We’d first heard about the Carnethy 5 after seeing a post about it on a friend’s Facebook page. However, I initially dismissed it as I didn’t think I’d be capable of completing it. Five peaks with 2,500ft of ascent over 6 miles seemed like blooming hard work!!
While at work, I received an email off my better half, Tristan, asking if I’d like him to register my details to enter the ballot for the run. A classic Scottish hill race, it is regularly oversubscribed and so a ballot system is used. I declined, but couldn’t stop thinking about it. In the end, I decided to register my details. If my name wasn’t drawn out, then I’d get out of doing it without wimping out!
The next week both myself and Tristan received confirmation emails. We were both in. Reality dawned and the fear started to kick in! Taking place on Valentine’s Day, the run would give us a nice, romantic break to Scotland! Mum and Karen kindly agreed to have the girls for the day. There was no backing out now!
As the days crept by, the day of the race arrived. We dropped the girls off with mum and Karen and made our way north to Penicuik, only 10 miles south of Edinburgh. The journey was straightforward and we arrived earlier than we expected. Despite this, the car park was already getting full. We quickly registered and it was a nice surprise to be given a mug and a specially brewed bottle of beer to commemorate the 45th running of this classic hill race.
Time ticked steadily by and it wasn’t long before we were having our kit checked and allowed on to the buses. The start of the race is on a busy road and so competitors are encouraged to use the buses to the start. This also builds on the atmosphere of this special event as all the runners bubble with nervous excitement.
We soon arrived , got off the bus and crossed a muddy field to get to the start. We kept our warm clothes on for as long as possible before it was time to assemble at the start.
A piper played classic Scottish tunes as the time for the start of the run approached. At 2pm, the starting gun went off and the stampede began. Downhill made for a quick start and it wasn’t long before we made our way through the first bog. A bottle neck appeared at a second swamp so I skirted through the prickly gorse and avoided it. Another bottle neck occurred at the gateway to the valley and, as the path skirted through the heather, it was nigh on impossible to pass. It wasn’t long before the first climb began. A seemingly near vertical ascent up to Scald Law, the highest hill of the day at 579m. My calves were burning as the climb went on. And on. And on. I didn’t see anyone running this part! The boggy, heather strewn path made for an even more arduous climb and thought of how on Earth I was going to manage 4 more hills after this one!!
Eventually, I hit the trig point on Scald Law. One of five. Done. It was then good running on to South Black Hill (563m) and along the ridge towards East and West Kip. I was pleased with how my legs were faring after that first torturous climb and was feeling confident at picking up speed on the downhills. The grip of my Inov8 Mudclaws was brilliant. I felt a burst of energy coming off that descent and felt like I was floating up to East Kip. However, as the gradient became more severe, the bubble of energy burst and I trudged up to East Kip (534m). There was another short respite of downhill before an equally arduous climb up to West Kip (551m). There then followed a steep but runnable downhill section. Now it was the turn of my quads to scream!
There was then a fairly level track, although being boggy and rutted, it was still hard going! Another very steep descent followed before some blissful, grassy, level ground gave the legs some much needed respite. I did make the mistake of looking to the right and saw a snake of runners making there way slowly up Carnethy (573m). The climb looked horrendous and it wasn’t long before I was weaving my way up. Slowly. Oh, so slowly! Every muscle in my legs were protesting and every ounce of my being wanted to stop! However, I knew that, if I stopped, it would be harder to get moving again. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly, just as long as I kept moving forward!
Eventually, I made it up to find that this was a false summit! There was still more climbing to do!! The gradient up to the summit wasn’t quite so severe and it wasn’t too long before I reached the impressive cairn of Carnethy. It was all downhill from here. Easy!
I was in for a huge disappointment as the downhill, with Carnethy’s sides dressed in heather and scree, proved to be even more testing than the uphill! The slippery heather attempted to snare and trip unwary runners while the scree afforded no grip. It was a very slow downhill for me as I lacked the confidence to just ‘let go’. People were falling all around me as I slowly made my way down the side.
It was with huge relief that I finally made it to the bottom and I was pleased to note that my legs were ready to run! Buoyed on by the energy of the runners and marshals around me, I picked up the pace for the long run into the finish. I was so pleased to cross the line. This was the hardest race that I had ever done and I’d made it!!
I was quickly cooling down so rushed to get my bag from the marquee so that I could get my warm coat on. I rushed back to the start and it wasn’t long before Tristan crossed the line, relief visibly etched on his face!
We refuelled with chocolate biscuits and made our way over to the bus. We didn’t have long to wait before the rather fragrant bus made its way back to Penicuik. This was a friendly, inclusive race that was brilliantly organised and supported by super encouraging marshalls.
After getting changed, we set off on the long road back to Cumbria. And, as the pain in our muscles began to subside, thoughts were already turning to next year. We hope to be back for this very special hill race.