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…..

 

 

 

Lumphanan Detox 10K 2018

With the festive period coming to a close, there seemed no better option than to make the short journey down the Deeside valley to the village of Lumphanan to participate in the aptly named “Detox” race. After a lull in my running addiction in recent weeks, this seemed the perfect opportunity to create a benchmark at the start of a new year. This challenging 10K race is the only one that is nailed down in my calendar and it has always been a family affair, even before I debuted on the hilly, muddy and often weather beaten course four years ago.

With my grandmother’s house located along the last kilometre of the race, it often feels like any family members who are competing have been gifted their own personal fan club. This year there was three of us taking part, with my mother and Auntie braving the cold,wet conditions to get their year’s of to a good start. We were also joined by my Auntie’s partner, a strong runner from the local club, Deeside Runners and three of Braemar’s finest, often labelled as the ‘Triplets’ for obvious reasons. These three siblings would act as a personal motivator. If I could finish before, or simply keep one of them in my sites for the whole race I would be pleased.

All of the above including other extended family including my brother, Auntie Claire, Uncle Mark and my three cousins descended on my Grandmother’s house, as the air buzzed with nervous energy and anticipation as the runners amongst us prepared to feel the burn. As we jogged the few hundred meters down to the start line, I started to visual the route in my head, taking in the atmosphere of a quiet rural community which had been enlivened by the arrival of 450 so runners.

Beginning in a grass park in the centre of the village, the often chaotic start to the race was quickly interrupted by a tough mile long incline leading up a minor road averaging just under 6%. A good warm up and often many people’s least favorite part of the route for obvious reasons. After this climb competitors are rewarded by a long descent which continues almost uninterrupted for the next three kilometers, before becoming more gradual, eventually taking the form of a flat incline.

The course creator then throws a spanner in the works for the road runners amongst the field with a challenging two kilometre section along a often icy and always very muddy farm track, before rejoining the main road resulting in a fast finish to agonizingly close to the finish line. With the line in site the route takes you away from the award for your efforts, with a painful 300 metre loop around a housing estate to ensure you’ve done your ten kilometers.

With this mind we entered the village hall and collected our race numbers, discussing how many layers should be worn and what footwear would be best. That morning I had taken a risk and decided to wear my ‘innovates’ or “mudblasters” as I liked to call them. These were ultra grippy shoes and this being Scotland in January it was a reasonable guess to think that there would be lots of mud and ice along the route.

The downside was that they didn’t have a very thick sole and weren’t really that well suited to road running, increasing risk of injury through impact. Having needed three stitches in my knee in muddy conditions a few months previously it was a risk I was willing to take.

Soon enough 11am rolled around and the usual struggle to decide where to place myself amongst the relatively large field took place. I wanted to be quite near the front, but realised with the first runner likely to come in up to ten minutes before yours truly that I needed to choose were to stand with a note of modesty. I also felt the pressure of the ‘Triplets’ taking part in their first ‘Detox’ looking to me in terms of where they should position themselves. All I had to do was stay with one of them…..

The struggle for position continued after the starting pistol had been fired, with a frantic and totally uncontrolled (pacing wise) start. The hill climb was first on the menu and I kept an eye on one of the ‘Triplets’ as the legs started to burn. As the climb winded upwards, I pulled alongside my target and we shared a breathless greeting. Team Braemar was on the move and it was great to feel a bit of companionship as the pain continued.

When we reached the summit of this first challenge, he pulled away and I was overtaken by the usual suspects who I had overtaken on the ascent but were much faster on fast rolling descents. Continuing on to the flat I managed to catch my companion again as I encouraged him to try and catch his brother that just about remained in our eye line.

This section on a south facing road is notorious for there being a headwind and I took off my lucky green hat, worried that it was going to blow away. Passing the halfway water station I managed to wish an old school mate a Happy New Year before reaching the infamous mud fest which was the farm track.

With some slight ice patches this is my least favorite part of the course, as we plodded on through the mud, returning to the tarmac after what felt like an age. From there the fellow Braemarian and I were neck and neck, getting a big cheer as we reached the fan base at my Grandmother’s house. It was the final short descent that made the difference as my speed was again highlighted as something to work on. My go to excuse is that I have short legs.

Finishing a place behind the ‘Triplet’ I felt like death for about a minute before making queries about my time. That had been tough and I knew that my fitness levels hadn’t been particularly high entering the New Year. I reckoned I had ran it in around 45 minutes but was pleased to find out that I had ran a 42:20.

Not a PB but not too far off and I felt more confident that my running was in a better place than it had been previously. It was a successful day for Team Braemar and my Auntie Marie and Mother both ran across the finish line in 46:34 and 58:24 respectively. A good day for all involved and if able to run next time around I have no doubt I will be making my sixth appearance at the 2019 ‘Lumphanan Detox’.