I’d forgotten how hard Scottish hill running is. My last outing had been the Ben Nevis race last September; memories of the anguish of the grassy bank, the relentless of the slope, the desperate tiredness of the road, had ebbed away. It took a wander over the Loch Lochy Munros to remind me how brutal running up and down mountains north of the border can be. They made the Lake District hills I had scampered over the previous weekend seem like mere molehills.
Two hours before Loch Lochy I was sitting in the Little Chef in Spean Bridge eating a full cooked breakfast. I needed the calories. Starting beneath the impressive Eas Chia-aig waterfall, 44 of us churned along forestry tracks, then an undulating track, before being spat out onto open moorland.
The ground here was sodden and boggy, and the path intermittent, making the going slow and strenuous all the way to the first checkpoint. From Fedden, a ruined building, the track turned to the east, beginning a tortuous grind up the grassy flanks of the first Munro, Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh. Runners were strung out in front and behind, crouched figures, hauling ourselves up a steepening slope. My calf muscles screamed; I longed for the end. A summit followed a false summit.
A pall of mist obscured the mountain as I reached the top, hiding from view the vision of Loch Lochy and, more worryingly, the runners immediately ahead. For a few moments, I was baffled: Where do I go now? Worse still: Am I going to have to navigate? My saviours were a pair of Lochaber runners who surged past me. I followed, trusting their local knowledge. The descent was more straightforward than most – predominately grassy and a not too appalling gradient, yet my legs were unconditioned to such a sudden altitude drop. Life in south London simply can’t prepare you for such descents.
I was soon climbing again, relentlessly again, to the second Munro, Meall na Teanga. A further down and up took me over the Munro’s top and the penultimate checkpoint. A Lochaber runner and I plunged downhill to the glen, contouring a slope which made my already aching ankle (caused by chronically overused Inov8s) to throb further.
Back in the glen I was in more runnable territory and mustering scraps of energy I sought to gain time I had inevitably lost in the final descent. I gained a single place, rather cruelly in the last 100 metres. He was an over-50 too, so the moral victory was surely his. Still, on the run-in, I had time to reflect: Slopping through bog; a wrecked ankle; flailing down slippery, tussocky descents; long, painful ascents, it was, nevertheless, a joy and a privilege to be racing in the Scottish mountains again.
Full results here on the Scottish Hill Racing website.