I finished it. Don’t ask me how. The Three Mealls Trail race, here at Skyline Scotland, is the most brutal race I’ve ever done. Brutal, but beautiful.
Three meters in front of me I see a puddle. One I can jump over. One, two, three steps, I’m in the air, over the puddle and I land gracefully on the big lump of moss behind it. Well, gracefully, the big lump of moss isn’t holding me and my foot sinks in the mud until halfway my calf.
At least I’m better off than the guy who just overtook me, stumbling down more than running down. He lays face first in the mud, five meters in front of me. I yell at him, to check if he’s okay, but he’s up and off again, waving his hand and almost sliding down a second time as he does it.
I pull my feet out of the mud, almost losing my shoe doing so. So this is what the Scottish mean by muddy.
When I looked at the profile of this trail run in the days before the race, I thought I would be okay after 8 kilometers. Those first kilometers are climbing, with the steepest climb in the first 2,5 kilometers. Climbing is not my strong suit. I come from a flat country.
Yet, I can do downhill. At least, I thought I could do downhill. I was pretty good at it in the Dolomites this summer. I was pretty good at it in these last two weeks here in Scotland. But, that was mostly running downhill in a forest. This is a bog, a swamp. This is brutal.
Running through rivers
Sometimes I’m even wondering if we’re running on a path. It feels more like running through a mountain stream. And if there is no water, the path is so small my size 47,5 (UK 13) hardly fits on it. And I’m speaking of one shoe. Placing one foot next to the other is completely impossible.
I slowly begin to wonder if the uphill wasn’t easier than the downhill. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m running. I am surviving. Every step I take I slip and slide in the mud or almost bump into a stone. Every step is about keeping my balance. Every step is therefore different and I never find a rhythm.
A weak moment
After 11 kilometers, I’m getting a bit tired of it. Not of the running. My legs feel fine. Well, as long as I don’t have to go uphill they do. It’s the slipping and sliding I’m getting a little bit tired of. I love running. This isn’t running.
I slowdown for a moment and look around me. It makes the frustration going away. I’m in the middle of nowhere. Around me mountains, a lake. Or better a loch, as the Scottisch call them. I’m just not sure about the mountain. It can be a ben, a munro or a meall. I haven’t figured out what is what, except for the Munro’s. They are hills higher than 983 meters. Or are they mountains then?
Slipping and sliding
I take my phone out of the pocket of my running vest, and make a picture, so I can share all the beauty with Sara. When I’ve put it away, I walk a couple of meters to feel my feet under me again. Then I slowly start to run.
The track is now totally gone. I just see some red flags and white flags here and there. It looks like everybody is trying to find the best way through the fields. I follow and slowly get used to all this slipping and sliding.
Here and there I suddenly have to stop, because we cross a stream. Some I can jump over, others are too wide and I carefully have to cross them, by stepping from stone to stone. I smile, I wanted rough, I’ve got it.
The fields come abruptly to an end and I’m back between the trees. Not the fairy-tale forest I’m used to in Scotland. Here are no nice paths. The trail is often still muddy, but more often we just run on bigger and smaller stones, that roll away under our feet. We’re still mostly surviving.
I catch up with a Spanish guy. There is no way to take over, but he asks me if I want to pass him. I decline. Maybe it’s not the nicest thing, but I like his pace, and I like him to run in front of me. Every time he slides away or almost thumbels over a stone, I know I should place my feet somewhere else.
A triathlon feeling
We stay together for almost two kilometers. The trail here goes down, up, down and up again. My legs slowly start to feel better. They felt weird after the first climb. A little bit the same as when I used to train for a quart triathlon, and went for a run, after a hard bike-ride. You’re trying to move your legs forward and backward, but they want to move in a circle.
Besides that I am a diesel. We’ve been running for 2 hours and finally my body is shifting in gear. When the path goes up again and I have some space to overtake, I slide in front of the Spanish guy. It is only fair if I do a bit of the work as well, I figure. Yet, one hill later I’m on my own slowly overtaking all those people who overtook me on the first climb of the day.
Finally running normal
With only one kilometer to go, I leave the rocky, muddy path behind me. The ground is now more a gravel path with leaves and I finally have the feeling I’m running.
That doesn’t last long, because after a few turns I can already see the ice-factory and hear the people cheering for the runners coming in. I take one more corner and then I see the finish line. A steward yells something at me, a big smile on his face and his hand in the air for a high five. I meet it with my muddy hand and run the last meters to the finish, cheered on by the crowd.
As soon as I cross the line, a little schoolgirl hangs a medal around my neck. She is so tiny, I almost have to bend double to receive it. I look at it and smile. This is the one I came for. Than I close my eyes for a moment and feel my feet. There is no pain. If it stays like this tomorrow and the day after, it might mean I can seriously run again.