Road, trail and boulders by Sarah Hodgkinson
The Lairig Ghru is a category C long hill race, taking runners 27 miles through the Cairngorms between Braemar and Aviemore. It’s a varied route across tarmac, trails and boulder field. The scenery is stunning, if you’re brave enough to take your eyes off the path. This was my third time running the race, so I can’t pretend I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for!
The race is incredibly well organised by the Deeside runners. After the mandatory kit check, all 200 runners were ready for the 10am start. Standing on the start line, I was relieved that the temperature had dropped from the previous day. I was more worried about getting struck by lightening from the forecast thunderstorms than I was about dehydration. A quick 3, 2, 1 and we were off.
I tried not to get caught up in the sprint at the start and kept a steady pace to Mar Lodge, then on to Derry Lodge. There is a 1.5 hour cut off to get to Derry Lodge, around 9 miles in, and I was relived to pass this point in good time. From Derry Lodge it all starts to feel real. Across the bog (thankfully dry) and on to the narrower trails, where the gradual climb begins. Runners have the choice to either run through the Luibeg burn (the direct route), or use the bridge, which involves a slight detour off the route. I opted for the direct crossing. By this point the runners had become strung out and I could see a steady line of people snaking up the path ahead of me.
The path became progressively rougher as I headed towards the infamous boulder field, with its initial false finish before a second, larger section. It was this roughness I had failed to train well enough for. I kept running with enough glances up to ensure I was going to meet the trail on the other side, but my pace slowed and I started to get overtaken. Around 18.5 miles, I was relieved to finally be over the boulder field and with almost all of the climbing behind me. By this point I knew I wasn’t going to beat my previous time, so I focussed on enjoying the rest of the run and trying not to fall over.
After passing the Pools of Dee, several cairns and crossing the river, it was on to the forest, where the steeper decent starts. I was with a small group of other runners, which provided some motivation. Crossing the Cairngorm Club Footbridge felt like a big milestone, and this time I was ready for the mental battle to get through the last few miles to the finish. As people around me started to fade, I took my final gel and concentrated on getting to the road.
I managed to pick up the pace (slightly) at the Old Bridge Inn to the finish just past the water works. My time of 4:49:19 was some way off my personal best for the course, but still within my 5 hour target.
I was pleased to see my husband waiting at the finish. He had an amazing race, coming 2nd in a time of 3:16:14.
After a quick shower and the prize-giving ceremony, it was on to the bus for the long journey back to Braemar to collect the car. I spent most of the journey telling myself I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s what I said last time too.....
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