A mere 25 runners lined up for the Cioch Mhor hill race, partly because the event clashed with two major running events in Scotland, partly because there were only 25 mad enough people in the north to tackle a tortuous nine-mile slog with a cumulative climb of a shade under 700 metres.
There’s no time to ease your way into this one. After a minute-long warm up on a farm track, the way rears up a seemingly endless slope to Cnoc a’Bhreacaich, before plunging downhill over grassy tussocks to Strath Sgitheach. By this time, the leader – a fellow Inverness Harrier – was a yellow dot on the horizon, gliding up a slope that I would soon be grinding up.
I hopped over a fence, waded across a small river, slopped through a bog, cursed as another runner overtook me, met yet more grass tussocks and leaped through heather. Every step was uphill. Cioch Mhor seemed a lifetime away. It could only get worse. Cioch Mhor’s slopes were impossibly steep, making my calves cry out for relief.
At the top, I remember seeing a dog – a Labrador I think – and managed to sneak a look at Ben Wyvis. I was too tired to think coherently. Which was just as well because now I had to throw myself downhill for 10 minutes. We followed the exact same route back: heather, tussocks, bog, river, fence, more cursing, tussocks, and – inexplicably – I felt almost human as I toiled up the last climb to the trig pillar on Cnoc a’Bhreacaich, where only a glorious downhill across farmer’s fields lay between me and the finish line.