Stuc a’ Chroin hill race

Rob’s Perspective

At 21kms and about 1400m of climb, this race does not look on paper to be too daunting. However, the technical nature of the terrain for pretty much the whole race makes this a real challenge. This is the third time I have successfully survived Stuc (let’s not mention the 1st!) and it still proves a tough race.

Conditions were perfect, sunny with a mildly stiff and cool easterly wind on the ridges which helped alleviate some of the warmth of the sheltered sections which was around 17 degrees. As this was a UK and Scottish championship race, there were lots of runners which the organisers admirably catered for without any apparent stress. This is, traditionally, a well-marked race (navigation is not an issue even in bad weather) with lots of marshals all over the course. They also carried in literally 1000 litres of water. I felt guilty saying thanks but no thanks as I was carrying my own 1.5 litres of electrolyte.

With so many runners, the first few kms through the forest was a real traffic jam and I started way too far back in the pack which really annoyed me at first as my usual strategy of sprinting off was not possible. So – I was stuck somewhere in the middle I guess and had little chance to make up places. I kept telling myself that many people tell me to start slow and I will benefit in the end. Well – we would see this time.

Runners started spreading out a little once we left the wood and I managed to set a good consistent pace for the traverse along the fence towards Glen Ample. I made up a few places on the descent into Glen Ample, but kept looking ahead at the big long climb out. That ascent is never fun and in the heat was a sweaty affair – one always hoping that the bum directly in your face is not going to let rip at any time. Finally, at the top of Beinn Each, after a welcome “Hi – you’re a legend” to the ultimate mobile spectator Chris Downie, the ridge section started with 3 kms of rather technical jogging towards the main summit. I have never ran this section without snow and thought in the hot dry conditions it would be easier. However, it was much more technical than I remember and my legs seemed all over the place. Climbing up the sharp jagged rocks up to the Stuc summit, I thought how the hell would I come down this without tripping. All I could do was suck on a gel and hope it would be OK.

On the turn around, the descent was not too bad – I took a slightly different route to the left and managed to get a semblance of speed back into the legs. However, on one of the short steep climbs up, both my inner thighs cramped quite badly and I spent a couple of frustrating minutes trying to regain control of my legs while panicking a little that I still had 9 kms to go. I stuffed myself and sucked on lots of fluid. Luckily, the descent back into Glen Ample is not that steep (mostly downhill diagonal contouring), so my legs gave up being a pain, and got on with the job and I managed to make up a little lost time. The relatively short sharp steep climb out of Ample was problem free which was a huge relief as many a runner gets unstuck at this point with cramp. The last 5-6 kms, was almost a pleasure and I managed a reasonable pace. On entering the wood, I realised that I was well under 3 hours and actually was not doing so badly, so I focused on not tripping on the hidden logs and getting stuck in the few boggy bits (much dryer than last year) and even passed a couple of people.

I crossed the finish line in 3hrs 12 mins which is a 9-minute improvement on last year and a PB. The conditions were almost perfect (a tad warm) so they certainly influenced the results overall, but hey – who’s complaining! It also shows that a slow start for a long race may not impact your final time – maybe a lesson there!!!

Rob

Dunc’s Perspective

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this race as it was both a Scottish Championship and British Championship event. I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to sign on on the day with so many extra runners. The Organiser had sent a scary email to Rob suggesting that the roads would be clogged with tourists and we arrived at Strathyre almost 2 hours before the start. However, the weather was warm and sunny and we were even eyeing up the river as a possible cooling down feature post race.

The start was a bit mad with 360 runners trying to queeze along a narrow path. It was a relief to find that the horrible forest bog of last year had dried out significantly and was mostly runnable. I made the mistake of trying to keep up with Des and went off too fast but soon settled into a steady pace. Most runners were wearing only vests and it was almost too warm until we got to the first ridge and met the cooling easterly breeze.

I have done this race twice before and had the advantage of knowing how much to push and where. At the top of Beinn Each the top of Stuc looked further away than I remembered, but the ridge turned into a most enjoyable technical jog. With so many runners, there was quite a lot of jostling for position which probably meant wasting valuable energy, but who cares, it was fun. The race leaders pounded past whilst the summit was still a long way off and then not that much later, there was Des – no point in trying to catch him now!

The view from the top was superb but very fleeting and then the technical descent back towards Beinn Each. Twinges of cramp started to afflict my thighs on the traverse back down to Glen Ample, and I sooked down a great quantity of carbo drink from my camelback (with added electrolye solution). To my surprise, the horrendous climb back out of the Glen was less gruesome than normal and I didn’t lose any places. Into the forest at last and I almost enjoyed the last few miles. Nobody was passing me and it didn’t seem necessary to go into the usual ‘chase Stuart’ mode, and my legs were still almost functioning (and without cramp) at the finish! Not a PB but still under 3 hours, so I was quite happy.

