David Shepherd Memorial Glamaig Hill Race 2011

“Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never run in the rain”.

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain and I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end”—as James Taylor would have it—but in a single weekend on Skye? Aye, all of that and plenty more besides in this year’s memorable David Shepherd Memorial Glamaig Hill Race.

It is all in the day, of course: 22 degrees of heat, gentle zephyrs, the whole of the Western Isles in a chiaroscuro of silver seas, robin’s egg blue skies and the occasional white, fluffy cloud and not a midge in sight. The only problem was that was the day before the race and not the race day itself. On race day, the hill was initially in cloud which had burned off by 11:00 and looked to be heading for a repeat of the day before as the temperature rose but as I talked to Sandy and Alison as they basked in the sun outside the Sligachan Hotel and Sandy commented on how we were lucky with the weather again, echoes of my old heilan’ Granny came to the fore and I found my self saying a cautious, “so far” for although the sky was blue I could smell rain.

Glamaig is one of the few hill races where you can see 90% of the action from the start / finish and so only the section where the runners leave the road is taped. Just as well because just as I finished marking the early part of the course big drops of rain started to fall and as I made it back to the Hotel, the heavens opened and sheets of rain swept over the island.
Throughout registration, it tipped down with the odd flash of lightning—nature’s fire—to add drama but this didn’t put off the 105 hardy entrants who lined up at the start— including Kaare Andersen who saw the race on TV and came over from Germany to take part; 11 lads from RGS Guildford school in London who had climbed the In Pin the day before and thought the race would round off their adventure; and Martyna Bizdra on holiday from Poland who was looking for excitement. Otherwise, it was the usual suspects with a smattering of new faces from far and wide and 17 locals up for the challenge and the opportunity to take part in the best value hill race in the calendar.

The debate—as always—was as to whether Brian Marshall could notch up another consecutive win (taking it to an incredible 9 in a row) or would an on-form Andy Fallas—one of nine of host club Carnethy’s runners taking part take the title in his first crack at the race.

From the off Brian and Andy were ahead with a small pack of about a dozen chasing their heels whilst the rest of the pack were strung out in a colourful line across the wet and muddy bog. For a moment the leaders dropped out of sight and when they reappeared Andy was in the lead. Mercifully, the rain stayed off briefly to allow the sizeable crowd of spectators to watch the ribbon of runners snake up the steep slopes.

On the final part of the ascent the runners disappear from view but Matthew our local marshal on top was there to relay each runner’s arrival at the top back to Sandy on the PA system—and Andy Fallas was first to the top! Had Brian lost his crown?
The runners choose myriad routes down off the actual hill and then over the boggy moorland, so its hard for the crowd to keep track of positions from this point on, so there was lots of excited scanning of the horizon—through the recurring rain showers—to see who would appear on the moor first. Would it be Andy or Brian, or perhaps the consistent Alan Smith might steal a march on them both. A runner in a red vest appeared which wasn’t helpful as both Carnethy and HELP’s vests are predominately red but the long-striding, loping, running style gave it away—it was Brian on his way to his 9th consecutive victory in 51:54 as well as 1st MV40! Andy stormed into the finish a mere minute and a half later to take second in 54:21 and Deeside’s Alan Smith finished a strong third and 1st MV50 in 54:58 just over half a minute behind, followed closely by Francis Shepherd in fourth and first local in 55:40. Alex Brett swept in at 1:16 to take the 1st MV60 position. Another incredibly close race.

A strong run by Lochaber’s Amanda Blackhall saw her finish as 1st woman and 1st FV40 in 1:11, with Cosmic’s Liz Delaney and Lochaber’s Sarah Ward taking second and third respectively. Elaine Stewart from Cosmic finished 1st FV50 in 1:26.

But the dramas of the race were far from over. Whilst the individual drama of each run enfolded (or unravelled) we had reports of two casualties out on the hill, both victims of tumbles on the scree. First, Tark Gunn on the long scree with a dislocated shoulder and then Colin Earnshaw on the short scree with a crocked ankle, gashed leg and “otherwise bloodied” according to the reports. As a race organiser your first thought is to gear up and get out there but it’s not sensible with lots of other competitors out on the hill whose safety you also have to ensure. So, for the first time in the race’s 23 year history we called out the Police, the Local Mountain Rescue and (the shamefully under-threat) RAF Lossiemouth who arranged to scramble a helicopter from Stornoway. “Fantastic”, a spectator said although I had a somewhat different view.

So juggling with helping with marshalling, the results and finish whilst liaising with Police and MRT on the ground and RAF Lossiemouth by phone, the rest of the race is a bit of a blur to me but thankfully both casualties managed to walk out and finish the race and allow me to call off the rescue. Given the pain that both runners were in, it was a great feat of endurance. Amazing—105 starters, 105 finishers … but no! We still had one runner out there, our Polish competitor Martyna.

We could see no sign of her on the moor and we waited anxiously, especially when Matthew our summit marshal arrived who had seen her at the top but not since. Maybe I’d need to go out on the hill after all?

At last a figure was seen meandering over the moor and Martyna ran along the road to the finish. Far from being in any distress she was ecstatic at her completion of the race but realises she’s got to do a lot more training before she returns next year as she’s vowed to do.

My thanks to Alex Brett and Jean Bowman for assisting the casualties. My thanks too to all who marshalled (for a lot longer than they thought), to all at the Sligachan Hotel for their support and to the rescue services who understood the rationale and risks of hill running and finally to those at Broadford Hospital who treated the injured parties.

The post-race meal and ceilidh, conversation and conviviality were as usual superb. Mol an latha math mu odhche.

Nick Macdonald

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