The good news was that we had done the hard climbs already and from CP8 the route was straightforward and the terrain not to tortuous on our ankles. From CP 11, we could already see Cannich and the finish in the distance and from CP12, there was a good track all the way down to the road. I would not say we flew down but we made it. Of course, once we hit the road, we still had a km to go. It was then that my legs decided to start cramping. Ugh! Despite the ungainly nature of the last 500 meters we still came in under 4hrs at 3:53:17. Tim and Kate had made up for their lost time at 3:53:29. I missed Kirsty coming in; their time was 7:17:05.
Full results for the D course are here: http://www.sportident.co.uk/results/2016/Highlander/overall/d_class.html
Andrea and Rob: 3rd overall (1st mixed vets, 2nd mixed team, 2nd vets): 08:51:47.
Kate and Tim: 4th overall (3rd mixed team): 09:09:36.
Kirsty and Ina: 48th (from 49 completing pairs): 17:29:10
The prizing giving logic was a little confusing, but got excellent trophies for 2nd vets.
What a fabulous weekend. I think we might have the bug and am pretty sure we’re going to do another MM. Tim and Kate would have been on top of us if they had not slightly messed up their navigation so we are pretty much agreed to do the LAMM next year – possibly the C course!!!
If we could get more Harrier’s pairs to do this, it would make a great weekend, although this was the last Highlander. The LAMM is more serious – no ceilidh and extra food – but the running similar. You have to bring your own entertainment.
Rob and Andrea
PS. Thanks to Sarah for tent and Julian for the sleeping bag