The Skyline Scotland included three races over the weekend; the Mamores VK, Ring Of Steall and the Glencoe Skyline. With all the press and hype from last year’s race a few of us Westies headed up to the Mamores to see what all the fuss was about and Niall went up again to face the race that almost broke him last year.
The first race up was the VK on the Friday and flying the flag for the Westies was Owen. The VK is a marked course in which runners gain 1000m of height in less than 5km. The runners are set off at times intervals. The race route did not include any technical terrain. The first male was Alexis Sevennec in 42m 17s and the first female was Georgia Tindley in 54m 34s. Owen ran a great VK and celebrated in the pub that evening.
I headed up to Kinlochleven on Friday afternoon and after I set up my tent and registered I headed off over to the school to listen to Jasmin Paris give a talk about her record breaking Bob Graham and Ramsey Round runs. Jasmin gave a brilliant talk. Her top training tip for completing a round is to do plenty of hiking with a heavy bag….preferably at altitude! She completed her runs after a trekking trip to the Andes. Her post race nutrition is pizza, ice cream and prosecco. The talk was followed by a film about the Barkley Marathons ‘the race that eats its young’ which is a sadistic and bonkers race that I will never do!! I left the school at 0930, starving and ready for a fish and chip supper, only to find out that the chip shop, as well as all the restaurants in the village had stopped serving food. I was devastated!
On Saturday it was time for the Ring of Steall race. This race is a variation on the classic ‘Ring of Steall’ ridge walking route. This 25km (18 miles) 2,500m mountain race has spectacular views of Ben Nevis and includes two lofty Mamore ridges. The race has scrambles, steep ascents/descents, boggy ground, scree and technical running. Running the race was moi, Christine, Gwyn, Dawn and Graham’s lady Katie with 300 runners also signed up. The atmosphere felt very different from the usual hill racing scene with lots of unfamiliar and tanned European faces with expensive running equipment. The race started at 10 am and I stayed at the back starting in 260th position. The race headed onto the WHW where a traffic jam quickly ensued and runners slowed to a halt and then a walk. So beware for next year and get closer to the front if you are chasing a time! No one at the back was particularly bothered by the traffic jam – it was going to be a long day with plenty of time for heroics later on. I have to admit I was a little grumpy for the first 1hr of the race. I was annoyed at myself because I hadn’t really trained for this race and I was expecting to have a very tough race. In fact, after the Ben Nevis race a few weeks back I spoke to Graham K about giving my entry away, only for him to convince me not too. I remained in this glum mood until I reach the first ridge and then my mind switched from negative thoughts and instead became preoccupied with thoughts of running along the ridge, running through some lovely scree and then trying to take care of my legs on the long downhill section into CP5. So I got to CP5 with a big smile on my face, because I was really starting to enjoying this race which was epic and I realised my body was faring fine and I could get around without too much pain. At CP5 I stopped to drink coke, munch on a banana and then headed off along the river to the second big climb. The run along the river was really boggy and wet, but knowing I had started off very conservative I wanted to run as much as this flat section as I could and it was here that I really started to pass runners. I got to the river crossing which is just before the big climb up onto An Gearanac. I took the opportunity here to prepare myself for the climb, so I drank some water from the river, soaked the legs and had a caffeine gel. Climbing up I remember feeling fairly comfortable – so the prep must have worked. I was putting the effort in, but pacing myself, and the leg muscles and breathing were fine. I passed a lot of runners on this uphill and I was surprised to see lots of runners suffering from cramp or just stopping because it was hard. I managed the climb up in 1hr 09. Then it was a skip along the ridge to the last high point Am Bodach (1032m) before the very long descent back down into Kinlochleven. The legs were tired but not trashed, so I felt ok to push it on this section. The track was now very boggy, which my legs didn’t like but my knees were grateful for. Again I started to pass a few runners on the downhill and especially so, when on the track, as I pushed hard on this section. I crossed the line in 165th with a time of 6hr 48m, with Christine and Graham cheering me over the line. Christine had an amazing run and finished in 105th place with a time of 6hrs 05mins!! The race was won by Skyrunning World Champion Stian Angermund who came 2nd in the VK with a stunning time of 3hr 225m. Race predications were for a 4hr race time. In the ladies race Georgia Tindley did the double winning the VK and the ROS in 4h 39m.
