A race which by name alone sends shivers down fell runners spines I’d been told. I didn’t get it. It’s only 28km long, and the last 6km is on the road FFS. Sure it’s hilly, but really? What’s the fuss about? Then we went and reccied part of the route last September. It suddenly became quite obvious that this was not a normal 28 km running race. Not even slightly.
Our September reccy was in perfect weather, you really couldn’t have asked for better. We ran out the poor weather alternate, up onto the second pap to CP4, then along over and down the route. It quickly became obvious that it was a pretty damn meaty descent off any of the paps, not going to be a simple case of follow the leader if the weather came in. A proper mountain race. I was even more anxious to get to this race now. December came, I put an entry in, sorted out my qualifying races (or thought I had) then went about training early knowing that our newborn was en route and would get in the way of the last few weeks of preparation.
The route is simple enough. Gather at the Jura Distillery for sign on, or have a minor panic moment on finding out that you’re not quite on the start list, then sorting it out with some straightforward chatting with Graham the retiring race director. Again, thanks for letting me race. We get told we may have to divert at any time to the low weather course as there are some massive thunderstorms lurking and due to hit us. Everyone hopes we get to stay high for the day while praying for some rain, it’s sweltering down in Craighouse.
The route goes up a fire road before the trudge up the bog begins to the first Pip – or would be if we’d not had dry weather, if anything it was a pleasant romp along a moor. Not unlike home really.
Three Pips come and go before you descend to the base of the first Pap, where the race actually starts. 10km in an hour and 20 mins, not fast, but good going I think to myself, home for tea and medals soon I think, up we go. Up we go indeed. Up. Up. Up to what feels like the clouds. We then climb some more for good measure. The top of the first pap is stunning. Views across the next two and onto the last climb just about visible through the light rain that is coming in. Behind us Craighouse, to the right, the road back. Now this feels like an adventure.
The descent off Pap one, for me, was the hardest of the race. Too steep to go full speed, too lose to get much grip on the top sections, to early to want to let my legs soak up the knocks. I probably held back too much, but possibly the right amount for a rookie. Having reccied the second Pap I was happy with how much harder I could push and which lines to take on all the sections. I maybe went a bit too hard, but knew that I had a less technical descent, and some water on the other side of the hill. The top was much welcomed and I dropped off my token and got going on the now wet rock staring across to what I know is the descent that people fear the most. But I’d made my choice on my lines, backed up with a fall back from a much more experience racer. Little did I know that this was almost the perfect line for me.
The back side of the third Pap was the lee side to the wind. No movement. No rain. Still. Apart from the two chaps retching a few meters ahead of me. Bad water choice, one I’d looked at, and walked on buy. Poor guys. The ground was covered in horseflies and thankfully, the air temperature was keeping them there. At this point we were in the heat of a pre-storm bubble and waiting for it to burst. One more peak. Then one more climb. Then the road. Keep pushing. Follow the girl with the pinkest shorts in the world.
The top came and went with me joking with the marshals about the awesome road section ahead. Fuck yeah road running! I came off the top and spotted Marks line, right right right, scree run after scree run brought me away from the other runners but right down onto a grassy slope and turning 90 degrees left onto a super fast trod. 20 places gained in one decent. I lost two of them on the next climb. Down, across the swamp and up the other side. Final dib. Highfive the over enthusiastic MRT member. Then look at my watch – 18km done. So I’ve at least a 4km descent from here, and my legs are tired. Jog down the grass, walk run the swampy trod before popping out onto the road and actually running the last 5km with a tactical walk/pee break at 3km and another walk or cramp break near our parked up van.
Craighouse. Stop. Get in the sea. Hobble to get food. Realise I am screwed and my wife and 6 week old baby need to take care of me. What a bloody good race.