Mind Over Mountain – A Novice Hill Runner’s Story

Laura in from of craig varrLaura Derikito-Schlatmann, 46, lives in Amsterdam with her Dutch husband and two young
sons, and competed for the first time in the locally infamous challenge to run from
the village playing fields to the top of nearby Craig Varr and back again.

The race has been part of the Rannoch Gathering since 1958 when it was started by
Major James de S. La Terriere and was intended originally for shepherds, keepers
and other locals. The height difference is 1000 ft from 690′ to 1690′ (305 meters)
and covers a distance of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) each way. The men’s record stands
at just under 20 minutes and the women’s at 25 mins 19 seconds.
Laura has been a frequent visitor over the last three years to the rural village of
Kinloch Rannoch which nestles in the north west corner of Highland Perthshire.
Two years ago she set herself the challenge of the competing in the hill race in 2012
when she really did not do any sports activities outside playing football with her
young sons. She put together a training programme starting from short jogs
through to competing in 5km runs in The Netherlands. Laura took to the sand
dunes on the Dutch coastline to train for the inclines of the Scottish landscape.
Laura was taking on a big risk on the day as she had never been to the summit of
Craig Varr before and relied on following the pack of experienced hill racers to find
her way up the side of the waterfall and then out on to the higher ground. She was
then able to follow the sheep track up to the summit. By this time, the main pack
were well on their way down so she had to resort to her own means to find the
quickest and safest way home.

rannoch gathering with schiehallion in the rear

Rannoch Gathering and  Schiehallion

I live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. A city known for historic houses, canals, and renowned
works of art. If I want to take in the view I go to the rooftop terrace of the science and industry
museum or drink a cup of tea on the top floor of the library. Amsterdam is at sea level and a great
place to ride a bike because it’s so flat.

Today, I am on vacation in the Highland Perthshire. Stunning views! Mountains everywhere. A
hiker’s paradise.

And I could kick myself! What was I thinking?

I am about to start the Kinloch Rannoch Highland Gathering hill run! I live in a flat city, trained in
our local park with one incline. I ran up and down it many times, but that does not even come close
to a mountain experience. And now I am standing at the start of the run with 20-30 other people;
mostly men. I am nervous, yet excited. I have never done this before and it is obvious. I am dressed
totally wrong. I wear a bright pink shirt, so I am easy to spot on the mountain, and long running
tights. I have a fear of sticks and I do not want any crawling up my legs to distract me. The
experienced mountain runners wear running shorts, tank tops and have legs like tree trunks. Their
legs have obviously been up and down a couple of mountains.

I am so nervous I talk to any runner that will talk back to me. And I am having a great time. I have
one simple race strategy and that is do not stop. Keep moving no matter what. I do not need to jog
the entire way, but I do need to move. It is my simple strategy and so easy I should be able to
remember it.

From talking to the other runners I now know the quickest route up the mountain. It is next to the
waterfall and not the established footpath. I just want to get to the top and back down. Realistically,
I will not be anywhere near the front, so I will just follow the others. My strategy refined.
It is now time. All the runners stand at the start and the Chief tells us what we need to do. He
recognizes some people because they have done this before–2, 8 or 20 times. (I met the Chief’s
brother earlier and had a lovely conversation. He lived in Amsterdam over 20 years ago. I take it as
a sign that it is a good idea for me to attempt to run up this mountain.)

The start signal is given and we are off. Within the first couple of meters I am last and I just do not
care. I just want to get this over with. We jog 300 meters around the field and I feel pretty good. I
can do this. We are now outside the field and running on the street. There is my friend standing in
front of The Country Store, cheering me on. And I need it because I am already tired. I blame it on
the altitude. And think how in the heck will I ever finish this race if I am tired after five minutes.

Time to follow my simple strategy–just keep moving. So I keep jogging and follow the others;
although, by now I am following the others at a distance. But I do not care. I do not have any
illusions of winning.

I have reached the bottom of the mountain and I hope there is a little billy goat in me. (Goats can
climb mountains easily can’t they?) So I start climbing. In theory this is a run, but the mountain is
so steep only climbing is possible. Albeit some people climb faster than others.

