As my next race (Jedburgh Ultra)  is this Sunday, I thought I’d better get my race report up for the Pentland Skyline Hill Race.
I had done this race once before in 2010. My sentiment at the time was that the Skyline was the hardest race I had ever done. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I hadn’t done much hill running in the run up which is somewhat of a necessity.
This year experience would mostly be on my side. The plan was to go steady from the start and then wait and see what the situation was after half way. I was mostly treating it as a long training run for the upcoming ultras – Jedburgh and Beacons especially being hilly. I also have Glen Ogle 33 coming up a week after Jedburgh.
Race morning was overcast but looked pleasant enough with hardly any wind even though a bit chilly. I caught up with a couple of guys I knew at registration including Joel Sylvester and Michael Novicki. Whilst milling around the starting area the sun came out and it got nearly unpleasantly warm. Luckily that didn’t last!
After a short race brief and a minutes silence for a fellow fell runner who had died in the lakes a week earlier we were off. Although I was going to take it easy I placed myself close to the front. In a lot of these races a good start position can help in getting through some bottlenecks (such as stiles or gates) quicker.
When I did this race 2 years ago I was definitely the hill running rookie as I tried to run up the steep climb up Carkaetton while everyone else was sensibly powerwalking. This year I sensibly powerwalked while other rookies tried to run up Carkaetton.
I have to say that as much as I love my New Balance Minimus Trail shoes they are not great in very muddy hill running conditions. I was descending more gingerly than I usually would. There had been a lot of rain over the previous weeks so conditions were expected to be tough underfoot.
I let a stream of runners gradually pass me while we went over Allermuir and Castlelaw and a few more came past me on the descent to Flotterstone. With the start of the climb up Turnhouse things started to settle and I was taking the odd position back. Turnhouse is the longest climb – a very long powerwalk. Although I am pretty good at powerwalking I do have short powerwalking legs so would get overtaken by people with longer powerwalking legs. The next few hills were Carnethy, Scald Law, South Black Hill and East and West Kip. I’d overtake some runners whilst powerwalking up hill and lose a place or 2 on the descents to those that were slipping and sliding less or just more seasoned hill runners.
The weather had turned when we were heading for South Black Hill with rain starting to fall. It wasn’t too bad at first as we were heading West and the wind was coming from the East, but once we reached the furthest away point and started heading back along the Northern hills we were running into the wind and rain.
From that point on though I was mostly overtaking people. I had traded places with runners over the Southern hills but now mostly left them behind. As expected the Northern hills would be harder as they don’t have as much of a path on them and are quite boggy in places. With all the rain it turned out to be very boggy and very hard going. Coming off Hare hill was always going to be interesting as it is a steep descent and finishes in what I usually describe as a water feature – but swamp crossing is most likely more apt. The water is well over your knees. Nice cooling effect though!
Climbing Black hill I again continued to overtake runners including Alan Bremner who I had spotted ahead of me from Turnhouse onwards. I found out later that this was his first attempt at the Skyline. I was stunned when coming past him that he was running in normal road shoes. Very impressive to have completed the course in those shoes. He did say afterwards that they made things a lot harder but he didn’t have access to his trail shoes.
At one point I must have been well out of the top 100 considering the number of runners I was overtaking now. I traded places with one guy though all the way to the very end. Every time it went up I went past him, every time it went down he came past me. He finished ahead of me as it was a downhill finish.
I summited Black Hill feeling strong and thinking there was a chance of matching my time from 2 years ago – 3:15. Heading down Black Hill was interesting as some if it was through knee deep heather which was eqally hard work as the bog was. Final steep power walk up Bells hill and then onto the shorter ascents of Harbour and Capelaw.
It was on the climb up Harbour hill that I really cramped up in 2010 having muscles cramp up where I didn’t really know I had muscles. The final 4 hills and the final descent that year were agony. I was relieved this year to get to that point in better shape with no sign of a cramp coming up.
The last 2 hills are a repeat of the first 2 in reverse direction. I had nearly reached the top of Allermuir when suddenly I started to cramp up! I slowed down my walk, had a drink, very gingerly got myself to the flat just before the top of Allermuir and cautiously ran a few paces. The cramp subsided. I went over the top of Allermuir and only had 1 hill left but was more cautious now knowing a cramp may just be round the corner. On the approach to Carkaetton the time from 2 years ago came and went.
I starting descending off Carkaetton towards the finish. A couple of guys came past me in better descending fashion than me (including the guy I mentioned earlier). For the last couple of 100 metres I decided to follow another guy to the finish who appeared to choose a route half way between last year’s finishing route and this year’s finishing route (The start/finish had been moved as a new ski slope was being put in place). This different run to the finish proved a bit of a mess and I should have just used the same route back as the one we had used out of the start.
My finishing time was 3:23hrs which I was quite pleased with considering I was treating this as a training run. The conditions were no doubt harder than when I did the race 2 years ago. I doubt I would have improved much by pushing harder. I finished in 77th place which is down from my 51st 2 years ago but in comparison there were 100 more runners so in %-age terms it turned out to be a better run. My legs felt better after the race which was a big plus. The following week though showed how hard this race is as the quads only recovered after 5 days.