Glas Tulaichean Uphill – 26/05/18

Last Saturday afternoon I competed in my first ever uphill running race, it also only being the third time I’ve competed this year. It was actually the first time I’ve run up a munro which I found rather surprising when I think about it. The finish line was atop Glas Tulaichean, a munro a few miles west of the Spittal of Glenshee. Two of the most keen runners I know, my Auntie Marie and her partner Stuart, where running and had encouraged me to join them earlier in the week.

With my usual anxiety towards actually participating in races I desperately searched for a good excuse and as usual couldn’t find one. However, instead of looking for a bad excuse, on this occasion I decided that I needed to just go for it. I realised that I didn’t need to worry about placings or speed, I just needed to test my fitness by putting a good effort.

On race day Marie swung by the house and we chatted about the race on the short 30 minute journey. We were accompanied by my cousin, Katie, and our mad new-ish dog, Cora. It would be Katie’s responsibility to look after this hairy wrecking ball. I would be more positive about this good natured dog if I hadn’t returned home yesterday to find it had destroyed my Fijian diary. Don’t worry I can’t stay mad at dogs for long.

Arriving at the start line near Dalmunzie Hotel, we were met by stunning views up a valley with steep slopes, gradients I was secretly hoping we wouldn’t be attempting to run up. The scorching weather added to the beautiful scenery and there was little cloud cover in the sky. If I could survive running in Fiji then surely I would be able to cope with temperatures around 5 degrees cooler.

As it approached starting time my only real worry was some nasty blisters which I had on my feet.  I had counted at least five this morning, a result of running in new shoes which I hadn’t properly worn in yet. I had been forced to make a last minute purchase as my old innovates which I loved dearly had long passed there best before date. The soles were falling off and there was very little grip left. Not a good pair of shoes to be running in. This meant that my sole test of my new shoes had been 10k run the day before.

Apart from the blisters I was feeling confident, knowing I just had to give it my best shot. At 2pm we were ushered to the start line and the race to the summit started. The first three kilometres or so were raced at a high pace as we made our way along the valley floor to the bottom of Glas Tuilachen. With a race distance of seven kilometres, much of the next 4K was raced up a frighteningly steep gradient, made harder by the fact you could see the rest of the climb ahead at all times.

Passing through a river at the bottom of the climb my blisters had stung as water had filled my shoes and I really started to feel them getting worse as I slowly ascended the steep land rover track. I was maybe overtaken by four runners on the climb. I have a bad habit of starting races too fast. I was however motivated by the fact that I could see the runners walking like most hill runners should at some point. I am not one of these runners and like to continue running even when it is obviously more efficient to put your hands on your knees and walk.

I manged to catch one of these fellow competitors in the last few hundred meters, to take back a position I had lost. 50 minutes and 47 seconds after starting this 7.2 kilometre race I had reached the finish line. As I collapsed in a heap (okay it wasn’t that dramatic, I took a seat) I was able to take fantastic 360 views of the surrounding hills and munros, looking up the Larig Ghru and down on the highest peaks in Perthshire.

I was pleased that I had been able to keep running the whole way and hadn’t given into the incredible pain which I was now feeling in my feet. I was also pleased for Marie who smashed her 1 hour target by at least 3 minutes, while Stuart finished far ahead of me in a very respectable eight place out of a 44 strong field. I had finished 13th and had learnt a bit about my form with the Highland Cross approaching in four weeks time.

I had also learnt that you shouldn’t race in new shoes you haven’t worn in yet. Running back down to the start line with the others, I tentatively plodded along the land rover track as my feet felt like they were on fire. Returning to the car, I surveyed the damage and found lots of blood and some impressive holes in my heels. This had been a bit of a learning curve.

At least I have an excuse to blow the cobwebs of the bike this week! Despite the blisters it had been a great experience and again reminded me of the perks of racing in terms of being a good motivator to go out and put in the effort. Hopefully I able to get my running shoes on again by the weekend. Now where can I get some compeads?

 

The Infamous Morrone

At 859 metres high, Morrone hill has to be the most recognisable geographical landmark when entering Braemar on the North Deeside road from the east. It is technically a corbett, missing out on being a munro by a mere 55 metres. For me it is a special hill, being one that I admire but also fear. Can you have a love/hate relationship with a hill? Lets say you can.

