Back in 2015, I ran the Ben Rinnes hill race for the first time. I loved it. The weather was warm and sunny, I was physically in fine fettle and the 22.4 kms (1435m) there and back route left me with an exhilarated feeling of speed and lightness. I have since been rather frustrated as I have always been away and kept missing it.
Ben Rinnes is the “easiest” of the Long Classic Series races and as it is a runnable long[ish] hill race, it is well worth the effort to drive up to Dufftown, especially if you make a weekend of it. To top it off, it is associated with the Dufftown Highland games which is a hoot – with many a tossed caber, pipe bands, dancers and all the trimmings that come with a traditional Highland Games.
My bronchial illness of June had really messed my training up. I also lost 3kgs, so my strategy for July was to eat as much, and race as much, as possible to try and get back some muscle mass into my legs. I will say this now – 5 races (Dollar, Maddy Moss, Cairn Table, Lee Pen topped off with Ben Rinnes) in 3 weeks was perhaps not an ideal strategy for attaining race fitness. I am mildly broken at the time of writing this.
Harriers in attendance: Moi, Stuart and Gillian + better halves/kids/dogs etc as we made a holiday of it although we all disfunctionally stayed in different towns (Aviemore, Aberlour and Nethy Bridge) which made socialising post-race a little harder.
The forecast was not brilliant – potential thunder, lightning and rain. The heavy rain, while eating breakfast at 8am on Saturday morning, did not bode well. However, at the start, bar some initial dampness, the temperature was nicely mild, and most runners ran in vests. Ben Rinnes is basically a 5 peaks race and most of the gradients are runnable, or at least, one can alternate between walking and running. This year, the race was part of the Scottish Hill Championship, so there were more runners than usual – and more pressure!!
At 12 noon, we were off. The first kilometre is on tracks around fields with a slow incline until we crossed the Dufftown Golf Course. It was the climb after the golf course that I realised that this would be tough. My legs were heavy and my right Achilles was not going to forgive me for running Lee Pen the week before. At the top of the first hill (Little Conval) Andrea, Lorna and the two carpets (Alfie and Rowan) were there shouting/barking encouragement. We were only 4 kms in, and I was already feeling worryingly fatigued. I managed to pick up speed on the downhill, gained some rhythm up over Meikle Conval and made up some places on the steep descent to the road crossing. This was the last time I had some semblance of strength in my legs!
The ascent up Ben Rinnes is a long winding track – quite rocky which studied fell shoes are not perhaps ideal. It was at this point when the “weather” hit. The wind picked up markedly and the rain came sideways from the south. Luckily, the air temperature was mild enough that I decided that I could still walk/jog/run in my vest, so I slogged my way up into the cloud above. I remember fabulous views from 2015, but this year, the weather was clagged in, and it was an ever increasingly wild ride as we gained elevation. Not far from the summit, Stuart came running towards me (with jacket on!) – he was not that far ahead of me. He later told me that he had also been suffering and had consider pulling out. Luckily, he had dug deep and kept going.
I would like to say that Stu, not being that far ahead, would have spurred me on, but the sidewind by this point was very strong and it took all my concentration to keep from not skidding off course to the right. The granite tor of the peak, over which we had to run, was a wet treacherous scramble, but the turnaround was briefly pleasant as we were sheltered from the wind. It then hit again on the descent, and we then had the gnarly granitic track to contend with in the misty, windy rain. At the time, I noted that I had not seen Gillian coming up and I remember thinking “I hope she has not been blown away” – little realising that she was not far behind me and it was me that would later be blown away.
The descent down the track was relatively fast and the weather steadily improved. The steepest section on the whole race is the climb after the road crossing on the way back up to Meikle Conval and it was on this short section that my legs decided to remind me that they were utterly exhausted and started to cramp. Remember – this was effectively only 15kms into the race – those pins were not happy. Damn Lee Pen! I managed to get control of the muscles and stumbled on. Gillian finally caught me up just before the summit of Little Conval. I think she assumed that I would “gawp”, say something highly non-PC along the lines of “I can’t let a woman beat me” and sprint away, but my legs would simply not have it. We stayed together for a while, but I am pretty sure Gill was simply being nice. After the golf course, she apologised profusely and said she needed to catch the next female and daintily scampered off ahead of me. I tried to keep up, but my legs were useless lumps of lead by this point. I decided to settle into a comfortable non-cramping pace for the final kilometre.
Running is a bizarre sport. 3 years ago, I ran Ben Rinnes and felt amazing. This year, the whole thing was a slog and a massive effort. But in the end, the difference in my time was only 8 minutes (2:36 (2015) vs 2:44 (2018)). There is some comfort from this. No matter how you feel, don’t assume you are doing that badly (or well either). In the end, I am sort of happy that I did the 5 races (plus plenty of cycling) this month. Hopefully that has caught my fitness up and I can now rest and recharge my legs over the next few weeks for tougher longer races to come.
The hero of the day was Gill. Her time was excellent – a good 8 minutes improvement on her previous PB. AND – don’t forget, this was a Scottish Hill Championship race. Gill was 3rd in her category. No mean feat!
You deserve this one Gill, but I’m gonna make you sweat next time!!
Of 159 finishers, out time and places were:
Stuart: 74th, 2:34:08
Gill: 89th, 2:42:47
Moi: 95th, 2:44:16