Thursday, 18 February 2016

Carnethy Hill Race

A chilly day out on the hill (Photo - Digby Maass)
Carnethy Hill Race profile
Carnethy Hill Race Map

The worst thing is nobody is actually making us do this, we are doing it voluntarily”

Stuck in a traffic jam

At first it didn’t appear promising. Today was definitely not going to be a particularly successful or enjoyable one. Heading towards Edinburgh the snow was battering down and I ended up stuck in a traffic jam on the M90 as some cars had come to grief in the icy conditions. Fortunately the hold-up wasn’t too bad but the feeling of foreboding certainly didn’t lift as I drove around the bypass unable to even get a glimpse of the Pentland Hills through the white out winter conditions. It was still snowing as I registered for the race at the school in Penicuik. And still snowing as the buses took us to the start line in a boggy field just outside Penicuik.

Runners making their way across the field to the start (Photo - Digby Maass)
To be honest this was the part I was dreading, more so than the race, a very cold half hour stood in a field waiting around for the other buses to arrive and shed their runners into the cold. Even the little path from the road to the field was boggy and I really was tiptoeing around in a futile attempt to keep my feet dry just long enough to stay warm until the 2pm start time. Actually, I tell a lie. There was one thing I was dreading more and that was having to go for a pee somewhere in that field.
There are some hills somewhere out there...
There was a tent sent up for runners to leave their bags during the race but it wasn’t long before the tent became full of runners as well as their bags, not surprising really as it was the only shelter available. By the time we were all summoned to the start line I was still feeling reasonably ok temperature wise and was extremely grateful for my impulse purchase of a pair of innovate over-mittens from one of the running shop stands back in the school hall. This was one impulse purchase that I found I had no problem justifying to myself as I attempted something resembling a warm up jog up and down the field. As usual there was a sort of gallows humour on the start line but a delay of almost 15 minutes while the organisers waited for the last bus to arrive tested even the most jovial runner’s sense of humour and there were some dark mutterings about shooting the set of bag pipes that were being played to entertain us while we stood shivering. It has to be said this is a pretty unusual occurrence as in my experience this race is usually organised with military precision. The fact that it happened on one of the coldest snowiest Carnethy race days ever is probably down to somebody or others law…
A little tent provided shelter
Do we really have to go out there?
My best impulse purchase ever
On the start line.  (Photo - Digby Maass)
The charge! (Photo - Digby Maass)
The first climb up to the summit of Scald law (Photo credit - Digby Maass)
Despite the delay the snow and low lying grey cloud had not broken as the start was signalled and almost 500 runners charged headlong into ankle or knee (if you were unlucky) deep icy, cold, smelly bog. The fact that there are 500 lunatics willing to subject themselves to this really is something to be wondered at with a sense of awe. And we are all allowed out without supervision.

Lack of discipline had led me to start too far back in the field, worried that I would suffer later in the race from starting too fast, so by the time we were on the first climb I was well and truly trapped behind a long queue of people moving, to my mind, very slowly. Frustrated and annoyed with myself I wasted precious energy in futile over taking manoeuvres through knee deep snow, heather and slidey icy patches. In fact I was one of the overtaking numpties as described so eloquently on Peter Buchanan’s race blog.

Due to the severity of the conditions this year the organisers were making us either wear or carry extra kit and most other folk were so well wrapped up it was difficult to identify anybody at all. I haven’t yet managed to identify myself in any of the many race photos now online as I was clad from head to toe in warm gear as was virtually everyone else in the race.
Trudging through the snow (Photo - Digby Maass)
On a summit (Photo - Digby Maass)
The world was white (Photo - Digby Maass)
Race marshals sheltering from the conditions (Photo - Digby Maass)
A snowy ascent (Photo - Mary Hunter)
And the snow kept falling (Photo - Mary Hunter)
The whiteout conditions had a weird disorientating effect and I was on the summit of the second kip (West, I think) and being turned round by the marshals on to the steep descent before I realised it. That couldn’t be four hills done already could it? Maybe they had shortened the course due to the conditions? For a few seconds I was actually a bit confused with this world of whiteness surrounding me. 