My relationship with Morrone began before my family had even upped sticks and moved to Braemar. It was June 2016 and I was celebrating the end of my last ever school exams. I was ecstatic (well kind off) and had a long summer ahead of me before heading of to university in September. The only problem was that I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do with myself for these few months with the exception of maybe getting a job at some point. Laziness isn’t something I’m immune to.

However, my parents weren’t too happy with the idea of me being idle, so Mum suggested I travel with her on the 45 minute journey up the valley to Braemar primary school for a couple of weeks. So that’s what I did, volunteering and helping out in her class. It went well, excluding the time I fell asleep at the back of her class. She wasn’t best pleased.

Anyway, while passing Braemar’s 30 mph limit signs, I would always look in wonder at the path which wound its way up the sickeningly steep slopes of Morrone to the mast which was just visible at the summit. I knew I had to run up it and one Friday I was lucky enough to give this a go.

It was after school hours and Mum was making preparations for the next day in the classroom. It had been a scorching day and the heat had seemed to keep intensifying until it had become more and more humid. If I was a weather expert or had basic general knowledge I would have known what was to come next. Hindsight is a great thing though.

At the start of my run I passed the golf course towards Fraser’s Bridge, before taking a right and embarking on the steep southern slope of Morrone. The path that is visible from the main road is the one that I would be descending. The fire road climb was long and winding as I started to feel the burn in the bright evening sunshine. After about 30 minutes of painful climbing at an average gradient of 11% I reached the summit, had a seat and took in my surroundings for the first time.

The 360 degree views from the summit are stunning when the skies are clear and atmospheric when they”re not. On this day I spent about 15 minutes taking in the many hills, mountains and valleys which lay in front of me. During this time I heard a slight rumble from the west and looked up the Dee valley to the Linn O’Dee to see dark clouds forming. Another rumble, this time louder followed by another. Each time becoming louder. Finally logic kicked in and I realised what was happening. It was time to try and loose some altitude quickly.

The approaching lightening was getting closer by the second, seemingly wanting to chase me down the hill to shelter. I scrambled as fast as I could down the rocky, technical single track as huge hailstones attempted to make my descent harder. I could almost feel the electric pulse around me as there were bright flashes and deafening booms to my left.

Eventually I reached the primary school and found shelter as the storm moved away. I realise the chances of actually getting struck by lightening are extremely low but this had still been an interesting experience. According to “Strava” that still stands as my fastest descent of Morrone and I don’t think I’ll ever beat it.

Just over a year later my family had based themselves in Braemar, giving a perfect opportunity for me to put some demons to bed and tackle Morrone again. When in the village it became my staple hill running route and is now one of my favourites. There are a few variations you can do on the route with the longest being 12 and the shortest being 7 kilometres long. The shortest variation takes you up the single track to the “Five Cairns” and is an exact copy of the hill race which is held at the famous Braemar Gathering every September.

Despite my great enjoyment of challenging myself on these slopes, Morrone truly became an infamous hill in my book in September of last year. After work I often climb the rocky path through the heather when there is enough light. Long story short, one night there wasn’t enough light and I ended up at the summit of Morrone in the quickly fading light without a torch. This wasn’t good and was a situation which should have been easily avoided.

Fearing I might not be able to find my way back to the street lights, I wanted to get down the hill as fast as possible. Then I fell. I hadn’t noticed the rock that I tripped on or even felt the one I landed knee first on. I hadn’t hurt too much and dusting myself off, I continued stumbling down the descent, fearing superficial scarring to my right knee at the worst.

As I finally reached the street lights of Braemar after continuing through the pitch darkness (as a part-time jedi the force guided me) I stopped to tie my laces and then looked down at my knee. Seeing the blood which was still flowing down to my ankle, I surveyed my knee and was taken a back by the deep hole which had developed on my knee cap.

Arriving home I tried to plaster it up to stop the bleeding but eventually gave in and showed Mum the extent off my injury. I had certainly done a good job of it. A late night doctor’s surgery visit later and I had three stitches and a very stiff knee. For a second time, the towering hill of Morrone had commanded my respect. Three weeks out from running following a nasty infection on removal of the stitches, and I realised hill running shouldn’t be messed with.

Approaching a year on from this hiccup and Morrone has become a staple of my training again. My weaker right knee reminds me of the risks of becoming overconfident on its steep descent and it seems like a pretty desolate and scary place to go in the dark anyway. Maybe it wasn’t a rock which tripped me…..