he Lairig Ghru Race is a category C Long Hill Race run over 43km between the police stations of Braemar and Aviemore. A classic in the hill racing calendar, it is run annually every June. Graeme had ran this a couple of years back and rated it highly. Not that it needed selling to me. The Lairig Ghru is an amazing place and having hiked and ran in the area before I knew how spectacular a location it is.
I was fortunate that Emma was on hand to do support duties. In other words, she would drop me off in Braemar before the race start and then drive round to Aviemore and collect me later on. All the talk at work during the preceding week was the awful weather forecast. MWIS predicting that any motion would be severely inhibited, even at low level. Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound!
In addition to myself, Derek and another colleague from work were also running the race. Derek wanted to get round in about five and a half hours. Myself? I just wanted to run a steady race without running out of steam at the end and having to walk. Secretly I fancied a sub five hour finish. I had put in some decent long runs recently so I was confident there would be no issues stamina wise. The only downside being I had not done much speedwork although weeks of smashing plyometric stuff in Body Attack should be beneficial for the hills.
Braemar to Derry Lodge
|Split distance:||13.67 km|
|Pace change last:|
|Pace vs average:||-1:23.84|
|Elevation Change:||+89 metres|
The race starts outside the Police Station in Braemar and as people assembled on the road, I cast my eye over the other people running the race. As usual, there was some interesting characters; people who looked like they had never run a race in their life but would probably finish top ten, people who had all gear but probably no idea. One particular person stood out to me. A tall, lanky, giant of a man with legs so long, one stride would probably cover about ten metres. On the back of his shirt, the following words were emblazoned, “Vegan Power”. As I follow a vegan diet myself, this raised a few interesting comments from Graeme and Derek and I was quite interested to see how this guy would perform on a plant based diet like myself.
There was a pre-race debrief then the klaxon was blasted and we were off! The first section of the race is on tarmac and follows the minor road to Mar Lodge where it crosses the River Dee via Victoria Bridge and heads up through a plantation and heads up to Derry Lodge. There is a one hour thirty minute cut off here and I had calculated on Memory Map that it was a distance of about fourteen kilometres. Anything under nine minute miles would be comfortable. As the top boys (and girls) blasted off, Derek and I set off at a nice comfortable pace. After a few hundred metres I felt I could force things a bit so I upped the pace a little and moved away from Derek. I was running a comfortable 5 minute kilometre pace and feeling good. The wind was whipping around and it soon realised the best tactic was to tuck in behind a group rather than running solo.
At 5.6km we headed off the road and crossed the River Dee. Although I had never been to Derry Lodge via Mar Lodge (we normally park in the Linn of Dee car park) I knew the path would start to climb up. There was an aid station just near where the path head uphill but I did not bother and jumped a few places. After an initial uphill section the path levelled off slightly so I slowed the pace and nailed an energy gel. I was feeling good and soon enough we all dropped down into Glen Lui and intersected with the path that heads up from the Linn of Dee car park. From here it was an easy three and a half kilometre run into Derry Lodge.
Derry Lodge to Luibeg Burn
|Split distance||3.00 km|
|Pace change last||+1:01.48|
|Pace vs average||-0.22.36|
|Elevation Change||+45 metres|
There was a cut off of one hour and thirty minutes at Derry Lodge but I comfortably made this and whilst some people stopped to grab some water and jelly babies, I pushed on. The field was not spreading out now which was good because I remembered that the track in Glen Luibeg was narrow in places. It was tempting to just sit in behind people, especially when the track offered little opportunity to pass by but I made an effort to keep the pace steady and managed to pick off a couple of people.
At the Luibeg crossing, there was a little congestion as some people were trying to hop over the rocks in an effort to keep their feet dry. I decided the best course of action was just to wade through. In fact the cold water was quite refreshing.
Luibeg Burn to Pools of Dee
|Split distance||9.89 km|
|Pace change last||+1:57.69|
|Pace vs average||+1:35.33|
|Elevation Change||+343 metres|
I knew there was a steep section immediately after the burn crossing and decided to use this to take on some solid food. My choice was a blueberry bagel with jam, peanut butter and banana. Hmmmm bad choice. The bagel was so thick and ‘doughy’ I struggled to munch it let alone swallow the thing. In fact every chew was making me heave. I doubt this would have been an issue on an ultra where I would have just stopped for a couple of minutes but with this being a shorter race, I did not want lose any time. Already five people had passed me so I shoved the remaining bagel back in my pack and pushed on up the hill. No choice now, I would have to manage on my one remaining gel and some jelly babies.
