Hill Running is a popular sport but when someone organises his life around the dates of his favourite races, you know itâ€™s serious. The Carnethy 5 hill race which has taken place from Penicuik every February since 1970, is a race that attracts that kind of loyalty.
The race was inaugurated in 1970 by Burns Scott and Jimmy Jardine, ostensibly to celebrate the story of the Saltire appearing in the sky over Carnethy Hill to inspire an exhausted Scottish army at the battle of Roslin in 1302. At first it began at Penicuik Park and the runners ran along the road and ascended Carnethy Hill only, a distance of someÂ miles. Two years later, Scald Law was added.Â In 1980 the weather was so bad that the organisers called it off, but confident runners, who had travelled from far and wide, ran the race unofficially.
From 1981, the course was extended to take in the 5 hills. With around 500 runners taking part these days, the start and finish have been located in the field below the hill, rather than having runners on the road from the school. A fleet of buses takes the runners to the encampment at Silverburn and back. They first run up Scald Law, then East Kip and West Kip, then Black Hill and down to the Howe before the long, hard slog up Carnethy itself and the painful descent. All in all itâ€™s 6 miles and 2500â€™ of climb. As the runners are not on the tourist path, they are not causing permanent damage but the original descent from Carnethy down the scree slope was beginning to make its mark and now a marked route has to be followed which changes slightly each year.
Jimmy himself has run in every race, making this year his 40th, a unique achievement. That takes some doing. Jimmy from Lochaber A. C. has run many races in less than the hour but now in his seventies, it takes a little longer. A well kent face, there is no shortage of encouragement for him on the hills and he acknowledges it all with a cheery smile.
Joining him in this 40th yearâ€™s celebrations were 5 people who joined the 21 Club, people who have competed in 21 races and who are presented with an engraved quaich to honour the occasion.
Amongst them this year is the first woman to join this dedicatedÂ club, Pat McLoughlan from WesterlandsÂ and there was a bottle of champagne awaiting her as she crossed the finish line. How much of it was used to wash off the mud and how much to drink is anyoneâ€™s guess.
The Carnethy 5 race really kicks off the hill running season and this year there are 185 races in the calendar, which is compiled by the Scotttish Hill Runners Association. These races cover the whole of the country, from Wideford Hill in Orkney to Criffel Hill nearÂ Dumfries.
For further information on hill running see the Scottish Hill Runners website.