Saturday was a beautiful winter's day and, standing in the field, looking up at Carnethy hill, it seemed just the perfect day for a...umm...bike ride.
Saturday is the first time I've turned up to a race and really, really, not known why I was there. I was searching inside me for some sort of point to it and of course, as everyone knows, there's never actually a point. Certainly, shivering in a field after hours of travelling, registering and faffing just seemed like a whole lot of effort for a 6mile race.
After its appearance on the Adventure Show last year, Carnethy has taken on legendary status among runners and this was reflected in the fact that entries sold out pretty much instantly. Considering everything that I love about hill running (beauty, solitude, unspoilt paths), it was a grim shock to suddenly find myself fighting over a narrow piece of track with 500 other brightly clad runners weaving slowly up the hillside. It's the hill equivalent of the Glasgow women's 10k only with more burping, snotter blowing, chest clearing and extra-short tartan shorts.
By the time I got to the top of the first hill I was so seriously unamused that, looking at the hundreds of footprints already spoiling the snow, I thought about turning back. Except that there seemed to be even more people behind me. So I ran along the ridge slowly and started to let people go past. I had this idea that if I went slowly enough, eventually the field would thin out and I could enjoy my run. This plan was working a treat all the way down West Kip where I was overtaken by bounding runners. I'm not sure the marshall at the gate with the delicious-smelling coffee was aware how close I came to stopping and asking if I could join him. A long flat stretch and the people ahead started to get further away as I jogged slowly along, beginning to enjoy the scenery.
On rounding the corner to view the caterpillar of racers slowly crawling up Carnethy I was close to flinging toys out the pram a second time (what are all these people doing on MY hill??) but then realised that the path up Carnethy is quite wide and there was going to be much less of a fight to just go up at the pace I wanted.
It turns out that this pace was actually much faster than I'd expected. It was like everything in my legs just seemed to switch back on again and I remembered that, any previous time I've been up Carnethy, I've been lugging a rather hefty mountain bike. So a wee walk up it was hardly going to kill me. Obviously the slow start paid off and I still had a huge amount left in my legs to get me up the hill, passing people every couple of meters.
On reaching the top, I was a bit nervous about an icy descent but it turned out to be a beautiful scree run with just a bit of bum-sliding on the snow. I'm not sure that's the official way to get down but it seemed to work and was exciting enough to put a huge grin on my face before the finish line. At 1hr31 I don't think I had a bad time. Just 4 minutes faster than Pat, who was the first woman to complete the race 21 times. The plan was to spray her with champagne as she crossed the finish line but I wasn't ready in time for her so just had to watch as she crossed the line smiling, with the faster Westies wielding champagne.
Obviously Carnethy is a great race for a lot of people. Why else would Pat, John and so many others be going back there year after year? And that last downhill was really amazing. But as a race it was just too busy and short and not at all my cup of tea.
Maybe my commemorative '40 years of Carnethy' mug will make a better one :)
Well done to Pat and John D!