The Dark Side of the Moon
Swanston Handicap ~ August 2009

If as a one time (albeit summer) resident of Swanston, Robert Louis Stevenson was right in saying that “our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits”, then for me, this was the handicap to put that maxim to the test, for I would fail. A course which climbs from the start to lead you into the climb which takes you up to the climb, then levels out the descent to speed you on to the climb is perhaps not my forte.

Four weeks previously, Willie G (our generous organiser) and I discussed Swanston as a possible venue and discussed various routes over the dark side of the moon … one of those areas of the Pentlands where few run, although the access and running is good. Two weeks previously, accompanied by a small (Bob was there) band of stalwarts [1] we set out to reconnoitre a basic route, with options. Methought that the route through the initial ascent gorse would throw people, but with maps, pointers it’s obvious … apparently.

As a deadbeat, dropout, runner I was thinking on the lines of a 40 minutes—tops— run, especially as with a new route, on the dark side, there was a great potential for people to get lost and / or caught out in the dark. Willie didn’t think so and as we progressed on the recce and I (and others) mumped and moaned we kept heading out and up, up and out, and then of course … further, up and out. On the recce, there were two views about the outlying spur to the Northeast of Capelaw: (Mine) its pointless, adds nothing but distance when time to get everyone in and eating is limited and no-one will thank you for this bit, better take them up to the stile and then up Allermuir, or head up Allermuir from the col and take in either Caerketton, or first top beyond the main col (linked to my subjective view that I’d be running backwards in terms of positions if we headed out there). Oh, the other view (Willie’s) … It’s my ****ing handicap, I’m the ****ing organiser and it’s my ****ing route. I gave him a hug.

On the night, Willie was of course right. Perhaps I should have listened … Except people got lost on the initial ascents and got caught out in the dark, with a couple of search parties our looking for our last finisher.

As a habitual explorer of the dark side for some 30 years and with the advantage of the recce, I didn’t put a foot wrong (smug b*st*rd) until we headed out to the outlier where I began to get caught and passed (mostly by people who had little idea of how they got there.

Despite the desire to sit down, I forced myself to keep the pace (ha, ha) as a group of us ran up an increasingly misty Allermuir. Despite a good descent, I was now fading and was caught on the last ascent (for some) by some of the fit b*gg*rs who had managed to recover from being lost and any advantage I might have had was being rapidly stripped away, sigh. A clutch of runners interpreted the rules in such away that they added more up, onto the second top of Caerketton (some even ventured to the top) which helped me attain my final position.

Still, dinner awaited (if we had ordered correctly) and as my old mate Robert Louis opined “there is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last”. So, somewhat knackered I enjoyed the sweetness of the final descent, running in a sea of sparks down the glorious scree and down, down (no more up) to the finish, where I was 103rd out of the 31 or some such.

The new Swanston Golf Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar did us proud with food and drink until inevitably I had to cycle off into the rain.

Willie did good, not only in running over the ****ing route in his ****ing handicap, but in being the ****ing organiser too.

Hey, next and final handicap is mine … Beware.

Nick Macdonald

[1] The ever-changing faithful

Carnethy Swanston Handicap - Russel Somerford's Route

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