Up the Lairig Ghru with chafed Ba’s and a cauld Boaby …..…..
I’ve been pretty quiet since the Helvellyn hill race , my groin strain has been giving me serious issues and I’ve had to take a few long enforced rests , this has done my head in, especially as I really need to be clocking up serious mileage for the Gobi Desert race at the end of July .. but I’m back out on the move again and I’ve managed to cram a fair bit of mileage into the last 2 weeks , I’ve let my groin lead the way ,some might say it always has !!! , but this time for a different reason, I’ve just listened and let it control the pace , so far so good .. so now it was time for a test !
This TEST was to be the famous Lairig Ghru hill race , described as “An ultra distance hill race between the police stations of Braemar and Aviemore, with 28 miles of spectacular scenery, run over an historic drove road rising to 2733 ft. between some of the highest peaks in Britain ,an awesome source of pleasure, pain and satisfaction. !!!” , that sounded amazing I thought and indeed it cuts straight through the Cairngorm plateau with Braeriach , Ben Macdui , Devils point and Cairn Toul all highlights of the journey , running through big country like that , this one wasn’t to be missed …..Kenny Short had told me about it originally after he ran it last year and with a tiny bit of persuasion had agreed to come with me … Excellent ! Bill and Ted off on another adventure ..
So on Saturday 25th of June we headed North to Braemar , I had booked us a room in the Youth hostel , picked up Kenny late afternoon and off we went .. Braemar or bust !!We arrived and checked ourselves in , it was nice , a beautiful old mansion set in large grounds and only a 10 minute walk from the starting line , perfect !! ..we were both hungry after the long drive and I couldn’t persuade Kenny to eat one of my emergency Pot Noodles , chicken and mushroom as well !! , just no accounting for taste .. , so we nipped out to the local pub to sort ourselves with something to eat , when we arrived it was heaving , hill walkers , runners , local nutters and even a large cat on the bar!! , the menu was good so we ordered up a couple of plates of Braemars finest and sat down , Kenny ordered his usual single pint of pre-race Guinness … during our meal we met a young lady from Glasgow called Rachel , she was running with two friends Brian and Carol and they had all ran the “Fling” a few weeks previous , good on them as the Fling is a 53 mile run from Milngavie up the West Highland Way to Tyndrum , nice running ..We all got together and made a night of it , although I stayed clear of the Alcohol but they certainly didn’t , in fact they were all looking pretty bleary eyed when I left them ,a crazy crew !! I kind of wondered if they would make the starting line ..
Kenny and I were up early and ate our staple breakfast of oats and fruit , got to fuel up early to avoid and indigestion , I brewed my usual super strong coffee and we headed up to get into our race kit , I was deliberating what to wear as it was looking pretty grim outside ,I wondered whether to go with 3/4 leggings or halfs under my new vent shorts , Kenny was laughing telling me to go for the minimal Vent short only , like a true old skool hill runner , I thought about it , it felt good to be honest , like running naked , so I thought I would give it a go , minimal Mark , balls bouncing up the Lairig Ghru !! We headed to my car,dumped our excess kit and jogged down to the Braemar Police station which was the traditional starting line …
The place was jumping , there were nearly 150 runners , apparently the usual turn out is about 80 , they were putting it down to a new online entry and bus transfer , whatever the reason it was fantastic to see so many hill runners out to race in this classic mountain ultramarathon.It was raining hard and it was very muggy , I wished it was sunny but were stood in the Highlands , at least there was no midges .. We all lined up ready to go , there was a short speech by the organiser stood on top of his Land rover , made me think of Patrick Bauer stood atop his, giving all the Marathon Des Sable runners his morning speech , then BANG we were off , the first section was fast , country roads to Mar Lodge where it cuts off and onto to a trail leading to Derry Lodge at 9 miles in , there is a 1:30 cut off time here so I had to power all the hills and hit Derry lodge in 1:10 , it was nice to relax after this and I stopped by a river to fill my water bottle , already ~I was in awe of the incredible scenery I was running though , big mountains towered above me , little white trickles of water ran down their sides , the rain had filled the burns, this is it for me , when this awe takes hold I just seem to buzz inside .. I set off , fantastic I thought !
The next section was beautiful , totally runnable track up and into the heart of the Lairig Ghru , one water crossing was proving a little bit difficult for some but I stomped my way through and out the other side before another steep climb up and onwards to the boulder fields , it was getting mentally tough to , keeping an eye on the trail , avoiding stones , boulders and deep mud , keeping focussed and moving quickly can tire you out fast but up I went , picking my way up the track , calves on fire and sweat battering off my brow , it was getting colder as I gained height , my decision to go commando under my vent shorts was proving to be a hasty one and not only was I suffering from a spot of chafing , I was also feeling the cold !!! “Big Mark” was freezing .. haha , but I battered on to the top , near the top I met a cool lass called Jenny , she was from Kirkcaldy in Fife , we ran together for a while , fighting our way through huge boulder fields , as we hit the top of the boulder fields we were treated to an amazing sight , Aviemore spread out beneath us , we could see the whole town from there , we were stood nearly 2800 feet above it , looking down at what appeared to be a sun basked Aviemore !!! WOW !!
I wasn’t getting to excited though as Aviemore was still over 10 miles away … we started out descent and picked our way down the hillside , running downhill isn’t the rest that most road runners associate with it , after nearly 18 miles of climbing my legs were killing me and the battering your quads take jumping downhill from rack to rock is painful and your toes can get bashed quite violently , at times I wished I was going up again but we made it and entered the Rothiemurchus forest , I was feeling it by now , my legs were starting to feel tight and my groin was shouting for a rest. I kept going though , although I was slowing down considerably , my lack of training was now showing ,this was what I needed though , to kickstart me back to full fitness , I need as many hard days as I can handle between now and the Gobi race , luckily it was fantastic running especially after the rockfest I had just covered , lovely forest trail soft under feet and undulating through a beautiful forest , I started to lose myself and thoughts of my daughter came in to my head , some times it nice to think of her laughing and playing , takes my mind off my sore legs , 5 miles later I fall out of the forest into Ski road , then a sharp turn left on the main road heading for Aviemore Police station , only 2 miles to go … and what a 2 miles it was !!! it was a long straight road , demoralising in the extreme , I was f***ed .. one foot in front of the other I tell myself , I can’t stop now !! get a move on you lazy bastard , I really was running slow here . I glanced at my Garmin , 10 minute miles , Its been a long time since Ive ran that speed on a flat road !! but at least I’m moving , I turn through a viaduct and up onto a ramp before exiting right in the middle of Aviemore High street , I run up the street to cheers and clapping from all the shoppers and people drinking coffees outside on the street , this spurs me on , then I could see it , thank god !!! I sprinted across the street and into the finish !!! Finally I can stop and let the pain subside , what a race ,what a place !!! Kenny was there , he congratulated me , he had run a great race and had waited to cheer me in .. I met Jenny , she too had ran a fab race , there was cake , soup , juice the works , I had felt good , my groin maybe holding me back but not giving me so much trouble as to stop me as in the Helvellyn shenanigans .. , that was a relief , the Gobi was still on !!! All in all one of the best runs I’ve had in Scotland .. loved it !!! loved it !!!