I seem to spend my life yo-yoing up and down the highlands; neither yellow van or me enjoy it much, so as we headed south yet again, the thick gloom and constant rain matched our mood. The road downfrom Oban didn’t help, seemingly designed by someone who dreams of rollercoasters. However by the time I was on the boat leaving behind tayvallich and a harbour crawling in brittlestars and dancing hermit crabs, the mist was lifting, along with my mood.
The Jura passenger ferry is a small rib with an enclosed seating area for up to 12 people and was surprisingly comfortable even in the small swell out in the Jura sound. Costing 25quid each way it’s a bit more expensive than the normal ferry but then you only have to get one, its very fast and saves the 8 mile bike from Feolin to Craighouse. You can also pop your bike on for free if you aren’t too precious about it.
The paps loomed up as we drew into craighouse, forbidding in their cloak of cloud. I think the only time I actually saw them fully naked was in the race itself. Craighouse however was bathed in an almost tropical sunshine with the palmtrees making it feel like we had travelled far further than the Inner Hebrides.
As the campsite filled up during the evening, an almost festival like atmosphere descended. It almost felt like we had all gathered to just enjoy the island and relax for the bank holiday. Almost.
The jura fell race is 28km of steep treacherous ups and downs taking you over 7 hills to total 2370m of ascend. It has some fairly burly records, making it one of the tougher races in the Scottish hill running calendar.
10.30am came and with it we were released out onto the hill. The clag was in and the ground underfoot moist. Up and up we squelched, a sinuous line of bright colours and flesh. Only in fell running do men wear such short shorts..
The first 3 checkpoints were dealt with swiftly, some nice ridge running interspersed with tricky contouring. The mist was slowly lifting.
Dropping from the 3rd summit we were met with a great view of the Paps and the 3 proper hills we were to take in. At this point I realized my one run since the fellsman might not have been enough and I settled in for the long haul.
Up and up, hands and feet now. Sweat, burning calves, sucking air in. Up and up. The sheer steepness caught me out, not much running to be had here. Finally the summit, to gratefully hand my tag in. Now how to get down. Im no mountain goat, I try and learn, try to be brave but the scree saps my resolve and strength. Im passed by a small group, twice my age at least. They could be running over a smooth field of clover. How I hate them. A man skipped passed and shouted “pretend you are skiing” and then started singing the ski sunday theme tune. He was enjoying himself way too much! Then the shouts “ Below” Rock!” “Look out!” we turn to see a microwave size boulder launching itself down after us. Which way to go, left? Right? Then finally it stops. This was to repeat itself another two times during the race. The sound of a rock crashing its way from above is one of the scariest sounds you can hear in the mountains. Its so hard to predict the path it will take and if you are hit its almost always going to be serious. Luckily everyone escaped the rampaging rocks this time.
Finally down but then no relief, its straight back up the next pap. Im joined for a bit by two ladies, one chatting about her bob graham attempt in a month. I start to feel like an imposter as I hear about the training they both put in, more in the last month than what ive done this year. Its no surprise and with some relief that they drop me soon after.
Another summit, only two left now. Going up the third Pap I have a moment, wondering if I can get to the top, wondering if my legs can do it. Thinking that warm rock over there would make a good spot for a snooze. Humbled and broken by these incredible mountains it was sheer relief to get to the final summit. Only 2 miles of bog shleping to the road and then an easy 3 mile warm down in to Craighouse… Yeah right.
I was joined by Steve, a lovely Irish man for the ankle turning, leg eating truck to the road. He was wearing full length hiking gaiters and as he disappeared up to his knee in bog, I asked if they were helpful. He replied with enthusiasm suggesting they were indeed quite good. Not sure I believe him. Finally we ducked under the bridge and out onto tarmac. He stopped to chat to a friend, but not having any of those, I headed straight off down the road.
The depressing thing here is you can see exactly where you are going, but the road winds its way lazily around the coast and takes about twice as long as it feels it should. Just as I was starting to give in to my tired legs I was joined by Steve and Nari, men on a mission to get home in under 6 hours. Buoyed by Naris shouts and cheers I sped up and joined the train. Legs stretched and sore muscles loosened as we sped and cheered ourselves to the line. What a bunch of loonies we must have seemed. But we snuck in just under six and as Nari said, that 10 minutes of extra suffering was worth a lifetime of glory. Or something anyway.
Race done, time for tea and the last of the sunshine before hiding in the tent out of the inevitable rain. A lazy sunday morning and back on the boat home. Leaving behind the clear waters, only slightly tainted by Juras relaxed sewerage system, we were followed out into the Jura sound by a row of jobbies, who, sensing freedom were making a break for the open ocean, happilly bobbing along in the breeze.
I was out for 5.54, pretty much bang on what i expected, but i hadnt expected to work as hard for those hours! I have so much respect for the strength of those who can tackle the mountains with speed and grace.
Full results here: http://www.scottishhillracing.co.uk/RaceResults.aspx?RaceID=RA-0044&Year=2015
A great performance by Carnethy and a new record for the ladies as Jasmin Paris took 1.5m of Angela Mudges time of 3.40.