“The mountain rescue team can’t stand on the side of Black Hill because of the wind.”
This message was read out to us with a tremendous gravity by the race organiser as we stood – scruffy and, to some, underdressed – in a nondescript field outside of a small Scottish town off the A702.
Ninety-nine percent of the year, this field sees only a few souls out for a weekend meander. Then, on one day, 500 ‘crazies’ appear to run over the five peaks that make up the Carnethy 5 – an icon of Scottish hill racing.
Albeit this was my first Carnethy 5, I knew its place in the annals of Scottish hill racing history. On that start line, you are surrounded by the big hitters of the sport’s modern age: James Waldie, Jonathan Crickmore, Sam Alexander, Jacob Adkin, Angela Mudge, Sarah McCormack and many more.
I turned to Hamish Battle: “Excited?”. “Excited for it to be over,” he laughed.
With bag pipes playing, the gun was fired and the battle charge commenced to the base of Scald Law. A fast track out from the start turns into a steep heathery climb, where everyone is reduced to a walk with hands on knees.
Lungs were already burning and calves protested in this brutal baptism of fire to the race. The summit of Scald Law appeared and as soon as it did, the wind slammed into us like a brick wall. I was running, but I wasn’t going anywhere, and even in the descents the effort that was put in to keep moving forward was like towing a car.
Most of the inside of my lungs was on my face by the climb to East Kip’s summit, and by West Kip I couldn’t feel my legs.
I think at each summit I could have put my hand up and said, “Just take me home. I’m done.” But you don’t. You keep moving. You keep ‘that guy with the red bandana’, or ‘the person with the blue bag’ in sight. That’s your marker. Hold it. Try.
Descending into the Howe should have been a chance to let loose, but the battering from the wind and climbs gone turned it into what a teammate described as “a controlled fall”.
A flat section in the Howe and the final ascent was upon me. The breathing is rasping now, phlegm and snot covers my sleeves. At least the wind was behind us at this point, and any gusts we tried to use to carry us further.
More heather, then a relentless grassy climb until we were thrown back onto the plateau to make the final ascent of Carnethy.
Mary of the Ochil Mountain Rescue Team called, “Hey, Ross! Come on!”. All I could do was feebly lift my fingers in response. At the summit, marshals were being battered by the wind, and in a way I wanted to go faster just so they could get home quicker!
At the summit there is a never-ending bend to make around the cairn, before – like a pinball – you are pinged down the side of the final summit into more heather.
I had the strange sensation of seasickness. I was on a ship. The sea was purple and brown and black. Wind crashing into me. Eyes watering. Sea swelling.
Everywhere was movement, and there I was in another “(un)controlled fall” down the side of Carnethy, knees to chest just to stop the heather pulling me into their purple depths.
A touch on the scree and I gained a few places, thankfully! At last!
At the gate, Lee stood cheering something, before the final stretch opened ahead.
You never remember the last 500 metres, but the 501st is just sheer relief. I toppled over into the grass – never has such soft, comforting grass existed.
We started in army formation, had entered the battle, and here we were strewn across the battlefield. There is an odd sensation at the end of a race, when you close your eyes and are in this half-sleep zone where it feels like you leave your body.
Carnethy 5 lived up to its reputation. According to its description on the SHR website: “Although a relatively short race, the route can be exposed to full winter conditions.” Today was the year of the wind for Carnethy, and what a race it was.
At the end, I was downhearted, but upon reflection to come 92nd in a strong field with 478 other runners, I can only look forward to the faster times in the years to come.
In the end, though, nobody wins: The hills always win.
Thank you to the race organisers and marshals for an incredible event that nearly had to get called off. Appreciate all the effort you made for us! Congratulations to my fellow Ochil Hill runners – Adam, Ross, Dave, Thomas, other Adam, Jon and David.
Full results here: http://carnethy.com/2019/02/carnethy-5-scald-law-junior-results-2019/