Going through the mandatory kit list two nights before the Salomon “Ring Of Steall” race sums up how un-organised i had been in the preparation for my first Sky race and the biggest run of my life but luckily i had all the kit i needed so no need to panic?!
Last year i took part in the VK race up Na Gruagaichean which takes place on the Friday night of the Glencoe Skyline weekend and although it was an immense race in itself, watching my brother cross the finish line of the Ring Of Steall the following day and not sharing the experience with him really gutted me!
I had entered the Ring Of Steall earlier that year but ended up doing my usual of talking myself out of it, telling myself that it was way above my capabilities and that with the small injury i had, i would have no time to train properly in time for the race.
“I regret that run, said no-one ever” but that feeling of regret from not running a dream race stays with you and i told myself that i would 100% be taking part in the 2017 event!
As soon as the 2017 entries opened i was on the case and was so happy to get my place before they all sold out. This year i was going to train hard and do this race!
Fast Forward 8 months and there i was standing on the start line surrounded by some very fit looking athletes and here’s me thinking, what the hell am i doing here!!
My year of “hard training” had consisted of some hill runs in preparation for our local Goatfell race in May, some very sparse hill interval sessions and a few longer forestry runs. Not ideal to say the least but things in my life very rarely go to plan!
Luckily i had one thing up my sleeve to bully my brain into the “I can do this” mode.
This was a great memory of a challenge that i did with my good friend Lucy back in May, The Arran 700s challenge.
This was no way a run but we were on our feet for 17 hours and the height gain and distance was further so i knew i had it in me somewhere..
5,4,3,2,1…. We were off.
For some reason i had ended up near the front of the crowd at the start line but i managed to get myself back a bit and as the race filtered out along the road i was now comfortable and just trying to relax and enjoy the momentum.
The first check point came pretty quick and a quick glance at the race route tattoo that was welded on my forearm told me that we were now headed into some proper Sky running territory and some lovely Scottish mountains.
The Ring Of Steall had been one of my goals to hike this year but i hadn’t got round to it so in a way i was super excited not only to be doing this race but taking in this route for the first time( No longer a ROS virgin!!)
A boggy climb weaved its way up the steep slopes of Coire na h-Eirghe to check point 2 and from there it was only a short but steep push to the first summit of the day and check point 3 – Sgurr an Lubhair.
The weather at this point was typically Scottish with clag and smir rolling in and out but all the better for adding some extra drama to the scenery.
Now came the first major excitement of the day, a fairly exposed but fun scramble along what is called “The Devils Ridge”.
I think hiking with a heavy pack would prove more of a challenge but moving fast and light across this amazing ridge was nothing too difficult and a great buzz.
After the thrills of the devils ridge it was another wee push up to our highest munro of the day and check point 4 – Sgurr a Mhaim, then much to my surprise the decent down into Glen Nevis!
The decent from Sgurr a Mhaim was steep and scree laden so some “scree surfing” skills were a bonus. Mine were certainly lacking but a few more experienced scree surfers flew by tumbling every now and again but picking themselves up and continuing to fly downwards towards Glen Nevis. Amazing to watch these skilled human beings in their element!
I had made a new pal called Steve on the way off Sgurr a Mhaim so we kept each other company until the aid station at Glen Nevis where we then lost each other.
It’s always such a great thing in these races where you meet up with folk, share stories, keep each other going then away you go to share stories with the next person.
After refuelling at the only aid station of the day and getting some brilliant cheers of support from family( including my wee collie dog) and spectators it was onwards and upwards along the tarmac road leading to the start of the path up the side of the Nevis Gorge.
Tarmac is never a good thing to run on but luckily it didn’t last long before the Nevis Gorge warning sign was in sight.
“DANGER OF DEATH” it says….. and i guess when hoards of camera ridden tourists squeeze up the steep path you can understand why.
