Lairig Ghru Hill Race - 25th June 2017
Having heard loads of great things about the Lairig Ghru hill race and seen all the pictures from previous races, I was determined that this was going to be one of the key races I'd enter this year. Having decreased the weekly mileage I've been doing since the Cateran55 in May, I was a little apprehensive, but hopeful that there was enough in the tank to be able to get round in one piece. I'm also always a bit nervous of races where the mandatory kit list includes OS maps, compass and full waterproof body cover. Wasn't sure I even knew how to use a compass.....
Anyway, got out to Braemar nice and early for the registration and kit check. Such a beautiful drive through Royal Deeside. Weather forecast seemed to be fairly decent, but definitely a bit on the grey side.
The pre-race briefing.
Due to the fact we were just away to run 27 miles through the Cairngorms, you can't take any chance with safety so it took a little while to count everyone through by number order before we started. The organisation of the event was excellent and hats off to the Deeside Runners who put on the event and in particular Race Director Andy Bain along with all the marshals and helpers. The Braemar Mountain Rescue team were also on hand so big thank you to those guys as well who do an amazing job. The funds raised through the race was for the Mountain Rescue team which requires donations to enable it to function so that was good.
The first section of the race was a gentle 3.5 miles on tarmac, heading west out to the Mar Lodge Estate. Turning into the estate, crossing the Dee (wouldn't be the last time), the ground was still a good, hard packed, forest track. With a gentle incline it was still very runnable. Weather was holding quite well at this point and was actually starting to get pretty warm so a few of the layers were going to have to come off.
The Mar Lodge Estate
So far, so good. Everything feeling good, and made it to the Derry Lodge check point well in advance of the cut-off time. The path after this narrowed more to a single track, but still very runnable at this point. The sun was now out at this point and getting very warm by the time we reached the Luibeg burn. This was now 10 miles in to the race and although we'd climbed about 1600ft, it certainly didn't feel like that as it was a very gradual incline.
Thankfully the water at the burn wasn't too bad and could be (relatively) easily navigated. I did have a nervous moment with phone in hand and I thought I was going in, but thankfully managed to get my balance and avoided a splash.
The Luibeg Burn crossing. Photo courtesy of Sarah Simpson
The next section had a bit more climbing, but the track was still good and at this stage and keeping up a decent pace. At this point we were starting to come into the Lairig Ghru and the scenery was quite spectacular. By this stage, the rain had started and the wind was getting up, so all layers back on! Ah, the joys of the Scottish Summer!
With rain now on and getting decidedly chilly again, I was also starting to get really peckish. Thankfully I had remembered to pack a jam sandwich before I had left the house and although a little squashed it certainly hit the spot.
We were now about 16 miles in and had now reached the infamous Boulder field which I had heard so much about. You could see it coming for a few miles, so you get a sense of what's coming your way. The glen, with mountains either side is very impressive. There is a stretch which is filled with massive boulders, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. There is no path, so it is just a scramble to get through. Thankfully, this bit doesn't last for too long, but it doesn't get much easier to run after this point as it is still strewn with boulders, and becomes a very technical route which needs a lot of concentration. I must have lost count the amount of times I tripped, but thankfully no major falls this time.
The start of the boulder field
From the start of the boulder field, through the technical section, it must have been about 5-6 miles. Was really starting to struggle by this stage as it was very hard going. I found it pretty hard work on the ankles due to constantly having to work to place your foot, and with moving rocks. As we came out of this section though, it then became a bit easier and next few miles were a lovely meander through the forest before descending down to the long path to Colyumbridge.
The sun was now beating down and I was just thankful that I'd only now a few miles to go as I was starting to burn up. The road down to Aviewmore was mercifully downhill and there were a few families out cheering us on and one little girl was dishing out the Jelly Babies which was a god send for that final boost which was needed!
Murray Strain won the mens title with a new course record of 2hrs 58 mins and the womens champion was Joanna Zakrzewski with a time of 3hrs 53 mins. Well done to all the other runners as well for completing what was a very difficult course.
Will definitely be back for this one. Yes, it was tough, but the scenic route and friendliness of the fellow runners and race organizers really made this one special. Nothing flashy about it, just a good, honest, tough hill race. Would definitely recommend it, but don't underestimate it as it's no stroll in the park!
Cakes at the finish line - delicious!!🍰🍥🍰
- Andrew Gordon