Glencoe Skyline


In the spring there was an email went round the westies mailing list about a potential new race… a sky running race in Glencoe. Going over all the major peaks in Glencoe and including some interesting scrambling. The response to the email was some people were intrigued, others dismissed it as too dangerous and a stupid idea. Having heard of epic sky running races in Italy I certainly fell into the intrigued camp. The very rough looking website describing the event said entry would open in March so I made a note in my diary to check back when the entry opened. March came and went with no news on entry opening and I assumed the race was not going to happen. However, at the end of April another email went out suggesting that entry was open for the ludicrously expensive £70. Despite my brain and wallet telling me not to I entered.

I spent the summer with this race as my main focus. And loved the fact that training for it involved long tough runs in the hills. I was really grateful to everyone who joined me on my long runs, from Enrique who joined me on a snowy epic around Ben Lui to running with Ian on a glorious summers day around Ben Cruachan and a windy wild day doing the Ben Lawers 7 with Gregor, Gwyn and Aron. The highlight of my training was definitely the week spent with Cam while he prepared for his Ramsay round. Even with all this prep I was still approaching the start feeling like I hadn’t done enough.


Unfortunately the day before the race consisted of a quarterly meeting with the people who pay me, and worse than that it was in Kent (South of London, apparently there are places south of London in the UK, it was news to me too). So Friday was spent at a meeting before a 2 hour drive to Gatwick, a stupidly long time waiting in the airport, a flight and then a drive to Glencoe to register. I made it to registration at 22:55, 5 minutes before it closed. And then eventually got to Clachaig at 23:30. I hadn’t eaten or drank enough all day and knew that all the sitting on my arse wasn’t the best prep either. When my alarm went off at 5:30 I felt exhausted and forced down some breakfast before heading to the start. The midges were out in force at the ski centre, so I stayed in the car till 2 minutes before the race start (as did everybody else) and then rushed into the start pen. I didn’t care that I was at the back, today’s motto was take my time.


The run to curved ridge was easy and fun, I spent most of it chatting to Luke and having a bit of banter with some Carnethy runners. When we turned right after the water slab (the best way to identify the start of the ridge) I could see a long line of people climbing up ahead and it looked really awesome. The climb up was slow, some of the people up ahead were quite nervous and slow up the two crux sections and the safety on the route were rightly keeping us in single file and holding us on flat bits. However, after the 2nd Crux things started moving and I really enjoyed the last of the scrambling. They took us a way I hadn’t done before which avoided the scree gully up to the back of crowberry tower but included a little bit more scrambling. 


After the top of Stob Dearg it was a beautiful ridge run along Buachaille Etive Mor before a tough rocky decent down to Lairig Gartain. I was sitting in a group all going at a pace I felt comfortable at so I was enjoying life and my legs felt good. The climb up to the col on Buachaille Etive Beag was taken very easy and we seemed to be on a nice path that I somehow missed during my recce of the route. The descent into Lairig Eilde was along an easy path and I pulled a little ahead of the group I was in. By taking us down this easy path I knew the organiser was adding a lot of distance to the route but didn’t mind too much.


The long path up Lairig Eilde went quite quickly and I was thinking about all my food and what I wanted to eat. I also knew I would need to collect some water before the Bidean nam Bian ridge. My legs still felt OK but I knew that I would have to be careful. The climb up to firstly Stob Coire Sgreamhach and then onto Bidean nam Bian was really tough and I felt that I was starting to slow down. But the fun ridge out and back to Stob Coire nam Lochan put me back in a good mood. There was some more banter with a Carnethy runner on the way down the nice scree towards Loch Achtriochtan, however, we soon reached horrible slippery path and he pulled away from me a little. Somewhere along this path I took a bad fall, with tired legs not able to catch a slip I hit the deck really hard and winded myself. I also cracked my shin on a rock which for some reason put me into cramp. This was my first low point and by the time I had reached Loch Achtriochtan thoughts of just hitching a lift back to the ski centre were all I could think off.


After a few minutes to compose myself and have a coffee I decided that I really wanted to do Aonach Eagach and just had to get on with it. The Climb up Sgorr nam Fiannaidh was HORRIBLE. I lost a load of places and was really low. But getting to the top and looking across to Meall Dearg motivated me to keep going. It was at this point that I met the Beard King himself (Mr G Kelly). His enthusiasm for the ridge made me even more determined. Aonach Eagach was a lot of fun, and I ended up passing most of the people who passed me on the climb. All my climbing this year gave me the confidence to go for moves where others were hesitating but the constant cramping in my legs was a cause for concern. At the top of Am Bodach I sat down to take a break and try get some food down. Something I hadn’t done in a while.


I had hoped that the next section would be easy running but it ended up being very rough and progress was slow, mostly walking for fear of cramp causing another bad fall on boulder scree. I think if I was fresh I would cruse this section but after 10 hrs my legs were completely shot. Eventually I reached the top of the Devils Staircase. Unfortunately I now was barely able to walk let alone run with constant cramps in my legs. When I got to Altnafeadh I was almost ready to give up. I didn’t want to try do the last 8 km back along the west highland way. But Claire was there to meet me and agreed to run the last bit with me. She grabbed me a coffee and some biscuits and I started walking. It was nice to have the company and my walking speed slowly increased. By the last bit of road up to the ski centre I was feeling really horrible, legs, mind and body were completely gone. But I was determined to run into the finish. I managed to break into a slow jog and crossed the line in just over 12hr40. 


Overall this event was awesome but incredibly tough. It was well worth the £70, there was so much provided over and above a normal hill race, from GPS tracking, SI timing with text updates for nominated numbers, lovely custom numbers and maps, great support and safety crew and some big name international runners.


Would I do it again…. if you had asked me when I finished, hell no… but now watch this space.
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