My favourite race of last year was the one I didn’t run. I approached my first race as a Westie marshal with some trepidation following receipt of David Roger’s legendarily detailed race plan. However, the reality was standing in the evening sun, far away from the midge-ravaged car park, watching bog cotton flutter in the breeze, listening to skylarks. Standing alone in the middle of nowhere, I gave myself a smug pat on the bag for the decision two months earlier to cadge a lift to run up Dumbreck in the dark with a group of strangers shortly after moving to Glasgow.
I also had the unparalleled pleasure of being stationed on one the best spots on the hill. With a sparse and stretched out field, each runner had no way of knowing that what looked like a puddle small enough to be conquered with a leap, was, in fact, enormous. One by one I watched runners take a flying leap only to end up scrabbling about in the Campsie bog. Fantastic.
But this race report isn’t just about me chuckling about people who fell into puddles over a year ago. On the way up to my vantage point of others’ misery, Pat McLaughlin told me the tale of the first Westie Women who were permitted to enter the club following a committee vote and proceeded to take the hills by storm (early Westie Woman hill dominance documented here). With this tale in my mind, I was disappointed to note that of the 82 folk I watched flailing and spluttering, only five were female.
Since then, I’ve thought quite a lot about whether it matters that on a sunny Wednesday in June more men than women fancy running up a bog in the Campsies after work. Achieving gender equality in hill races (a niche sport) in Scotland (a small country) wouldn’t change the world in any significant way.
Last year before my first hill race at Beinn Dubh, I asked a fellow Westie what the gender split would be like and he said 50/50ish, maybe a few more men than women. The actual split: 6 men for every woman. The gender gap at Beinn Dubh, and lots of other hill races, is something I notice because I don’t always see people who look like me waiting on the start line. But actually, there are characteristics missing in far greater volume from the hill running community than gender. If camaraderie, humour and resilience are our strengths, diversity is not.
I think that this is important. Through hill running I have developed pride in what my body can do, forged friendships against a backdrop of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and gained the confidence to venture to wild, lovely places all alone. These are not gifts that should be limited to a small, privileged section of the population, particularly when our club is based in Glasgow, a city shamed by the pervasive and insidious inequality between communities just streets apart from each other.
So what can we do about this? Westerlands CCC is a small-to-medium hill running club and by its nature hill running isn’t a mass participation sport. I’m also of the opinion that the Westies are already an inclusive bunch. Anyone can turn up and run and even as a back-of-the-pack, scared-of-all-but-a-gentle-descent runner, I’ve been welcomed and waited-for and encouraged to take part in things that haven’t been nearly as bad as I’d thought they might (with the exception of cross country).
I think that the seeds of the small, great things that will encourage new people from different and diverse places and backgrounds to the Scottish hills are already taking root. The Trailfest community, for example, encourages people to try off-road running and equips them with the skills to make this new hobby stick – and our very own Graham Kelly is involved. The famous Westie welcome is also reaping rewards as our growing membership and a fantastic year for the club show.
Fast-forward to this year’s Cort-ma Law hill race (the race this report was actually meant to be about) and female turn-out increased by 200% thanks in no small part to a strong showing from Westie Women, who also made up a significant portion of the behind-the-scenes team.
For those looking for a more traditional race report, see here….