It definitely seemed like the Fates were conspiring against me to ensure that I didn't run the Ring of Steall skyrace up in the Highlands last weekend.
Firstly, a big last minute change of plans took away the main reason for the trip up there, so I had to decided whether to still travel up myself and catchup with, and support friends that were running the main Skyline race on Sunday. I was won over by the promise of food, banter, brownies and a puppy to look after so I decided to make the trip after all.
Secondly, my accident in Australia had done a lot more damage than I'd originally thought (bony bruising causing bleeding and swelling into the knee joint), and I'd spent a couple of weeks actually limping rather than walking and had only just got back to a couple of gentle semi-pain-free runs. I left it until the Saturday morning to decide, but when my friend Matt (a physio) offered to tape my knee up for me (his wife was registering for the race and he himself was running on the Sunday, I decided to give it a go. I arranged to get a lift back from Glen Nevis if it hurt on the first descent and I felt that I needed to drop out partway round.
And finally....having registered and got my tracker, I was just debating what to take with me as hill food and what to eat and drink pre-race, when my friend Jim came running up as he'd been looking for me. It turned out that IAAF antidoping had turned up to test me (though it was actually not within my registered timeslot).
|Desperately trying to make the official race start!!|
|And they're off....|
We had a short run along the old drovers' road before a sharp turn up onto the "proper" hillside (ie muddy, stony, rocky, slippery narrow trail). Georgia (the leading lady) just seemed to power away up the hill leaving many men trailing in her wake. Just watching her go made me wonder if I could finish the race within an hour of her (if my knee let me get beyond Glen Nevis that was).
|Ascending to the first ridgeline|
|Not the widest place to run|
|At least there was a "path"|
Many people shot past me, though one guy stuck right behind me for most of the descent even though I kept offering for him to overtake. Still, I only had three (small) falls and though I was being cautious wrt my knee, it seemed to be holding up well. Sound carries well in the clear mountain air, and so I could hear the piper at the checkpoint from high up in the hills (my delight at hearing him soon turned to dismay once I realised that my initial thought of being almost down to the valley floor was way off!).
I soon realised what I'd missed in the pre-race briefing (while I was otherwise occupied with the drugs testers)......a landslide earlier in the week had forced us into an alternative route. Instead of the lovely road and trail I'd been counting on, we now had a boggy "track" through rough ground on the other side of the river. It was "mostly" obvious where to go, if you didn't mind ending up in mud to your knees, but I did add in an extra scramble or two trying to find the route in places (and I gather I wasn't the only one).
It seemed as if the new route had us heading up out of Glen Nevis earlier than planned, but this was a false hope, as although we climbed some way up above the river, we then descended back down to it for a wade crossing of a large tributary.
I'd made up several places on this section despite the lack of road, and worried that I'd gone off course as I couldn't see anyone ahead, but luckily found the next checkpoint and happily headed up towards the next ridge. My knee seemed better on ascents, and so I munched on the food I had in my pack (yummmm.....large chocolate cookies), refilled my waterbottle whenever I crossed a stream, and power hiked up. Well, I think it was a power hike (of sorts) and it seemed to be taking me skywards faster than several of the guys around me.
|On the Ring Of Steall|
|Starting the descent|
|Crossing the stream|
I was exhausted by the time I reached the Drover's road (1-2 weeks out might be classed as a taper, 4-5 weeks kinds of means that the fitness has gone somewhat) and I couldn't manage to run all of the upslopes....though it wasn't for lack of support from Ant and Jim.
I picked it back up for the final run down the West Highland Way and was going as fast as my body would take me....even rolling my ankle rather painfully just heat the bottom. I popped out onto the tarmac road but for once I wasn't really in my element on this. I couldn't understand why I couldn't see the girls in front if I'd been going that fast, and only had that gap to close up, and the descent had taken more out of me than I realised.
|With my clubmates at the finish|
I was actually ecstatic to have got round in one piece, and 4th place was a lot higher than I could possibly have expected to finish so all's well that ends well. Looking at the results breakdown, I also gained a lot of personal confidence as I moved up 20 or so positions in the second half of the race, for once nobody overtook me on a descent, and I did really close the gap on the ladies in front (it was just that they had started descending about 10 minutes before I did.....thanks Jim!!!! But seriously, thanks Jim, as I wouldn't have even tried to go that speed if it wasn't for him)!!!