For the uninitiated, 1746 was the year of the Battle of Culloden, between the English and Scottish. The bloodbath on this bleak bit of moor in the middle of nowhere resulted in around 2,000 casualties and is a tragically defining in moment in British history. The Battlefield has been preserved to this day and is well worth a visit if you’re remotely interested in history, with an excellent visitor centre.
270 years later, and it’s a different sort of invader that descends annually upon the battlefield. About 500 lycra-clad runners, 200 of which participate in a 17.46km race and the rest in a slightly less historically resonant 10k. Car parking is in a field, fortunately it was dry, otherwise it would have been a swamp. Registration takes place in the visitor centre, which provides a much needed off-season influx of people and revenue to the centre and it’s coffee shop.
We arrived at 9.45, were registered by 10am and were listening to the briefing over the visitor centre PA at 10.20 before assembling at the start line for a 10.45 kick-off. The race was run to support the work of the fine people at Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland and I couldn’t fault the organisation or pre-race briefing. The only minor niggle was that there was no ‘official’ bag drop, with bags having to be hidden in various corners of the open plan coffee shop...that’s the one thing that could be improved, as I spent the entire race wondering if I’d find my car keys, fresh clothes, Iphone and wallet stolen once I’d finished the race. Naturally, everything was safe when I got back...but a staffed bag drop would give a little more peace of mind.
The website said the route was ‘mostly flat’ which it is. EXCEPT the small matter of 700ft of ascent all happens over three really brutal hills. The first comes shortly after mile 2, and is a nasty, mile long ascent of about 300ft. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the fact that you’ve hammering along at somewhere between 10k and half marathon pace and this hill really takes it out of your legs. The following 3 miles all send you downhill, which means you know the inevitable is coming.
And come it does, the second hill comes in two parts, both sharp and steep, after seven quick miles, these hills had me at walking pace towards the tops. Rather ominously, the final hill had an ambulance at the summit, which felt appropriate! Then it’s a sharp downhill before one final steep climb to a flat finish. Imagining the soldiers of a three centuries ago trying to pull cannons and equipment up and down these hills on roads far poorer than these...with only death and destruction ahead of them, does put the challenges of the run into perspective and certainly makes me very thankful that I live in a slightly more enlightened time.
I completed the race in 1hr 22 mins and finished in 36th out of 189 runners, which felt good. The whole race is on Highlands B roads, which means you need to keep your eyes on the road for pot holes and treacherous steep roadsides. I wore my Brooks Ghost 9’s which gave me plenty of traction and the extra cushioning really helped on the fast downhill sections.
I rushed back to the centre to ensure my possessions were still there and also had an opportunity to browse a pop up shop crewed by the fine chaps from Run4It Inverness, which gave me a good opportunity to stock up on the brilliant Torq gels and my favourite discovery of 2016 - Cliff shot blocks, which are now my race nutrition of choice for sub-ultra distance runs.
The race was well marshalled and organised, the weather was kind to us, the toilets plentiful and the location stunning. Apart from the lack of a secure bag drop facility, my only other criticism would be the route...given its billing as a run round the battlefield...well...this doesn’t really happen, you do go round the very exterior of the battlefield and don’t actually get a real sense of the place. I completely appreciate the need to preserve the battlefield, but it would have been nice to get a bit closer to history of this place. Some extra briefing material at the beginning of the race would have been nice, maps pointing out areas of interest as you run round or something...although you do get a ton of National Trust magazines etc in the goodie bag at the end, which was a nice touch.