My Jura Fell Race 2019 – An emotional and physical rollercoaster
I’ve been running with Glossopdale Harriers since about 1998 now, and probably since the early 2000s I heard about the Jura Fell Race. “Are you serious?” was my first and second response. It’s half way to Iceland, who wants to travel so far for a race. So I put it off, and off, over the years.
Along came John Hewitt and soon he was also advocating the race, more as a great weekend than just a race. Still I put it off for the same reasons of distance and cost.
Then in 2017 after John’s terminal condition was diagnosed we were chatting one day and he reassured me I was missing out on an experience like no other so I quietly said “Maybe one day”. Then late 2018 I made the decision that I had to attempt the deed before age makes it too hard/impossible.
A brief stream of consciousness covers the process of getting to Jura.
Winter chats with Caity, Julie Eyre, Lins, decision made to enter. (Maybe I’ll be spared and they won’t accept me).
February to May, hill training, catch a cold, hill training, catch two colds one after the other, hill train a bit more.
May 24th, 4am Long drive ferry ferry bus walk Craighouse.
Warm welcome new old friends and the gathering
Then on Friday evening, Crisis what crisis, The Carnethy crew prepare a meal in their cottage but during this the plumbing goes mad and in a strange prequel to the weather on race day -water streams down the walls and light fittings of the cottage, knocks out the electrics.
No problem, fault was diagnosed, water turned off, plumber called out of pub to fit new ballcock, kudos to Dave Palmer), everything sorted and we ate an excellent meal prepared by John Ryan I think.l.
Then I tried to ply everyone with Jura whisky but they weren’t falling for this old trick. A couple of tipples and that was that!. Enter the mantra of the event, What would John do?
On the day of race kit we naturally faffed with kit for an hour after breakfast. We’d been watching the weather forecast for 24 hours and it was not good and getting worse, a definite batch of wind and rain starting same time as the race! I also could not find my long sleeved helly top which I was sure I had packed so I started the race in my club vest (the holy one) over a cotton T shirt, not the best fell race clothing. Given the rain had started I then put on my blue waterproof as well. I had a 2nd waterproof top & overtrousers just to comply with the regs of course.
Race start, everyone shoots off like it’s a 10K, I’m actually last within 100m!. Immediately after crossing the road bridge the route turns up a track for 3 miles uphill to CP1 (530m). normal tussocky trods till about 400m height when the rocks started. Julie Eyre was at CP1 but due to the weather I couldn’t see who was who under the hoods!.
By this point I’d met and chatted with Richard Topliss from Pennine who said he’s done the race 19 times so I thought ‘good man to follow’. Easier said than done, he was going very steadily.
From CP1 Turn right, drop down on a saddle to 400m then climb back up to CP2 (562m). Then drop down across another saddle to 410m and back to 499m.
Then the serious stuff started! Drop right down to 150m valley bottom and look up to Pap 1, Beinn Chaolais at 733m. Apart from finding a thigh deep bog in the valley I took a good line and topped out still in touch with a group including Richard.(I later learn I’m only 4 minutes behind Lins)
Over the rock field at the top and down a massive rock scree slope to the saddle at 350m and start the climb up pap 2 Beinn An Oir to 785m. The rocky boulder fields near the top of this bastard are made of lumps about a metre cubed! An elephant could have dropped a leg between rocks, only way to cross is to crawl. Didn’t take the best route either. Saw nobody at all for the last half of the climb so simply went straight up, can’t go wrong as long as you go up. Was immensely relieved to finally find the marshalls at the checkpoint. I got close to a sense of humour failure on this mountain, wished a helicopter would appear and whisk me home.
The descent off is very tricky and slow, some scree tracks just end in more big rocks so you have to be ultra careful. Drop down to about 450m Teamed up with Mary Edgerton of Pennine and her friend Virginia while crossing the valley floor, Mary had some idea where she was going and we’d been about the same pace since CP4.
So by now the weather was solid rain and very windy on the mountain tops so I put on all my extra waterproof layers and gloves, then soldiered on up to pap 3 Beinn Shiantaidh at. 757m. .
Another photo showing the gradient typical of the Paps
We forgot about navigating on a bearing and follow each other, take the wrong line off and lose about 10m finding right line. Same kind of scree/ big rocks descent. Down to 350m and back up the final climb to 562m. By now getting close to cut off times, on descent my gps watch battery died and Virginia got bad cramps, we stop to help with gels and salt. These had no beneficial effect on the watch so gave them to Virginia. Still made last checkpoint inside the cutoff and we jogged the 5k to cross the finish line together. I make light of the last 5K but it felt like 10K uphill.
Relief, exhausted, elated, emotional
Happy to hear all friends safely finished.
More Miles fell shoes worked perfectly and in one piece. Inov8 waterproof trousers now full of holes!.
Shortest walk back to hot shower from any race ever. Lots of tea and cake. Lovely friends looking out for me.
Evening meal another big social gathering. Then off to the ceilidh with Matt, John, Alex, Dave, Lins, and Julie. Usual mad enthusiasm, managed about an hour then bed for me. Missed out on supping the winners whisky from the trophy.
Sunday morning weather blustery showers. Fine my helly top!. Gang of us went for a walk up the coast to Corrin Sands where John H was half scattered and drank a wee dram to his memory.
Caity and I decided to head home Sunday noon as weather was rubbish. Packed up and walked to minibus pick up point. Man and bus turn up at 1am but as nobody else there he wanted £25 to take us 8 miles to ferry. We decided to wait 50m for the next one. Turns out it’s the same bloke and bus! He grumbles about still not having a full load but about 11 of us load our kit in the luggage compartmen and climb on board. We set off. After a few miles the driver has cursed out load a few times at cyclists holding him up and we realise he’s in a bad mood. We come up behind a slower minibus and he sighs and mutters. After a while the slow bus stops at a passing place and our driver curses and tries to go past him. The other driver honked so Grumpy stops and shoots back to argue with him, full scale road rage is ensuing. A minute later he storms back into our bus and breaks the news that “one of youse passengers didn’t close the luggage door properly and some bags have fallen oot on the road”. Honestly he blamed us. Several voices pipe up that it his job to check the bus is ready to drive.
Lots more muttering as we pile out to see whose has gone and mine is one of two gone! So he finds a way to turn round and starts driving like a nutter back towards Craighouse. We quickly meet another car that flags us down and says he has picked up one rucksack, not mine. So onwards and backwards, eventually meet another car that picked up my sack just outside Craighouse. Fortunately nothing broken, no tyre tracks over it.
Another u turn and back to the ferry. Bugger wouldn’t offer to waive my fare and I honestly feared for his blood pressure if I refused to pay.
On the upside of human nature, we befriended a fellow racer on Jura called Seb who needed a lift back to Lochgilphead. In return he bought us tea /coffee in Port Askaig and on the ferry, I did my best to nap during the sailing as I was driving.
Drive home was mostly uneventful, couldn’t promise I was fully alert by midnight but we made it safely.
So I completed the Jura Fell race, and really wish I had done so sooner with John H present and in good form. Will I ever do it again, watch this space but don’t bet on it.