I didn’t know if or how I would write this race report, but on Sunday I completed the Pentland Skyline race – 16 miles, 6200 feet total climb in 4:00:58 – that I’ve (secretly) had my eye on for a number of years.
First and foremost, this isn’t a race I signed up for without a thought of how tough it would be.
It isn’t a challenge to take lightly – it’s hard and it comes with a warning before you even think about entering, “taking part in this race is a serious undertaking.” It has a strict cut-off time at halfway and I’ll be honest – start line jokes aside that this could be walked quickly with no trouble – I was worried about not making it in time and having to withdraw. I would’ve been gutted not to be able to complete the race so I did everything I could to make it. It was a battle though – I sneaked into the Drove Road checkpoint with 10 minutes to spare, with runners behind me who I know wouldn’t make the cutoff and would finish their day with a saddening DQ. I had to play a smart game though. I didn’t want to reach halfway with nothing left in the tank for the second half, just as tough but on tired legs, so I paced it the best way I knew how – power walking the climbs, running where I could and being cautious but free and enjoying the downhills.
I learnt so much about myself in this race. Standing on the start line I placed myself at the back, nervous, making small talk for the sake of it and just wanting to get on with it. Obviously we started on a climb, to Caerketton*, up up up, and I instantly regretted not getting slightly further up the pack as I trudged at someone else’s pace for the first kilometer or so. Yes it was probably wise to take it slow at the start but there’s your own steady, well paced slow and just wasting time. There was no point wasting energy trying to pass anyone, as a long slow snake of walkers wound it’s way up a narrow single track. I didn’t really get to find my own pace until we reached the top, frustrating but a lesson. Noted, I moved on.
I saw a friendly face at the top of Allermuir*, Matt said hello as I passed through the gate and then as I descended an unfamiliar but also friendly voice said hey and introduced himself. A kind stranger had recognised me from my blog after reading a recent post on the recce of this race! We exchanged a few words, both puffing and panting a little still working our way uphill to Castlelaw*, about the unexpected sunshine and no-doubt de-layering to come, then left each other to it, hoping to bump into one another later on in the race.
My Mum, Dad and sister Tess came out to support at two points during the race, the first after about 7km as I started the walk up Turnhouse* and I was so grateful to see friendly, smiling faces and their cheers. There was also a nice little water stop here with bottles rather than plastic cups (thank you!) so I grabbed one to take with me on the climb. One of the toughest climbs, a long slog, but one I know well so I didn’t think much of it, got my head down and enjoyed the descent before starting the next, Carnethy*. A fun descent down this to where we’d started our recce a few weeks before and as we headed through the gate at the bottom of Scald Law* there were more supporters offering well wishes and jelly babies. Around the rocky cairn on top I zizagged my way down and spotted another friendly face, Ant, who was standing as marshal on the saddle and I thanked him and eyed up South Black Hill* ahead, not far and as I reached the small summit. I had 30 minutes to go til the cutoff with just the Kips to go, so I legged it down and then marched my way up East* then West Kip*. Making it down the Kips and into the safety of the checkpoint within the cut off time was a huge victory for me and after a cup of water I chose to to do my celebratory dance by running down the Drove Road, one of the only flat parts of the course. A huge sense of relief passed over me, finishing this race was mine for the taking so I grabbed it and pushed on.
The next slog of a climb was Hare Hill*, a tricky path to follow through the spikey heather and dark, wet peat bog path. We’d been warned in pre-race emails and at the start that the descent off this hill was not the quickest but due to landowner issues we were to follow the poles with red and white tape. This was fine until the tape ended and we were faced with a steep slope full of tall bracken, unmarked and path-less. Cue a marshal shouting from the bottom of the hill to try and direct us down, some choosing to bum-slide it down while others like myself cautiously weaving themselves down. Somehow, with time, I made it, took a deep breath knowing that the worse descent was behind me and started the climb to Black Hill*. This again was boggy and heather ridden and I walked most of it, chugging along behind a queue of runners also opting to do the same. I enjoyed the descent but it was extremely short lived, as next up was Bell’s Hill*, the climb of which still haunts me. Even with the distraction of my trusted Tribe energy bar the hurl factor was off the scale climbing this and I saw many runners simply give in – take a seat, take in the view – to rest. I pushed on though with the thought that my family would be waiting at the bottom of this and I was right, I heard Tess’ cheers in the distance while I picked my way down the clarty (look up the definition if this is a new term for you) path.
Tess joined me on the climb up Harbour Hill* and it was a lovely distraction from my heavy legs, knowing I had just 3 more climbs to the finish once I reached the top of this one. Dad had walked on ahead from their cheer point so I knew he was somewhere further on and I caught him just as I started the climb to Capelaw*, the final unique hill on route as the last two were also our first. I could see people on both Allermuir* and Caerketton* as I reached the top with Dad and I said goodbye and ran gently on, staving off the feeling of cramp in my right calf muscle and willing it to ease. At the top of the penultimate climb of Allermuir I had the amazing feeling of coming full circle and looking back to see the skyline I’d just conquered, but my eye was on the clock with an aim of a 4 hour finish so I ploughed on. I retraced my steps going over Caerketton for the final time, a lot quicker than when I’d started hours ago, and spotted the flags and finish funnel below. The descent was tough, my quads were burning and even my glutes firing, but I got down as quickly as I could, finally stepping over the line just seconds over my four hour time goal.
I’d made it.
There was little time to take in my achievement, grabbing two bottles of water to rehydrate at the finish line, finding Nige in the crowd of exhausted runners and giving him a hug – congratulating him on a tough run but a new course PB – then hobbling down to the car to stop of at home, shower, pack and catch the 5pm train back to London. I’m proud to have completed this race though, even if it’s taken a little time to sink in and for my poor quad muscles to recover!
Edinburgh, you’ll make a hill runner of me yet!