Race reporter: John Connaghan

Saturday saw a large contingent of Shettleston hill runners heading north, this time to a hot and sunny Newtonmore Highland Games. This was the setting for Creag Dhubh hill race, the fourth counter in the British and Scottish hill running championships. This is a short, fast race of 5.6km and 370m climbing. Even by hill running standards, this race has one of the most unusual starts going. After a lap of the games field, runners have to climb over two fences, a field (not too thistly this year!), two more fences, a river crossing, a scramble up a steep bank, another fence and a road crossing, before they even start thinking about running up a hill. It’s more like a mass jailbreak than a hill race. After this frantic start, there is a small section of wide farm track, after which there aren’t many opportunities to overtake. This adds to the frenzy, as everyone ups their pace in the hope of getting a good position before the track narrows. A record-breaking 300 runners had signed up this year (normally it gets about 80-90 runners), so there was a good chance the already fast start was going to be a bit more hectic than usual. In between the caber tossing and highland dancing, the massed rank of runners jostled for position on a tightly packed and stacked starting line. It felt like the start to a national cross-country rather than a hill race, albeit about 25°Cwarmer. Race organiser Manny Gorman stood at the front of the field and introduced hill running legend Joss Naylor over the PA system, who was set to start the race. Joss (not on the PA system) nearly caused a mass stampede by telling everyone in ear shot that he would start the race by blowing his whistle, and then demonstrated by blowing his whistle! Once order had been restored, Manny completed the final pre-race instructions, before handing over to Joss – who immediately blew his whistle, much to the surprise of everyone, particularly Manny who now had 300 runners bearing down on him. Joss is rightly a legend for his running exploits, but he’s a deadly man with a whistle. “Best start ever” according to Robert Simpson!  

As predicted there was a very fast lap of the games field before the escaping prisoners/runners made their way over the various obstacles and up the hill (“who needs tough mudder, when you can get this in a hill race”, remarked one runner afterwards).  Finlay Wild, who is in red-hot form, won the race and broke the 22-year-old course record with a time of 26:49. Shettleston’s Ali McLeod had a storming run to finish second, which is amazing for someone whose recent training has been limited to 800m track sessions. If this is the result, maybe we should all be hitting the track more often?! Jamie Crowe of Central AC completed a top quality all-Scottish podium. 5 of the first 6 places were filled by Scottish clubs, which was a superb result in such a stacked British field. 

Great runs from Robert Simpson (12th overall/7thScottish), Ryan Stewart (34th/11th), and Chris Grant-Pantrey (41st/15th) ensured the senior team finished comfortably ahead of Lochaber and HBT in the Scottish Hill racing team championships (according to my quick, back-of-a-fag-packet calculations). A battling run from Matthew Sullivan, who took a tumble before finishing 48th overall, meant the senior men counted in the British Champs as well. Unfortunately, we did not complete the required number of races to count in the overall series. The senior men’s team were rounded out with solid runs from Paul Cornock (86th) and Iain Pender (90th). It was heartening to see such a large number of senior men make the journey north.

In the women’s race, it looked as if Jill Stephen of HBT was on for another first place, but Kelli Roberts of Helm Hill Runners overtook her in the closing stages for the win. Third place went to Sara Willhoit of Mercia.

In the v40 category, strong running from John Connaghan (52ndoverall/4thScottish V40), Steve Winter (56th/5th) and Walter Henderson (99th/12th) meant the v40 team also took maximum points in the Scottish championships ahead of Carnethy and Highland Hill Runners. A determined run from Alastair Pringle (142nd overall) ensured we scored in the British Championships too. 

Overall, this was a great return from the traveling contingent of Shetts. It would be great to get the same turnout and results at the next Scottish championship counter. The Two Breweries on 28thSeptember – put it in your diary! 

Cover photo courtesy of Charmain Heaton. More photos can be found, here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/44498401718/photos/

Full results can be found here: http://www.scottishhillrunners.uk/NewsItems.aspx?NewsItemID=52733

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