Glencoe Skyline Ultra Marathon
This is the story of the Glencoe Skyline Marathon by Mark Hartree a friend from my days in RAF Mountain Rescue – He then had a nickname 2ba in the team (small but as he says perfectly formed)
Hill Runners are unassuming men and women with no egos. Today’s sports superstars could learn from these people. Most are unique band of unknown athletes. They are passionate about their sport hill running . They are very private people, they are a “family” and this article gives an insight into this incredible sport, their life, the pain, the suffering but the joy of moving fast through wild land. Incredible!
Mark Hartres Tale
Back in the early 1990’s during the winter, I did 5 wee callouts in Glencoe in one day in Stob Coire nan Beith, then Stob Coire nan Lochain, and finishing with an avalanche victim in the Lost Valley where I had the pleasure/displeasure of being the person with the avalanche probe to find the poor guy under the guidance of Davie Gunn from Glencoe MRT. The victim was huge and overhung the Bell stretcher at both ends, was unfortunately dead and the chopper unavailable. After extracting him, carrying him out through the Lost Valley boulders, across the river and up the road, I thought I had my toughest day in Glencoe….till yesterday possibly.
The summer after the callouts I did “both sides of the ‘Coe” as a big day with Ray Shafren but missing out Buchaille Etive Mor. That was tough giving a 30km day and 3000m ascent. The inaugural and much-anticipated Glencoe Skyline Race on the 22nd Aug 2015 was going to be a big day out. This was over 50km and over 4000m ascent and described as:
“Soaring ridges, exposed traverses and precipitous drops. Fast and light over rough and technical terrain. A fusion of alpinism and mountain running. Welcome to Skyrunning.”
It was to be the 5/7 Ultra Marathon I am doing over the summer of 2015 raising money for SMA Support UK. Many miles and hours (nay years) of training had prepared me for what I expected to be the toughest of the 7, despite being one of the shorter ones in linear distance. Here is a summary of it for those who know the area well, or want to do the hills there.
Oh pooh, it is 0655, we’d better get to the start line. Anthony Hemmings and I ran across the Glencoe Ski Centre carp 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 race was about to start and it was time to see how we would fair against some of the best hill runners about today that had registered. These included the women’s European Championship Ultra distance Skyrunning champion – Emelie Forsberg and Ed Tressider who ran the Skye Cuillin Ridge in around 3hrs top to top (Finlay Wilde couldn’t make it). There were too many other top hill runners to mention here but included in the starting pen were 5 of my Carnethy Hill Running club mates including Jasmin Paris (women’s record holder for Tranters Round in 12hrs 41mins) and , Jon Ascroft (Ramsay’s Round record holder in an unbelievable 16hrs 59mins). Alan Renville, Anthony Hemmings and I had reccee’d and run together as preparation and hoped for a good ‘run’ in similar times to each other but at 70% of the pace of the fasties.
The starting pace seemed super-fast for me but I hung on as it was only 9km to get to the climbing. Anthony registered his fastest 5km which show the speed we went at. Everyone seemed to have the same idea, get to Curved Ridge first. Dam, 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 Buchaille Etive Mor than we’d done on our recce due to the 20+ mins waiting in 1hr 10mins. 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 Carnethy’s, and I thought I was rattling along. The next col over Buchaille 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, a club mate) was there with his camera giving me the news on the other Carnethy’s. 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 giving me the chance to get a few more heads once I had checked they weren’t broken or blooded too much. 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 direct 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 scree and mud… then Anthony, then Alan. Anthony was not enjoying this bit for some reason and Alan seemed to groan a bit now and the…as I passed them. More specs targeted, more passed. By the top I had got 10 people. Happy days. The top of this Munro 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. My past experience from the MRT and teaching climbing came in handy when I came across another racer somewhat stranded on the edge of sheer drop on the Aonach Eagach. He was well stuck so I took the time to coax him to turn around and face inwards then gave him a lesson in down climbing. My good turn for the day probably saved some serious consequences. Alan caught up with me, but I got away and overtook 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 descent 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 along the West Highland Way was just like a run to work or a Tuesday interval session at Inverleith Park. 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 have 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 to 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 51 seconds ahead. Ho hum.
How does it compare as a day on the hill? Well, people recorded the distance at over 52km and 4300m of ascent and you need to be competent at scrambling and technical ground, so it won’t be for everyone. In Tranters famous hill time it would take a good walker over 17.5 hrs to complete plus stoppage time.
The winner, Joe Symonds finished in at 7hrs 36 mins! Emelie Forsberg in 7hrs 44mins, Jasmin Paris in 7hrs 54 mins (5th), Es Tressider in 8hrs 5 mins (8th) and John Ascroft in 8hrs 23 mins (11th).
I finished 70th out of 148 starters in 11hrs 18mins:58s having overtaken 22 folk since the second visit to Bidean. Happy days.
Times, Splits and Results are at:
Thanks to all the race team involved, Anne Renville’s support on the day and my wonderful wife and family for letting me out to play..
I am doing the 7 Ultra’s for madness charity SMA Support UK who are supporting Molly, a friend and X RAF MRT troops daughter who has the condition. Please sponsor me if you can at:
Also, please vote to give me a chance of winning an extra £10,000 for the charity via:
NOTE: I am not trying to promote Mountain Warehouse per se (although their kit is often great value) but they are offering £10k to the charity to the person with the most votes. People have to vote for me however to get a chance of winning it – the most votes gets it so wide dissemination is good! The link takes you to the Mountain Warehouse web page where you enter your email address (home/work/sons/daughters…). You’ll then get an email from Mountain Warehouse to verify your vote.
Maybe you could forward this to all your contacts at work and beyond, to your clubs, schools, pub mates, your granny and her mates ….. and anything else you can think of to help me!
2ba / Mark Hartree
SURELY THIS EFFORT IS WORTH SOME SPONORSHIP ???? Please share and give if you can ?What a story what a tale.