It was the Glen Coe Skyline series of races this weekend with Oli doing the main Skyline event, and Katie Walling doing the Ring of Steall Skyrace and had some cracking runs.
The Skyline route covers 32 miles / 15,000 feet (52km / 4,750m) of some of the toughest terrain in Scotland including ascending Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor) via the exposed Grade III scramble (a 'Moderate' graded rock climb) of Curved Ridge, and a full traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge, which includes exposed Grade II scrambling. Here's Oli's report:
Ten months on from a painful and lesson-heavy Tweed Valley Ultra, probably somewhat prematurely, I’m toeing the line at the Glen Coe Skyline amongst a sea of mammoth calf muscles and expensive looking sports watches. Despite an increase in training, some decent runs in the Alps and a few months at the mercy of Colin’s intervals, the 52 km and 4750m of ascent had me somewhat concerned for the health of my legs (and had mum concerned for my life after helpfully reading the race information: “risk of serious injury or death whilst participating in this event”).
My game plan was to eat and drink endlessly, walk the ups, slowly run the rest and never stop. Which I managed to do except thanks to increasingly shrivelled kidneys, one brief pee stop.
For the first five kilometres, Scotland gave its best with a glorious sunrise as we climbed out of Kinlochleven towards the Devil’s Staircase and into Glen Coe. A day of glorious sunshine would of course have been disappointing so I was thankful when the weather would inevitably get somewhat more Scottish later on.
As a part of this “running” race was the Grade III scramble of Curved Ridge on Buichaille Etive Mor, an exposed heady scramble up the ultra-photographed Scottish mountain. Well, it would have felt exposed had it not been drowned in cloud but it nevertheless made the race feel very adventurous and before long, I was making my way along the perpetual up and down of the southern skyline. That Scottish weather that we had all been hoping so much for hit four hours earlier than forecasted and as the wind driven rain drenched the scantily clad runners, they hunkered down into inadequate looking 200 gram “jackets”. Thankfully, I’d decided last minute to take a marginally more substantial waterproof which I retreated into and returned to the thoughts that seem to be inevitable on long runs; of pointlessly thinking about race timings, race nutrition, existential joy and despair, what beer I was going to enjoy that night and infinitely back and forth between everything and nothing.
With more literal ups and downs than metaphorical ones, I managed to continue moving well. I would sporadically hear a position being mentioned by spectators and marshalls, initially in the low twenties then in the teens - improbable I thought but I suppose the legs may have been doing better than expected. Nevertheless, for the majority of the race I was waiting for either my inevitable bonk or for the masses of better-paced runners to calmly proceed past me into the cloud. But neither happened.
Increasingly on my own, I descended down to the second road section (20 feet across the A82) and the only aid station on race. The stepped rocky descent was made ice-like by the rain but I managed to avert a full fall from my endless slips and made it to the aid station safely. I opted for a speedy stop (trying to look professional - there was a modest crowd and a fella with a camera afterall), grabbing a few gels from stoic friends who’d remained after a morning trail race and to refill some water.
Then, Aonach Eagach. I’d tried not to think too much about the climb out of Glen Coe and onto the start of the Aonach Eagach ridge but it was sadly difficult to not constantly notice the steep, endless mountainside infinitely ascending into the clouds. I only got overtaken by one (lean and tanned) bloke who my climber friend later told me is a well-known Chamonix mountain guide. I didn’t mind much anyway as there wasn’t much else to give. And he had poles.
Inevitably, although it didn’t feel like it at the time, I reached the top of the ridge to cheers from yet more heroic marshalls. I traversed the scramble-come-run-come-crawl of the Aonoch Eagach ridge uneventfully and even bumped into an old friend who was perched precariously halfway along as mountain safety. Again, the scrambling traverse made the race ever more adventurous and as I reached the end of it, managed to overtake another runner who seemed to have given up. “I just wanted a nice day out”. About seven hours too late for that, mate.
As I slowly pulled away from the despondent runner, I finally let myself rejoice that I had no more significant climbs left and my reluctant competitiveness forced me to keep the pace going. Then I hit the West Highland Way to more supportive cheers from the marshalls and with it the prospect of finishing alive and in an unexpectedly good position. For those last 10 km, I continuously wanted to look behind me to see if anyone was close but knowing I had no more to give than I already was, I kept my gaze strictly forward and kept the wheels turning.
Which somehow, for 9 hours, they did. And I came 15th. My surprise at which is only out-weighed by how chuffed I am with such a good result on such an adventurous and brutal course. Must have been Colin’s intervals up Cademuir.
Oli's very impressive result is here: https://www.resultsbase.net/event/5076/results/2972541
The day before Katie was tackling the Ring of Steall Skyrace which is described as "A variation of the classic 'Ring of Steall' ridge-walking route this 29km / 2,500m mountain race has spectacular views of Ben Nevis from the Mamores and includes short sections of scrambling."
No expectations running... all the omens suggested I shouldn’t start @ringofsteallskyrace yesterday. An injured foot and the tail end of a cold meant I was in no shape to run 30km and 2500m of ascent. But the weather forecast was so good I just couldn’t resist a day out in the mountains! So I decided on a day of zero expectations, zero pressure, no pain caves and nothing but fun... and if I got timed out at half way then so be it. The result? 7 1/2 hours of huge grins, up and down some of Scotland’s finest ridges in glorious sun, topped by crossing the finish line with my biggest inspiration. For sure one day I’d like to go back and see if I can run the route faster, but for now that was the perfect day.