The 4 horsemen of the glosspocolypse headed to Arrochar, just north of Glasgow for this delightful little race which is 277,777 battered Mars bars long and has 20869 cans of irn bru of ascent
Here's a bullet point list of quotes and things we learned.
1. Findlay Wild does not look like that.
3. Scottish tussocks are easier to run on.
7. Thunder travels at the speed of sound.
8. Everywhere in Scotland has a castle. Even caravan sites.
10. Midges are lovely around these parts. Less like being bitten, and more like having a massage.
14. Just because you live in Scotland doesnt make you any better at going up hills. (according to Angela mudge)
16. Weird moaning cows
17. Carnivorous plants
18. Frogs everywhere
19. Jamie nearly got struck by lightning
20. We can't count.
"next time you have a 'good idea' at the Christmas do, make sure I'm on the other side of the room".
It seems that Glossopdale Christmas parties are the place where running, alcohol and "good ideas" come to meet. Daz ended up doing 365 ascents of Cockhill in a year after one such occasion. This time around it seemed that it would be a good idea to do a decently long fell race in Scotland in honour of our late Chairman, John Hewitt.
The Arrochar Alps. Just north of Glasgow. 27km of course, 2400m of ascent. 4 munros. An average of 30 people enter every year- so generally not a great course to do if your nav is not up to snuff. Imagine our disappointment when we found out it was a Scottish Champs race this year! 170 people signed up for it on SI entries- I believe that about 130 eventually turned up to run it. However, the "large" number of entries in no way detracted from the event: it was wall to wall type 2 fun.
Having been watching the weather with interest and trepidation for the last few weeks, the day dawned cool, soon to be humid, with vast tracts of rain forecast. The rest of the UK might be basking in record temperatures, but we were in for some precipitation, and no mistake. The (very midgey) pre-race briefing went along the lines of:
"there are thunderstorms forecast. The marshals are on top of the hills and have been told to get off the tops when they deem it unsafe to be there. Mountain Rescue have said we should be ok, however, if it starts with the lightning, it is up to you to do what you want... personally I would get off the hill, especially as the marshals probably won't be up there anymore. Whatever happens, make sure you tell someone at race HQ that you're off the hill".
So with my race number pinned to my shorts, killing as many midges as possible (and Andy saying... oooh, these midges are really nice. It's less like being bitten and more like being massaged), we set off with a massed crowd of runners.
|Being massaged by midges|
A lovely 5km bimble along an undulating path followed, with us getting warmer and warmer as the humidity took over. Matt thought we passed Finlay Wild along there. We definitely did not.
|Path to the dam|
We were longing for the climb to get out of the stifling valley.
Not to worry, it was soon upon us.
|Current state of the initial climb|
Along the track, from single to double and then a right hook up a steep, rocky path into the mist. Finally! A breeze came in from the north and we began to cool as we climbed. A number of runners took a different, steeper grassy line to the left. We stuck to the path having seen that the winner last year seemed to do that on his route- and we were rewarded at the top by coming out marginally ahead of a couple of runners we were with at the bottom. Much of a muchness then.
|Still on the initial climb. After sending an SOS...|
Taking out my phone for some photos, I managed to inadvertently send an SOS message to Lynne. Well- the climb was big, but it wasn't THAT bad. So I hurriedly send badly spelled text messages to her saying to ignore that, I'm just taking photos, while still climbing as hard as possible. It was surprising that there were so many people who were suffering on that first climb. In my head, all scottish runners eat hills like this for breakfast. Apparently not.
Up into the clag, and Matt went past me as my legs started to complain about going from sealevel to the top of a munro in one go, and it was all I could do to hold onto his coat tails. Through the murk we saw the front runners come back to somewhere around the 854 contour to drop to the dam... didn't see anyone actually take any trod though, so it was going to have to be guess work. 20metres of vis hampered our ability to find the top slightly, but we got there, touched the cairn and came back to the marshals in the tent who had no trouble at all seeing my number attached to my shorts, and we made our way back along the top in the clag to somewhere around the place that we might want to go down the hill.
|Yay! descent lines!|
So we did. Down and down until eventually we came out of the cloud to see the dam slap bang in front of us. Bingo!
|Look! it's a dam!|
Down to the dam at 230m, over a gate, along the dam and, whaddaya know- we've got another munro to head up.
