Innerleithen. A tranquil, small town in the Borders. Nestled in a quiet valley, surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery Scotland has to offer. Someone described it yesterday as the ‘heartbeat of mountain biking’ in Scotland. But for one night a year it plays host to the Mighty Deerstalker.
It’s pitched by Rat Race as a trail run of around 10km. It is described as “probably the hardest off-road-Tweed-clad-pipe-lit-plus-four-and-headtorch-wearing run that exists”. And it doesn’t disappoint. At all. I have done Tough Mudder, I have done Total Warrior (which also says its the ‘toughest event on earth’), hell I’ve had babies on nothing more than good breathing, but this? This is without a doubt the hardest physical and mental challenge I have faced.
We arrived in a haze of naivety. Having spoken to various people who had tackled the course previously all I had manage to tease from them was that;
- There were hills but that
- I’d be fine.
The ‘hills’ turned out to be mountains. And on any other occasion are used for mountain biking tracks. My handy GPS watch informed me afterwards that my total ascent was over 2000ft. At one point I’m sure I resembled a drunk mountain goat trying to pick my way up “The Scree”.
Our start time was 6.15pm which guaranteed we would complete 90% of our race in darkness. And believe me, it’s dark. Eerily so. By the time we had reached the top of the first hill all that was visible were two and a half thousand little white lights bobbing up and down in the darkness. I needed a wee by this point but genuinely had no idea what was two inches to the left or right of me, so I held it. That was a challenge on it’s own let me tell you.
The descents were what scared me. I arrived wearing my trusty asics which have seen me through numerous events and obstacle races in the years I’ve owned them. By the time I set off they had been swapped for a brand new pair of Innov-8’s and let me tell you, best money I have EVER spent. There were no slips, or slides going downhill in these babies. Do you want to know what it feels like running full pelt pretty much vertically down a mountain? AMAZING, that’s what. The feeling of triumph when we reached the bottom almost caused me to cry. Until I noticed the little white lights that seemed to be merging with the stars. That would be the second hill, otherwise known as “The Scree”.
Before that though was the river. There was a sign that advised us if we wanted to do the half stalker we should veer left, for the full stalker it was right. I really needed a wee by this point, my pre workout had worn off and it was getting hard. I almost went left. 100m later I was wishing I had. Jumping into waist high water in March, in Scotland sucks. My brain started telling me I was done, I should get out. By the time I had decided that I would do just that, my legs had gone numb and I actually started enjoying it. Onwards then. We were over half way, how bad could it get?
Bad. Really really bad. There was no warning to the hell that was the second mountain, suddenly we were quite literally bear crawling up loose rock, grabbing on to what ever tufts of grass we could. If I hadn’t been putting literally everything I had into making sure I didn’t fall back down then I would of cried at this point. The only thought in my head was ‘you have to keep going Sarah, just get to the top’. I passed a grown man crying. Needless to say I left him there, I REALLY needed to pee at this point.
9 miles later (10km my ass) I quite literally slid (there was a giant water slide) over the finish line. I couldn’t even speak as a lovely bearded man wearing tweed handed me a curly wurly and a bottle of water. And yet, as I congratulated my running buddy on the fact neither of us had died, the only thing I could think was – that was AMAZING. It was brutal, it was cold, it was scary, and it was mind blowing.
One thing is for sure…this Doe will be back in 2017.