All started well, all be it a tad early for my liking. It was 5.30am when the alarm went off and I felt surprisingly awake having had a broken sleep in the travel lodge we had booked for the night before the race. We had left the previous day after work, stopping in Fort William for some essential supplies and equipment. On our last practice run, up the Bealach na Ba on a very cold, very foggy day we had decided that we were not well enough equipped for the cold and wet so I invested in a better waterproof jacket, we picked up some more energy bars and the slightly less essential but desirable cozy hats. I love my hats, never mind shoes, you can never have too many hats.
We had packed our bags for the last time the night before, making sure there was nothing forgotten and nothing unnecessary in our bags. The race info had said we needed to be there 75mins before the race start to give time to register and get to the start line, which was a 3 mile walk. So we set off with plenty of time in the hope that we could chill out and get some breakfast in before the start. We had a one hour drive to get there, annoyingly we got half way and found the road we were heading down was closed due to road works and we were sent back where we had come from on what turned out to be a really long diversion! So by the time we arrived at the race headquarters there was no parking left and only 45 minutes to register and walk the 3 miles to get to the start. In a bit of a panic we parked, registered, toileted and headed off to the start. I was feeling pretty nervous as my bag was already digging in and feeling uncomfortable, it was very misty and I was hungry. We were late, but it didn't matter they gave us our map and we headed up the path until we reached the first junction where we decided to stop and make a plan. The course we had entered was the medium score course, so we had a map marked with 20 odd check points all scored between 10 and 50 points and our mission was to get as many points as we could in the 6 hours limit, if we were over the 6 hours we would lose 2 points per minute. Having had no previous experience of orienteering we had no strategy, we basically picked a couple of high scoring check points and set off, once we had them under our belts we decided we would see what time it was and just get as many as we could. Simple enough! The first check point we went for was just off a forestry path, we decided to take a shortcut following a fence which would save about 1 km of path, but it was quite slow going and by the time we re joined the path we had started on I don't think we saved much time, but it felt good to navigate off the path and we found our first check point and picked up our first 40 points. We then set off for the next. it was on a stream junction in the base of a very boggy valley. We skimmed round the bottom of the hill, staying off the bog but had to cross it at some point, this was horrible as we kept loosing a leg in bog. Very slow and tiring.
Another 50 points bagged, the next one took us up a short but steep hill for a merge 10points. We were now in thick thick fog with nothing to keep our bearing on other that tufts of grass. Eventually our path crossed a wall which we were expecting, then we heard running water, so realized we were on the right track as our next point was on another stream junction. From here on I thought it would be easy, follow a river through a forest to a path and pick up a few more on the way. The forest was slow going and seriously muddy. Having not eaten much nor drunk much I was running out of steam but with a bit of encouragement from Jess to speed me up, we made it to the finish but 20 minutes late. Losing 40 points was a bit disappointing but we had a much better idea of what we were doing for the next day.
We pitched our tent, still in drizzle, changed into dry clothes and got some food and tea ready. It was a bit of a long uncomfortable night. To lighten our load we had been advised to take a blizzard bag to sleep in. Basically a tin foil bag, quite small and very noisy but surprisingly warm. I should probably apologize to Jess here as I am a pretty wriggly sleeper. I think I was a bit annoying! Not just to Jess but to the others camped next to us. Sorry.
The next day we had a plan. Stick to the forestry tracks as much as possible. Run as much as we can. Get as many points as we can and definitely do not be late! This worked out pretty well for us. We covered more ground in less time and picked up more points. The weather had improved and I was really, really looking forward to getting the bag off my back!
It was a good experience, I would like to do it next year. Obviously a lot of the skill is in the map reading, but also the terrain was tough. Fell runners are a seriously tough bunch!