Apart from the Maddy Moss race 2017, I have not spent any time in the Ochils and with the weather forecast being rather alarming (hill fog and headwind), I met with Rob the day before the race to discuss the route and navigation (I even invested some time in a navigation YouTube tutorial – worth it!).
We arrived at the campus of Stirling University around 10am, where we registered, got ready and waited for the busses to the start. My mood changed the whole time before the race from excitement to “Oh god, what am I doing here” (it was a SHR and SAL championship race this year, and everyone looked so super fit and speedy). I have never done anything similar before in terms of distance and climb and my goal was to make the cut-off times, and then just do as many hills as possible.
The race started almost on time, and the first bit was very runnable: an undulating track followed by a path through a forested area up to the first checkpoint (CP) at Innerdownie. I enjoyed this bit and the next CPs, the weather was perfect, the ground bouncy and even leaning in the headwind at the downhills was good fun. At the downhill before Kings Seat I started to worry a bit about the cut-off time, so I stepped on it and could even overtake a few people. Unfortunately, this was my last fast downhill. I didn’t get the nutrition right, so I had stomach cramps on every downhill throughout the race (apart from the last), which slowed me down a lot.
From Kings Seat, it was the first time we left the path to contour down to the climb up to Andrew Gannel Hill (following a path again) and from there to the Law. Until here, I had no problems to navigate, as we mainly followed paths, there were plenty of people around and the visibility was OK. Then, the fog came. I knew Ben Cleuch from the Maddy Moss race, so I recognized the CP when I finally could see the cairn 20m ahead of me and relying on the path and my compass I reached Ben Buck. Luckily, the direction to Ben Ever was SSW, so I saw a few runners before they disappeared in the fog. I reached Ben Ever well ahead of the second cut-off time, which was a relief because I finally found the time to put on my rain jacket (I was already soaked) and I knew that from there no one was going to stop me (apart from myself).
From Rob I knew that navigation from Ben Ever to Blairdennon Hill would be tricky, as would be the terrain. I solved the first problem by buddying up with another runner who had done the race before and by using the compass (I am not kidding, the little thing was helpful, especially because Rob and I prepared it in the bus for navigating between Ben Ever and Blairdennon Hill, so we just had to follow the travel arrow). For the second problem, there was no solution. Seriously, I have never seen terrain like this before and apparently it can be even worse: bogs after bogs, deep bogs covered in moose (I think I found Duncan’s bog; http://penicuikharriers.org.uk/2017/08/29/ochils-2000s-long-classic-hill-race-2017/), bogs you had to climb in, and bogs followed by dunes of black soil [RW comment: The Scottish moose is not as rare as you would think despite it (the Elk) becoming extinct in the 10th century. Ours are green and hide in bogs 🙂 ]. Quite surreal, especially with the fog. Finding Blairdennon was a relief again, because from there we went southwards just by following a fence.
After Colsnaur Hill, we were finally out of the fog, which seemed to be a good thing at first but then I saw Dumyat. I’ve tried to raise my courage by euphorically shouting “Just one more hill”, but my fellow runner felt the need to remind me that this hill is very steep. We took a steep short cut which brought us to the track taking us down to Menstrie. The short cut was probably not the best idea, as there were many rocks and hollows overgrown by moose [RW comment: It’s those pesky moose again], grass and thistles. First, I stepped into one of the hollows and then I slipped and twisted my knee. The hard and rocky track was not very pleasant either, so I have no clue which route I would choose the next time. The way down to Menstrie was the downhill I enjoyed the least. The rocky underground fatigued my legs and my stomach cramps were bad. At the CP in Menstrie I had juice and grabbed as many jelly babies as I could and started the climb up to Dumyat. On the way, I met a marshal with further jelly babies, so I had some more. The climb was steep and a struggle, but I still was happy as I knew from this point that I will finish the race. At the summit, I scared some poor marshals with my mad grinning (as I said, I was happy, but very exhausted at that point) and my bad German jokes [RW comment: Speaking from experience, they’re all bad!]. The downhill to the finish I just loved: maybe it was the sugar, maybe the knowledge that this is the last bit, maybe the downhill itself, I don’t know, but it was great, and I even managed to overtake some runners. The path in the forest was quite tricky (steep with roots and some turns) and poor Rob fell and bruised his shoulder there. After the forest, I got lost L. First, I followed the road a tad too long and had to run back again, and then we (a runner I had overtaken at the downhill) got distracted by cheering coming from another direction and we mistakenly left the correct path to follow the noise. After crossing a golf course, it turned out that the noise came from a football match. Consulting the map and some spectators, I finally found a track that would bring us to the finish. Without this little detour I would have finished exactly at my predicted finish time of 5h, but this didn’t affect how happy and glad I was.
I enjoyed the whole day and I cannot recommend this race high enough (especially for the Harrier Ladies! [RW comment: Surely a thrown gauntlet to the male fraternity]), it is good fun, quite a challenge but a nice race! Rob and I did figure out though, that a recce of some parts of the route might be useful 🙂
Rob 4:14:30 (PB!!!!)