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The Lairig Ghru: mud, sweat and beers

June 30th, 2011

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.

Forest of Birse Picnic 2011

June 16th, 2011

10 Cosmics and friends assembled for Gillian’s picnic on Saturday – it just wasn’t quite the sort of picnic initially envisaged.  Forecast was for showers, which one thought meant some periods without rain – unfortunately these (non-rain) periods seemed to be vanishingly short.  Undeterred,  7 of us donned waterproof tops and set off from Forest of Birse car park.  A quick ascent of Carnferg (which has a very impressive cairn on the top as well as a trig point) meant we could at least claim a 101 for the day (except Bob who did it last year on ski), then Anne and Pauline headed for Glen Cat, aiming to get back fro 12.30 to meet Margaret at the cars.  Gillian, Anita, Colin , Mike and Bob headed for the Guard, then Baudy Meg and Hill of Duchery (it would of course have been quicker although longer if we’d stuck to the track – but the boys were certain ….).   Still we did 20.5 K with 643m ascent in 3.04 (2.37 moving time).  Back at the cars the rain seemed set in.  Bob said – you know you could have the picnic at my place instead – there’s a log fire…….  The rain got heavier …. and heavier.  All jumped in the cars and set off, collecting a couple of very wet cyclists – John and Imogen – en route.   The log fire was wonderful!  We could all get changed in the dry and warm, and have a very civilised picnic at Bob’s big table (though Gillian did insist I brought the plaid rug in), no brollies or insect repellant required.  Pauline was awarded the prize for the most inventive salad – pea, mint and pasta – which was a shocking pink salad bowl and tools, Anita got the bow and arrow set for baking (Cappuccino cup cakes), Bob the fancy dress prize (collapsible cups) – the costume involved a boater, Imogen the endurance award for heroic cycling (a garden gnome), and Mike the picnic basket award – he had a magnificent hamper fitted out with special places for glass glasses and real china etc.  And there were no silly thoughts about ANYONE cycling back!
Thank you very much to Bob for the hospitality of his home and to Gillian for organising yet another great day out.


My Slioch Adventure ( By Anita)

May 26th, 2011

Slioch Hill Race Sat 21 May

This “Category Long” Hill Race was the 2nd counter for the SHR championship this year.  I’d been really looking forward to it – having heard reports from previous years of Dennis swimming on the lochan en route, not to mention the wonderful tea for after.  It looked like a real mountain route with wonderful views.  The first note of doubt was sounded by Jason who forwarded a link reporting 6 inch of snow on the top on Friday and gale force winds forecast.  Undeterred 17 Cosmics set off, including Simon Peachey’s stag party – Simon himself ran in the tutu and veil as is becoming traditional for these things.  Arriving at Kinlochewe to register, we found that the route had been modified to cut out the exposed summit ridge – the organisers were probably worried that people might be blown away.  No matter the overall distance was going to be about the same.  As we lined up for the start, a few rays of sunshine and warmth from fellow competitors gave a false sense of security.  The climb proper started after the bridge over Abhain Fhasaigh, and with it the rain.- which got colder and colder.  On the very steep heather – hands required – it seemed impossible top move fast enough to keep warm (even with jackets on).  A bit easier going after the lochans, eventually got to the top – where the marshal kindly punched your number for you (still a trail having to open your jacket for the short time required, the trying to run down on numb legs.  A nice grassy bit found me almost at terminal velocity (perhaps it was steeper then it looked?), then rocks and back at the lochans, the marshal pointed out the track leading towards the waterfall (I did have the bearing set up on the compass round my neck, but it was far too cold to get it out).  Colin thought the direct route from top to waterfall check point might have been advantageous?  Whichever way you went, the lower you got the wetter it got.  The marshal at the waterfall check point was being very diplomatic and only manhandling you through the burn (which by now was a raging torrent) if you couldn’t make it yourself – but all fours were required (thigh deep) clinging on to the rocks.  Don’t know what the guy was wearing but he must have heroically spent most of the afternoon standing in the water helping people.  Thereafter it was just wet wet wet – a kayak would have been appropriate, but eventually the bridge was crossed again, the undulating (and for me much too interesting path – I fell into a burn) negotiated to the finish.  What a relief!  And thank you to Cosmic friends for your support at the finish and after.

 

At least the tea at the hall well lived up to expectations!  16 of us finished the race – even if it was just survival for some – a great run by Kev who finished in 8th place, and Rob in 12th, was Simon compromised by the tutu?

