Ring of Steall SkyRace
Ring of Steall SkyRace
"A variation of the classic 'Ring of Steall' ridge-walking route this 29km / 2,500m mountain race has spectacular views of Ben Nevis from the Mamores and includes short sections of easy scrambling…
This skyrunning race route incorporates two lofty ridges within the Mamores, including the Devil’s Ridge, which provides a thrilling and airy traverse with Glen Nevis visible ahead and as a yawning drop far below, and Ben Nevis beyond and towering above.”
Back in February Kevin messaged to suggest Jamie and I join him in signing up for the Ring of Steall Skyrace, one of the Skyline Scotland races. My initial thought was “Fu*k that!” I (still) don’t regard myself as a runner and at this time I reckoned my fitness was the poorest it had been in the past 10 years. But once I looked past the lengthy 29km distance and lofty 2500m of ascent, I saw that the course cut off time was 9 hours - 9 hours for a 29km rout, suddenly seemed achievable. With a course record of 3:04:34 set by Killian Jornet in 2018, I was never going to be competing to win, so could aspire to complete it in as fast a time as I could and would give me something to work towards to pick up my fitness. I signed up.
The initiation of a health kick or a new fitness regime can be difficult, especially to build the momentum required to see changes. Trying to start running in Aberdeen was not an easy start. Pounding the pavement brought on knee and calf pain and struggled to get past 2km. Getting out of town and onto coastal paths with company was the remedy. Starting slow and easy, building back into it. By May my plan went as far as a minimum of a 5km and a 10km weekly in addition to any other activities I found myself doing. Mostly along the coastal paths around Portsoy, which had minimal ascent and descent compared to the challenge that lay ahead of me. The shorter runs were often sociable affairs, relaxed jogs with friends and plenty of chatting. Although these didn’t push me physically, they got my body used to running and were a good opportunity to focus on running technique and style. Hill days would also be key. With 2500m ascent I had no intentions of running it all and my legs would need to be used to marching up the steeps and being out for long days on rough terrain. Fortunately, this is where I felt more prepared and at minimum just had to maintain my hill fitness, any improvement would be an added bonus.
Spending three weeks climbing and doing field work in France and Italy during June was the first hurdle in my new running routine, only managing two shorts runs during this time. But spent every day outdoors either hiking, climbing or a combination of the two, which meant I came home feeling pretty fit but out of the routine of running. It took me until mid-July before I got back into the swing of it again, returning to coastal runs, only this time tackling longer runs.
An email came through as a reminder of 6 weeks until race day. Apart from a few runs over the local wee hills, my training was seriously lacking ascent. That email initiated the final push. Hill runs were now the name of the game. Bennachie, Ben Rinnes and Corryhabbie hill were all within an hour drive and offered mixed terrain to get out and run on. None of the routes were over 16km and none over 1000m ascent, but it gave a taste of the beast to come and running these routes comfortably in usually under 2 hours inspired hope of a respectable time when the race came.
The week of the race seemed the ideal time for some last-minute exercise, the sporting equivalent to cramming before an exam. The plan was to scout out the route of my brothers race over Mayar and Driesh. The road, however, was closed at the Glen Clova hotel, resulting in an additional 10km extra road running onto our planned 14km hill run. This brought on knee and hip pain I hadn’t experienced since my first attempts at running in Aberdeen and I reassured myself I’d be recovered by the Saturday. Anyway, I would have Wednesday to give my legs a stretch when we climbed tower Ridge on the Ben... It worked out alright, and despite stiff legs Thursday and Friday, on Saturday I was ready to go.
Race day. As 700+ competitors squeezed into the starting pen, those hoping for a good time were fighting their way to the front. I was pretty happy to go at my own pace and focus on my own pacing. Not to be distracted by those around me with tiny race packs, compression shorts and all the other super lightweight running kit that was on show. 5km into the race, stuck in a nose to tail line of competitors marching up the hill like a line of colourful ants I wish I had been more competitive at the beginning. It wasn’t until the first big descent that there was space to stretch the legs and pass those on front who were holding me back. The ascent by Steall Falls is where hill fitness showed, an unrelenting zig zag with a considerable false summit, where I was able to slowly pass those who were starting to slow. Confidence in scrambling was also a blessing as at the bottleneck sections where people queued to traverse the easiest sections of scrambling, I could skirt round them on different lines that I still felt comfortable on. But the final long descent is what I had been waiting for, ensuring I had enough energy left to run from the last top all the way to the finish line and was pleasantly surprised to start this descent with Kevin, who caught up with me as I stowed my poles before the descent and stuck with each other all the way to the finish line. Finishing 252nd with a time of 6:20:43.
The race wasn’t quite as tough as I had anticipated, but it was still one of the toughest hill days I’ve had to date. The leg pains came 2-3 days later as I hurpled around campus. It has not made me rush to sign up for next years event or even to progress onto the longer routes in the series, but it has encouraged me to maintain this type of fitness and opened my eyes to a faster way to move around the mountains.
Worn: Running Shorts, T Shirt, Socks, Trainers (Inov8 x-talon 200), sunglasses, cap
Running Pack: (Inov8)
In Pack: 1L water in soft flasks + 500ml topped up at mid-point, Soft cup (to drink from streams and waterfalls on the go), Lightweight waterproof jacket (some old TNF running jacket), Waterproof trousers (reduced to £5 pac-a-mac things), Merino long sleeve base layer (as thermal layer), Torch
Food: 8 x gels (5 consumed, 2 given away), 3 x clif bars (1 consumed), handful of jelly babies, 2 x sachet dried fruit.