Rocky ridges, technical descents, boggy paths, steep and unmarked climbs – the Scottish hills definitely have it all. Last weekend, more than a thousand of runners challenged themselves over gruelling terrain at the Salomon Skyline Scotland. Taking place in Kinlochleven, with no less than 7 races (distances from 5km to 52km), the event features physically exhausting but scenic routes, highly characteristic of the Scottish trail/hill running landscape. Blurring the line between running and climbing, between pleasure and pain, they are a must-do if you're an outdoor lover.
And to add to the scenic splendour, runners and spectators enjoyed cloudless bluebird conditions the whole weekend, taking in incredible views over hills and munros. It’s not often in Scotland, that the waterproof jacket can stay neatly stowed away in your pack!
All eyes were turned towards Scotland, especially on Saturday with the Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace: the last qualifying race in the Golden Trail Series. Some of the best trail runners in the world gathered for a thrilling and exciting race. Let's take a look at what happened!
Salomon Ben Nevis Ultra
The weekend kicked off in style with the Ben Nevis Ultra and its 52km and 4,000m of ascent . One of the course highlights is the ascent of Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arête.
I was one of 200+ runners to take my position at the start line and one of the 119 (happy) finishers. What a race it was! The first climb around the Mamores from Kinlochleven was a good warm up before the real challenge of the day: the ascent from Glen Nevis to the Carn Mor Dearg arête, followed by the ridge section and the scramble up Ben Nevis. A rocky, dry-ish trail gave way to bogs and sloppy, wet grassy terrain until Steall ruins. From there, we had to follow the race markers on an unmarked steep grassy slope to the arête. And was just the first half of the race!
After achieving this, we descended down Ben Nevis and made our way to Glen Nevis to climb another 3 munros (An Gearanach, Stob Choire a Chairn and Am Bodach). Experience on technical terrain, and good hydration and nutrition management, were key to making it through! With just one aid station (at the 29km mark), runners had to refill their bottles in streams and rivers along the course.
I struggled with hypoglycemia (low sugar levels) after 29km and had to take a 10-minute time out, scoffing as much food down as possible, to allow me to continue the race. Speaking to fellow runners along the route, many hadn’t expected it to be quite so hard! Many runners were dehydrated in the last part of the race, with no running streams or source of water over the last 3 munros.
Pushing through the pain cave in the face of some really punishing climbs was tough. But every runner who came and conquered will forever remember the breathtaking views, the connectedness and camaraderie, and ups and downs, followed by more ups and downs!
Scottish runner Murray Strain took gold in the Ben Nevis Ultra, while Yorkshire’s Katie Kaars-Sijpesteijn triumphed for the women – and came home third overall.
Salomon Mamores VK
While the Ben Nevis ultra runners (including myself) were going through the motions, hundreds of other brave souls were taking on the Vertical Kilometer challenge. For the Mamores VK, runners simply have to run 5km as fast as possible… up a munro with a total ascent of 1,000m! Genuinely brutal!
The fastest runners managed to complete this leg burning race in less than 50 mins; Zak Hanna from Ireland taking the win for the Men in 44:43mn and Inov8 athlete Victoria Wilkinson winning for the Women in 52:49.
Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace
The Ring of Steall Skyrace is the race everyone most looks forward to. 29km and 2,500m of ascent. On Saturday morning, the sun was still shining, with promise of another inspiring day. On the start line in Kinlochleven, the field was packed with elite runners from around the world, who the amateur runners in attendance looked at full of genuine admiration. Both elite and amateur runners get to share the same rough and gnarly trails, but do so at a different pace!
There’s no warm up in the Ring of Steall, as runners have to climb almost from the get go, until they reach the first summit and make their way on the Devil's Ridge. After some easy scrambling on this thrilling and airy traverse, runners run down the munro to the checkpoint in Glen Nevis. Once there, runners have a moment of respite with more runnable sections, before they the final difficult section of the day.
This year, the favourites quickly broke away from the pack (during the first climb), both the male and female leaders striding forth at a hellish pace, leaving their competitors no chance of catching them!
In the men's race Nadir Maguet from Italy felt at home on these gnarly grounds. After finishing second last year (close behind Kilian Jornet) he took an early lead and no one ever saw him again. He took the win with a time of 3h15 and cemented his position as one of the best skyrunners in the world.
In the women's race, the Swiss Judith Wyder put on a real demonstration of running prowess. With a huge lead at the first checkpoint, she smashed the competition and made the race look easy. Strong from an orienteering background (and several world titles) she is one of the runners who are redefining the level of women's trail running. She did not just win the Ring of Steall, but broke the course record by almost 10 mins, finishing in a time of 3h36. Truly awe inspiring!
Grey Mare's 5k Trail Race
New for 2019 were the addition of three trail races, all starting in Kinlochleven too. With three distances (5k, 10k and 18k) aimed at all abilities. Proceedings kicked off with the Grey Mare’s 5k on Saturday morning. Featuring a short but super-steep ascent on a memorable zig-zagging rocky trail in beautiful woodland, plus stunning views overlooking local munros, the race was a real success and brought a real buzz to the event village, which had a real festival feel!
Salomon Glencoe Skyline
The Glencoe Skyline follows in the finest tradition of the most prestigious skyrunning races, fusing mountain running and alpinism in a pure test of speed, endurance and skill. Exposed Grade II (Curved Ridge) and Grade III (Aonach Eagach) rock climbing are featured in this race, making it very exciting for the boldest and most adventurer runners. With its 52km and 4,750m of elevation, the race offers stunning views over the pass of Glencoe and the different glens around. The pain will always be rewarded by magnificent landscapes.
The Men's race was won by Erik Johannes Husom in a time of 7h55, 35 mins ahead of the first lady, Georgia Tindley, who ran an impressive time of 8h30.
Loch Eilde Mór 10k Trail Race & Three Mealls 18k Trail Race
Two hours after the start of the skyline, more runners gathered on the start line in Kinlochleven for the two last races of the weekend: the Loch Eilde Mor 10k and the Three Mealls 18k. Both races took runners up the same route for the first 2.5km before they split off. The 10k runners were taken to Loch Eilde Mór via some steep climbing. The 18k runners kept going on a steady climb and joined trackless boggy sections around Meall na Cruaidhe. They then joined the same route as the 10k, descending back to the village with a great view overlooking the Loch.
The event organisers behind the Salomon Skyline Scotland deserve a huge amount of credit for the comprehensive planning and execution of these events. Unique amongst UK fell and mountain races, long may the Salomon Skyline Scotland continue!