On the Sunday the Glencoe Skyline race took place. The Glencoe race is bonkers. The 55km and 4,750m route takes in sustained sections of scrambling terrain, which is roughly equivalent to moderate standard rock climbing. This year the race course had slightly changed and the race also part of the Skyrunning Extreme series, of which there are three. The race started at 7am to allow most of the runners to finish before it got dark. So that meant that James, Niall and Graham were up and having their porridge at 5am! I didn’t get up to cheer them at the start, but I did make it down to CP 11 – this is where the runners descend down into the valley from Bidean nam Bain before they head up onto the Aonach Eagach ridge. At this CP, the lead runners had been running for over 4hrs 16m, while Niall reached the CP in 6hrs 40m and Graham in 7hrs 09m. Only to be faced with a huge and very steep climb out of the valley up onto the AE ridge. I’m surprised I didn’t see any runners cry at this point. Before heading over to the CP I bumped into a very happy James at race headquarters. He had retired from the race. He wasn’t feeling good, with a niggling cold. I think he was also recovering from the physical effects from KIMA, which had trashed his body.
I has at CP11 for 5 minutes before a black helicopter descended into the valley and hovered 50m above the ground as the lead runners descend into the check point – it felt like the tour de France or a James Bond movie. In a bunch were Tom Owens, Marc Lauenstein and Johnathan Albon. They quickly refilled their bottles and ran out of the check point – no messing about. At this point Tom looked strong and was running up the hill, while the others followed behind. Perhaps Tom was trying to create a gap, by pushing so hard on this climb. Further up on the steep section I could see that they had now all slowed to a steady walk. Then, about 9 mins later Finley Wild appeared. He looked tired and had strapping on his leg. Perhaps he wasn’t fully recovered from his Ben Nevis PB run. He didn’t start to run up the hill like the leading pack but instead settled into a steady walk and munched on some food. About an hour later after the lead runners came through Katie pointed out the helicopter, which was now hovering along the half way point of the AE ridge. Tom and the gang had covered the steep climb and half of the ridge in an hour!! It really boggles the mind how they are able to cover a ridge like that so fast.
Jasmin Paris finally made an appearance and I was delighted to see her in the front. She quickly chugged down 4 cups of coke, filled her water bottles, grabbed some chocolate, gave her puppy Moss a wee cuddle and was off up the hill. Not too far behind (about 4 mins) was the second lady Malene Haukoy. I think Jasmin had a bit of a shock as Ruth Croft the New Zealander and one of the favourites to possibly win, caught her early on in the race. I think Jasmin was surprised to be caught, and feeling the pressure she didn’t hang around CP11. At the end of the race she did say that she felt like she had no time to dilly dally – or something to that effect. She also said that the race felt harder than last year. I waited around to see Niall through the checkpoint. I don’t think he will mind me saying this, but he didn’t look too fresh. I had a can of coke to give to him if he wanted it, but he disappeared behind the toilets to sit down on a chair and I felt too timid to approach, but not James who went over to check he was ok and then came back to say he was fine. Then off Niall went to climb the ridge. I’m so impressed that he has managed to do this race twice!!! Third time is a charm Niall! As Niall climbed out of the valley Katie came over, to tell us that the race had been won! First in was Jonathan Albon in 6hr 33mins, which was an hour less than last years’ time, despite more length and climb added onto this year’s race, followed by Tom Owens 6h 37m, Marc Lauenstein 6hr 54m and Finlay Wild 7hrs 00m. Jasmin Paris finished first lady in 8hrs 15m, followed by Malene Haukoy 8hrs 23m and Sarah Ridgeway in 8hrs 44m. Graham came into CP11 not too far behind Niall. I know he was worried about making the cut off times, but it looked like he was having a great race and was well within the cut off times. Both he and Niall finished and then I think they curled up like a foetus and passed out.
It was great taking part in such a weekend and witnessing such an extreme race such as the Glencoe Skyline. I am in awe of everyone who ran or tried to run that race, and to show you how tough it is race a total of 57 runners retired from the race or did not make the cut off times.
It would be great to see a Westies women complete it next year!