 

I hope we all appreciate the difficulties in putting on the race under such conditions, and particularly the marshals who stood out in the weather for hours, punching numbers, giving encouragement and directions and standing on the burn to help runners cross.  We’ll just have to do it again next year to get the view!

 

Carry on orienteering (Cosmic Style)

May 26th, 2011

Cosmic Orienteering Tuesday 17 May

Tim Griffin (assisted by Ewen Rennie, Sean O’Sullivan, Ian Hamilton, Dennis McDonald) gave us a great introduction to the black art (or so it seemed) of orienteering.  After a short instructional session, all of us were haring round Kirkhill Forest, eagerly “collecting” controls.  I think the mini-score event was won by Anne Smith and Anne Stone, operating as a team.  I know that this is an easy area with lots of paths, but this enabled the neophytes to fell a glow of satisfaction at actually managing to successfully navigate.  The truth of the mantra “always read the instructions” was brought out too – having searched in vain for the post with the punch, you remembered that some controls required you to counts bars on the gate or steps to the tower etc instead.  Everyone had a great time and I know many have moved on to try the regular Wednesday evening sessions run by Grampian Orienteers (http://www.grampoc.com/).  Thank you Tim!

 

Deeside Macbethfest Relay (May 2011)

May 23rd, 2011

Deeside Macbethfest Relay 11 May 2011

 

The cosmic heroes (Catriona McWhirter, Alan Cormack, Elaine Stewart & Ian Hamilton) and the cosmic comics (Pauline & Colin Larmour, Veronique Oldham & Colin Russell) joined the 13 or so other mixed teams for a short, fast but hilly race over a scenic 4.5k route at Deeside activity park, near Torphins.

 

The sun shone, the Macbeth ale flowed and the cosmics took home even more beer along with Running the Highlands buffs and tickets for a Saturday night ceilidh for storming home ahead of the pack.

 

A good night was had by all.

Room for even more teams next year

 


 

An Adventure Out West in May….

May 23rd, 2011

The Place: Mull of Kintyre

 

The Route : Kintyre Way / 66 miles from Tarbert to Cambelltown

The Race: Relay over 6 stages

 

 

“Mull of Kintyre, oh mist, rolling in from the sea, my desire, is always to be here……” So said Sir Paul McCartney when singing about his favourite place in 1977 for those of us old enough to remember.  However a group of 6 Cosmics (Gillian, Pauline, Elaine ,  Colin, Keith and John ) were not so sure as most of them had never been to Kintrye – they all knew that it was a long way to travel from Aberdeen (5hours) and a very long race but with the usual Cosmic bravado were willing to give it a go when first suggested by Gillian.

 

The plan agreed was that we should do 2 stages each consecutively with the distances varying from 20-25 miles. There was to be a ladies and men’s team with team selection for each section decided mainly by Elaine who wanted to do the middle stages as these were the toughest (or so she thought).

 

The day dawned bright and very early for Gillian and John who had valiantly volunteered (or been volunteered) to go first at 6am with Gillian’s husband John providing transport to Tarbert for the start .

 

The verdict when they bounded into the changeover at Clachen was that running and eating that early in the day takes practice and that 20 miles on roads and rocky tracks is very hard on the sole.

 

Having watched Colin and Elaine disappear in sunshine for their first leg along the coast,  energy  stores were replenished with lovely tea and homebaking in the village hall before heading back to the accommodation and cheering Colin and Elaine as they ran past.

 

Gillian barely had time for a shower when it was back in the car and on the twisty road to Carradale, more homebaking and a test of patience in coping with Keith and Pauline who were itching to get started the final onslaught.

 

The next leg proved interesting with Keith running ever decreasing circles in search of the route while Pauline bravely followed the trail (waymarked as a low tide route only) over rocks and cliffs and clambered up hillsides over felled trees and through bog and burn. This short but exciting leg contrasted with the endless forest track and undulating minor roads of the last section of the race which came to a welcome end outside the swimming pool in (not so scenic) Campbeltown.

 

A lovely post race cold buffet and prizegiving was conveniently located next to our rented house in Tayinloan followed by a ceilidh. After many miles and much feasting, dancing proved a bigger challenge than the race but did wonders for the stiffness in our legs.

 

Local teams from Campbeltown running club cleaned up on the prize front and were the recipients of a fabulous cake decorated with a map of the race route. Cosmics enjoyed  individualised certificates awarded to all present which contained times for each leg beautifully detailed by hand. We were very happy to have completed our race and to commiserate with a Dutch runner who was 1 of 4 of the 5 ultra runners tackling the full 66 miles who were forced to withdraw along the way.

 

Great job by race organiser Rob & excellent training for those of us planning to run 46 miles round Jersey in August.

