The Highland Cross is a charity duathlon across Scotland starting from Morvich in Kintail to Beauly near Inverness. You can either walk or run the first 19 miles through Glen Lichd and Glen Affric and then pick up the bike at the start of the road in Affric and cycle the next 27 miles to the finish in the Square at Beauly. It is a tough way to spend your Saturday. For the athletes, the current record is a scarely believable 3 hours 15 minutes. It was not in any danger from me.The run started badly with some real heat and humidity in sheltered Glen Lichd. Given the crappy spring with around 3 months of frigid easterly winds I do not think anybody was prepared for it and there were a few faces like well skelped arses. I was roasted and struggling to breathe. The next stage climbs some 1200 feet in one go to the wild top end of Glen Affric passing first Camban bothy and then on to Alltbeithe youth hostel. It was cooler in the glen with a welcome slight breeze but the sun beat down in defiance of the rainy forecast. I suffered mightly during the run with a mantra of 'why are you doing this?' running through my mind for the full 19 miles. I mixed short walks with shorter and shorter runs and finally got it over with in about 4 hours 15. I was sure that I had gone too slowly to break my 6 hour target but I did a quick transition and got onto the road on the bike.
The first few miles were agony but I soon got a rhythm going and hit the hill down to Fasnakyle at a good lick. At some point before Cannich I broke my road bike distance record for the last two years - I had not exceeded 8 miles on skinny tyres since the last time I did the cross in 2010. Still, I was actually enjoying it - the speed is a bit seductive - and battered into Cannich in a decent time. If I could keep it up 6 hours might be on. I struggled to keep the speedo up at 20 and any wee gradient caused me to back off and drop a gear as my legs tightened towards cramp. Then came the last short climb of Aigas brae which is feared beyond all measure in Cross legend - it takes minutes but such is the toll in cramp that it can take on tired legs that the outsider would think it was the Alpe DHuez. The top is always an emotional moment for me - when you see the Fire Brigade support team at the top you know you have cracked the cross and it is just a wee downhill roll to Beauly.
As I started the descent a quick look at the watch confirmed that I had clawed back enough time to make 6 hours if I could keep the pace up but just towards the end of the descent I hit traffic and got stuck behind the Cairngorm MRT landrover which in turn was crawling along behind some guys on mountain bikes. I cursed my luck but rather than sacrifice the 6 hours I tried some hairy overtaking and streaked out onto the main road at Lovat bridge. More traffic and more cursing but then I had a lucky break as an ambulance came out of Beauly and the cars pulled in to allow it through. Once it passed I took the chance and shot past before the cars could pull back out. Then it was just a half mile into Beauly Square and into the finish lane and under the clock with 90 seconds to spare. Then the cramp hit and I had to be helped off the bike.
Is it worth it? Aye, it is if you are fit for it but if not it's a long suffer of a day. I think it is my last one but there again I said that the last time....