Oh pooh, it is 0655, we’d better get to the start line. Anthony Hemmings and I ran across the Glencoe Ski Centre car park through the midges to give Anne Renville (Alan’s wife) our food bags before dibbing-in and joining the 148 starters in the pen just in time to start. We had cut it fine to avoid being a midge breakfast. The inaugural and much anticipated Glencoe Skyline Race was about to start and it was time to see how we would fair against some of the best hill runners about today. I couldn’t see the other Carnethy runners in the tightly packed pen but probably at the front were Jasmin Paris, Jon Ascroft and Craig Mattocks with high expectations. Alan Renville, Anthony Hemmings and I had reccied and run together as preparation and hoped for a good ‘run’ in similar times.
The starting pace seemed super-fast for me (Anthony Hemmings recorded a PB for the first 5k) but I hung on as it was only 9km to get to the climbing. Everyone seemed to have the same idea, get to Curved Ridge first. Damn, for middle speed people this meant that we had to wait at the bottleneck but we got a breather and some food and took the opportunity to get a possibly unique shot of enough people to hold hands up this classic scramble. I was 4 minutes slower to the top of Buachaille Etive Mor than we’d done on our recce due to the wait. Ho hum.
The descent to Lairig Gartain was steep, slippery and technical on wet slabs in places. Alan Smith flew past me making a mockery of my descending ability, along with the other Carnethies, and I thought I was rattling along. The next col over Buachaille Etive Beag takes you down to Lairig Eilde and some respite on a flatter runnable path heading for SC Sgreamhach. A domestic here lost me ~8 places and Alan and Anthony seemed uncatchable now. Bidean nan Bian finally appeared in the mist after 81 mins of ascent and Jeff Roberts was there with his camera giving me the news on the other Carnethies. I was still the last one, Jasmin Paris and Jon Ascroft were flying near the front of the field and Craig Mattocks was going really well. The out and back to Stob Coire nan Lochan gave an interesting opportunity to count how many people were up to ~30mins ahead of me. I counted 32 people ahead and on the way back I counted 18 making me think I must in the last third of the field. Ho hum.
My Garmin watch had packed in and Jeff offered to lend me his. We swapped and I was pleased to see the time was 1134. I rechecked it again and saw the time was 1123. Great I thought – “I am going that fast that time is going backwards. That is how those fasties do it”. Jeff then pointed out I was reading the altimeter and Niall McAlinden from the Westies corrected the time to be 12:48. Nearly 6 hrs running does this to your head. Jeff ran with me for a bit taking a few piccies.
A long 1100m descent to the road was both exhilarating and scary. The scree was great and I nipped past a few cautious folk, but the slabby polished path was desperate in the drizzle with the odd fall and clatter gaving me the chance to get a few more heads once I had checked they weren’t broken. At the road crossing CP Alan and Anthony had left a minute before I arrived according to Anne but I needed food so took the time to have rice, coke and a banana. Water refilled and I spotted a tea urn. Why not I thought, let’s have a brew and I enjoyed a nice cup of sweet tea, helped by Anne.
The ascent from Loch Achtriochtan to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh at the West end of the Aonach Eagach is brutal? Brilliant? brutally brilliant. No really – it is a must and every race should have one! Add rain and warmth and a bag of boiled new potatoes and I felt brilliant and dripped away with sweat throughout the 900m of ascent. Above me, specs in the grass and heather were my targets. One down, two down, three down, four down, then dodge the rockfall, more loose screen and mud… then Anthony, then Alan. Anthony was not enjoying this bit for some reason and Alan seemed to groan a bit now and then …as I passed them. More specs targeted, more passed. By the top I had got 10 people. Happy days. The top was much colder and I put on a top and felt positive despite screaming legs having to go back into a hobbling bobbing ‘run’.. The technical ridge gave me the chance for a few more specs to be nipped past. Even helping a guy stuck on a down climb where Alan caught up with me, I got another four by Am Bodach. Happy-happy days.
