Posted in Race Reports on Nov 11, 2019
By Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.
“Let’s race Tinto Hill” my club runner pals said, “it’ll be fun” they said.
So we pay our small online entry fee, one of the great thing about these small club-organised hill runs is the homespun feel, the low-cost entry fee, the no need for bling medals and scratchy t-shirts of some bigger races.
A week or so later and eight members of our club meet in a muddy farm yard in Lanarkshire. People are changing at the back of cars, a small queue for the portaloo. Picking up the race numbers in the hay barn takes all of a few seconds. There’s a scary field full of turkeys all looking at us.
We cross a field to the start, begin a warm up, running up the slope of the field. There are two signs in the ground, ‘Fun Run’ and ‘Hill Race’, which cues up the predicable jokes of “which one are we doing?” But we’re not here for fun, we’re here for Type-2 Fun, the type that is fun once it is over. Or so we think.
We have our little backpacks checked – waterproof jacket, trousers, compass, map – check! And then it’s race time. Everyone assembles, a gaggle of chiselled calf muscles, rugged soled trail shoes, IronMan tattoos, and some nervous laughs.
The gun goes and we’re off. It’s 3.4km to the hill’s summit cairn as in 3.4km straight up. The first km or so and I’m running, managing to keep it going. Not so bad I think, but even when we reach the kissing gate and the slight bottleneck I take the few seconds reprieve to catch my breath rather than climb over the fence like some in a hurry.
It’s becomes relentlessly up. Running over rough stones, through slidey wet black peaty mud, across knobbly grassy tufts. You’re watching your footing, feeling your breathing, getting harder, more laborious. We’re still going up. It never stops.
And then it happens, the path becomes so steep people beginning to power walk, hands pushing down on thighs, always forwards and upwards. Even this is hard. I’m struggling. I catch glimpses of my team mates, Paul is just up in front, as long as I keep him in sight I’m ok, Becky is nearby, sometimes I pass her, sometimes she passes me. Our usual chattiness has stopped. It’s all just about moving upwards. And not having a heart attack. Still 2km to go I note. Damn. This could take a while.
And then, trudging ever upwards the first runner coming down is sighted. People on the way up moving out the way, he hurtles past. “Go on mate!”, “well done!” and he’s gone. Jeez. Admirable.
I struggle upwards, Becky in front of me now, the gap widening. I take my phone out to take a photo of the scenery. I’m not gonna win the race, I can spare a few seconds to at least enjoy the scenery. We’re above some cloud now, it’s getting cooler. I can see the summit shrouded in grey wispy cotton wool.
Then I see the first Bella’s on the way down, Scott, Fred, Paul, Kristina! We’re near the summit, ascending and descending on scree pretty much. Kristina’s face as she begins her downward sprint looks nervous, pale, concentrating. I think to myself, “jeez, what is coming?”
Then I’ve levelled out, I’m at the cairn, the legs can go from a slog of a walk to a shuffle as I move up the gears. 20, 30 metres and I’m round the cairn. Now for the descent.
I’m picking up pace, my legs are moving like in a cartoon, spinning round. Gravity and momentum my new friends. Jeez, this is scary, sprinting down scree. Another 3km of this to go. I put the brakes on a little, trying to dodge sideways, back and forth, slowing down.
But this is the chance to pick up time after my hill walk on the ascent. I’m picking my foot falls, that rock here, that grassy knob there. Trying to avoid the slippy peat. The guy in front of me falls, goes over, rolls on the scree, bounces up, keeps running. “You ok mate?” I shout, fearful for myself.
But I’m gaining confidence, managing to pick it up. There’s a little trail, with a huge slope to the left, one slip and you’ll be away down the hill. Gotta be careful, but I’m legging it, flying. Enjoying it. “This is living” I think to myself in fleeting moment of lucidity between deciding where to plant my feet.
I see Becky ahead, she’s drawing closer. I’m catching her. Still choosing between rocks, or go wider on the grass, avoiding the mud. She’s 30 metres in front, 25, 20, 10. I catch her, momentum helping me. Savouring the moment, I pass, I say nothing, going too fast, but I see she sees me, and bang, she fights back. A race is on. Still a few hundred metres to the finish, but we can see it, we can taste the glory (and endless banter) of beating your training partner, your club mate and pal.
We’re legging it, she’s back beside me, ahead of me, I skirt rocks and she’s on, the gap is widening. Still hurtling. “Go on Becky”, “catch her Jeremy”, the Bella’s who have finished shout us encouragement. The finish line is close, but she’s got it. I know the race is hers. By 3 seconds.
The team assemble, all eight of us are off the hill, no injuries, beaming smiles, and adrenaline-fuelled tales reliving our perilous high-speed rollercoaster blur of descents.
A week later Scott bemoans a slow cross country run, “Still a bit of Tinto in my soul” he says. A few of the Tinto Eight smile, flashbacks to our Type-2 fun afternoon. Now, we all carry Tinto in our soul.