My second try at this fun long race at the Dufftown Highland Games. My 2013 attempt came to an abrupt and painful end descending The Ben, as the locals seem to call it, and I still have the scars to prove it. (A similar mishap apparently decided the men’s winner this year.) My only goal for this year was to finish and remain upright throughout.

A select crew of Westies had made the journey north – myself, Val, Jill and John. There was also some fella called Gwyn Bellamy sporting the unsightly blue vest of Glossopdale Harriers (who they?), he looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place him. Dufftown being sun-drenched and scorchio I decided that taps-aff was the only way to go.

After the obligatory lap of the games field we made our way out on to the hill. I took it very easy at the start, wary of the distance & the heat. I lost a lot of places, but just tried to get the first two hills out the way with a minimum of effort. I arrived at the base of Ben Rinnes with Long-Classic leaders Diane Baum & Jon Gay and spent the ascent trading places with the Locahber-duo. Going uphill was easier than down, at least it got cooler with each step. Feeling good after a cautious start, I made a bit of a move and pushed hard for the final fifth of the climb, picking off about half a dozen runners – wow, it actually felt like I was racing, rather than running, a Long event. I arrived at the top just behind reigning Scottish champ Charlotte Morgan, who I followed down the hill. We were swiftly overtaken by Jon Gay, but I managed to reel in both of them on the flat bit and had opened a bit of a gap by the bottom.

The meat of this race is in the final two hills; mostly runnable trods with steep slogs. I tried not to think about Morgan & Gay and forced myself not to look behind (Show No Weakness!), concentrating on slowly getting closer to a flagging Brian Marshall. By the start of the final climb, I was parched, aching, cramping and sore. Heavy breathing & footsteps behind me meant an imminent overtake; Diane Baum jogged past. At the final descent she and Brian Marshall shot off. I felt like I was just, and only just, holding it together so only gave a lackluster chase. I still tried to keep the speed up though, wary of being caught. A glance behind and no-one to be seen at 1 mile to go meant I was safe. I entered the field with enough energy to put on a bit of a push for the crowds. A brilliant race all round.

No one in the changing room seemed taken with my idea for a hill runners tug-of-war team (we would be allowed to add people to the team until we matched the weight of our opponents), so I had to content myself with sitting in the sun with a cider and a venison burger while watching the heavies throw and the runners arrive. Local girl Jill had a tricky finish – it’s no joke having to navigate half a dozen pipe bands going the opposite direction around the track when you’ve just done 14 miles on the hill.

1) Stewart Whitlie (Carnethy) 2:06:51

5) Gwyn Bellamy 2:18:20

6) Sula Gay (HBT) 2:20:02 – New Record.

10) James Callender 2:24:48

63) Val Brunton 3:22:56

65) Jill Stephen 3:31:27

73) John McInally 4:20:58

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