Three weeks; three very different hillracing experiences:

The first: 14.5k of wild weather and white-out conditions on the Ochil hills as part of the Scottish Hill Racing winter season. Exhilarating; at times terrifying; and a serious wake-up call. My first race in 20 months, and naively, I thought a 14.5k loop up and down some fairly small hills couldn’t be too much of a challenge. How wrong I was!

The second: 4.8k, straight up and straight down in the Ochils again; fast and furious with great weather conditions and open views. I thought I’d stand no chance; speed and short distances are never my forte … and yet I finished second (female) and I’ve got the wine to prove it! Wrong again …

The third: Glen Clova half marathon. The first firm booking in my pre-Mont-Blanc racing diary; planned months in advance; blocked out on the calendar; babysitting arrangements in place … yet I didn’t even make it to the start line. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Second lady in the Dumyat Dash
Finish line at the Dumyat Dash

So, what to make of all this? A few lessons in racing (and life) to learn and re-learn, I think – here goes:

  1. Distance isn’t everything: don’t judge the race by the numbers. A short race is not necessarily a quick race – nor an easy one!
  2. Don’t underestimate the weather: drizzle at the start line can easily be a blizzard at the top. I’ve generally been lucky until now, and my worst race-day worry has been the risk of dehydration and sunburn – but you can’t rely on the weather in the hills, much less the mountains. Mandatory kit lists are there for a reason (and boy, was I glad of all that gear I’d been instructed to carry on the Ochil hills the other week!)
  3. Don’t rely on the crowd to find the way: make sure you have a map and compass in the hills, and that you know how to use them. When visibility is poor, it’s amazing how quickly you can find yourself on your own, even when you think you’re in the middle of the group.
  4. Don’t judge the competition by their appearances! Strong runners come in all shapes, sizes (and all types of kit!) – but it’s just as important not to overestimate other runners as it is not to underestimate them. All too often, I decide I won’t push myself to overtake someone simply because I assume they’ll soon show their true colours and prove to be faster and stronger than me. It’s not always true – as I discovered to my advantage at Dumyat!
  5. Hillracing is NOT the same as trailracing … and trail kit is not hill-running kit. Overheard at the finish line: ‘the guy in front of me was wearing trail shoes, so I soon passed him!’ I’ve got a cupboard full of trail shoes, but there’s not a pair amongst them that’s well-suited to the conditions on the Scottish hill racing circuit. (Inov8 Mudclaws are now on the Christmas list …)
  6. In parenthood, there’s no such thing as a dead cert! Sickness; babysitting issues; dog-sitting issues(!!) – any or all of these things can disrupt even the best laid plans. Go with that. Going racing is fantastic – it’s adrenaline; it’s fresh air; it’s excitement, challenge and pure escapism. But one missed race or last minute change of plan is not the be-all and end-all. There’s no shame or failure in going with the flow of the world – there’ll be another opportunity around the corner.
  7. It’s always an adventure! It never serves to assume you know what’s going to happen next – and let’s face it; it would be a dull old life if you did. Whether you’re on the start line for your first race or your hundredth, the one sure thing is that it will be its own experience – different from every race before it and every one after it. Embrace that! Whether you finish on the podium; in the crowd or at the back, the best thing you’ll take home will be the experience.

Let’s see what the next race brings …