Tent up, ankle taped, Kendal mint cake consumed, bladder emptied, and I’m ready to start the 6th and final race of the 2019 Scottish Hill Champs – Meall a’ Bhuachaille (nice to say, hard to spell).
The start line is a mass of foot-stomping and hand-rubbing, with only a few hardy folk daring to bare their shoulders. We’re soon put out of our misery as the start horn sounds, setting us off along a fast forest track. After a bit of gentle climbing, we start going back downhill. This loss of gravitational potential doesn’t do much for my spirits, which are further evaporated when a cheerful Arron ‘Sparks Fly’ Sparks catches up with me. I try to keep him talking, but don’t really have the energy.
A quick burn crossing and we’re onto the hill proper, me chasing Arron up through regenerating pine trees and juniper bushes to the bealach west of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
Sooner than seems feasible, Finlay Wild thunders down towards us, followed by a bunch of other fast folk (Sam, Niall, James, Rob and Ally among them) taking various lines through the stunted, rock-strewn heather. I just about beat Arron to the summit, and manage to put a bit of gap between us on the descent back down to the bealach. My eyes are tear-filled, and my right ankle is desperately straining against the stirrups I’ve fashioned out of zinc oxide tape. My leg hairs do their best anchor impression and the tape holds, along with my ligaments.
The next few kilometres are undulating, varied, and quite fun. Chilly too, with the bogs half frozen over. Just before we start the final descent, Arron catches up with me, and breezes past. No worries – I’ll catch him on the downhill (narrator: he did not).
The descent is extremely fun. I gain a few places as I attempt to hold off a burly Highland runner, who eventually glides past me. At least half of my orifices are leaking by now, and I can barely see through the tears, but suddenly we’re off the hill and onto another forest track. I’m wiped out, and everyone around me is running improbably fast. With the sun in my eyes, I realise to my horror – I’m pretty unphotogenic at the best of times – that I’ve just passed a race photographer.
Arron’s now out of sight, and I struggle to hold my own against a second Highland runner.
I look at my watch and try to figure out how much longer I need to keep this up for. There’s probably another kilometre to go, and it feels like I’ve already burnt through my sprint finish reserves.
After eighty-two minutes and forty-two seconds, it’s over.
Later that evening, we celebrate the end of the championships with a three-course dinner and a ceilidh (nice to say, hard to spell).
James Espie (Deeside) and Jill Steven (HBT) take the main trophies. Our own Mairi Gilmour (probably) wins the under-23 prize (fifth overall). And, by the skin of their teeth, Westies ladies are scooped to second place in the team prize by Highland Hill Runners.
Full results here
1 Finlay Wild (Lochaber) 1:00:00 (CR)
55 Caroline Marwick (Inverness Harriers) 1:16:02
8 Sam Alexander 1:05:40
24 Niall McAlinden 1:11:21
56 James Callender 1:16:17
60 Alasdair MacInnes 1:16:55
63 Rob Matthews 1:17:39
91 Arron Sparks 1:21:50
98 Tom Finch 1:22:42
107 Ella Peters 1:24:03
109 Rod Fleming 1:24:05
134 Ruth Crewe 1:28:33
149 Graham Kelly 1:31:30
158 Jenn Ruddick 1:32:15
180 Brian Brennan 1:38:14
204 John Donnelly 1:44:20
223 John Hamer 1:50:46
226 Luci Matthews 1:52:49
239 Stella Bray 2:01:46