Sunday, 13 May 2012

Lochaber Dinghy 3 peaks race

This year the Lochaber dinghy 3 peaks race didn’t feature dinghies. Or 3 peaks for that matter. However, what it did feature was the good old Lochaber weather.

Lochaber weather in May

As I drove west on race morning the darkening storm clouds and trees bending in the wind did not bode well for the race and by the time I had reached Fort William the rain was battering down and the little white frothy waves dancing across Loch Linnhe made the prospect of bouncing around in a little sailing dinghy somewhat unattractive, if not downright scary. So it was not without some apprehension that I wandered into the race registration at the Lochaber yacht club.

Getting out of the car really wasn't that appealing....

 The concept of the race is for team of sailors and runners to compete over three mountain running stages interspersed with sailing in dinghies to reach the start point of each mountain stage with the race starting and finishing at the Lochaber yacht club. This isn’t actually a new race, it used to be held back in the early 1990s but has been absent from the hill racing calendar since then and so I was keen to have a go at it, especially as unlike other races with “3 peaks” and “sailing” involved this wasn’t going to take 3 or 4 days to complete and 3 or 4 weeks to recover from as the running was only going to be approximately 10k in total.

The (fair weather) race route

Given the rough weather and the general ineptitude at sea of runners the sailing part of the race was cancelled and a hasty bit of reorganisation on the part of the race director Jon Gay lead to a new improvised hill race over about 7 miles and featuring 2 peaks being presented to the competitors and this was christened “Plan C”. And so “Plan C” saw a much depleted field of 7 runners standing in the wind and rain outside Lochaber yacht club at the appointed time, ready to race.

Ian and Al enjoying the conditions....

The first part of the race was straight out along the main road and straight into the driving wind and rain. Luckily for me the faster runners seemed to be unable to muster any real enthusiasm for running fast so I was able to tuck in at the back of the group and take some shelter. The first climb was a case of stumbling over tree trunks, trying not slide around in the mud and criss- crossing the little burn running down the hillside. Not the easiest running terrain but fortunately the trees and bushes gave some protection from the wind and rain. Then it was out onto the exposed hill top and a bit of heather bashing until reaching the trig point at the summit before starting to follow the grassy track down the hill. I imagine it would be a pleasant fast route in dry weather but the rain had mad it quite waterlogged and slidey.
The summit of the second peak, Cow Hill, was reached by running up the wide stoney landrover track to the top where a rescue landrover stood awaiting the runners arrival and to direct the runners back down. Jon had even managed to persuade his mum and dad to stand on the hill as marshals – I can’t say they looked entirely delighted about this. As I climbed up I saw the other runners on their way back down. Davy Rodgers of Lochaber was in the lead and was looking determined, Al Anthony and Ian Wellock were running together and were looking like they wished they could be somewhere else. A range of bedraggled individuals followed on behind.
On reaching the summit the course took you back down the same direction but this meant turning into the driving wind and all of a sudden I started to feel cold, very cold. The actual air temperature wasn’t too bad but the wind and driving rain coupled with clothes that were wet through started to make it unpleasant enough for me to wonder if I should have asked what a “Plan D” might have entailed…

descending Cow Hill

 I warmed up a bit as I trotted through the streets of Fort William, down on to the beach and along to the stream crossing. With the heavy rain the stream had swelled and seemed to be running worringly fast and deep. They may have removed the sailing sections of the race but it did appear that they were still giving us ample opportunity to be drowned. I dipped my toe in the water, changed my mind and about turned in the direction of the bridge. How heroic.

Warm showers, an open fire and lots of great food were laid on for the race finishers at the yacht club. The skipper of the boat I would have been sailing with, Amanda, did a fine job of providing the food and other sailors who were denied the opportunity to compete stood out in the freezing conditions to marshal at turning points in the race and managed to keep smiling although they must have been wet through.
Although it took quite a while for my hands to thaw out and stop hurting I think I can say I enjoyed the race but what I really did love was its friendly, low key, no fuss atmosphere and the way that the runners just got on with racing whatever course they were given on the day. Needless to say that there was much amusement at the prize giving when the race prizes turned out to be sun hats and sun glasses!

Davy Rodgers was the winner

 Hopefully next year the weather will be a little kinder and so this great little race will have a chance to re-establish itself in the hill racing calendar.

Cow Hill
* Thanks to Jon Gay for some of the above photographs