Tinto hill is an attractive wee peak located just off the M74 motorway in south Scotland, close to the village of Biggar. Being one of the last races in the Scottish hill running calendar and in close proximity to Edinburgh it usually attracts crowds of hundreds.
The registration centres for Scottish hill races are often set-up in the town hall closest to the race route. For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to experience the usually aging town halls which act as community centres for rural Scottish towns – they can be a bit of an assault on the senses. On the nose you will experience a rich bouquet of damp, farts, crisps and orange juice. Red or yellow strip lights flickering from the low ceilings provide the colour while thin walls and windows flex and rattle in the slightest of breezes. All of this is brought together on race days by hundreds of nervous runners, swinging in and out of doors, elbowing their way to registration tables and chatting excitedly in small awkwardly placed huddles. Despite the obvious attraction, I tend to be in quick in and out mode unless collared by friends or drawn in by the local grannies who act as guardians of the tea urns.
A short drive to the race start followed registration and I was soon slipping into my running gear and searching out some familiar faces. The race is organised by Carnethy, the largest hill running club in Scotland, they have a cool wee virtual tour of the race route on their website. (See the downloads section after following the hyperlink).
The pre-race noise cuts down a minute from the start as people nervously set and re-set watches or get in position. Soon we were off and up the unrelenting climb to the summit. I found myself yo-yoing back and forth in a small group of runners as we variously jogged, strode and strained. You get some fantastic characters in these races. I was overtaken at one point by a man wearing a long, red, bird watchers style anorak with the zip fully open, giving the impression of a cape in the wind. He didn’t have any socks on either. I passed a lady with impossibly thin legs, like a sparrows but with knee high socks, tough as nails mind you.
A quick turn round the summit cairn at the top and its back down the route you came up. The descent like the climb is brutally fast and tough on the body. A wide and stony path leads all the way down, muddy or grassy in spots but fast all the way. I was having a good race until half way through the descent when a stitch suddenly took hold. It was like being stabbed between the ribs and almost floored me with pain. I cursed the chocolate flapjack I scoffed in the van on the way over. With the finish line in sight I clutched at my side, letting out involuntary whimpers as I willed myself through the final few hundred metres (manly, I know).
It was a grand day out, if not a little disappointing on the descent! Winter had signalled its imminent arrival with a dusting of snow on the peak, welcome to me after a hot summer and autumn. The hill running community in Scotland is quite small so I love going to these events and beginning to recognise faces from previous races. There’s certainly worse ways to spend a Saturday!