Seriously though, what’s with bagpipes at the races I enter? Don’t get me wrong, I do like them when they’re played properly and it’s probably because I’m running a lot in Scotland where I live that they’re there as if it’s got to be done to he that cliché in. Anyhow, at 0600 I was woken up by the drone of a lone piper. Not so alone, a bloke with a loud speaker greeting us “Morning Campers”. What’s worse than a lone piper is an overly enthusiastic person so early in the morning.
I wouldn’t have really minded but I’d just had one of the best nights sleeps I’ve had in a tent. Partly due to my extreme exhaustion from Day 1, but also due to the comfy Alpkit sleeping mat and Alpkit sleeping bag I’d purchases especially for this race.
I’d had a warm sleep up until 4am when I needed to put some socks and leggings on. Still it was easy to get up when you had another day in the hills to contend with.
Nina helpfully got out first and put the hot water on. I stayed in the tent packing our bags and deflating our mats. Team work. By the time I ventured out, dawn had broken and a red sky was above us. Shepherds were to be warned as 1800 people would ascend the hills and worry sheep with their ultra light bags and bright clothing.
I made up the tea and coffee , Nina poured in the not so boiling but hot enough water. Our micro stove did the job and the less I say about the other option the better, eh Nina?
We packed up and were ready to get to the start a short walk away. We could see people snaking their way up the hills. My legs didn’t fancy an ascent straight away, I secretly hoped the first control would be on the valley floor somewhere close.
How wrong was I. After consulting the map there was really only one logical route for us short score folk. With a last minute out of bounds area marked, the controls were moved to a corridor outside of the area they closed off. Apparently due to a stalking event where we may get shot. That would have made things interesting.
Anyway it did mean a fairly linear route bagging controls along the way, but the first was directly above us, a 450m ascent of almost vertical hill. At times we were using our hands to steady us onto the hill as our bags threatened to pull us backwards and then tumble down the hill. Avoiding putting our hands in sheep poo you could almost taste it as the hill got steeper and our faces were more and more closer to the side of the hill. We eventually found a path which others found before us and rather than risk life they’d gone the long way round to avoid it. We should have done that I thought.
The control was stuck in the middle of a bog. 20points bagged another 6 controls to go. The next one being almost due west but that was over a valley on another hill but to get there as the crow flies would mean going through an unhelpfully placed out of bounds area. We decided to keep high and contour around the re entrant. Going was tough, moss, heather, and the constant contour of a steep sided hill was causing my ankles to groan.
We started to rethink our strategy and instead headed for the top of the hill where we hoped we’d find better going ground. We did. There was a track and we decided to run. This warmed us up and gave us some boost. We were in the cloud with a cool wind. It was warmer than the day before but still cool.
I chose to run in shorts a long sleeve compression base layer and a long sleeve top with handy thumb holes to keep the knuckles covered.
The control was down a hill next to a sheep fold and the next one was back over the same hill and down the other side . Slightly demoralising seeing the land that you have to cover and knowing going down meant you had to go back up. We took a look and saw a way out of the valley and of course a way down that seemed to be of good ground.
We descended, running, jumping over streams, bouncing on the bog, and avoiding the swamps.
Another control bagged and it was back up the hill. We followed a defined track which ascended gently and was easy to run. A herd of sheep ran across the path ahead of us, worried about these random humans running around the hills.
There were cairns at the top of the saddle between two peaks. Unsure why but there were 5 of them. Easy navigational markers they were and the cloud disappeared to bring a bright day and opened the view of the valley and peaks ahead of us. We could see where we had to go. A defined track cutting open the landscape. We descended steeply into the valley, the next control in another sheep fold was ahead but slightly off the track. We had to jump across a river here to get to it. These obstacles making it that bit more difficult.
The track we followed forded a couple of rivers. Mostly cool water coming up to our ankles. My inov8 mudclaws and woollen based socks drained the water away quickly. I ate more cheese sandwiches on the move. We were pressed for time. We ran when we could, walked up the steep bits.
As we rounded the hill the head wind hit us, we couldn’t manage a run here. As the track started to enter the valley we managed a bimble.
A control was in another sheepfold, clearly an event organisers favourite hiding spot, this time in the valley floor off the main track.
Quick time check, 20mins to go. We were 3km out. We needed to run. Fording the last river it went up to our mid calf, then exited onto a forest track. We were running. Faster than we’d ran all weekend. Nina was breathing hard. We didn’t want a time penalty as you’re fined 2pts for each part minute you’re late.
It is possible to end up with negative points if you’re seriously shit at navigating or something goes terribly wrong.
Nina needed a walking break. You could see she was annoyed with herself. I decided to sing the theme tune to rocky to help her. It didn’t.
There was one last control to bag and it was on the path we had to take to finish which was bounded by out of bounds area so you had only one option, follow it. It unhelpfully went away from the finish only to cross a bridge then go back the other way. A detour but no other option. We grabbed the control, 20points and made way to the finish. A steep descent should have been fast but knees were groaning. We were late as we hurried along the last track. Crossing the line Nina pounced on the control.
We were fined 14points for being 6mins 23 seconds late. Still 216 points that weekend.
Looking back I had an awesome time, learnt a lot and got the hunger to do more. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot of kit searching in the coming months!