I hadn’t originally planned to do this race, and wasn’t even aware of it until recently, but it suddenly became a ‘must do’ long classic. Having done Stuc and then Slioch in the last month or so, I was in the mood for another long-distance hill run.
The big drawback of this race is its distance from Penicuik i.e. the north end of Skye. After some deliberation I decided to repeat the Slioch experience and use my brother’s house as a B&B and drive from N. Kessock to Portree on the morning of the race. The various route planners suggested under two and a half hours which meant an early start of 6:15 to leave the house at 6:45. But by the time I had filled my camelback and faffed around, it was 6:55 when I actually left. Fotunately there was little traffic on the Saturday morning and
I got to Porteee High School at 9:10, leaving me just about enough time to write down the 7 check point grid references on my maps and get organised. We were issued with a set of plastic numbered tags (which we were told to leave in the check point baskets) had our kit checked and listened to the Organiser’s briefing.
At 10:00 we boarded the coach and headed north for Flodigarry. Apparently we were going to run back south all the way along the Trotternish ridge, past the Old Man of Storr to the Storr Lochs Dam (Loch Leathan) – a mere 18.5 miles. This is a smidgen under the length of the Two Breweries, but has 11 hills as opposed to just six. It looked spectacular on paper and we weren’t going be disappointed.
It was quite warm at the start, the sun was out and most people were in vests, but there was no indication that there would be any problem with heat – it would be cool on the ridge surely. However, as soon as we set off, it became hard work and hot. Past two lochans and a rocky path and we were soon on the ridge and the first hilltop with Checkpoint 1. Then an enjoyable long descent down to Checkpoint 2 at a small carpark on a minor road. There were only 2 water stations on the route so I took a reasonable swig of a water bottle.
Checkpoint 3 was three climbs and over 4 miles away, so I settled back and paced myself with a couple of other runners. I seemed to be well up the field and began to wonder if I had gone off too quickly – especially as the HBT first lady of Slioch was somewhere behind me. The long climb up to Checkpoint 3 on Beinn Edra was long and quite stodgy. The Organiser had encouraged us not to follow the ridge line the whole way – partly so that we wouldn’t scare the tourists and partly so that we wouldn’t fall off the edge of the numerous cliffs on the eastern side. I am sure that it would have been firmer most of the time on the ridge.
I was beginning to suffer a bit from the heat and the legs weren’t performing as well as they should 8 miles in. The ridge was getting more spectacular with sheer basalt cliffs and steep gullies to the left and great views in every direction. I was holding my map but it was still quite difficult deciding whether to stick to the ridge line or traverse around a lump.
By this time, other runners were beginning to slowly overtake me, including the HBT first lady, and I was starting to think in terms of survival and getting to the finish rather than trying to be competitive. Another three climbs and we were at Checkpoint 4 and the second (and last) water station on Bealach na Leacaich. Well over half way now, but some stonking climbs to come.
Two shortish climbs and about a mile and we were at Checkpoint 5 – a bit of a moral-booster, only two more checkpoints! However, the next section was still 3 1/2 miles long and had the two biggest hills. In order to miss out the next small bump, we attempted to traverse around it. In hindsight, we should have just followed the ridge as the traverse was very hard with tired legs and the onset of heatstroke. Inevitably there was one canny ridge-runner who gained a good hundred yards on us traversers.
Off the ridge, down a steep gully and down into the Bealach Hartaval and the start of monster climb number one. Crikey, we were starting to go very slowly. After much slogging and comparing of poor bodily status with a couple of other toiling runners (walkers) we reached the summit of Hartaval – how could this hill be only 668m?? Unfortunately, monster climb number two was now in sight. How would I ever get up that thing?
‘That thing’ was ‘The Storr’ (I am sure that Rob could tell me if that means anything useful in Gaelic – huge insurmountable pain in the butt hill for instance?). Oh, apparently ‘Storr’ is Norse in origin and is thought to mean ‘Great Man’. The sting in the tail was an extra checkpoint added because SNH didn’t want sweaty clomping runners spoiling a ‘sensitive area of springs and flushed gravels’ – which I fully understand and respect – but when I couldn’t even jog up a 1 in 50 gradient from Checkpoint 6 to Checkpoint 7 at the top of The Storr, I did do some muttering under my breath.
Having got rid of my last tag, it was now all down hill – easy you would think. Not so – the legs were shot and starting to cramp and progress was slow and ungainly. We back-tracked north down past Checkpoint 6 until a marshall directed us east and down to the Old Man of Storr path. I had exhausted all my supplies of water by this time and was relieved to be offered a cup of tepid water. Only another 2 miles to the finish.
There were so many walkers paths around the Old Man that we had to follow a marked path – for some reason we were banned from the main ‘tourist’ path. Despite the fact that my legs (and feet) were killing me, I could still appreciate the stunning scenery of massive pillars of basalt and towering cliffs. Phew, there was the loch and the dam, but how to get to the road? The last yellow arrow was pointing vaguely at a bog which had sprung strange orange and red poles – were these for our benefit or was this another SNH no-go area? Would I be set upon by an SNH-trained red deer or golden eagle? Fortunately the delirium passed and I got to the road without mishap. Then it was just a painful tarmac slog to the dam and at last the finish. Phew.
There was an impressive spread of cakes, juice, tea and soup but I was now feeling so queasy from overheating and too many gels that I couldn’t eat much at all. Annoyingly, Jill of HBT was bouncing around looking as though she had just run a couple of miles rather than 18! A short drive in the minibus and I was back at my car in Portree. There was going to be a prize giving and then free food in the Portree Community Centre at seven, but as I had intended to get back to Penicuik that evening, I didn’t want to hang around.
As I didn’t think it would be possible to drive for six hours in my current state, I negotiated a shower and baked tattie back at my sister-in-laws house and was quite sprightly by the time I hit the A9.
What a trip! Well worth all the driving, but next time I might spend a few days on Skye and do a bit more sight-seeing – such a magic place! On second thoughts, after a run like that, I would just be sitting around watching seals.
I haven’t seen any results yet, but I was well down the field with a time of around 4:20.