The word ouch can be used to describe any race which I have previously taken part in. The Lumphanan Detox. Ouch. In fact it could be used in many different contexts in my day to day life.
Going over the handlebars on my bike and hitting my head. Ouch. Having my homework thrown into the bin by my IT teacher in a very public display when I was 15. Not forgiven or forgotten Mrs R. Ouch.
Even my easy run today in the sun was pretty sore at some points. However, there is no other word that so aptly sums up this year’s Highland Cross. It hurt. A lot.
My preparations for my third crossing hadn’t been ideal ( getting the excuses in early). I had struggled to train consistently and was gutted that I had decided to sit out the Edinburgh Marathon in May due to a lack of miles in the legs.
In the weeks leading up to the 50 mile duathalon I’d also struggled with the old foot injury which has occasionaly caused some bother for me since running became a hobby. It was touch and go as to whether I would be on the start line in Morvich, but luckily I recovered in the few days before the event. Phew.
This year the set up was different. Our team was composed of My Mum, Auntie Marie and yours truly. It was an absolute family affair and we were all staying in Inverness on the Friday night before.
As usual I didn’t sleep. The seagulls seemingly circled my Holiday Express room window as I tossed and turned throughout the mild summer solstice night.
I wasn’t however, anywhere near as anxious as I had felt before the Cross during the previous two years. I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough.
The next morning I managed to bypass the usual sickness which made eating difficult and had some porridge around 6.30am after seeing Mum off. She would be walking the route before hopping on her bike for the last 30 miles. This had been tempting as I stressed about my (lack of) fitness in the seven days previous.
Travelling with Marie and Stuart, who was participating as part of another team, we hopped on a bus at Beauly bound for the West Coast.
The journey lasted around two hours as we arrived near Morvich after travelling through some stunning scenery on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh. The rugged mountains, lochs and glorious sunshine acted as a good distraction from thinking about the pain which was now just around the corner.
At 11:00am a gunshot sent us off in a mad scramble for position during the first few miles of double track before the climbs started in earnest. I took it fairly easy, knowing I didn’t have the endurance to sustain such a fast pace that early on.
The heroics could be saved for the last few miles of the run when I thought it likely I’d have to dig deep. And man did I have to dig deep.
After 15 miles of endulating and challenging running I set foot on the Yellow Brick Road. A section of track which is always a struggle as I carried my tired body over seemingly endless track and then tarmac. I was desperate for the transition point to come into view.
I was desperate to get on my bike as my legs tried to convince me to stop. This Yellow Brick Road may not lead to the Emerald City, but it does provide the 700+ runners and walkers with a certain degree of courage.
Knowing the course relatively well this year was both a bonus and a curse as I found myself getting ahead of myself at some points. This meant some sections felt like a drag, albeit through some stunning Highland scenery. I shouldn’t complain really but the run was tough.
Eventually the transition point came into view as I uttered a celebratory “thank f***”. It sounds weird, but I just needed a seat. Even if that seat would be on an uncompromising bike saddle for nearly 30 miles. I don’t just wear lycra shorts to be fashionable you know.
At the transition point the staff, as always, were amazingly helpful as an older man held my bike as I changed my shoes and put my helmet on. He said some encouraging words as I set off down the twisty descent which begins the second leg of the crossing.
It was on this technical descent that I lost concentration and nearly came off on a nasty corner. That had been the second squeaky bum time moment of the day after I stumbled during the run.
Fortunately I was able to correct before I landed in a ditch at speeds in excess of 30mph. Once again, I’d been lucky.
Carrying on towards Beauly I was able to slipstream for a while before riding away from the competitors I had been working with in a short lived chaingang. My legs started to fail me on the last few short climbs as I struggled to stay focused on completing the last few miles towards the finish line.
My motivation wasn’t to beat my best time as by this point I was pretty sure this was now unattainable. Instead, my main motivation was finishing.
The extra motivation being that my girlfriend had travelled to Beauly especially to see me. Even after had warned her about the lycra. Ultimately, this kept me going as waves of low blood sugar infused nausea and pain washed over me. Ouch.
As I tentatively rounded the last bend into Beauly my main concern was an unusual one. I knew I’d now finish and hopefully in a decent enough time.
Instead, I was concerned I would throw up the content of my breakfast when I arrived in the square. For this reason I was really hoping Leah wasn’t standing beside the finish line.
Fantastically my wish wasn’t granted and I was welcomed across the line by a beaming Leah who gave me a big hug before I wondered through the crowds to receive my medal. I had survived another year and hadn’t thrown up in front of my girlfriend and the other spectators. Life was good.
A flat coca cola later, and my nausea was gone as I watched Marie finishing in a decent time. Our team had done well as I unfortunately missed Mum coming in.
Mum had also done brilliantly as I met her after the event, interrupting her from a very messy but well deserved chocolate eating session. There must be something good in Granny Helen’s soup.
All in all it was another great crossing and I would love to return next year, perhaps with the same team if they can convince themselves to face the tough challenge which is the Highland Cross. Ouch.
Distance: 48 miles (77 km)