In 1684 (or thereabouts), the entire Westies club was almost wiped out in an ill-fated social run across the Lairig Ghru. Or so the story goes. Ask Muffy, she knows. My own experience was less dramatic, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what a sudden change in the weather can do.
As one of the two remaining “long classics” I had yet to complete, I was determined to enter this one after the cancellation of Slioch. A 43km trail run, with 200 runners pre-entered – most of them looking like road runners up for the next challenge after a flat marathon. The start here is tarmac, followed by a gravel road. All flat for the first hour or so. I’m enjoying the cool breeze and keep up a gentle running pace as we meet up with the Luibeg Burn. More technical running now, and the hills start to loom up on either side. I enjoy a strong spell as the slope slackens, but come to regret it when we meet the boulder field. But everyone is finding going difficult. Boulder hopping, indistinct path, un-runnable by any but the sure foot-est (who have long since disappeared into the distance). Finally, Aviemore appears in the distance, the boulders disperse and the slope points steadily down. I’m picking up places now, finding a rhythm, forest now, an hour to the finish. Only an hour! I can’t resist to check my watch, and my sub-five hour goal is a near certainty. I stop for the last of my water bottle at the road at Coylumbridge. It’s all relentless flat slog from here. A seemingly endless path, turn left at the road (thank you supporters!). I have been pursuing the Man in Red for the past mile, and now catch him. We run together. My yellow vest is my introduction – he has heard of the Westies, and thought about joining. Of course! Why wouldn’t you? Strategic, see? Keep him in conversation, wait for my chance as the final straight approaches. Then, a break in the traffic and I’m away! What little sprint I have left in my legs I give out in the desparate surge for the line. There is another flagging runner to pass, the cheering crowd, but his younger legs trump mine and I’m pipped at the post :-(. Same old story. Still, my watch says 4:35, and I’m more than a little delighted. The remainder of the afternoon is spent in plentiful sunshine, sitting on the grass verge clapping for exhaused finishers, awaiting the gradual bodily recovery and strength to enjoy a bowl of soup before the prize giving and bus back to Braemar. This is a long day: I left home at 6:30am and get back around 11pm. Something to look forward to next year, provided I can work out some better transport arrangements. Let’s hope we can attract some more Westies; this is a fabulous route. A club run, perhaps? – it’s been a while!