I needed food again and dropped a few places eating a whole Chai Charge bar. Ho Hum, but food is fuel. The end was now in sight – even if the Glencoe Ski Centre was another spec in the distance ~12km away with three wee hills in the way. But by Jeff’s watch, I had an hour to finish under 11hrs (my dreamy target). No chance given the ascent and descen
t still, but hey, let’s have a go. The three racers barely visible ahead of me became my next objective and I hacked down the hills avoiding the path and taking the direct lines passing one racer which made two visible ahead, but no closer. At the last checkpoint at Altnafeadh I decided to feed again and promptly lost it all as I ran off (why do I always do that?). I told myself that the 7km to the finish was just like a run to work or a Tuesday interval session at Inverleith. I thought, “let’s pretend I am chasing after Mr’s Whitlie, Reid and Flanagan’s butts as usual and get up a good pace, sustain it, run all the slopes and see what these two guys ahead have left (hopefully nothing like the talents of Mr’s W, R and F)”. As the 5/7 Ultra’s I am doing this summer I knew I could finish well. By the King’s House, not much progress! As I came around a bend in the track by the Kingy they were walking up a hill that had appeared from no-where and which I had no recollection of running down 11hrs ago. So, I ran at it and got them, much to their disgust and accelerated over the brow of the hill in case they started to run. Crossing the main road heading up to the Ski area another bendy hill appeared from no-where (that wasn’t there in the morning either, was it??). In the distance, another spec halfway between me and the finish. Could I do it…
Despite running hard, the King’s House to the Ski Centre was the hardest part of the race for me and many others. Simon Chislett, the guy ahead saw me coming and started running the last 200 meters and came in 50 seconds ahead. I finished 70/148 in 11:18:58, have overtaken 22 folk since the second visit to Bidean. Happy days.
How does it compare as a race? Well, people recorded around 52km and 4300m of ascent and you need to be competent at scrambling and technical ground, so it won’t be for everyone. I heard comments of Jura and the Two Inns with climbing, then maybe doing the two together…plus a bit!!
Times, Splits and Results for Carnethy’s: Jasmin Paris, Jon Ascroft , Craig Mattocks, Alan Renville and Anthony Hemmings can be found here, along with the winners and other super heroes:
Thanks to all the race team involved and Anne Renville.
Yesterday saw the inaugural running of the Glencoe Skyline race, running 52.96km / 4,256m (although many reported climbing nearer 5000m), combining scrambling with running in terrific surroundings.
At 7am, the crowd of around 160 runners lined up outside the Glencoe Ski Centre, ready to take on the challenge. Bursting across the starting line (mainly because everyone was desperate to escape the midges!), the initial run out along the West Highland Way brought us level with Stob Dearg, and a gentle uphill traverse took us to the foot of Curved Ridge. I was lucky enough to be relatively close to the front of the race (where there was little congestion), and so enjoyed a quick scramble up the ridge to the summit, where I caught Emelie Forsberg (World Skyrunning Champion). We chatted as we ran along the ridge to the col beyond Stob na Doire. Thanks to the typically Scottish descent that followed (i.e. wet, most un-Alpine-like), I had the pleasure of temporarily opening a small gap, only to lose it rapidly on the firm running.
Over the next col, and down into the valley I ran together with Emelie, Mark Harris and Jayson Cavill (eventual 2nd, 3rd, 4th respectively), but I had to have a (retrospectively very unfortunate) emergency stop owing to a degree of pre-existing tummy upset, and the group pulled away from me. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to catch them up, and so ran the following sections alone, over Bidean nam Bian and then down the long and tricky descent to the road crossing. The climb that followed went on forever; and it seemed to me that I was making no progress whatsoever (in contrast to Jon Ascroft who I spotted below me, rapidly closing the gap between us). Nevertheless, I caught up with two runners (Adam Harris and Tim Gomersall) who were struggling even more than me, and together we hauled our way up the final steep scramble to the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.
I recovered (mentally at least!) on the Aonach Eagach; the exhilaration and challenge of running and climbing with steep drops and breathtaking views, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes (incredibly someone was playing them at the checkpoint), was truly fantastic. Spotting Mark, Jason and Es Tresidder in front of us boosted morale for the final, runnable section of ridge, and then it was just the small question of dropping down the Devil’s Staircase, and retracing the initial section of West Highland Way, back to the Ski Centre. As expected, this was rather a painful experience, not helped by the fact that I had to ‘race’ Tim up the final climb to the ski centre for 5th place. I say ‘race’, but it could hardly be described as such – we were both alternating between a shuffle and a walk!
Altogether an epic day out, and one that I would highly recommend. The support along the way was tremendous, from the cheery marshals (offering not only jelly babies but also hugs based on Jon Ascoft’s account!), to the unrelated hill-walkers who happened to have chosen to come to Glencoe on this rather memorable day, to the friends and families whistling and ringing cowbells…. Several other Carnethies took part, and will no doubt recount their own experiences of what was a truly memorable race.