The runners that had already gone by had turned the path into something resembling a skid pan and so I attempted to side step my way down the hill in the deeper snow. That strategy lasted all of about 3 steps as I gave up, sat down and slid a good way down the hill. At least now I recognised where I was and knowing that the next stretch to the reservoir is pretty runnable I even managed to pick up the pace and, unusually for me, actually pass people on the descent. The little steep hill near the Howe was also tackled via the sliding technique and by this time I was pondering whether the snow would be deep enough to slide down Carnethy hill rather than run which really would be all my descending problems sorted (other than a frozen backside). At the foot of Carnethy Hill the HBT support crew were out, if not in full force then in full voice, and I realised from their shouts that Megan wasn’t far ahead which gave an added boost as I started the climb and ran through the checkpoint. Again I seemed to get stuck behind folk on the narrow path but was able to fall into my own pace and overtake people as the hillside opened up and we headed to the summit of Carnethy.
Tackling the ascent of Carnethy (Photo - Mary Hunter)
By now it was starting to feel really cold (Photo - Mary Hunter)
Mary still manages a smiling selfie! (Photo - Mary Hunter)
The view down to The Howe (Photo - Digby Maass)
Descending To the Howe (Photo - Digby Maass)
Trying to stay on your feet was futile (Photo - Digby Maass)
So far I think we had been lucky, the wind had not been nearly as ferocious on the summits as I had expected (admittedly though I wasn’t a race marshal standing out in those conditions for a very long time and who may have a very different viewpoint on this!) but nearing the summit of Carnethy was the first point in the race that I started to feel the cold as the wind had got up and was whipping spindrift into my face, the tiny icy particles stinging my skin. No sooner had I thought that I had the easy job compared to the marshal on top of the hill then I realised that it was Elaine standing there guiding the runners off the hill and looking in severe danger of being blown away. Finally it was time for the last descent and this year it seemed as though the course had been changed as marshals and stretches of red and white tape directed runners down the hill on what did not appear to be a direct route.  I crashed through the knee length heather as quickly as I could, only face planting once, fortunately well away from the lense of the camera man perched on the side of the hill perfectly poised to capture all the thrills and spills.
Elaine, the summit Marshal on Carnethy, was in danger of being blown away (Photo - Digby Maass)
The finish line. (Photo - Digby Maass)
The last charge across the icy bog definitely seemed colder than on the way out but that was the race over. I spotted a bus waiting on the road and, determined not to have to hang around in that field for a minute longer than necessary, I took a couple of photos then made a dash for it. Well, at that stage it was more of a sort of waddle rather than I dash but I managed to get a seat in the nice warm and rapidly steaming up bus back to the school. Today the prospect of running back just did not appeal although I was surprised to find that I had actually enjoyed the challenge of the race. Even more so now that it was over.

Crossing the finish line - race survivors! (Photo - Digby Maass)
Not too many people hung around to watch the finish...
The Carnethy 5 is a great race for meeting up with folk and so there was plenty of catching up to be done but given the weather conditions (still snowing in Penicuik) I decided I wanted to be on the road to Aberdeen sooner rather than later so left earlier than I really wanted to ideally however I stayed long enough to have my post-race meal of chilli which replaced the much anticipated, world famous, post Carnethy chicken pie. The jury is still out as to whether it is an improvement or not.
The race route (Photo - Digby Maass)

Team results - ladies
1 Carnethy HR
2 Helm Hill Runners
3 Ambleside AC
4 Cosmic Hillbashers
5 Westerlands CCC
6 Hunters Bog Trotters

Thanks to Mary Hunter and Digby Maass who have very kindly let me use their race photos 

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