Race The Steam Train
26th May 2013
Gun time: 40mins 54 seconds
Finish Position: 87th/169
Category: 16th/ 45
It’s hard to tell when this day began. Was it when I finally gave up on sleep and emerged from my tent at 7am? Was it when the screaming bairn in the tent nearby woke the entire campsite up at 05:30am? Was it when the dawn chorus broke into life and the birds turned the volume up to 11 around 04:30? Or was it every half hour prior to that when I woke up shivering in the near-zero darkness of the Cairngorms in Spring? I think I’m making my point well here; I did not get a good nights’ sleep before this race. I love the idea of camping, I really do; but in practice it’s just such a pain in the arse. And the neck. And the back. And the hips. And the legs, especially if you ran up and down a Corbett the day before.
I dragged myself out of my 1-man tent some time after 7am and headed to the shower-block to attempt to defrost a little. It had been COLD the night before, and despite in addition to my thermal sleeping bag wearing thermal running tights, leggings, sweat pants, hiking socks, thermal base layer, t-shirts, two sweat shirts, a woolly hat and running gloves, I had been a very cold individual indeed. On return to our tents I discovered everyone else was beginning to show signs of life and seemed to be in good, albeit sleepy, spirits.
The weather was overcast but not too cold, and thankfully dry. I ate some breakfast whilst sitting in the front seat of my car appreciating the padding on my aching muscles. Initial thoughts that I’d escaped any residual stiffness from the day before had been premature and I was tightening up like an Aberdonian’s wallet as his round approaches. I counted up what I’d drank the night before and noted an impressive 5 different types of alcohol – that certainly wasn’t helping get me going any quicker and I felt dehydrated and in want of a large fry-up. My supplies dictated otherwise though, so I sucked down two cans of red bull and some bananas.
We arrived at registration about 9am and found parking easy and plentiful. Registration was as swift as it always is at a small race and we passed the time standing in portaloo queues bemoaning how stiff our legs were. Iona and Jemma disappeared and then reappeared with cups of coffee and Jemma was clutching a chicken curry pasty – just the thing to blow the gin cobwebs away. We’re serous athletes, don’t you know!?
The first stage of the journey was via a shuttle bus which took us to Aviemore Station. Jemma went awol here and ended up missing the first shuttle, and leaving us in charge of her coffee and pasty.
The Strathspey Steam Railway is a volunteer run railway conservation project which runs trains from Aviemore to Broomhill all year and is a big tourist attraction. They have lots of associated events and do dinners and other fun things on the train as well.
We were shown on to the train and took some seats and awaited the arrival of the second shuttle bus which would hopefully contain Jemma!
It was lovely and warm on the train, and very comfortable. It was definitely the most fun I’d had before a race ever!
The train journey took about 15 minutes. The runners alighted at Boat of Garten and the train continued to Broomhill. The premise is that by the time the train is ready to leave Broomhill to make its return journey, the runners have reached the start line and are ready to go. Race control is in touch with the train control; they give a signal when the train has left and that’s when it’s time for the race to start.
This was our nemesis. We were told it would take between 43 and 45 minutes to cover the journey back to Aviemore so that’s how long we had to run the 4.6 mile race.
It was a short walk to a sports centre where we were able to have one final toilet stop and a warm up if required. My legs were so sore I wanted to move them as little as possible so I thought I’d save the pain for the race.
Ali, being more of a racing snake than we’ll ever be, made his way to the front of the race while we wiggled through into the front half. There was a great mix of runners in the field; from total machines to people who were taking it a lot less seriously and several runners with dogs too.
The run took place mainly on trails and I had decided to wear my cloud surfer shoes for some extra oomph. This was the shortest race I’d done in a long time so it was strange thinking that I really didn’t need to strategise any more than “Start running, run as fast as you can, finish”. I thought that keeping under 9 minute miles would be a good aim, but coming off the back of most of a month sitting on my backside drinking beer and eating cheese, I was aware that may have been a bit ambitious.
Taking into account the former as well as the attacking trilogy of lack of sleep, hill running and a fair bit of booze the night before, I was quite pleased to be drifting along at 8:30ish pace for a while. That lasted about 5 minutes before I started huffing and puffing like the proverbial steam train itself. The trail was quite undulating and that made any kind of brisk pace a bit of an ask for me.
Ignoring my body’s moaning, I pushed on and reminded myself that it was only 40 or so minutes of pain, and this is what happens when you don’t run for a while. Regardless of how much of an arse it is running 50+ miles a week at times, it sure is quite handy when it comes to having to go somewhere quickly and it hurts a lot less. I felt like an uncoordinated sack of flabby potatoes when I ran and I didn’t like it very much. Or the creeping nausea/gurning hungry belly/stiff and janky legs.
Off to the left is vaguely where we were running the day before. Even though it looks cloudy it was actually very muggy and humid; I was far too over-dressed in a long sleeve top, t-shirt and club vest, so added to my list of woes was “perspiring like a pig”. Whatever else happened though, I was not going to let myself walk. My fragile goal of sub-9 miles became “just keep running” and that was more than enough for my broken, out of shape, gin-soaked self.
Splits: 8:37 – 8:48 – 9:06 – 8:52 – 5:31 (0.6m nubbin)
I was pretty glad to see the finish and be able to stop running. It’s times like this when the whole completing the Highland Fling race thing seems even more like a dream – at that point I didn’t feel like I was capable of running for 53 minutes, never mind 53 miles!
This picture just about sums it up. Am I not done yet?!
The finish was right into the car park of the Cairngorm Brewery, and we were handed a gorgeous medal with a train on it and a fabulous goody bag.
We all beat the train, but Ali well and truly trounced it in 30 minutes and 12th place. Iona was next, followed by Jemma, then it was me, and Kate following close behind.
The Cairngorm Brewery was open for tasting and shopping, but I was most disappointed to have to drive so I had to abstain. The vouchers in the goody bag are a great hook to get us to come back though; I hadn’t been to Aviemore in years and I hadn’t realised what a mecca for outdoors people it is. The main high street has every single outdoors shop you could think of – I could have spent hours looking at new kit if I hadn’t had to get home.
Check out this swag – big race organisers take note: this race cost £14/£12 SAC and we got all of the above, plus bus transfers and a train ride! This is most definitely the best value for money race I have ever done, so big congratulations to the Cairngorm Runners for pulling off a total blinder. I sent an email of thanks to the race director the next day – they really deserved some recognition for a brilliant job.
So in conclusion – fabulous race, beautiful area and a cracking town. But I still hate camping. Next year I’ll be checking into the MacDonald Aviemore resort hotel and arriving on the start line refreshed and rested – that train better watch its back…