Snowy Pentland Hills and Feel the Burns race

This weekend, the South of Edinburgh and in particular the Scottish Borders was treated to a spectacular dusting (dumping) of snow! I was racing on Sunday but the 14 mile tough course had been shortened to almost half the length due to bad weather conditions, so a short potter in the Pentland Hills to enjoy the snow on Saturday had to be done.

We met friends Eoin and Aisling at Flotterstone along with a few others and headed off on a flat-ish run but hoping to climb a little in search of fresh snow to play in and views across the city. We followed a path that skirted around Castlelaw and Capelaw before descending towards Bonaly, slowing down at every opportunity to plunge deep into the snow drifts, making snow angels and face-planting straight into the white stuff. The light was incredible, the sun slowly rising above us, making the snow sparkle and the sky blend into the landscape into a mist of white haze. Here, Nige and I left the group, thinking ahead to the race the following day, and descended towards Glencorse Reservoir to loop back on the road and forest trail to Flotterstone, 11km complete in the crisp sunshine.

The next day we set off early towards Selkirk for the Feel the Burns race, giving us plenty of time in case the roads were bad. It took us just over an hour on the A7 and the roads were clear apart from the last bit into the rugby club car park, where the snow had drifted and cars were being pushed into spaces, wheels spinning. At registration I picked up my number and had my kit checked ahead of the race – my Salomon 5l bag packed with full waterproof cover, hat, gloves, foil blanket, map, compass, whistle and emergency food – before trying to decide how many layers to wear and attempting to warm up in the hall.

After the race briefing we jogged together to the start. I’d gone for 2 base layers and my club vest plus my OMM waterproof on top as snow was forecast to start falling during the race and winds would be cold and blustery on the tops of the hills, a buff wrapped around my head to cover my ears as well as gloves. I’d chosen to run in my Inov-8 Roclite 305s as I’d tested them out for grip in the snow the day before and covered my legs with my Sweaty Betty leggings and Stance socks over the top. Wrapped up and ready to go.

The route first took us up through the trails of the Ettrick Forest, slippy with ice patches, and then into the deep snow to the top of Peat Law for the first checkpoint. After a short descent we began climbing again, on the usually heather-lined paths, this time springy but snow-covered, to the top of the 3 Bretheren and the second checkpoint. As we climbed I looked over to see runners ahead of us descending on a path running parallel to us, and so as we reached the checkpoint we turned back on ourselves, descending down a tricky, narrow path, edges deep with tightly-packed snow. I could hear the familiar sounds of cowbells ringing as we approached the lowest point of the race, before we turned again and I looked up to a long line of marching runners ahead of me, trekking towards the final summit of Foulshiels Hill. At the top the snow began to fall, freezing my face and making it hard to see, the lines blurred between the ground and the sky, and the snowflakes dripping from my eyelashes down my cheeks. After a long and fun descent, I finally recognised a gate at the bottom of the field that I’d gone through at the Philiphaugh Hill Race last year and it clicked that there were only a few kilometres of run-able trails left to go before the finish. I put my foot down and knocked it up a gear, passing a good number of runners I’d been stuck in a line behind for most of the race. Suddenly the trails opened wide through the trees, my pace quickened and I was flying down the last hill to cross the finish line, the soft falling snow dusting the icy path below making it sticky and grippy.

I finished, snow covering my head and sticking to my clothes, and no sooner had I crossed the line I was jogging back down to the rugby club for warm soup and a hot meal of baked potato and beans. With a noon start and the snow falling as forecast we hot-footed it back to the car to get on the road back to Edinburgh as soon as we could, taking it a lot easier on the roads heading North due to the conditions.

Well done to all runners completing the race in tough conditions and anyone who ran over the weekend in snowy weather, we train in the Winter to fly in the Summer! I hope to be back at Feel the Burns next year and that the weather allows a full running route along the incredible Southern Upland Way. Enjoy the snow while you can folks! It won’t last!

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