Aonach Mor Uphill 1/1/2014

I’ve been planning to do the Aonach Mor Uphill for a few years but have always been put off by bad weather or bad hangovers (or both). With renewed resolve I decided 2013 was going to be the year. I even recce’d the course from the car park on Hogmanay and seeing that the hill was snow-free up to 2000 feet, it had to be ‘Game on’ for the 1st Jan.

My first error was not to have checked online – the race has been such a success in recent years that it’s now pre-registration only. I managed to convince the organisers to allow me to follow the race as long as I didn’t cross the finish line. Mental note for next year! At 9 quid including soup and a gondola ride (see later) it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

The race is classified AS, meaning short and steep (4k/610m), and is one of the 3 uphill-only races in Scotland. As far as I’m aware it is also the only hill race that starts at a cafe and finishes at a restaurant (Pine Marten at the bottom, Snow Goose at the top) which on the first of January is a major bonus. As 11am approached, only 3 out of 108 entrants failed to show – pretty impressive stuff given the date.

A very brief briefing and we were off.

The route follows the World Cup Downhill Mountain Bike course for about 90 percent of the way, avoiding gap jumps and drop offs but seemingly not much else. Anyone who’s ever ridden or spectated at the course will know that the bottom part of the track is fast and steep; mud, rocks and burns keep things interesting, but there’s no escaping from the relentless up hill slog. By now I was somewhere mid-pack, with most around me walk-running up the single track and not much overtaking going on.

Half way up, the route emerges from the forest onto the open hill with a mixture of gravel paths and those slatted wooden bike tracks covered in chicken wire. The angle softens a bit here, with a few zig zags and traverses allowing some decent runnable sections. A chilly wind and patches of snow added to the fantastic mountain atmosphere. I was running with my son, and with no race numbers we could take the occasional breather. A nice bonus, as the views northwards across the snow-capped hills to Knoydart were amazing.

A last push across the snow line and a sidestep past the finish marshals and we were heading to the Snowgoose for celebratory hot chocolates. For those officially registered, the entry fee includes soup and a roll, a cup of tea and the gondola ride down, a nice way to swap experiences with other runners. One competitor I spoke to was truly inspiring: having partied till 6:30 am, he got a couple of hours sleep before hitching to the start line. Impressive!

Winner on the day was Robbie Simpson from Deeside, who took 62 secs off his 2009 record to finish in an other-worldly 21.13. First Lady was Lochaber’s Diane Baum in 29.29. Well done to both.

Definitely one to do again – officially next time! (check out the Lochaber AC website) Big thanks to the organisers, the marshals and to the people who made the hot chocolates at the Snow goose.