Kinloch Rannoch

Kinloch Rannoch

I climb slowly, grabbing anything I can to help pull myself up. This is tough. I am thankful for the
father and son in front of me and the other man that climbs and rests. They inspire me and stop me
from getting lonely on this big mountain. So we climb.

My first thrill of excitement is when we get to the top of the waterfall. I keep moving. And now I
have a path to follow through the forest. It is still steep so I climb–slowly. Now I have reached the
field above the forest and I see other runners. Some are already to the top. I am impressed! It is
flatter here so I attempt to pickup the tempo and jog. I came here to run up a mountain, so if I can
move a little faster I will.

The charm of this mountain run is that there is no established footpath: every runner finds his or her
own way. The top of the mountain is not too far away. And I have enough energy to climb over the
fence. I think that is a good sign. I have reached the treeless part of the mountain. The top is not
much farther. Keep moving–do not stop. I can do that.

There are runners on their way down. My mountain manners take over and I cannot help but say
“good job” to runners barreling down the mountain. I am impressed that I can say anything.
Manners rule the mountain and a couple of runners say thank you as I move out of their way. I keep
moving. I am getting closer to the top and I see people waiting. They need to see me and my
number, otherwise, who will believe I made it to the top? I touch the rock; feel the wind and ask if
there is anything else I need to do. I do not want to stop and enjoy the view. I do no want to risk my
muscles tightening.

Time to finish this run. Down the mountain I go. I want to go fast, but I am not going much faster
than on the way up. As I tell my kids “mommy is built for endurance, not speed”. So I keep going. I
am smiling. I feel good. I reached the top and was not certain I could. I won half the battle.

kinloch Rannoch from craig varr

Kinloch Rannoch from Craig Varr

The father and son and other man who were my inspiration are no longer in sight. I cannot follow
them. I climb over the fence. Nothing looks familiar! All the bracken looks the same. How do I get
down this mountain? I see two runners and ask for directions. I laugh to myself–this really is fun! I
say thank you and tell them to enjoy the view from the top. I regret I didn’t. But that is something
for another day.

I find the path the man told me about. (I find out later he is Dutch; small world isn’t it.) I keep
jogging. Still nothing looks familiar. But it is a path and descending, so I cannot be too lost. I see a
man in front of me. It is the man that was standing by the fence and cheering the runners on. I say to
him “please tell me this is the right path down.” And I scare him. Of course I do because he does
not expect any other runners and I disturb the quiet. But he smiles and points the way. I continue to
follow the path. Down the mountain I go. I am close to the bottom. I see the road. Safety first. I stop
look both ways and cross. It is the home stretch. And I want to take a break–what am I crazy? I am
so close I need to keep going. A car is driving towards me and they are cheering. For me. What a
great feeling. That motivates me and with a big smile, and a little bow, I continue. I cross the bridge
and there are my two boys and friend cheering me on–they run with me. I like this! I am so happy. I
feel like such a celebrity with people cheering and clapping for me. I take another bow.

I am inside the game field and the finish is so close. I see my husband. More applause, more
clapping–I bow again. I cross the finish.

Now that was fun!

Maybe I will do it again next year, but for now I just want some water. I get hugs and kisses from
children, husband and friend. I am proud of myself. I did it. And I really enjoyed doing it. I liked
that my nervous energy allowed me to talk to everyone. I liked talking to the other runners before
the race. I liked the challenge of the run. I liked the feeling of accomplishment. I liked the clapping
and cheering and I loved my family and friends being proud of me.

The race camaraderie continues afterwards. I congratulate the people I talked to before the race.
And to my surprise I receive 3rd prize in the women’s race. The first money I have earned in eight
years. That makes me even happier! Wearing my medal and a big smile I enjoy the thrill of the race.
I am going to enjoy all this attention for as long as I can. What a great day!
It is two days later and I am climbing the mountain–again–this time with husband and children. We
attempt to follow the same path as race day. It is steep. My husband thinks it is killer. I think it is
easy because I am in no rush. I feel my legs morphing into tree trunks–just like the other
experienced hill racers. I am already deciding my strategy for next time.
We reach the top. It takes twice as long as Saturday. Time to take photos and enjoy the view. This is
something I would do again. Maybe next time with a kid or two or a husband.

Laura Derikito-Schlatmann

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