It’s 4am and I’m sitting in the car, a long way from home, shivering. The car has broken down. I’ve been awake for nearly 24hrs and I really want to sleep, but I’m way too cold and hungry. Perhaps I still have too much adrenaline running through my system to allow me to do so, for 12 hours earlier I crossed the finish line of the Glen Coe Skyline in 5th place. In my mind I am still clinging onto rock, working my way up into the cloud, or hammering down scree towards the valley bottom, legs and lungs on fire. I can’t get these images out of my head, and I don’t want to.
Now four days removed from finishing and going over the race in my mind, I still get that rush of adrenaline. The race came just 2 weeks after I’d run 123km of the UTMB (then subsequently DNFed with hypothermia). Mentally I was a bit broken so my aim with this race was to finish and have fun, thus boosting my confidence again. But given the fine field of international competitors, I was always going to find it difficult not to ‘race’.
The Glen Coe Skyline is part of the World Skyrunning Extreme series. It covers 55km with 4750m of vertical ascent, and takes Skyrunning to the limit in terms of severity and safety without ropes, helmets and harnesses. I had run the route in training so knew roughly what I was in for.
After a measured start along the West Highland ‘motorWay’, we dropped into the glen before starting the climb towards Curved Ridge. The air was cool but the sun was rising and the rock largely dry; it was going to be a fantastic day. We had to queue patiently to get up the most technically difficult sections of Curved Ridge; after getting over the initial frustration at this, it seemed best to embrace it, have a snack and enjoy the view. I had considered a slightly faster start to avoid congestion here but decided it probably wasn’t worth the extra energy expenditure, and I think it was the right decision. Once over the summit I started to pass people on the technical decent, only to be overtaken again on the next climb (a theme that repeated itself throughout the whole race). I told myself I was tired so had to make the most of the descents. I find I always have an extra gear for descents in races compared to training; I guess the adrenaline gives added confidence. But today I was enjoying myself so much I couldn’t help but move quickly. When Ekaterina Mityaeva and Katie Schide overtook me with such conviction on the climb towards CP7 I was convinced I would never see them again. Perhaps it was the small calorie deficit I found myself in, as I managed to pick myself up again after the summit.
By the time I reached the support point at CP11 I was in 6th place, but Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn was right on my heals. On the killer climb up to the Aonach Eagach I looked back roughly every 5 minutes to assess the gap; she was gradually closing in. I almost resigned myself to the fact that she would catch me, and told myself that if anyone was going to pass me I wanted it to be her! But as the ridge came and went I had maintained a tiny bit of separation, and I regained my will to fight. I told myself that if I could just make it to CP14 (the final high point before the long decent back to Kinlochleven), I could probably hold her off. I found an extra gear and powered back home to finish in 5th place, having unknowingly overtaken Katie Schide as she had gone off course. 8hrs 34mins. What a race! I was buzzing with excitement and almost sad that it was over.
There is no doubt that this is one of the finest mountain races in the country. Thanks to Shane Ohly and his crew for conjuring up such a magical event. Thanks also to Matt Bennett for being an ace driver, food provider, dog sitter and source of endless warm clothes.