Saturday's inaugural Salomon Glen Coe Skyline race went down a storm with competitors and the many spectators who came to offer support. Despite misgivings from some quaters the event ran smoothly. Taking in every mountain around the rim of Glen Coe, including the steep grade 3 scramble of Curved Ridge and the long, involved grade 2 traverse of Aonach Eagach, the race has brought Skyrunning to the UK for the first time. Fusing mountain running with hands-on scrambling, unroped, it carried a real element of risk besides physical challenge.
Joe Symonds led a strong field on the 50km course, which included over 4000m ascent, storming home in just 7 hours 36 minutes 21secs.
'The real enemy is not the competitors, but the course!' he joked on the finish line
Second over the line, and first female, was Swedish sensation Emelie Forsberg, current Skyrunning World and European Champion (Ultra distance), with at time of 7:44:19.
She took to Facebook last night to voice her thoughts: 'Waow! Seriously the best race in this distance. Super technical ridges and gulleys (think Trofeo Kima but no via ferrata!) some parts very runable on nice but still tricky trails. Glen Coe I'm thrilled to have run this race. Thanks to your amazing organisation. Even though it was hard all of the nature and the course made me go fast. Thanks all of you standing along the course, you made me feel so welcomed here!'
In a decisive showing for the over-45 veterans category, Mark Harris romped into third just half a minute after Emelie with a time of 7:44:51. Second female, and fifth overall, was Jasmin Paris on 7:54:29.
Saturday dawned most and midgey, but heavy overnight rain had cleared by the time 148 runners gathered for the 7am start at the Glencoe Mountain Resort. Excitement was tinged with pre-race nerves, and the usual questions: have I picked the right shoes; how much water should I carry on the first stage?
Even by Alpine standards the course was steep and hilly, said Es Tresidder, whose three year old son was waiting for him at the finish line eight hours later. The elevation diagram looked like a cartoon ECG readout, but that didn't seem to hold the leaders back. By just after 8am word reached base that the front runners were already up Curved Ridge and onto the summit of Stob Dearg - that's roughly 8km distance and the full height of The Buachaille in one hour, via Curved Ridge. Clearly no ordinary group of competitors.
The rain did not manage to hold off all day, but the runners put in some remarkable performances on greasy ground.
In preceding weeks the Glen Coe Skyline race had drawn fire from various quarters. Naturally perhaps, safety concerns were voiced early on. The accident potential may have helped attract unprecedented mainstream media interest - a cynic might say they were waiting for something to go wrong - but on the day the risks were carefully managed.
'We've never had this much media scrutiny for an event' Race Director Shane Ohly told us.
'But we've thrown a lot of resource at safety, from trackers and radios to our own dedicated rescue team of three, on site first at Curved Ridge and later on Aonach Eagach. We've planned to be able to deal with as many incidents as possible in-house, without drawing on the local Mountain Rescue Team for help.'
But none of it was needed, with all the runners safe and accounted for by Saturday night. Only 24 had to withdraw from the race, but despite the challenging nature of the ground throughout there were no injuries or accidents. Race organisers put this down to the skill and experience of the competitors, and the strict vetting procedure that was put in place.
Other critics worried that an event of this nature went against the ethos by which Glen Coe is managed by the National Trust for Scotland, disturbing the peace of everyday hill-goers. Race markers were a particular bone of contention; so too the possibility of bottlenecking between runners and ordinary members of the public on the narrower and more precarious sections of Aonach Eagach.
'When you do something new there's always resistance' Shane said.
'I get what people say about the tranquillity of the glen, but there's room for all of us, no single group of hill-goers takes precedence. The race is only one day in the year.'
Besides which, he points out, temporary route markers are not a new thing in Glen Coe; other events have used them. The little flags and occasional signage marking the course of the Skyline were placed the day before and would, he promised, be removed the same evening.
In the event the human traffic along Aonach Eagach flowed smoothly - in marked contrast to the busy A82, where car parks were choked all day with the usual tourists and hillwalkers.
UK Salomon Brand Manager, Paul Griffiths, said:
'Salomon are proud to be supporting the new Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, which is at the cutting edge of Skyrunning with its combination of exposed scrambling and remote mountainous course. It certainly provides a serious and demanding mountain running test for experienced competitors, which makes it an ideal match for us and our underlying ethos of sport progression and challenging yourself in the mountains.'
- For more on the thinking behind the race, and the planning that went into it, see this earlier interview with race director Shane Ohly