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NEXT EVENTS 27-28/04/13 - Run Balmoral 28/04/13 - Lighthouse 10K & 5K, Portmahomack
27/04/13 - Scrabster Hill Trail Run (~5 miles)
27-28/04/13 - Run Balmoral
28/04/13 - Lighthouse 10K & 5K, Portmahomack
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22/05/10 - Slioch Horseshoe
I have heard people say 'you must be mad' and seconds after virtually collapsing over the finish line after this one, I would tend to agree with them.
Kenny Paterson and I took the NHH flag down to Kinlochewe to take part in the Slioch Horseshoe organised by the Highland Hill Runners. It was a fine, muggy day with a very humid feel to the air. The top of the mountain (980m up) was enveloped in cloud which was just as well as the 'smaller' surrounding hills looked big enough.
Competitors are required to carry full body cover, whistle, compass and map for these events as part of the Scottish Hill Runners requirements so I donned the bumbag full of kit just to make the day even harder.
We converged on the start line to discuss tactics - finishing was my only goal for the day.
The race starts with a 3 mile trail run along the banks of Kinlochewe River to get you warmed up before hitting the bottom of the hill and going into vertical climbing from the start. It is a long hard slog up the side of the mountain and it seems never ending, stopping every so often to stretch out my burning calf muscles and to take on water and jelly babies.
Reaching the second checkpoint (Sgurr Dubh/730m) was a milestone but knowing we still had 250m to go left a somewhat dry taste in my mouth.
Onwards and upwards as they say and the closer to the summit we got the heavier the cloud became until checkpoint three was shrouded in cloud and the map and compass was required to take a quick baring and a run onto the summit of Slioch (980m).
It was quite rocky at the top, which is difficult to run on anyway but add to the mix minimum visibility then things were getting quite risky. This was even more so when the ridge between the summit and checkpoint four (Sgurr Tuill Bham/930m) was only two feet wide, with a very steep drop to your left and heavy boulders to your right, low visibility and trying to stay focused on the race made for some shaky moments especially when you trip and stumble a few times like me.
Coming directly off Sgurr Tuill Bham the descent began.
If the climb was gruelling then the descent was fast and relentless. It was so steep in parts it took all your effort just to stop yourself from losing 100% control.
They say to descend you must 'disengage your brain' and let yourself go but at some points of the descent I must admit I had to engage my brain just to stop myself from a heavy fall. In saying this the longer the descent went on my legs became more tired and I started making mistakes, getting my legs caught under me and was just wishing for checkpoint five to appear - one because that marked the end of the descent but two it was at a waterfall where I could take on gallons cold fresh mountain water to try and revive my now failing body.
The next section was approx 2 miles of trail running on a well used path. The soles of my feet were now beginning to get sore as the hill shoes I wore have no real cushioning in them.
A return to checkpoint one at the bridge and it was now only the same three miles along the bank I ran from the start about three hours ago to the finish.
This was the slowest most painful three miles I have ever ran, my body went into shut down and every step was now a real effort. Even the smallest of inclines looked and felt like mountains.
About quarter of a mile from the finish a familiar face appeared - Louise Nadin of HHR who ran at Beinn Ratha this year was shouting 'c'mon the Harriers', which sounded pretty good saying we've only been official for a few months.
Anyway, I finally 'sprinted' over the finish line and collapsed on the grass whilst everybody about me seemed to be having normal conversations as if nothing was wrong.
It took me several cups of water and lots of calorific homebakes to return myself to the real world and a chance to compare notes with Kenny.
After thanking Ross Bannerman and his team for such a good show - and suggesting that maybe they should think about introducing a fun run next year - I then had to drive all the way home and prepare for the next hill race.
Once home I remembered my post-race thought 'I must be mad', but on reflection am I? What other sport would give me the chance to see parts of this beautiful country you don't see looking out of a car window? When would I get the chance to run down a hill on the verge of loosing control as you did a child and didn't think twice about it? What else gives me the opportunity to restore some sanity you lose in everyday life and prepares you for the week ahead? On reflection it's the complete opposite - I would be mad not to!