With only one big race in the calendar left for this year I decided to get some inspiration from our Club Championship races, a mix of Carnethy-organised, Scottish and British Champs races. This weekend was the second race on the list, Screel Hill Race – a short course and part of the Scottish Championships.
The Scottish Champs take place annually, involves 6 races – 2 short, 2 medium and 2 long – and runners must complete 4 of 6 to count. They usually like to mix things up every year, supporting different local races and taking runners far and wide across Scotland.
I hadn’t heard of Screel although I knew it was also part of the Dumfries and Galloway hill racing series, so we’d be travelling to the West Coast for the day. With the race at 1pm we would make a day of it, 2 hours or so in the car, register, warm-up, race, warm-down and drive home. A two hour drive seems like a long way to go for a four mile race, but it was worth it. The weather was perfect, sunshine, blue skies, very little wind and a good crowd turning out for a Scottish Champs race made the atmosphere worth it.
Parking in a field, grabbing our numbers, no kit required, we warmed up, running the start of the race route up and down the gravel forest path, cool in the shade, warm and sheltered in the sunshine streaming through the tall trees. Over a hundred runners gathered, mostly club-vested, and with the warm weather I was glad I’d gone for shorts and vest on the start line. We were off.
Climb. Climb, climb, climb, although the first kilometre or so was just about run-able. Especially when you’re in a crowd of everyone running around you. We left the shelter of the forest and were soon off the gravel path into another section of beautiful trail, dry and rooted. We kept climbing then made it out of the trees again and we could see Screel Hill ahead of us, the sea behind us.
The hill ahead looked stoney, drizzled with a little yellow of fresh gorse bush and greeny brown heather. The real climb started and we were almost scrambling. One runner went one way, another chose a different route and although the main direction was marked with red flags and red and white tape, there was not one right route. Each judgement and decision you made had an outcome. One place ahead. One step forward. Two steps back. Near the summit but not quite, the path turned soft and peaty under foot and there was a flat stretch of fast running to the cairn.
One climb done. But we hadn’t reached halfway and Nige had said it wasn’t an out and back race but a lollipop loop. That meant a scramble down a little, another stretch of boggy running further down and then another sharp climb I wasn’t expecting. Thankfully it came and went quickly. All that was left to do was retrace our steps to the start/finish line. Flying.
Quite literally flying. I don’t think my brain had time to catch up with my legs. I slowed down a bit when we got into the forest again as there were tree roots and bigger rocks I was cautious of, but out onto the gravel again and my legs just kept turning, faster, faster. I sped past a few male runners and felt the familiar bends where we’d warmed up earlier. A zig zag down to the bottom and crossing the line. Done.
As my legs came to a stop I was funnelled into the crowd of runners who had finished. The winning time was extraordinary so I’d obviously missed the prize giving but I wasn’t there for that. I found Nige and my fellow club mates and we shared race stories of falling and losing shoes in the bog! One race ticked off the club champs, five to go. What a day for a race. Warm sunshine in Scotland in April?! So warm I was in a tee and shorts on my cool down walk/run a second time up the hill? More of that please!