With some massive highs and plenty of challenging moments, Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace was epic and easily one of the most beautiful routes I have ran this year.
The morning of the race I was up early, as usual repeatedly checking my kit and trying hard not to get too nervous! Water, waterproof, whistle, hat, gloves, survival bag, snacks… it was all there (as it was 10 minutes ago!) - finally satisfied I made my way to the events centre.
I stood on the start line listening to the sound of bagpipes filling the mountains, one of 300 runners – I couldn’t wait to get going – I knew we were all in for an amazing day. After a quick briefing from the race director we were off! Resisting the urge to sprint off like an overexcited mad thing, I tried to settle into a good rhythm, after all the first quarter of the race was a long slog up to the first of the four Munros we would be ticking off that day.
Conditions could not have been better, and as the route wound in a stubbornly consistent manner up towards Sgurr an Iubhair I felt so lucky to be able to be outside doing what I was doing. Soon we approached the summit, here the view opened out before us showing the stunning Ring of Steall in all its glory, this was both a touch intimidating and really inspiring.
Ascent over it was time for my two favourite bits – the ridge and descent. This was the absolute highlight of my day - I loved the exposure on these sections. From loose steep scree onto rocky paths that then turned into deep mud, it had it all. I felt like I was flying, the reality is I spent a lot time falling over, but I couldn’t have cared less it was amazing! All I could think was ‘THIS is why I run!’.
Before I knew it I had reached the aid station. Grabbing a few snacks and refilling my water I didn’t feel the need to stop long. My plan was to take the next few miles pretty easy and try and eat plenty topping up my energy levels before the next big climb.
The second half of the race was much harder! A recent landslide meant we had to be slightly rerouted from the original course and although this didn’t change the total distance or height gain it meant we had to wade through a few miles of very deep bog. There was one point where I was literally thigh deep in mud and slightly questioning what I had signed up to… Was this a tough mudder or a skyrace?
Either way it was great fun! Plus the sun was out, I had plenty of time to make it to the finish and the mountains were breathtaking. Not only that, there was more scrambling to look forward to. Reaching the top of Stob Coire a’ Chairn I paused for a moment trying to pretend to look more composed and spectating the view than utterly pooped! There was not far to go – just one long descent back into Kinlochleven and the finish. This section was again pretty entertaining, everything was just so muddy and with tired legs I just kept hitting the deck! However that didn’t matter, either way I was getting closer to the finish.
After nearly 7 hours of running I suddenly got a spurt of energy as I approached the finish and unexpectedly managed to sprint across the line. I can safely say this was 100% adrenaline as my legs amusingly decided to turn to jelly the moment I stopped. What a day! As far as races go this was not my fastest or best performance, but it did have some exceptional parts to it and there were moments where I could see how much recent training had really paid off! Without a doubt I will be returning to this part of the world for some more running and will be working hard this winter to train up for the full Skyline race.