 

 

Cooley Legends Trail 1/2 Marathon

May 23rd, 2011

Cooley Legends Trail Half Marathon, Co Louth, Ireland, 23 April 2011

Larmours headed west on the strength of the race’s inclusion in a calendar picked up by the rellys in the ‘oul country and the race’s great website. They went in search of challenging trail running in a fabulous setting and found it along with great craic on the Cooley Penninsula on the south side of Carlingford Lough with views of the Mourne Mountains to the north.

 

60% trail and 40% tarmac, the race followed a hilly and arduous route to finish in the historic centre of the picturesque village of Carlingford & lovely sandwiches, tea & cakes courtesy of a local café. Great organisation and chip timing by the local triathlon club.

 

Less than 2 hours drive from Belfast, a tough but very friendly race in beautiful surroundings, with long, slow climbs on tarmac and trail balanced by fast downhill sections on grassy tracks with stunning views over Carlingford Lough.

 

We were presented with 2 free race entries for next year if anyone interested in a cosmic outing next Easter. Highly recommended for a good weekend and wee change from pure hill running.

Meanderings over Mither Tap (By Anita)

April 26th, 2011

Run Tuesday 19th April Mither Tap from Visitor Centre

 

19 people set out – but we almost came back with a greater number as Colin Larmour was energetically collecting up a poor random person who’d the misfortune to arrive at Mither Tap just as we were leaving for Oxen Craig – there was a look of pure fear on the woman’s face!  Despite all the nice weather recently it was overcast and rather foggy at the top, though fortunately the rain did not return.  After the race route up Mither Tap, we headed for Oxen Craig, some taking in Craigshannoch as well which brought the group together nicely.  Should have remembered that Jonathan is really an Ultra runner (and possibly not too tired by his exertions in the London marathon 2 days before) as his route off Oxen Craig took us nearly to Watch Craig (which an energetic few bagged as well) rather than directly descending via Gordon way.  A few were rather discomfited by the rocky and uneven descent – it needs practice.  Thanks to Steve Helmore, Sean O’Sullivan and Bob Sheridan for waiting for and shepherding the group.  It was still light when all got back.

 

Another Cosmic Saturday (by Anita)

April 26th, 2011

Run Saturday 23 April – Loch Muick

Overcast and with forecast (and actual) rain, 4 Cosmics – Anita, John C, Gary, Bob S, decided to forego the pleasures of Lochnagar and do the 101 route on the south side of the loch. Navigation got interesting at times – especially when we found that Gary’s compass was telling porkies – he seems to be a one man walking talking magnetic anomaly due to a magnetic treatment for sore back. We duly collected the photographic evidence on the 5 summits. Returning on the main path and along the Loch, tried to direct some Spanish tourists in ponchos along the loch side rather than up Broadcairn – but they didn’t listen, we shared an Easter egg at the cars – just as the rain came on with a vengeance. Stats were 21.07 K, Total ascent 731m. Pics are on FlickR Aberdeeenshire 101 Group http://www.flickr.com/groups/1341883@N25/?added=6.

A Snowy Saturday Cosmic Run (by Anita)

March 17th, 2011

Glen Tanar Saturday 12th March

Vital questions – would I get to do a Cosmic run at Glen Tanar at last – or would snow intervene yet again?  Hazlehead was damp but OK, so despite report of “light snow” at Banchory from Bob (Elder), we rashly set off in Gillian’s car (also John’s and fortunately Alan took his big tough landrover, others travelled separately).  Sporadic snow seen from Westhill onwards, turned into a fair covering by time we arrived at the forest car park. Complete contrast to Spring conditions last weekend, which had lured us into a false sense of security.

Gillian, Cat, Cathy, Emily, John, Alan, Bob and Anita enjoyed a great run in the snow.  Trees were beautiful, just as well – you couldn’t see much further, deeper snow as we climbed would probably have been OK at least for your 2nd best XC skis.  Fortunately Bob knew the “official” Cosmic route and guided us – might have gone for a longer run, but big soft flakes falling continuously (though no wind so not unpleasant apart from swallowing the stuff) meant we couldn’t tarry too long for fear of the cars being snowed in by the time we got back.  Met a party of mountain bikers – so there are people out there madder than us (one of them was wearing shorts!).  And Gillian had us practise Snow Angels!

Back at the cars we enjoyed tea and Cathy’s brilliant cup cakes, then Alan kindly shepherded us back to the main road.  Don’t know if John did in fact go sailing on Loch of Skene after?

Stats: 12.67K, 303m climb