We'd not been to a Highland Games yet, and let's be honest, short sharp races aren't my thing. But with Strathconon Games taking place last Saturday, and advertised as remaining low-key and true to the roots, it seemed like a must-do. Especially with the weather being absolutely wonderful.
We had no idea what time the race started but it said to register by 11.45am and the opening ceremony was midday. So we turned up at about 11.35, to be told the race started at midday as well! No time to mess about, no time to do a warm up.
But just enough time to talk to Ross B, who pointed out the implausible route of the race, straight up the front of a craggy, near vertical slope! It looked a wee bit intimidating, and there was certainly no run-in to use as a warm-up. Straight onto the steep slopes.
So we changed into the tartan shorts and lined up with 27 other runners (of all ages) for the Chieftain of the Games to start us off. Immediately we had to jump a drainage trench in the peat and then it was hell-for-leather heading for the slope. It didn't take long to become a walk, and for hands to start grasping at heather to pull up the slope. The heat was unbearable, the legs struggling and I was not feeling good. The only consolation was that several others were clearly feeling the same!
I was a bit disappointed in my climb, which is usually my strength. In my defence, I've had a tough couple of weeks of training, but even so... Soon enough, we were at the marshall on top, and directed across boggy, pathless heather on a quick descent and then across boggy peat to the hill track that would lead us back to the field.
I overtook several on the initial descent and then flew down the track at a decent speed. It seemed to go on a while, but soon enough, I was flying down the last slope and heading for the Games field. And, as I did, the piper started up, piping each runner back in....wow! Certainly makes you run tall. And, as I turned into the Games field, I noticed that a large crowd was now sitting on the grass watching the games and I got a good cheer and clap :-)
I sat and chatted with a few of the other runners, drinking plenty of water, and waited for Kirsten to come in, having done really well considering what a tough race it is. Plenty of runners behind her, a good performance.
After that, we went and sat in the sun, drank a couple of beers, had burgers and cake and chatted to various other Highland Hill Runners, relaxing on the grass. And then the sports started up again and, somehow, we all egged each other on into taking part in the 110,220 and 440 yd "dash" races!! With tired legs and a stomach full of beer and cake, this was not a good idea! I came last in the 220 and the 440!! But it was great fun nonetheless. And, as we sat roasting in the sun, watching the strongmen tossing the caber and hurling the hammer, against a backdrop of glorious mountains, we were able to reflect on how wonderful life is up here and what lovely people we're meeting as well.
This weekend sees our local Strathpeffer Highland Gathering. Another hill race, up Knockfarrel, for us to enjoy and we'll see what else we get up to once the beer kicks in! :-)
Just for good measure, we popped out on Sunday and put a good uphill walking effort in on Am Foachagach. Straight up and down in well under 3 hours and Kirsten was flying on the grassy descent. She had a broad smile at this, having felt she'd lost this ability a bit because of all the hard track descents we've been doing. Suffice to say I couldn't keep up on the grassier, steeper bits, and she put a tremendous walking effort in on the way up which will be more than enough to get her round Langdale in October. Fantastic!