I happened to notice this race on the SHR website and in a moment of madness signed up.
Then I looked at what it might entail and the equipment list (snow spikes, bivvy bag, mobile phone, headtorch, etc.). Er headtorch? A week before the race I still hadn’t got hold of any spikes for running shoes and hurriedly bought some online. Not knowing what I would really need and confident that I could run in snow with just hill shoes, I just got some cheap ones (the snazzy Norwegian lightweight ones were over £40!). Apparently compulsory equipment also included a red tail light, so I nabbed the one off my bike and taped it to the back of my rucsac.
Apparently, this race was dreamed up by a Spanish lady Encarna who had helped with the snow running event in the Sierra Nevada which had started off with 50 runners and now has 900! She came to Scotland and decided to try one out at Glenshee. We and the Scottish snow conditions were guinea pigs then.
So at 13:30 on Saturday I started the 2-hour drive up to the Glenshee Ski Centre. The weather forecast was good with little wind and clear tops and the snow cover looked quite good. It felt a bit weird preparing for a race with all the skiers now coming off the hill and going home. I wasn’t that convinced about the pull-on mini-crampons, but the organiser said that there were icy patches and the spikes would be safer. I still wasn’t convinced after clattering around the carpark, but found some soft snow and they seemed to work OK.
We had a race briefing at 5pm and as the daylight was beginning to fade, we were off up a gentle slope on one of the ‘sunny side’ pistes, east of the road. None of us really knew how to pace this slightly weird race and the start was nice and steady. It soon sped up as we warmed up and got used to the spikes. I had seen Alan Smith on the start list and was keen to keep up with him as far as possible. I had beaten him a couple of times and he had beaten me, and as it turned out, we ran most of the race together and had a great battle.
The ‘long’ course was about 12km and was made up of two loops, the first on the east side and the second on the west side taking in Carn Aosda and most of the way up The Cairnwell. The spikes were working well and gave some extra traction on the steep bits. The real test would be on the first downhill and on the flank of Glas Maol we turned left and started to pound back down the hill. Being a piste and with the air temperature now below freezing, the snow surface was excellent and the descent was very rapid and quite exhilarating.
Alan was obviously pretty fit and it was quite hard keeping up with him. However, he had opted to run with just hill shoes and it seemed that I had the edge on the descents with the spikes. First loop done and we clattered across the road, past the bottom of the chairlift and upwards towards the Carn Aosda ski run. But what’s this? It had suddenly started to snow – ha – a snow-making machine! This was now quite a slog up a steep incline with very little running. But I was feeling good at this point and began to get ahead of Alan. At the top of the Munro I was about 20 seconds ahead.
I could see The Cairnwell to the south in the gloom, but at least I could still see it and didn’t need the compass (or the headtorch yet). Now to choose the best route across below Butchart’s Coire. I vaguely followed the race route, but tried to contour round a small valley rather than down and up. Another hard slog up to the top of the Cairnwell chairlift, around a wee hut and then back down towards the top of the Cairnwell ski tow and the last descent.
It was now getting quite dark and I switched my headtorch on. Wow, interesting, I could see other runners’ lights flickering on various parts of the hill, but my main focus was the last marshall at the top of the tow. I was expecting Alan and the first lady to be right behind me, but I still had a good 50m gap.
Top of the tow and a right turn and plunge down towards the finish. I now couldn’t see much of the snow surface even with the headtorch, but I assumed that it would be reasonably smooth and compact like the others. Conscious of runners behind, I just had to go for it. I don’t think I have ever run down a hill so fast, and it was a mixture of exhilaration and mild terror. Fortunately I could just about make out the lumpy bits and the softer snow and made it to the bottom in one piece. Then a right turn and a tired clatter past the huts to the finish.
Alan wasn’t far behind and we shared our experience, both of us agreeing that it was something different!. It will be interesting if he shows up next year with spikes!
Although the run was hard work and quite painful, I haven’t had so much fun on a ‘hill run’ in ages. I thoroughly recommend it and although the concept sounds scary, 95% of the running is on well-prepared pistes, and even if you did fall over, you wouldn’t hurt yourself. Well done to the organisers and thanks to the marshalls, tail-runner, first-aiders and mountain rescue (and sponsors). Quite chuffed with 1st M60 and 6th overall, not to mention the muckle wooden trophy and the bottle of Dewars Aberfeldy whisky!
Snow Running – Glenshee
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