“And the course,” said the organiser at the race briefing, briefly glancing over his shoulder at the murk above, “Well, just go where you want, it’s a hill race.” A worthy piece of advice, and one that was taken to heart.
If nothing else, An Teallach offers options; straight up the vertiginous gully or along the rough muddy path, scramble over the dripping rocks to cut a corner or wade through the mud taking the long way, getting soaked up to your thighs crossing the burn if you’re tall or getting soaked up to your rib-cage crossing the burn if you’re short. There’s a runnable mile in the middle which pops you out on the final approach to the summit of one of the country’s most distinctive mountains – not that you could see it, or anything else, in Saturday’s conditions. A final boulder slope to manage and then you’re at the top, touch the trig point and on the way back down again.
I’d moved at a steady if uninspiring pace throughout and found myself chasing Craig Freshwater on the way down with Rob snapping at my heels. Ally passed us with about a mile to go, resulting in a short internal dialogue: Ahhh, we’re about to get passed by someone going faster than us/It’s Ally, that’s cool, good descender and he’s running well at the moment/Wait, Ally? F**k that guy, he’s not getting past me. So I moved up a gear to stay on Mr McInnes’ tail. We took the daring route down the gully at the end – definitely the right choice, saving around 2 minutes. I couldn’t quite close the gap but finished faster than I would have otherwise.
Up on the hill there were still lots going on. Tom E and Ian W had gone on an adventure up an alternative summit, Ruth battled out with Bethan Nadin from Highland Hill Runners to squeak in as 3rd lady, Rod won a sprint finish after his opponent got lost in the last 10ft, blood was spilled with Jenn & Damien exhibiting some impressive wounds on the finish line and Andrew was out for an epic. Not quite as epic as the group who went wrong off the top, crossing the finish line the wrong way after they made a 15 mile day out of a 12km race. And then there was the Sh*t who got a fun helicopter ride after, well, running in the wrong direction for a few hours. By contrast, the Westies Ladies did us all proud scooping up the team prize.
Most of us stayed over at the idyllic Badrallach campsite for a night of general merriment – I’m never drinking Grants again. The next day was warm, clear and glorious – Scotland at its best. Different teams were formed and everyone (I think) enjoyed a stunning hill day. The lucky ones stayed until Monday, the rest of us just muttered bitterly about having jobs the entire drive back to Glasgow.