Trotternish Ridge Hill Race 2017

This Scottish Long Classic hill run starts at Flodigarry in the north of Skye
and follows the Trotternish Ridge all the way to The Storr and finishes at the
Storr Lochs Dam. This year it was a mere 17 miles in length as opposed to the
18 mile route of last year – the difference being the final descent off the
Storr.

For all you budding geographers and geologists, the ridge itself is a classic
escarpment with steep cliffs on the east side and gently sloping ground
towards the west. The rocks start off as Upper Jurassic shales changing to
basalt lavas for most of the rest of the ridge. It is basically a very long
landslip caused by the heavy basalt bearing down on the weaker Jurassic
sediments. The Old Man of Storr is a basalt pinnacle resting precariously on
some slippy Middle Jurassic Limestone. It is apparently sliding slowly towards
the sea. Hopefully there won’t be any Japenese tourists underneath it when it
goes!

As last year, I drove up to Tore on the Black Isle the night before to get free
B&B at my parents house. To be in time for registration at 9:15 I had to get
up at the unsocial hour of 6:20am. However, at that time in the morning, the
drive from Tore via Achnasheen to Kyle, the Skye Bridge and then up to Portree
was mostly traffic free, and only took 2 hours.

Registration at Portree High School was buzzing – with a record 150 runners
(there were only 36 last year due in part by the Scottish Natural Heritage
restictions). This year, the organisers must have re-negotiated the limit as
the race was a SHR Championship event.

The kit requirements are quite stringent and you have to carry both a survival
bag and extra base layer in addition to the standard stuff. By the time I had
filled my new, larger camel back with 1.3 litres of carbo-drink, my rucsac
weighed a ton.

At 9:45 we were given a briefing with helpful tips for the best route and how
not to fall off the sheer basalt cliffs. And at 10:00 we were on the buses and
lumbering up to Staffin Bay and Flodigarry. The start was decidedly cooler than
in Portree with a keen breeze, and I immediately put on a long-sleeved top, being
absolutely sure that just a skimpy running vest wouldn’t be enough – and no
chafing, hooray.

At 11:00 after a brief enjoy yourself and “ready, steady, go”, we were off! After
my much-too-fast first few miles of last year, I started off really steadily and
concentrated on my own pace and ignored the fact that there seemed to be loads
of runners in front (expected at Championship events). The first mile or so
followed a nice little track up towards the ridge. The sun had come out and I
was beginning to regret the extra layer. I didn’t want to lose fifty places,
so I stuck it out and told myself that it would be cool on the tops.

The climb up to the first checkpoint at Meall na Suiramach (531m) was straight-
forward enough and it was nice to drop the first tag into the orienteering
basket – we were on our way! The descent down to Checkpoint 2 (Quiraing car park)
was just like something from the Breweries or Skyline. As well as marshalls with
water, there was one guarding a massive hole – obviously this huge cavern had
gobbled up some runners in the past.

Now the 5 miles or so to Checkpoint 3 at the Trig Point of Beinn Edra (611m).
Again mostly moor, heather and long tussocky grass with not much of a path. It
seemed to be a bit more runnable this year, but perhaps it was because I was
going slower! The weather was now perfect, the sun had gone in, there was a
cooling breeze and visibility was excellent – we could even see the hills of
the Outer Hebrides.

A mere 3 miles and three more hills to Checkpoint 4 at Beallach na Leacaich and
a welcome water stop. And then ever upwards over another two bumps to Checkpoint
5 at Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh Ruaidh (hard work all this Gaelic spelling) at 593m.
Navigation was still pretty straightforward and with the benefit of past
experience, we seemed to be picking out the more runnable routes.

The next section was obviously going to be the hardest and included the two
highest and steepest hills of Hartaval (668) and The Storr (719). Although
they were tough, they were not nearly as crippling as last year as I had paced
myself better and didn’t have heat stroke! The route off the Storr was also
pretty straightforward – SW down a tussocky slope instead of North down much
rockier terrain. Although we did miss out on the spectacular pillars and canyon
beside the Old Man of Storr. To get off the ridge itself, we were directed down
the steep and rocky Bealach Beag. Near the bottom of this I tried to pass a
couple of ‘slower descenders’ but in doing so I stupidly went over my ankle and
had to hobble down the rest of the slope. Fortunately, I hadn’t done too much
damage and ran along the last half mile or so of tarmac road without a problem.
I say without a problem – the rest of my legs were killing me. On to the dam
and a very welcome finish!

After a brief rain shower during the last mile, the sun had come out and it was
very pleasant slurping soup and tea and chatting with people I recognised but
couldn’t remember who they were. Somebody spotted my Penicuik top and said
that he frequently had competitive bouts with Rob. My time was about 3:40 and
a lot quicker than last year’s time of 4:20. Even with the better running
conditions, shorter distance and better pacing, that was quite surprising.

Although there was the temptation of free food at the Portree Community Centre
at 6:30, I decided to head off promptly as I wanted to get back to Penicuik
that same evening.

Although it is a huge trek up to Skye from Penicuik, it is definitely worth
the trip with a well-organised race (Skye and Lochalsh Running Club) and
stunning highland scenery. Next time I’ll go even slower and take some
pictures! Hopefully my ankle is OK for Slioch next week!

Duncan.

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    3 comments on Trotternish Ridge Hill Race 2017

    1. Bill Bennet says:

      Fantastic report Duncan and educational as well, not everyone achieves interesting AND educational. Well done on a much faster time this year.

    2. Gill Cairns says:

      Great report Duncan, and well done on your fantastic time! I’d love to do this race, though your description of the ridge does scare me…..:-)

    3. Rob Wilson says:

      I hope you beat Walter Duncan!!!! LOL
      I would love to do this – maybe next year.
      Are you still up for next week?

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