Saturday, 1 October 2011

Och Aye, Venue

The last of the Scottish Hill Race Counters was Ben Venue. It's just to the north of Aberfoyle in the Trossachs. The Trossachs. Always sounds vaguely anatomical. The Proclaimers were on the radio singing ‘I’m on my way, I’m on my wa-ay from misery to happiness, uh ha- uha; you know the one and I was on my way from sunny warm skies to the dreich mist clad Trossachs for another lung buster. I would have been happier (and drier) dropping into the nearby Achray Hotel for a spot of civilised luncheon than changing into Walsh’s and squeezing down a gel in a saturated forestry commission car park before embarking on a wet walk in the wilderness.

I joined a handful of 'Hawks' who had come down from the City of Jute and Jam as we attempted to secure 2nd spot in the 040’s team competition. It was wet, but as we set off for the 7 .5 mile rumble through the misty heather jungle I felt pleased to be getting back up north and said 'hello' to a few runners as we clipped up along the tarmac. The route soon gave way to a gravel and pine strewn track beneath the pine trees. We turned right after a kilometre of two up through the woods and I saw a long string of runners ahead as we started the steep bit up the heather. Yep, it sure was steep and I was grabbing clumps of plant life on my way up as we made our way to the first checkpoint. I think I was passed by 5 or 6 going up.
We reached the top after 40 minutes of uphill and I was at the back of a group of 10. It was like hanging on to a whip, one minute desperately hanging off the back on the twisty rocky dips trying to stay in touch and then bunching nose to ‘erse as we hit the equally short, steep ascents. It was all going well and I was tucked just behind Des Crowe (Shettleston) and a Cosmic runner. A Carnegie runner kept coming and going (Peter Simpson, who I had tussled with in the past at the Black Rock Race). As we dropped down from the second cairn we met a string of other runners converging onto the path and I got that sinking feeling realising that we’d taken the tourist route (the long way round).
There was only one thing for it and that was to hammer down the hill. Despite my best efforts I lost contact with Des and teammate Craig Love as I tried in vain to outrun my legs on the steep slippy bit. There was plenty of falling around me in this Harem Scarem drop through the moss, wet peat and reedy grass and I was reminded of the descent of Ben Nevis in 2009 (for which I still wake some nights in a sweat), the boulders lying quietly in wait to strike.
As we hit the track again I (at last) got into a rhythm and lengthened my stride to pass a few on the way back down the track and into the woods. There was no more speed to be had but I was making full use of gravity and then, with about a kilometre to go and four runners just ahead, I began to cramp up on the series of short rises along the track and thoughts of any improvement in my position rescinded. It was only the Proclaimers song going round and round in my head that got me to the end and thankfully I managed with a shortened stride. The path near the end was narrow enough to ensure no one came past.

A bit bloodied, I towelled up and changing into some dry clothes, had a chat with some of the guys. The tea was lukewarm but there were plenty of sandwiches and the prize giving was prompt enough with the organiser confirming that Finlay had won from Prasad. I think Catriona won the ladies race. I’m not sure if we’ve done enough for the runner up prize but it wasn’t for lack of effort. For anyone wanting to witness the atmosphere of the 2009 Ben debacle here's the youtube clip:

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