Long before obstacle racing became fashionable and expensive, there was the Creag Dubh Hill Race.
As part of the Newtonmore Highland Games, it also has a great atmosphere and build-up with the games announcer giving a great introduction to the race. The course starts with a lap of the playing field before ducking under a fence, then a hop across a second fence before choosing a line across a field of thistles usually at a height to give folks short in stature a sair one between the legs. On a busy year, this field also forms the overflow car park, adding further obstacles into the mix! Another fence slows things before a stumble down the bank and into the river. Another slip and stumble up out the other side before an almost vertical slope with only a crash barrier and road crossing to go and THEN the race really starts!
The drive up with John Hamer was interesting with torrential rain turning the A9 road into a river at points, so we were happy to arrive in Newtonmore just as the rain went off. The race is incredible value at £2 which includes entry to the games and a wee bottle of Dalwhinnie whisky for all finishers.
My run went fairly well to the summit. The descent was on the cautious side …wee bit due to the rocks being skiddy but I was also conscious that the Glenshee 9 Hill Race was the following morning and didn’t want to wreck my legs too much. I stayed on the heels of a couple of younger lads on the easy angled section down through the woods and completely missed every short cut thanks to cunning course marking by someone who will remain anonymous but who is known to the reader. The boys in front started to open up the gap on the farm track leading to the road and I decided holding onto the contents of my stomach was preferable than burying myself trying to catch them. A slip at the top of the bank leading to the river ensured an uncontrolled descent and one extra place getting past a Lochaber runner only to lose it again crossing the field – och well! The evening was spent “hydrating” in great company – many thanks to Manny and Brenda for the hospitality!
The next morning, I was pleased to wake feeling fairly fresh and after a coffee, John and myself headed over to Glenshee for the long one. Once registration was done, a group of us watched the Commonwealth Games women’s cycling before heading over to the start.
With the head count and random kit check over, the race started and immediately, folks split into two groups. A smaller group headed straight up the hill and the larger group went down the car park first before starting up the hill. With no course markings, runners are free to make their own route choices and small differences certainly add up over the course of the day.
On the trod that traverses below Glas Maol, I was surprised at how spread out the field had become and it was clear from the outset I was towards the back of it. Up onto the ridge that leads to Creag Leacach, the lead group had already been and gone. Once round the cairn the running was good with a choice of fairly clean paths to choose from which, initially retrace the outward route before staying on the high ground and an easy angled climb to the summit of Glas Maol. For the next section, I pretty much stayed to the track on the basis that it might not have been the shortest line but it should save precious energy for later on. At this point a small group had formed which included Davie Duncan and as we headed up towards the summit of Cairn of Claise, the clouds rolled in and with it the first of several heavy rain showers. I stopped briefly to get my shell jacket on and find my compass since a bearing would be required to get the line off the summit towards Tom Bhuidhe. Most folks were heading the same direction but unsure if that was by group agreement or a simple follow the guy in front, I checked a bearing before following and was happy that we were correct. Dropping out the cloud briefly, it was good to see I was still on the correct route and I picked up a narrow trod leading towards Tom Bhuidhe. Summit attained, I descended towards Tolmount with JD, Cat Miller and Val Brunton all close behind. I maintained the high ground again in lieu of a more direct line before the short climb up to the summit. Looking below, folks were taking very different lines across towards the last summit in this half of the race, Carn an Tuirc. Wanting to be solely responsible for my own mistakes, I consulted the map before heading off, splitting the difference between the extremes of the folks ahead. Happily, I found a series of trods which led in the right direction. Met up with Davie Duncan and we ran out to the summit together. Here Davie shared some vital knowledge that saved getting snagged up in the boulder field. Joining up a series of grassy rakes, we were soon down in the glen and comfortably ahead of the cut off at the road.
The climb up Carn Aosda is steep enough to slow the pace, so knowing there was still a fair chunk of hill to cover I took the opportunity to eat. Unfortunately, my guts didn’t agree and I spent the top half of the climb trying not to deposit the contents over the hillside. With a shout of thanks to the summit marshall, the descent was fine but heavy looking clouds were starting to appear. Shortly before the summit of Carn a Gheoidh all hell broke loose with heavy rain and high wind. This certainly encouraged an increase in pace as did seeing JD close on my heels! With only a return along the ridge and a wee climb up Cairnwell left before the last descent, it was already clear I was well outside my times in previous years. Saw some poor runner way out on the right who had taken the wrong route out to Carn nan Sac whilst the cloud was down. Finished a wee bit disappointed with my performance, but took this as an indicator to train and race more.
Huge congrats to all Westies who were racing over the two days!
Cheers to all involved in organizing and marshalling – obvious but without them there would be no races.