|The race route|
As it happens the Ben Rinnes hill race turns out to show quite a neat elevation profile, hours of endless entertainment to be had from studying it along with the pace chart (I’ve no idea what happened at the 2hr 5min mark?!). This was so far only my third hill race this year other than the epic Yorkshire 3 peaks race and the very wet Lochaber 3 peaks race and for a change this race was neither 3 peaks in name or in nature. It was actually 5 peaks.
Starting and finishing on the games field of Dufftown highland games the runners are set off on their lap of the grass track before the games are officially opened and so complete this lap of the field in front of a handful of spectators and to muted applause. The announcer, desperately trying to drum up some enthusiasm amongst the spectators who were clearly there for far more exciting entertainment than watching a handful of skinny folk jog off into the distance for hours, suggested that the spectators should “applaud loudly these hardy athletes”. At that point I suspected that I was in the wrong race. However it was a mild and, for the most part, sunny day with little wind, perfect conditions really especially with regard to navigation and route finding which is always a concern in these events.
|Dufftown Highland games with Little Convil hill in the background|
After leaving the games field the race route follows some nice stony tracks around the edge of the golf course and we were soon out on to the open hillside, climbing all the time. The course is an “out and back” climbing over Little Convil (1794ft) and Meikle Convil (1873ft) and finally Ben Rinnes at 2755ft. At the top of Ben Rinnes you stop, turn round and run back exactly the way you came which gives a total of 5 hills in 14 miles with just over 5000ft of climb (and of course descent). I was a little concerned at the speed the race field set off at but as is usual in these events everyone settled down into the race during the first mile.
|The Fifie Wifies|
I had overtaken Fabienne from Carnegie and Joanne from Carnethy quite early on in the race fully expecting to be overtaken by them on one of the descents. I managed to get over the first two hills comfortably enough and it was good runnable terrain but I was aware of losing time on the descent leading to the road crossing and the drinks station positioned there which was where Joanne caught me. I took on board quite a lot of fluid before starting the ascent of Ben Rinnes but was unable to catch Joanne up again as she was climbing very strongly so I maintained a steady plod up the hill and saw the race leaders fly back down the track past me, in the women’s race Jacqui Higginbottom was in second place at that point behind a runner from Cosmics who I didn’t recognise and nor did I recognise the leader of the men’s race.
|Meikle Convil Hill|
On reaching the summit there is a wee scramble over some rocks before reaching the checkpoint and starting the descent, the bit I was dreading. Not being the best at descending I lost 2 places but got back down to the checkpoint at the road without incident having gasped “well done” at those I passed who were on their way up the hill including Elaine Stewart from Cosmics and the Fifie Wifies, Sarah and Hilary and who I was sure were going to close the gap on me on the descent. This motivated me to run hard up the next climb and I was happy to maintain what felt like a decent pace to the top of the last hill, even managing to overtake a few folk although unfortunately not the two women who had got away from me on the descent of Ben Rinnes. By now I was nervously watching the time ticking away and I started to get a little concerned that my target 3 hour time was going to slip away – time to speed it up a bit! Fortunately the last descent was very runnable including the farm tracks and even more fortunately the route was well marked as there is no way I would have remembered the route back along those twisting turning paths and by now the field was very spread out and I was running alone. By the time I reached the road I was going flat out - or as flat out as it is possible to go with nearly 3hrs of running in your legs and was very aware that I was going to be paying for my efforts tomorrow and probably for a few days after with very painful muscles.
Reaching the games field was a bit of a shock after the quiet of the hills as the place was packed with spectators, a complete difference from setting off early that day although I suspect the cheers were actually for the tug of war that was taking place as I ran into the field rather than for me but the nice thing about races at highland games is always the buzz and the atmosphere and the noise of the pipes although the smell of the burger vans can be a little distracting when you are racing and breakfast seems like a very long time ago. Fortunately this year the event organiser appeared to have managed to co- ordinate the event so that the pipe bands weren’t marching round the track as the runners came in as was the case last year…. I pressed stop on the Garmin as I crossed the finish line and seemed to have scraped inside the 3hr time but I quickly checked with the time keeper just in case…
|Dufftown is in the heart of Speyside whisky country|
Simon had met up with friends Bom and Maggie who had a German family staying so there was added interest in the “international race” which was put on for visitors to the games from out with the UK. And then it was time to relax, watch the other events, try to win whisky in the tombola (Simon won 2 bottles) and, most importantly, investigate the contents of the aforementioned burger van.
|The international race|
|The rain kept off. Mostly.|