Railway passengers stretching their legs, and walkers resting theirs after what is normally a three-hour climb, saw the green vest of the Irish international and former world champion, John Lenihan, approach the summit cairn first, followed by the Italian, Gino Caneva, and then the current British champion, Mark Kinch. Lenihan had taken just 40min 58sec for the five-mile climb, but the leader on the summit rarely wins, and he was quickly caught on the descent.
The diminutive Caneva took the lead not far from the turn, and according to Kinch was "out of sight as he had a 28-second lead." When you are running downhill at close to four-minute mile pace that is a big lead, but it was not enough to ensure a fifth Italian victory in Britain's only international mountain race. In a fearless descent Kinch raced over five miles of boulders and loose rocks in 21min 28sec to take the cheers of a large crowd as he crossed the line.
Watching him was Kenny Stuart, the race record holder, invited to fire the starting pistol for the 20th race. He was still the record holder at the end, though Kinch ran the second fastest time ever, 29 seconds slower than Stuart's 10-year-old record. That year Stuart also won the Mountain Racing World Cup, and there are high hopes that Kinch can repeat that performance, at Edinburgh in September.
The Italians will be the team to beat there, where they will field a stronger team than on Saturday to defend the title, but 42-year-old Gianni Vello staked his claim for inclusion, finishing sixth in 1:05.23 to take more than five minutes off the veterans record. Northern Ireland had their first victory when Patricia Sloan won the women's race in 1:22.33, and there were team and individual honours for runners from Wales, Canada and Slovenia.
Ken Jones, who started the race in 1976, when 87 runners took part, paid tribute to the determination of the Slovenian team. "This is the 12th time they have competed," he said, "and every year they drive for two days in a minibus across Europe, stay two days for the race and then drive home again." A runner with a different problem was Aart Bakker, of the Dutch team, who explained, "Our national championships are held on an 80-metre high mining spoil- heap, and we run over it eight times to complete the race." Even so, he finished in a creditable 30th position.
Special presentations were made to five runners who had completed all 20 races, and the National Grid Personal Achievement Award went to Hugo Soper, of the Vauxhall Motors running club. "This is my 18th race," he said, "but I didn't mention that to people I was asking for sponsorship money from. Most of them thought I'd never make it, or take five to six hours. I did it in 1hr 46min and raised pounds 205 for charity, which isn't bad for a 67-year-old, is it?" It is also quicker than going by train.