This weekend I returned with the St. Andrews XC Club for a second go at the Meall a’Bhuachaille hill race in Aviemore. Usually an 8 mile course with about 720m of climb, I was hoping to use this as a benchmark for my fitness by comparing it to last year’s result, but the weather had other things in mind. Catching the tail of a hurricane in the Bahamas or something, the weather forecast was calling for winds well over 50 miles an hour, with movement becoming difficult even below the summits and ridge lines, which was exactly where I intended to be. Nevertheless, seven intrepid runners piled into the van on Saturday morning, ready to face whatever the weather gods had in store for us. The 2.5 hour drive took us through rain and sun in equal measures, wind pulling and pushing the van the whole way until we arrived in sunny Aviemore.
In the interest of safety, the race organizers had opted to change the course; instead of running along the ridge between the two summits, we would return down to the forest tracks and hit both peaks at either end of a “U”. Though less windy, this made the course about 3 miles longer, which meant that everyone was getting perhaps a little more than they had bargained for when they got up that morning.
Although initially disappointed with the decision, my opinion readily changed when we reached the first summit. The wind was ripping across the final 50 or so vertical meters so strongly that it was all I could do to keep my own two feet! Just before the summit it blew directly at my back, and all I had to do was stand up and pick up my feet to move forwards; coming around the summit cairn, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely. I lost several places in the ensuing descent, how the other runners managed to so gracefully descend the rugged path in the wind remains a mystery to me, one that I hope someday to solve.
Later on I crossed the finish line, muddy and exhausted, but thoroughly satisfied with how the race had gone. Chatting with the other competitors I was reminded of one of my favorite things about fell racing: the camaraderie. It is always so easy to start a conversation during or after a race, probably because both of you are joined in a common struggle against the mountain.
I was even more pleased when I discovered that despite the extra 3 miles of running and the additional climb, I had finished less than 15 minutes slower than the year before! Maybe I’m not as out of shape as I had thought.