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Race Reports

Stuc a’Chroin 5000 Race - Richard Toller

You can see I've got bottle (Ruth's photo)

Stuc a'Chroin 5000 2016 - Richard Toller

My season starts here. All else has been preparation – a few (not enough) hill runs and walks as well as the races. White-out on Carnethy 5? Warm up. Scottish national cross-country championship? Side show. Winning my age category at Cartmel? Training run in the sun. Tough SHR championship counter on Clachnaben? Practice.

My target for this year is to complete the Scottish Long Classics series by running five or six long hill races, taking me to some of the most beautiful parts of this lovely country where I am so privileged to live, from the North-West Highlands to the Borders. Stuc a'Chroin was the first of the series. I didn't think too much about its meaning - peak of harm or danger.

I made a late decision to raise some money for the Disabled Centre in Ghana – basically getting people to pay me to have fun – and had a good chat with a reporter from the Courier on Friday and he gave me a good write up in Saturday’s paper. I’ll say more about this when I get the giving page set up but if you look here and here you can read a bit about what it’s all for. Last time Ruth and I were raising money to help build a primary school for disabled children in Ghana; the building should be completed this year and I hope to raise more to help them get set up.

It had been a horribly cold week with a lot of snow on Thursday, not lying long at low level but what was it going to be like on the hill? But Saturday was a lovely day and Stuc a’Chroin looked stunning as we drove down the A9. We’d scrounged a lift from Anwen and Chris. Anwen Darlington is a super-fast hill runner from North Wales who’s just joined Dundee Road Runners after moving here with her boyfriend Chris – also a hill runner but not racing today as he’s just getting over an injury. Chris was going to run up Ben Vorlich; Ruth walked up Ben Each and then down the race route to the finish.

The race started on muddy forest trails, staggering round or plunging through bottomless bogs, climbing all the time. I started slowly – my target was simply to get round. I had said something about 4 hours but that was pure guesswork. Once out of the forest we followed a cambered wee path beside the fence, negotiating more bog to the top of Creag a’Mhadaidh (about 500m). The marshals handed out water and wine gums, and I paused for a quick photo of Beinn Each looking lovely but ridiculously steep across Glen Ample.
Down there and up there...

Then it was a steep descent (we were going to have to get up that somehow on the way back); water and jelly babies at the bottom – all the way along the route were the world’s greatest marshals handing out water, sweeties and encouragement – and straight back up again to Beinn Each. It truly was ridiculously steep, definitely hands on. Dragging ourselves up by fence posts, wire and heather, frequently stopping because of sheer numbers on the single-track ‘path’, after a long long time we reached the rocky top of Beinn Each (813m).
Ruth's picture of runners picking their way down from Beinn Each - me in the foreground

After more jelly babies we negotiated a steep descent to Bealach nan Cabar, the mix of rocks and slippery snow setting the theme for the high level section of the race. Somewhere round the bealach, where the return route goes off, I passed Ruth and then what I thought was the first runner (Al Anthony of Ochil Hill Runners) going at great speed in the opposite direction. I didn’t realise I’d missed the leader, Finlay Wild of Lochaber, who’d already passed the bealach on his way down before I got to it (in 1:46) on my way up.

From here a trickle and then a stream of faster runners passed on their way down and I had to keep my wits about me not to get in the way. Anwen passed, third woman and flying. The ridge twisted, climbed, dipped, climbed some more, and in typical mountain fashion whenever you thought you were nearly there another hidden dip showed the summit getting higher but no nearer.

Along the twisting ridge towards the white bulk of Stuc a'Chroin
But I got to the top (975m) – 6.6 miles in 2 hours 29 (not quite a 10k pb!) and paused to take in jelly babies, water and the view and take a photo. This was the first time I’ve ever stopped to take photos in a race – the views were too good to waste and the going was too tough not to have any pauses.
Made it! Just got to get back again now. Ben Vorlich in the background - at least we didn't have to go up there too!

Going down on the rocks and snow the challenges were staying on your feet (apart from one deliberate bumslide) and the frequent uphill sections we still had to get ourselves over. An exquisite blend of mental and physical pain, but I was loving it!

From the bealach it was a mercy not to have to go back up Beinn Each and down that vertical slope; instead we had a diagonal descent to the glen, one most runnable stretches of the race – though not exactly quick through the heather. Then, after jelly babies, the horrible climb back up the other side.
On the way down (Ruth's photo)

The other ‘runners’ around me looked no better than I felt and I realised Shakespeare must have seen an early running of this race and described it in Macbeth
What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t?

After the indignity of being overtaken by a walker in boots and rucksack, eventually we got up to the wine gum station and all we had to do was negotiate the bottomless bogs back to the finish. On the whole it wasn’t as hard, being downhill, but with my tired brain I managed to find my way straight through all the deepest bits.

All the way from the top one man had been following me – I think he’d decided to let me make the decisions and however bad my choices were, he followed. Eventually I got away from him in the last stretch of forest where there was a stretch of nice path that I hadn’t even noticed on the way up, and a bit of forest road that went cruelly uphill – but I just managed to keep running, and got to the finish, a welcome from Anwen who had finished over an hour earlier as third female, and a cup of soup.
Done! and relaxing in the sun with Anwen.

That was brutal, but wonderful! My Mudclaws had served admirably and I felt smug for deciding to run in shorts and not leggings. But back home I got into the bath, the water stung my sunburned and heather-scratched legs and I realised there was a down side to shorts. Then I scrubbed the peat off my legs and they stung again.

The stats: my Garmin made it 12.9 miles with 1382m of climbing (not quite the 5000 feet claimed in the race’s name). It took me 4:10:47 and I finished 136th of 163 finishers (169 started). First MV60 for what it’s worth – five places behind the first V70. Anwen was a magnificent 34th and third female in 3:04:06.

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