Ben Rinnes 5 Tops Hill Race and the Aberlour Stathspey 10 Mile Hill Race – August 2023

by Brad Wight

I’m back up in the Highlands on our annual summer holiday to see the in-laws. Last year I chickened out of the Ben Rinnes 5 Tops race and regretted it, so decided to give it a shot this year.

The race is an out and back from the Dufftown Highland Games. Straight up and over two very big hills, then up to the top of a mountain, turn round and come back the way you came. To say I felt intimidated was an understatement, the event doubled up as the long counter in the Scottish Hill Racing championships so more than 200 “proper” fell runners from all over Scotland and England turned up, including legendary mountain runner Nicky Spinks, who’s leading the championship.

There was nothing remotely flat at any point in the race, we were either climbing or descending the whole way round and one stretch in particular was incredibly steep, definitely not one if you’re scared of heights. As I came over the crest of the hill I could see the aid station 200 ft below me with what seemed like a sheer drop on a pathless hill side. I would’ve benefitted from poles but these are banned in Scottish fell races, there was a fair few slips and slides getting down!

On the Ben there’s a proper rubble path to the summit cairn which has been refurbished recently, it meant you could get some decent speed up on the downhills but every single stride was a potential ankle breaker. I only had one big fall and thankfully was able to throw myself in to the heather. Others weren’t as lucky, the St John’s Ambulance team were kept busy with a large number of DNFs. I should mention the weather forecast was spectacularly wrong. The promised rain turned out to be scorching sun with very little breeze which probably accounted for some of the DNFs.

I made it back to the games field quite tired and sore in 3hr 31 mins. When the results came out a few days later I was surprised to see I was 167th out of 212. Not quite as bad a result as I thought a middle-aged parkrunner would get in a national championship long distance fell race!

The following week I drove the short distance from my in-laws’ to the Aberlour Strathspey Highland Games for their 10 mile hill race. I did this one last year and really enjoyed it. Completely different to Ben Rinnes – it’s one single hill, about 700ft of climbing which is all in the first two miles. There’s two miles of steep but very runnable downhill followed by 6 miles of very flat railway paths along the rivers Isla and Spey. My plan was to get over the hill sensibly (felt very tough with Ben Rinnes still in my legs) then run hard for the last 10K. I spoke to a few other runners before the race and decided to gamble with road shoes. The rain was light and temperatures cool which made for a very comfortable race and road shoes were probably the right decision. I got round in 1hr 16mins, hitting my goal pace of 6:55 min miles for the last 10k. All good training for the Great North Run next month!