15th February 2020
‘Hey, can you guys be around on Saturday afternoon near the Pentlands?’ said the wind to the hailstones.
‘Sure. What time?’ they said.
‘Can you make it 2pm?’
‘You can count on us. Is there anything special on?’
‘It’s the 50th Carnethy 5 hill race. Need to get those runners a good battering,’ said the wind.
‘Absolutely. You pick the direction, and we’ll whip ourselves onto them. Face, hands, whatever we can get.’
‘Perfect. Don’t forget to go for the eyeballs.’
‘Eyeballs! Excellent idea. Have you decided which direction you’re taking?’
‘I’ll study the race map and figure it out so they only get headwind or crosswind. Definitely no tail wind.’
‘Sounds like a plan.’
‘Can I come too?’ said the sun. ‘Please, can I come too?’
‘Fuck off,’ said the others.
It certainly felt like the elements had conspired against us when the gun went off. It had been dry when we waited to get into the bus, and just the odd drops off rain during my rather short and feet-freezing warm up across the boggy heather, but the rain was bang on time for the 2pm start. ‘No problem,’ I thought, I’ll just keep my waterproof jacket on for now. I’ll manage to wriggle out of it if I get too hot.’
My feet were numb after crossing some patches of snow and an icy river, and I was annoyed with myself that I hadn’t put thicker socks on, but as we ascended I could feel myself warm up. The jacket would have to come off soon, I would be overheating for sure. I kept plodding up the hill behind the runners in front as there was now a bit of a bottleneck, and I was surprised at how runnable it still was. But soon enough we got to a steeper section with heathers and bushes and it was all marching, and we were going into the wind now. As usual Jenn came charging past. I was waiting for Chris F to come by as well but remembered that his car had broken down on the way to the race and he didn’t make it. I was glad I had done my calf stretches before the start as usually my calves seize up on the uphill, but so far it was okay. My back was quite sore but I could push through that. Other than my frozen feet I had nothing to complain about. I briefly considered turning back and going to sit in one of the tents to rub my toes back to life but I knew that eventually they would warm up.
Then we hit the top of the first mountain and the wind whipped me sideways. I’m not strong in the wind anyway but this was just something else. It was literally pushing me in a different direction than I wanted to go. I kept my eyes to the ground and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I was looking forward to the flatter sections and the downhills but here the headwind was so strong that I wasn’t going anywhere – I put in the effort of running but the output was a gentle walk, since the wind was literally pushing me back up the hill. It seemed that other runners were skipping past me, so clearly there was an art to this that I hadn’t mastered yet. I checked my watch, I was half an hour into the race and had covered about 3.5k, so I wouldn’t be far off my estimated finish time of 1h30.
I kept pushing on, half-laughing at the madness if it, but when the hail kicked in as well, whipping my face, my eyeballs, I felt my body go from race-mode into survival-mode. Along with this came the feeling of not giving a flying fuck about what time I would finish in or how many people were overtaking me – I just wanted this to end. So I battled on, one step at a time. On the uphills the wind kept pushing me slightly to the side which meant I was ascending in a zig-zag. I was glad to have my mudclaws on as I saw some people slipping about in other shoes but at least I always had a good grip. I hadn’t seen any Westies since Jenn went past but assumed there were loads in disguise with vests hidden under jackets – mine was staying firmly on, and I certainly wasn’t too hot. Then JD came past on one of the uphills. I begged him for a piggy-back, but he declined. A girl with a Westies buff ran past on one of the descents, it was Kerry, but I caught her again at a more runnable section.
Every uphill and downhill was a battle, and on West Kip I was literally crawling along the ridge-like top for fear of being blown over the top if I stood up. As we came down West Kip I recognized the river from of the Red Moss Kips race that I’d done last year, so I knew there would be just one more hill ahead – Carnethy. Getting up this I tried to ‘give into the wind’ by leaning into it, and there was perhaps a slight tailwind but not much. There was a very cheery supporter who kept shouting at us; he did an excellent job.
The last descent was pretty steep with lots of bushes and roots and I was worried about tripping and falling down so I was careful. I was still in survival mode, and all I really cared about was getting down the hill in one piece. But then Kerry went past me again. A quick look ahead told me I wasn’t far from the bottom and I would be able to catch her if I put my foot down on the last stretch. Once I had gone past the gate, race mode was back on. I could see the finish line, a few runners ahead, so I dug in and charged past whoever was in my way. Oh, and back across the icy river, then the finish line. Hurrah, hurrah! And that was it – my first Carnethy 5, and quite possibly my last – unless global warming really takes off. Or maybe I just need to toughen the fuck up.
Alexander Chepelin – 53: 17 time and Hannah Russell – 01:01:58
503 ran, 27 Westies, though they were hard to recognize as most vests hidden under rain jackets.
9) Sam Alexander – 00:57:39
27) Niall McAlinden – 01:01:43
85) Tom Elliotte – 01:10:02
124) Ruth Crewe – 01:12:32 11th lady
140) Tom Finch – 01:14:12
143) Arron Sparks – 01:14:37
144) Scott Henderson – 01:14:38
152) Cailean Welsh – 01:15:24
154) Ross Anderson – 01:15:40
185) Manny Gorman – 01:18:31
193) Marc Roper – 01:19:36
237) Jennifer Ruddick – 01:23:08
262) Lorna Mahoney – 01:24:59
274) Alistair Boyer – 01:25:42
276) David Rogers – 01:25:50
287) John Donnelly – 01:26:52
292) Brian Brennan – 01:27:31
303) Romy Beard – 01:28:24
308) Kerry Cunningham – 01:28:48
320) Murdo MacLeod – 01:29:54
363) Heather Simpson – 01:33:19
378) David Stakes – 01:35:49
393) Keith Adams – 01:37:20
427) Andrew Fullwood – 01:43:18
433) Duncan Gorman – 01:44:17
438) John Quinn – 01:45:42
492) Brenda Paul – 02:03:42
Special mention to Chris Furse who couldn’t make the race as his car broke down on the way there, and Katie Rademaker who rescued other runners in Chris’s car but decided to give the race a miss herself in favour of buying new running shoes.
(photo taken by Pierrick Pajon)