Monday, 17 February 2014

Carnethy 5 2014

I've heard numerous folk grumbling bitterly about the Carnethy 5 over recent weeks, describing it variously as "a dreadful and unaccountably popular hill race" (P. Buchanan), and a "brutal horror of a race" (N. Dunn) which "further increases the suffering of humanity" (D. Maass). But I probably had more reason to dread it than most, due to an unwise wager with Matt Grove in Leslie's back in September. The exact details of how this came about have been lost in the mists of whisky fumes time, but suffice to say, in a most caddish manner he took advantage of me...and Jim Hardie.

I had great plans for training. "I shall recce it TWELVE times!", I vowed, as I constructed my training spreadsheet. But as the weeks passed, and my knees twanged, and my studies impinged, and the weather turned a bit...uninviting, I managed a grand total of three C5 runs, two of which were before Christmas. 

In the run up to the race, my spies informed me that Dr Grove had sustained an injury...How unfortunate. <strokes fluffy white cat>. Perhaps I would be given a reprieve! On my arrival at Beeslack High School I sidled up to Moira's registration table. "Is Matt Grove running today?" "Well, he's taken a race number, but he's not sure if he's actually going to run." I then bumped into Matt and his brother by the buses, and I tried to pin him down (not literally), but he fobbed me off with some shifty chat and that inscrutable smirk.  Looks like he was going to keep me guessing until the last minute.

Matt Curry's photo...brrr.

 A fatalistic calm descended on me at the start...The weather was forecast to be sunny but windy (I hate wind). A warm up jog confirmed that the starting field was hideously swampy. Hordes of hill-runners were gathering (big races scare me). Scald Law loomed, the freckling of snow only accentuating its darkly imposing presence. In the countdown to the start, I braced myself for the horrific dash to Charlie's Loup. "10 seconds" <nervous laughter> "BANG" <chorus of GPS beeps> Everyone sprints to the gate, in an attempt to secure a not-too-slow position on the drag up Scald Law. The bogginess and uphilliness and sensation of everyone rushing past you gives it a truly nightmarish quality. And God help you if you fall in the bog, as you will surely be stampeded over.

Cammy Scott's photo of the scary sprint start.

The route doesn't redeem itself with the rough ascent up Scald Law. It's really tough, hands-on-knees, teeth-gritting work climbing through the steep heather (extra slipperiness courtesy of the snow this year). And at this point, if you haven't bagged yourself an ambitious place in the field, you either have to tuck in behind someone a teeny bit "too slow" or exert vast amounts of lactic-inducing muscle power to overtake them. I oscillated with a couple of girls at this point. My gaze never lifted above ankle-height, so I'm not sure who they were, but they were wearing yellow Inov8s, so that should narrow it down a bit. 

Me looking focused, courtesy of Alan Gebbie.

After you've hauled yourself around the trig point, the route lightens up a wee bit, with a leg-loosening run over to South Black Hill, and then down to East Kip. It was around this point that I switched places a couple of times with Gordon, him galloping in his serenely effortless fashion, and me careering with flailing arms down the slippery descents. I congratulated myself for getting ahead of him as my abiding memory of C5 2013 was looking at GoCam's posterior. 

The descent off West Kip felt fairly precipitous, as I skidded my way down to the gate. My original plan had been to really go for it on the gently descending stretch to The Howe - I'd made a few places up on this section last year - but the slushy mud was ankle deep in some areas which inhibited speed. The last steep descent to the burn started out as a deliberate bum-slide, and ended with me hurtling completely out of control past a couple of other runners. I inadvertently gained a couple of places here, but was probably fortunate not to have died in the process.

The valley was bathed in warmth and sunshine (or maybe it was the afterglow of a near-death experience) and I was very happy to see Nicola & Bertie and Neil B. cheering us on. I think this is the ideal position for supporters, as you need as much positive energy as possible before the final slog up Carnethy. I was vaguely aware of a red top in front of me, but it was only at the hand-on-knees gully that I realised I was overtaking Joel - an unprecedented event by a long way! I struggled to stay beside him, falling over repeatedly in the snow, and trying to blacken his name by shouting "STOP PUSHING ME!!". Poor Joel looked quite wounded.

As I hauled myself around the cairn at the summit, I enjoyed that wave of relief that it really was nearly over. I looked around at the crest of the steep descent, expecting a marshal to shout directions at me, but everyone (except Joel...good boy!) was coursing down the glorious scree. I love scree, probably partly due to its forbiddenness on this race. Jeff came flying past me like an antelope and I totally let the brakes off trying to catch up with him but to no avail. The last stretch is always a bit testing as apparently some people have reserves of energy which enable them to sprint to the finish line. Weirdos. I was content to canter, and take care not to face-splat into that bog. I hadn't looked at my watch en route, and was amazed to see that I had in fact managed a PB! 1:13:29...about three minutes faster than last year. So. Happy.

About to be pipped at the post? (Cammy Scott's photo)

And the day only got better as, after a reviving coffee, I found Matt Grove lounging at the finish. He had raced after all, and had managed a time of 1:20. It would be unseemly to gloat as that's actually a very respectable time for someone in fine fettle, and I don't think I'd have been brave (foolish?) enough to run it with a gammy hamstring. However, I do feel at liberty to point and laugh heartily at his suspiciously sticky crotch stain...supposedly the result of a broken gel sachet. Likely story.

Jogging back to Beeslack School was definitely a preferable option to the icy queue for the bus, although I nearly got lost before being found and rescued by Euan, Jim, Simon et al. After a school dinner and a bit of Joel-assisted tea-making (who knew it would be such a logistical challenge - urns to keep full, milk-jugs to top up, plates of biscuits to be eaten arranged), I enjoyed the final glory of the day: a place on the second ladies team! Thank you Charlotte and Jill for being very fast, and to Mudge, Paris, Bonsor, Higginbottom etc etc for not running. And of course HUGE thanks to Olly, the marshals, helpers, and poor frozen tent erecters.

In conclusion, Carnethy 5 is a *brilliant* race, and I won't hear a word against it.

Freak. (Thanks Digby).