by Catriona McWhirter – thus, a newbie’s perspective

I remember it like it was yesterday… because it was.

Being a rather impulsive individual (or, as some would say, a complete cretin), I had opted to enter a “SAL category C Long Hill Race” of 28 miles as my first ever hill race with previous long distance experience limited to two half marathons. Despite good intentions (honest!), training had not quite gone to plan and I was tempted to pull out, but fortunately a number of awesome people persuaded me to give it a go. Thanks guys!!

The scene at the start was one of stark contrast; between the uplifting sight of a record-breaking turnout and the rather uninspiring torrential rain. Fortunately the latter abated as the race got underway, and also allowed me to disguise my shamefully profuse sweating as having been soaked by the deluge.

For some reason my legs were killing me from the off and the suffering was unameliorated by inhaling the cloud of vaporised deep heat rising from our midst. I had been prepared for feeling this way later in the proceedings, but from the start? WTF? To my relief (and further dismay), the pain wore off just as mysteriously after I passed the Derry Lodge cut-off point, so I decided against my initial plan of bailing out at this stage and continued on toward Mordor. Sorry, I mean the Lairig Ghru.

Crossing the, erm, “softer terrain” from Derry Lodge, I spent valuable minutes trying to find a route which kept my feet dry. Shortly after this charade, I had to wade across Luibeg burn, highlighting the futility of this endeavor. Rookie’s mistake #1.

For the ?8 miles from the river crossing until the infamous boulder field, I found the more difficult terrain considerably easier, paradoxically enough. There was no longer any requirement for psychological stamina as your mind was happily occupied with planning where to put your feet, when to speed up, when to slow down. I became more consciously aware of my reversion to mountain biking mentality when I heard myself saying to a bloke who was struggling with the terrain, “You’re doing fine. Just try to follow my line and you’ll be ok”.

Having progressed in the overall standings in the intermediate section, I then lost even more places than I’d gained in the crossing of the boulder fields. However, I like to think that my undignified and slow style of scrambling across (while the experienced hill runners leapt gracefully from boulder to boulder) made for a mighty fine Smeagol impression.

The descent was awe-inspiring (spectacular view), then difficult (more boulders), then painful (clumsy knee injury), then quite pleasant as the going got easier once more. It was great to receive so much encouragement form passers-by, with every party bar one cheering me on in some way. And that one exception had their reasons: I kicked a rock rather vigorously, which prompted me to swear just as vigorously… then turned the corner to see a family having a picnic. Fail.

With only 5k to go I realised, after a 15 min toilet stop, that my left knee was about twice the size of my right… and all of a sudden it seemed a whole lot sorer. So, I walked for 4km. What a tit. Fortunately, a bloke on a bike started chatting to me 1km from the finish and, without thinking about it, I ran to keep pace with him to continue our conversation so at least crossed the line running, albeit 0.25 seconds over the 6 hour mark.

Excellent race. Excellent scenery. Excellent people.