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When someone organises a race that starts 5 minutes from your front door you’ve got to sign up. Also when that race lays out a challenge by calling itself the ‘Tough 10’, that challenge has to be met square on. Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has organised a series of races across the UK, its Tough Series. Each race is given a toughness rating. Our event was given the rating ‘Toughest’.
With this in my mind, my wife, Hazel, and I wandered up to the mustering area. It was a glorious morning. The sun sat in a cloudless sky. There was no wind but there was definite nip in the air. The mustering area was at Bonaly Scout Centre. A rather more sophisticated place from what I can remember from my days in the 4th Morningside Scouts. There was a good friendly atmosphere with a full range of running talent on show. There were not many club runners with the Men’s 10k taking place on the same day. Organisation was immaculate with plenty of loos and an easy bag drop.
Prior to setting off we were reminded that this was a fundraising event for CRUK. A minute’s silence was observed to remember those who had lost their lives to Cancer. With the formalities finished, we were then walked up to the start, the gate at the top of Bonaly Road at the entrance to Pentland Hills Regional Park.
This has to be the most extreme of starts to a race I have witnessed. There was no easing yourself in with 1k of flat running. No, it was straight into a brutal hill. Local mountain bikers nickname this hill ‘Puke Hill’ for a good reason! Getting to the top of Puke Hill was only the start of the ascent. I then passed through another gate taking the path up towards Capelaw, passing Bonaly Reservoir. Through a gate and beyond the tree line, we then experienced a first bit of flat running.
Flat running it was, but it was also our first introduction to the various consistencies of mud we would experience over the remaining 9k. I think there is a potential PhD topic out there for someone who wants to research the weight-bearing capacity of mud, depending upon its viscosity. I can confirm that early on during this flat traverse I found that some mud can’t cope with my 71kg weight, with me ending up in a muddy hole. After leaping from solid bit to solid bit like a demented Gazelle, I then started on a gradual descent towards Glencourse Reservoir. I received a big boost at this point, seeing the smiling faces and hearing the cheers of Jo Vinall and John Edmond.
Following the descent, it was on to the road beside the Reservoir. This respite was short-lived as we were quickly back into climbing again. We took the path beside a small wood heading towards Castlelaw Rifle Range. CRUK had wittily called it the ‘Calf Burner’. It turned out to be a very accurate name with all runners morphing into walkers. At the top of the path we began a long and steady climb towards Allermuir. At this point we were reacquainted with our mud studies. The consistency varied between from a good solid chocolate mousse to a very runny chocolate sauce. Added into the mix was some nice grassy bog. The climb seemed to last a long time until we made it to the water station on the military track from Castlelaw.
We didn’t head all the way up Allermuir, instead heading North toward Capelaw. Once the climbing was over we were greeted by a welcome ‘You’re at the highest point’ sign. It was almost all downhill from there.
Following a tricky steep descent and yet more mud, we rejoined the path down beside Bonaly Reservoir. A rather gravelly path took us back to the top of Puke Hill. Due its steepness, it is no easier to run down it than up. My thighs were burning. My mood lifted half way down when I saw the ‘500m to go’ sign. So it was out of the Regional Park and in a back gate to the Scout camp. After a brief bit of trail, the finish line was crossed. Enthusiastic volunteers gave out water, protein bars and a very tasteful medal.
It was a fantastic race, superbly organised and marshalled. In fact, the marshals deserve a special mention. Their endless enthusiasm and encouragement was brilliant. It was a cold morning with frost on the ground. It couldn’t have been fun standing around.
I hope they run this event again. I will definitely be signing up.