Deeside’s Katie Henderson returned to her childhood roots to break a long-standing mountain running record.
The Aboyne-based physiotherapist completed a testing solo run over the tops of Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Braeriach and Angels Peak in 5hr 48min to become the first woman known to have completed the challenge in under six hours.
The 23-mile round trip, which includes more than 8,400ft of ascent, starts and finishes at Glenmore Lodge.
It was first tackled by Aberdeen’s Kath Butler, who recorded 6:45 in 1988 and that remained the standard to beat until now.
Henderson, 42, said: “My dad was an instructor at Glenmore Lodge from the 1970s until the 90s, so I grew up there. The route starts virtually outside the house where I lived until I was 10 or 11.
“I first did the run with a group of friends last year and it was one of them who mentioned the record.
“We just took our time, but after doing it I began to realise I might be capable of breaking the record.
“Although I’ve only been a runner since 2013, I’ve been out on the hills all of my life – walking, mountain biking, climbing and ski-ing.
“So I know the terrain pretty well. But it was embarrassing that day as we got lost within minutes of leaving Glenmore Lodge. But at least it made sure I would get it right when I came to make the record attempt.”
Henderson admits the lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus allowed her to concentrate completely on the 4000s challenge.
She said: “Since that trial run last year, the 4000s record was something I wanted to break. And as all the races I’d planned to do were cancelled because of lockdown, it gave me something to focus on this summer.
“I was really pleased not just to get inside the record, but also to go under six hours.
“It also helped that I knew the best lines to take between the peaks and I wasn’t following anyone else’s route.
“I chose the trails I was familiar with based on my knowledge of the hills – even though they may not always have been the shortest.
“When I came off Ben Macdui, I knew I could get under six hours, but I hurt my calf on the final descent and it became very painful.
“But then I decided it wasn’t going to stop me, so I just kept going.”
Proud to take on Lairig Ghru race director role
Katie Henderson thoroughly enjoys running in the hills, but next year she’ll take on a new role within the sport.
She said: “I’m about to take over as race director for the 2021 Lairig Ghru race.
“I’ve tackled it once, in 2015, but I’ve helped with the organisation every year since.
“I’ve also helped out with most of the other events my club, Deeside Runners, put on.”
The Lairig Ghru race, held over a 27-mile course between the police stations at Braemar and Aviemore, first took place in 1976.
This year’s event, scheduled for late June, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but is now pencilled in for September 6.
Race organiser Andy Bain, who will hand over the reins to Henderson next year, has put plans in place to meet current guidelines for events of this nature to go ahead.
He said: “It will be quite different from previous years as we’ve had to follow a number of protocols given the current situation and we’ve undertaken a rigorous risk assessment.
“So, there will be small groups of five or six runners being set off at timed intervals to limit social contact.
“Competitors will be given a specific time to turn up.
“At the finish we won’t be providing bus transport back to Braemar, so everyone needs to make their own arrangements.
“There’ll be no prize-giving as we can’t have people congregating in big numbers. We’ll look to do a virtual prize-giving ceremony at a later date.
“We’ve spoken with all the appropriate authorities and everyone seems happy for the event to go ahead on this basis.
“But, of course, if the situation changes, we have the right to cancel it.”