At the top of the incline the path levelled slightly and headed towards the Lairig Ghru. I was really looking forward to this section because I knew I could run it all now right up until the Pools of Dee. The weather had drawn in slightly and I could feel moisture in the air. Was I going to be subjected to a downpour? As The Devil’s Point loomed up the wind was whipping across and for a good kilometre, it was tough running. Needless to say, once I had ‘turned the corner’ and passed Corrour Bothy the mountains were offering protection from wind and the running was easy.
For the next few kilometres it was fantastic running on an amazing single track. I overtook a few runners and in turn was overtaken myself by some other runners. By the time we reached the final push to the Pools of Dee, the field had spread out significantly. I had been following a lady for a while and we had been chatting on and off. My strategy, like most of other people, was to run everything apart from any steep sections where I would change to a quick walk then continue running as soon as possible afterwards. The problem when you follow someone is you kind of let them dictate the pace. I was conscious that I had lost some speed so as we approached the Pools of Dee, I upped the pace and pushed on by.
Pools of Dee to Aviemore
|Split distance||16.39 km|
|Pace change last||-1:18.85|
|Pace vs average||+0:16.47|
The Pools of Dee and more importantly the rock field. What can I say? This was tough! My pace was reduced to a crawl as I picked my way through. How the front runners actual ‘run’ over this is beyond me. My only saviour was the rocks were not wet. Thankfully the attempt at rain did not come to fruition, In fact the clouds had now broken and there was patches of blue sky. I made my way up to the top of the pass where the mountain rescue tent where I was hoping the conditions would improve and I would be able to run. Unfortunately, the path was even worse. It gave the impression it was runnable but there was lots of hidden rocks and it was brutal on the ankles.
After two slow kilometres there was only one thing for it, take my chances with the rocks and run regardless. If I carried on at this pace then I would still be running next week! A chap who was about twenty metres in front must have also decided this was the best tactic and he too set off in a run. Unfortunately, this was short lived and after about ten metres he came to an abrupt halt as he stumbled to the floor clutching his calf. I enquired about his health but he did not speak so I just pushed on. I never saw him again, in fact this was the last time I would see anyone now until I approached the Cairngorm Club Footbridge.
The terrain eased and I picked up speed. For the next five kilometres I was subjected to some of the most amazing trail running I have ever encountered. The sun was breaking through, there was not a soul in sight and I was feeling great. The path wound left and right and undulated as it gradually dropped down towards the forest. Once in the forest, the fun continued with tree roots protruding from the ground to add a little spice to the descent. With tired legs, it would be easy not to pick your feet up, catch one of these ‘bad boys’ and end up face-planting! Running to the finish in Aviemore
At the bottom of the single track there was a T Junction. I tried to remember in my mind which way the route went. I am sure it was left. Memories of a Canicross event I had entered with Milo came flooding back. I was in the lead and took a wrong turn and ended up completing an additional lap of a lake! Just as I was about to retrieve my map from my pack, I noticed the sign which pointed left and said ‘Aviemore’. I turned left and headed down the wide track picking off a runner who looked like he was struggling.
I passed the runner and crossed over the Cairngorm Club Footbridge and headed up the track that would take me to the road. Not long now surely? I had resisted looking at my Garmin since the Pools of Dee but I decided to take a peak. 36.3km down. Damm! I still had a good five kilometres to go. The good news was that I had been running for just over four hours so bar any major catastrophe, I was going to finish under five hours. In the distance I could see another runner, probably about two hundred metres ahead, I focused on catching him up and slowly I gained distance. Just before the road I ran up alongside and we chatted for a while. He tripped up over one of the tree roots back in the forest and his ankle was giving him problems.
Once on the road it was just a case of ‘head down and push on’. I passed a couple more runners who were walking and just as I was congratulating myself on the fact that I had run the last ten miles without anyone overtaking me a girl came blitzing past. She looked like she had only just started running! Under the railway bridge and onto the road. The end was in sight. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 45 minutes, fifteen minutes under my target of five hours. Happy Days! 🙂