David said : I had been keen to tackle the Carnethy 5 for a few years but always thought I would need to train specifically for it and be at full fitness. After missing the final 5 weeks of last year with injury I needed a good target to aim for. I knew I’d never be ready in 6 weeks time but thought that if I didn’t do it now I might never get round to doing it. I was lucky enough to get accepted in the ballot and set about trying to ease my way back to fitness without pushing too hard but at the same time trying to prepare for a demanding hill race. I only managed to do three training runs in the hills and then with a week to go before the race I had a couple of niggling injuries which put the race in doubt. However, after a bit of physio and a week of no running I was determined to make the start. At least I would be feeling fresh!
I arrived at Beeslack High School in Penicuik with the rain falling and snow covering the nearby hills. The sports hall was already full of runners but I just walked straight up to the desk and collected my number. Then it was out to the waiting bus for the short journey to the start. We were dropped off in a layby and made our way to the field where we would start from. It was pretty cold hanging about but the rain had stopped and there were small glimmers of blue sky appearing. It was a bit daunting looking up at three of the five snow covered peaks we would be running up and down but I tried to console myself with the thought that it was only 6 miles!
There was a piper playing as we lined up on the start line, there was a bang from Barry the Gun and off we went charging across the open field like a scene from Braveheart straight into a cold, wet, smelly bog…..lovely! After the bog we started a gradual climb up a narrow path before beginning the steep climb up Scald Law through rough, heathery ground. It was tough going and a case of just following the person in front. Eventually I arrived at the top feeling pleased that I had made it and excited to start running a bit more only to be hit in the face by an icy gale force wind!
I headed along the snowy ridge to South Black Hill being constantly buffeted by the wind but I did take a quick glance around at the stunning views as the sun had now appeared. Then it was time to climb again up to the summit. This was a much shorter climb and didn’t take long to reach the top. Then the fun really started……the descent was snow covered and very slippy. I saw a few people around about me falling so I tried to take it really easy but still managed to end up on my backside which was a bit of a shock the first time it happened. Soon I was climbing again up to the top of East Kip which was a tougher climb than South Black Hill. Again I took it easy on the descent and I think I managed to stay on my feet but there were a couple of wobbly moments.
I was looking forward to getting to the top of West Kip and then the long descent to the Howe. However, the conditions once again proved to be problematic. The initial descent was steep and slippy and I landed on my backside several times. At one point I was actually sledging downhill so fast on my bum that I overtook a guy who was running! Things flattened out a little bit and it was good to finally be able to do some “normal” running through mud, bogs and burns but it didn’t last long. There was another bottom sliding section before arriving in the relative flatness of the Howe. Just one more climb to go…..
Well first of all I had to stop and tighten the laces on my trainers which had been loosened considerably by all the feet sucking mud I had encountered. I had a quick energy gel and then started the long, long climb up Carnethy. By this stage I was really starting to pay for my lack of training as I was pretty much bent double, hands on knees concentrating on continuing to move forward (however slowly!) and resist the temptation to stop and lie down for a rest (more tempting than you might think now that the sun was out and it had warmed up a little bit in sheltered areas). After clearing the false summit, which I had been warned about, it took one final effort to make it to the real summit. Before I got there though I did take a moment to stop and take in the view behind me. Looking back at the train of runners behind me, the snow covered Pentlands bathed in sunshine and the Firth of Forth in the distance was pretty special.
Once rounding the summit I knew it was all downhill to the finish but I was wondering how runnable it would be. Luckily there wasn’t much snow but after the initial descent through heather I hit the steep scree slope. There is clearly a technique required for running down scree but unfortunately I don’t have it. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that I’m not very good with heights so while I minced about and cautiously slid down the hill regularly hanging on hopelessly to the heather for support I was overtaken by a constant stream of wild, flying runners who were all much braver than me!
I was delighted when I reached the bottom and determined to make up for lost time by putting in a strong finish back across the field to the finish. My legs were feeling pretty wobbly but I dug in, passing a few people as we crossed the cold, wet boggy ground again and even managed a sprint finish, pipping a grey haired gentleman on the line (who I later discovered was in his sixties….I’m so proud of myself!). I felt a little bit deflated at the end. I was pleased that I had finally done it but at the same time I was wishing I could have been better prepared and I was disappointed at my slowness coming down through the loose scree.
I got very cold waiting about at the end for the bus back but that was probably my fault for finishing so far down the field! It was great to get onto the nice warm bus and even better to enjoy a cooked meal from the school canteen when we got back to Beeslack.
All in all it was a great day out, we got pretty lucky with the weather and I can see why the Carnethy 5 is listed as one of the Worlds Ultimate Running Races. As souvenirs from the race I have aching quads from the downhills and sore arms/bruised buttocks from all the falling and sliding I did. I would like to do it again but I might need to work on my fear of heights and practice running on loose scree. A very big thank you to Carnethy Hill Running Club for organising and an even bigger thank you to all the volunteers, especially those out marshalling on the cold, wind-swept hills for a number of hours.