Luckily there was hardly any tourists and only a few runners on the path so there were no problems and before i knew it, the path had popped out of the forest to reveal stunning views of the Steall falls spilling down from great heights and into the Nevis gorge – Stunning!
A refreshing ankle deep wade across the burn came next to reach check point 6 before heading for the long and relentless climb to our second munro of the day – An Gearanach.
I some how managed to pass quite a few runners on this section as the cup of coke, soreen and jam sandwich from the heavenly feed station had well and truly hit my blood stream.
Thanks to the member of support crew for her wise words of advice below the last push to An Gearanach…. “Keep pushing, ignore the legs” she shouted – You have no idea how much this helped me!
An Gearanach summit( Check point 7) blew my mind! The weather had just decided to burn off any low clinging cloud to reveal panoramic views of every summit the eyes could see – WOW!
I was so happy for getting to this point in the race feeling good and the scramble ahead along the An Gearanach ridge just made me even more excited and happy that i had pushed myself to do this race – This was running at its very best – Skyrunning!
What another exhilarating scramble the An Gearanach ridge gave, a long, rocky crest with exposed sides and those views!!!
I literally grinned the entire way from here to the next summit of Stob Coire a Chairn( check point 8) then from here even more grinning as it dawned on me that i was now heading for the final climb of the day – Am Bodach.
Although a steep push to reach the summit, it was an enjoyable climb and the views from the top looking across to where we had started from that morning were just incredible.
I didn’t get the girls name but myself and her had a good laugh on the last two climbs as she’d climb by me a good bit then i’d get by her on the downhills. We kept this going for quite some time.
I lost her on the decent to check point 10 on the bealach and from here i didn’t see another soul until a good bit down.
Loch Leven was glimmering in the afternoon sunshine and there was a glow of happy but exhausted faces negotiating the sea of bog down into Kinlochleven.
Another skill of the experienced mountain runner is the “Bog surf” do it correctly and you can shave minutes off your time, surfing at great speeds downwards in hope you don’t skim over a hole in the ground which swallows your legs, sometimes thigh high.
I danced with the slippery grass more so than attempting the “Bog surf” but it sure was a fun and quick way of getting down off the mountains.
Check point 11 appeared and the track of the West Highland Way hit my legs hard, Esp the wee added climb after the check point that my brother compared to Mount Everest at the end of last years race. Give me bog and slippery grass over road any day!
Thankfully this section was over quickly and it was then a nice descent on woodland trails down to meet the road back to the starting point at the Ice Factor.
I had tried not to look at my time throughout the race as i just wanted to complete it and enjoy my first SkyRunning experience.
I couldn’t resist glancing down at my watch after check point 11 and i was hyped to see a time of 6hrs25 so i instantly thought, “Come on!! You can get under 7hrs!!”
I met another runner near the road and shouted to him that we could both make it inside the 7 hours if we just pushed some more – He smiled and started running faster to which i tried my best to keep up!
It really was a blessing to meet someone on this road section as i really wanted to stop but having someone to run with kept me going all the way to the finish line where he then accelerated past me as the crowds cheered us on!
Thank you www.skylinescotland.com for a truly epic first sky running experience.
I’ll be grinning all the way until the next one!
Stats – 29km, 2500m ascent, 4 munros, 2 gnarly ridges
My Final time – 06.45.40
Brothers time – 06.24.26( 24 mins faster that 2016)
Back pack – OMM Adventure light 20 – Shoes: Salomon Speedcross 4 – Jacket: Inov-8 Stormshell AT/C – Pants: Inov-8 AT/C Full length tights – Thermo layer: Inov-8 ATC Thermoshell Half Zip – Inov-8 soft flask 0.5( handy for burn fill ups) Gaiter: Inov-8 Race Ultra Gaiter
Cliff bar X 1, Cliff bar Shot Blocks x 6, SiS GO Caffeine Shot X 1 ( before start of race, didn’t use second one at half way point as had coke at feed station)