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04/05/13 Stuc a' Chroin - from Andy Russell

Stuc a’ Chroin 5000 (22 km / 1500 m), May 4th 2013

photo: Andy Russell

I thought I’d pop up to Scotland on the May Bank Holiday weekend to give the Stuc a’Chroin race a go as it seemed like a good excuse to return to an area I’d not been to for a good few years since living in Clackmannanshire in my youth.  Blue skies during the 3 hr drive north gave some great cloud free views of the distinctive profiles of Ben Vorlich (985 m) and nearby Stuc a’ Chroin (975 m). With my hopes high for great running conditions I arrived in Strathyre with plenty of time to register and scout out the first couple of km of the race route.

The conditions didn’t look too bad considering there had been two inches of rain in this area the previous day. However as the race start approached the weather steadily deteriorated into squally showers prompting me to pack a few extra items of kit.  At 1pm 206 runners started out from Strathyre firstly up a narrow forest track before following forest roads for a few km to an elevation of about 300m.  A steeper climb through some very boggy forest took us out onto the open hill across some fairly boggy terrain to Meall Mór (550 m) exposed to progressively heavier rain driven in by a stiff south westerly. From here I dropped down a soggy slope into Glen Ample (350 m) picking-up some very welcome jelly babies and water from the marshals before starting on Beinn Each (811 m).

The climb up Beinn Each required hauling on clumps of heather until the slope eased off towards the summit.  By this stage the weather had cranked-up with high wind and driving rain forcing another quick stop to put on another layer.  The route from Beinn Each followed an undulating ridge in a northerly direction to the Bealach nan Cabar (670m) where started to meet runners returning from the top of the Stuc. By this stage I was starting to loose feeling in my fingers and needed baton down the hatches for the final couple of km to the top. Before starting up the final climb to the top of the Stuc, at Bealach Glas, I noticed that several marshals were attending to a runner with hypothermia. The final haul to the top involved negotiating a large snow patch on which several runners were coming to grief on the descent. Conditions on the top were the worst I’ve been out in for a while and despite the temptation I didn’t hang about to pose for a picture on the top. At this stage I was simply concentrating getting back down in one piece.

The return to the Bealach nan Cabar although downhill was into the full force of the weather which made for a steady jog than a run, conscious that any injury would inevitably result in the rapid onset of hypothermia. From the Bealach nan Cabar we descended a saturated hillside, passing mountain rescue team members on their way up, before joining a rough track leading down to the bottom of Glen Ample. At this point a rescue helicopter passed overhead no doubt heading round to Bealach Glas.  From the Glen Ample check point it was back up and over boggy Meall Mór through the boggy forest and finally down the last few km of forestry roads.

I managed to cross the finish line in just over 4h 39mins (189th out of 196 finishers), slightly longer than I had anticipated but still in time for several cups of hot soup which were very welcome. As I staggered from the finish line a 25th Anniversary Hill Race commemorative coaster was thrust in to my hand bringing it home to me that it’s been well over 25 years since I’d last been up Stuc a’ Chroin. The hill race route was extremely well marked with marshals stationed strategically along the route. A big thank you to all the race marshals and helpers who braved the elements for hours supplying water, jelly babies and encouragement. I’m looking forward to running this again next year, in better conditions hopefully!
Organisers report and results:   http://www.stucachroin5000.org.uk/
My blurred pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47734809@N08/sets/72157633436631096/

Andy Russell

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