In one of the biggest hill running events ever to hit the Scottish highlands, four different races were held in Lochaber last weekend - the Ring of Steall Skyrace; the Mamores Vertical Kilometre; the Ben Nevis Ultra and the headline event, the Glen Coe Skyline. Claire Maxted reports on all the action.
"There is a risk of serious injury or death," says the info on the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline website, so naturally this epic 55km Skyrace across two of Scotland's hardest hillwalkers' scrambles (Curved Ridge and Aonach Eagach) attracted an international line up of pro mountain runners. Starting and finishing at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven this Sunday 17 September, perfect weather conditions saw team Salomon's top athletes Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg breaking the men's and ladies' course records with jaw-dropping times of 6:25 and 7:53 respectively.
Excited to explore Scotland, double Everest summiteer, alpine speed-climbing specialist Kilian Jornet from Spain, also revealed more info about when he might attempt the Bob Graham Round this autumn. Also toe-ing the startline was 2015 ladies winner Emelie Forsberg from Sweden; previous course record holder Jon Albon (6:33 in 2016) and the UK's ultra running star Beth Pascall. Ladies course record holder Jasmin Paris (8:15 in 2016) has a baby due in November, and enjoyed supporting the runners, including husband Konrad Rawlik, from the Aonach Eagach ridge instead.
Speaking before the race Kilian said, "There's no secret, you have to train for months on these kind of ridges to get used to where to put your feet." The 29 year old favourite for the win advised, "Especially if the rock is slippery after rain, don't try to go fast, but take it steadily, be sure of your feet and always be in a position where you won't slide or fall."
The risk/excitement on this route (apart from the two road crossings over the A82 where a hill-walker was sadly killed last week), comes first from the Grade 3 climb up Curved Ridge on the famously-pointy valley sentinel Buachaille Etive Mor. Secondly, after a race across the rocky summits that make up Bidean nam Bian, comes the Grade 2 knife-edge ridge of Anoach Eagach, with gut-wrenching drops on all sides. That's a lung-busting total of 4,750m ascent.
Luckily, weather conditions were perfect for scrambling safely - dry and cool, slightly overcast and with hardly any wind. "The three of us [Kilian Jornet, Alexis Sevennéc] were running together, having a laugh and a chat until the final climb up to the Aonach Eagach ridge," said Jon Albon, a 28 year old mountain runner and obstacle racing Brit who lives in Norway. "As we left CP11 at the road, the race was on and Kilian was off," he said. "I almost caught up with him on the Aonach Eagach ridge but I made a bit of a racket and when he heard me he was off like a shot again! I'm happy, I just needed to be 2nd to secure my Skyrunning World Series championship title from Nepalese runner Bhim Gurung [4th place]."
Beaming as usual at the end of this tough race, Emelie said, "I'm really happy to be back in Scotland, the mountains are super nice here, they're like a perfect mix between the Swedish and Norwegian mountains but with a different culture. The views were so beautiful on the course today, really, really beautiful."
And Kilian was quick to tell the world on twitter, "What a cool race! Glencoe Skyline is absolutely one (the one) to do! I want to be here next year to do this race again."
Beth Pascall was 5th and first Brit. She said, "I was given the run of my life by Katie Kaars Sijpestein! It was a tough day and I was chased hard to the line. It was a great course, I give it 9 out of 10. It was a really exciting to be part an event that attracted one of the strongest international fields to ever race in the UK. No rest yet as the car broke down on the way home so we spent most of the night waiting to be recovered!"
Records and timings:
Salomon's Kilian Jornet (Spain) broke CR with 6:25 (prev CR 2016 Jon Albon 6:33)
Salomon's Emelie Forsberg (Sweden) broke CR with 7:53 (prev CR Jasmin Paris 8:15)
Salomon athletes have won every race in the Skyline Scotland!
