In the climactic scene of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Kate soliloquises on the nature of submission to a greater will – in this case, her husband.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare.
The words came to me as I strained up that steep grassy crease to Carnethy Hill, a line of runners above and below, some 15 minutes from the finish line of the Carnethy 5.
I thought I was fit; I thought I was ready; I thought I was capable. I was a ‘lance’. That’s human, isn’t it? We hope our next big moment is coming. The hills disagreed. They reduced me to Shakespeare’s metaphorical ‘straw’. My strength was mere weakness. As it is for Kate, submission is a given, not a choice. There can be only one winner here.
But – and this is the perverse thing about this sport – I couldn’t have not been there.
Not been there when Gordon Cameron, the race director, announced that the mountain rescue team on South Black Hill could not stand due to the ferocity of the wind.
Not been there to feel that gasping breathlessness on the final grasping metres of Scald Law.
Not been there as a wall of wind swept over the ridge, shaking my lower lip, locking my jaw, placing an invisible hand across my chest.
Not been there to spill down the traversing line to Cross Sward, flailing and swaying as if on the water of a capricious sea.
Not been there to crash down Carnethy Hill, leaping through tresses of heather, nothing mattering but the next step.
Not been there to cross the bog again, sprint up the final crest, and sit quietly on the grass, the race finally ran.
This is not meant to be a romanticised view of hill running. The Carnethy 5 – this year and the other occasions I have endured here – is suffering like I have rarely experienced in the Scottish hills. It is unrelentingly hard. And even when wading in a trough of self-pity and unfulfilled hopes in that awful crease, ludicrously pondering words written 400 years ago, I tried to remind myself that it is meant to be hard. What would be the point if it was easy?
Disappointment dissipates. It will be replaced by something deeper and truly fulfilling.
When an injured Angela Mudge read that the forecast for the 2017 Carnethy 5 included severe wind chill, snow and high winds, she saw only the glorious opportunity of participation.
She had a seventeenth Carnethy 5 to run: ‘I can’t miss this, I thought. You’ll never get this set of conditions again.’
So I may be a ‘straw’ and I may have been temporarily flooded with weakness, but I was there, at the 49th Carnethy 5, at the windiest Carnethy 5 – and that’s what really matters.
Photos courtesy of Mark Johnston.
If you like the sound of the Carnethy 5 – or Scottish hill running in general – you might be interested in The Mountains are Calling.