Dave Gaffney was in Aberdeenshire doing the Bennachie Hill Race over the weekend. Here's his report:
I tend to look at the Scottish hill racing calendar with an eye for possible weekend trips that would offer something for all the family and Bennachie Hill Race offered great potential on that front because my cousin and her family live just a few miles from there. Knowing that both sets of kids would welcome the opportunity to spend a couple of days reacquainting themselves with each other, we invited ourselves to stay for the weekend and ventured north-east on Friday afternoon, across the new bridge over the Forth and beyond the Granite City to Garioch (pronounced “Geary”), the area which lies to the west of Inverurie.
Bennachie is actually a range of seven hills, flanked on all sides by pine forests. Its name is a derivative of Beinn na Ciche - literally “hill of the breast” - and having not run for four weeks due to illness and injury I did think there was every chance it was going to make a tit out of me. The summit ridge extends for about 8km in total and the relatively low-lying flat land in the surrounding area means Bennachie is easily seen from miles around. Except, that is, when it is entirely obscured by cloud, which it was for several hours before, during and after the race on Sunday afternoon. Even high winds, which were forecast to be up to 50mph on the summit, couldn’t shift it in the hours before the race.
Entry numbers (all done in advance, no entries accepted on the day) were capped at 200 and despite the cold, wet and windy conditions most people who had registered did in fact turn up to accept the challenge posed by a 13km route which takes in four of the range’s tops and a total ascent of 1600ft (or 500m). That’s about double my ideal hill race distance, so I felt pretty sure I’d struggle for stamina towards the end, but figured it would be a good long Sunday run regardless.
The junior race got underway at 2pm to loud cheers from the seniors gathered at the start line. Then, after a quick briefing by the race organiser and a generous round of applause in memory of Chris Tomlin - a member of the Cosmic Hillbashers running club who had died suddenly last week - we were soon underway and headed up the fire road towards Watch Craig, the first top of the day.
Good going on a wide track soon dissolved into a sticky climb on a very muddy single track, first through trees then out onto the heathery open hillside. An abundance of rocks and tree stumps on the path made overtaking and/or looking upwards perilous in the extreme, but as it began to flatten out slightly towards the first top overtaking was possible again and I managed to gain a few places as we were blown up and over Watch Craig and down towards Oxen Craig. The wind on the summits was as bad as I’ve experienced in any race - with the exception of this year’s Carnethy 5, which will definitely take some beating. But somewhere between Oxen Craig and Craigshannoch the boggy path became a good gravelly track, the wind subsided a bit and the cloud even dispersed enough for us to have views down to the north and east of sun-kissed fields below.
A well-built path led us to the final rocky outcrop of Mither Tap, from where it was a very enjoyable run down the Maiden Causeway on a great path with just the occasional wet rocky section thrown in to keep us honest. With no GPS watch to remind me how many kilometres I’d covered and how many more there were therefore still to go, I got a bit carried away and probably ran too hard on this section as the remaining 5km through the woods to the finish were long, painful and slow, as my pre-race prediction came true and I lost some 5-10 places on this stretch.
But soon the finish line was in sight and I had enough in the tank to hold onto 37th place, out of 159 finishers, in just over 1hr17mins. Robbie Simpson of Deeside Runners (and Team GB!) was first finisher in 55:21 and Veronique Oldham of the Cosmics was first woman in 1:12:11. Full results
A very special mention to Garioch Road Runners for the quite incredible spread of sandwiches and home baking at the finish. I managed to force down some coffee, tablet and a piece of Rocky Road (very fitting) despite feeling like I might throw up at any minute. I’m already regretting not being able to stomach more of that home baking but that alone would be worth repeating the 360-mile round trip for this time next year.