This year’s Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon was in Ben Cruachan, between Glen Orchy in the East and Loch Etive in the West. That is, it was unless, like my partner Tom and I, you were on the A or Elite courses, in which case Saturday began with a boat ride across Loch Etive to a starting point near the tiny village of Bonawe. Of course this also came with the knowledge that we’d have to run all the way around Loch Etive to get to the mid-camp in Glen Kinglass!
Angela Mudge, the planner for this year’s courses, was our starter, and we set off on the A course in bright sunshine, with 32km and 1800m of climb ahead of us. Tom rocketed up the hill to the first control so fast I could barely keep up, but we soon settled down to a pace I could just about live with.
The first six controls, on the West side of Loch Etive, passed in a bit of a blur, with no real problems except for a couple of minutes wasted looking for the second. However, we were going fast, and I was struggling to eat and drink enough while keeping up with Tom. We then had a steep descent to the end of the Loch – all the way back down to sea level – followed by a horribly steep climb to a control on a ridge top at 660m. This leg was my downfall as I paid for going too fast and drinking too little – I was reduced to stopping every few metres to catch my breath, with Tom still going strong ahead of me up the climb.
From there we went up again, over a steep, narrow col on the ridge between Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor, down to another col, and then almost to the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan before contouring through crags to the long final descent to the mid-camp. By this stage I’d started to recover a bit, and we made a surprisingly quick descent considering how I’d been feeling. When I got to the mid-camp, Rachel and Elsie were there already to greet us – Rachel said I looked 20 years older when I arrived! Despite my struggles, we’d managed third place on day one, 20 minutes behind the leaders, but with the second placed team just a minute ahead of us.
The evening was lovely, with sunshine, a bit of breeze, and lots of friends about to chat to and discuss route choices with. However, as night fell, the breeze died and the midges appeared in ever-increasing numbers. I’ve never seen them so bad anywhere – they descended on any exposed flesh in seconds, and got in your eyes, up your nose, pretty much everywhere. I’m sure half my protein intake for the evening was midges!
Sunday morning dawned with even more midges than the night before. The outer tent was black with them, and it took serious willpower to push through the cloud of them in the door of the tent. We hid in the tent until the last possible moment to take it down and go to the start.
Day two was only 24km (straight line), but with almost as much climb as day one, and we set off straight up the hill (as always at these events) with the second placed team just in front of us. We caught them just before the first control, and with Tom again towing me along, pulled steadily away over the next leg.
This time the course featured more Munros, with a steep climb almost to the summit of Beinn Eunaich, then a traverse under Beinn a’Chochuill before dropping down to the Lairig Noe, and then another steep climb up to a 1000m summit East of Ben Cruachan, and finally a run along the ridge and over the summit of Stob Daimh. Despite being close to the summits of large numbers of Munros over the years, Rachel and I have made it a tradition not to go to the top, so this was the first time I’ve ever actually bagged a Munro. Only 282 to go!
From Stob Daimh we had a glorious ridge run with views out over Loch Awe on the final descent to the finish. We’d not seen the team behind us since the final big climb, and not seen the team in front at all – they’d been too strong for us all weekend, beating us by half an hour over the two days. We did manage to finish just before the rain started, and overall had an excellent weekend. My legs and feet still hurt, but already I’m looking to next year!
Thanks to Tom for running with me, and putting up with me being slower for most of the race, to Martin Stone and all the LAMM team for putting on such a brilliant event, to Lowe Alpine for the very nice backpacks we got for our second place on the A. No thanks to the midges!