The Carnethy 5 Hill Race, now in its 43rd year, is not for the faint hearted! At almost six miles and scaling five Pentland hilltops, on rough, open hillside on thick heather and occasionally rocky or boggy ground, and including around 2,500 feet of steep ascent and descent, this is one you’ll have to put more than just a bit of training in for!
Andy said : It was with a considerable amount of nervousness and trepidation that I set off to complete in my first ever hill race and I thought I would start with an easy one. The Carnethy 5 takes place in The Pentlands, you climb Scald Law, South Black Hill, East Kip, West Kip, descend to The Howe before climbing Carnethy. Then all you have to do is roll down the hill to the finish! It’s less than six miles but has 2500 feet of ascent.
I hitched a ride with Phil and we headed out to Penicuik to register and get our numbers before jumping on a coach out to the start by the A702. We were advised beforehand that some people would be kit checked and it turned out that everybody was checked to ensure we had waterproof and warm clothing along with a map, compass and whistle.
We were dropped at the start which apparently was where a historical battle took place and the English were probably sent home to think again! Well from the various running vests all round the start area it looked like a few of them were back. There was a marquee where you could leave kit and the toilets consisted of a wall and ladies this is surely one of those occasions where a she-wee would come in very handy!
After not too long a wait everybody was milling round the start area and ready to go. Then there was a bang from Barry the Gun, the piper played Highland Cathedral and off we went. Following Phil’s advice I decided to stay towards the back and try and run the first part conservatively. We ploughed through a bog and headed onto Scald Law. This was just a mass of people making their way up the hill as best as they could. There was a single track path and folks just got up to the top whilst trying to conserve energy.
Eventually the top arrived and we immediately headed along the ridge to South Black Hill. It was great to get the exhilaration of the first downhill part although this was swiftly tempered by the approach of the next climb. We went up and then down again before going over East & West Kip. It felt great to be up in the hills but challenging myself in a completely new way.
We came off the top of West Kip before heading down to The Howe. This was where the fun really started. The first part of the descent was steep and very slippy on soft wet grass. However I soon discovered that if you slip over you tend to bounce straight back up again due to your momentum and the gradient. I know now what it feels like to be a weeble! Soon the gradient levelled out and we were on a good path gradually descending into the heart of The Pentlands. We were jumping streams ploughing through bogs and generally having a great time. We arrived at The Howe before then starting the long ascent up Carnethy.
I was ready for this and grabbed a couple of jelly babies at the bottom. It was then a case of hands on knees and plough up to the top of Carnethy as fast as you could. I have no idea how long the climb took but it definitely was a tester. You could hear the sound of others coughing and wheezing on the way up so I knew they were having a good time too. Eventually we reached the top and for the only time in the race I grabbed a quick look at the view. You could see north towards Edinburgh and over to Fife and south over the Border Hills – magical.
It was then time for the final descent. I had been warned at the start that if my legs were not like jelly at the top they would be by the bottom. The warning proved correct. The descent off Carnethy was basically straight through the heather. There was a small path where others had been but basically you had to let yourself go and trust that you would get a good grip. The gradient then got steeper and steeper. Initially I started off in control but soon my legs were going faster than my brain wanted them to do but there was nothing I could do to stop them. This only probably only lasted for a short time but in my mind it lasted a lot longer. Eventually the gradient lessened slightly and we reached a scree field. The last part of the descent was pure running heaven as I bounced through the scree before reaching the bottom.
All that was left was to cross a bog which sapped your final energy before arriving at the finishing line.
I crossed the line and felt tired and exhilarated all at once. The endorphins had definitely kicked in and I felt like I had enjoyed a great run. The race was a major test but one I would love to repeat again both here and at other races throughout Scotland. After the race we were ferried back to Penicuik where we enjoyed a cooked meal, school dinners style. It was the perfect end to a perfect day – corny but it sums up how I felt at the time!
Finally I would also like to express my thanks to everybody at Carnethy Hill Running Club who helped to put on such a fantastic event and hopefully there will be a few other ERNers on the 2014 start line.