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‘It’s game on!’: Scotland’s only coal-carrying championship to return to the streets of Kelty this year

Scottish Coal Carrying Championship
The 2014 championship

Scotland’s only coal-carrying championship will return to the streets of Kelty this year after a five-year break.

The bizarre event is one of just two in the world and sees hardy competitors heft heavy bags of coal up the village’s Main Street.

It has been described as gruelling and “a test of both athleticism and endurance”.

The 2021 Scottish Coal Race

The 2021 Scottish Coal Carrying Championships

Posted by Scottish Coal Carrying Championships on Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The race sees male competitors heave 50kg bags onto their backs as they attempt a 1km run up the Main Street.

Women have it slightly easier with a 25kg bag.

Many contestants do not complete the course and some have been known to collapse along the way.

Scottish Coal Carrying Championship
The 2013 event.

Organiser Michael Boyle said he was excited to announce the return of the popular championship, which traditionally attracts hundreds of entrants from across the world.

“It’s game on,” he said.

“It’s a fantastic announcement and we’ve had six entrants overnight.

“We’ve had lots of positive comments and we’re hoping loads of people will sign up.”

The championship

The Scottish Coal Carrying Championship is second only to the World Coal Carrying Championship, which takes place in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.

The Scottish Parliament formally recognised it as the national championship in 2013, acknowledging its link to the village’s rich mining heritage.

Scottish Coal Carrying Championship
Action from one of the junior races.

There is a men’s race, a women’s event and races for children and veterans, all cheered on by large crowds who line the pavements.

The day also involves  entertainment with live bands and family activities.

Michael launched it in 1995 and it ran for 21 years until it ran into funding difficulties.

However, as the country recovers from the Covid pandemic money has become available for community events.

This means the coal race is back with a bang.

The mascots race.

And it will kick off at noon on August 28, with arrangements dependent on Covid regulations at the time.

Boot camps have also been organised for June to help people train and prepare.

But  Michael is still seeking further funding and has appealed to businesses to consider sponsoring the event.

He will also launch an online crowdfunder on Friday night so the public can donate.

Entry forms are available on the event’s website and Facebook page.

The coal-carrying king

Fife coal merchant Jimmy McIntyre won the last race in 2015 when he was 45.

He says he is more like Old King Cole than the king of coal carriers these days.

As a result, he has yet to decide if he’ll defend his title.

Jimmy competing in the World Championship in 2019.

The father-of-two took the world title in 2019 in the veterans’ category, the same year he won the Great Scottish Tattie Run.

“I’m 51 now and I’d be up against young guys,” he said.

“Maybe I’m better quitting while I’m ahead but it depends how my fitness goes.

“You have to be at the top of your game for this thing.”

Jimmy described the race as “a lung-buster”.

“It’s like running as fast as you can up a hill with an eight-stone weight on your back,” he said.

“That’s heavier than my wife!”

The bags of coal.

He said the tattie race was easy by comparison.

“It’s a lightweight thing – it’s only 20kg on your back,” he said.

“I’m a coal merchant by day so I’ve carried thousands of bags of coal.”

Well-kent face in the coal race

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie raced the Scottish Coal-Carrying Championship three times and came second on his first attempt.

“I was behind Willie Hargreaves, who is from the famous Hargreaves running family and who won it several times,” he said.

“He’s from a top coal-carrying family.”

Mr Rennie was Dunfermline and West Fife MP at the time.

He said the race is “just exhausting”.

I came second then collapsed at the end.”

Willie Rennie.

“You have to smash the bag on the ground to get it up and wrapped round your neck,” he said.

“The gun goes and you can’t get off to too fast a start because if you do, you fall over.

“It starts to slip down your back and once that happens, you’re finished.

“All you see to begin with is the ground.

“Then what comes into view is people on either side who have collapsed because the bag has fallen down their back.

“I passed person, after person, after person.

“I came second then collapsed at the end.”

Mr Rennie plans to suss out the other competitors before deciding whether to take part this year.

“I’m weighing up my chances and if there’s anybody good, I won’t be taking part,” he joked.

Other bizarre events across the UK

  • The Nutters’ Dance – a seven-mile dance in clogs in Bacup, Lancashire, every Easter.
  • The Padstowe ‘Obby ‘Oss, which sees dancers follow someone dressed as a horse, capturing young women as they cavort through the town.
  • Cheese rolling in Gloucestershire – a 15th century extreme sport where contestants chase 9lb of double Gloucester down a hill.
  • Fireball Whirling in Stonehaven – fireballs are hurled into the North Sea after a parade on Hogmanay

Teo supported some charity runners.

Mining heritage

Kelty was once home to 14 pits and Michael started the coal race as a modern-day link to the heritage of his home village.

Deep mining vanished many years ago and was replaced by large opencast sites.

“There are very few people in the village whose life and family has not been touched by the coal industry,” said Michael.

“Hopefully the Scottish Coal Carrying Championship goes some way to maintaining this heritage of Kelty.”

Labour councillor Alec Campbell  added: “It’s fantastic for the community.

“Hopefully restrictions will be removed by August so we can get more folk out on the street.

“Even if social distancing is still in place, is will get a big attendance.”