Jury’s out as to whether this is a good thing or not but needs must. And I need a job. Time will tell how its going to pan out but so far its not been a resounding success. However, I now don’t trust “time” anymore. I remember at one time Edinburgh being a pleasant place to be and as a running environment certainly not the people and traffic pollution nightmare that I am currently experiencing. Has the city got exponentially busier in the last 8 years or has time played his old trick on me of fading memories? There once was a time (there you go again) when there were hoardes of brown vests on the meadows and in Cloisters on a summer evening, a time when you knew EVERYONE, and the last train back from the Black Rock race contained more Trotters that just me, Ian Campbell and, inevitably, YP. And I was clearly so boring that even YP fell asleep. Changed times. Did I really think I could go back in time? Fool that I am.
Have you noticed when you are about experience or do something momentous or life changing everything takes on a certain significance even in hindsight, that last meal, that last conversation, that last look backwards over your shoulder. Something that would have ordinarily meant nothing suddenly seems to have taken on some sort of meaning. I ran the Stuc a Chroin race at the weekend, nothing special in that you say. Well true enough, its just another hill race (although a brute of one). It also marked the start of my move back to Edinburgh after quite a few years in Aberdeen. I always intended to come back to Edinburgh but somehow over time that urge became less and in Aberdeen I created a life for myself, and one that I am missing. The last orienteering competition , the last Krunce race, all of them more significant events than being simply the monthly krunce or the weekly forest sprint orienteering. Those final few trips to Aberdeenshire hills did involve me staring wistfully and tearfully into the distance wondering if I was making a mistake.
I also don’t have a computer at the Edinburgh flat (or a kettle, tv, toaster or ironing board etc but that’s a whole different story) so hence the delayed blog. You can expect my Transylvania blog post round about September at this rate.
Stuc a Chroin is also the race that marked the start of my hill running life. At the age of 18 I was in first year at university and hating every minute of it, and then I found the subset of the Dundee Hawkhill Harriers who, led by Charlie Love, went hill running. It was a revelation. Until then running had been something that was done in the confines of a track with fat coaches in tracksuits with lots of badges sown on to the tracksuit shouting at you. And boy, could they shout. Hill running became my escape from everything and has remained so until this day.
I went running with Charlie and the Hawkhill Harriers every Sunday morning to places like Glen Clova, Tullybaccart and the Lomond Hills and then decided in one spring month to attempt Normans Law, a small hill race in Fife, Clachnaben in Aberdeenshire and then Stuc a Chroin as my introduction to hill racing. I can’t remember too much about Normans Law or Clachnaben except that Clachnaben was over a slightly longer route than it is now and that you had to climb Mount Shade twice and that I didn’t like running through the heather much. I also remember Steve Pryor of Cosmic Hillbashers fame marshalling the race and giving me a cup of coffee at one of the checkpoints. Clearly I wasn’t in the lead or anything at that point.
Stuc a Chroin, however, is now firmly fixed in my memory. That was one long day out. I believe it was a British Championship race that year meaning that in theory there should have been loads of other runners out on the course to follow in the thick mist. There wasn’t. That or I was too slow to keep up and they all vanished into the mist ahead of me. Anyway the upshot of this was that I was lost on the hill and had absolutely no idea where I was. After what seemed an age of hunting around the hillside I found a flag and then another and followed the flags to the group of marshalls. Amazingly they let me continue, this being the days before such things as timing cut offs, kit checks and "Elf and Safety" in general and so I plodded on up the hill and on to complete the race in a very slow time and most definitely in last place. I was rewarded for my efforts with a bottle of whisky at the now sadly defunct post race celidh. The Hawkhill harriers stayed at the Munro hotel which was famous for it’s a) relaxed bar closing times and b) bottles of dog flea shampoo lying by the bath.
So this year has been the first year since then (23 years ago) that I have attempted this springtime triple. It was in a different order this time with Clachnaben being the first of the three. Again Stuc a Chroin was the most memorable and, again, I'm not sure it was for the right reasons. As the rest of the country bathed in glorious spring sunshine, the raindrops splattered on my car windscreen as I drove into Callandar. The rain had stopped by the time I reached Strathyre only to have been replaced by thick mist. Oh joy.
I registered, had my kit checked and then went and had a scone from the little café near the car park, after all I was clearly going to need all the help I could get. It was a surprisingly large group of runners who lined up on the start line of this new Stuc a Chroin course, the start and finish point having changed since the early days. The steady climb on the track wasn’t too bad but then we hit the rough ground. And then it was bad from pretty much then onwards. The amount of snow that had fallen over the winter time had all melted turning the course into one deep boggy mess. I slipped and slithered my way down to the bottom of Glen Ample under the buzz of the drone that I supposed was to be shooting stunning race film footage. In the mist. Good luck with that one.
|The climb from Glen Ample (C Scottish Hill Runners Website)|
|The ridge on a clear day. So thats what it looks like (C Scottish Hill Runners website)|
|A wee bit of a scramble (C Scottish Hill Runners website)|
|The infamous "on all fours" climb (C Scottish Hill Runners Website)|
|And thats what it looked like on race day...|
|I should use rain-x on the lens!|
I found the next section a bit of an ordeal though, falling and sliding through the bogs and rivers while trying to follow something that could be loosely termed a path until reaching the track again. Amazingly I actually managed to over take 3 people on the track to the finish but in hindsight I’m not sure if they were fellow competitors finishing the race or if they had DNF’d and were just trying to make their way back.
I managed to finish the race just as the prize giving had started which is always a good way to make an entrance. It was also a definite improvement on the first time I did this race when I arrived back at the finish long after the prize giving had finished. The prizes appeared to be bottles of whisky which is such a good race prize. I did find out though that the race organiser had brought forward some of the checkpoint cut off times due to “deteriorating conditions” so ordinarily maybe there would have been one or two more runners behind me in the race.
|Stuc a Chroin "tan line"|
I have to say that although this type of terrain is not really my forte the length and difficulty of the race was just what I needed to be able to switch my brain off entirely to all of the other stresses in my life. It’s a bit hard to think about anything else or worry about anything else when doing this race….exactly the same as I found all those years ago running it for the first time as a student. It doesn’t matter how often you run the race it always offers escape from work rubbish and all of the other general rubbish life throws at you. Whether running it for the first time or the last time (I always finish Stuc a Chroin swearing that it will be the last time I ever do it) makes no difference to that, it will always be an escape.