2nd male Jon Albon (UK) 6:31; 3rd male Alexis Sevennéc (France) 6:40
2nd female USA Megan Kimmel 8:14; 3rd female Ragna Debats (Netherlands) 8:22
The UK's Beth Pascall came 5th lady and 1st Brit female in 8:34
Incredibly, there were three more races in the Salomon Skyline Scotland event weekend and all records were smashed (or created - The Ben Nevis Ultra was new for 2017) by Salomon athletes. A grand total of 1,325 runners entered from over 30 different nationalities, including most of Europe, Scandinavia, Nepal, Russia, Canada, USA, South Africa and New Zealand. However, there were only 285 women, so tell your female friends about it for next year. The races, distances, ascent and their social media handles are as follows: Friday @MamoresVK 5k/1000m; Saturday @BenNevisUltra 120k/4000m; @RoSSkyrace (instagram @ringofsteallskyrace) 29k/2500m; Sunday @GlenCoeSkyrace 55k/4750m
Mamores Vertical Kilometre
At no more than 5km long with 1000m vertical ascent (in keeping with Skyrunning regulations), the Mamores VK could be in the running for the hardest parkrun in the world if it were at 9am on the Saturday! However, it's on Friday afternoon and this year Salomon athlete Stian Angermund-Vik from Norway and team mate Laura Orgué from Spain made short work of the race, both creating new course records. They looked ferociously strong as they power-walked up the steep 1056m high Munro Na Gruagaichean to the summit finish. Stian ran 42:04, beating Scott Sports athlete Alexis Sévennec's 2016 record of 42:17. Laura ran 52:22, smashing Georgia Tindley's 2016 record of 54:34.
Next up, Brit Beth Hanson was 2nd lady with 52:26. Emelie Forsberg from Sweden, favourite for the main event the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline race and also part of Team Salomon, came in 3rd lady with a time of 52:50. While 2nd male was Brit Sam Tosh 42:38, 3rd male was previous course record holder Alexis Sévennec from France with 42:44.
As a non-technical course with no climbing skills required, the Mamores VK is open to all runners, and the other competitors didn't disappoint. One man tackled the mountain in a traditional Scottish kilt, while another sported a bright pink Lycra leotard tutu and matching pink socks. Several surprised themselves by plunging deep into a bog a quarter of the way up; others were thrilled at seeing trail running legend Kilian Jornet from Spain out on the course to cheer on his partner Emelie Forsberg (3rd lady).
Ring of Steall Skyrace
Cart-wheeling over the finish line, an elated Stian Angermund-Vik (Team Salomon) from Norway took almost a minute off his 2016 record despite a wet, slippery Saturday high in the Scottish mountains. Team mate Laura Orgué from Spain also smashed up the 29k course with 2,800m ascent in 4:05, taking 34mins off Georgia Tindley's time last year. The route is a variation of the classic Ring of Steall hike which takes in four Munros and some easy - albeit airy - scrambling. Laura said, "This was a long race for me, I'm more for the shorter distances. It was such a beautiful course, but I didn't have a lot of time to look at the views because Sheila Avilés was right behind me!" Happy to be photographed breastfeeding her young boy at the finishline, 3rd lady Oihana Azkorbebeitia from Basque Country (Spain) said the race was, "Very tough but very enjoyable."
The oldest competitor across all the events was 71 year old Roger Nosworthy from England, on the Ring of Steall Skyrace, running with his 65 year old wife Bridget. Asked what their secret was, they said, "You just have to keep going, and age is just a number. We don't really think about it! We had no idea we were the oldest on the course – we don't feel it at all. It's really fantastic to be here watching all the top runners from all over the world. They are truly inspiring people."
Ben Nevis Ultra
New for 2017, the 120k Ben Nevis Ultra has 4,000m ascent and ends with a sting in the tail – a climb of Ben Nevis via CMD arête! Winner Donnie Campbell from Edinburgh was relieved that his foot injury hadn't plagued him as he had feared – he had more to talk about with the typically Scottish mix of weather conditions. "I was really pleased that my foot didn't bother me too much," said the team Salomon runner, after skipping to the finish, high-fiving the crowds as he went. "We had four seasons in one day – rain, wind, snow on Ben Nevis and then sunshine to finish. I am very happy to win in 13:24 on home turf."
Famously upbeat and friendly Nepali runner Mira Rai (recently seen in BBC2's Mountain programme) crossed the finish line as first lady in 15:27. She thrilled the headtorch-lit crowds at the finishline by pulling a huge Nepali flag out of her tiny backpack and proudly raised it over her head to much cheering. The next day she cheerfully turned out in her flip flops with her cow-bell to welcome in Kilian and Emelie on the Glen Coe Skyline race, shouting from the sidelines in glee.