Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Arrochar Ow-ps

In 2013 Matt set off in chipper form to give this race a go, and returned shuffling and broken after a six hour trudge in the rain. I'd had no desire to put myself through the same Arroch-horror until this year, when Matt convinced me it would make a good "training run" for the Wasdale horseshoe in July. I've had very little time recently to think about what I was in for (or, for that matter, do much training), but Matt has been limbering up with early nights and a disconcerting reduction in beer consumption. We'd managed to persuade Helen W to join us, and she too had been uncharacteristically angsty about the event, having reccied it a couple of years ago (and this is someone who *enjoys* the Jura Fell Race). Anyway, I was feeling reasonably okay about it, having devolved all neurotic preparation to Matt. He'd also agreed to trot round with me (I think he genuinely feared for my safety if I was left to my own devices).

However, as we drove into Arrochar and saw Beinn Narnain swathed in cloud, the butterflies kicked in. Munros are quite big, aren't they? <gulp> But wait, what's that I see? Stewart Whitlie is wearing the same socks as me! A favourable auspice if ever I saw one.

The stroll/brisk walk/slightly panicky jog to the start at Succoth got me warm enough to remove my long-sleeved top (first time this year, I think?), and as the midgies descended the race briefing looked a bit like this.

"Helen, wait up!"

Warm and moist.

Matt had advised setting off slowly, rather than burning along the flattish trail to Ben Vorlich, and so we pattered along at the back of the field. It was warm and steamy, and I looked forward to the refreshing breezes higher in the hills. Helen motored ahead, and by the time we hit the turn-off up the steep bank to Ben Vorlich she was a distant red-vested figure yomping up the soggy tussocks. We got chatting to some guy who was going Arrochar as his first ever hill race. Brave? Nuts? You decide. I breathed in the Scottish air appreciatively. The breeze was warm and sweet, slightly spicy...maybe with a touch of peat. I realised the small tumbler of Balvenie we'd brought to pep us up in the latter stages of the race had leaked and was dribbling down my leg.

Yup, it's thataway.

"Helen! Yoohoo!"

Matt helpfully broke down the ascent with 100m updates from his altimeter, and actually it wasn't as bad as I'd expected. The descent was another matter though. Steep and grassy with scattered rocks/boulders to keep you on your toes (or arse, in my case). I negotiated most of it in the reverse spider position, feeling despondent as runners stampeded past. At one point we had to wend our way past a little gully, and my vertigo kicked in. All rationality deserts me at the merest hint of "exposure". Space becomes elastic, with the drop swimming away from me, and I imagine my Mudclaws to be as gripless as bowling shoes. I clutched the moss and heather and whimpered my way onto safer ground.
Fasties coming down as we go up.

"Helen! Helen!!"

Herds of over-takers.

Having dreaded Ben Vorlich in the run-up to the race, I was elated to reach Sloy Dam. I knew Ben Vane was going to be a horrible slog, but once you're up there, you've officially broken the back of the race. We climbed and clambered for an age, and Matt miscalculated his altimeter reading, falsely promising the top to be within about 200m. One Mars Bar and an eternity later and the top still wasn't in sight. We were making reasonable progress though, passing people who'd overtaken us on the Vorlich descent. Aha, a snowy patch. This *must* mean we're nearly there. A final scramble up the rocks to the top, and we'd done it. We had a slight false start finding the best line off the top, and galumphed our way down to Bealach Lag Uaine.

Ascent to Beinn Ime.

Feeling done in.

The race elevation profile is misleadingly reassuring at this point. It looks like once you've nailed the long climbs up Bens Vorlich and Vane, Beinns Ime and Narnain will seem easy peasy in comparison. Obviously though, your legs are weary by this point and Beinn Ime in particular loomed imposingly. I thought I could maybe see Helen far, far away in the distance. Several runners were coming unstuck. There was shaking of heads and grumbling. One guy had seized up completely with cramp. I swigged on my electrolytey water (Torq, orange flavour...thumbs up!) an had another Mars Bar. Matt was looking a bit green around the gills, and even the deliciously runnable descent off Ime didn't perk him up. He couldn't face the remains of the Balvenie or our trump-card snack: a couple of samosas.

The ascent up Narnain was quite tolerable, although my niggling hip pain was an irritation. I hesitated at the top, remembering Helen's advice to keep right to avoid a nasty craggy down-climb. Or was it left? Hmm. Matt headed seemingly straight on, and I queried if he knew this way was safe. He shrugged; it had been such bad visibility the first time he did Arrochar that he didn't know which way he'd gone. Desperately wanting to be sitting down with a cup of tea in my hand, I threw caution to the wind and just headed generally down. There were rocky scrambles and slippery boulders, but I was too tired to be scared. Plus, it looked like we were going to make it back to base in under 6 hours, which would be a PB for Matt. Amazingly, no one overtook us on this bit.

The nobbly Cobbler in the background.

I hadn't bothered to examine the last stretch of road on the map, and was dismayed to realise it was about a mile and a half long, in a cruel detour around Succoth. We shuffled though the finish in 5:37:29 knocking at least 20 minutes off Matt's previous time. Helen had been cooling her boots, quite literally, in the burn for a good 10 minutes before us, which made her third lady! <doffs cap> With Matt still feeling a bit peelywally, Helen and I tackled the well-travelled samosas and dribble of whisky.

I was really happy to have made it round Arrochar, albeit slowly (Joe Symonds won in an unfathomable 3:21, and Stewart was 4th overall in a mind-boggling 3:40), and felt it would stand me in good stead for Wasdale. I may possibly have been a teeny bit optimistic about that....

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