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No man’s land

The Stuc a’Chroin 5000 race took place on Saturday May 5, kicking off in Strathyre before what is cited as one of the most brutal races in the Scottish Hill Racing calendar took 300 runners through 22km of lumpy terrain.

The race takes in some of the most dramatic landscapes in the Central Belt. From Strathyre, runners zoom along the fire roads to Glen Ample. You then descend from Creag a Mhadaidh (1736ft/520m) into the glen at just 1100ft/335.28m before the climb that will have you greeting for you mammy, as Brian Sharp described it.

The climb to Beinn Each’s summit is a 35% average pain cave of loose mud, thick heather, old fencing and greeting hill runners. After that, get your kicks on because it starts to get fun! The ridge between Beinn Each and Stuc a’Chroin is a fast, rolling one, with plenty of slick rocks to send you flat on your backside.

On the run along the ridge, race leader Finlay Wild went by in the opposite direction, leading the chasers by about eight minutes at that point. Once we touched the Stuc summit, it was a case of ‘Get the hell out of here!’ as the wind and drizzle made for zero visibility. Running in it was like trekking across no man’s land – mud, water, deep holes, mist.

Sadly, I passed my good friend Robin (he of the Celtman fame as featured on last year’s Adventure Show) hobbling to the marshals having gone down hard on his left leg. By the time we returned to the bottom, it was double the size of his right.

It was at this point the stoke levels reached an absolute peak – not because of Robin. Sorry Robin. The high was kicking in big time. I was on cloud nine and overtaking people on the slippy, technical descent. It was just madness.

We descended off the side of Beinn Each and the impenetrable cloud was finally beginning to break somewhat. And then it happened. Just like Robin, I touched a slick bit of rock and went down, striking my knee off a perfectly sharp edge of stone and slicing out a chunk of skin.

Sparing details (it wasn’t pretty), two girls offered me water and I sprayed it over the wound. Thankfully, I remembered I had toilet roll (always handy) in my pack, so used that as an initial clean-up job. Then, taking my second buff, made it into a tourniquet using my racing number pins.

After that it was a case of hopping down the last 400ft back to Glen Ample to the marshals. They did a stellar job, patching me up as best they could and, as we waited for Robin so we could all drive back to Strathyre together, gave me tablet in copious amounts. That was on top of the half ton of jelly babies I had consumed from marshals along the ridge.

After that it was a case of finding a way to Stirling (me now unable to drive) and getting my car back. Thankfully, the heroes that are John MacEwan and Brian Sharp of Ochil Hill Runners escorted us to minor injuries, meanwhile Mark and Andrea Priestly (also OHR) got my car back home safe and sound.

The final results can be found on the Stuc a’Chroin 5000 website, but the big wins were Finlay Wild taking the race overall a full 11 minutes ahead of Jonathan Crickmore with 2:11.22. Sam Alexander finished 3rd in 2:23.22.

In the ladies, Stephanie Provan of Deeside Runners came in at 2:46.32 ahead of Ruth Crewe (2:51.10) and Helen Bonsor (2:56.52).

For the guys in the Ochil Hill Runners, it was a great showing with lots of runners on the hill. Steve Feltbower lead the men in a time of 2:38.10 and Andrea Priestly won the the V50 class in just over three hours.

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Tom Vasperu fleeing to Strathyre. Credit: John MacEwan

Stuc a’Chroin 5000 is an insane and fantastic race. The whole community is out in force, either as marshals, first aiders, registration officers – you name it. They are amazing. In the weeks running up to the race, they took thousands of bottles of waters to pass to runners along the whole route.

There has, however, been some backlash. Photographs soon went up online of water bottles scattered on Stuc a’Chroin’s summit, as well as photos of a stash of bottles amongst some rocks.

Without context, some were on to it like cats on mice. They were scrapping in the comment threads and throwing abuse (quite horrendous abuse) at whoever had destroyed this mountain.

The weather on Saturday was, safe to say, pants. Given the number of bottles up there to begin with, a handful at the top can be excused for someone just missing them. Approaching the organisers on this point, they agreed that they would not leave bottles strewn intentionally on the hill.

So, what about the stash? In a statement, the Stuc a’Chroin 5000 committee said:

Our race has been running almost 30 years, and during that time we have built a reputation as one of the best organised races in Scotland – probably the UK as well. We also have a reputation for one of the best supported races and our marshals are held in the highest esteem by many runners, many of whom have survived life-threatening experiences by the unselfish marshals on the day.

These marshals stand up top in strong winds, a wind chill into minus figures, rain and near zero visibility for anything up to four hours to be on hand should any of the runners require assistance.

These bottles were not waste or litter, but were full bottles and stashed temporarily until they could be retrieved. It is part of our normal practice to stash any surplus full bottles out of the way for the few days until we can pick them up on a sweep after the race.

They are normally buried in rocks and covered with a tarpaulin until we can pick them up. In this particular instance, we had to use the tarpaulin to cover one of the runners who was injured.

Stuc a’Chroin 5000 was a British Championship race last year, so they are used to their time in the spotlight. Most established events, like Stuc, have rules surrounding littering on the part of participants. A lot of the conversations in the comments turned to other sports, such as cycling, but even in professional cycling, riders can receive penalties for littering outside feed zones.

It is perhaps something worth looking at if there are still events without rules surrounding littering, but to jump down the throats of an event ran by locals as a not-for-profit sporting spectacle is not appropriate without the facts.

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Robin and I after the war. Thanks to the marshals and everyone else for their help. Credit: John MacEwan

Also, as is clear from the statement, the safety of people was a much more important factor in the organisers’ decision, both to get off the hill and in the covering of the bottles. Yes, the argument could be made to cancel the race, but the cut-off time was actually reduced by 15 minutes, and conditions were fine if you were moving quick and not stopping often. For those marshals on the tops, it was pretty cold.

The committee added: “Conditions up Stuc a’ Chroin on Saturday were treacherous and the safety of the marshals was compromised, with the result being that not all our closing procedures were fully carried out. We care deeply for our local and global environment and do try to remove all waste.

“To those of you who gave us the benefit of the doubt, we thank you and apologise sincerely. To the others, we also apologise but urge you to maybe ask questions first, note the response and then take your unreasonable stance if it is still deserved.”

The arguments did throw up some good questions, though. One of which that I felt deserved most credence was the argument that not that many bottles were needed if a required bit of kit was water. Water was not in the kit check, but food was. If this was otherwise, perhaps fewer bottles would be needed, thus reducing the chance of having to leave a stash for Keyboard Warriors to get mad about.

Next year is the race’s 30th anniversary, and I hope I can return to it fitter than this year, but also finish it in style. Although, finishing it with a buff as a tourniquet and blood all down your leg with a beaming smile is a pretty good end, too. Shame about the buff, though.

Posted by Ross Brannigan

“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

2 Comments

  1. […] just need to be comfortable to relax. I have definitely improved; coming off Stuc a’Chroin, I lost people on the descent, but I played to my stregnths and knew I could catch them on the […]

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  2. […] laugh. My last race had seen me in minor injuries with five stitches after slicing my knee open on Stuc a’Chroin. When I looked down and saw no white tissue was on show, I knew we were safe today and trodded on. […]

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