|Chip Time: 01:33:15 Position: 109/275|
As a runner and medal collector I'm a big fan of both novelty and themed races, they provide so much promise with the hope of an unusual, bespoke medal, whilst at the same time they also take the monotony out of a long distance run. The novelty of running in fancy dress, attempting to beat Beethoven's 5th Symphony, competing against a steam train, challenging riders on horseback over 26K or carrying a sack of coal on your back whilst running all strangely appeal to me. So when I heard about the Culloden 17.46K, it didn't take too much persuasion for me to sign myself up.
Billed as "...a testing challenge over a 10.83 mile route which passes through stunning scenery and by historic landmarks; Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, River Nairn and the awesome River Nairn Viaduct.", both physically and scenically this race did not disappoint and I certainly fought a personal battle around a very tough course.
Whilst struggling to find my running shorts on the morning of the race, I chanced upon the lightweight kilt I had bought for the Perth Kilt Run back in August. Believing this was some kind of providence, I decided to get another use out of it. (I had mistakenly thought there would be many kilted runners taking part. I was wrong. On arrival I counted around half a dozen.) After an early start and yet another trip up the A9, we arrived at Culloden Visitors Centre at around 10am. The race didn't start until 10:45am, so coffee, cream and jam scones and free Wi-Fi filled the gap for the next 45 minutes. I also managed to fit in the obligatory sword fight with my daughter in the gift shop. Whilst awaiting the start of the race I was asked for a photo opportunity by an American tourist which she wanted to use on her Twitter feed. I dread to think what hashtags she used.
In the café I did notice that a particular side from the Scottish Independence debate had attempted to hijack the event with their own agenda. Putting aside my own views on this issue, I would be opposed to either side promoting their political beliefs during a race. For me running should always remain apolitical. The bond runners feel toward one another transcends politics, sex, race and religion. For those hours we are out running together, life is on hold and we're all out fighting the same battle, heading in the same direction and working toward the same goal. To me this has always been part of the attraction of running races and should not be spoiled no matter how passionate folk are about their cause.
As my only running endeavour since the Aviemore half marathon two weeks previous was (whilst dressed in a stiflingly hot eagle outfit) the Beat Beethoven 5K the week before, I wasn't feeling greatly confident at the start of this race. (I've ran four races over the course of the year dressed as a Golden Eagle in support of Scottish Natural Heritage's Big 5 celebrations. As such I like to think I did my bit in promoting the eagle and am pleased to say that it won taking almost 40% of the vote.)
Anyway, better get started on to the race report. Although this course was only 10.8 miles, I would say it was as tough as any of the eight half marathons I have ran so far this year. The 17.46K race follows the same route as the majority of the 10K which is also scheduled for the same day. Runners depart from the visitors centre and gently descend South for 3kms along the B9006. The route then takes a sharp left just before Westhill followed by a hard, drawn out 2km climb to the long awaited first water station at Nairnside village. This hill was tough and even this early on in the race I passed quite a number of runners who had stopped to walk before reaching the top.
From here there is a short descent followed by another 3km of undulating road past the Culloden Battlefield with a fantastic view of the Highland Railway viaduct. At the crossroads at the 8.5kms point the 10k and 17.46k routes part company, the 10K runners head straight on, whilst the 17.46k participants turn right and take a steep descent until they cross the river Nairn. At the 10.5km point there is a sharp left hand turn followed by 1.5kms of soul destroying, steep hill climbs, taking you under the Highland railway line before you turn left at the Culdoich Junction.
After the preceding hills, the next 1.5kms came as quite a relief. At the 13.5K point the route took a sharp left, with a steep descent followed by an ever welcome water station. (As opposed to bottles, water was handed out in disposable cups. When this is the case, rather than stopping, I usually take a couple of sips and then throw the rest in my face to cool down.) From here we travelled under the imposing railway viaduct and then uphill for another 1km, re-joining the remainder of the 10K route to end back at the visitor centre. I was very thankful to see Clare and my children cheering me on at the finish line. After collecting my medal, collapsing on the grass and allowing my children to raid my goodie bag, I hobbled off to the "chip van" to pick up my race time receipt which showed a time of 1:33:15. My position was 109, coincidentally same as my race number!
All-in-all, a fantastic race with stunning scenery, but not one for the faint-hearted. The medal could also have been slightly more imaginative, but if you look very closely you can make out a sword on it so I'll settle for that.