Slowly bust surely we tracked down the Shettlestone harrier, and followed a trail of people to the top. A Carnethy lass outclimbed us easily. No, it wasn't Jasmin. It was Angela Mudge. (who else?!)
This climb was amazingly steep, up grass and bog. Hands and feet stuff- and at times I was wondering if I was getting elbow tendinitis from pushing on my knees so much. Once more we ascended into the clouds, munching on haribo, trying not to think about cramp. Towards the top it cleared and the views across the hills was astonishing. Looking at the line on strava it would seem that we took a somewhat sub-optimal route, but to be honest, the fact we got to the top was a triumph at that point.
|Marshals at the top|
|... doesn't really do the view justice|
The marshals took our numbers and off we went, down the hill. I was a little confused about where we were going next as there didn't appear to be anyone on the hill in front of me, and it took a bit of brain power and compass work to figure that I was looking at the wrong hill- and it fact I should be looking more to the left... ah - THAT hill.
An easy run off got us to the bottom and then another gruelling thrutch up to the top of our 3rd munro of the day.
Grassy bog. Slippy underfoot. Frogs. Carnivorous plants. Climbs so steep your nose is touching the ground as you're standing upright. Yes, this is Scotland.
|Nose to floor climbs|
As we approached the top, far away we could hear a faint, deep grumble... big jet? Thunder? Yes... thunder- but still a long way away- we were reassured by the marshals, who looked at the numbers on our shorts, marked us on their records and cheerfully sent us on our way.
Oh, great, that's ok then.... Where is the next top- aha- over there in the mist. Make sure you don't end up on the Cobbler- an easy mistake to make.
Matt and I plunged down the hill on gradually fatiguing legs in approximately the right direction, into the col, through a gate and then up the hill to the final Munro of the day. Towards the top there was a small amount of scrambling before the plateau, where we found our last marshals of the day.... and heard a slightly more significant peal of thunder whilst looking at some particularly freaky waveform clouds....
Mutual agreement. Let's get off this damn hill!
|Have you seen those clouds? What the heck are they? BOOOOOOM. Let's get off this hill.|
A run down to the next level, and it became apparent just how our perspective had changed through the day. We knew we were looking for a path, but considering the crazy steepness of the route so far, we found ourselves looking down an almost sheer cliff thinking "yeah- that looks like a sensible line"- when out of the mist to the right there was a REALLY obvious path that was no-where near the ridiculous line we were vaguely ready to throw ourselves down... AHA! it's over there.
Down a slightly less ridiculous path, to the next col where we had the choice... follow the path, or take a totally non marked descent that might or might not work.
We were definitely tired and took the boring option of the path. In hindsight, we should have taken the other line, but also in hindsight, I can see that we were both pretty done in and wanted an unmistakable line off the hill.
The path is horrible.
That's all you really need to know.
Down at the bottom I nearly snapped my knee backwards as every muscle in my right leg rebelled and cramped, which resulted in a few choice words, but we hit to final track and were in the last half mile when the rain turned into a truly torrential downpour. Ridiculous amounts of rain cascaded from the sky as thunder and lightning played across the area. (Andy and Jamie were still on top at this point- the rain was apparently hail up there- and Jamie was encouraged off the hill by seeing lightning strike on the hill *below* him).
Matt and I ran into the finish- which was about as low key as you can get. A bloke with a clipboard, in a mosquito net. Awesome. That just about sums up the entire race- epic, but low key.
|Post race irn bru. That's real nutrition.|
The scran at the end was excellent. Soup, tea, cakes (for a donation). Finlay Wild won the race in a scarcely creditable 3:07 (and was still 20 seconds outside the record)- we were about an hour slower, but I have no idea about our places.
Basically, this is a little like a Grassy Jura, but in reverse. A long flat 5k section followed by some monstrous ups and downs. As good as Jura is, I have so say I prefer the Arrochar Alps as a race. I hope to be back to to it again next year- maybe with a bit more training in my legs... a sub4 here would be a good day out.
Huge thanks to the organisers and the marshals. Total legends.