Since I joined Carnethy Hill Running Club at the beginning of the year, the Carnethy 5 race has been on my list of must-dos. It’s iconic and one of the most popular hill races in Scotland, with runners traveling from all over the UK to race.
Not to be mistaken for 5 kilometres or miles in distance, the race summits 5 peaks in the Pentland Hills – Scald Law, South Black, East and West Kips and finally Carnethy – in just under 6 miles. Tough. Not so much the ascents, up which you can graft together in a line of heavy-breathed runners, but the steep, slippery, heather and scree-laden descents, on which you feel that time and places can be made up.
Always held in February the race has seen a whole host of winter conditions over the last 48 years since it began. The last few years in particular have been less than kind to runners and marshals – with blizzard snow showers, wind gusts to blow you off the highest hill tops and freezing temperatures – so we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather on Saturday, bright but breezy and only a small shower as we reached the first summit.
At lunchtime on Saturday with a 2pm start, runners crowded onto coaches from the nearby Edinburgh-suburb town of Penicuik after registration and kit check, for the short drive to the foot of the hills. Wading into bog and out with sodden feet wasn’t an ideal warm-up, but it wasn’t to get much worse and the shoes would be drier in no time. I hoped.
On the start line, runners huddled together like penguins on Attenborough documentaries, I was nervous and began to regret my decision to keep my entry after a 16 hour sit-down traveling back from Abu Dhabi the day before. My legs needed the shake-out I told myself.
The start, run-able. No time or space to weave around the bog in front of us, a straight line through, getting lost in the pack. Through the gate with well-wishes from supporters and marshals, onwards, along the peaty, heather-bordered narrow track, shuffling in a line as other daredevils around me hopped out at either side. A scramble down the sharp slope to the burn and a hope over to begin the climb.
Scald Law. A wicked start. The rain clouds greeting us briefly at the top before its’ wind blew us onto South Black hill with ease. Around the cairn and flying down to the cull ahead of the Kips, standing tall, a line of runners etched on its side. East Kip then West. No time to breathe. Climb after climb, finding foot hole and following the tired sole in front.
Downhill, a long descent, slippy from the melted snow and a fall – face first, broken by outstretched hands and ending with a grazed knee, but up as quickly as I tumbled. The Howe. Through the checkpoint with time to spare. One final climb but the cruelest, a long slog to reach Carnethy.
Before the final descent, no rest, concentrating hard on staying upright, through the thick heather and its chunky roots, slicing through avalanches of moving scree. Through the gate for a final time, the finish flags in sight. The finish. The pain. The relief. The achievement.
I was pleased to finish but it was a tough race and it took its toll on my body – my lower back ached from a bent-over posture up the hills and my knee throbbed as my quads and ITB took a pounding on the descents.
I was lucky to be racing in 2XU Cross Training Compression Tights – designed to support key muscles under impact from high intensity training – and felt supported and snug throughout the race, as wind battered us on the hill tops and I took a tumble on the descents. They provide anatomical mapping for targeted support to the glute, hamstring, quad and calf muscles, in an attempt to reduce soreness and improve recovery. I think a little stretching and foam rolling might be more beneficial, but compression clothing is an additional method I’m trying out, and so far I’m enjoying wearing them, particularly for longer runs in the Winter.
On Monday, I’m traveling to Tenerife for some running adventures and my 2XU tights will be packed in my suitcase, ready for some mountain trails a little drier than Carnethy and the Pentland Hills here’s hoping! Look forward to some photos and blog posts on our Tenerife adventures coming soon!