The more I learned about the Arrochar Alps race, the more intimidated I was. Rough terrain, huge climbs, potentially tricky navigation and a usually tiny field of runners meant I’d pretty much written it off as a race I would never participate in. However, with it being on the Scottish champs list this year, the lure of more lenient cut-offs and more than 40 fellow runners meant it was now or never. Several westie teammates felt the same, and we egged each other on to enter, assuming a “one-and-done” approach to the race – if we did it once, we never had to do it again! Several recces were completed, with varying levels of success, and before we knew it the day had arrived.
The threat of a low-level route due to thunderstorms forecast almost dashed our dreams from the outset. No matter how terrifying the course was, the prospect of a very runnable Glen Loin loop was unappealing. But we were briefed that the race would go ahead, and if thunderstorms hit, we should go low.
The first flattish four miles of the race confirmed what I have known for some time: most people run faster than me. It was muggy and hot, and I was cooking. It was a relief to get to bottom of Vorlich and stop running. My climbing was not much better though and I felt as though I was bonking – an uncomfortable prospect 45 minutes into a potentially 6-hour race. Thankfully, some cloud cover, water dunks, and complaining to Alistair Boyer on the way up meant I felt better by the time we neared the first marshal checkpoint. Shouts from the talking tent at the top (Katie and Outi) directed us round the cairn, and we trotted off to find the right drop-off point down to the dam.
The descent off Vorlich was as steep as expected but fun, as part of group of 8 ladies (unheard of in a hill race!) all sliding down together, including fellow westie wummin Jenn and Lucia. After being well ahead all the way up Vorlich, Jenn had taken an unfortunate detour to the first checkpoint and lost some time. Across the dam, I was pushing on, aware that runs-up-hills Ruddick would likely catch me soon on the slog up Vane. Again climbing with a pack of women, I kept pushing with the (optimistic and delusional) mentality that once at the top of Vane, most of the hard work was over. The sight of Tom and Mike at the summit was very welcome, as were the clear views towards Ime. Slightly dizzy, and stuffing fistfuls of haribo in my mouth, I set off on a sub-optimal line, before catching sight of HBT runner Alison to my right. I kept her in sight to the bottom, recognising her as someone I have finished near to in several races this season and should therefore stick with!
The climb up Ime seemed long and tough, and after hearing rumbles of thunder, I was immediately disappointed that we’d probably take the low-level route down through the glen and the race would remain unfinished business. This took the wind out my sails, and I crawled up the remaining metres. Imagine my surprise when enthusiastic marshals Luci and Helen greeted me at the top, apparently unfazed by the storms. They sent me off with chocolate, straight into a sudden shower of massive hailstones and down the beautifully runnable descent. Thankfully the storms had shifted slightly by the bealach, but my legs were in pieces and the Narnain climb was slow. I couldn’t care less about my time by this stage; I just wanted to be done. Saki, Gregor and Herbie the dog cheered me over the summit, and I knew there was only one more (horrendous) descent between me and the finish.
Having recce’d the Borrowdale route 3 times (twice deliberately, once accidentally), I chickened out during the race and plodded down the tourist path, chanting “one and done” as I went. By the time I hit the track, I was spurred on with a check of the watch, realising I could finish within a minute of my Jura time. Crossed the line only a couple minutes over, and retreated to the hall after some chat with Niall and Murdo who were heroically braving the swarm of midges on the finish line. Amazing performances from so many westies who raced and marshalled!
Predictably, the horror is already wearing off and within 12 hours, I had declared my ambition to run again, but a bit better. No doubt, recovery was assisted by spending the night in the pub debriefing with an excellent bunch. Thanks to Rob for organising a superb event, alongside an amazing team of Westie helpers! Until next time!