The forecasts leading up to race day were not great and the race organiser posted a low-level route on the Friday in case of thunderstorms. This was very disappointing as the last time I did this race was in 2016 when we ran a 15-mile low level route in 100mph winds and climbing just one Munro! Thankfully when we arrived on Saturday morning, the thunderstorm risk had subsided and we were just left with a cool south easterly with mist and drizzle. The full course, wahay!
Due to Covid, we were sent off in three waves at 10:00, 10:30 and 11:00. For some reason I had chosen the last group with the faster runners – ha ha! Some relief that Michelle was in the same group (although she held the F50 course record). At registration, we were issued with ‘divvers’ for the checkpoints – at the end of the race, they were handed back in and you were issued with a wee printout of all the splits and finish time and placing.
The only good thing about the Glenshee 9 is that once you are up the first Munro, the next five do not involve too much climbing. In fact, the ‘only’ beast of a climb in the whole race is up the steep east side of Carn Aosda (Munro 7).
Although there are paths between Creag Leacach and Glas Maol, a lot of it involves tricky, sharp, jagged rocks and requires lots of concentration. Glas Maol to Cairn of Claise was quite fast running, mostly on ATV tracks and with very little descent and ascent. It was still very misty at this point with visibility down to about 50m, but the tracks made navigation easier. A few runners attempted to run a more direct route, but ended up slower ‘off track’.
Three down, six to go! That was quick! The Cairn of Claise to Tom Buidhe leg now appeared quite daunting as there were no obvious tracks at first. However, I set the compass to 094 and headed off with a couple of other runners. Surprisingly, the running was still pretty easy and mostly gently downhill with not too much heather or bog. After a while, we picked up some tracks and the mist started to lift. 100m to our right, several runners appeared – I was sure that they had been in front of us! And then the bulk of Tom Buidhe appeared ahead and we could see the front runners on the descent and on the way to the next hill. Munro number 4.
A short descent across a burn and ascent to Tolmount (11 minutes apparently) and we were atop Munro number 5. Now quite a long leg across to Carn an Tuirc. It was quite interesting matching up the landscape with the map but we were heading vaguely WNW towards a bealach to the north of Cairn of Claise (I had studied Steve Fallon’s brilliant description of the route). Hard ‘running’ this time with soggy bogs, heather and no paths – a bit of a slog. We had caught up some of the slower runners in the front groups and it was a delight to run alongside and blether to (and overtake) a variety of people. I had remembered a few of the club strips earlier and was amazed at the number of times I met them again later on.
It was a relief to see Carn an Tuirc roll into view and it was a short and firmer climb to its top. Wow, the views were opening up and we could now see a vast expanse of Cairgorm hill tops and then the A93 snaking through the valley to the west (drat, no camera). And of course, the dreaded three Munros still to do!
The descent down to the checkpoint at the road was very enjoyable as the legs were still functioning at this point. But what was this, I mean who was this this? Angela Mudge? Oh dear, she must be injured (she had to withdraw from the race). Lots of support and cheering at the road crossing – we needed it for the ensuing climb.
I can vividly remember this climb from the 2016 race. Back then, with a shorter course I had been running a lot quicker and was pretty knackered, and compounded with 100mph winds at the top, it was horrendous! Not so tired and not so windy this time but still a very slow and painful steep slog. A bit like the last hill of the Two Breweries but longer! After a very long time, the summit cairn of Carn Aosda appeared and I thankfully beeped my divver.
Oh shoot, the relief was short-lived as we could now see the next hill – apparently ‘only’ 2.7 miles away, it looked about 10! Oh well, dig in. Although it was downhill past the tops of several ski-tows, the rough, stony track made progress slow and painful. Once abreast of The Cairnwell it got a bit easier but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to actually run up any sort of incline. Fortunately, everybody else was having the same problem, which made it a bit easier to handle. What a slog, Carn a’ Gheiodh was taking an awful long time to get any closer. At least the runners coming back down looked as though they were actually running and mostly in control.
A shortish steep climb to the summit – Munro number 8! It took several minutes coming back down, but eventually I coaxed my legs into some sort of jogging and retraced back down to the two lochans. Aha, there was Michelle on her way up and on course for 1st F50.
The end was now almost in sight, but first the last slow climb up The Cairnwell. The sun had by now come out and it was getting quite warm. Phew, Munro number 9! I would like to say that I ‘ran’ down to the finish at the Ski Centre, but it was more of a hobble and a slide (less than half a mile down the steep slope took me 8 minutes). Under the Finish Arch and a welcome cheer and divver beep.
After walking around slightly deliriously for a couple of minutes stupidly grinning at people, I handed in my divver and collected my soup token. The SportIdent printout said 1st M60 – that can’t be right. I then joined the soup queue but got fed up waiting on sore legs and went to change my shoes and socks. The soup token actually got you soup, bread, tea, juice, cake, which I managed to eat most of. I obviously didn’t try hard enough (or it wasn’t too hot) as normally after such a gruelling run I am not able to eat anything for a while. The other advantage of it being quite cool is that I didn’t get cramp at all! (or good-quality carbo-drink in my camelback).
No, 1st M60 was correct and I collected my bottle of wine – a nice bonus. (Interestingly, if it had been 3 months ago, I would have been 13th M50!)
So, chuffed to bits at having survived what is quite an epic hill run, I should now persuade others to do it next time! I am pretty sure Des, Rob and Stuart (and probably several others) could survive it. The route involves lots of different terrain types with plenty of runnable sections (only 5580 feet ascent due to starting from the Ski Centre). I reckon on average it would be about 50 minutes longer than the Two Breweries.
Many thanks to the Organiser Ali Hubbard and his team and the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team (not to mention the soup people).
Duncan Ball, Penicuik Harriers, 8th Aug. 2021.