This weekend was the 4th Highlander Mountain Marathon; an event with signficant prize money up for grabs… £500 to the winning team! We signed up for the event well before the location was announced and hence when Gairloch was posted as being the starting point we were slightly shell-shocked by the 10-hour drive required to reach that part of Scotland. The surprise was exacerbated by the fact that we hadn’t looked at the calendar and thought that the event was a few weekends away. After briefly considering whether or not Richard’s knee would cope with the two-day event, we set-off with a fruit cake, a jamaican ginger bread cake and six hot cross buns for company.
After a late Friday night, we awoke at 6am on Saturday morning and made our way to the events centre. Within about 20 minutes we were on the early 8 am bus to an undisclosed location which turned out to be above Victoria Falls. The weather was bright and clear; we were in for a warm day. After Richard had stretched, we set off on the A course, which was the harder alternative to the D and the B courses that we had competed in previously (2007 and 2009 respectively).
The format of day 1 was to visit 18 controls in any order in the fastest time. The projected distance was 33.5 km with 1500 m of climb; we ended up running 35 km. The scenery was stunning, unfortunately I didn’t take in too much of it because I was too busy looking at the floor trying not to slip over. This was a particular hazard because the weather had obviously been very wet and then subsequently very dry, which meant that the ground had a hard crust, underlain by a very wet slimy layer. I slipped countless times.
The first half of day 1 was really great, the hours flew by and we were making good progress keeping up and passing the leading female team. The second half of the day was more challenging, first because of a tricky-to-find re-entrant and then later because the final 8 controls were a bit of a mental challenge. Let me explain… I was getting a bit tired and I knew there were 18 controls… we had only got 10 so far and even though I knew that the final 8 were closer together than the first 10, it was mentally challenging to consider that we still had so many to go. Nevertheless our minds were distracted by the presence of the wreckage of a 1945 B-24-H liberator bomber (the propeller from which was poking out of a loch!) and later the sighting of the female team previously mentioned who were still behind us. The second to last control was evil; we had to lose height to 80 m and and then climb another 100 m up to the summit of a hill. Richard was feeling rather grim at this point, probably due to the fact that he hadn’t run for about 6 weeks and that he was a little dehydrated. Thankfully his knee held out with only a scream now and again. We were out for 7 hours 6 minutes.
Our dinner of Ainsley Harriott’s spicy couscous, almonds, raisins, chorizo and wild mushrooms, followed by custard tasted particularly good. We had a few dances at the ceilidh and retired to the dog kennel (our affectionate name for our one-man tent).
The morning arrived quickly, which was good as we both didn’t sleep particularly well. The day 2 start was a 25 minute walk from the campsite, which was a nice gentle warm-up. The day was similar to day 1, however the whole area had been sporadically planted with Scots Pine. Each pine sapling was planted on a small mound of earth, adjacent to a foot wide, foot deep, crater. They didn’t impede progress too much, but did provide another obstacle at times. Richard navigated us easily though the hilly terrain and even took a shortcut through a loch at one stage! Thankfully the day was shorter than the previously day at a projected 22 km and 1330 m, but we were still out for 5hrs 50mins. I was very glad to see the finish!
We were the second mixed team and 10th overall (out of 23 teams). Unfortunately we didn’t collect prizes because 2nd and 3rd prizes were only awarded where there were 5 teams in the class 🙁 . Nevertheless, we beat the female team and hence if Richard had been a woman, we would have won £500.