I must have actually pushed quite hard as I was still feeling a bit queasy an hour after the race and could only manage some soup and a cup of tea. Rob on the other hand must have a cast-iron stomach as he wolfed down a massive hamburger at the Cafe (which was still open at six o’clock). And I won’t mention Des who was spotted relaxing with a pint in the sunshine outside the pub as the rest of us limped past on the way back to the car. I was still in far better shape than 2012 as Rob didn’t have to make an emergency stop at Dobbies on the way home. A grand day out indeed!

Duncan.

Gill’s Thoughts

This was my first attempt at Stuc, and I was trying very hard to think of it as a fun day out in the hills, with no pressure to aim for any particular finishing time. I’d heard enough about the race to know that it would probably be at my upper limits of hill running – and it didn’t disappoint!

We arrived super early which was great in some ways as we chilled out in the sun, but had me settling into a ‘I’d rather have a coffee and admire the views’ mood, instead of what should have been mild terror. Mike Brooks appeared on his bike to say hello, while out on an epic trip of his own. Eventually 1pm came and we got ready to start. Andrea and I headed nearer the back of the pack with the idea of saving our energy for later in the race.

The first two or three miles was slow as we were moved on to a very narrow trail through the forest, but I decided that this would mean I’d be able to pick up the pace later. I’m not sure that ever really happened, and in some sections I was really aware of moving more slowly than I’d have liked. However, thank god I didn’t push at the start because my legs were completely knackered anyway for the climb out of Glen Ample. I had no idea how steep this climb would be, and although I usually love the uphill climbs, my legs were not behaving as they should have! Still, the scenery here looked so amazing in the sun, so I dug in as best I could. Our lovely Chris Downie was at the top of Beinn Each, which helped so much – thank you Chris! Somewhere along the last push towards the main summit Rob came flying past. I’d completely missed Des and Duncan!

I met my lovely running friend Lesley from the Cosmics shortly before the summit and a few of us had a bit of chat as we navigated the rocky climb. I was just relieved to know I’d reached the halfway point and again the views up there were amazing. I found parts of the descent from there really tricky, although the dry conditions helped. Chris was back again, handing out water with other marshals. The final climb was really tough, and my legs although not cramping had turned slightly to jelly for the last downhill section back through the forest. I enjoyed most of this part – until I managed to go off the little track for a few metres and then had to climb back over some chopped tree branches (I heard later that I wasn’t the only womble to do this). Two runners overtook me at this point, so I did muster some speed and caught them again before the finish. So I did finish – phew!

This race is so well organised and there were marshals with water and jelly babies all along the route, just fantastic. I hope I can run it again next year (and maybe run more of it than I did this time!). Well done to my fellow Harriers!

Gill

Andrea’s Musings

I only decided to run Stuc a’Chroin as I am a sunshine runner and it was a VERY SUNNY day, and as a survival test for the Lamm mountain marathon in 3 weeks (partly hoping I wouldn’t). Based on my previous long race disasters, I knew fine well that this one was no walk in the park, so I set my modest goal get to the finish line running rather than crawling. The race started extremely well: my strategic line up at the tail-end meant that I was mostly walking the first mile through the narrow forest path. I quite liked that pace, but I did wonder if I would make it back to the finish before sunset.

The next 3 hours were a real joy – the weather was stunning, the views amazing, my legs felt strong and I just felt DAMN GOOOD! Just as I started to tire a wee bit, Chris Downie appeared at the long ridge to keep us going. How does he manage to always appear at the right place at the right time? The ridge was tough, but trying to get out of the way of the speedo’s like Des or Duncan gazelling over the technical rocky path already on their return route somehow passed the time. Before I knew it, I was also on the jolly route down to reach the last big uphill at Glen (quite) Ample. That would have indeed been ample for me.

On my way up that cruel steep slope my mood suddenly changed – I became blissfully aware of my many blisters at the bottom, top and side of my feet and of my energy levels dropping. Feeling already too nauseous to eat, I decided to pop a gel, which kicked in immediately: I felt sick as a dog on that nice bouncy downhill path to the finish line that did not seem to get any closer. These last 45 minutes easy downhill seemed longer than the last 3.5 hours mostly uphill, and it didn’t help that I was overtaken in the last km by a man well in his seventies. Nevertheless, I achieved my goal to run through the finish, albeit a bit green in the face. Thankfully Rob, Duncan and Gill had patiently waited for me, and Des gave me an energizing hug on the limp back to the car.

Andrea

Results:
Des 72, 02:42:04 MV50
Duncan 119, 02:57:53 MV50
Rob 178, 03:12:32 MV40
Gill 270, 03:44:29 FV40
Andrea 322, 04:14:07 FV40

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    3 comments on Stuc a’ Chroin hill race

    1. sarah burthe says:

      This race sounds amazing- well done everyone. Must have been hot work in all that sunshine!

    2. Sadie Kemp says:

      Fantastic read you guys, sounds like a great race and one I may be tempted to try in the future. Well done to you all for representing the harriers in such a competitive race.

    3. Bill Bennet says:

      Great running Harriers in a very competitive field on a very difficult course. I recognised the names of a great number of very highly regarded hill and fell runners among the finishers. Well done guys. And some excellent writing too.

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