Saturday, 28 June 2014

Scottish Coal Race, Kelty 2014

Gun Time: 7 mins 48 secs

After running both the Calderglen 5k and 10k in East Kilbride the previous evening, my legs felt a little tired when I woke up and remembered I was running the Scottish Coal Race in the Fife village of Kelty in only a few hours time. I had arranged to pickup my friend Dom at his flat in Perth that morning. He was going to come along to provide moral support and down a few pints in Kelty whilst watching me suffer. Naturally, I would have done the same for him.

After parking the car I headed up the stairs to Dom's flat. We played a game of pool on his table, before he racked up 50kg of weights on his bench. He seemed to take amusement in letting me know what I was letting myself in for. He certainly succeeded in giving me the fear! 50kg is quite heavy! The equivalent of two cement bags or 2½ times the weight of my five year old daughter. In itself it's lift-able, but to run a whole kilometer over a hilly course with a rough heavyweight sack containing 50 kilos of black diamonds digging into your back is a different story! 25 minutes down the M90 later we arrived in Kelty.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan

After parking the car down a side street we headed onto Kelty's old main drag. With the Kelty gala due to follow after the Coal Race the village was in full swing. According to the official website, Kelty reputedly had 14 pits in its locality at one time and the race originates from old nineteenth century stories of the Kelty colliers running home from the pits with sacks of "rakers" or clugs" on their back. I was about to experience just how hardy those pitmen were. The race runs the full kilometer from the Smiddy to the School. The women competitors carrying a 25 kilo burden in their race. The men, the full 50 kilos. There are also races for both local school children and charity mascots.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan

After speaking to some experienced coal racers before the start, I picked up a few tips. The main one being to jump up and down on your sack of coal beforehand. This breaks up the lumps and stops them digging into your back and shoulders as you run. Although, you are allowed initial assistance with lifting the sack onto your back, once the race has begun, you are on your own. If you drop it and can't pick it up again by yourself, it's over. I witnessed a number of people who dropped it and had to carry it in their arms because it was too heavy to hoist onto their backs by themselves. Thankfully, although it was one hell of a struggle, I made it from beginning to end without letting go.  
Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Gordon Donnachie

Running up some of the hills with that sack on my back was torture. Afterwards when Dom and I went for much needed refreshments in a few of Kelty's watering holes such as "The #1 Goth" and "The Crown Inn", I was approached by  some very hard looking locals, who were surprisingly supportive and said that it was something they had always wanted to do. In my opinion the villagers couldn't be more friendly and welcoming to folk who had chosen to come to their gala and support their race.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan
If you are interested in experiencing the 2014 Scottish Coal Race from a first hand video perspective you can watch some footage here: Scottish Coal Race 2014

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Gordon Donnachie

The Kelty Coal Race is impeccably organised by local resident Michael Boyle. I am also led to believe he initiated it after visiting a similar event in Yorkshire with his wife.  It is obvious that it is a labour of love for him and he has created a great boon to both the local economy and status of the village.

I've completed the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, several marathons and some nasty hill races but in many ways this is tougher. At least for that 1km it is. This race is very real and is a lot more raw than most. It's just you and that 50 kilo sack of coal, digging into your back, making your legs feel like they're strapped to anvils with every step, but it certainly makes you feel alive. I recommend it! Anyway, good luck if you take up the challenge. Tomorrow, I'll be running the Peterhead Half Marathon for my sins and probably still picking coal dust out of my ears!

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