“Right, I’ll just shout, ‘Ready, go!’. Ready! Go!”
The molecules in the air turned from transparent to thick brown as Catherine wheels of mud spiralled through the air around us. Leaning forward, we pulled our feet from the quagmire beneath us, urging bare legs to turn quicker.
Four hundred runners stampeded towards the narrow gate just 100m ahead of the starting line, a thick wind blasting our faces as we made the leg-sapping first ascent up the limestone cobbles of Scout Scar.
Like the waves of drizzle and clobbering wind, the terrain of the Scout Scar, just outside Kendal, rose and fell with demoralising frequency. But there was hardly any time to take that in.
Breath coming in short rasps, feet sucking through heavy mud, a dozen runners around me, each in various degrees of under-dressed-for-the-conditions by any reasonable individual’s standards.
Two minutes before the start, I looked around me as other runners took off jackets and waterproofs to reveal short shorts and vest beneath. Looking down at my own get-up of a t-shirt under my racing vest, I felt positively over-dressed.
If a bunch of lads from the Lake District were bearing all in these driech conditions, what kind of Scotsman was I to layer up? Naturally, the t-shirt was ditched, but I decided to stay sensible and at least kept my buff around my head as a headband.
After all, I am not a complete maniac.
Twenty minutes into the race, we took another of the greasy descents from the escarpment, leaning forward into the gorse-lined trod. As I past another runner, the opportunity to pass another via a cheeky corner cut presented itself.
I jumped into the straight line, taking just enough out the corner to nab a spot. The next left-hander met me with a suddenness I had not expected. As I tried to make the turn, I felt the grip of karma on my heel.
The graceful sideways slide went on for what felt like forever. Eventually, I had to park it to stop myself sliding into an abyss of gorse. I performed the best breaking manoeuvre I could think of: I planted my backside on the ground.
It just so happened, though, my parking spot was not exactly a “soft landing”. As my Pops would say, I got “a right boot up the arse” from one of the innumerable rocks crumbled upon the ground.
It knocked the wind right out me, my coccyx yelped as it thudded into the hard ground.
“Y’a’right, lad?” asked the chap I had just pulled a sneaky one on in his lolloping Cumbria accent. I waved a hand by way of confirmation, adrenaline pulling me back to me feet.
Accelerating again from nought to 60 as quick as I could manage, I continued down the path, which was now greasier than a napkin in kebab shop takeaway, attempting to make the slides work for me.
We turned left, with the hope that this might be the final climb of the race. The wind blew again, my cheeks feeling the cold bla-
Wait. Which cheeks? As I powered up the gradual incline, I lowered a hand to the back of my shorts. In retrospect, I thought of it as a kindness to my pursuer that I put on the burners, only hoping that maybe the under-short was actually not ripped.
Finally, we rejoined the path we had previously ascended, turning back down towards the narrow gate. For spectators, the Scout Scar race is an excellent one to watch, because you can stand within 100m of one spot and see the runners three times.
I passed my girlfriend for the final time as we hurtled back into the starting field, I attempting to get my legs to pull themselves out the mud and lactic acid just that little bit faster to pass the runner ahead.
In the end he pipped me at the post, which is maybe best for both of us. Thankfully, my hard work paid off – the next runner was another 20 seconds behind.
I sucked in oxygen through wheezing breaths, planting myself on the (soft) wet ground. Looking around, shaking the mud-splattered hands of the other runners, I smiled.
Bo wandered up, handing me my extra layers. “How was that, then?” she asked. Before I could moan about my sore backside, the fact I could have been quicker, that I should train more on the flat, I laughed and said: “Awesome”.
2019 had been a year of incredible experiences: from days above the clouds in the southern highlands, to many days in the clouds like on the Trotternish Ridge; from beautiful solo mountain experiences, to supporting friends to take on their challenges; from cramp-filled purgatory on the Ochil 2000s, to descending lunacy in the shine of Ben Nevis.
Beyond race results and times, 2019 was a year of people and places. I had so many incredible connections with people in amazing landscapes in the past 12 months, and I look forward to sharing more of those experiences with them and the readers of this blog.
2020 started with a bang (and a bump). Long may that continue!
Full results here.