Pentland Skyline 2007
Report by Michael O'Connor

After weeks of preparing and, somewhat unusually for me, tapering, I was ready for the second race attempt at the Pentland Skyline. The aim was firstly to have a good time and secondly get around in less than 4 hours. Whether these aims are incompatible was something that I was about to find out.

The weather was wonderful, perhaps even a little too warm for running. Not what you would expect in the first weekend in October.

The time between arriving and the start of the race seems far too short. Must remember to get to the car park earlier, so as not to be in such a rush next year. After helping out with some kit checking duties I’m thinking that there are just a few things that I have to do before the start of the race. Then I hear Shane giving final instructions! 131 runners in the race. 129 stand poised, waiting for the signal from Shane, to leap from the starting line and race up the hill. A shout goes out, and they’re off, making there way up the hill towards the first stile. Some are running, others saving themselves for later in the race. Meanwhile two runners/kit checkers stand motionless a few metres from the start line. Simon is issuing final instructions to his son, after having just finished the last kit check seconds before the race began. I’m hurriedly removing the last layers of my additional clothing. I think I could have planned that a little better. A last gulp of water and then were off, breaking into a very brisk walk to catch up with the back of the group, which is now snaking it’s way up the hill. By now the first runners are over the stile and moving at pace towards the top of the dry ski slope. Can’t help but give advice on the route choices, which are available in the first 200 metres of the race. Left or right at the first clump of gorse. Left this year. One runner, ploughing his own furrow, heads straight up the hill through the heather rather than sticking to the path. Don’t think that I’ll follow him. Some times the quickest way between two points is not a straight line. We arrive at the stile just as the last of the 129 runners are negotiating this obstacle. Time for the first rest break. “After you Simon”. “No, Michael after you.” Sportsmanship is alive and well in Carnethy!

Over the stile and then we increase the pace, making it to the top of Caerketton by 15.03. I tell Simon this is all part of the race strategy. Start slow and then get slower. I don’t think he's impressed as he starts running and that’s the last that I see of him until the end of the race. On a bit of down I break into a gentle jog and make steady progress to Allermuir by 23:57.

On to Castlelaw by 36:40. At the top I confidently predict to Joanne that I am the last runner. It’s all going to plan. You can’t be going too fast if you're last. It’s such a nice day that I’m almost tempted to stop and admire the view but that would be taking my, “take it slow,” strategy too far.

On the descent from Castlelaw I unintentionally pass one or two runners. On to Castlelaw Farm were it’s feet in the buckets, past the screaming tree and onto the Footbridge in 48:59. It’s very hot and I’m looking forward to a drink of water. I produce my goldfish carrier (patent pending) and I’m off in a flash. The marshals comment on how fresh I’m looking. Do they say that to everyone?

Over the footbridge and up Turnhouse. Now I can see a group of about 20 or so runners making slow progress up the hill. Some are pushing far too hard at this part of the race. One runner asks me if this is my first time around the Pentlands. Another is pushing hard with the intention of making it to the cut off at the Drover’s road by 2:15. Whilst a balance has to be struck between the time a runner is allowed to complete the course and the time the marshals have to spend on the hill, 2:15 does not leave a lot of margin for error for someone who could complete the course at a slow but steady pace.

I keep reminding myself that the plan is to go steady and not to chase after every runner that is in front of me. Keeping a slow to moderate pace I reach the top of Turnhouse in 1:15:15.

I’m feeling really good. Legs are not heavy. I’ve eaten, had a carbo drink and the sun is shining. Now I start to move a little quicker down the slope and then up to Carnethy by 1:29:04. I reach to top of Scald Law by 1:43:10, South Black Hill by 1:48:05, East Kip by 1:56:59, West Kip by 2:02:09 and then down to the Drove Road by 2:06:15.

Everything is still going to plan. More water added to the goldfish and I’m off, just a little too quickly as I'm told to come back to use the punch. On the way to Hare Hill another runner is unconvinced by the benefits of the goldfish and I’m told to buy a water bottle.

Made it to Hare Hill by 2:20:23. Keith reprimands me for demolishing some of the cairn on my way to the punch. I’m still feeling rather good.

I get onto Black Hill just as Andy Symonds is winning the race. Shouts of encouragement from Richard as I have a slight touch of cramp on the final approach to Black Hill at 2:46:30. Should have taken on more water at the last stop. My mind is fixed on the long descent and then onto the final stretch. I could see Alan Hogg about 100 metres in front. I’m thinking that I can make it in around 4 hours at this stage. I’m really feeling good.

One minute I’m descending and then I’m over on my right ankle and land with my face in the heather. I’m writhing about. Several runners offer to help me off the hill. I’m not sure how serious it is at this stage but I’m not ready to give in, so after a minute of two I’m up and tentatively moving down the hill only to go over again and this time I know that something is really not right as other runners are looking very concerned as I writhe about on the ground. I tell them to inform the marshals on the next hill that I’m injured and I’ll be making my way very slowly from this point. After about 5 minutes thing don’t seem that bad but the race is over and it’s just a matter of getting to the end. With hindsight stopping would have been the right thing to do but I knew that I would feel worse if I did not get to the finishing line.

From the bottom of the hill some walkers approach and ask if I’m OK, which was very nice. I limped onto Bells Hill about the same time that JBF was winning the V-50, making it to the top by 3:23:43. News of my demise had prompted the race marshals to come and look for me. Great to know that if I had been really stuck help would have been to hand. More hopping to make it to Capelaw Hill by 3:54, which was about the time that Simon Fox was crossing the finishing line. Then off to Allermuir by 4:13:15, Caerketton by 4:28:51 and to the end at 4:45:02 in a new PB for this race, shaving 9 minutes and 46 seconds off last years time!

From my first tumble until the end of the race I was passed by Lisa Gamble, Nigel Fowler, Joshua Brown, Jonathan Ashworth, Neil MacRitchie, Douglas McGarry, Kate Ives, Carrie Ruxton, John Telfer, Lois Noble, Richard Jeffrey, Jane Fletcher, Tony Dore, Adrian Wake, Susie Maxwell, Malcolm Smith, Derrig Scott, Andrew Simpson, Archie Young, Cameron Campbell, Ray Marshall, Helena Robinson and Joanne Thin. Thank you all for your concern and encouragement.

A quick trip to the A&E Department confirmed that nothing was broken, so all is well that ends well.

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